Pay Attention to Policy, not ‘Narratives’

“opinion leaders create narratives about how the world works—and then voters essentially buy into one that suits their biases. They pick a team. Social media reinforces each side’s thinking habits. As the election arrives, most voters aren’t doing a cost-benefit analysis—but embracing the candidate who touts the story their team tells (whether it’s true or not).

“Narratives … provide a rich source of information about how people make sense of their lives, about how they construct disparate facts and weave them together cognitively to make sense of reality,” explains a 1998 UC Irvine study. They can be helpful for understanding the world, but they can also send people down a rabbit hole.”

“fewer people can be persuaded by evidence. If you subscribe to the narrative that your opponents want to destroy everything that you find holy and dear, then you’ll put up with anything from a candidate from your tribe. During the 2016 election, Republicans embraced the “Flight 93″ theory—it’s time to rush the cockpit because a Hillary Clinton presidency would crash democracy.

Democrats believe something similar about a Donald Trump re-election, although they’re on more solid ground given that he did indeed try to steal an election and his election-denying acolytes filled the GOP ticket this year. Polls show most GOP voters have bought into that denialism narrative—and no evidence likely will sway them from their vote-stealing fantasies.”

“Jumping on the narrative bandwagon can take you to some morally dubious places. I don’t expect voters to adopt my balls-and-strikes voting strategy. But unless there’s a movement back in that direction, the story of our democracy might not have a happy ending.”

Biden has ambitious infrastructure goals. Made-in-America rules could slow them.

“The $1 trillion infrastructure law passed last year expanded Buy America rules, which require state and local agencies to buy certain materials made in the United States for federally funded infrastructure projects. Rules that iron, steel, and manufactured products be made in America have been in place for decades, but they’ve traditionally applied to transportation and water-related projects, such as highways, rail, and public transit.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s new rules broadened the scope of goods that have to be produced in the United States by creating a new category for “construction materials.” It also expanded the types of infrastructure projects subject to the requirements to permanently include housing, broadband, and new programs for electric vehicle charging projects for the first time.”

“many state and local officials across the country say the new rules could delay much-needed infrastructure projects and significantly drive up costs amid the fastest inflation in 40 years. Some say they’re already struggling to deal with supply-chain disruptions that have emerged during the pandemic and worry that material shortages could worsen if they’re limited to domestic manufacturers. Higher costs could also lead to fewer projects and soften the impact of the package”

The messy true story of the last time we beat inflation

“The monetary tightening inaugurated by Volcker was one part of an entire deflationary policy repertoire that also included union-busting and the creation of a global supply chain to hold down the costs of labor, components, and commodities.”

“The Fed might be able to choke off credit to slow investment and job creation, but it can’t create the real-world political, legal, and logistical systems that in the past have kept prices down even amid economic growth.
To truly tame prices, we can’t just turn off the money hose. We have to plan for more concrete long-term solutions to a lack of labor, commodities, and goods.”

“Volcker’s shock and central bank independence happened at the same time as Ronald Reagan’s anti-union effort; the emergence of New Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who were less sympathetic to organized labor than their New Deal and Great Society forebears; and the collapse of union membership across almost every sector of the economy except government. Volcker and his central banker colleagues were keenly aware of the importance of union power to increasing wages: The minutes of Fed meetings show that these policymakers fixated on the ability of unions to set wages even after many academic economists had moved on from the subject.”

” Just as Volcker’s rate hikes coincided with a bipartisan anti-union push, so the rise of central banks paralleled the acceleration of globalization and the creation of a world-spanning super-efficient “just in time” supply chain. New logistics infrastructure, trade deals, and methods of inventory management allowed firms to get cheap commodities and components from the other side of the world astonishingly quickly. Globalization also reinforced the attack on unions, since it allowed businesses to move factories to countries with weaker labor laws, humbling labor leaders of industrialized economies. After the 1980s, and especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, markets began to integrate many formerly communist countries with large, well-educated — but poorly paid — workforces and ample natural resources. The creation of global supply chains depended in large part on a relatively calm geopolitical scene, with no serious confrontations between “great powers,” who generally seemed to be on the same page regarding globalization.”

“It’s this model of globalization that is currently breaking down, leading to volatile rising prices. As anyone who has ordered a piece of furniture in the last two years can tell you, “just in time” has become a thing of the past. Instead of speedy manufacturing getting imported from any nation on earth, now we import their supply chain bottlenecks, as, say, plumbing component manufacturers in China hamstrung by that country’s “zero-Covid” policy hold up house completions in the United States.

While supply chain bottlenecks were widely predicted to ease in 2022, geopolitics got in the way. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent economic retaliation rocked global energy supplies, a particularly troubling economic disruption since energy is a vital component of nearly every product, and further poisoned relations between wealthy Western countries and Russia’s key ally, China, where so much of the stuff Americans buy is made. Instead of getting more cheap electronics from China, the world’s second-largest economy, the US is sanctioning the chip industry there.

If the Federal Reserve is largely removed from the internal dynamics of the labor market, it has even less to do with foreign policy and geo-strategic maneuvering.”

“We don’t want policymakers to make the mistake of fighting the last war. If we leave inflation up to the central bankers rather than continuing the push for coordinated investments in cost-saving renewable energy and dense housing, or policies that reverse the shrinkage of the labor supply since the pandemic, we won’t so much beat inflation as resign ourselves to a poorer, less-resilient future.”

Biden’s New Industrial Policy Will Fail, Just Like Industrial Policy Always Fails

“When it was passed, the law provided subsidies for the construction of a domestic shipping industry, while imposing various employment rules and other shipping regulations. It has been amended in the century since, but it continues to prohibit foreign-flagged ships from traveling between U.S. ports, and many of its wage and labor regulations are still in effect, making it beloved, almost obsessively, by unions.
In at least one way, the Jones Act has served at least part of its intended purpose: It has benefited the domestic shipping industry by shielding it from foreign competition. But it has done so at considerable expense to everyone else.

By restricting and regulating shipping at America’s ports, the Jones Act considerably raises the costs of transporting goods, which in turn raises prices on everything from food to electronics to textiles. In good economic times, the Jones Act is a cost borne by the majority to bolster the fortunes of a few. In periods of global economic instability and high inflation, the Jones Act makes supply chain problems worse and drives prices even higher. On a daily basis, it is a force for impoverishment. ”

“Just about any time one finds a politician taking credit for specific business decisions by specific companies, one ought to be skeptical, worried, or both. In this case, the proximate cause of much of Biden’s factory-jobs campaigning is the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, a $52 billion package of industry subsidies Biden signed into law in August. Manufacturers who stand to benefit from these subsidies have played along, with Micron’s leadership saying that its facility is “the first of Micron’s multiple planned U.S. investments following the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act.” Micron, however, was publicly teasing the possibility of new manufacturing facilities as early as October 2021, long before the CHIPS Act became law.”

“Just as the Jones Act ends up distorting the shipping industry, shaping it in ways that make it less flexible and less responsive to genuine consumer demand, we should expect the CHIPS Act to push the semiconductor industry into labor and production decisions intended to satisfy politically determined subsidy requirements rather than genuine market needs. Subsidies are more likely to incentivize inefficiency and dysfunction than genuinely useful production, inflating prices in the process. When subsidies are driving decisions, that means subsidy programs, not end users, are the true customer. “

Biden Forgets That Workers Are Consumers Too

“Consider that supposedly worker-centric trade policy. Biden has left in place many of the tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump, including the levies on aluminum and steel. By artificially hiking the price of imported steel, those tariffs are supposed to boost domestic production, creating more and better-paying steelworker jobs. But the cost of the tariffs rebounds onto every industry that uses steel to make other products. While about 57,000 Americans work in steelmaking jobs, more than 12 million are employed in manufacturing jobs that use steel. The tariffs hurt those workers.
Even steelworkers suffer from the tariffs, which raise prices for cars, appliances, and a host of other products. The Peterson Institute for International Economics, a trade policy think tank, estimates that repealing those tariffs would put about $800 back in the average family’s pockets this year.

Biden also has decided to extend tariffs on solar panels and their component parts, which were due to expire this year. In theory, those tariffs promote domestic manufacturing. In reality, they have cost more than 62,000 jobs in the four-plus years since Trump first implemented them by sharply cutting the number of solar panels available for installation and service, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.”

“Trade and labor policies should not be worker-centric or consumer-centric. They should be market-centric, because trade and labor are both parts of a market system that benefits Americans as workers and consumers.”

The Biden Administration Is Taking From the Poor and Giving to the Rich

“Biden announced that he will—unilaterally, mind you, and for no apparent reason that I can see—extend the pause on student loan payments until the end of the year and forgive up to $10,000 for those persons making less than $125,000 a year. This generosity with other people’s money extends up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.
As David Stockman, a former director of the Congressional Office of Management and Budget, reported recently, “Only 37% of Americans have a 4-year college degree, only 13% have graduate degrees and just 3% have a PhD or similar professional degree. Yet a full 56% of student loan debt is held by people who went to grad school and 20% is owed by the tiny 3% sliver with PhDs.”

Picture two young married lawyers who together earn just under $250,000 and are on their way to making even more mon ey in the future. They will be able to collect from Uncle Joe a nice bonus of $40,000, taken from the pockets of the many people who didn’t go to college—perhaps because they did not want to take on debt—and from those who have responsibly already paid back their debt.”

Forgiving Student Debt Without Abolishing the Federal Loan Program Is Morally Wrong

“colleges and universities will have even less incentive to lower costs. Economic researchers have often found that the government’s subsidized student loans cause educational institutions to jack up their prices for obvious reasons: If the feds cover the cost on the front end, no matter what it is, universities have every incentive to raise the sticker price. Forgiving student loan debt exacerbates this problem since it encourages more reckless borrowing. Indeed, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates the cumulative student debt level will return to current levels in just a few years.

There are structural incentives that push students to borrow money that they can never hope to pay back, and the fact that so many people have fallen into crippling debt is a compelling reason to change these incentives. No rule says the federal government must lure people down a path that leads to financial ruin with some frequency. Congress can sharply limit, or even end, this practice.

A one-off cancelation of some level of debt held by borrowers who happen to be in dire straits at this specific moment does nothing to fix the underlying problems; on the contrary, it exacerbates them. It is a slap in the face to everyone who either paid down their college debt or made different educational choices to avoid accruing it.
If Biden wanted to make the strongest conceivable case for forgiving some college debt, this course of action needed to be paired with serious changes to the entire higher education system. Otherwise, he is simply engaged in a vast transfer of wealth, taking hard-earned money from those who did not fall prey to the federal government’s scam and awarding it to those who did.”

The Student Loan Forgiveness Fiasco

“Loan forgiveness may encourage reckless borrowing, if today’s college students think they won’t actually have to pay back their loans. And this, in turn, could lead to even higher college tuition rates. It could also be inflationary more generally, by freeing up income for tons of people who may then drive up demand for goods and, along with it, prices.”

“The program amounts to a massive subsidy for middle-class Americans, as opposed to benefiting the most economically downtrodden or financially strapped. It provides a handout to many people for whom loan payments aren’t a problem now (someone making $125,000 per year can surely afford a few hundred dollars per month) or won’t be in the very near future (for instance, a doctor or lawyer on the verge of making big bucks who hasn’t quite gotten there yet). In short, the program “consumes resources that could be better used helping those who did not, for whatever reason, have a chance to attend college,” as economist Larry Summers put it on Twitter”

“Certainly not everyone who had to take out student loans was lazy, irresponsible, or anything of the sort. And not everyone without student loan debt is responsible or hard-working; many just lucked into having parents who could afford to pay for college. But there are many people for whom avoiding student loan debt or paying it off promptly meant making all sorts of sacrifices. Biden’s loan forgiveness program says to them that this thrift, practicality, etc. may have been for nought.”

“to simply write off existing student loan debt without addressing the source of the fast rise in college prices —which has a lot to do with the federal student loan program existing—is only ensuring ongoing problems.”

If Biden’s Trade Policy Was Really Driven by ‘Equity,’ Trump’s Tariffs Would Already Be Gone

“tariffs of all kinds are regressive taxes that hike costs for consumers and make it particularly difficult for poorer households to afford basic goods.
Eliminating many tariffs that serve little purpose “would ease financial burdens in a small but real way for American low-income and minority workers and their families, helping to raise their living standards without intensifying competitive pressure””

“Trump’s tariffs have contributed to inflation and helped to artificially inflate the cost of everything from appliances to housing. About two-thirds of all imports from China are now subject to tariffs when they enter the United States, with the average tariff being 19.3 percent. That’s six times higher than the average tariff on Chinese-made imports before Trump’s haphazard trade war began. That’s certainly not helping poorer Americans improve their standard of living.

But, as Gresser points out, other aspects of the U.S. tariff code are also to blame for imposing regressive taxes on poorer Americans. Under the “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) system of tariffs that are applied to imports from countries with which the U.S. does not have a specific trade deal, many common consumer goods are subject to higher tariffs than their luxury alternatives. Stainless steel spoons are tariffed at a much higher rate than far more expensive sterling silver spoons, for example, and cheap sneakers are charged a tariff more than five times higher than leather dress shoes.”

“For months, we’ve been treated to headlines promising that the Biden administration is considering lifting Trump’s tariffs. In June, administration officials told The New York Times that lifting tariffs might reduce inflation by a quarter of a percentage point—even though independent studies suggested the effect could be greater. Yet nothing was done, even after Biden promised that corralling inflation was his “top domestic priority.””

No, PPP Doesn’t Justify Biden’s Student Loan Bailout

“The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which effectively paid businesses to keep workers on their payroll even if they temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, was a mess.
After quickly burning through its initial allocation of $349 billion, the Paycheck Protection Program was reauthorized a few times and ended up costing more than $820 billion, making it one of the largest components of the federal government’s humongous COVID relief effort. Despite being lauded by both Democrats and Republicans, independent analysis found that the program was a hugely expensive failure. Only about one-third of the program’s money actually went to workers who would have otherwise lost their jobs, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study. Another study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that taxpayers paid roughly $4 for every $1 of wages and benefits to workers.”