What Next?

With the federal government open again, there’s a little less uncertainty in the economy. Things are back to normal and everyone is happy again. Right?

Unfortunately, the effects of the record shutdown are still hard to predict. As with any economic data, we won’t know until the quarter is over just what happened. We do have a few clues, however, and a few things that we can watch to know just where it’s going.

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People’s Economics – Open Markets

Market day. The open stalls bubble with activity as vendors show off their products. Small handwritten signs tell you what it will take to make them yours, but you know that’s just a starting point. You can offer less, especially to the quieter booths away from the activity. But have cash on hand to make the trade quickly once you have a mutual agreement on what everyone considers fair.

That’s the common view of what a “free market” is, and it’s something everyone around the world has experience with. It seems perfectly natural, an essential part of being human. It can’t possibly need interference from other people to make it work, can it?

Yet as the world comes closer together, the definitions of nearly everything wind up befuddled in language, definitions of fairness, and sometimes the simple lack of a personal connection.

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Inflation is Hip

Inflation is certainly surging, it remains to be seen how much of a problem that is. What we do know is that some regions of the nation, particularly cities where businesses have embraced technology, are surging ahead quickly. Some a bit too quickly.

In a nation already divided, the success of some cities is only accelerating the divide. If they become too successful their high cost may ultimately slow growth. But for now, the benefits of the recovery are heavily centered on a few places.

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Renewing Our Cities

American cities are booming, or at least some of them are. The process of re-invention has been difficult and uneven for the economy as a whole, and old industrial cities are no different. The keys to successful cities? Reinvention, inclusion, diversity, and education.

That is the conclusion of a report from the Brookings Institution entitled “Renewing America’s economic promise through older industrial cities.” An analysis of the legacy industrial base shows that some cities have been successful, others have not. The differences? In large part, a willingness to embrace change and diversity, giving it the space and tools they need to blossom.

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Jobs Are Good!

Good news! The economy added 313k jobs in February!

Like all news, we need some kind of reality check first. Did it really? The long and short of it is that, as always, the ADP employment report is less noisy and thus more accurate. It had a gain of 263k jobs in February, which is probably the right number. Still very good news all around.

But is good news actually bad news? Along with the jobs report we have the increase in wages, which stands at a modest 2.6% over the last year. Does that mean inflation is tamed? We will see what the markets think.

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Redefining Work

A busy day calls for a repeat. This piece from two years ago demands a revisit in light of the potential for inflation now that we are approaching full employment and wages are indeed rising.

Is technology a net creator or destroyer of jobs? The question is as old as the Industrial Revolution, when workers in mills found themselves put out of work by large industrial looms. In France, they threw their shoes (sabots) into the weaving machines to destroy them – the origin of the term “sabotage”. The protests didn’t stop the machines, however, and the workers had to find something else to do in an ever-changing economy where machines did more and more work.

Today, the pace of technological change is faster than ever, with new gadgets coming into our lives constantly. Automation is also transforming our lives, with new robots and artificial intelligence replacing workers constantly. Are today’s productivity gains tomorrow’s unemployment? Increasingly those who study technology in our lives and the popular media are coming to the conclusion that yes, workers are net losers in the race against tech. And this is not a partisan issue.

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