posted November 25, 2020
What’s Behind the US Treasury vs. Fed ‘Rift’?

This past week the US Treasury and the US Federal Reserve Bank engaged in a rare public disagreement. US Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin, in a letter to Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, last week directed the Fed to return $455 billion that the Fed was holding in reserve should future lending to banks and non-bank businesses become necessary if the US economy and markets further deteriorate in 2021.

Fed chair Powell initially balked at Mnuchin’s request, replying that the Fed needed the funds to ensure market stability since the US economy was entering a “difficult period” in late 2020 and early 2021. According to Powell, the $455 billion was essential “as a backstop for our ill-stressed and vulnerable economy”. Returning the funds therefore was “not appropriate”. To do so now was not the right time. Not “yet”, replied Powell. Not even “very soon.”

The Fed’s initial response to Mnuchin no doubt reflected Powell’s concern the US economy may very likely weaken in the current 4th quarter, compared to the 3rd. That means possibly more defaults and bankruptcies could be on the agenda for the 1st quarter 2021—in particular for junk bond heavy businesses and state and local governments that appear most vulnerable at the moment. The Fed therefore needs to keep the $455 billion funds in reserve to address a potentially worsening economic situation.

If the differences between Mnuchin and Powell represented a ‘rift’, as the mainstream media often reported, it was undoubtedly the shortest Treasury-Fed rift on record. It wasn’t twenty-four hours after Powell’s initial resistance statement that the Fed capitulated to the US Treasury. Powell quickly retreated publicly, saying the Fed would comply. In retracting his position of the day before, Powell declared the US Treasury had “sole authority”. The Fed would return the funds. The ‘rift’ was over in less than 24 hours.

What then were Mnuchin’s rationale for insisting the funds be returned to the US Treasury? What were his public reasons given for taking back $455 billion at a time of intensifying Covid impact on the economy; as fiscal stimulus appeared dead for months to come; and as 12 million workers were about to lose unemployment benefits in December while simultaneously hundreds of thousands were experiencing rent evictions, lines for food banks were growing throughout the country, and student loan forebearance for millions was about to end?

Mnuchin’s Rationale

To deflect critics Mnuchin floated a number of obviously false narratives to justify his decision to take back the $455 billion. He said it was Congress’s intent to end all the funding by December 31, 2020. Even so, he added, he was allowing Fed programs like the Fed’s commercial paper and money market mutual fund special lending facilities to continue for an additional 90 days into 2021. Then there was the $74 billion in the Fed’s Financial Stabilization Fund (FSF) which would remain at the Fed. He puffed up the $74 billon saying the Fed “would still have $800 billion”, assuming the $74 billion represented a fractional reserve that allowed the Fed to fund up to 10X that amount. The central bank could also keep another $25 billion to cover distribution of funds in progress. He further noted that the $455 billion was needed to fund spending in what might be an eventual fiscal stimulus bill later negotiated in 2021 between the US House and the Senate.

It is perhaps interesting to note that Mnuchin’s retraction of the funds came barely a month after in October he wrote a letter indicating that all the Fed’s funds, including the $455 billion, could be retained by the Fed into 2021. The October letter, followed by his November decision to retract the $455 billion, suggests strongly that some kind of decision was made by the Trump administration, or McConnell in the Republican Senate, or perhaps both, sometime after the November 3 election in order to make it as difficult as possible for the incoming Biden administration to address the deteriorating US economic situation.

McConnell had signaled quickly after November 3 there was no chance for a new fiscal stimulus in 2020; Mnuchin then retracted the $455 billion and McConnell was among the first to publicly endorse his move. The timing of both was unlikely merely coincidental.

The Reactions

The Democrat and mainstream media reactions to Mnuchin’s move were swift and to the point.

Typical was Democrat Maxine Waters’, a key player in the US House of Representatives: “It is clear that Trump and Mnuchin are willing to spitefully destroy the economy and make it difficult as possible for the incoming Biden administration”.

Even more to the point were business media editorialists and comments that followed Mnuchin’s announcement: The Financial Times declared Mnuchin has “aligned himself with Mr. Trump’s ‘burn the house down’.” The Wall St. Journal added “The termination is also important to limite the demands by politicians to use the Fed for policies they can’t get through Congress”. Fidelity Investments’ Market Watch online news service concluded the “intent of the Mnuchin move appears to be to prevent the next Treasury Secretary extending relief to state and local governments”.

In other words, the real rationale of Mnuchin was Politics, first and foremost. One might add a close second: i.e. improving Bank profits. Stripping the funds from the Fed would now force borrowers to turn more to capital markets to raise funds, instead of relying on government funding programs made available through the Fed.

The Politics of $455 Billion

Despite Mnuchin’s various explanations to the contrary, his withdrawal of the funds from the Fed is clearly about denying the incoming Biden administration from perhaps convincing the Fed to expend the $455 billion to provide loans to hard pressed state and local governments in 2021 and/or for making additional loans & grants available to small businesses.

For the Biden administration, getting the Fed to provide the financial assistance in loans to local governments and small business would obviate the need for the Biden administration to have to fight a Republican Senate, led by McConnell, to pass the same amount of aid targeting local governments and small businesses as part of an eventual Biden fiscal legislative package.

Mnuchin and McConnell have long opposed fiscal support for state and local governments, which they view as heavily weighted toward Democrat ‘blue’ states and cities. They preferred these governments raise money in capital markets instead of getting financial aid via government programs. Providing loans via government programs, with terms and conditions more favorable to borrowers (and not to banks), means less profits for private banks and private lenders. The same applies to small businesses as well as local governments. Republicans want to redirect their financing needs to private markets, instead of through government programs.

That economic motive fits nicely with the political objective of Mnuchin, McConnell, and other Republicans to deny the Biden administration access to funding already on the Fed ‘books’, i.e. funding that was already established in March 2020 as part of the Cares Act passed at the time.

The fact that $455 billion has not been spent as part of Cores Act after almost nine months is of course a related question of importance. Given the great distress of small businesses and 22 million still unemployed in the US as of late November, one might well ask why hasn’t that $455 billion been provided to businesses and their employees still in need? Why has the Trump administration not comitted it, given the growing stress on small business and expiring unemployment benefits? And why have the Democrats not more insisted it be spent, as was intended in March. Congress and the Trump administration have been at stalemate for months over passing a new fiscal stimulus bill, when $455 billion in funds was, and still remains, available.

In recalling the Fed’s funds back to his Treasury, Mnuchin’s strategy is clearly to force the Democrats to confront McConnell and Republicans directly via renewed fiscal stimulus negotiations sometime in 2021, and to do so starting from scratch. Biden and the Democrats won’t have that $455 billion potentially available from the Fed. And they’ll have to in effect ‘renegotiate it all over again’.
Moreover, should the Republicans retain control of the majority of the Senate in 2021—to be determined after the Georgia state Republican Senator election runoffs—McConnell can dictate with his Senate veto the scope and magnitude of any future fiscal stimulus in 2021. The Fed and its $455 billion ‘back door’ possible funding source for state and local governments and small businesses will be denied to Biden and the Democrats.

The Mnuchin move is therefore political—i.e. to deny Biden the availability of nearly a half trillion in bailout financing especially for small businesses and state and local governments—and to force the Democrats to renegotiate it with McConnell again. A corollary gain for the Republicans is to force the same governments and small businesses to access the private capital markets for future financing needs, thus benefiting private lenders more than they would otherwise by simply playing ‘middle men’ distributing government program loans for a fee.

Banks have consistently complained since March that the Cares Act lending programs did not provide them sufficient profits. Their interest rate spreads are too narrow. Redirecting lending from Fed programs to private capital markets would prove more profitable.
Just What is the $455 Billion?

The $455 billion represents the unspent funds left over from the Cares Act passed in March 2020. That Act consisted of four parts. One part provided $500 billion in emergency unemployment assistance and $1200 per person checks for households whose annual income was less than $75,000. The checks were spent within 60 days. A good part of the unemployment benefits later expired at the end of July 2020; the rest will expire around Christmas and thus leave 12 million workers without any unemployment benefits any longer. It is estimated the August partial ending of the benefits reduced US GDP household spending by $65 billion a month; the December expirations will reduce it another $150 billion per month.

Another part of the Cares Act amounted to $350 billion to provide loans to small businesses, called the Payroll Protection Program or PPP. That $350 billion initially proved insufficient, as larger businesses quickly scammed and exhausted the funds with the help of their banks that were responsible for distributing the funds. Many of the banks simply disbursed the funds first to their larger, preferred customers even if they didn’t qualify as ‘small business’ under the PPP program. As a result, another $320 billion supplement to the PPP was passed by Congress in April. That brought the total available in the PPP to $660 billion ($10B of which was put aside for administration). The PPP was shut down in early August 2020, even when only $525 of the $660 billion was distributed. So $135 billion of the PPP remains unspent. That remainder is apparently part of Mnuchin’s order for the Fed to return $455 billion.

As a third element, the March Cares Act provided for another $600 billion for medium sized corporations, and for a host of special directed financial bailouts of financial institutions and corporations. A number of the bailouts were created under the umbrella of what is called the ‘Main St. Program’.

The Main St. program included Fed purchases of corporate bonds for the first time in its history, including Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) which are traded like stocks. It also included Fed financial support for the Municipal Bond market, for asset backed securities, for nonprofit businesses, commercial paper issuers, and for money market mutual funds, among others.

Most of these were special lending facilities resurrect from the 2008-09 experience, with the exception of funding for corporate bonds and ETFs which were historically new and unprecedented. What was also precedent setting was none of the above markets had actually collapsed in March. The Fed resurrecting of the special lending facilities was in anticipation of a possible collapse. So much of the Fed lending to big corporations and financial markets was a pre-emptive bailout before an actual crash! So too was the Fed lending to non-financial corporations!

In short, there was at least $1.1 trillion put aside in the Fed—supported by Treasury funding—for the purpose of bailing out medium and larger corporations and targeted financial asset markets like commercial paper, asset backed securities, corporate bonds, municipal bonds, etc. But it mostly wasn’t used.

Why Big US Corporations Didn’t Need Fed Loans

Medium and large corporations didn’t require emergency liquidity from the Fed. They were able to accumulate trillions of dollars to add to their balance sheets quickly as the real economy began to crash in March-April. The Fed enabled their liquidity accumulation in significant part by pumping $120 billion a month via its QE program into the economy, and by other measures, which drove interest rates to record lows. That enabled large businesses to issue record levels of new corporate bonds. For the Fortune 500 alone it raised $2 trillion in funds. Hundreds of billions of dollars more were added by big firms drawing down their credit lines at their banks, again enabled by low rates thanks to the Fed. Nearly all big corporations suspended their dividend payouts, which in prior years had exceed more than $500 billion a year. Still other firms boosted available liquidity by saving on their daily costs of operations as workers were either laid off or allowed work remotely and facilities were shuttered.

In other words, most medium and large US businesses were fat with cash, could borrow at lower rates in private markets, and simply didn’t need the $1.1 trillion in emergency loans provided for them, through the Fed, as a result of the March Cares Act. So Mnuchin’s request for the $455 billion returned from the Fed included the funds the Treasury had given the Fed in March for possible lending to medium and large corporations—lending that never materialized because it was never needed.

About $100 billion was loaned by the Fed to date for various ‘Main St.’ lending facilities and other programs. In March the US Treasury provided $195 billion for Main St. programs. Another $25 billion was allowed the Fed to complete funding in progress. That left $70 billion of the $195 billion that Mnuchin now wants back. Add to that $70 billion the roughly $135 billion in unused PPP funds. And to that total ($70 + $135) another approximate $250 billion in funds allocated for large corporations and for other sources, and the grand total is the $455 billion that Mnuchin told Powell he wants back.

Jerome Powell’s Conundrum

The Fed will be left with the $25 billion to cover Main St. loans still being disbursed, as well as $74 billion in its ‘Financial Stabilization Fund’ (FSB) for future emergencies.

Cleaned out of most of its emergency funding originally allocated under the Cares Act, the Fed will be forced to address any future financial instability and emergencies by providing even more QE in addition to the $120 billion a month already. But that’s quite ok with financial investors and markets, since it will mean even lower (and longer duration) interest rates on Fed government securities. It may even force the Fed to introduce nominal negative interest rates, as have other central banks in Europe and Japan.

By his action, Mnuchin signaled the Republican preferred policy is to force monetary policy to again play the lead role in any future recovery. Fiscal stimulus is not primary, or even likely, in 2021. That explains in large part why both the Trump administration and McConnell’s Republican Senate have stonewalled any fiscal stimulus package subsequent to the March Cares Act. The Democrats’ ‘Heroes Act’ of $2.4 trillion passed back in June 2020 by the Democrat majority US House of Representatives has been thwarted and delayed by various tactics and means by McConnell and Trump coordinated maneuvers. Nor will McConnell permit any reasonable fiscal stimulus in what remains of 2020. Should he agree on anything, moreover, it will be to ‘give’ the Democrats back the $455 billion he took from the Fed with the assistance of Mnuchin. Moreover, should the Republicans retain control of the Senate by winning the run off elections in Georgia on January 5, 2021, McConnell’s Republican Senate majority will continue to oppose any fiscal stimulus proposed by the new Biden administration. It will mean a continuation of virtual veto of fiscal stimulus proposals that McConnell and Republicans have adhered to since at least 2012-14.

The Cares Act March 2020 fiscal stimulus was an aberration to this strategy. Immediately after, the Republicans returned to their monetary policy/central bank as primacy policy that has been in effect ever since the 2008-09 great recession 1.0. But even that generalization may be an exaggeration, since by monetary policy in this Republican strategic view is meant only QE and near zero rates—and does not include special lending to small businesses or employment assistance. In short, soon after the passage of the Cares Act it was back to monetary policy designed to benefit private markets and investors and not to benefit small business or wage earners.

The GDP Effect of Fiscal-Monetary Policy in 2020

The Cares Act has been consistently estimated as a $2.4 trillion stimulus event (or $3 trillion if one counts the $650 billion in business-investor tax cutting also provided by that legislation). But in fact the actual fiscal stimulus—in the form of PPP $525 billion and $500B employment assistance—amounted only to around $1 trillion! Add another $200 billion in direct spending assistance to hospitals and for Covid emergency health care, plus the minimal $125 billion or so in Main St. and other corporate lending, and the total actual fiscal stimulus to the general economy has totaled less than $1.5 trillion under the Cares Act. That’s around only 7% of GDP!

That compares to roughly $5.5% stimulus in the 2009 Obama recovery act, which proved grossly insufficient to generating a sustained economic recovery for most of the real economy after 2009. The 2020 contraction of the real economy has been at least four times as deep as the 2008-09 contraction. So the stimulus in GDP terms in the Cares Act was even less sufficient than was the Obama 2009 recovery package. How long it will take the 2020 great recession to recovery in employment and business activity terms with this even less sufficient stimulus to date remains to be seen. But history suggests recovery in the current great recession 2.0 will be measured in more years than the last 2008-09 great recession 1.0.

There has been much hype by politicians and media about the so-called economic recovery 3rd quarter in the USA. But the facts show the economy contracted sharply by 10.8% from March through June. It then ‘rebounded’ (not to be confused with ‘recovered’)in the 3rd quarter by 7.4%. More importantly, many key economic indicators have been flashing in the 4th quarter that the 3rd quarter recovery will weaken appreciable in the 4th. And some predict even more so in the 1st quarter 2021. Like Europe, the US Economy may be headed toward a double dip contraction over the winter months ahead. That will result in a clear ‘W-shape’ recovery (not V-shape) that is typical of all great recessions—which this writer has been predicting since last March.

The economic ‘relapse’ to a slower growth path in the 4th quarter is all but ensured by the current failure to quickly pass a sufficient fiscal stimulus bill at year’s end 2020, by the intensifying negative impact on the US economy by the Covid 3rd wave surging in America today, and for months still to come, and by the continuing political instability and gridlock in policy impacting the economy as well.
Much is made by optimists of the strength of recovery of US manufacturing and Construction sectors—i.e. the goods sectors—in the US economy. But together they constitute only 20% at best of the total US economy and GDP. Moreover, the recovery here is deceptive. Manufacturing is still 5.6% below 2019 and employment not recovered by any estimate. And Construction recovery is limited to new single family housing—with apartment and multiple housing barely improving—and commercial property construction still mired in a deep recession with no end in sight. This is not the basis for a sustained full economic recovery by any means. Especially since much of the services sector will lag in recovery for some time as well.

It is in the context of this questionable ‘recovery’ of the US economy in late 4th quarter 2020 that a fiscal stimulus package appears dead on arrival in Congress for the rest of the year; that Covid continues to surge with its expected economic impact; that the last vestiges of the Cares Act will soon expire before year end; and political instability threatens to create more business investment uncertainty.
In the midst of all this, Mnuchin and Republicans have acted to pull much needed funding from the Fed, making it even more difficult to restore economic resources needed in 2021.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
November 24, 2020

Dr. Rasmus is author of the recently published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020. He blogs at jackrasmus.com. His website is http://kyklosproductions.com and his twitter handle @drjackrasmus.

posted November 22, 2020
US Political Crisis Enters More Dangerous Phase

Today the political crisis in America may be entering an even more dangerous phase–a phase that I predicted was possible months ago. Today reportedly Trump has asked Republican state legislators in Michigan, where he lost the popular vote, to come to the White House. Trump no doubt wants them to select electors who will vote for him, not for the winner of the vote in Michigan, Biden.

The veil of Democracy in America is being ripped away from the body politic right before our eyes. Not only can the Electoral College thwart the popular vote for president; but there are even more nefarious ways for political elites to circumvent the Electoral College if they don’t like it.

The electoral college is, of course, the means by which the popular vote for the president is prevented. Instead of Democracy’s principle of ‘one person, one vote’, we have electors who are selected by their state legislatures who then cast their vote for president. That’s the appearance. But it’s even worse than that.

The timeline for the Electoral College to meet and cast their votes for president is December 8. Each state’s vote in the Electoral College’s must then be sent by December 14 to their state’s governor, who must send that decision to Congress by December 23. Congress then confirms the president by January 6. That’s the actual process how presidents are ‘elected’.

The problem is that state legislatures select the electors who vote in the electoral college. But the electors they select don’t necessarily have to vote for the candidate the majority of the people of their state vote for. The legislature can select electors, or direct the electors they already selected, to vote for a candidate who the people of the state didn’t vote for. Court decisions prohibiting this are not clear cut, so it can be argued the legislatures can select the electors who can vote for whatever candidate they want. Even recent US Supreme Court decisions on this are ambiguous.

By calling Republican state legislatures from Michigan today to the White House–an act that in itself is intimidating, since Republican politicians know Trump can unseat them next primary–Trump is clearly attempting to ‘convince’ them to select, or order, electors to vote for him instead of Biden. If successful in Michigan, Trump will no doubt target another couple Republican majority state legislatures to do the same between now and December 14. Like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia are all Republican state majority legislatures. That’s how he’ll try to ‘reverse’ the electoral college vote in his favor, or at least he clearly now thinks he can or he wouldn’t bother ‘inviting’ Republican state legislatures from Michigan to the White House. He’s not doing so for any other obvious reason.

Those who disagree with this analysis may say, ‘even if he convinces Republican state legislators to select electors for him, the governors of those states will not send the vote of those ‘reversed’ electors to Congress on December 23′. So he won’t get away with that maneuver.
But wait. Not so fast. Trump can then use that refusal of a governor to send Trump electors to Congress as an excuse to call in the US Supreme Court to decide the issue. Trump’s lawyers will then argue to the Court there isn’t a complete electoral college vote total to determine the outcome of the election if one or more governors don’t send in the results. The Supreme Court would then likely ‘pass the buck’ and order the decision on the election referred to the US House of Representatives, per the US Constitution.

Here’s where US Democracy is further revealed as the ‘fig leaf’ it is. In the House of Representatives the vote for president is done by one vote per state, not by total representatives. 435 Representatives don’t vote if the election is thrown into the House, which has a majority of Democrat legislators. No. Each state in the House gets just one vote. All the states with a majority Republican state legislature get to cast one vote for president. With Republican politicians cowering everywhere, fearful of Trump’s 70 million Republican voters, guess how they’ll vote in the House?

And if Trump has more red state Republican majority legislatures–which he does–the majority of red states would out-vote blue states by a vote of around 27 or so to 23. Trump wins!

If this sounds incredible it is nevertheless arguably legal and politically possible. And we know Trump will go to any length over the next 60 days–regardless if it results in the destruction what’s left of even the fig leaf of Democracy in America. Even if it leads to a political breakdown of the system or violence in the streets between Trump’s supporters and the rest of the country’s voters and citizenry (which Trump would no doubt like to see as well).

By calling Michigan state legislatures to the White House today it is clear this is the trajectory Trump now has in mind. We should all be forewarned! The fight to restore what’s little left of American Democracy may just be beginning.

Dr. Rasmus’s most recent book is ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020. He blogs at http://jackrasmus.com and hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio network. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus. His website with downloadable podcasts, videos, reviews, and public talks is http://kyklosproductions.com.

posted November 8, 2020
How Could 70 Million Still Have Voted for Trump?

November 7, 2020
Dr. Jack Rasmus

Media pundits and others have been deeply perplexed as to why so many Americans in this election–70 million in fact– nonetheless voted for Trump.

But it’s not all that difficult to understand. There are 3 major explanations: One economic. One health. And the third, and most important, a matter of culture and racism manipulated by clever politicians for the past quarter century at least.

The first explanation—economics—is that the red states (Trump’s base) did not ‘suffer’ as much economically from the recession as have (and are) the blue states and big urban areas. The red states shut down only in part and for just a couple weeks then quickly reopened as early as May. A few hot spots in New Orleans and Florida were quickly contained. By reopening quickly they economically minimized the negative effects of the shutdowns and quarantines. They would eventually pay the price in health terms for early reopening, but they clearly chose to trade off later health problems for early economic gains. At the same time they quickly reopened, the red pro-Trump states still received the economic benefits of the March-April Cares Act bailout that pumped more than a $trillion into the economy benefitting households directly–i.e. this was the $670 billion in small business PPP grants, the $350 billion in extra unemployment benefits, the $1,200 checks, and other direct spending on hospitals and health providers. The Trump states got their full share of the bailout, even if they didn’t need it as much after having reopened early. Finally, if Trump supporters lived in the farm belt sector of Red State America, they additionally got $70B more in direct subsidies and payments from Trump that was designed to placate the farm belt during Trump’s disastrous China trade war. That’s 3 main sources of added income the red states as a general rule received that the blue states, coasts, big cities elsewhere did not get. In short the economic impact of this recession was therefore far less severe in the geographic areas of the greatest concentration of Trump’s political support.

Second, Covid did not negatively impact the red states as much as it did the blue states and major urban areas of America—at least not until late in Sept-Oct after which much voting had already begun and political positions had hardened. And then when Covid did hit the red states late, it impacted relatively more the larger cities and not as much initially in the small towns and rural areas of Trump’s red states. Covid’s impact economically was therefore relatively worse in big urban areas, especially in the coasts.

But even more important than these relative economic and health effects, the continued support that exists for Trump in his base of red states—i.e. in the small town, rural, small business, and religious right areas—is grounded in the ‘ethnic’ composition of his mostly White European heritage followers who are fearful ‘their’ white culture is being overwhelmed by the growing numbers and diversity of people of color in America.

This fear is the foundation of his—and their—white nationalism which is really a form of racism. So too is their anti-immigration. It is anti-immigration directed against people of color–whether latinos, blacks, muslims or whomever. White European heritage, small town, rural, evangelical, small business ‘heartland’ of the south & midwest America sees ‘their America’ disappearing or at least having to share more equally with people of color America. The latter are now almost equal in population to White Europeans but are not equal politically or economically. They are knocking on the door and want in. They want their equal share.
But clever politicians have convinced White European America that it’s a zero sum game: what people of color America may get will be only at their expense! Sharing is not possible. Trump and others, who are manipulating this fear and discontent for their own political careers, have convinced them that it’s an ‘Us vs. Them’ zero sum game. That way those with wealth and real power redirect discontent from their four decades of obscene wealth accumulation at the expense of everyone else, white or non-white Americans. Whipping up and redirecting discontent into identity and racial identity themes means the super well off won’t have to share with either White European or non-White European people of color.
Pit the one against the other, while they–those of wealth and power–continue to ‘pick the pockets’ of both. That was, and remains, Trump’s strategy in a nutshell. It’s also the strategy of his wealthy backers. It’s the age old American ruling class racism ‘shell game’. Just now in the form of ‘old wine in new bottles’, as they saying goes. ‘America First’ means in effect White America of his political base comes first. Trump and financial backers and power brokers–like the Adelsons, Mercers, Singers and their allies–have convinced White European America in the heartland to be fearful and oppose equality for Americans of color elsewhere. That’s why Trump sounds very much like a ‘White Nationalist’, and even at times as pro-fascist because that’s the message of the far right as well. His theme of ‘Make America Great Again’ is really, when translated, make White European America safe again and stop the hoards of people of color taking ‘their America’ from them.

Here’s why they fundamentally support him: Trump has become their ‘bulwark’ against this demographic change which they fear above all else. That’s why Trump could do or say whatever he wanted and move increasingly to further extremes, and they’d still support him. They would support him even in dismantling what remains of truncated Democracy in America, if it were necessary in their view. And they still will continue to support him. Neither Trump nor Trumpism is going away. It has taken deep root in the 70 million, waiting for a resurrection in 2024 or even 2022.

All this is not unlike what happened in the USA in the 1850s decade. The USA is about at 1854 in terms of historical times and events. The 2024 election may therefore be even more ‘contentious’, should Biden and the Democrats fail to aggressively resolve the economic and health dual crises deepening this winter in America. Should Biden adopt a minimalist program and solution–in the name of a renewed ‘bipartisanship’ strategy aimed at placating Mitch McConnell’s Republican Senate–then ‘Bidenomics’ is doomed. It will result in a midterm 2022 election sweep return of Trump forces, maybe under the leadership of Trump, or maybe a Ted Cruz, or maybe a Marco Rubio. Or maybe some clever new face. A minimalist Biden program will suffer the fate of Obama’s minimalist economic stimulus program of January 2009, which resulted in a massive loss of electoral support for Democrats in the midterm elections of 2010 and in turn led to the loss of the US House of Representatives Democrat majority and then the Senate soon after. The economic consequences of that particular gridlock following that are all well known. There is a great risk of the same occurring in 2021-22.

The 2020 election looked in some fundamental ways a lot like 2016, with the differences today being the working and middle classes in the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania flipped back to Democrats in 2020 after having voted for Trump in 2016. It was a 3 state flip. That flip was because Trump simply did not deliver on his 2016 promises to bring good paying industrial jobs back to those states after 20 years of free trade, offshoring, and the de-industrialization of the region. A good example of Trump’s failed promises was the Asian Foxconn Corp., maker of Apple iphone parts. Trump and Foxconn promised to bring 5000 jobs to the US upper midwest. It never happened. Foxconn’s operation in the US today is limited to only 250 jobs in a warehouse. So the upper midwest again slipped back by narrow margins to the Democrats. But if the Democrats now can’t deliver jobs either, they’ll just as easily slip back again in 2022 and 2024.

The other difference in 2020 from 2016 is the emergence of real grass roots movements in Georgia and in the southwest in Arizona-Nevada; Black folks and their allies in Georgia and Latinos and Native Americans in the southwest. Also new organizing and mobilizing of people of color and workers in places like Philadelphia, Detroit, Erie, Pittsburg, and elsewhere.

These new growing grass roots movements are the real political forces that determined Biden’s win, along with the working class and middle classes disenchantment with Trump’s failed promises. Biden’s win had therefore less to do with Nancy Pelosi’s strategy of targeting suburban white women, vets, professionals and independents. That strategy failed to produce any ‘blue wave’ whatsoever. In fact, it resulted in Democrat loss of seats in the House of Representatives, while wasting tens of millions of dollars on futile Senate races like that in Kentucky against Mitch McConnell. Just think if that money was spent in Georgia. If it was, there might not be the need to have runoff elections there this coming January for the state’s two Senate seats.
No, the Democrat leadership grand strategy was a definite failure; the strategy of mobilizing the grass roots in Georgia and the southwest, a strategy not supported much financially by the Democrat party leadership, is what has put Biden in the White House.

What remains to be seen is whether Pelosi, Shumer and the moneybag corporate donors of their party will understand what has really happened this election cycle and really why Biden won (and the House and Senate campaigns largely failed). If the leaders of the party now go the route of a minimalist program in 2020, as did Obama in 2009, they will no doubt come 2022 suffer a similar fate as Obama and they did in 2010. Then we will all be back to ‘square one’ with a resurgence of Trump and Trumpism once again.

The Democrats are at an historical crossroads. They can either understand the real forces behind the 70 million supporters who voted for Trump, or they can ignore history in the making and repeat history of the past of 2009-10 and subsequently suffer the same consequences in 2022 and certainly 2024. But don’t expect the media pundits to understand any of this, any more than they can even now comprehend why Trump’s followers number in the tens of millions despite his loss. They and Trump are not defeated yet. They have been merely ‘checked’ for a while.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
November 8, 2020

posted November 6, 2020
The Day After: 2020 Election Update & Political Predictions

In my article last week, ‘Why the Record Vote Turnout May Not Matter’, I predicted the election via electoral college would look very much like 2016: the 3 swing states (PA, MI, WI) would determine the outcome again, and maybe one other state could flip (either Arizona or, less likely, North Carolina). I predicted, as of a week ago, the electoral college vote was very close, with 244 votes for Biden and 248 for Trump.

As of last night, Nov. 3 late, it was exactly that, according to CNN. 244 to 248. This morning, Nov. 4, it’s come down to NV, AZ, WI, MI likely ending up for Biden once final votes are counted; and GA, NC likely for Trump. With Pennsylvania undetermined for days yet. And maybe weeks should Trump take legal action to stop the mail in vote count, which is likely.

As I also predicted last week, Trump came before the TV cameras late last night Nov. 3 and declared the election was a fraud, that the vote counting of mail in ballots should halt in all the swing states only, and that he was going to the US Supreme Court.

Democrats’ naive prediction during the election that they would carry several of the big red states: Texas, Florida, Ohio turned out, as I predicted in my article last week, to be ‘wishful thinking’. As I argued then, these states were long time notorious voter suppression states and would remain Trump’s. Georgia and Florida each already prevented the right to vote, or have impounded, hundreds of thousands of eligible voters in each of those two states, as reported by investigative journalist, Greg Palast.

As of noon today, Nov. 4, should Biden win MI, WI, NV, AZ, where he now leads, and also carry the one special district in Nebraska, he will then have 269 electoral college votes. He won’t win GA or NC. And Pennsylvania is undetermined.

So where could Biden get votes to put him over the required 270? Only one state left: Maine with its 4 votes.

If this scenario holds, the US election will be therefore determined by less than five votes. The country remains fundamentally split and divided.

The policy gridlock concerning economic stimulus will likely continue as a result, as the Senate appears will remain in Republican hands and Senate votes will be driven by the Republican right wing led by Rand Paul who wants no more stimulus but wants more austerity cuts to government spending.

Republicans in Senate will continue their stacking of the Federal courts, and will rely on the ideological partner of the US Supreme Court, with its 6-3 Trump majority, from time to time, to help them block and undermine legislation already passed.

In many ways the election map now looks very much like 2016, with one or so states flipping Democrat but not much change except two ‘blue wall’ swing states going Biden by very thin margins.

In terms of government policy to follow, however, the country will look more like 2012–with McConnell’s Republican Senate thwarting initiatives on economics (stimulus, health, jobs, taxes, etc.) by the US House of Representatives and President (presuming Biden wins).
Consequences for the US economy are not good. The chances are less than 50-50 that a stimulus bill of necessary proportions will be passed before January 2021, just as Covid worsens and dampens household spending and business investment. But big corporations will be happy with this continued gridlock, since it means it is unlikely their massive 2018 tax cut of $4 trillion plus will be reversed for another four years, as the McConnell Senate now prevents all efforts to raise revenues for stimulus spending.

Another important outcome of the election is that the Democrats have actually lost seats in the US House, but not yet control. They expected a ‘blue wave’ that did not occur. The Democrats also failed to take back the US Senate. And Biden as president has no clear mandate. They are in a very weak position to make changes but in a position to be blamed for the failure to make changes which will have negative impact on them in 2022 midterm elections.

The Democrats failure in general, apart from maybe squeaking out a presidential win, shows their election strategy was wrong. As I argued back in November 2018 after the midterms, their strategy of focusing on the suburbs and upper middle class professionals and independents, would not succeed in a general election. It hasn’t.

So where does the country go politically from here?

First, Trump will not go away. That means not just leave office quietly–but also Trump as a social-movement will remain and likely grow stronger as his base believes the election was ‘stolen’ from him as he so often warned. Trump is an unstable, reactionary social movement, not just an unstable individual.

Second, both political parties may split before 2024 (and certainly before 2028) causing a basic party realignment in the US.
Trump’s wing will grow more radical and possibly split from the Republican party should that party’s big corporate leaders use Trump’s loss as an opportunity to ‘take back’ their party. The Democrats may also split. If Biden and the corporate wing of his party introduce ‘go slow’, minimal program and measures in 2021 it may force the Sanders-Warren-‘Squad’ progressives to finally leave as well. After disastrous 2016 and 2020 campaigns it is clear the Democrats as a party cannot deliver change needed to confront the growing multiple crises–economic, health, climate, and political.

Third, this election and likely consequent crises in the US continuing now make it further clear that the American global economic empire has entered a declining stage. It began in 2008-09 but will now become more clear. China will continue to rise in power and influence. Europe will continue to decline and reorient from the US hegemony. More emerging market countries will shift away from the US.

The 2020 election has heralded in a new decade where fundamental changes domestically and internationally will now accelerate.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
copyright November 5, 2020

posted October 30, 2020
Why the Record Vote Turnout May Not Matter

Mainstream media is pounding out an incessant drumbeat: ‘Get Out and Vote! Mail in Your Ballot! Do It Now! Vote Early!’

But what may well determine the outcome of the election on November 3 may not be the current record voter turnout now underway. That is, not how many actually vote. But rather how many votes get actually counted.

While Democrats are pushing voter turnout, Trump and Republicans are planning to prevent the counting of the votes that do turnout—at least in the three, or at most four, key swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin that will in the end determine the results of the 2020 election in the Electoral College.

If the Electoral College were to cast its votes today Trump and Biden would be virtually tied!

Contrary to the mainstream media and the popular vote trend, Biden does not have a comfortable lead in Electoral College votes. By this writer’s estimate, Trump has 248 Electoral College votes, while Biden has 244! Barely 40-50 potential Electoral College are therefore actually ‘in play’ as they say. These 40-50 are in the true swing states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that together account for a total of 46 votes. The three are also the states in which Trump’s legion of hundreds of lawyers have been preparing for weeks to demand from pro-Trump recently appointed judges that they halt the counting of mail in ballots.

That 248 to 244 close tie in the Electoral College today all but ensures that Trump moves forward on November 3 to implement his plans to stop the mail in ballot vote count in the key swing states. Further encouraging that plan is the fact that those same three swing states don’t start counting mail in ballots until midnight on November 3. Trump could potentially stop the count of virtually all the mail in ballots in those key swing states.

The Electoral College As Bulwark Against Democracy

The Electoral College is an abomination on Democracy. Nevertheless, it will determine the outcome of the 2020 election less than a week from now.

Most election polls, according to mainstream media, show Biden has a commanding lead in the popular vote of 8% to 10%. But the popular vote is irrelevant in America’s 21st century truncated Democracy. All that matters is the total Electoral College vote and which candidate wins a total of 270 Electoral College votes across all the 50 states wins the November 3 election.

Wait. Check that. All that matters is the Electoral College count in the three swing states this time around. Well, let me correct that further: All that matters is the mail-in ballot vote count in those three states.

Trump plans to declare himself the winner late evening November 3, or at latest early morning November 4—i.e. well before the mail in ballots are counted in those 3 states. Before the sun comes up on November 4 he’ll launch his hundreds of lawyers already ensconced in those states—and McConnell’s handpicked judges there—to stop the mail in ballot counting with preliminary injunctions and other legal legerdemain! That will be done before most folks wake up for breakfast on the 4th. The injunctions and legal motions filed in federal district courts will then be quickly kicked upstairs to the Appeals Courts, both dominated by McConnell’s rushed appointees in recent years. The Appeals Courts will pass it on eventually to Trump’s now 6-3 majority US Supreme Court to rule!

That’s what American electoral Democracy has come down to: the next president will be determined by mail in ballots in just three states; more correctly, whether those mail in ballots in those three states are counted or not.

CNN’s Election Myopia

Both the pro-Trump right wing media like Fox news, as well as the more mainstream CNN, like to play the ‘who’s winning the electoral college’ vote game every day. But their guestimates are no better than yours or mine.

CNN has its daily color-coded ‘Electoral Map’ showing which states are firmly for Trump or Biden (red or blue), which states are leaning toward Trump or Biden (light blue or pink), and in which ‘battleground’ state (yellow color coded) is neither candidate leading.

Amazingly CNN has Biden leading with 290 solid or strongly leaning ‘blue’ states. To get to 290 CNN assumes that Biden will eventually win the light blue ‘leaning’ states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, and even New Hampshire. Apart from these ‘leaning blue’, Biden has 204 other electoral college votes solid blue and thus wrapped up for Biden.

The eight states ‘light blue’ and leaning Biden total 86 electoral votes which, when added to the solid 204, result in CNN’s assumed 290 for Biden. So it looks like Biden’s a strong lead in the Electoral College, per CNN analysis. Of course, CNN also assumes all votes for Biden will be actually counted, including mail in ballots.

But will all the ballots get counted? Or will the SCOTUS suspend and stop the counting of mail in ballots—just as it did ballot recounting in 2000 in Florida?

All Trump has to do is succeed in stopping the mail in ballot vote counting in just Pennsylvania (20), Wisconsin (10) and Michigan (16) and Trump wipes out 46 of Biden’s 290 total, leaving Biden with just 244 electoral college votes and well short of the required 270 to win!

CNN assumes further the remaining 5 states’ leaning blue’ actually go blue: That means Colorado (9), Arizona (11), Minnesota (10), Nevada (6), and New Hampshire (4). It also assumes all (4) votes from Maine go for Biden—i.e. are not ‘split’ between Biden and Trump which is possible in only that state (and Nebraska which also can split its 5 votes).

This is a list off some big assumptions! That is, Trump won’t succeed in stopping the mail ballot count in the 3 states; the 3 states will all go Trump on November 3; and the other 5 ‘leaning blue’ states will all go Biden.

Doing the Electoral College math still further, Trump only needs to stop the mail ballot count in two of the three states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania in order to deprive Biden of 270. And should no halt to mail ballot counting occur in any of the three, Biden still needs to win two of the three fairly nevertheless.

In other words, halting the vote count in just two states is all it will take to give Trump another four years. If you think Trump, McConnell & friends haven’t done this calculation, you’re mistaken!

CNN’s analysis of Trump’s solid and ‘leaning’ red states is no less naïve than its analysis of Biden’s.

It has Trump with only 163 solid red state electoral votes, with Texas’s 38 votes indicated as only ‘leaning red’ toward Trump. So Trump only has 201 electoral college votes.

CNN then describes Florida (29), Georgia (16), Ohio (18), and North Carolina (15) as neutral ‘battleground’ states that are up for grabs. Really? Who believes that? These 5 states are the notorious five (when including Texas) states that have a long history of voter suppression by various means. With no limits put on their vote suppression activities for years, including the last four in particular, these five states will almost certainly go for Trump again. Their legislatures are all solid rabid Republican! And if anything they’ve intensified their voter suppression activity since 2016.

The notorious five are ‘battlegrounds’ only in CNN and the Democrat Party’s wildest dreams. Hundreds of thousands of eligible, potential Democrat voters have been purged from their voting rolls in recent years and months. Maybe millions. These five are where voters cannot register by mail, nor at the poll on voting day. Where mail in ballots must be received by election day, not merely post marked before. Where drop boxes for ballots are limited one to a county sometimes covering hundreds of square miles. Where witnesses must accompany a voter to get registered. Where a de facto poll tax must be paid in many cases. Where Trump supporters are allowed to ‘stand guard’ at polling sites with their guns if they want, in order to intimidate voters. Where votes in pro-Democrat precincts are often ‘lost’. Where voting machines supposedly break down when voters are kept waiting in line for six and more hours to vote. The list is long and disgusting. No. These five notorious voter suppressor states are not battlegrounds. They’re Trump’s. They are not ‘yellow code’ battleground states; they are Trump states kept in his camp by suppression and voter intimidation.

Voter suppression in these five allowed Trump to win in 2016, just as much as Hillary’s terrible campaign permitted Trump to grab Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by smaller margins. Eight states turned the election in 2016. The five voter suppressor states will repeat. And instead of Hillary giving away the three upper Midwest swing states, this time around Trump’s plan is to deny them to Biden by stopping the mail in ballot vote count there.

When the notorious ‘vote suppressor big five’ states’ 116 electoral college votes are added to Trump’s solid 132 small red states’ votes, Trump has 248 potential votes—to Biden’s 244!

That means the election in the Electoral College today is a virtual tie at 248 to 244! It’s not CNN’s 290 to 163!

Both Biden’s and Trump’s campaign strategists know the election will be close, very close. The virtual tie with less than one week to go explains in large part why both Trump and Biden are paying attention to Maine and Nebraska, both making stops there despite their minimal 4 and 5 electoral votes, given that both states are the only ones allowing a split in their electoral college votes across candidates. Picking up one or more votes from either may play a role in this election before it’s over as well. Trump knows it. So does Biden.
In summary, what the election appears coming down to is two things:

First, will Trump prove successful in halting the mail in vote count in at least two of the three key states leaning blue: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania? If so, he wins.

Second, will the notorious five voter suppression states—Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas—pull off enough suppression in order to deliver their states’ electors to Trump yet again? If they don’t, Biden wins.

In other words, it’s not getting more voter turnout that will determine the election. It is voter suppression plus vote count prevention that together will determine the fate of the USA for another four years! That’s what Democracy in America has come down to.

Let’s Fundamentally Restructure the College & the Supreme Court

None of the above abomination of Democracy would be possible were there no Electoral College; and if the US Supreme Court had not have become in recent decades a handmaiden of the right and business interests.

Trump’s strategy to pull off an electoral coup d’etat would not be possible without both institutions working ‘hand in glove’, as they say, to thwart the will of the majority of the American people.

The two institutions, captured by a president like Trump, now make Trump’s planned legal coup a possibility.

So how do we change these two great anti-Democracy enabler institutions—i.e. the Electoral College and the Supreme Court?
Growing popular today is the movement to amend the US Constitution to abolish the Electoral College. But that requires the vote of three fourths of state legislatures and therefore many of the small ‘red’ states in Trump’s camp who enjoy a preferential advantage and influence beyond their population numbers due to the Electoral College. They are not about to vote to eliminate their advantage by voting for a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College.

But the Electoral College doesn’t need to be abolished in order to break the stranglehold of the small red states! There is another way to radically restructure it to re-balance it to reflect the population changes and popular vote.

The Electoral College is composed of 535 members, one each for the number of US House of Representatives plus 2 Senators from each state. That’s 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. The 435 representatives is based on the population of the country. The US Constitution calls for adding representatives as the population rises. The last time Congress did that was in 1913. It is long overdue to add representatives and House districts to reflect that increase in representatives. That would result in more representatives in the more populous blue states, and therefore more blue state Electors. That would effectively break the back of the small, red state lock on the Electoral College and in turn end Trump-Republican red state total electors advantage in presidential elections—an advantage that consistently now is out of line with the popular vote for the presidency.

Another, less effective way perhaps is just to add more states, which would add more electors by adding more representatives and Senators alike. Proposals are already floating around to add Washington DC as a state and perhaps even Puerto Rico if its citizens so voted to do so.

Either or both of these alternatives to change the current Electoral College could result in a less lopsided and imbalance favoring smaller, less populous, Trump dominated red states. Just doing what the Constitution calls for, which Congress has avoided since 1913, is the better restructuring solution.

And what about the growing imbalance favoring the radical right in the US Supreme Court? Public discourse is already raising the possibility of adding 2-3 or more SCOTUS judges, from the current 9 to 11 or 12. Congress has the Constitutional authority to do that since it created the Supreme Court, not the US Constitution. But reform should go well beyond just adding numbers. The terms of the judges should be reduced from lifetime to no more than 10 years. And SCOTUS judges should be elected not appointed. 12 or 15 districts could be created across the USA and a judge elected from each. And what gets elected can get recalled. The founders of the country and framers of the US Constitution feared that lifetime appointments of what amounts to nine never elected lawyers could thwart the will and sovereignty of the American people. And that’s what’s been happening in recent decades and is now happening today.

Without a basic restructuring—if not outright abolition—of the Electoral College, American Democracy will continue to result increasingly to produce abominations like the 2000 election and its likely repeat in the upcoming November 3 election. Instead of one person one vote—i.e. true Democracy—we keep getting presidents elected without the support of the majority of the American people. At some point that will explode.

And the same may be said for the rightward and pro-corporate drift of the US Supreme Court. It has already lost serious legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the American people. And it’s about to exacerbate that loss in the wake of next week’s election when it likely comes to the aid of Donald Trump to halt the mail ballot vote counting.

The Court’s myths about being a co-equal branch of government created by the US Constitution, with the authority to overturn the laws passed by the Congress, and with the usurped power to interfere with elections and ‘select’ a president will eventually blow up in the face of the US elite, as Americans come to understand the Supreme Court’s true origins and its truer functions—i.e. origins and functions that have little to do with ensuring Democracy and, increasingly in recent years, far more to do with ensuring its decline.

It is worth concluding one more time: next week’s election is not about ‘getting everyone out to vote’. It’s going to be about preventing the full counting of that record vote turnout!

Dr. Jack Rasmus
October 28, 2020
Copyright 2020

posted October 29, 2020
Barrett Confirmed by U.S. Senate, Post-Election Chaos Now Inevitable

Today Mitch McConnell’s Republican Senate confirmed its third ultra conservative Supreme Court nominee, Amy Barrett, as Supreme Court Justice. Coming in the midst of America’s current dual crisis—economic and Covid health—both now worsening, the Barrett appointment ensures the emergence of historic political instability in the USA. The dual crisis is about to become a triple crisis.

As US unemployment claims rise, rent evictions accelerate, food lines grow, the prospect of a fiscal stimulus bill in Congress fades, and as a third Covid 19 wave creates record level infections & hospitalizations, each deterioration has begun reinforcing the other.
Potentially exacerbating all the above, political instability and conflict of historic dimensions is around the corner. And the Barrett confirmation today, October 26, 2020 will put the US Supreme Court at the center of this dynamic.

The Consequences of the Barrett Confirmation

Democrats correctly complain Barrett’s confirmation will mean the end of women’s right to choose, a destruction of what’s left of the Affordable Care Act, the ending of many gay rights, a further US retreat from climate change, more deregulation of business, and a long list of other social programs of recent decades. They are right on all that. But even all that may not prove the worst of it.

Perhaps the most serious, and most immediate, consequence of the Barrett appointment to the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will be that Court’s interference once again in a presidential election—as in the 2000 national election when the Court played the central key role in stopping counting of votes and thus ‘selecting’ George W. Bush as president.

The Barrett appointment to the Court means Trump will have his 6-3 majority on the court just in time for the election and the counting of ballots. Even if chief Justice Roberts becomes an occasional swing vote, Barrett’s appointment will still ensure a 5-4 vote in favor of Trump.

The historic question thus arises: will Barrett, along with the other two Trump SCOTUS appointees Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, vote to stop the counting of mail in ballots in swing states and thus give Trump a second term? Would they dare? In particular would Barrett, being just confirmed to the Court?

More specifically, will the 6-3 SCOTUS Trump majority perform again its role of usurper of Democracy in America and intervene in Trump’s favor—as it did In 2000 when it ordered a halt to a vote re-count in Florida by declaring it “prejudiced George Bush’s’ campaign”? Is this possible again? You bet it is.

Guess who two of Bush’s main defense lawyers were in 2000 who demanded and argued to the Court at that time that it halt the vote re-count in Florida in favor of Bush? Both Barrett and Kavanaugh!

The Pusillanimity of Democrat Leadership

Democrats have been gnashing their political teeth, pounding their desks in the Senate, boycotting committee voting on the nomination, and making empty threats about stacking SCOTUS after the election. But recent history shows the Democrats themselves are complicit, and therefore responsible in part, for Barrett’s appointment, as well as for the appointments of her two radical right predecessors, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.

It was the Democrats who capitulated when their nominee to SCOTUS, Garland, was nominated by Obama in early 2016. Garland’s nomination was stopped dead when the Senate’s leader, McConnell, refused to even have hearings on Garland—let alone take his nomination to a vote. McConnell used a phony Senate rule that there must be no nominations in a year of a presidential election, to halt the Garland nomination. And what did the Democrats do? Nada! They thought they would win in 2016 and push through Garland then. Bad strategy. Hillary and the Democrat party corporate moneybags who ensured Hillary was the party’s candidate in 2016 scuttled that. The Democrats capitulated to McConnell and did nothing.

That wasn’t the first time either. Remember the do-nothing Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Court? No fewer than 11 Democrats in the Senate voted for him too? Now in 2020 they’re being ‘sandbagged’ once again by McConnell, who arbitrarily changed Senate rules a few weeks ago to get Barrett approved in a mere week before the national election! Democrats couldn’t get a hearing for Garland 11 months before an election; Barrett gets approved less than 11 days before the election! Democrats didn’t fight him in early 2016. They gave tepid resistance to the Gorsuch nomination by Trump. He flew through the confirmation hearing with little Democrat resistance. Kavanaugh was a wake up call for Democrats. They fought but, as usual, with an ineffective strategy.

Democrats’ failure to effectively resist McConnell is not new. Senate leader McConnell has played hard ball with the Democrats for years, striking them out repeatedly. Their batting average is pathetic. McConnell arbitarily broke Senate rules whenever it suited him, created new ones on the fly, and has generally ran roughshod over the Democrats at will. Meanwhile, Democrats keep crying ‘foul’ with each rule change, demanding McConnell play by the (old) rules and stop throwing them curve balls they can’t hit. So McConnell just threw them a fast ball past them in the Barrett case they couldn’t even swing at. Now they can’t even step up to the plate.

It all began with Obama back in 2009. He continually tried to establish a ‘bipartisan’ consensus with the Republicans to pass legislation for economic recovery. Obama listened to their demands to reduce his stimulus. But when he did not one Republican voted for it.
But they did vote when they convinced Obama in August 2011 to cut social spending programs by $1.5 trillion—i.e. more than Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill of $787 billion. Obama kept pursuing his futile ‘bipartisanship’. But he was tricked into cutting $1.5 trillion in education and other social programs, on the Republican promise that Defense spending would be cut as well by $500 billion.

Republicans later found a way around that and Pentagon spending cuts were eventually restored. Outfoxed again, Obama fell in line in 2013 in the name of ‘bipartisanship’, when he and Democrats supported the Republican demand to extend George W. Bush’s 2001-03 massive $3.4 trillion tax cuts for business and investors for another decade. That added ten years of business tax cuts cost taxpayers another $5 trillion! Obama ended up actually cutting business-investor taxes by $trillions more than George W. Bush!

Time and again Obama extended his hand to the Republican dog which repeatedly bit him. Obama kept extending it nonetheless; and McConnell kept biting. That’s the history of legislation in Congress over Obama’s entire term, 2008-2016. And it explains a lot why millions of voters abandoned the Democrats in 2016—although Hillary’s ineffective campaign helped a lot.

With Trump’s election, Republicans shifted strategy from just thwarting Democrat policies to plans to destroy the Democrats politically for a generation. The Obama era bipartisanship strategy continued for a while into the Trump era. Trump was permitted to keep raising US defense spending by hundreds of billions of dollars every year, in exchange for his agreement not to cut social program spending. He gained; they kept what they had. Meanwhile, the US budget deficit reached $1 trillion a year, during what was vaunted to be a robust economy. Lasts year, 2019, the Dems woke up to the failure of bipartisanship with Trump and his transformed Trump-worshipping Republican party out to destroy them, but too late.

Now the Barrett confirmation will enable Trump and McConnell to bite off at least a couple more fingers of the Democrat hand: womens’ right to choose and the Affordable Care Act. But not just Obamacare or women’s right to choose are about to be severed. Soon Barrett will be the decider on the Supreme Court again—as in 2000—determining the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. Trump and McConnell may slice off a thumb.

With the Barrett confirmation, the US Supreme Court—with no right to select the president— may nevertheless do so again. An institution not even mentioned in the US Constitution, with Barrett providing Trump a secure 6-3 (or at minimum 5-4) majority the Supreme Court may once again usurp the sovereignty of the American people. Here’s how it may occur:

Creating One, Two, Three….Many Floridas!

In just a few short weeks, it will become apparent the USA in 2020 has entered a déjà vu contested election as in 2000. ‘Contested’ is an unfortunate term. Every election is contested. What the media really means by choosing such a safe, neutral term like ‘contested’, is that the election may be stolen… once again. And this time it may usher in a deeper coup d’etat, not just a personality change at the top, as Trump radically attacks his opponents and the last vestiges of Democracy in America upon consolidating his victory coup.

The November 3, 2020 election may be Florida 2000 all over again! Only this time, unlike 2000 when vote re-counting was halted in three counties in Florida to give George W. Bush the election, it will be two, three, many Floridas. And it won’t be vote recounting. It will be counting of initial mail-in ballot votes.

All indications are Trump clearly plans to challenge and halt the mail in ballot vote counting in swing states where the direct in person vote tally will be close—i.e. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, and maybe even Georgia or Florida. He already has more than 250 of his lawyers stationed in the swing states to file injunctions to stop the mail in ballot counts. More will be coming, poised in the wings to swoop down into the swing states if needed. They’ll demand and get preliminary injunctions to halt the mail in vote counting. Hundreds of McConnell judge appointees in the swing states in recent years will move quickly to approve injunctions and move them along quickly; ditto for McConnell Appeals Court appointees who’ll cooperate and hand off the appeals to the Supreme Court. The matter will quickly rise to the new Trump SCOTUS with 6-3 majority with Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch recent appointees to the Court. They’ll pick the most favorable to Trump case to decide on, creating a de facto precedent that can be used to halt mail in ballot counting in other swing states.

The disruption and delays in vote counting will give Trump time to declare he has won the key swing states based on direct in person voting. He’ll likely declare himself the winner late on November 3 or certainly early on November 4 based on in person voting on November 3. Mail in ballot counting will be further delayed by legal maneuvers as long as possible. Trump will publicly hammer the message he won via direct votes and mail in votes are suspect, even fraudulent, and shouldn’t be ever counted but impounded.
Democrats will again gnash their teeth, jump up and down, and declare ‘foul’. Trump’s not playing by the rules. (Of course, he’s rewriting the rules in his favor, dummies, as he has always done).

Following Trump’s November 3 or 4 declaration of himself as winner, people will take to the streets to protest and demand resumption of the mail ballot vote counting. Trump will likely call on his supporters to hit the streets as well.

Demonstrators and counter-demonstrators will clash, sometimes violently. It may well make the Antifa vs. Proud boys conflicts of recent months look like a high school play dress rehearsal.

But those clashes and growing violence will benefit Trump. His lawyers can then argue that the social and political disruptions will only worsen, unless SCOTUS puts an end to it by permanently halting the mail ballot vote count. SCOTUS will comply, as it did in 2000. Or perhaps punt the ball and declare Congress should resolve the issue—but immediately to quell the social unrest and not after the new Congress takes office. That means with the existing Congress, dominated by the Republican Senate. Intensifying social disruptions in November-December will help to push the Court to decide in his favor, whichever of the two possible outcomes. He’ll therefore incite his followers incessantly through November-December.

It’s not coincidental that Wall St. and business interests are now buying insurance and hedging their investments in expectation of a scenario not unlike that just described. Nor coincidental that police forces and local governments are quietly preparing for mass confrontations in November, even as the mainstream media is purposely refusing to report on those preparations and scenarios.

Feeble Democrat Party Counter Strategies

Biden and Democrats are hoping that by generating a mass voter turnout they can avoid the close election results on November 3 in the swing states that, should that occur, would set in motion Trump’s plans and a SCOTUS repeat of Florida 2000 now in multiple swing states.

But a record voter turnout may occur in both sides—for Trump and for Biden—in the same swing states, with neither overwhelming the other and thus resulting in a close election in the swing states with record turnout for both sides! Turnout in such a case will be irrelevant. The election results will still be close, allowing Trump to still declare himself victor early.

The fact that far more Republicans will vote directly on November 3 than will Democrats (and conversely more Democrats vote via mail than Republicans) enables Trump to declare early victory and try to stop the mail in vote count. CNN polls show nationally that 55% Republicans will vote in person November 3, and only 22% Democrats. The percentages are reversed for the mail in voting. The swing state spreads will likely be even greater than the national CNN poll percentages.

Democrats and their media (CNN, MSNBC, etc.) keep talking today about national polls showing Biden with 8-10% lead over Trump in the popular vote nationwide. National polls are totally irrelevant. Only state wide polls and winning enough small states to accumulate a required 270 electoral votes to take the president. And the swing state polls show Trump and Biden virtually tied. Trump’s halting of mail in ballot counting could tip more swing states in his favor.

This election is not about maximizing voter turnout. It’s about not fully counting voter turn out in the form of mail in ballots in the swing states!

The US Supreme Court As Bulwark Against Democracy

America is a truncated Democracy. It does not have a direct democracy form of presidential election. There is no one person one vote. There never has been.

The USA has the electoral college, created in 1789, that was designed to check the popular uprisings of the 1780s following the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. Read the minutes of the US Constitutional Convention. The electoral college was a concession to those who feared the direct action and voting by the general population. Following the revolutionary war’s end in 1783, Yeoman farmers rose up everywhere protesting the economic depression of 1784-87.

They occupied and in some cases even seized control of their state legislatures in protest to the unpaid debts owed them by their governments and rising taxation.

The US Constitution of 1789 was created in response to their protests, designed to centralize power in the hands of northern Merchants and southern Plantation owners in order to check the popular uprisings. No women or slaves could vote was one outcome of that Constitution. Another was no direct election of Senators. Another was the electoral college, designed to allow state politicians and their appointed electors to determine the presidency. The right of women to vote, freeing of slaves and ensuring their right to vote, and Americans’ right to directly elect Senators were all achieved by means of mass popular movements that amended the original un-democratic constitution. But the electoral college still remains unamended. Neither party wants to amend it. They fear the uncontrolled will of the people still.

Here’s another fact that most Americans don’t know about their own Constitution: no where in it does it call for or authorize a US Supreme Court! Just that the Congress after the ratification of the Constitution by the States would legislate some kind of judiciary. The Congress created the court by means of legislation after the Constitution. So SCOTUS is subordinate to the authority of Congress, to whom the people in turn delegate their ultimate sovereignty periodically by means of elections. And take it back in elections.
So Congress can change anything it wants about the Supreme Court. It can add or delete justices. It can limit their terms in office, no longer for lifetime. It can make the justices serve by means of elections. It can even abolish SCOTUS altogether and replace it with something else.

The Supreme Court is thus not a co-equal to the Congress in the Constitution. It is not a co-equal institution. SCOTUS was purposely omitted by the framers of the Constitution because they didn’t want an institution of judges who were not directly elected by the people and who served for a lifetime to have any power to negate the sovereignty of the people or its elected Congress. That’s what the founders argued in the minutes of the Constitutional Convention of 1787!

Even less so was the Supreme Court given the authority to rule a law passed by Congress was unconstitutional. The legislation passed by Congress creating a court system did not give the Supreme Court authority to negate laws. That power is called ‘judicial review’, i.e. a power the Supreme Court usurped for itself in 1803 when it simply assumed the power of judicial review for itself. In short, the power of the Supreme Court to declare a law unconstitutional is not provided by the US Constitution nor passed by any law of Congress! It is therefore unconstitutional.

Even more so, neither the Constitution, nor Congress, nor any other institution ever gave the Supreme Court the authority to intervene in an election for president and decide on suspending a vote count, or any way interrupt a vote count, in order to favor one candidate for president over the other. That is, not until 2000 in Florida. And now again soon most likely in 2020!

Those who believe SCOTUS does have the right to intervene in elections, or that the Supreme Court can rule a law unconstitutional, or even that it is a co-equal branch of government simply don’t know their own US Constitution. Or how the Supreme Court usurped and declared its powers in 1803.

The usurpation was declared in 1803 by then Supreme Court chief justice, John Marshall. Who was he? He was a former Secretary of State for John Adams, president 1797-1800, who lost the election of 1800 and quickly appointed Marshall, his Secretary of State, as Chief Justice, in order to try to check the incoming new president, Thomas Jefferson, from reforming Adams’ corrupt business dominated government. Adams also tried to stack the lower courts before Jefferson took office. Sound familiar?

The purpose of all this explanation of the origins of the Supreme Court is not to provide an academic history lesson. It’s to point out that the US Supreme Court is not an institution of American Democracy. It’s an institution created by business interests more than two hundred years ago, the primary purpose of which is to check and prevent the exercise of direct democracy and direct voting rights of the American people. It’s been doing just that for two centuries!

In recent years the Supreme Court has become even more active in thwarting Democracy in America.

In 2013 SCOTUS struck down the even weak voting rights act of 1965. It passed the infamous Citizens United decision in 2010 that gave businesses and wealthy investors virtually unlimited right to spend money for their candidates in elections, presidential and all other! It has repeatedly allowed and endorsed various ‘red’ states voter repression efforts in recent years, including allowing conservative and radical right state legislatures and governments to throw out hundreds of thousands of registered voters before elections. It ‘selected’ George W. Bush as president in 2000. And it’s about to do the same—given the Barrett approval to join the Supreme Court today—for Trump in 2020.

America’s Rolling Coup D’Etat

Readers should remember all this when they watch the news tomorrow, as Barrett takes her seat on the Supreme Court before next week’s November 3 election—i.e. just in time perhaps to do the ‘selecting’ of another president contrary to the popular vote and will of the majority of the American people!

There is a rolling coup d’etat’ in progress in America today led by Trump and the radical economic and political interests supporting him.

And the Supreme Court of the USA, now firmly in his camp with the Barrett appointment, may well prove to be one of his essential tools in pulling off that coup d’etat.

A good part of the American people will no doubt resist, setting in motion street protests and demonstrations, counter-demonstrations with associated violence, and a period of great political instability in America in coming months perhaps not seen since the 1850s. That instability will exacerbate the growing concurrent economic and Covid 19 health crises, already mutually exacerbating each other. The dual economic-health crisis may thus soon become a ‘Triple’ crisis: economic, health, and political.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
copyright 2020

posted October 21, 2020
A Short History of ‘On Again, Off Again’ US Fiscal Stimulus Negotiations

It’s been more than three months since the March-April economic rescue package, called the Cares Act, expired at the end of July. Since then both political parties, Republican and Democrat, have played a ‘hot potato’ bargaining game: i.e. “here’s my offer, the ball’s in your court…Here’s mine, now it’s your turn”. This week the game continues, showing no indication of ending.

Last March’s ‘CARES ACT’ was not a fiscal stimulus. It was instead about ‘mitigation’–meaning the various measures contained in that $2.3 trillion package (actually nearly $3T when the additional $650 billion in business-investor tax cuts are added to the Act) were designed only to put a floor under the collapsing US economy–not to generate a sustained economic recovery. Even the politicians voting for it publicly acknowledged at the time that it was not a stimulus bill, but rather a set of measures designed to buy time–no more than 10-12 weeks at most–until a more serious economic recovery Act could be implemented.

The real fiscal stimulus bill was to follow, designed to pick the economy up off the floor and generate a sustained recovery as the economy reopened. The reopening began in May and gained a little momentum over the summer. But not enough to generate a sustained recovery by itself that was expected by late summer.

In a typical Great Recession trajectory, the reopening over the summer resulted in a roughly two-thirds recovery of lost economic activity by end of July. It was thought by politicians and mainstream economists that, when the reopening crested at two-thirds in July, a subsequent real stimulus bill would follow. The two forces–reopening and fiscal stimulus–would together generate a sustained recovery.

But it just didn’t happen that way. Nor is it to date.

The Democrats in the US House of Representatives presented their version of a fiscal stimulus bill–called the HEROES ACT-in late May. But the Trump administration and the McConnell led Republican majority in the US Senate balked at joining in passing a stimulus bill.
McConnell & friends looked around and it appeared big business and corporations and banks were doing just fine by June–even if small business and working households were not. A few exceptions to big business doing well were the airlines, hotels and some leisure and hospitality industries. But banks and other big corporations were fat with cash. The Federal Reserve had already pumped nearly $3 trillion in virtually free money into the banks. And big corporations had raised trillions of dollars more by selling corporate bonds at record historical levels, at cheapest rates, also made possible by the Federal Reserve. Trillions more were hoarded by borrowing down their credit lines with banks, saving on facilities operations, and temporarily suspending dividends and stock buybacks.

McConnell, Trump and their business constituencies didn’t need more stimulus. Indeed, they didn’t even need the Cares Act. That Act, passed in March, included among its provisions no less than $1.1 trillion in loans for medium and large businesses, along with $650B in tax cuts for the same. But as of this past August, less than $150 billion of that $1.1 trillion had actually been borrowed by big businesses and spent into the economy, and it appears little of the tax cuts resulted in production increases or hiring as well.

So in June, McConnell and the Republican Senate dug in their heels for two months and simply ignored the Democrat House stimulus proposal in the form of their late May passed $3.4 trillion HEROES ACT bill.

In July McConnell eventually put forth his proposal, called the ‘HEALS Act’. It totaled $1.5 trillion, but was loaded with ambiguous and onerous language like exempting all businesses from any and all legal claims for negligence for failing to provide safety and health conditions for their workers.

By end of July the only provisions of the Cares Act that provided any semblance of economic stimulus ran out. That was the $500 billion in extra unemployment assistance to workers, the $1200 checks, and the $670 billion in grants and loans (mostly grants) to small businesses. The unemployment, checks and grants amounted to government spending of only $1.2 trillion of the Cares Act’s $3 or so trillion. That $1.2 trillion was, and remains, the only actual spending to hit the economy, since the $1.1 trillion in loans to large-medium corporations has never been actually ‘taken up’ and spent into the economy by business. Ditto for the $650 billion in business tax cuts in the Cares Act. So only a little more than a third of the Cares Act resulted in any economic spending.

That $1.2 trillion, moreover, amounts to barely 5.5% of US GDP. In GDP percentage terms, that’s roughly the size of the 2009 stimulus of $787 billion spent during the previous Great Recession of 2008-09. That $787 billion proved insufficient at the time to generate a prompt recovery from that recession. It took six years just to get back to the level of jobs in 2007 before that recession, for example. But today’s 2020 Great Recession 2.0 is four times deeper in terms of economic contraction compared to 2008-09. And it’s still only an effective 5.5% spending package as contained in the March Cares Act.

A much more aggressive stimulus bill was desperately needed as a follow up as the Cares Act spending ran out at the end of July. The May HEROES ACT was an attempt to provide that follow up actual stimulus but, as noted, McConnell, Trump and Republicans weren’t interested. Their banker and big business constituencies were doing quite well by early-summer. No doubt Trump-McConnell further believed the reopening of the economy, as Covid 19 disappeared, would prove sufficient to lead to a sustained economic recovery.
Of course, history has already proven them wrong.

By late July many sectors of the US economy began to weaken again. And a second, worse wave of Covid 19 hit the economy in July-August, just as the weak Cares Act spending ran out at the end of July. Unemployment claims began to slowly rise again through August and into September. Small businesses began to close, many permanently now, in greater numbers. Large corporations began to announce mass layoffs, more permanent than just furloughs now. Evictions of renters by the millions began to occur. Low income homeowners began to miss mortgage payments. And the much predicted V-shape recovery began to look increasingly like a ‘W-shape’.

But instead of seeing the trend, Trump and McConnell doubled down and refused to negotiate seriously with the Democrat House on its HEROES Act proposal. In early August, House Speaker Pelosi, thinking the Trump administration might bargain in good faith, reduced her proposal from the HEROES Act $3.4 trillion cost by $1.2 trillion. Instead of following up, however, the Trump negotiators, led by Trump’s Staff Secretary, Mark Meadows, abruptly broke off all negotiations–without making a counter offer. What he did leave though was a bad taste in the mouths of Pelosi and Schumer, who now could not trust the Trump team should further negotiations resume. Nor could they trust McConnell and his Republican Senate, who followed Trump and withdrew their prior HEALS ACT $1.5T and refused to consider anything more than $650 billion if brought to the Senate by the Trump-Pelosi negotiators in the future. Moreover, $350B of the $650B was unspent funds left over from the Cares Act. So the net spending increase proposed was only $300B.

Trump had set up Pelosi and then ‘sandbagged’ her, in bargaining parlance. Within 24 hours Trump publicly announced four executive orders as his personal fiscal stimulus offer. But the EOs were no stimulus in fact. Just a diversion of already existing government funds and payroll tax cuts that would have to be repaid in 2021.

Both sides maneuvered in the press thereafter, as the US economy weakened further throughout September and into October–and as the Covid 19 infection rates surged once again. The Virus was not cooperating with economic recovery. And there was no stimulus to assist in that either. Meanwhile, millions more were becoming unemployed–at least 30 to 35 million remained jobless as of mid October. Food deprivation worsened and food lines began emerging again. Rent evictions were now escalating as well. Hundreds of thousands more small businesses were closing their doors, with predictions by the National Federation of Independent Business that millions would fail in coming months–even as bankers, big corporations, and stock and financial markets attained record levels.

Trump then shot himself in the foot by declaring there would be no further negotiations on a stimulus until after the November 3 election. McConnell said that was fine since 20% of his Republicans were against any further stimulus out of concern of its negative impact on the US deficit, which by October hit a record $3.1 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year–the largest in modern history.

Trump’s walking away from any further negotiations hurt his political chances, since not only were workers, renters, and small businesses being ‘thrown under the bus’, but the announcement had serious negative effects on stock market values. Now big corporations were worried too. So Trump back-tracked and made another bargaining offer.

Which brings us to events of the last 10 days. Trump offered Pelosi-Shumer an $1.8 trillion counter offer–complete with loophole language permitting him to renege on items of his choice. $350B of the $1.8T was just carry over of unspent Cares Act funds. So Trump’s offer last week was the same $1.5T of the July HEALS ACT. But it was an offer he now couldn’t deliver. McConnell in the Senate quickly added he wouldn’t even bring the $1.8T up for a Senate vote because he couldn’t get it passed within his own Republican ranks.

What the $1.8T did achieve was to get the corporate wing of the Democrat party, including its mainstream media arms–MSNBC, CNN, etc.–to raise the pressure on Pelosi to accept Trump’s phony $1.8T offer that he couldn’t deliver. What Trump wanted, and still wants, is just an announcement of a ‘deal’ that he can take credit for as he campaigns across the country before the election. What big business wants is the same, an announcement, not necessarily a deal right now. Stock prices and especially tech sector stocks have begun seriously wavering on news of no stimulus negotiations. An announcement would quell that issue and ensure stock prices remain strong through the election. Even some ‘left’ Democrats like Rho Khanna and Andrew Yang–both from silicon valley–chimed in and demanded Pelosi accept the Trump offer.

So what happens next, this week? Trump’s negotiator, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Pelosi have begun to talk yet again. Trump wants to announce a deal before the next presidential debate with Joe Biden this thursday, only 72 hrs away. Today, October 20, Trump reportedly has instructed Mnuchin to increase his offer to $2T. (He even said he’d go higher than $2.2T to get a deal). He knows he’s got nothing to lose, and he knows McConnell’s ‘hard cop’ is there backing him up to stop (or at least change the terms of any tentative deal) for him. Trump gains a campaign message. McConnell blocks any deal. And Pelosi and the Democrats get nothing once again except more negotiations, now with McConnell. It’s a clever ‘double-teaming’ of the Democrats by the Republicans, once again!

Apparently getting wise to Trump-McConnell games, Pelosi on Tuesday said language likely can’t be finalized on a deal until Friday–thus denying Trump the opportunity to claim ‘he got the deal’ in this coming Thursday night final presidential debate with Biden.

(For a daily, sometimes hourly, update on the negotiations join Dr. Rasmus on Twitter at @drjackrasmus)

Jack Rasmus is author of ’The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump, Clarity Press, January 2020. He blogs at jackrasmus.com and hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions on the Progressive Radio Network on Fridays at 2pm est. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus.

posted October 13, 2020
Trump Scuttles Stimulus Negotiations…Again!

Last Tuesday, October 6, Trump pulled the plug once again—a second time—on negotiations on a fiscal stimulus between House speaker, Pelosi, and his Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin.

Before Trump scuttled negotiations on the stimulus for a second time, Pelosi and Mnuchin had reportedly been quietly negotiating toward a compromise fiscal stimulus package and were making progress while Trump was in the hospital with his Covid infection. But as soon as Trump returned to the White House, one of his first moves was to scuttle the negotiations. On Tuesday, October 6, he dramatically declared the negotiations were over. Furthermore, he added, there would be no stimulus until sometime after the November elections.

This was not the first time House speaker, Pelosi, and Mnuchin were growing closer to a deal and Trump abruptly intervened unexpectedly and broke off bargaining.

In an almost identical event earlier this past August Trump intervened and declared the negotiations over. Negotiating with Mnuchin in July and early August, Pelosi had reduced her original fiscal stimulus package costing $3.4 trillion—i.e. the Democrats ‘Heroes Act’ passed way back in late May—to a proposal costing $2 Trillion. That was a drop of $1.4 trillion. The Republican position at the time was the Republican Senate’s so-called ‘Heals Act’, with a cost of $1.5 trillion. Thus the parties were only about $500 billion apart and a deal looked possible in early August.

But once Pelosi-Shumer cut their offer to $2 trillion, Trump had his lead negotiator, chief of staff Mark Meadows, who had taken over as lead negotiator from Mnuchin, abruptly break off negotiations and walk out. That was done without making a counter-offer to Pelosi. In bargaining parlance, Trump had thus ‘sandbagged’ Pelosi with a cheap bargaining trick: namely, get your opponent to make a major move, then instead of countering, break off negotiations altogether. Should negotiations ever resume, your opponent then has to make a second move and concession while you consider only one.

In less than 24 hours after breaking off negotiations in early August, Trump quickly announced his four Executive Orders (EOs). That overnight response strongly suggests Trump had pre-planned to scuttle the August negotiations and had his four Executive Orders already in his pocket, ready to go. Scuttling the negotiations was planned well in advance with the intent of Trump personally taking over the bargaining agenda and thereby to deny Pelosi-Shumer any credit for any eventual stimulus.

Trump’s Executive Orders were largely smoke and mirrors and provided virtually no fiscal stimulus. Clearly Trump wanted to be identified with the public as the guy who delivered a deal and no one else—especially Pelosi and the Democrats. There would be no shared responsibility for stimulus benefits.

Here’s why Trump’s August EOs were more smoke and mirrors, however:

The first Executive Order recommendation that governors could, if they wished, extend the moratorium on rent evictions that was contained in the March 2020 Cares Act passed by Congress. Trump’s EO did not provide for a continuation of a moratorium; just a recommendation, and only if a governor wanted. And few would subsequently prove they wanted.

Trump’s second August EO provided a supplemental unemployment benefit of $300 a week, to replace the $600/wk. benefit that expired at the end of July. That $600 expiration meant $65 billion a month in income for consumption by households was taken out of the economy, starting in August and every month thereafter. In fact, when a standard fiscal multiplier effect of 2X is applied, it reduced potential GDP spending by $130 billion a month. With few states offering even half of that, the US economy lost nearly $100 billion a month, every month, in spending with Trump’s second EO.

But there was more ‘smoke’. Trump’s $300/wk. substitution benefit would apply only if a state threw in another $100. Many state unemployment benefit funds were broke or near busted and many states could not afford the $100, so their workers never got the $300.

More interesting still, the $300 was taken from the fund for disaster relief, which had only $50 billion or so in it. So the $300 was a transfer of funds—from the disaster relief fund to unemployment benefits. That thus offered no net fiscal stimulus spending to the economy. At only $50 billion, the fund was exhausted anyway in just six weeks, by mid-to-late September. By October, moreover, the western fires season reached record levels while the southeast coast hurricane season recorded more hurricanes than there were names available from letters of the alphabet. By October both the disaster relief fund was now depleted as well as the six weeks of $300!

An even greater ‘bag of policy worms’ was Trump’s third EO. It called for a cut in workers’ payroll tax for social security and Medicare. Apart from the unconstitutionality of the Executive branch of government introducing a tax measure unilaterally—when such tax legislation may only arise in the US House of Representatives per the US Constitution—Trump’s payroll tax cut EO was not really a tax cut. It was a payroll tax deferral. (Note that business’s share of the payroll tax was already deferred to the end of 2021 by the March Cares Act). So workers, like businesses, have to pay double payroll taxes sometime in 2021 according to Trump’s payroll tax EO. Given that businesses are legally responsible for collecting and distributing workers’ share of the payroll tax to government, many businesses complained if they cut the workers share of the payroll tax legally they might be liable for paying for both deferrals in 2021—i.e. their deferred tax share and their workers’ deferred tax. So many have since decided to not cut their workers payroll tax. To this date, little research is available summarizing how much payroll taxes for workers have actually been cut.

But Trump nevertheless still claimed publicly when campaigning in blue collar states that he’s cutting their taxes—not just deferring them. Most will not realize they will eventually have to pay double payroll taxes in 2021. When questioned about this possibility, Trump replied he would later make the payroll tax deferral permanent, if he were re-elected. But that’s not likely without Congress approval (which is highly unlikely) and even more unlikely if he’s not elected. Workers will get stuck with paying double payroll taxes in 2021, which will have a double negative impact on household spending and the US GDP.

The payroll tax EO is also an insidious way of undermining social security and Medicare—one of Trump’s and Republicans’ major policy objectives: i.e. reduce the revenues necessary to make social security retirement benefits and Medicare payments for retirees in 2021. Then call for massive social security and Medicare benefit cuts to make up the difference.

Trump’s fourth EO extended the deferral of payments on students’ government education debt until the end of December 2020. With record and rising levels of defaults on the $1.7 trillion current student debt, the extension only recognized the obvious: that debt payments wouldn’t be made for the overwhelming majority of the unemployed anyway.

These four Executive Orders, issued in mid-August, represent Trump’s taking over control of the bargaining agenda for the fiscal stimulus. Pelosi-Shumer and company were cleverly set up and then ‘punked’, as they say. Trump now looked like he had the real control over whether a fiscal stimulus would happen or not, and that he alone was powerful enough to deliver any stimulus. It would be his stimulus. The problem was, the four EOs amounted no stimulus at all! His stimulus via EOs was no stimulus and key sectors of the US economy have continued to weaken in August and after.

More than a million and a half workers every week, from mid-August to early October, have continued to file every week for first time unemployment benefits. That’s more than 10 million. As that million and a half applied weekly for benefits for the first time, another million a week began exhausting the unemployment benefits they had been collecting since March-April. By October more than 20 million workers would be considered long-duration jobless, and thus unlikely to ever get their jobs back. More than 5 million workers dropped out of the labor force, giving up on getting jobs. And 4.3 million in two paycheck families would have to quit work to manage their K-6 grade children struggling with remote education from home. The jobs picture was worsening, not improving. But that’s not the only indicator of the failure of Trump’s EOs as a fiscal stimulus.

Commencing in August and subsequent months, tens of millions of working families started being evicted from their rents, and hundreds of thousands of lower income family home ownersbegan to default and go into foreclosure as well.

Meanwhile, millions of small businesses began filing for bankruptcy by late summer and closing or preparing to do so. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), a trade association for small businesses, no fewer than 21% of the approximate 30 million small businesses in the US had closed, or would close, in the coming months!
In other words, Trump’s feeble four Executive Orders had virtually no positive on the economy by September-October 2020—as jobs, unemployed, rent evictions, foreclosures, business closings all began to deteriorate by late 3rd quarter 2020.

Given these conditions, Pelosi-Shumer and Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, attempted one last time in early October to try to reach a deal on a stimulus bill before the November 3 elections. Mnuchin reportedly raised his offer from his late July $1.5 trillion position to $1.6 trillion. Pelosi-Shumer’s position as of early October was $2.2 (having raised it slight from $2 trillion in response to Trump’s breaking off negotiations in August after the Democrats reduced their proposals to $2 trillion). Reportedly as well, however, they again considered $2 trillion.

With around only $400-$500 billion difference in terms of final cost of a fiscal package both parties—Pelosi and Mnuchin—were not so far apart they couldn’t reach an agreement. That is, until Trump abruptly intervened again and called off the Pelosi-Mnuchin negotiations.

In early October, as in August previously, the main sticking points to an agreement appeared to be the Democrats’ demand to bail out State and Local governments, which were soon to have to layoff hundreds of thousands of public employees due to tax revenue collapse. The Trump-McConnell position has always been to deny any funds for state-local government since, in their view, most would go to the larger ‘blue’ states. The other sticky qualitative issue was the Republican-Trump demand that businesses be absolved from all liability claims during the pandemic period. Democrats feared this blanket liability exclusion would allow businesses exemption from all liabilities for health and safety of their workers or the local communities in which they did business.

Despite both negotiating parties closing the gap toward a deal, Trump abruptly broke off the negotiations once again, a second time, on October 6 and declared the negotiations dead until after the election.

As in August, Trump again a second time personally took over control of the bargaining agenda on October 6. But by saying ‘no further negotiations until after the election’ he set off a shit storm of complaints from his business base. The stock markets, which had been hundreds of points up on October 6, after Trump’s theatrical return from the hospital to the White House, in late hours tanked hundreds of points into the red after Trump’s announcement of no stimulus until after the elections.

So Trump put on his twitter hat after the markets closed and slung out a series of tweets, including retracting his earlier announcement of no new negotiations until after November 3.

But that was not all. Further tweets challenged Pelosi-Shumer to agree to separate bills on the content of the Pelosi-Mnuching talks. He taunted Pelosi to agree to a bill just to bail out the airlines. Another just to provide a second round of $1,200 income checks. Another to provide more grants for small businesses. And so on. The not so clever intent here was obviously to suck Pelosi and Shumer in and get them to break up their package proposal and negotiate directly with Trump, item by item. But to do so would concede all their bargaining leverage, as they say. Trump would be in a position to cherry pick and agree to the separate provisions he wants, and veto line by line the ones he doesn’t. It was evidence that Trump just can’t let any one else take credit for a deal. It has to be all his to brag about.

It will be interesting to see if Pelosi and the Democrats fall for Trump’s latest bargaining trick. He’s proven in the past not to be a trustful good faith bargainer. They enter Trump’s latest fools game at their risk!

But regardless whether they fall for Trump’s latest trick or not, should anything result it will appear as if Trump delivered the deal—not Congress and Mnuchin. Trump the great negotiator! Knows the ‘Art of the Deal’! But that’s all Trump: Take the credit always, appear responsible for everything positive, and throw everyone else under the bus should anything fail! And never, never negotiate in good faith. That’s only for “suckers and losers”, in Trump parlance.

Like his obviously staged return from the hospital to the White House, Trump is all drama and theater. To borrow a well worn literary phrase, “there’s no there there”.

But the US economy now more than ever needs something ‘there’, it needs a real fiscal stimulus not phony theater. It has entered the fourth quarter of 2020 with ominous negative economic signs on the horizon: large corporations are now announcing permanent layoffs (not furloughs) by the tens of thousands. Unemployment claims have begun to clearly rise again. Evictions and foreclosures and business closures are now escalating as well. A second Covid 19 wave is beginning to appear in the US, just as it has in Europe and elsewhere. That will mean more shutdowns, even if only partial. And more reluctance by consumers to spend on services like travel, leisure, hospitality, restaurants, movies, theater, entertainment, shopping at malls, buying gas, sports events, to name but the most obvious.

The combination of no fiscal stimulus and a Covid resurgence is ominous for the US economy. Even more ominous is the growing likelihood of major political instability erupting—institutionally and in the streets—around Trump’s oft-stated intent not to recognize the outcome of the November elections should he lose, driven by his unsubstantiated claim of fraudulent mail in ballot voting.

Trump has already begun moving his political chess pieces to challenge the election and refuse to leave office. Teams of his lawyers are filing hundreds of court injunctions against counting mail in ballots, in particular in the swing states. Pro-Trump red state legislators meanwhile are throwing hundreds of thousands of voters off the voting rolls, reducing polling locations in minority neighborhoods, eliminating drop boxes for ballots in some cases to one per city, sending ‘observers’ to intimidate voters at polling stations. Simultaneously, Mitch McConnell in the Senate is rushing to confirm Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, to ensure he has a 6-3 safe majority on the Court should it come down to the Supreme Court calling for a halt to counting mail in ballots, especially in swing states that will determine the election; or to legitimize other tactical moves by Trump lawyers trying to prevent mail in ballot vote counting.

A most likely scenario is the following: Trump lawyers in swing states get recent McConnell appointed pro-Trump district and appeals court judges to declare mail in ballots cannot be accurately counted for various reasons. With mail in ballot counting suspended, Trump lawyers then ask Republican controlled state legislators to pick the ‘electors’ for the electoral college, who would almost certainly vote for Trump. That way the Supreme Court may not have to directly ‘select’ Trump, as they did with George W. Bush in 2000. But they would indirectly, by enabling the state legislators to select the electors that then select Trump. (This was the way Senators used to be ‘elected’ before the US Constitution was amended to provide for direct election of Senators).

The more economic, political, and health crises and confusion there is around November 3 and after, the more likely the Courts will defer to the above scenario in the name of restoring social order.

So it just may be that Trump doesn’t really want a fiscal stimulus before November 3. A deeper economic crisis may better serve his political strategy. Maybe his latest ‘line by line’ tweets are just that—a delaying tactic.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
October 6, 2020

UPDATE October 13: Signs that the ranks of the Democrats may be crumbling began to appear this week after the October 6 break up of negotiations. An organized effort of the more moderate ranks of the party joined together with mainstream media, like CNN, to try to force Pelosi-Shumer to capitulate to Trump-Mnuchin’s most recent offer. California silicon valley Democrats, like Yang and Sanders’ support, Rho Khanna, have also joined the ‘take the offer’ and negotiate the rest later position. Tech-based Democrats like Yang and Khanna are no doubt getting pressure from big Tech in California, worried that a failure to get a stimulus would soon tank tech stocks. But the Trump-Mnuchin latest offer of October 12 amounts to the same offer Republicans made back in July 2020 with the so-called ‘Heals Act’. That amounted to $1.5T. The latest offer is reportedly $1.88T. But it’s really the $1.5T plus the funds for small business that have not been spent by the Trump administration from last March’s Cares Act. Should Pelosi-Shumer accept what was on the bargaining table last July, it would amount to a capitulation not a negotiation. Moreover, it is highly likely Trump will once again renege on the offer once accepted, just as he did back in early August when he broke off negotiations the firsts time–after getting Pelosi-Shumer to first reduce their package from $3.4T to $2T. Mindful of Trump’s typical unreliable bargaining practices, Pelosi-Shumer have thus far refused to fall for Trump’s trick again. But more naive elements of the Democrat Party–Yang, Khanna and others–are nonetheless pushing for a capitulation. It will prove interesting to see what Pelosi-Shumer do this coming week: call Trump’s latest bluff or capitulate!

Follow Jack Rasmus on his blog, jackrasmus.com, for weekly articles, on Twitter for daily commentary at @drjackrasmus, and on his weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio Network every Friday at 2pm eastern time. His various interviews, book reviews, videos, plays and longer articles are available on his website, http://kyklosproductions.com

posted October 1, 2020
1st Presidential Debate: Worse Is Yet to Come

The 1st Presidential debate of 2020 held last night, September 29, was a reflection of the growing systemic social crisis in the USA. This is what we saw:

1) a refusal of the representatives (Trump & Biden) of the two wings of the Corporate Party of America to propose any actual solutions to the multiple crises now all intensifying across the country—health, economic, racism, and climate.

2) identity politics run amuck, now writ large at the highest political levels—i.e. the Great Distraction in full force, crowding out and preventing solutions to the crises.

3) a harbinger of political chaos just around the corner—at both a street level and in the major political institutions of the country—and the collapse of Democracy before our eyes.

The commentary of the media following the chaotic exchange (none dare call it a debate) focused on the ‘form’ rather than the content of the exchange: Trump went wild interrupting Biden and stealing much of Biden’s time. The moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, was either incompetent in his inability to stop Trump or else willing to let him continue and intervening only when Trump had succeeded in drowning out most of Biden’s talk. Biden too was unable to deal with Trump’s antics, at times taking Trump’s bait and falling into his trap.

But what’s so new about all that? That’s Trump, who came to give a speech to his 40% voter ‘red’ base—i.e. the third party at the debate!

Nevertheless, the media talking heads were shocked that Trump would engage in such an egotistical, disrespectful disregard for the rules of the debate which he had pre-agreed to. To the media the ‘form’ of the debate was thus more important than any content that might have addressed today’s multiple real crises.

1) The Multiple Crises Ignored (Economic, Health, Race, Climate)

Biden raised the New York Times’ story released over the weekend in which Trump’s tax returns showed Trump paid only $750 in total federal income taxes over two years, 2016-2017. Trump of course denied it as ‘fake news’. And that was that. There was no follow up discussing the four decades long tax system rip off. Nor about why both parties (i.e. both wings of the one party) since 2001 have given investors, corporations, and the wealthiest US households more than $15 trillion in tax cuts. GW Bush $4.7T, Obama $6.1T, Trump $5T with both parties agreeing to another $650B just last March.

Nor was there any mention of the escalating income inequality on both Republican & Democrat watches that was enabled by the $15 trillion tax redistribution to corporations and the rich. Nothing was said why Trump’s tax rip off resulted in wealthy investors getting $3.4 trillion in stock buybacks and dividend payouts in just the last three years; or why under Obama they got more than $6 trillion in buybacks & dividends on his watch!

And nothing was said by either of them why there are still 40 million American workers jobless, or why tens of millions of those lost jobs will never return, or why a long line of big corporations are now announcing permanent layoffs by the tens of thousands.

Biden never bothered to raise the point why millions of small businesses have gone under and millions more are about to do so. He could have quoted the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), the trade association arm of small businesses in the US, and its recent forecast that 21% of the roughly 30 million small businesses have already, or soon will close, if no real fiscal stimulus and bailout is passed. Trump of course ignored that altogether. He no doubt would have called the NFIB survey ‘fake news’.

There was a brief exchange on US manufacturing by both candidates, but both were wrong on the facts. The business cycle in 2008-10 destroyed millions of manufacturing jobs, only some of which came back and then mostly as two tiered, temp, low paid, no benefits jobs. The current recession is now in repeat mode in manufacturing. Production is up but jobs aren’t being restored. Biden could have indicated manufacturing was in a recession for the six months prior to Covid but he didn’t. And neither candidate discussed why free trade deals, in addition to the recessions, have destroyed at least 4 million US manufacturing jobs. Biden clearly will not go there since he and the Democrats, like the Republicans, are champions of free trade deals. The Dems praised the recent phony NAFTA 2.0 agreement negotiated by Trump. Trump’s promise to bring back those jobs in 2016 has been all smoke and mirrors. But did Biden bother to cite the facts?

And what about trade? Trump claimed his trade wars have been a glowing success. Is that why he’s had to subsidize the farm sector with $49 billion in cash handouts since 2018 (with $17B more promised)! If his trade wars have been so successful, why has he had to funnel billions of dollars in hand outs to his agribusiness buddies? Why have more than 10,000 small farmers gone bankrupt annually in recent years? Biden said nothing of the subsidy to agribusinesses still earning billions in profits or the bankruptcies of small family farms. For Biden the ‘trade problem’ is not the escalating subsidies to business or the destruction of jobs in the millions; it’s just a China deficit issue, the numbers of which he couldn’t even quote correctly.

So far as the health/Covid crisis is concerned, there was an exchange in last night’s ‘debate’. But it came down to Biden saying we should wear masks and Trump saying a vaccine was around the corner. That’s it. Biden noted correctly, of course, that Trump has grossly mismanaged the handling of the virus response. To which Trump simply retorted Biden would close down the entire economy again. Trump’s position is ‘Horror of horrors! We can’t save grandma and grandpa if the profits of our nail salons are the cost’! Biden’s position: Yes we can. Let’s all wear masks.

But where was the discussion that the US total reliance on private businesses and ‘markets’ has in large part been responsible for the magnitude of the Covid crisis in the US? The US had outsourced its production of PPE to China and elsewhere before the crisis. There was no mention of that, because both parties have agreed for decades to provide business tax incentives to move operations offshore. There was not a word about the responsibility of US businesses that conveniently offshored critical US goods like PPE and now testing agents to ensure greater profits for themselves. Now, with a second Covid wave imminent this winter, the US still lacks reagents and other pharmaceutical materials needed to do effective testing. Six months into the Covid crisis US business continues to offshore production of critical health supplies, despite US deaths are now predicted to exceed 400,000 by year’s end. That’s more US dead in less than a year than occurred during nearly four years of World War II. But still no war production plan is in place in the US. Neither Trump or Biden has proposed one. Trump, the great admirer of private business and stock markets, is still reluctant act like a ‘war president’ in the worst war confronting the US since 1941. Why? Because he knows that means stepping on the toes of his business buddies and election campaign contributors. For the same reason Biden won’t go there.

For Biden to propose putting the US on a war production footing would mean seizing the necessary production assets of private business, including big pharma companies, and returning it all to the US under a central war production plan. His wing of the Corporate Party of America is no more interested in doing that than Trump’s wing. Nor Trump or Biden explained how a vaccine might be fairly distributed to all Americans next year, or how a million tests a day would be produced and administered.

Biden not surprisingly defended Obamacare, the ACA, focusing on how it protected pre-existing conditions. Trump bragged about how he gutted it by ending the individual mandate.

But what did either say about the fact nearly 50 million workers and families are again uninsured? And at least another 30-40 million grossly under-insured? Biden’s answer was to add the ‘public option’ to Obamacare—which Obama himself pulled from the ACA in 2010. That way private employers can keep their tax write offs for continuing to provide their employees health insurance while the health insurers can continue to reap record profits from both private employer plans and the ACA. Biden specifically rejected any notion of Medicare for All. Trump said he had an alternative plan to replace ACA—which he’s been saying for three years but not showing!

In short, both candidates provided no answer to how to manage the continuing Covid crisis, nor to the even worse general health crisis in the US. The USA remains in the ranks of 3rd world banana republics when it comes to the health security of all but the wealthiest of its citizens.

And what about the discussion of race relations and policing in America? Here a heated exchange did occur. Biden’s answer was to get local police departments, politicians and select community leaders together to ‘unite America’. Somehow that would end systemic racism and institutionalized police repression. Trump attacked that idea as well as race ‘sensitivity’ training programs in general, which he recently declared cancelled. According to Trump, the programs were demeaning to whites and suggested they were reverse racists. White folks don’t want to be reminded of that, he said. Even more, they don’t want to be forced to ‘role play’ as blacks. It’s demeaning. And that was that, i.e. the full extent of the discussion of systemic racism in America: let’s do more sensitivity training (Biden); let’s not because it’s reverse racism and might make his white folk political base uncomfortable. They don’t like being role played as black (Trump).

And climate change? Biden’s answer was to rejoin the Paris Accords and maybe spend some more money on alternative energy infrastructure, as he went out of his way to reiterate his rejection of the notion of a ‘Green New Deal’. Trump’s answer to climate warming was it was too expensive for American business, even though they’re reaping historical maximum profits and getting trillions of dollars of tax cuts and subsidies every year. Trump then attacked Biden for California being consumed by forest fires, saying the Dems there have mismanaged the forest floor by not raking up enough leaves. Biden said nothing in return about the fact that 65% of California’s forests are federal land, and if anyone was responsible for not ‘raking the leaves’ it was Trump’s own Interior Department. But he did say there were larger storms in Iowa, whatever that meant. Neither candidate has a clue what to do about the climate crisis.

In summary, neither Trump or Biden addressed the real issues or proposed any credible solutions to the multiple crises afflicting America today— multiple crises now intensifying, converging, and exacerbating each other.

2) Identity Politics Run Amuck

What we also saw in the first presidential debate is a reflection—at the highest level of politics and within the US elite itself—of the country’s descent into the muck of identity politics.

US society is becoming mired in the plague of identity politics. At all levels, the focus is increasingly on extreme individualism—often at the expense of the public good. Rational discussion and solutions to collective crises are crowded out of public discourse. Replaced by fear-mongering appeals to identity among their political supporters by the politicians and elites of both wings of the Corporate Party of America.

White European Americans are fearful their culture, jobs, and ‘way of life’ is about to give way to the ‘others’—i.e. all the peoples of color whether Latin, Muslim, and other immigrants coming into the country; and to those of color (African Americans) already here but growing in number as well.

Like the Jews in Germany, large sections of white European Americans see black Americans as the ‘others’ living within our midst but not really one of us. Like the German Jews, they are the foreigners allowed to come here by past politicians. As in Germany, the ‘others’ become the ‘enemy within’ and the symbol of all the causes of their economic and social fears, insecurity, and anxiety—as politicians and elites re-direct the cause of social decay from their policies to the ‘others’—i.e. the Latin immigrants, blacks, LGBTQ, etc. Immigrants, blacks, and gays are the cause of their declining standard of living, their culture, and their way of life—so say the Trumpublicans and their media; white European ‘deplorables’ are preventing you people of color from achieving your rightful identity as equals to white European Americans—so say the Democrats and their media.

It’s all part of the ‘Great Distraction’, designed to allow the elites of both wings to continue to pick all our pockets while we’re preoccupied with identity issues and politics. So long as we’re immersed in issues of identity that separate us there’s no need to divide and conquer so they can continue to pick our pockets. Identity means by definition we’ve divided ourselves from each other.

Technology of course plays a conscious role in enabling the descent into extreme individualism and dead end identity.

The youngest are mesmerized by their electronic gadgets that enable them to focus neurotically on themselves for hours upon hour every day, absorbing most of their waking lives. Young adults are immersed in social media sourced news and pseudo-facts. As they come to realize they are condemned for life to lives of indentured, low pay, part time and temp service employment, they desperately seek and embrace simplistic ideologies as an explanation for their plight. Middle age adults become increasingly insecure and fearful as they see their families’ futures dim and realize they are approaching older age and retirement without pensions and sufficient income to keep themselves from poverty. They look for a ‘strongman’ to save them quickly.

They all become fodder for clever manipulation, fear mongering by media talking heads, and conspiracy theories multiplying daily on social media that substitute for the thinking and the evaluating of facts and opinions that is necessary for rational thought. The network does the thinking for them. People fearful and in crisis grab the nearest exit and short cut to explain their situation and grab a solution.

The capitalist media no longer consists of objective presenters of facts and events but subjective interpreters and spinners of facts and events. The subjective media is the new priest providing the congregation of the fearful and desperate the answers it wants them to absorb—except now it all occurs on a daily and by the minute basis instead of just on Sunday mornings. The result is predictable: when confronted with objective facts, such facts are rejected since they don’t conform to their rapidly expanding fantasy world of conspiracies and the messaging of media spin doctors.

Tell me what I already believe or I’ll listen to someone else who will! Don’t tell me what I don’t want to hear’. Tell me something so that I can cheer: ‘Hooray for our side’.

People are so concerned trying to understand who they are that they are unable to see who they are becoming, manipulated by the political elites who have found playing the identity card works well for keeping folks—white and non-white—from understanding the real source of their fears, their anxieties, their growing angst. That real source originates in the policies of both parties that are ever-enriching their wealthy elites at the expense of the rest of society.

Identity politics is the Heroin fix necessary to create the social stupor of the Great Distraction. And the flip side of the Great Distraction of identity politics is the Big Rip-off—where the same elites and politicians of both wings of the Corporate Party of America pick our pockets.

What we’ve just seen at the highest level in yesterday’s 1st presidential debate is the same focus on Identity politics, albeit now write large at the highest level. The same Great Distraction that has been intensifying in America for years. The same Big Rip Off in action!

In the first presidential debate both Biden and Trump immersed themselves in a personality food fight, like teenagers in a high school cafeteria: Trump attacked Biden as ‘sleepy Joe’ who Trump even suggested failed to graduate from college. Adding that to Trump’s pre-debate comments that Joe has early onset dementia and has to take performance drugs to stay awake and debate. Biden in turn declared Trump a clown. A neurotic egotist. Sick. Mentally unfit. And told him to just ‘shut up’.

The disease of identity politics in America has thus bubbled up like foul smelling swamp gas from society at large, to the very top echelons of the American political elite. Every election cycle we say the quality of the candidates put up to represent can’t get worse; but it does.

Listening to the media commentators at CNN and other outlets after the ‘debate’, the talking head experts were perplexed and repeatedly asked each other why any voter would continue to support Trump after his childish performance in last night’s debate? Conversely, at Fox the spin was his performance was precisely why his base continues to support him. What the former don’t understand, and the latter won’t admit, is that Trump’s 40% base remains solid no matter what he says, how he says it, or what he does. And that’s for a fundamental reason that also has to do with Identity.

For white European Americans, Trump is the bulwark against the ‘others’. He stands unequivocally against the changing demographic where White Europeans will soon no longer constitute the majority. They fear should that happen, not only their jobs but their culture, their values, their religion, and ‘their America’ will be no more! That single, fundamental reason is why they overlook everything about Trump and still support him regardless of his racism, his misogyny, his proto-fascist inclinations, his disrespect for democratic practices and norms, his verbal slips about ‘suckers and losers’ in the military, and all the rest. Nothing matters except he hold back the wave of colored folks of varying hues that will take away their America.

And with more than 350 million guns in America (and more than 15 million assault rifles) many of them are prepared to go to violent extremes if need be. Many are just waiting for the ‘Big Dog Whistle’ from Trump.

3) A Political Crisis of Unimaginable Dimensions

In an essay entitled, ‘A Most Dire Warning’ a couple weeks ago this writer predicted the most likely scenario following the November 3 election. It included Trump taking legal action to stop the mail in ballot vote counting by turning to his now many Federal District and Appeals court judge appointees. The scenario includes Trump declaring himself the winner on November 3-4, knowing that more Republicans will vote directly that day than will mail in ballots than Biden supporters will vote directly. CNN polls show 66% of Trump supporters will vote directly vs. only 22% Biden supporters. That means Trump will likely show an early lead, supported by exit polling. But he must stop the mail ballot counting or he may lose in the end. He will rely on his soon 6-3 US Supreme Court majority to support Appeals court decisions to stop the voting in select swing or blue states. There is a precedent for this already. It’s exactly what the Supreme Court did in 2000 to ‘select’ George W. Bush as president. It stopped the vote recount in Florida to give Bush the presidency. Only this time it will be multiple states and the original mail in ballot vote counting that may be halted. Protests that erupt will be met with physical police force. That too is being planned. Protestors will be identified as ‘Antifa’ and ‘BLM’ militants and repressed. The federal police force created in 2002 for the first time in US history—called the DHS—are the favored instruments. But Trump may call on his radical fascist street supporters to assist where necessary as well. And the more the street level social chaos the more likely the Supreme Court will tend to try to settle the dispute to end the street chaos.

In yesterday’s debate, the moderator asked Trump if he would call on his street supporters to not get involved. To this he answered, “Proud Boys ( a widespread neo-fascist group in America today) Stand Back. Stand By”. Immediately the radical right, hearing these words, began to mobilize and prepare for Trump’s ‘big dog whistle’ on November 4.

Trump will not accept the outcome should he lose on November 3. Nor in January 2021. He said “we might not know for months” the final vote count. That means well beyond January 2021. In the meantime, he further noted he’s “counting on the Supreme Court to look at the ballots”. Will the SCOTUS review the tens of millions of mail in ballots directly! Trump concluded “This is not going to end well”.

For his part, Biden declared to the TV audience “He can’t stop you from the outcome of this election”. If we get the votes, he’s not going to stay in power”. But what Biden fails to understand is we may not get all the votes if the mail ballots end up not being counted—as happened in 2000 in Florida thanks to the same Supreme Court that is soon even more in Trump’s camp today than it was in Bush’s in 2000! Biden’s pre-debate statement that the US military will ‘escort him out of the White House’ was wishful thinking as well. The Pentagon generals the next day publicly stated they would not get involved. So who will ‘escort’ Trump out? The Democrats have no executive arm; Trump does: the DHS swat teams and most of the police departments in the country that support his election. And then there’s the Proud Boys neo-fascists who may just descend upon Washington D.C. and take up positions around the White House, armed with their AR-15s when Trump blows his whistle. Who’s going to try to escort Trump out in that scenario?

The exchange by Trump and Biden on what each would do on the day of the election and after was undoubtedly the most important exchange of the entire 1st presidential debate. All the rest was irrelevant verbal bombast, appeals to identity politics, and personality clash. Viewers of the debate learned nothing about how America might extract itself from its intensifying multiple crises. What they learned is that a political crisis may be coming, the likes of which haven’t been seen in America since 1860.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
September 30, 2020

posted September 27, 2020
Trump’s ‘Plan B’: 2 Articles on Trump’s Plans to Refuse to Accept the Results of Nov. 3 Election

A Most Dire Warning, by Dr. Jack Rasmus, September 22, 2020

The rumor today is that Romney will reportedly say he’ll support Trump’s 3rd SCOTUS vote. So there you have it! 2020 election Game Over!

Trump will now get his 3rd Supreme Court nominee accepted by McConnell’s Senate–either before Nov. 3 or after. It doesn’t matter when so long as before January.

A SCOTUS 6-3 Trump majority now positions Trump’s SCOTUS majority to stop the mail in ballot vote count in Trump targeted blue and swing states, which would heavily favor Biden.

CNN poll shows 66% of Trump supporters will vote in person on Nov. 3 but only 22% of Biden supporters vote in person. (53% Biden supports to vote by mail). Trump will appear to win on Nov. 3 based on direct in person voting. He’ll declare victory and then move quickly to have Barr and the Justice Dept. stop the counting of mail in ballots in key swing states.

His lawyers are already fanning out and filing motions for injunctions against mail in voting. They will flood swing-blue states mail in ballot vote counting to delay the counting still further. States where Republican governors (and State secretaries of state who manage those states’ vote counting) will meanwhile throw out millions of mail in ballots based on technicalities like signatures failing to dot i’s or cross t’s to ensure Trump ‘red’ states turn in pro-Trump decisions.

Examples of US post office chaos & claims of lost vote ballots, etc. will be used by Trump lawyers to make legal argument that mail in ballots cannot be used to determine the final vote count. Injunctions will be filed to require states to disregard mail ballots. Further delays in mail in ballot counting will occur.

Disputes and legal action by Dems in response will be quickly sent up by Trump federal district judges (appointed by hundreds under McConnell since 2013) to the Supreme Court, now 6-3 in Trump’s pocket. Trump’s Supreme Court will repeat its Florida 2000 decision stopping the vote count–this time counting original votes not a recount. Only swing and blue states will be targeted, not red states already pro-Trump.

Street protests will erupt after Nov. 3 protesting the legal coup d’etat in progress. Trump has already called protestors “insurrectionists” and identified all protests as ‘antifa’ or ‘communist’. His attorney general, Barr, has also already pre-labeled protestors as “treasonous” and traitors who should be forcibly repressed and jailed

The US executive branch since 2002 now has its own executive police force called the Dept. Homeland Security (DHS), with de facto military swat teams who’ve been doing ‘dry runs’ in Seattle, Chicago, Portland and elsewhere. They will be used to suppress protests, aided by pro-Trump local police departments (e.g. New York City, etc.) and perhaps even welcoming right wing radical supportors as provocateurs to attack protestors and thus allow DHS-Police to declare protests riots and directly quash protests.

Contrary to Joe Biden declaring the US military will remove Trump from office if necessary, the US military has said publicly it ‘won’t get involved’.

Democrats will file multiple legal responses to efforts to stop the mail in vote counting that will get delayed in the lower federal court system until Trump is sworn in again in January. Trump’s 6-3 SCOTUS majority will eventually declare them unconstitutional after the fact.

Democrats’ US House of Representatives will once again impeach Trump but it will be ignored once again. Dems will not win Senate as their challengers in Senate will also be stopped from taking office after winning Nov. 3 by mail ballot count cancellation. Mail in ballot vote counting will never be concluded–as in Florida 2000. Americans will never know who actually won the election, as was the case in Florida in 2000.

Trump will gloat and restate what he’s been saying in his recent election speeches: ‘We’ll win in November and after that maybe look at another four years, or even more”!

He’ll then govern mostly by executive order in his second term, ignoring the US House, and moving money around in the US budget to wherever he wants (already doing it) in direct violation of the US Constitution.

In US foreign policy, should Trump win, watch for a total naval blockades launched against Iran and Venezuela after January 2021, if not before as an ‘October Surprise’. In 2021 the US will also engage in massive military buildup in the western pacific to confront and intimidate China.

In 2021 the US economy will relapse and contract after election due to US growing ‘Triple Crisis’ of intensifying political instability and Constitutional crisis, lack of further fiscal stimulus 4th quarter 2020, and possible Covid 19 resurgence.

Trump’s second term 2021 solution will be even more tax cuts for investors, business, and corporations–paid for by cuts in education, social safety net, social security and medicare-medicaid, and tax hikes on middle class.

Failure of the Democrats to have stopped Trump the past four years will likely usher in a basic political party re-alignment in the US as a form of authoritarian government takes hold under Trump quite different from even the limited Democracy form that has itself been slowly atrophying since the early 1990s.

The social condition during the last six months, that some liken socially to a kind of ‘low grade’ war, may well worsen in multiple ways over the coming six months into spring 2021.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
September 22, 2020

Ginsburg’s Death & Trump’s Emerging Legal Coup D’Etat, by Dr. Jack Rasmus, September 18, 2020

Yesterday Supreme Ct. Justice, Ginsburg, died. McConnell & Trump now moving rapidly to replace with 3rd right wing nominee to SCOTUS. Democrats mount feeble and futile defense, saying McConnell should not proceed with nomination based on McConnell’s own argument back in Feb. 2016 used to thwart the nomination of Obama’s Garland candidate; McConnell in reply expediting the nomination and promises Trump decision before Nov. 3 election.

The death of Ginsburg and quick replacement of another ultra conservative to SCOTUS has big implications for November’s election: it strengthens Trump’s strategy and plan to contest the election voting by mail process, declare it fraudulent (in select blue states), try to stop the counting of mail ballots, and have the Supreme Ct.–now in his pocket with 6-3 majority–cut off the vote counting, just as happened in Florida in 2000. Only this time not just in one state but across multiple states.

Trump’s strategy has become increasingly clear: create the public impression mail in voting is fraudulent and the basis for stopping the counting of mail ballots. This will be supported by what polls show as the likely way direct in person voting vs. mail voting will occur:

CNN polls show 53% of Biden supporters expect to vote by mail, while only 21% of Trump supporters will vote by mail. This will mean November 3 voting will show Trump winning by significant margins due to direct voting, confirmed by exit polls at the time. As mail in ballots will be counted, his lead will begin to fade in blue and swing states (though not likely in most red states due to widespread voter suppression). But before the mail in ballots do wipe out his lead, he’ll raise the ‘fraudulent’ voting claim, get Attorney General Barr to file injunctions to stop the vote count of mail in ballots, and push to the Supreme Court the approval to stop the vote count.

This is Florida’s 2000 election deja vu, except now in multiple states and not just involving voting irregularities in 3 counties in that state.

In 2000 the outcome was the Supreme Court de facto ‘selected’ the president, George W. Bush, with its 5-4 decision to stop the vote recount in Florida.

In 2020 the Supreme Court will be even more likely do the same–i.e. stop the vote count and ‘select’ Trump’– with a 6-3 vote. Except this time it will not even be a vote recount; it will be a first count of mail in ballot votes.

The 6-3 clear majority now gives Trump even more encouragement to implement this strategy: stop the vote count, direct the decision to the Supreme Court, and keep any resolution out of the US House of Representatives where, constitutionally it belongs.

Democrat leadership will be easily outmaneuvered in the Supreme Court nomination process about to begin. They will be outmaneuvered as well, I predict, in the post November 3 vote counting. The Democrats once again will prove themselves strategically and tactically inept in stopping Trump, as they have the entire previous four years.

One more nail will soon be hammered into the coffin of American Democracy, and this time a very large one.

Since the Republican and Democratic Party conventions in August I have been following and commenting on the unfolding of Trump’s strategy to engineer a legal de facto coup d’etat surrounding the November 3 elections. I have shared these reflections and observations in my almost daily tweets on the revealing of Trump’s strategy–as well as his statements showing his intent to destroy even the remaining remnants, as few as they are, of democratic and civil rights in America today in order to stay in power. Indeed, as he has publicly declared in his campaign speeches, he’s planning not only to win in November but is considering, as he put, “four more years after that, and maybe even four more, we’ll see”. In lock-step, his Attorney General, Bill Barr, has also publicly declared that protestors (including those protesting a future coup no doubt) should be considered “treasonous” and prosecuted under the sedition acts. For Trump too, protestors are “insurrectionists”, which means terrorists and ‘enemy combatants’ under the Patriot Act.

A political crisis, the dimensions of which have no precedent in America’s history, may be just around the corner. It’s negative impact on the present economic Great Recession 2.0 will be no less profound. It will ensure a further economic relapse and the W-Shape trajectory I’ve been predicting, or worse!

Dr. Jack Rasmus, September 18, 2020

posted September 9, 2020
America’s Current Jobs ‘Great Depression’

Two well-known and highly respected mainstream economists, Carmen Reinhart, a chief economist for the World Bank, and Vincent Reinhart, chief economist for Morgan Stanley bank, have recently published an article in the widely read capitalist source, Foreign Affairs, entitled ‘The Pandemic Depression’. Arguing primarily from a global perspective, the economists have concluded the US economy as of the 3rd quarter 2020 is not merely now experiencing a ‘great recession’ but now qualifies as another Great Depression.

There is another perspective, however, from which to also argue the US economy is in a bona fide Great Depression. It is from the perspective of the US Labor Market. For as of the late 3rd quarter 2020 the US economy suffers from an unemployment rate of no less than 25%–i.e. the same rate during the worst years and quarters of 1932-33, the depths of the 1930s Great Depression. Yet what we hear from the media and politicians of both wings of the Corporate Party of America—aka the Republicans and Democrats—is that unemployment is only 8.4%! That’s barely one-third of 25%.

Republicans and Trump have used the low-balled number of 8.4% as the main excuse to prevent the passage by Congress of any further economic stimulus. The Democrats have voiced no effective rebuttal since they too have accepted the 8.4%. So what is it? 8.4% and not even a great recession any longer? Or 25% and the possibility the ranks of unemployed are about to grow even further?
What follows is a debunking of the 8.4% unemployment rate and a quantitative explanation why that rate is 25%–as well as a statement of the forces that will likely result in an even further deterioration in the unemployment rate in the 2020-21 period ahead.

(25% & 40 Million Still Unemployed)

After the massive job implosion last spring, a weak rebound in jobs has occurred as the economy reopened over the early summer. But that jobs rebound has shown clear signs of faltering by late July and has clearly deteriorated by late August as unemployment claims have risen in recent weeks. Even more ominous, as that has near term condition of jobs has worsened, parallel indications show the emergence of a second, more permanent phase of job loss on the horizon.
Since early March 2020, more than 55m workers have filed for, and received, unemployment insurance benefits.

According to official government data, as of the end of August, 29.5 million US workers were still getting benefits. That 29.5m reflects 18.4% workers clearly unemployed. But it’s also a subset of the total jobless, since millions haven’t been able to get benefits. So the actual number of jobless as of labor day 2020 is north of 29.5m and 18.4% Nevertheless, the statistic we hear is 8.4% unemployment rate and 13.4 million unemployed. What gives?

Some of the 55 million who received benefits at some point over the course of the last six months of the pandemic began returning to work starting in May. The number returning grew in June, but then began slowing once again in July and August as the rebound in jobs began to falter in July-August.

Others of the 55 million have simply exhausted their benefits. Many are still unemployed but no longer part of the 29.5 million that remain on benefits.
In addition, millions more workers since March have entered the labor force for the first time but they too have not been eligible to receive benefits due to lack of prior work history as first time job seekers—which precludes them from receiving unemployment benefits. Like those having exhausted their benefits, they too are unemployed but not part of the 29.5m still getting benefits at the end of August.

Joining the ranks of those unemployed but not receiving benefits are the millions who never got benefits because they simply gave up looking for work for various reasons and dropped out of the labor force—which puts them in a category in which, according to US labor department methodology, they aren’t counted as unemployed. They may be out of work, but given the oxymoronic way the US defines unemployed they aren’t considered unemployed for purposes of calculating the unemployment rate!

Finally, there are the additional millions more who never were able to get benefits since March even though they tried, due to various bureaucratic reasons.
Whether having exhausted their benefits, or first time entrants to the labor force not eligible for benefits, or whether they’ve dropped out of the labor force, or were denied benefits for bureaucratic reasons—all these groups are nonetheless part of the unemployed, even though they are not counted among the 29.5m still getting unemployment benefits.

In short, the 55m who got benefits at some point since March, and the 29.5m who are still getting them, are in both cases just a subset of a much larger number of jobless. There are millions more unemployed who never got on the unemployment benefits rolls since March and still not able to get benefits. There’s at least 10-15 million more jobless but without benefits. That means an unemployment rate, at minimum, of 25%–not the 8.4% peddled by the media apologists for Wall St. and the politicians of the Corporate Party of America (aka Trumpublicans and Democrat wings of that party).

Last April 2020 perhaps as much as 50% of the total US labor force of 160 million workers was jobless for approximately two months. As of today, Labor Day 2020, at minimum a fourth, or 25%, still remains so.

That 25% is about the same jobless rate as occurred during the worst years of the 1930s Great Depression, 1932-33!

Here’s why it’s 25% at minimum today, Labor Day, and quite possibly even more:

(Dissecting the Government’s Low-Ball U-3/8.4% Unemployment Rate)

Despite an actual 25% unemployment rate (i.e. 40 million still jobless) what we hear from the media and politicians is that the unemployment rate is only 8.4%. And thus the total unemployed is only 13.4 million. (When 8.4% is calculated on the 160 million total US labor force, the number unemployed comes to 13.4 million).

The official government statistic of 8.4% jobless is repeated ad nauseam in the media. It’s then picked up by politicians, commentators, and even progressives who should know better and parroted back to the public. But 8.4% is nonsense. A purposely low-balled, cherry-picked number for public consumption. Here’s why:
To begin with, the 8.4% is the government’s official U-3 unemployment rate. The problem with U-3, however, is that it represents only full time workers who became unemployed. But there are at least 50 million workers in the US economy who are not ‘full time’, but part time, discouraged and what the government calls the ‘missing labor force’. The government adds these groups to its U-3 and 8.4%. That raises the unemployment rate in August to 14.2%–not 8.4%. And that translates to a total unemployed of 22.7 million—not 13.4 million.

The 14.2%/22.7 million numbers are carefully avoided in media reporting. One almost never hears the 14.2% and virtually always only the 8.4%, regardless that both are official government statistics.

But even that 14.2%/22.7m is grossly under-estimating the total unemployed. Remember that other government statistic, i.e. those receiving unemployment benefits? Workers receiving benefits as of late August was 29.5 million. And that represents a 18.4% jobless rate. Obviously, if a worker is getting benefits, he/she must be unemployed, right? But you’ll hear 29.5 million and 18.4% in the media even less than the 14.2% and 22.7 million.

In the case of the 29.5 million, moreover, we have another example of ‘low-balling’ and cherry-picking a statistic –not unlike cherry-picking the U-3 stat instead of the U-6. The media reports the number of workers getting benefits at only 16 or 17 million, not 29.5 million!

But here’s what they don’t explain when citing only 16-17 million getting benefits: That number accounts only for workers receiving unemployment benefits under the traditional State Unemployment Benefits system. The 16-17 million excludes independent contract workers, gig, freelance, and others getting benefits under the supplemental Pandemic Unemployment Insurance (PUC) program created last March as part of the Cares Act. In other words, there’s two unemployment benefits systems and the media typically chooses to report only the one when indicating workers getting benefits. There’s the traditional State Unemployment Benefits system and the new Supplemental PUC system that for the first time ever has provided benefits for the 50m non-traditional workers who were before March never eligible for benefits but are now and will continue to be eligible at least through December 2020 when that PUC system expires. Once again, it’s media cherry-picking and number low-balling time.

The State system and the PUC system together comprise the 29.5 million workers still getting unemployment benefits. 29.5m receiving benefits is certainly more than 22.7m (U-6) and even more so than 13.4m. It’s not that the government job statistics consciously lie (although in some cases they come quite close). It’s just that the government produces low ball numbers for the media to pick up, which they do and pound away at. And then commentators, politicians, business sources play their role of spreading the low ball numbers and conveniently ignoring other data.

How then did the US economy get to 29.5 million and 18.4%? Here’s the trajectory: In April more than 6 million workers filed for benefits every week for two weeks, followed by 3-5 million more for several more weeks thereafter! The weekly new benefits filing rate declined as the economy began to reopen in May. However, after May new State unemployment benefit claims still averaged 1 to 2 million every week through July; In addition, the number of PUC initial benefit claims per week also exceeded 1 million a week, every week, through July as well.

The combined totals of the two programs—State and PUC— thus never fell below 2 million initial filings a week throughout the period of the reopening of the economy, from May through July. It has also remained a combined more than 1.5m/week throughout August. That’s 6 million new unemployment filing claims—i.e. 6 million newly unemployed—in just the last month of August. Bringing the total on unemployment benefits to the 29.5 million.

But wait! The 29.5m represents only unemployed workers who were able to get benefits. There’s many more workers who became jobless but were unable to successfully get benefits; or who gave up even trying in the first place and simply dropped out of the labor force altogether. Who are they? And how great are their numbers?

Their numbers are well north of even the 29.5 million and 18.4% unemployment rate. The true total jobless includes their numbers plus the 29.5 million.

For the 29.5m receiving benefits as of Labor Day 2020 excludes those jobless who were unable to get benefits in the first place, who filed unsuccessfully for benefits, who got lost in the bureaucratic process of filing and never got benefits, or who just couldn’t figure out how to file and were not helped and gave up. The 29.5m also represents those having exhausted benefits during the last six months. And those who chose not to file even though unemployed. Finally, the 29.5m excludes new entrants to the labor force over the past six months who weren’t eligible for benefits but haven’t been able nonetheless to find work given the collapse of the economy! All these categories of jobless workers represent the unemployed as much as those receiving benefits include the obviously unemployed. So the number of jobless is actually much higher than even 29.5 million. The 29.5m is therefore just a subset of the true total unemployed.
So how many more are jobless but not getting benefits as of Labor Day 2020?

(Estimating the Actual Jobless—With & Without Benefits)

You won’t get an accurate number from the government of the total unemployed who didn’t get benefits but have been, and remain, nonetheless jobless since February 2020.

However, private research surveys do give us an idea. MarketWatch, a business research and media company, published an interesting feature story in Fidelity.com this past week, based on its survey of the Philadephia/Mid-Atlantic region of the economy. That case example survey provides a reasonable estimate of the magnitude of those jobless since March 2020 but not among the 29.5m that succeeded in obtaining unemployment benefits.

Of the total number of workers in the Philadelphia, Mid-Atlantic US region who lost their jobs since February, MarketWatch reports that only 87% actually filed successfully for benefits. And of that 87%, only 65% who bothered to file actually ended up getting benefits. That means only 52%, or roughly half of the unemployed in the Philadelphia area, actually got unemployment benefits. The other 48% were just as much out of work, but without benefits.

If Philadelphia represents a microcosm and relatively accurate sample of the entire US economy labor market, simple extrapolation means that the 55 million who successfully got benefits since March 2020 may represent barely half of the total of those who have been unemployed since March!

That means the 29.5 million still getting benefits may represent barely half of all those still unemployed. There may therefore be between 40 and 50 million workers in America still jobless—those still getting benefits (the 29.5m) and those without benefits (10m to 20m).

Thus, the oft-reported official US numbers of 8.4% unemployment rate and 13.4 million total out of work is dwarfed not only by the government’s own alternative U-6 data, as well as by its own data showing 29.5 million jobless getting benefits, but also by the fact the total jobless without benefits may be nearly as large as those with benefits.

Assuming the low-end estimate of 10 million still jobless but without benefits, and adding that to the government data that shows 29.5 million still on benefits, a total jobless of at least 40 million is the result. And that’s the low end assumption. It may be well over 40 million as of end of August 2020.

40 million is 25% of the labor force. And it’s far greater than the 8.4% and 13.4 million that the media and politicians keep drumming into our ears. What the media and politicians are telling us is only one-third of the total unemployed!
Corroborating this estimate of at least 25% unemployed today is yet another government statistic called the labor force participation rate, or LFPR. It represents workers who have dropped out of the labor force altogether. It’s in addition to the 29.5m and 18.4% rate since, by government guidelines and definitions, those who drop out of the labor force cannot receive benefits.

(Labor Force Participation Rate Suggests 5.5 Million Dropped Out)

The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is the percent of working age Americans who have left the Labor Force. They are neither working nor actively looking for work. But they are jobless nonetheless and should be considered among the unemployed. The LFPR was 63.4% of the 164.5 million civilian labor force in February 2020. By August the LFPR dropped to 61.7% out of a 160 million labor force. The difference translates into approximately 5.5 million workers who dropped out of the labor force since February 2020. Having dropped out they are not actively looking for work and therefore not considered unemployed by the government for purposes of calculating unemployment rates. Nor are they eligible to receive benefits since, as drop outs, they are not actively looking for work. However they are nevertheless unemployed and their 5.5 million are additional to the 13.4 million U-3 and 22.7 million U-6 unemployed or the 29.5 million getting benefits. They are among the ‘other’ 10-20 million jobless but not counted by the U-3/U-6 or included in those receiving benefits. Their number strongly corroborates that there are many millions more unemployed—not getting benefits or ignored by the government’s official monthly jobless numbers.

Let’s look at the latest of those government monthly employment numbers. Once again what appears is a fudging and manipulation of the numbers in yet other ways as well.

(August 2020 Government Employment Report)

The first thing to know about the August Employment Report is that it isn’t for the month of August. It is only for the first two weeks of the month (and the last two weeks of July). The data cuts off around the 12th of the month. So what we’re looking at in a ‘August’ report is really July 13 to August 12 jobs data—i.e. before unemployment claims began to rise again in late August.

Second, it’s important to understand that the August jobs numbers are not the actual number of jobs created July 13-August 12. It is not the raw data of actual jobs created or lost that’s reported—for August or for any month in the Labor Dept jobs reports.

The government takes the actual raw data and performs various statistical operations on that raw jobs data and reports that adjusted statistic as the actual number of jobs, even though it isn’t. But that’s what all statistics are—an operation and adjustment on the actual raw data. Moreover, the August raw data itself may be over-stated as well, not just altered by the statistical operation(s).

Raw (actual) jobs data comes from several sources: Large businesses report to the government changes in employment, layoffs, hires, etc. (called the Establishment Survey) The government also surveys a sample of households monthly (called the Population Survey). But there’s a third, more questionable source, based on data from the creation and destruction of small businesses, called the (net) New Business Development survey (NBD). That NBD data, however, represents businesses destroyed or created 6 to 9 months before the month in question—i.e. in this case August. So we get six to nine month old data integrated with current data from the Establishment and Population surveys. Mixing such older data with more recent is a questionable statistical practice. It means adding positive net new business development pre-March and Covid, in January-February, to current jobs data. That has the effect of dampening the actual numbers of August jobs unemployment. That is, it adds to and over-estimates the number of jobs created in August. If net business development for July were used—not January/February—it would mean integrating massive small business destruction that has occurred under Covid since March. That would have the opposite effect: it would dampen job creation numbers in August and increase unemployment numbers.

That’s just one example how ‘statistical operations’ on data can serve to exaggerate job growth and under-estimate unemployment.

Another sometimes questionable statistical operation is called the Seasonality adjustment. The seasonality statistical adjustment in August reduced the number of new filings for unemployment benefits in just the last week of August by 130,000. The government then reported a ‘seasonally adjusted’ 881,000 new unemployment claims for the week ending August 29, when the actual number was 1,011,000.

Similarly, in August there were 9,118,000 reported as unemployed in August when the actual data, not seasonally adjusted, for August showed 9,286,000 actually unemployed—i.e. a difference of 168,000. Put another way, there were 168,000 more jobless in actuality than reported as unemployed. 168,000 were artificially reduced from the unemployed ranks due to statistical operations involving just seasonality alone!

The statistical models assume more return to work at the end of summer than, say for instance, at the end of spring. But the point is these models are based on assumptions developed in normal times under normal conditions. Since Covid neither times or conditions are ‘normal’. Yet the government continues to use the same assumptions, models, and statistical operations to change the actual data, the actual number of employed and unemployed, to the statistical representations of the actual numbers!

The latest August official Labor Dept. job data report says 1.37m new jobs were created. This is the statistic. But the actual data, for above reasons, is far fewer new jobs and far more unemployed.

The August Report is biased in yet another way. It purports to show the condition of the US private sector economy. But 238,000 new US census workers were hired in August who’ll be gone by October. Take away the seasonality adjustment of 168,000 jobs and the 238,000 very temporary government Census workers, and the private sector actual job gain in August was roughly 964,000 not 1.37m. Even without the deduction of seasonality, the private job report company, ADP, often cited as a check on government job reports, reported only 428,000 net jobs growth in August—i.e. less than half of the government’s August jobs report.

1.37m new jobs reported, minus the 168,000 seasonal upward adjustment and minus the 238,000 Census workers, and the difference is 964,000 actual net private sector jobs created in August, or about half a million fewer than in July.

Even accepting the government’s own inflated monthly jobs numbers, the rate of monthly job growth has been slowing rapidly since May 2020: In May 3.4 million new jobs were reported as created. In June, as the economy reopened virtually everywhere, 4.7 million new jobs. But in July, as the economic rebound began to fade, only 1.5 million, and now as of August 12, only 1.37m. In short, even questionable statistical operations cannot total cover up the obvious downward trend.

Perhaps a better indicator of this downward trend post-August 12, is the more than 4 million workers who have newly filed for unemployment benefits the last three weeks, and undoubtedly hundreds of thousands more were also newly jobless but who were not able to get benefits or just dropped out of the labor force giving up searching for a job in today’s deeply depressed labor market.
And yet we read and hear from the media and politicians that the job market is healing rapidly and job recovery is accelerating—even as data show it is in fact deteriorating. We hear unemployment is declining fast when in fact it has begun to rise once again.

(Summing Up Jobs: March Through August 2020)

To sum up the bigger true picture of jobless during the first six months of the Covid era:

• 55 million filed for benefits, state and PUC, since last February, out of 160m labor force
• Tens of millions more failed to file or filed unsuccessfully and didn’t get benefits
• 29+ million are still getting benefits as of September Labor Day 2020
• 10-20 million still unemployed but not getting benefits as of Labor Day 2020
• 1.5 million are continuing to file first time for benefits weekly as of early September
• 8.4%/13.4m official U-3 jobless rate is the preferred ‘cherry picked’ media number
• 14.2%/22.7m is government’s alternative data (U-6) yet ignored by media & politicians
• 13.4 or 22.7m still falls far short of the 29.5m/18.4% actually still getting benefits
• At least 5.5m dropped out of labor force the past 6 mo. but not considered unemployed
• The actual unemployment rate is 25% and 40 million are still jobless, at minimum
• Even government monthly stats show a sharp slowing of new jobs added each month
As bad as the picture looks for Phase 1 (March-to Labor Day 2020) of the current crisis, future prospects for jobs for American workers after Labor Day 2020 appear even bleaker.

(2nd Wave of Restructuring & Permanent Job Loss)

The Covid virus did not cause the current economic crisis—i.e. the 2nd Great Recession. It did precipitate and accelerate and deepen that crisis, however. The US economy was weakening steadily throughout 2019, with the important sectors of business investment and manufacturing actually contracting throughout the year. Should the virus therefore disappear overnight, the deep wounds to the US economy will remain. Many of the 40 million furloughed starting in March and still jobless will not soon be recalled to their prior work—if at all. Entire industries like travel, entertainment, food & lodging, and others will not return to the ‘old normal’ of pre-Covid. A new normal will occur, but it will be one based on a much reduced output in various industries and companies and therefore employment.

Many major corporations have already announced thousands—and in some cases tens of thousands—of permanent layoffs that will take effect in the coming months. These layoffs will be permanent. They represent the leading edge of a coming second wave of job loss.

Industries deepest affected by the growing permanent restructuring and downsizing include Airlines, surface transportation, cruise lines, resorts and hotels, casinos, malls and retail services, education services, local food services, and many sectors of manufacturing that support all these industries with products and maintenance services. This is a large swath of the US economy, in both GDP and employment terms. A clearer picture of which industries, and how deeply impacted, will be clearer after September 30 when the government publishes its quarterly industry-specific statistics for the second quarter 2020.

In the meantime, announcements of thousands of planned layoffs are being announced weekly by United, American, and other airlines; by Boeing and other aerospace suppliers; by big box mall-based retail companies like JC Penneys, Kohls, Nieman Marcus and others; Movie Theater chains AMC and Cinemark; oil drilling and fracking companies; hospitals’ non-Covid related services health workers; beverage suppliers to hotels and restaurants like Coca Cola—to mention just those making front business page news in recent weeks. Tech companies are all restructuring despite healthy profits performance, shifting to remote employment on a major scale that reduces employment costs via layoffs. They will require therefore fewer building support and operations employees. Many other businesses may also shift to remote activity, with the result that urban office buildings will become less employment populated and much of the local city support services for the office building sector will dramatically downsize in employment as well.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s latest ‘Beige Book’ summary of the US economy warned that millions of workers temporarily furloughed since March may have been permanently laid off by August and more may become so. This shift of temporary laid off to permanent layoff status is corroborated by a survey that showed 3.4 million workers believe they won’t be recalled because their companies have either permanently closed or said they planned to close.

Added to this leading edge of the next wave of layoffs due to business restructuring and downsizing is the likelihood of millions more public sector state and local government layoffs. More than a million government workers have been already laid off since March. Budget and deficit problems accelerating rapidly for state and local governments due to the Covid pandemic (i.e. more expenses amidst collapsing tax revenues) will result in still more public employee layoffs. It’s been estimated these governments will need between $500 billion and $940 billion in bailout rescue in a new stimulus bill from Congress to avoid the mass layoffs. However, it appears extremely unlikely they’ll get much, if anything, in a next Congressional stimulus bill in 2020. Layoffs are therefore inevitable and in some of the larger states and cities they will be significant and forthcoming before 2020 year end.

Small business failures and permanent closures are already rising significantly. As small businesses close, jobs associated with them will disappear. And the numbers could easily amount in the millions by the end of 2021.

There are roughly 30 million small businesses in the US economy. Millions of those temporarily closed since March will fail to reopen. And the worse may be yet to come. The National Federation of Independent Businesses, an industry trade group for small business, forecasts 21% will likely fail within another six months. That’s one-fifth of the 30 million or about 6 million. Even if a high end estimate, the number is still unprecedented. At the low end is the US Census ‘Business Pulse’ survey that predicts a 5% small business job loss. That’s 1.5 million closures. Whether 6 or 1.5 million, it’s a large number with an even larger number of employees thrown out of work as the businesses close in coming months.

Other forces driving a second wave of layoffs are more difficult to estimate but no less likely. Among them include the Covid related requirement that K-12 schools implement home remote school education services. Many working class households are two-parent wage earners. They lack resources to pay for babysitters or nannies. Those with K-6 year old children in particular will be forced to have one parent quit and stay at home to ensure home schooling. These ‘quits’ will not show up as unemployed, since the parent is ‘out of work’ but not actively ‘looking for work’. They will show up as labor force drop outs. But they will be unemployed nonetheless! It’s uncertain how wide spread the remote K-8 education services will be this fall, or how long it will last. One recent estimate, however, by Brevan Howard Asset Management to its investors, concluded no fewer than 4.3 million US workers could stay home given lack of child care arrangements. A resurgence of Covid may mean millions more may have to quit their jobs and choose unemployment in order to provide their young children education via remote learning.

Another development that for now is difficult to estimate as well is the impact on employment of the lack of a necessary fiscal stimulus for households. The elimination of the $600 supplement pandemic unemployment benefit at the end of July has resulted in a reduction of no less than $65 billion in consumption spending per month starting this past August. Evictions and mortgage foreclosures will also have a negative impact on consumer household spending, which is nearly 70% of the economy and US GDP. Already the loss of the $600 benefit, combined with rising evictions, is having a major effect on consumer confidence which in August began falling again sharply. This could be exacerbated by an inadequate stimulus bill in September. Reduced working class benefits and household incomes will have an impact on consumer demand for products and services in the economy across the board, affecting nearly all sectors of businesses. And as that demand drops, it will almost certainly lead in turn to less consumer spending and in turn to more layoffs.

The preceding five forces—i.e. large corporate restructurings and permanent downsizing, a sharp rise in public sector layoffs, unprecedented business closures, remote schooling requirements of two working parent families, and general demand reduction due to inadequate next stimulus—all translate into a second wave of layoffs now emerging.

These longer term job reduction forces mean the recent tepid rebound in jobs during May-July will likely give way to a relapse in the US labor markets in coming months and a rise in unemployment. The trend may already be appearing as of late August as first time claims for unemployment benefits have begun to rise once again.

And then there are still the ‘known unknowns’ that could exacerbate conditions further: the increasingly likelihood of a historic political crisis surrounding the November 3 elections. That will breed massive uncertainty and potentially an even worse economic crisis and associated layoffs. Or the Covid virus could resurge significantly once again as winter sets in, as many fear will happen. That too will lead to more shutdowns and furloughing of jobs once again. Even further down the road is the 2021 ‘black swan’ event of another financial crisis, as businesses, households, and local governments begin to default on their debts and precipitate another financial crisis similar to 2008-09.

Jack Rasmus
September 8, 2020

posted August 20, 2020
Trump’s Executive Orders: EOs as PR and FUs

Less than 24 hours after Trump broke off negotiations on the economic stimulus package with Congressional Democrat leaders, Pelosi and Shumer, last Friday August 7, Trump issued a series of Executive Orders (EOs) that he had been signaling and threatening all last week well before the break up.

Almost certainly the legal crafting of the EOs were written long before negotiations were dramatically ended by Trump’s hatchet man leading his negotiating team, staffer Mark Meadows. Trump clearly planned the break up and his EOs some time ago.

Trump, Meadows, Mnuchin and McConnell cleverly set up and sucked in Pelosi and Shumer into negotiations last week, never planning to conclude a deal by Friday, in the process getting them to reveal their priority demands and securing from them major concessions worth $1 trillion—for which the Democrat leaders apparently got nothing in return.

A day later, Trump dropped the hammer and issued his EOs, which are designed more as PR for his election campaign. They certainly won’t provide anything remotely necessary as fiscal stimulus to confront the US economy’s emerging fading rebound in recent weeks.
Upon close inspection the EOs are therefore mostly smoke and mirrors, designed to produce useful electoral soundbites for his campaign between now and November. The EOs are more PR for public relations purposes, while also serving as FUs (F*** You) to the Democrats.

EO #1: Payroll Tax Cut

The EO that has gotten the most media attention thus far is his proposal to introduce a payroll tax cut, which neither the Republicans or Democrats in Congress were calling for. Why were they not? Because they had both already agreed to an alternative measure far more lucrative for business: an expansion and extension of the ‘Retention Tax Credit’ passed in March as part of the CARES ACT stimulus. The retention tax credit has provided a direct tax cut to business worth $55 billion since March. Businesses get the tax credit by simply saying they didn’t lay off workers they might have. But any business can make that claim, even if they had no plans to lay off, and thus get the credit. In the current negotiations that were in progress until last Friday, both sides—Republicans and Democrats—had agreed to expand and extend the ‘Retention Tax Credit’ costing another $194 billion in addition to the $55 billion to date.

Another reason why even the Republicans in Congress weren’t all that interested in Trump’s Payroll Tax Cut was that Business had already been allowed to defer their share of the payroll tax in the CARES ACT. Payroll taxes are paid for by both employers and workers, each contributing half the total 15.3% to Social Security and Medicare. (6.2% of the payroll tax goes to social security plus another 1.45% for Medicare). Employers have already therefore had their share of the payroll tax deferred (but not yet permanently cut). Deferral means employers have to start paying it back by the end of 2021. The media hasn’t provided much attention to that. But the employer tax ‘cut’ is really a tax ‘deferral’ that has to be restored at a later date to the social security and Medicare trust funds.

Trump wants not only a deferral of the 7.65% workers’ share immediately, but also to make it permanent later. That means the trust funds will never see the money restored. And if that’s his plan for the workers’ 7.65% share, it will presumably mean the same for the employers’ 7.65% as well. That translates into an end of the social security and Medicare programs! Ending the programs means, in turn that 50 million American households would be immediately thrust into poverty. Consumption would collapse. And economic depression would almost immediately result. But no matter to Trump, so long as he can spin it for re-election purposes in the interim.

Trump administration mouthpieces have been trying desperately to ‘walk back’, as they say, Trump’s disastrous declaration to make the payroll tax cuts permanent and thus destroy social security and Medicare. Mouthpiece #1, Larry Kudlow, says he didn’t mean permanent in fact.

Trump is caught between a rock and a hard place. By deferring the payroll tax the likely response by employers, as others have pointed out, is that the employers, who are responsible for collecting the payroll tax from workers, may do so and just sit on the collected payroll taxes from their employees.

Employers by law are responsible to collect and send the taxes to the government. If they don’t collect from their workers, thus allowing them to realize a real wage increase in their paychecks equal to 7.65%, then the same employers will be liable to pay out of their own profits what they didn’t collect once the deferral period ends. Employers will have to make up the payroll tax loss in 2021—at the same time they have to pay back the deferral on their own 7.65% share by the end of 2021!

Another related problem is that should workers have their 7.65% deferred and realize a wage increase in 2020 from it, they’ll have to declare that as income and pay taxes on it come April 2021. So it won’t be a 7.65% net income gain for them either.

Apparently Trump’s gambit on the payroll tax has had even some Republican Senators choking on the stupidity of the measure. Republican Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, quickly called it “unconstitutional slop”!

EO #2: $400 Supplemental Unemployment Benefits

The supplement Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, PUC, introduced last March in the CARES ACT provided for an extra federal $600/week benefit in addition to the States’ Unemployment Benefit programs. Those state programs provide up to $450 a week (California) to as little as $235 a week (Mississippi). The $600 was designed to help unemployed stay in their rental apartments and homes. $235 a week, or about $10,000 or so a year, is grossly inadequate to keep people in their homes during the pandemic. So the $600 was added, and not just to cover household living costs but also to stimulate consumption and the economic recovery. Studies show households earning less than $25,000 who received the $600 spent it all. Other university studies show the $600 has not discouraged workers from returning to their jobs.

Trump’s EO proposes to cut the $600 to $400 a week. But not even $400. The federal government will pay $300 and the states will have to kick in the other $100. If they do not, the government $300 may not even be available, according to some sources. The $600 since March has benefited between 14m and 28m unemployed. It generated $85 billion/month in consumer spending and thus GDP to the US economy. Reducing it to $300 a week—as Trump’s EO proposes—cuts that in half, which means at least $40 billion a month will be taken out of the economy and US GDP. Some stimulus that!

And where will the finances to provide the $300/week benefit come from? It is unclear, although Trump administration mouthpieces have raised the possibility the money will be diverted from the Disaster Relief Fund’s $44 billion—i.e. just as the hurricane season arrives! But $44B will only fund the $300/week for about five weeks at most. Not to mention that transferring funds from a program authorized by Congress is also another unconstitutional action—just as is Trump’s payroll tax cut proposal. It too is just another indication of Trump’s intention to run roughshod over any constitutional requirement that gives authority to Congress, and especially the US House of Representatives.

EO#3: Moratorium on Evictions

There are 108 million Americans living in approximately 48 million rental units in the US. The CARES ACT of last March provided for evictions moratorium in only about one third that total, specifically in apartments subject to federal housing finance programs. So evictions have been continuing ever since the pandemic and great recession began. But they have begun accelerating in July as even the limited moratorium expired on July 25. Estimates are that 12.5 million are potential evictions in the federal covered programs–11 million of which in 2020. Other estimates of potential evictions rise to as much as 30 million plus.

Trump’s eviction moratorium Executive Order does not prohibit evictions at all. It just says states should “consider” suspending or limiting evictions. This particular EO is just typical Trump smoke and mirrors, allowing him to say something in his tweets and public appearances that he’s stopped the evictions. In this case, the EO is just normal Trump BS.

EO#4: Student Loan Deferral

Whereas the March CARES ACT provided for the suspension of student loan payments and zero interest accrual through September 30, 2020. Trump’s EO merely extends it up to the end of December 2020. Or possibly earlier, since the EO states: “It is therefore appropriate to extend this policy until such time that the economy has stabilized, schools have re-opened, and the crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.” What’s ‘stabilized’? How many schools must ‘reopen’ and what constitutes ‘pandemic has subsided’? In other words, there’s no guarantee even the suspension is extended through 2020.

The current crisis provides no better opportunity for the US government to simply expunge federal student loan balances and obligations. The program is a travesty. It charges students, now in debt to the tune of $1.6 trillion, interest rates as high as 6.7%. That compares to the ability of businesses to obtain 10 year equivalent loans at interest rates as low as 2% today. Why is the federal government charging millions of students such usurious interest rates? Because it wants to push them off the Dept. of Education loan system into the arms of the private banks to re-consolidate their government education loans. Banks charge now about 4% to consolidate, less than the government’s 6.7% but far more than the 2% they charge their business customers for equivalent loans. Abolishing the $1.6 trillion debt load on students will have no effect whatsoever on US government finances and US economic output. In fact, it would likely result in a major stimulus to consumption and therefore economic growth. But Trump’s EO does nothing except allow him to say he improved relief on student debt by some weeks before the November elections.

Executive Orders & Deepening US Constitutional Crisis

While running for president before 2016 Trump continually attacked Obama for trying to legislate immigration reform by Executive Order. Now he is doing the same, expanded by magnitudes. Trump has revealed time and again plans to govern by bypassing Congress. He has cornered the Federal Judiciary. Not just the Supreme Court majority but hundreds of his ideological appointees to the Federal Judiciary at all levels are now in his pocket. He clearly believes he can abrogate Congressional legislative authority and govern by decree: executive orders as well as national emergency declarations and similar legal maneuvers no doubt already being planned by Bill Barr and Steven Miller. The current flurry of EOs should be viewed as just the latest tactics in his broader strategy. They are largely public relations measures introduced primarily with his eye on the November elections.

They are also ‘FUs’ directed at the Democrats, declaring his intent to step on them at every opportunity in the run up to the November elections. It’s as if he’s saying and taunting them: “See, I outmaneuvered you guys again. I set you up allowing my hatchet men, Meadows and McConnell, to extract concessions from you in negotiations. I let you think you could get a deal. Now I’ll announce those measures and you can agree to them or not. I’ll spin it and take the political credit. Now you can come back to the bargaining table and give me some more concessions that I’ll take credit for as well. I’m going to string you along like this until November. I’ll look like I’m doing something and you’ll look like you can’t get anything done”.

A Trump De Facto Coup Scenario

Trump will never accede to the results of the upcoming November elections, should he lose. His strategy becomes increasingly evident with every passing week and action. The EOs are just the latest event in that strategy.

The mostly likely scenario for November is his plan to declare on November 4 that the voting has been tampered with as a result of mail ballots and the US post office refusing to process and mail millions of ballots. He’ll declare the November results null and void, and declare the US Supreme Court should decide in his favor for a second term—just as it did (unconstitutionally) in 2000 when the Court stopped the voting count in Florida. This time he’ll challenge the voting count in every state he’ll lose, but not in those he’ll win.

It is not beyond the possible he’ll also call for his radical right, gun-toting friends to come to Washington to surround and protect the White House while the crisis intensifies in December-January. His DHS troops and ICE cops are also available to provide physical protection. Democrats in Congress will rant and rail about it all, but have no executive force to stop him or drag him out of the White House in January when he refuses to leave. Nor will the Washington DC police, or FBI, or US military units want to confront a White House surrounded by his armed supporters. As time drags on, his position will become stronger.

Make no mistake. This is not an impossible scenario. Democrats and moderates think he cannot thus flout the US Constitution and law. Yes he can. And he likely will.

Jack Rasmus is author of the recently published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020. He blogs at jackrasmus.com and his twitter handle is @drjackrasmus. His website is http://kyklosproductions.com.

posted August 8, 2020
Trump Scuttles Economic Stimulus Negotiations-What’s Next?

On August 7, 2020 negotiations on an economic stimulus package between US House Democrats and the White House broke down and broke off. What’s behind it?

In recent days the Democrats’ leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer, reportedly reduced the cost of their original ‘Heroes Act’ proposals by $1 trillion. Instead of the original cost of $3 trillion in the Heroes Act passed last June, they were willing to agree to a reduced package of $2 trillion. Never mind the attempt to reach a compromise on some middle ground. The White House, through Trump’s assigned negotiator, staffer Mark Meadows, rejected the Dems offer. Meadows reportedly slammed the table (a two-bit amateur negotiating tactic) and walked out of negotiations with Pelosi-Shumer in a huff. Meadows’ walkout appears a well-planned set up in the works for some time.

What does this mean, politically and for the economy, now showing clear signs of the mild rebound of May-June dissipating in recent weeks?

On one level it’s clearly a typical Trump negotiating tactic: Bring a deal to a near close, then make a big show and angrily walk away. Trump’s done that before on numerous occasions. We saw it in the trade negotiations with China in 2018 and again 2019. It didn’t work then with the Chinese trade negotiators, and will likely not work here again—assuming the Dems don’t lose their backbone and fall for the set up. That’s been known to happen in the past.

Trump coyly stayed on the sidelines in the early phase of the negotiations between the Dems and McConnell in the Senate and Mnuchin at Treasury.

He let McConnell in the Senate carry his water in the early bargaining. But McConnell’s extreme ideologue wing, led by Rand Paul and others, revolted. They said they couldn’t support any kind of new stimulus because of its impact on the government’s deficit and debt. However, this same Rand Paul-led crew in just one day last week quickly approved a record $760B Pentagon spending bill. Nor did these same folks have any problem approving tax cuts worth $5 trillion in the past two years under Trump. Nothing said about that impact on the budget and national debt.

And its these same hypocrites in the Senate who have been arguing the $600/wk. unemployment benefits for workers under the March 2020 Cares Act were ‘too generous’. The benefit was keeping workers from returning to work, they argued, although at least a half dozen university studies—from Harvard, Yale and Princeton—concluded it’s not so.

McConnell’s withdrawal to the sidelines in negotiations in early July—allowing Trump, Meadows and Mnuchin to take the lead in negotiations on the stimulus—may be part of the Republican strategy as well. Up until recent weeks, McConnell and Mnuchin were respectively playing ‘hard cop’ and ‘soft cop’ with Pelosi-Shumer. McConnell wouldn’t budge, which let the Dems pursue compromise with Mnuchin who was serving as lead for the Trump negotiations. Mnuchin and the Dems actually made some headway and some compromises. Mnuchin sucked them in, getting them to reduce their original Heroes Act $3T proposals to $2T. They were being set up.
Then Mark Meadows, Trump’s hatchet man, took over the negotiations after mid-July and played hard cop to Mnuchin’s soft cop. Now Meadows broke off discussions and stomped out today, August 7. The tactic is transparently designed to get the Dems to reduce their position even further. Propose more than the $1 trillion concessions already made this past week as the cost of getting Meadows to return to the bargaining table. If they do, it makes Trump look tough and in control of the negotiations agenda. And if they don’t, then Trump moves on to legislative by executive action—which also puts him in the appearance of control and the sole person producing the stimulus package.

Trump also wants to put his ‘mark’ on the negotiations, as is always the case. He wants it to look like the parties couldn’t come together, but he was able to hammer out a deal. ‘The Art of the Deal’, right?

And there’s another more insidious objective here. Trump’s been signaling for weeks he’d like to inject his own pet demands—like more tax cuts for business—and is ready to do so by executive order once again, if necessary. He wants to legislate by executive order. He pulled it off before, setting a precedent. That was when he spent money for his wall by shifting it from the Defense Dept., planning to restore the diverted funds back to the Defense Dept. at a later date. Republican proposals on the table, by the way, provide another $29 billion for the Pentagon—over and above the just awarded Pentagon spending of $760 billion. That’s to restore the funds diverted already for his wall.

Having gotten away with it once, now he’ll make a similar move: he’ll divert funds by executive action to pay for his new tax cuts and other measures by taking money from some other pot to pay for it. Reportedly in the press, the likely ‘other pot’ could be unspent funds already allocated to fight the virus. Dems in Congress will be left standing saying ‘hey, you can’t do that’, but it’ll already be done.

Breaking off negotiations now gives Trump the opportunity to introduce his proposals by executive order. To do so is clearly unconstitutional but that means nothing to Trump. He’ll soon announce his own stimulus proposals and start implementing the executive orders. He’ll use that fait accompli to force the Dems to agree to his measures if they want to be part of any final stimulus deal. And if they don’t,” so what” he’ll say. “They couldn’t get it passed. I did.”

But as the failure to pass a new fiscal stimulus drags on, 14-25 million workers will lose their supplemental $600/wk. unemployment benefits. That’s roughly $85 billion a month taken out of US GDP, in reduced household consumption. Failure to pass a stimulus also means that 12.3 million renters could be evicted before November, according to the most conservative survey. Some surveys estimate as many as 28 million could be evicted. And no more money for state and local governments facing a growing fiscal crisis that will soon require them to start mass layoffs in September.

The McConnell-Trump strategy is not to bail out state and local governments. It’s about making the high urban population centers—located largely in ‘blue’ states—to bear the brunt of the continuing economic crisis. If they need more money, let them go to the municipal bond market and borrow more. It’s a blue state problem, they argue. Let them sink with it is the Republican view. Or else cut their too generous public employee benefits and pensions.

To sum up, the strategic objectives behind Trump’s ordering his man, Meadows, to break off negotiations are several: inject Trump to the center of the negotiations in the last phase of bargaining so he can take credit for any subsequent deal. Second, allow Trump to raise his pet proposals—like making the payroll tax cut permanent—to the top of the bargaining agenda with the Dems. Third, let McConnell off the hook and avoid creating a split within his Republican ranks over deficits in order to forge a deal. Fourth, expand Trump’s attack on the legislative and purse strings authority of the US House of Representatives, and thereby push the presidency toward usurping legislative authority still further than it already has. In other words, exacerbate the already growing US Constitutional crisis between Congress and the Executive branch.

Trump is not only a tyrant—i.e. someone who sees himself above the law—as witnessed by his recent pardons and his own numerous public statements about himself as president. He is a classic usurper, attempting to shift legislative authority via executive action from Congress to himself. He is also moving toward rule by decree—aka a dictator—which is a hallmark of all authoritarian and would-be fascist rulers.

And we should watch out for more ‘rule by decree’ attempts in coming months as he invokes one or more ‘national emergency declarations’ to deal with America’s current triple crises—political as well as economic and health.

With Trump forcing a break-up of the recent fiscal stimulus negotiations and his to be announced executive orders, the political-constitutional and economic crises in America are becoming increasingly entangled. It almost seems as if Trump’s grand strategy may be to exacerbate the deepening crises as much as possible before November 3, in order to create a pretext for him to declare the election void and challenge the results.

Dr. Rasmus is author of the 2020 book, The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump, Clarity Press. He blogs at jackrasmus.com. His website is http://kyklosproductions.com, and his twitter handle, @drjackrasmus. He hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio Network in New York.

posted August 5, 2020
US GDP Collapses & 3rd Quarter Economic Rebound Fades

This past week US economy collapsed in the 2nd quarter by 32.9% at annual rate and nearly 10% just for the April-June period. Never before in modern US history—not even in the worse quarters of the 1930s great depression—has the US economy contracted so quickly and so deeply!

All the major private sectors of the US economy—Consumption, Business Investment, Exports & Imports—collapsed in ranges from -30% to -40% in the April-June period. That followed first quarter prior declines in single digits as well. More than $2 trillion in real economic activity was wiped from the economy. Consumption collapsed by more than -1.5 trillion. Business investment by nearly -$600 billion. Ditto net trade and even state & local government spending.

Even more foreboding is that the April-June collapse came as the economy opened up in June virtually everywhere and in many states even before in May. So the 2nd quarter collapse—as deep as unprecedented as it was—reflects a rebound of economic activity during the last six weeks of the quarter.

More worrisome still, even the weak May-June rebound has begun showing signs of stalling out as of mid-July, according to latest economic indicators.

Fading 3rd Quarter US Economy

Here’s some emerging evidence of that stall-out now beginning:

• Jobs Deteriorating Once Again

Weekly initial unemployment claims began to rise after mid-July. The numbers of new jobless claims are now consistently in the 2.2m-2.4m per week range as the economy enters August. Officially more than 32m are now collecting benefits. Millions more are still trying, or running out of them. Add to that the more than 5 million more workers who simply dropped out of the labor force since February. They’re not even calculated in the unemployment rate, according to official US government practices. So there’s easily 40m jobless out there in America—a number that’s remained pretty constant for months now. 40m unemployed is roughly a 25% unemployment rate, same as that during the worst of the 1930s great depression.

On Friday, August 7 the US Labor Dept. will report jobs and unemployment numbers for July. The reported consensus among economists is that it will likely show only 1.6m new jobs created, according to a survey reported by Reuters—a sharp slowdown after June’s numbers showed 4.8m. But 3 million of June’s new jobs represented workers returning to restaurants, hospitality, and retail work as the economy was reopened (prematurely) in May-June. Now, as the Covid virus has surged again in July, many of those 3 million who returned to work in May-June are being re-laid off in July or returning to sheltering as 30 states have again re-initiated partial shutdowns.

In addition to the Covid surge effect on jobs, scores of large companies have, independently of the virus effect, begun announcing mass layoffs by the thousands and tens of thousands. They have determined the economy’s situation is far worse than reported by the media or Trump administration and are planning for a long recession. Their layoffs will be mostly permanent due to long term restructuring.
If the 32m now collecting jobless benefits, plus those waiting to still get them, plus those who gave up and dropped out of work altogether equal 25% unemployment, how is it then that the US government keeps saying unemployment is only 11.1%?

It’s because that 11.1% is a cherry-picked low ball number for public consumption that conveniently represents only full time workers unemployment. If part timers laid off were included, even per the government’s own figures that’s 18%. Those numbers also don’t accurately count those who left the labor force or reflect the number of ‘gig’ jobs that are picked up as part of the 25% unemployed in the unemployment benefits numbers.

Another indicator of the renewed deterioration of the labor markets is the number of job openings reported by the government. That too has begun to trend down once again after mid- July just as the unemployment benefits claims began to rise in tandem.

• US Manufacturing & Construction Stagnant At Best

Manufacturing and construction account for roughly 20% of the US economy and GDP. The spin since the US economic reopening began late May has been all sectors of the economy have been bouncing back—services, manufacturing, construction. Facts show otherwise.

In Manufacturing jobs have continued to decline every month, according to Purchasing Managers Indexes (PMI) More companies continued to lay off workers in manufacturing than hire them during May-June. Manufacturing output continued to contract through June, with a reading of 49.8 (less than 50 indicates contraction). That rose to 51.3 in first half of July, but contracted again at the close of July finishing the month of July essentially stagnant at 50.9, according to the business research firm, HIS Markit.

The condition was roughly the same for construction. Per the US Commerce Dept., construction activity continued to decline by -1.7% in May and another -0.7% in June during the period of the economy’s reopening.

So with services’ industries and occupations re-shutting down in July once again, and with Manufacturing and Construction, stagnating at best—by end of July 2020 the US is teetering on the edge of faltering and ending the brief, weak and tentative economic rebound of late May to early July.

• Household Income & Consumption in Trouble

Consumption spending by households represents 70% of the US economy and GDP. The main determinant of household spending for the more than 100 million US working/middle class households is their wage income or, for working class retiree households, their pensions, social security benefits, & other income. Household income for tens of millions is now in a precarious state and is being reflected in reduced spending already.

According to a US Census Bureau report in July, 22% of households report that they now, as of July, can’t make their rent or mortgage payments. There are roughly 70 million renting households in the US. That’s more than 15 million US households and more than 30 million Americans!

According to Urban Institute research, it will cost $7.3B a month to keep renters and homeowners in their homes. That’s a little more than $50B for the next six months. But Republicans—Mnuchin, McConnell & Trump—all adamantly refuse to provide any of the $7.3B assistance. On the other hand, they quickly approved roughly $20B in the March Cares Act for Defense corps making billions in profits, passed the $760B in new money for the Pentagon in one day last week, and now propose another $30B for their Pentagon-Defense Corp. friends in their HEALsAct stimulus proposal announced in July.

Apart from the $760B new record Pentagon budget just passed in the blink of a political eye, that’s roughly $50B in new money for the Pentagon instead of $50B to keep tens of millions of working class households in their homes for another six months!

Already evictions of renters and foreclosures of homeowners are rising fast. It’s something of a myth that even the Cares Act of last March introduced a moratorium on rent evictions. First of all, that addressed only one third of the available rents—i.e. those backed by US government financing. Two-thirds have always been exempt. Even the one-third was not enforceable, moreover. Many areas of the US have continued with evictions throughout the pandemic period.

And now evictions are accelerating even faster in July, now that the Cares Act measure expired on July 25. No fewer than 12.3 million renters covered by the Cares Act lost their moratorium late July. That evictions acceleration, now underway, has resulted in reduced spending and consumption since mid-July and will no doubt depress spending even more into August and beyond.

In addition to the Housing crisis depressing income and consumer spending, there’s the parallel crisis of more than 15 million newly unemployed having no medical insurance. Studies show clearly those without insurance tend to spend less to save for medical expenses. A Commonwealth Health Care Fund survey in late June found that 21% of workers laid off lost all health insurance coverage from their employer and all sources during layoff since March. That means at least 8 million additional US households without health insurance since March. 8 million more—and rising as new unemployment claims also rise—who will spend less and compress consumption further and therefore US GDP in 3rd quarter.

Yet another major factor portends a slowing of household spending and consumption, further dampening any economic rebound: Congress’s reduction of unemployment benefits.

Debate is now intensifying in Congress on the scope and magnitude of a so-called ‘5th stimulus’ legislative package. At the heart of the debate is whether to continue the $600/week federal supplemental unemployment benefits instituted last March under the Cares Act. The cost of the $600/wk. benefit was estimated in March at $340 billion, for a period of four months. Were the $600 eliminated altogether, it would thus take roughly $85B a month out of the US economy.

Republicans in the Senate have proposed an immediate reduction of the $600 benefit to $200. Hidden in the proposal is a further reduction after two months at $200, by integrating the federal benefit with state unemployment benefits and capping both at $500. So at least 3/4s of the $600 would end, taking nearly $65B a month in spending out of the economy starting in August and for however long the benefit continue.

It is not surprising given the rising unemployment claims, pending evictions, growing ranks of health uninsured, and prospects of ending significant unemployment benefits—not to mention the resurge of the virus and growing partial re-shutdowns across dozens of states—that household consumer confidence shows evidence of fading in July as well. University of Michigan’s survey—considered the gold standard of the confidence research—recently reported that consumers’ expectations for the US economy over the next six months continue to slip further. In March 2020 the overall index fell to only 72.5, a historic low (>100 means positive; <100 means failing confidence). That remained at 73.2 in June despite the economy reopening. The next six months expectations index in June was 72.3 but by mid-July had deeply contracted further to only 65.9. Clearly, consumers are not optimistic where the economy is about to go and, to the extent their expectations affect their spending, the latter is not likely to recover soon.

In short, escalating housing evictions, more loss of health insurance coverage, and reduction of weekly unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans and households can only further significantly depress household consumption—70% of the economy—and thus undermine the already weak and fading May-June economic rebound.

Fading US Economic Rebound in Historical Perspective

During the depths of the crash in March-April, Trump, his administration spokespersons, much of the mainstream media, and many economists were predicting the crash would soon produce a just as rapid snap back of the economy beginning in June. That was called the ‘V-Shape’ recovery.

But recoveries are sustained, whereas ‘rebounds’ are not. This writer was publicly predicting last March the V-shape prediction was a fiction. At best, the trajectory of the US economy would prove to be ‘W-Shape’—as have all great recessions of which the current contraction has proven to be among the more severe. (Other ‘great recessions’ have occurred the last century in 1908-13, 1929-30, and 2008-11. None were V-shape. All were to some degree ‘W-shape’. And in one case, the ‘W’ transformed into an extended ‘U’ and the great depression of the 1930s.

W-shape trajectories are typical of great recessions. W-shape means a deep initial contraction of the economy is followed by a weak rebound, which then dissipates and produces a subsequent economic relapse in terms of growth and GDP. The relapse may take the form of a dramatic slowdown in the rebound or in the economic growth rate totally stalling out and economic stagnation occur next quarter. Or, yet a third possibility is that the relapse may prove even more severe and result in a renewed contraction once again—i.e. a double dip recession. In a W-shape typical great recession trajectory, the stagnation or double dip is in turn followed by another brief and weak ‘rebound’. And that rebound followed by yet another relapse. Triple dips are not impossible. That’s what happened to Japan after 2008 and almost to Europe as well after 2014.

This ‘bouncing along the bottom’ trajectory following the deep initial crash may go on for months and years—as was the case in the US after 1908 and again after 2009 as well.

Or, alternatively, the stagnation or further economic contractions may lead to a subsequent financial and banking crash that drives the economy even deeper, ratchet-like, to become a de facto economic depression. That was the case after 1930.

What’s happened to date in the US, from early March through July 2020, shows the US economy has clearly fallen into a great recession again–and this time three times deeper than in 2008-09 and in one third less the time!

It is unprecedented. And it represents totally new territory that mainstream economists have no analog experience from which to speculate as to its medium and longer term trajectory into 2021. Indeed, the mainstream economics community has no clue. They are content, as they typically are won’t to be, with predicting the present instead of the future—although very few now bother to say it’s a V-shape recovery. Only the polyannas in the Trump administration still adhere to that nonsense and that fiction.

The first phase of the 2020 Great Recession has passed. That was the deep and rapid contraction of 10% (32.9% annualized). The second phase began with the weak June rebound that continued into early July. The question now is whether that weak rebound will transform into a relapse in the form of a rapid slowing of the economy once again—i.e. a third phase. Or perhaps just a second phase, with the weak rebound of May-June representing a juncture or transition between phases.

Beyond the coming 3rd quarter the central question is whether the US economy will experience yet another weak, short and shallow economic rebound? If so, the W-shape trajectory of the current Great Recession 2.0 will be further confirmed. Another possibility is the contraction will even out and settle into a longer term stagnation. Yet a third outcome is further shocks to the economy will drive it into yet another sharp and deep contraction.

There are three possible ‘drivers’ that would result in the latter outcome: a failure of Congress and policy makers to introduce a sufficient fiscal stimulus directed at household consumption stimulus; a major political and constitutional crisis occurring surrounding the November 3 national presidential elections; or a chain reaction contagion in financial markets provoked by spreading business defaults and bankruptcies—either in the US or abroad.

The nation should know fairly shortly whether Congress—driven by Republican and conservative-radical ideologues—fails to pass sufficient fiscal stimulus as the economy fades in the 3rd quarter.

The second outcome is becoming increasingly likely by the day. Trump clearly has no intention of leaving office by normal processes. A close electoral college vote will further ensure a political crisis in the US of dimensions never before experienced. The economic consequences will prove severe. Those possible scenarios will be described shortly in another article.

Third, although a major financial instability event is not yet imminent, the longer the W-shape great recession trajectory continues, the more likely such an instability event becomes. Moreover, when it does, it will appear swiftly, unexpectedly, and no less severely in terms of its impact on the real economy of households, workers, and even businesses in general.

Dr. Rasmus is author of the recently published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020. He hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, blogs at jackrasmus.com. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus and his website: http://kyklosproductions.com.

posted July 19, 2020
What Lies Ahead?

The US economy at mid-year 2020 is at a critical juncture. What happens in the next three months will likely determine whether the current Great Recession 2.0 continues to follow a W-shape trajectory—or drifts over an economic precipice into an economic depression.
With prompt and sufficient fiscal stimulus targeting US households, minimal political instability before the November 2020 elections, and no financial instability event, it may be contained. No worse than a prolonged W-shape recovery will occur. But should the fiscal stimulus be minimal (and poorly composed), should political instability grow significantly worse, and a major financial instability event erupt in the US (or globally), then it is highly likely a descent to a bona fide economic depression will occur.

The prognosis for a swift economic recovery is not all that positive. Multiple forces are at work that strongly suggests the early summer economic ‘rebound’ will prove temporary and that a further decline in jobs, consumption, investment, and the economy is on the horizon.

A Second Wave of Permanent Job Losses

Through mid-June to mid-July, the COVID-19 infection rate, hospitalization rate, and soon the death rate, have all begun to escalate once again. Daily infections consistently now exceed 60,000 cases—i.e. more than twice that of the earlier worst month of April 2020. Consequently, states are beginning to order a return to more sheltering in place and shutdowns of business, especially retail, travel, and entertainment services. The direction of events cannot but hamper any initial rebound of the economy, let alone generate a sustained economic recovery.

Exacerbating conditions, a second wave of job layoffs is clearly now emerging—and not just due to economic shutdowns related to the re-surging virus.

Reopening of the US economy in June resulted in 4.8 million jobs restored for that month, according to the US Labor Department. That number included, however, no fewer than 3 million service jobs in restaurants, hospitality, and retail establishments. These are the occupations that are now being impacted again with layoffs, as States retrench once more due to the virus resurgence underway. But there’s a new development as well: A second jobless wave is now emerging in addition to the renewed layoffs due to shutdowns not only of the resumed service and retail occupations, but reflecting longer term and even permanent job layoffs across various industries.

Household consumption patterns have changed fundamentally and permanently in a number of ways due to both the virus effect and the depth of the current recession. Many consumers will not be returning soon to travel, to shopping at malls, to restaurant services, to mass entertainment or to sport events at the levels they had, pre-virus.

In response, large corporations in these sectors have begun to announce job layoffs by the thousands. Two large US airlines—United and American—have announced their intention to lay off 36,000 and 20,000, respectively, including flight attendants, ground crews, and even pilots. Boeing has announced a cut of 16,000, and Uber,n just its latest announcement, a cut of 3,000. Big box retail companies like JCPenneys, Nieman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, and others are closing hundreds of stores with a similar impact on what were formerly thousands of permanent jobs. Oil & gas fracking companies like Cheasepeake and 200 other frackers now defaulting on their debt are laying off tens of thousands more. Trucking companies like YRC Worldwide, the Hertz car rental company, clothing & apparel sellers like Brooks Brothers, small-medium independent restaurant and hotel chains like Krystal, Craftworks—all are implementing, or announcing permanent layoffs by the thousands as well.

Reflecting this, since mid-June new unemployment benefit claims have continued to rise weekly at a rate of more than 2 million—with about 1.3 million receiving regular state unemployment benefits plus another 1 million independent contractors, gig workers, self-employed receiving the special federal government unemployment benefits. The latter group’s numbers are rising rapidly since mid-June.

As of mid-July no fewer than 33 million are receiving unemployment benefits, with another 6 million having dropped out of the labor force altogether and no longer even being counted as unemployed. Unemployment therefore remains at what will likely be a chronically high number, at around 40 million—with about 25% of the US labor force unemployed—as renewed service-retail sector layoffs, plus new permanent layoffs, both loom on the horizon.

Added to the growing problem of renewed service layoffs and the 2nd wave of permanent layoffs in the private sector is the growing likelihood of significant layoffs in the public sector, as states and cities facing massive budget deficits are forced to lay off several millions of the roughly 22 million public sector workers in the US. This potential public employee layoff wave will accelerate and occur sooner, should Congress in summer 2020 fail to bail out the states and cities whose budgets have been severely impacted by the collapse of tax revenues while facing escalating costs of dealing with the health crisis. Estimates as of last May are that the states and cities will need $969 billion in bailout funding this summer—roughly two-thirds for the states and the rest for cities and local governments.

The resurgence of layoffs from all these sources is a sure indicator that the economy’s rebound—let alone recovery—is in trouble. Rising joblessness means less wage income for households and therefore less consumption and, given that consumption is 70% of the economy, a slowing of the rebound and recovery. Problems in consumption in turn mean business investment suffers as well, further slowing the economy and recovery. Exacerbating the decline in personal income devoted to consumption due to unemployment is the evidence that even those fortunate enough to return to work after spring 2020’s economic shutdown are doing so increasingly as part time employed—which means less wage income for consumption compared to the pre-COVID period before March 2020.

Overlaid on these negative prospects for employment, consumption, business investment is the intensification of economic crisis-related problems.

Rent Evictions, Child Care & Education Chaos

There is an imminent crisis in rents affecting tens of millions. At the peak in April, it is estimated that roughly one-third of the 110 million renters in the US economy had stopped making rent payments due to the COVID-related shutdowns of the economy. The CARES ACT, passed in March, provided forbearance on rental payments, although perhaps as many as 20 states failed to enforce it. That forbearance directive expires at the end of July, with as many as 23 million rent evictions projected in coming months. A major housing crisis is thus brewing, as well as the second wave of job layoffs.

A combined education-child care crisis is about to occur almost simultaneously. The K-12 public education system is approaching chaos, as school districts plan to introduce remote learning on a major scale in order to deal with the renewed COVID-19 infection and hospitalization wave. The heart of the crisis is that tens of millions of US working class families dependent on two paychecks to survive economically cannot afford to accommodate school district practices for remote learning—especially for young children in the K-6 grade levels. Even if such families could afford to pay for expensive child care, the current US child care system is far from being able to accommodate them. Many minority and working class households, moreover, lack the computers and networking equipment, or even the requisite skills to set it up, to enable their children participate in remote learning.

Several forces are driving the shift to remote learning: school district fears of liability actions by parents if children become ill, the significant cost of ensuring disinfected classrooms, the lack of classroom space to allow distance learning on site, and the growing concern of teachers regarding their own exposure to infection. At least 1.5 million public school teachers are over age 50 and have health conditions that put them at greater risk of serious infection, should they attend closed-in classroom environments.

The child care plus K-12 education crisis will likely erupt within months on a major scale. Chaos in education is around the corner.
This fall, higher education—colleges and universities—will also experience chaos of their own kind. While distance learning will not be as serious an implementation problem as it will in K-12 levels, costs from the pandemic will force many smaller, private colleges into bankruptcy, consolidation or closure. Public colleges’ funding problems will require them to sharply reduce available services. Remote education will create a two-tier system of higher education—educational services delivered remotely and those of a more traditional nature on campus; or a hybrid of both.

However, demand for higher education services will likely decline sharply in the short term, during which higher education will experience a devastating decrease in tuition and other sources of college revenues. Some estimates show a third of freshmen plan to take what’s called a ‘gap year’: i.e. accept entrance but not attend for a year. That’s a massive revenue loss. Some estimates foresee a 15%-30% decline in new student attendance, with another 5%-10% decline in transfer students, and a similar decline of 5%-10% in continuing students. In addition, the attendance by international students, the ‘cash cow’ for most colleges, may also decline sharply due should the Trump administration’s new rules become effective.

Still other developments will sharply reduce college revenues. Students forced to attend classes via remote learning will demand lower tuition. One can expect a wave of legal suits as students seek to ‘claw back’ full tuition expenses. Other secondary sources of college revenues—from fees, on-campus room and board, endowment earnings and gifts, and sports revenues—also spell a looming revenue crunch.

A wave of college consolidations and closures is inevitable. And with student loan debt at $1.6 trillion it is unlikely that the federal government will introduce new aid through that channel. Nor will States increase their subsidization of public colleges, given the severe state budget deficits on the horizon.

In short, the economic crisis is about to assume more socio-economic dimensions and character: rent, child-care, education chaos will soon overlay the continuing unemployment problem and worsening recession. Social and political discontent, frustration, and anxiety are almost certainly to rise in turn in coming months as a consequence.

Global Recession & Sovereign Debt Defaults

The weakness of the global economy is yet another factor likely to ensure the US economy’s W-shape trajectory. As noted previously, with 90% of other countries in recession, global demand for US exports will remain weak or declining. In addition, global supply chains have also been severely disrupted by the health crisis, or even broken, and will not be restored soon. The global economy is suffering from deep problems of both demand and supply. This too is a unique historical event. Never before have demand and supply problems occurred congruently. Together, they increase the potential for a global depression.

Commodity producing economies have been hard hit, especially oil and metal producing countries. Many were in a recession well before the COVID health crisis. Global trade in general had stagnated, registering little to no growth in 2019, for the first time since modern records were kept. Many countries had over-extended their borrowing, expanding their sovereign debt loads during the last decade. This was money capital borrowed largely from western banks and capital markets (i.e. shadow banks).

Now, with global trade flat and declining, and prices for their export goods deflating in price as well, these debt-extended countries cannot earn sufficient income from exports in order to pay the principal and interest on their debt. As a result, several countries in the worst shape may soon default on their debt payment to western banks, hedge funds, private equity firms, and so on. Debt defaults potentially mean the same western financial institutions that loaned the funds now experience financial crises in turn. In such a manner, financial instability events abroad are often transmitted to the domestic US economy through its banking system. It would not be the first time, moreover, that foreign bank crashes have spilled over the US and rest of the world economy and in the process significantly exacerbated a recession already underway.

Theoretically, countries experiencing severe sovereign debt crises could borrow from the International Monetary Fund. However, the IMF has nowhere near the funds to accommodate multiple large sovereign defaults that occur simultaneously. Nor is it likely that the US and Europe will increase the IMF’s funding to enable it to do so. Once it becomes clear the IMF cannot handle a crisis of such potential dimensions, the global capitalist economy will slip even further toward global depression.

The further deterioration now already occurring in economic relations between the US and China may also potentially impact the Great Recession in the US, and ensure its continued W-Shape recovery. Trump’s trade pact with China signed December 2019 has proven thus far a colossal failure. The president declared at the deal’s signing it would mean $150 billion in China purchases of US goods in 2020—especially farm products, oil & gas, and manufactured goods.

At mid-year, China has purchased only $5 billion of the agreed $40 billion in farm products and only $14 billion of $85 billion in US manufactured goods. Trump’s promised $150 billion was never agreed to by China, even before the Covid pandemic struck the US economy in 2020. China never agreed to a dollar value of purchases of US exports, but announced it would purchase based on conditions in 2020-21. Trump’s $150 billion was typical Trump misrepresentation of a deal never made. At best China would purchase perhaps $40 billion in agricultural goods—i.e. about the level of it purchases before Trump launched a trade war with it in March 2018. Failure to deliver his exaggerated public promise in 2020 Trump turned on on China and embraced further his anti-China hard line advisors on trade and other matters. The former ‘trade war’ with China will likely transform now, in the wake of Covid, into a broader economic war with China. Furthermore, the deterioration of relations with China, set in motion by the current recession and the collapse of global trade, shows signs of spilling over to other political and even military affairs.

Permanent Industry Transformations

The COVID health crisis is accelerating the transformation of entire industries and sectors of the economy, US and global. As noted above, household consumption patterns are already changing fundamentally and will continue as changed even after the health crisis passes. Entire industries will shrink as a consequence. Company consolidations and downsizing are inevitable in airlines, cruise lines, and even public land transport. So too will companies fail, consolidate and restructure in the hospitality, leisure and hotel industries, in mall-based retail establishments, inside entertainment (movies, casinos, etc.) to name but the obvious. Sports and public entertainment companies are struggling to redefine their business models and how they bring their ‘product’ to the public for consumption. Even education—public and private—is undergoing a radical shift. Not so obvious is similar fundamental change in oil & energy industries, and later as well in manufacturing as supply chains are slowly returned to the US economy.

Not only will these changes significantly (and often negatively) impact employment levels and wage incomes, but business practices as well. Already businesses are instituting new cost cutting practices under the pressure of the health crisis and shutdowns. These practices will become permanent. And since much of the practices and cost cutting will focus on workers’ pay and benefits, more of what economists call ‘long term structural unemployment’ will result—in addition to the current ‘cyclical unemployment’ occurring due to the current recession.

An historic consequence of the current Great Recession precipitated by the COVID-19 health crisis is the accelerating introduction underway of what some call the Artificial Intelligence revolution. AI is about cost-cutting. It’s about new data accumulation, data processing and statistical evaluation, to allow software machines to make decisions previously made by human beings. AI will eliminate millions of low level decision-making by workers in both services and manufacturing. A 2017 report by the business consulting firm, McKinsey, predicted no less than 30% of all workers’ occupations will be severely impacted by AI by the end of the present decade. 30% of jobs will either disappear or have their hours reduced significantly. That means less wage income and less consumption still.

The important linkage to the current Great Recession 2.0 is that the introduction of AI by businesses will now speed up. What McKinsey formerly predicted for the late 2020s decade will now take place by mid-decade. The economic consequences for the next generation of US workers, the late Millennials and the GenZers will be serious, to say the least. After decades of the permeation of low pay, low benefits ‘contingent’ part time and temp jobs since the 1990s, after the impact of the 2008-09 crash and aftermath on employment, after the acceleration of ‘gig’ jobs with the Uberization of the capitalist economy since 2010, and after the even more serious negative economic effects of the current Great Recession 2.0, the tens of millions of US workers entering the labor force today and in coming years will have to face the transformation of another 30% of all occupations. The future does not portend very well for the 70 million millennials and GenZers. US neoliberal economic policies and the Great Recession 2.0 is accelerating the long term structural unemployment crisis of both the US and the global capitalist economy.

Return of Fiscal Austerity

The US federal budget deficit under Trump averaged more than a trillion dollars annually during his first three years in office. The federal national debt at the end of 2019 was $22.8 trillion. As of July 2020 it has risen to $26.5 trillion—and rising. Earlier projections in March were that it would increase by $3.7 trillion in 2020. That has already been exceeded. So, too, will projections for 2021, or another $2.1 trillion. The deficit and debt will likely rise to more than $4 trillion in this fiscal year and another $3 trillion in 2021. That means the current national debt within 18 months will reach $30 trillion. And that’s not counting the debt level rise for state and local governments, already $3 trillion; nor the debt carried on the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, balance sheet which is scheduled to rise another $3 trillion at minimum.

The point of presenting these statistics is that the US elites, sooner or later, will introduce a major austerity program. It will likely come later in 2021. And it will make little difference whether the administration that time is headed by Democrats or Republicans. It will come and it will target social security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, education, housing, transport and other social programs.

The first Great Recession provides a historical precedent. Obama’s recovery program in January 2009 provided for $787 billion in stimulus. But the joint Republican-Democrat austerity agreement introduced in August 2011 took back nearly twice that stimulus, or $1.5 trillion, in 2011-13. That austerity contributed significantly to the W-shape recovery from the 2008-09 economic crash and contraction—i.e. the first Great Recession. With the current deficit surge of $6 trillion to date, likely to increase to $9 to $10 trillion, the US economic elites will no doubt pursue a new austerity regime at some point within the next few years. That austerity will, like its predecessor, ensure at best a W-shape recovery typical of Great Recessions. At worst, it may prove the final event that pushes the US economy into another Great Depression.

Financial Instability, Defaults & Bankruptcies

Those who deny that the US and global economy have already entered a second Great Recession offer the argument that the 2008-09 crash and recession was caused by the banking and financial crash of 2008-09, and therefore, since there has not yet been a financial crash, the economy at present is not in another Great Recession. But they are wrong.

Great Recessions are always associated with a financial crisis, but that crisis need not precede the deep contraction of the real, non-financial economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has played the role of a financial crash in driving the real economy into a contraction that is both quantitatively and qualitatively worse than a ‘normal’ recession. Furthermore, a subsequent banking system-financial crash is not impossible in the coming months, although not yet likely in 2020.

The preconditions for a financial crisis are in development. It won’t be precipitated by a residential mortgage crisis, as in 2007-08. But there are several potential candidates for precipitating a financial crash once again. Here are just a few:

• The commercial property sector in the US is in deep trouble. Commercial property includes malls, office buildings, hotels, resorts, factories, and multiple tenant apartment complexes. Many incurred deep debt obligations as they expanded after 2010 or just kept operating by accruing more high cost debt when they were unprofitable. Today they are unable to continue servicing (i.e. paying principal and interest) on their excessive debt load. Many have begun the process of default and chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Banks and investors hold much of the commercial property debt that will never be repaid. Excess derivatives (credit default swaps) have been written on the debt. A debt crisis and wave of defaults and bankruptcies in 2020-21 in the commercial property sector could easily precipitate a subprime mortgage-like debt crisis as occurred in 2008-09. And derivatives obligations could transmit the crisis throughout the banking system—as it did in 2009. Regional and small community banks in the US are particularly vulnerable.

• The oil and gas fracking industry, where junk bond and leverage loan debt had already risen to unstable levels by the advent of the COVID crisis. The collapse of world oil and gas prices—which began before the COVID-19 impact and continues—will render drillers and others unable to generate the income with which to service their debt. Already more than 200 companies in this sector are in default and bankruptcy proceedings. Again, regional banks that financed much of the expansion of fracking in Texas, the Dakotas, and Pennsylvania will be impacted severely by the defaults. Their financial instability could easily spread to other sectors of banking and finance in the US.

• State and local governments, should Congress fail to appropriate sufficient bailout funding in its next round of fiscal spending in July 2020. State and local governments are capable of default and bankruptcy—unlike the Federal government, which is not. The US has a long history of state defaults associated with the onset of Great Depressions. This time around, state financial instability will quickly spill over to public pension funds, and from public to private pensions, and from there to the municipal bond markets with which state and local governments raise revenue by borrowing to fund deficits.

• Global sovereign debt markets, as previously noted. Defaults on massive debt accumulated since 2010 by many countries could result in serious contagion effects on the private banking systems of the advanced economies, including the US, Europe, and Japan. Should the IMF fail to contain a chain of sovereign debt crises that could follow in the wake of the current Great Recession, a chain reaction of defaults across emerging market economies in particular has the potential to precipitate a global financial crisis.

History shows that financial crises often originate from unsuspected corners of the economy. The above candidates are the ‘known unknowns’. There may also lurk in the bowels of the capitalist global financial system still more ‘unknown unknowns’—i.e. what are sometimes called ‘black swan’ events.

Political Instability

The US and other countries are on new ground in terms of potential political instability. The piecemeal curtailment of democratic and civil rights has been progressing at least since the mid- 1990s. In the 21st century it has been accelerating, both in the US and across the globe. Recent years have seen a growing public confrontation between contending wings of the capitalist elites and their political operatives. Institutions of even limited capitalist democracy are under attack and atrophying. And now political instability is growing as well at both the institutional and grass roots levels. One should not underestimate the potential for even more intense political confrontation among elites, or between segments of the US population itself, from having a negative impact on the current economic crisis and 2nd Great Recession. A Trump ‘October Surprise’ or a November 2020 constitutional crisis are no longer beyond the realm of the possible, but even likely.

The expectations of both households and business may serve as transmission mechanisms propagating political instability into more economic and financial instability. Political instability has the effect of freezing up business investment and therefore employment recovery. It has the further effect of causing households to hoard what income they have and raise the savings rate—at the expense of consumption. It also leads to government inaction on the policy necessary to provide stimulus for recovery.

On a global front, political instability may even assume a global dimension. History in general, and US history in particular, reveals that US presidents seek to divert public attention from domestic economic and social problems by provoking foreign wars. Targets for US attack, in the short term, are Iran and Venezuela—especially the latter, which is more susceptible to US military action. But tomorrow, in 2021 and after, it could well be Russia (Ukraine or Baltics US provocations), North Korea (a US attack on its nuclear facilities) or China (a US naval confrontation in the South China sea)—irrespective of the unlikely success of such ventures.

Like another financial-banking crash, a major political instability event—domestic or foreign—could easily send an already weak US economy struggling in the midst of a Great Recession into the abyss of the first Great Depression of the 21st century.

Dr. Rasmus is author of the recently published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020. He hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, blogs at jackrasmus.com. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus and his website: http://kyklosproductions.com.

posted July 6, 2020
Why 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter

Eric, here’s a submission for you for next issue of Z mag. Jack

Why 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter
By
Dr. Jack Rasmus
Copyright 2020
The reopening of the US economy in June—and some states as early as May—has produced a modest economic ‘rebound’. But rebound is not to be confused with economic recovery.

The current rebound is the natural result of the US economy collapsing 40% between March and June 2020. In the first quarter, January-March 2020, the US economy contracted 5%, virtually all of that in March. While the final data for the 2nd quarter is yet to be announced, the US Federal Reserve Bank’s forecasts of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) show a much greater collapse, ranging from -30.5% (NY Fed district) to -41.7% (Atlanta Fed district). No economy can continue to collapse at that steep a rate quarter after quarter.

Economies experiencing deep and rapid contractions—which is typical of both great recessions and economic depressions—inevitably experience periods of leveling off for a time, or even a slight bounce back—i.e. a rebound. But that’s not a recovery. ‘Recovery’ means a sustained, quarter to subsequent quarter economic growth that a continues more or less unabated until the lost economic ground is ‘recovered’. But a rebound is typically temporary, followed by subsequent economic relapses in the form of stagnant growth or even second or third dip recessions.

Look at the Great Recession 1.0 that began in December 2007. The decline began that month subsequently declined more rapidly in the first quarter 2008, but then bounced back slightly in the 2nd quarter 2008. It then took a deep dive in the second half of 2008 through the first half of 2009, contracting every quarter for an entire year. A short, shallow recovery followed into 2010. But the economy relapsed again in 2011, contracting once more for two quarters in 2011. Another small rebound followed in early 2012 and was followed by stagnation in the second half of 2012.

The reported GDP numbers after 2008 were even weaker, and the relapses more pronounced, before the US Commerce Dept. changed the way it defined US GDP and boosted the totals by $500 billion a year after 2013, retroactive to 2008 and before.

All Great Recessions with an initial deep economic contraction, are typically followed by brief shallow recoveries, cut short by subsequent double dips or quarters of no growth stagnation.
That was true of the Great Recession of 2008-09, which didn’t really end in June 2009, but bounced along the bottom economically for several more years. A similar trajectory will almost certainly follow today’s 2020 Great Recession 2.0 now concluding its Phase One initial deep collapse.

The Phase One deep collapse is now giving way to its Phase Two and what will prove a brief and quite modest ‘rebound’. But that’s not a recovery.

Further economic relapses are inevitable after ‘short, shallow rebounds’ that characterize all Great Recessions. That trajectory—i.e. short, shallow rebounds followed by relapses also brief and moderate can go on for years.

What it means is there will be no V-shape and true recovery in the US economy in the second half of 2020. What there will be is an extended ‘W-shape’ period, the next two years 2020-2022 at minimum. And it may continue for perhaps even longer.

The 1929-30 Great Recession: Anteroom to 1930s Depression

A similar scenario occurs prior to bona fide economic depressions, like that which occurred in the 1930s. The great depression began initially as a Great Recession. US policy makers failed to contain it and it slipped into the Great Depression of that decade as we know it. What precipitates Great Recessions collapsing into bona fide Depressions is the collapse of the financial and banking system.

The Great Depression of the 1930s did not begin with the stock market crash of October 1929, however. The real economy was already slipping into recession in manufacturing and construction sectors in 1929, well before the October 1929 stock market financial crash. The economy contracted in 1930 by -8.5% and continued to contract every year thereafter through mid-1933 as the US economy experienced a series of four banking crashes, one each year from 1930 through 1933. The banking crashes drove the real, non-financial economy ever deeper every year, in a ratchet like effect.

Rebound and growth followed 1934-36. However, that weakened significantly in late 1937 as a conservative Republican Congress and Supreme Court together began dismantling Roosevelt’s 1935-37 New Deal social spending fiscal stimulus programs. As a result, in 1938 the US economy fell back into depression once again. A partial reversing of the dismantling in 1939 produced a return to positive GDP growth that year. But it wasn’t really until 1941-42 that the economy really exited the Great Depression, as US GDP rose 17.7% in 1941 and then 18.9% in 1942. Recovery—not rebound—was clearly underway after m id-1940—i.e. the result of government spending on both social programs and defense that amounted to more than 40% of GDP those years. That was fiscal stimulus. That was recovery.

In other words, the lesson of the Great Depression of the 1930s is in order to end a depression, or stop a Great Recession from becoming a Depression, the government must step in and spend at a rate of 40% GDP.

Prior to the onset of the current 2020 Great Recession 2.0, the US government’s spending and share of US GDP was about 20%. It needs to double to 40% to engineer a true recovery from the current crisis. 5.5% is no stimulus in fact; just a partial ‘mitigation’ of the severe collapse that just occurred. That is, a temporary floor under the deep 30%-40% collapse that would have been even greater.

The 2008-09 Great Recession: The 5.5% Failed Stimulus

In January 2009 the incoming Obama administration proposed a fiscal stimulus recovery package amounting to roughly $787 billion and 5.5% of GDP. Economists advocated double that. Even Democrat party leaders in the US House proposed another $120 billion in consumer tax cuts. But Obama’s economic advisers, mostly former bankers and pro-banker academics like Larry Summers, argued the US could not spend that much. Obama listened to Summers and reduced the amount to the $787 billion. It proved grossly insufficient. The real economy continued to lag and job losses continued to mount. Supplemental programs like ‘cash for clunkers’ and ‘first time homebuyers’ had to be added.

Even with these post-January program supplemental spending Obama’s fiscal stimulus proved insufficient to generate a robust recovery, as the historical record shows. The US recession under Obama ‘recovered’ at its weakest rate compared to all the prior ten US post-recession recoveries since 1947. The Obama recovery was only 60% of normal for recession recoveries.

The problem with the Obama 5.5% was not only the insufficient magnitude of the stimulus. Its composition was deficient as well. It called for almost $300 billion of the $787 billion in mostly business tax cuts, which were then hoarded by business and not invested to expand output, hire more workers, and generate thereby more income for consumption. Nearly $300 more was in the form of grants given to the states to spend. They too hoarded most of it and failed to rehire the unemployed as was intended. The remainder of the $787 billion was composed mostly of long term infrastructure investment and spending that had little initial effect on the economy’s recovery. As a result of the insufficient magnitude and poor composition of the Obama 2009 stimulus, the US economy fell into a ‘stop-go, W-shape economic recovery for the next six years. US jobs lost in 2008-09 were not recovered until as late as 2015, and the average wages paid for the new jobs was significantly less than wages paid for the jobs that were lost.

The point is: if 5.5% was insufficient to generate sustained recovery in 2009, today in 2020 the effective 5.5% fiscal spending produced by the CARES ACT in March 2020 will prove even less successful. The US economy’s economic collapse today is five times deeper than in 2008-09 and has occurred in one-fifth the time of the 2008-09 event. If a second more aggressive government spending program does not follow in the second half of 2020, then the current tepid economic ‘rebound’ underway due to the reopening of the US economy will certainly fail at generating a sustained recovery. Here’s why the CARES ACT—the main and only stimulus program to date—is only 5.5% and will fail to generate a sustained recovery as the economy reopens with a modest ‘rebound’.

The March 2020 CARES ACT: Failed Stimulus Déjà vu

As of mid-year 2020 the US government spending to date is summed up in the various provisions of the CARES ACT passed by Congress in March 2020, plus several smaller measures passed before and after it as supplements. Its actual spending as of late June 2020 amounts to only approximately a 5.5% contribution to US GDP.

The CARES ACT on paper called for $1.45 trillion in loans and grants to small, medium and large businesses. $500 billion is allocated as loans to large corporations. Another $600 billion to medium sized plus some other measures. And $350 billion in loans, convertible to grants, to small businesses called the Payroll Protection Program, or PPP.

Another $310 billion was added to the PPP small business loan program as banks quickly misdirected hundreds of billions of dollars to many of their ineligible bigger business prime customers which scooped up much of the original $350 billion for small business.

The three business programs combined thus allocated $1.76 trillion in loans and grants.

Another $500 billion was allocated to workers and US households in the form of supplemental income checks of $1200 per adult plus an extra $600 in federal unemployment benefits available through July 31, 2020.

A couple hundred billion dollars more went to hospitals and health care providers in emergency reimbursements before and after the March CARES ACT passage.

That brought the total March CARES ACT fiscal stimulus to roughly $2.3 trillion. However, not discussed much in the media is another $650 billion CARES ACT provided business and investor tax cuts. The tax cuts include a temporary suspension of business payments to the payroll tax; more generous net operating loss (NOL) corporate tax averaging that allows business to use current losses to get tax refunds on prior year taxes paid; faster depreciation write-offs ( de facto tax cut); and more generous business expense deductions. Less than 3% of the $650 billion tax cuts in the CARES ACT went to families earning less than $100,000 per year in annual income.

On paper, the roughly $2.3 trillion CARES ACT amounted to roughly 11% of GDP. But only half of that 11%–or just 5.5—has actually hit the US economy. This contrasts with Germany and other European and Asian countries that boosted fiscal spending stimulus by as much as 15%-20%.

Another 5.5% Stimulus Means Another Failed Sustained Recovery

The 5.5% to not enough to kick start the rebound into a sustained recovery. Much of the 5.5% is already spent to mitigate the 2nd quarter deep contraction and is no longer available as a stimulus in the upcoming 3rd quarter.

All the $1200 checks have been spent already and most of the $600 unemployment benefit boost has entered the economy. The latter expires on July 31. Furthermore, the majority of the $1.7 trillion allocated to businesses large and small has yet to get into the US economy as well.

Of the $660 billion in the small business PPP program, about $520 billion has been spent. Less than $100 billion of the $500 allocated to large businesses, like airlines and defense companies, has actually been ‘borrowed’ by big business. And as mid-June 2020, none of the $600 billion for medium size businesses had yet been ‘taken up’ by those businesses. The program was only fully launched late June, more than three months after it was first announced in March.

Thus far little interest appears on the part of medium and large businesses in the more than $1 trillion loans allocated to them. And as far as the $650 billion in tax cuts is concerned, its effects can be delayed until December 31, 2020, if even then. Given the weak US economy and consumer demand, many businesses will take the tax cuts and hoard them.

In short, more than half the roughly $3 trillion total of government spending, loans, grants and tax cuts provided by the CARES ACT is yet to be committed to the US economy. The official 11% is really only half that at best.

This fact leads to the interesting question: Why have medium and large businesses not take up more of the $1.1 trillion business loans allocated to them?

The $3+ Trillion Uncommitted Business Cash Hoard

The answer is they haven’t because they are already bloated with cash and don’t need or want it. That cash hoard has resulted from several sources in recent months: Large corporations saw the writing on the wall with regard to the virus as early as January-February 2020. They quickly began loading up on cash by drawing down their generous loan credit lines with their banks. That produced a couple hundred billion dollars in cash by March. Then they issued record levels of new corporate bonds to raise still more cash. From March to end of May more than $1.3 trillion in new corporate investment grade bonds was raised by the Fortune 500 US businesses—i.e. more than in all 2019. A couple hundred billion dollars more was raised in junk grade corporate bonds.

Still another cash source was raised by businesses suspending dividend payments and stock buybacks to shareholders. In 2019 they distributed $1.3 trillion in buybacks and dividend payouts
($3.4 trillion total under Trump’s first three years in office). So buybacks and dividends suspensions saved at least another $500 billion in cash. Companies also began selling off and cashing in their minority stock interests in other companies. Furloughing workers to work from home also saved still more cash in reduced facilities, benefits and related costs for many corporations. Tech companies especially benefited from this.

Bloated with trillions of dollars of cash, large and medium sized corporations had little interest in borrowing from the CARES ACT, since the latter came with conditions like the provision that 70% of the loans be spent on keeping workers on their payrolls. They preferred to lay off their workers, and borrow from the credit markets, issue new bonds, and otherwise conserve cash.
A good example was Boeing Corporation. Congress allocated more than $50 billion to Boeing as part of the $500 billion loan program earmarked for large corporations. Instead of borrowing that, Boeing raised $25 billion issuing new bonds and announced layoffs of 16,000 of its workers! Less than $100 billion has been used to date by large corporations under the CARES ACT big corporations’ $500 billion loan allocation. And virtually nothing of the $600 billion to date allocated under the medium size business loan program called the ‘Main St.’ lending facility.

7 More Reasons Why ‘Rebound’ Won’t Mean Recovery

Here are some seven other reasons—apart from the US current insufficient fiscal stimulus—why the US economy will not experience a sustained ‘recovery’ in the next six months, and why instead the US will follow a W-Shape trajectory of weak un-sustained growth followed by economic relapses through 2020-21 (and perhaps even longer):

1.) 2nd Covid-19 Wave Economic Impact:

It is inevitable a number of states will reinstate shutdowns—in significant part if not totally—as the infection, hospitalization, and death rates rise over the summer due to premature reopening of the economy and a growing breakdown of social discipline in adhering to basic precautions like social distancing and mask wearing. The partial shutdowns will. To varying degrees, reduce consumer spending, business investment, and result in re-layoffs of workers. Second wave layoffs in services like leisure & hospitality, bars, restaurants, travel, public entertainment, and even education and health care services will emerge—all negatively impacting household consumption demand. It is estimated that at least half of the states, 40% of the reopened economy, will reinstate some degree of re-closures of business activity in coming weeks and months as a resurgence of Covid 19 impacts the US economy in the second half of 2020 and beyond.

The official US June employment report on July 3, 2020 showed 4.8 million jobs were reinstated. But no less than 3 million of that 4.8 million were recalls in leisure & hospitality, hotels, bars, restaurants, and retail industries. These are the same industries that will be affected most by states reinstituting shutdowns. They are also industries where businesses that have been able to reopen only partially thus far in most cases operate on very thin margins. They are likely to fail in Phase Two of the crisis now beginning, and many closing completely in the second half of 2020 as a result of operating only at half capacity.

The scope of the possible closures is revealed by the recent Yelp survey of 175,000 of its customer business base. During the 2nd quarter, Yelp’s survey found that in May-June only 30,000 of its 175,000 had reopened. More important, its survey showed that 40,000 of its 145,000 that hadn’t yet opened had already closed permanently. The wave of permanent business closures in the second half of 2020—especially in the leisure & hospitality and retail industries—should not be underestimated. The permanent shutdowns will occur not only due to reduced consumer demand, but to a resurgence of Covid-19 and a second wave of layoffs.

2.) Deeply Entrenched Business & Consumer Negative Expectations

The US economy has been deeply wounded by the deep contraction of the past four months. Both businesses and consumers have negative expectations as to the direction of the economy in the short to intermediate run. Businesses don’t see the conditions for returning to expanding investment, or even returning to prior levels of production and output. With consumer demand clearly in retreat, business expectations of future sales and profits are dampened. Reducing the cost of investing by lowering business taxes or interest rates have little effect on generating more investment, when expectations of profitability—which is what really drives investment—are so low. This is the fundamental reason why business across the board is hoarding its accumulated cash. The same applies to consumers and households. They too are hoarding what cash they have available, spending mostly on necessities only. The evidence is the sharp rise in the household savings rate and bank deposit rates. As much cash is saved and deposited as a precaution that economic conditions may worsen, instead of actually spent. The result is only minimal increase in spending occurs, just as minimal investment. Until negative expectations are somehow reversed, both business investment and household consumption do not rise to levels that result in sustained ‘recovery’.

It will take a major event to again shift business and consumer negative expectations, like a vaccine for the virus or a major fiscal stimulus or a program of mass hiring of the unemployed by government. However, none of the above is on the immediate horizon. Therefore negative expectations will continue to dampen any sustained recovery and limit whatever insufficient government fiscal stimulus to generating a modest ‘rebound’ at best.

3.) Business Cost Cutting & Permanent Layoffs

The deep and rapid rate of contraction of the economy over the past four months, and the business expectation of weak recovery, has convinced many businesses to make many of the cost cutting moves of recent months permanent. An example is how some industries and businesses moved their workforces to work from home. It has saved them significant costs of operation—on facilities, maintenance, and some employee benefits. In recessions businesses always find new ways to cut costs that often result in more layoffs and lower wages. Another phenomenon is rehiring and recalling workers back to work temporarily laid off does not occur en masse and all at once. The typical business practice is to recall only part of their workforce and to recall workers more on a part time basis. Not least, the cost cutting and the part time recalls typically results in businesses leaving part of their furloughed work force behind, whose unemployment then becomes permanent.

This second wave of jobless is already beginning to emerge, as businesses downsize in employment after the initial shock to the economy that has already occurred. Airlines are announcing tens of thousands of layoffs. Several other industries are experiencing growing defaults on debt payments and bankruptcies that will result in mass layoffs as well. For example, the oil & energy sector which was a major source of new job creation during the fracking boom of the past five years. More than 200 defaults of companies are in progress. Layoffs are beginning, of a permanent nature not just temporary furloughs or layoffs.

Cost cutting and layoffs translate into less household income for consumption and therefore for generating a sustained recovery.

4.) Deeper Global Recession & Global Trade Crisis

The collapse of the US economy in the first half of 2020 has been accompanied by a synchronized contraction of the global economy. Global economic contraction means US production for export does not recover much in the short run. Offshore demand for US goods & services remains weak. That in turn dampens domestic US investment, employment, and therefore business-consumer spending. Although the US economy is relatively less dependent on exports to stimulate economic growth, exports are not an insignificant contributing factor to US growth and recovery.

More than 90% of the world economy has also experienced deep recession in the first half of 2020. That compares with the first Great Recession of 2008-09 when a fewer 60% of countries were in recession along with the US. Foreign demand for US exports is thus even weaker this time around. Post 2009 China and emerging market economies boomed after 2010 and put a partial floor under US economic contraction by stimulating demand for US product exports; that China-Emerging Market economies stimulus effect on the US economy no longer exists in 2020.

5.) Intensifying US Political Instability

One should not underestimate the potential growing political instability in the USA in the second half of 2020. This instability will occur on two ‘fronts’. One is at the level of political institutions. It is likely the upcoming national elections on November 3, 2020 will be challenged and not accepted by either Trump or the Democratic Party nominee. The growing social instability in the USA and Covid 19 effects on voter turnout, combined with the already widespread voter suppression in various states, makes for ripe conditions for post-electoral crisis should the election be narrowly decided by voters in November. Evidence is growing, moreover, that Trump is prepared to declare voting by mail as fraud and use that as an excuse to throw the election into the Supreme Court—as occurred in the US in 2000. Today Trump, unlike George W. Bush in 2000, enjoys an even firmer majority in the US Supreme Court.

The instability at the level of political institutions in the USA today is accompanied by what appears as growing grass roots civilian conflicts. Street level confrontations between Trump supporters and rising popular movements and demonstrations are not beyond the realm of possibility, perhaps even likelihood.

The political instability has significant potential to negatively impact both consumer and business expectations and therefore dampen both business investment and household consumption even further in addition to causes already noted.

6.) Wild Card #1: Financial Crisis 2021

Intermediate term, in 2021 likely more than in 2020, is the wild card of a financial system crisis emerging that would exacerbate the real economy’s faltering recovery still further. This channel by which a financial crisis might emerge is a growing wave of corporate and state & local government defaults. Massive excess debt has built up over the past decade in business sectors in the US. More than $10 trillion in corporate bond debt exists at present. At least $5 trillion in corporate junk bonds and virtual junk like BBB investment grade. Still more for corporate ‘junk’ leveraged loans. A protracted period of recession and weak recovery will generate a major potential for corporate defaults and bankruptcies. If the magnitude and rate of defaults is too great, or comes too fast, the banking system could very well experience a major credit crash once again.

Industries highly unstable with high cost unaffordable debt, and with insufficient revenues with which to service that debt, include: oil fracking and coal, big box retail, smaller regional airlines, rental car and other travel related companies, hotels and resorts, malls, commercial property in general, and hundreds of thousands of small restaurants and regional restaurant chains. Defaults have already begun rising rapidly in many. Household debt and state and local government debt finds itself in much of a similar situation—highly leveraged with debt amidst collapsing incomes to service the debt as unemployment and wage incomes continue to decline and as tax revenues remain depressed long term due to the weak economic recovery.

The US central bank, the Federal Reserve, is in the midst of an historic experiment to pre-bail out non-bank corporations to forestall the defaults and to flood, at the same time, the US banking system with massive excess liquidity with which to manage the defaults should they come excessively and too rapidly. It remains to be seen whether the Fed’s massive liquidity injections thus far ($3 trillion), and promised (unlimited), will prove sufficient to manage the defaults. If not, the US banking system will freeze up as financial institutions begin to crash as well with the transfer of defaulted corporate debt on to their own bank balance sheets.

In 2008-09 it was the banking system that collapsed first and in turn precipitated a deeper and faster contraction of the real economy in the US. Today it is quite possible the reverse causation may occur in the Great Recession of 2020. But it matters not in a Great Recession which precipitates which first—i.e. the banking system the real economy or vice-versa. The key point is that both cycles—financial and real—feed back on the other in a Great Recession and amplify the downturn in both.

7.) Wild Card #2: Artificial Intelligence Faster Rollout

Another wild card that may emerge with fuller force longer term is the penetration of Artificial Intelligence in business operations. McKinsey Consultants estimated that by 2025 AI would accelerate in its penetration of business practices. By the latter half of the 2020s decade it would have deep and widespread impact on employment and wages, as AI led to deep cost cutting by business. As much as 30% of occupations would be seriously impacted. The essence of AI is to eliminate simple decision making jobs, in services as well as manufacturing.

But it is highly possible that AI will now penetrate even faster, accelerated by business cost cutting and productivity enhancing drives, as a consequence of the current deep economic crisis. The deeper and more protracted the current recession, the more likely business will engage in multiple ways to reduce costs as a means to weather the crisis. AI offers businesses a prime opportunity to do just that. But AI also means a significant reduction in net jobs, especially simple low paid service and retail work. And with the net jobs and wage loss come reduced consumer household demand, consumption, and therefore sustainable economic recovery.

The Case for 40% Government Share of GDP

As previously noted, recoveries from great recessions and depressions require at least a 40% US government spending share of total GDP. Obama’s raised the US government share of GDP to barely 25%, not 40%. The economy accordingly struggled after 2009.

The current 2nd Great Recession 2020, the first phase of which has just concluded in June, is following the same rough trajectory and scenario as the 2008-09. There has been only token fiscal stimulus to the economy thus far from the CARES ACT. Indeed, Congress never considered, at least in the House of Representatives, the CARES ACT was a stimulus bill. It was called a ‘mitigation’ bill, designed to put a partial floor under the collapse of the economy going on at the time in the 2nd quarter 2020. A true stimulus bill was to follow. That’s the HEROES ACT now blocked in Congress by Republican Senate and Trump. What the latter want is to end the unemployment benefits and provide no further income supplement payments. They want to exchange further unemployment benefits for direct wage subsidies to businesses. They want even more tax cuts for business—permanent payroll tax cuts, more capital gains tax cuts, and more business expense deductions. And they are reluctant to provide funding support for state and local governments with accelerating deficits as a result of tax revenue collapse. Should support for state and local governments not occur soon, it is likely mass layoffs will emerge in states and local governments soon.

However, it does not appear so far that anything resembling a real stimulus will get passed with the HEROES Act. The unemployment benefits extension will likely be eliminated. More business tax cuts, should they be added to the $650 billion provided by the CARES ACT, will be hoarded in large part. As will corporate income that would have been otherwise used to pay wages, as the government pays the wages of their workers instead.

An insufficient fiscal stimulus from an eventual HEROES Act, should it occur, will ensure the current tepid ‘rebound’ of the US economy will fail to evolve into a sustained recovery of the US economy. The seven other, additional factors noted above will further prevent a sustained recovery—and indeed may precipitate a subsequent further serious economic contraction. The summer of 2020 is thus a critical juncture period for the US economy.

The US is currently experiencing what might be called a ‘triple crisis’. A health crisis that shows little sign of abating. A deep economic crisis that is still in its early phases. And a ripening political crisis. Never before in its history have three such major events converged. The one of the three that is potentially most manageable is the economic. Health crisis depends heavily on the development of a vaccine. Not much can be done to prevent a deepening political crisis. It will run its course, whatever that may be. But a government fiscal stimulus equivalent to about 40% of US GDP would very likely stabilize the economy and set it on a path to sustained recovery. However, it is highly unlikely that in the current political climate of instability, deep splits within the US political elites, growing grass roots social confrontations, and failure to mount an effective strategy to address the Covid-19 health crisis that the capitalists and their political representatives will be capable of introducing the necessary 40% war time economic stimulus.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
July 6, 2020

Dr. Rasmus is author of the recently published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020. He hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, blogs at jackrasmus.com. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus and his website: http://kyklosproductions.com.

posted June 17, 2020
2nd Covid-19 Wave and the US Ecnoomy

Over the past week evidence keeps growing that the US has entered a second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. More than 117,000 Americans thus far have died in just the past three months and more than 2.1 million have been infected. That compares to roughly 460,000 and 7.6 million worldwide. With roughly 5% of the world’s population, the US has about 25% of the world’s virus cases—a testimony to the abject failure of the US thus far to manage the virus.

That failure is perhaps most evident in Trump’s virtual withdrawal from the ‘war’ on the virus and what appears to be his new strategy of letting the states each deal with it as they may and can. Trump’s government is clearly in retreat, concerned only with one thing: to get Trump re-elected no matter what the cost in lives or economic well-being of American citizens.

Trump’s policy boils down to this: totally reopen the economy now, blame the states, World Health Organization and the Chinese for the crisis, declare the rising numbers of infections, hospitalizations, etc. as ‘fake news’, blame a 2nd wave on increased testing, and hold daily mass political rallies from now until November.

Trump is a phony ‘war’ president who long ago dropped his rifle and fled from the field of battle. It’s as if president Franklin Roosevelt on December 8, 1941 left town to sail down the Potomac river on his yacht to contemplate the December 7 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—instead of appearing before Congress, as he did on December 8, 1941, to declare war on Japan and rally the country in an all out effort. Roosevelt immediately announced a comprehensive ‘war production act’ to take effect across the entire US economy in just a few weeks. His first executive order was to develop and mass produce penicillin, which was thought impossible but which the US did within just a few months. In contrast, what we got from Trump was a declaration the virus a hoax, a proposal for a bogus hydroxychloroquin treatment that the CDC has since declared dangerous and likely to cause heart attacks, and a public announcement it would all be over by Easter. And today, even more incredibly, Trump has said the virus would go away if we just didn’t test for it so much.

Trump’s only concern is to hold rallies with his conservative red state base that will exacerbate the contagion effect of the virus. As President of only the 30% (his base), he is little concerned about the country at large or the virus ‘war’ that has already killed more Americans than every US war together since 1945. Trump’s only actual order after he announced the activation of the war production act months ago has been to force meatpacking workers back to work else their forfeit unemployment benefits. Work or die! will be the legacy of Trump as a war president!

Trump’s economic legacy, history will also eventually show, is to have pushed for a premature reopening of the US economy in the midst of the pandemic and a resurging of virus infections.

Indicators of a second wave in the US are now rising in no fewer than 18 states, most of which are located in the South and Southwest.
Key indicators of a virus re-surge in the US—like hospitalization rates, death rates, and the test positivity rate—are all on the increase throughout those 18 US states. In some states, like Arizona, the availability of ICU beds is fast approaching maximum capacity. Texas is now experiencing more than 2,247 new hospitalizations per day, after having stated to reopen its economy weeks ago, on May 1. That’s seven straight day of rising hospitalizations per day for the state. Florida experienced a new one day record of more than 1900 cases just this past Friday. Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina are all witnessing surging hospitalizations as well, approaching max capacity in ICU beds.

But it’s not just the deep South. West coast states—Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, and others—are recording a new rise in cases, reversing a prior downward trend. That fact suggests what’s going on now is more than just a first wave. What we may now have is a simultaneous extension of the first wave into the red states, as well as an emergence of a second wave congruent with that extension.
Meanwhile, scientists have recently confirmed that the Coronavirus has indeed now mutated, and is potentially five times more contagious.

Congruent Developments Fanning the 2nd Wave

It is in this general environment that the US is now rushing toward reopening its economy, especially in the South, Southwest and Mid-west, where a more or less full reopening is entering its fifth week in some cases. Added to the premature reopening are public demonstrations against policy brutality that have grown and continue, overlaid on the economic reopening. Perhaps the biggest factor contributing to the emergence of a second wave, however, has been the lack of public self-discipline in many states, especially the ‘red’ ones where Trump’s political base is concentrated. A rising disregard of social distancing has been the growing norm in many states. It’s not just that many people don’t believe they can catch the virus; it’s also that they just don’t care if they spread if they do come down sick.

Add to all this the example of President Trump himself, who has announced he now plans to begin holding mass election rallies once again—thus sending the message to the public it’s ok to engage in mass gatherings. And if they are to follow Trump’s example, they’ll do so without wearing face masks. As the moronic right wing blogosphere has been saying—and Trump has again picked up—the rising rates of infection are because we’re testing too much. Social distancing may have ‘flattened the curve’ in places like New York City and big urban centers of the northeast. But the general economic reopening now underway, the widespread protests and demonstrations against police brutality, Trump’s personal behavior example to his political base and, probably and most important, the general lack of social discipline by the populace in many regions like the country, have ensured the effects of Covid -19 in the US are now on the rise once again.

And it does not appear any of these sources driving a 2nd wave are about to abate any time soon.

Trump administration key spokespersons, like economic advisor Larry Kudlow and Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, have both declared publicly this past week the US economy will not shut down and shelter in place again a second time. Trump thus has decided to trade tens of thousands of more US lives for the right of business to return to producing revenues and profits.

Nor does it appear Black Lives Matters protestors, mobilizing against decades of intensifying police brutality, will relent in their public demonstrations.

Nor that a majority of residents of the ‘red’ states will finally acknowledge the need for social discipline and social distancing soon by all indicators when the trend is actually opposite.

Nor does it appear Trump is about to reconsider holding mass election rallies, an action that sends a clear message to the rest of the country that it’s ok to gather in large groups, to abandon social distancing, and mask wearing.

A 2nd Wave Means W-Shape Economic Stagnation…Or Worse

In short, it is increasingly likely that things are about to get worse in terms of US public health. And as that happens, so too will the US economy experience a further negative impact from the virus. A 2nd wave now emerging means not just a further decline in public health, but an eventual 2nd wave of problems for the US economy as well.

What a second wave all but ensures is that the US economic recovery will not be ‘V-Shape’ but will be ‘W-Shape’; that is, a W shape recovery characterized by periods of short and shallow GDP growth, followed by brief periodic economic relapses thereafter. These short, shallow recoveries and relapses may repeat and continue for years to come.

Following such a duration of economic stagnation, a major threat grows that could usher in an economic depression perhaps even worse than the 1930s: should the economic stress building from weak, short and shallow recoveries—i.e. an extended deep economic stagnation for years to come—result in an inevitable flood of business, local government, and household debt defaults and bankruptcies, it will eventually overwhelm the financial system. At that point the short-shallow recoveries and relapses will give way to a more generalized banking crisis that will make 2008-09 great recession appear as a minor dress rehearsal. A next great depression rivaling, and perhaps exceeding, the experience of the 1930s may well be the consequence in 2021 or beyond.

Great Depressions are always the result of mutually amplifying crises in the real and financial sectors of the economy. The current deep contraction of the US economy has yet to experience a subsequent banking-financial system crash. However, the longer the current seriously wounded US economy continues to stagnate, slipping in and out of recessions for years, the more likely it becomes that a wave of business and consumer defaults (i.e. failure to pay interest and principal) on record levels of business-household-local government debt will wash over the economy.

When that happens, banks will have to assume the bad debt of failed companies, households, and local governments on their own bank balance sheets. That freezes up lending to business and households in general. Further mass layoffs then follow. Following the bank lending freeze, the real economy contracts still further as the banking system crashes. A financial crisis converges with the real, deep economic contraction and stagnation already underway. As the two systems—financial and real economy—mutually interact and amplify each other, the outcome is a descent into a bona fide economic depression.

2008-09 Great Recession & 2020 Briefly Compared

In 2008-09 it was the financial side that crashed first, subsequently dragging down the real economy 5%-10% for several quarters and producing unemployment rates of 15%-20%. Thereafter it took six years just to recover the jobs lost in 2008-09 and return to 2007 employment levels. Wages for most working families stagnated or fell for the next decade. Working class family debt ballooned in lieu of real wage gains across all categories: credit cards, autos, mortgage, student debt, installment debt, etc., to almost $15 trillion today. In the first three months of the virus that household debt has risen 16% further, according to the New York Federal Reserve. Federal Reserve policies of 2008-09 quickly bailed out investors and the banks, but did little for jobs, wage and income levels for workers, and working class living standards in general.

At the same time corporate profits nearly tripled from 2009 to 2019. Corporate America in turn awarded its shareholders nicely. Stock buybacks and dividend payouts under Obama averaged more than $800 billion a year from 2009 through 2016. To that under Trump was added a further $3.4 trillion in just three years. That’s a total of more than $10 trillion of income and wealth distributed to shareholders in a decade! In contrast to wage stagnation and decline for the bottom 80% of US households.

This time, in 2020, the causal relationships between the two sectors—real and financial—are reversed. This time it’s a crash of the real side of the economy, at least four times worse than that which occurred in 2008-09!

In 2008-09 it was the financial crash that precipitated, accelerated and deepened the real economic contraction. Today in 2020 the causal relation is reversed, and may prove worse. The real economy contraction and extended stagnation may precipitate a financial crisis which, in turn, could feedback further on the real economy and cause an even deeper and longer contraction. Mutual feedback historically always leads to a great depression. It doesn’t matter which precipitates which. The mutual negative interaction is the key determinant that drives the depression.

In just the 1st wave of Covid-19, from late February through May 2020, working class households lost more than $1 trillion net in wage income—even after $500 billion in expanded unemployment benefits and government $1,200 checks are factored. In contrast, corporations were provided since March with $1.7 trillion in loans and grants plus another $650 billion in further business tax cuts under the March 2020 ‘CARES Act’. And the Federal Reserve US central bank has provided another $3.3 trillion in loans to banks, to corporations, and to investors as well. That’s a 10 to 1 ratio: more than $5.5 trillion to business and only $500 billion to the rest. Most of the subsidy to business is being hoarded, moreover; whereas, most of the $500 billion has been already spent. Neither provide any further real stimulus to the economy in the second half of 2020.

In the 2nd wave on the horizon, moreover, more of the same is yet to come, as it appears likely Congress in its forthcoming ‘HEROES Act’ will discontinue the March 2020 unemployment benefits extension that expires the end of July; will refuse to provide further income supplement checks; and will instead use the ‘savings’ from such programs to provide direct wage subsidies to business. By some estimates, the Government (and thus the taxpayer) plans to subsidize business further by providing a wage subsidy of up to 85% of wages that were previously paid by businesses to their employees. In short, instead of unemployment benefits to workers, it will be wage payment subsidies to businesses.

In short, a 2nd covid-19 wave will coincide with an already seriously depressed US economy with little further real economic stimulus in the pipeline. That contrasts with the great recession of 2008-09, which hit a real economy that was still growing strongly when recession hit late 2007.

The Great Capitalist Experiment: Pre-Bail Out the System

So far the central bank of the USA, the Fed, has staved off a banking crash in the short term by pumping the $3.3 trillion into bankers and investors, in effect pre-emptively bailing them out before a crash actually occurs!

Congress has provided the $1.7T to date with which to pre-bail out the non-banking side of the business economy with loans and free grants, as well as provided an additional $650 billion in business-investor tax cuts.

The Fed has provided an additional $3.3 Trillion through its various 11 special lending facilities in virtual ‘free money’ to banks & businesses.

And both Congress and the Fed have signaled they are prepared to provide still more to business and investors in coming months if necessary—if not to workers, consumers, and state and local governments.

An historic policy experiment is thus now underway in the US economy. By pre-emptively bailing out the banking system with trillions of dollars of liquidity (i.e money at low or no interest rates) the Fed is attempting to ‘fatten up’ the banks with record excess money reserves on hand to enable them to absorb the defaults, bankruptcies, and deflation that are coming—even before it occurs.

Simultaneously, in another historic first, the Congress and Fed together are pre-bailing out broad sectors of non-bank businesses in the US with the $1.7T in business-corporate loans and grants. That non-business bailout is designed to reduce the flood of defaults and bankruptcies even before they ‘hit’ the banking system.

So the Fed—with funding assistance from the US Treasury and Congress—is bailing out the capitalist system today even before it crashes. Whether it will succeed in doing so remains to be seen.

One thing is certain, however. The Capitalist state in the 21st century in the USA today is engaged in a massive subsidization of Capitalism itself on a grand scale never experienced or even envisioned before. It is flooding the system with free money and liquidity (loans, grants, tax cuts, QE, corporate bond purchases, etc.) in an attempt to prevent another ‘great recession’ of 2008-09 that would prove to be an even ‘greater recession of 2020-21’—or perhaps morph into the first Great Depression of the 21st century.

A second virus wave will certainly test the experiment of a massive pre-bailout of the system now underway. How broad and deep the second wave goes is yet to be determined. Similarly the specific economic ‘transmission mechanisms’ and ways in which the health crisis impacts and exacerbates the current economic crisis further.

But even if there is no second wave of significant dimension in coming months, the independent dynamics of the current crisis will eventually precipitate a banking-financial crash at some point nonetheless. For the US and global capitalist economy is seriously wounded, fundamentally. It was already slowing and in decline in the US and globally in 2019 in certain sectors of the economy. A second virus wave will accelerate the process of weakening and decline, as it did the first wave. At some point that will inevitably translate into a financial system crisis once again as well. At that point, a new phase, more serious, of the crisis emerges: i.e. the financial crisis occurs, more likely than not drives the seriously wounded ‘real economy’ into a deeper contraction. No longer mere stagnation and W-Shape. Now a clear descent into bona fide economic depression similar to the 1930s, or perhaps even worse.

Until the financial crash takes place, the US economy stagnates more or less in a W-Shape trajectory. Short shallow recoveries will be followed by short relapses and returns to recessions. This will occur regardless of whether a significant 2nd wave of the virus impacts the economy.

The Covid-19 effect, whether first or second wave, is not the sole factor driving the economy and the current economic crisis. Forces have now set in motion a continuing economic crisis, virus or no virus. It’s just a matter of time and place before the economic crisis enters a new and even more unstable phase.

It’s not a Covid-19 economy. It’s a capitalist economy, the instability of which has been rendered even more unstable by the current Covid-19 health crisis. And that instability is not going away should the virus disappear which, of course, is not about to happen either.

Dr. Rasmus is author of the recently published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020. He blogs at jackrasmus.com and hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus.

posted June 10, 2020
Confronting Institutional Racism

June 3, 2020

A week ago in Minneapolis, for all the world to see, a black man, George Floyd, was murdered by a policeman, Derek Chauvin. Protests broke out in nearly 100 American cities, and even worldwide, and have continued now for more than a week.

Murders of black men by police in America are not new. They are endemic. So why the deep, widespread, and sustained protests this time?

Certainly the nature of this particular murder explains in large part the especially angry protests and response. But it’s not the entire explanation. Youth of all color, race and ethnicity are leading the demonstrations.

A Sadistic, Merciless & Intentional Killing

The killing of George Floyd was a particularly reprehensible police murder. It was clearly intended. It was merciless. It was sadistic. As the world has watched, Floyd was cuffed, face down on the street, pleading for his life. And the more he pleaded, the more Derek Chauvin, the cop, seemed determined and unrelenting, intent on keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck. The first six minutes, as Floyd pleaded for his life, even pitifully calling out for his mother at the end, a sure indication he felt he was nearing his last moments of life. But for almost 3 minutes more Chauvin’s knee remained after Floyd had already lost consciousness.

What angers those who observed the murder most is the lack of mercy shown by Chauvin and his three complicit partner officers. What they showed was clearly an intention to kill. Chauvin appeared almost to take pleasure in keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for three minutes more after he lay motionless. That made it a particularly sadistic murder.

It suggested to observers of the video, especially to black folks, that the police in 2020 will show you no mercy. Plead all you want for your life when cuffed, helpless, face down in the dirt. They’ll still murder you. And apparently enjoy it in the process!

The murder act was followed soon by another typical series of events, also all too often occurring in America today: Minneapolis police and the city’s district attorney (DA) office prevaricated and hesitated taking action, only responding when protests erupted. That delay suggested a typical cover up was underway, as is so often the response of local authorities in such cases.

There’s a big problem in America today: the cozy relationships that exist between police and DA offices. Both ‘scratch each others’ backs’, as the saying goes: The DA depends on police testimony to get convictions in court; in turn the DAs go light and help protect the police in exchange for their favorable testimonies. Police unions frequently provide significant campaign donations to District Attorney candidates that favor them, creating a kind of political ‘conflict of interest’ by Das. Coroner offices play a contributing role, by providing whatever autopsy results are necessary to support the DA. Carefully selected Grand Juries, should legal challenges to murder get that far, then endorse their joint mutual cover ups. It’s an institutional arrangement that too often thwarts the process of Justice.

So it’s not just an occasional racist cop. It’s institutionalized racism. A pattern that repeats over and over again. This is what the protesters of Floyd’s murder also realize and demonstrate against. They’ve seen it before. Time and again.

Black folks today know that pleading for your life when about to be murdered—like pleading for Justice after the fact—will more often than not fall on institutional deaf ears when police brutality is concerned. No mercy and no justice come in the same institutionalized racist package.

Protests As Acts of Solidarity

The immediate and increasingly angry protests that followed the murder of George Floyd are not due solely to the police killing of Floyd. The media would have you think so. That it’s only about the murder of Floyd and policy brutality. The politicians would like you to think so. All those leaders calling for calm and dialogue want you to believe so.

Floyd may have been murdered in nine minutes. But many youth in America today, especially but not only youth of color, feel their own lives are slowly and steadily being drained on a daily basis, sucked dry by the unfairness and injustice of ‘the system’. They feel that system—a capitalist system that increasingly rewards the wealthy and ignores the rest as never before in its history—has its knee on their necks too. And that system, that knee, is no less unrelenting, shows no mercy, and has no intent on relieving the pressure.

Working class youth of all color today know their lives are being destroyed more insidiously, step by step, year by year, as they struggle to survive: laid off and moving from low paid job to job, accumulating crushing debt laid upon debt, lacking minimal health benefits, changing apartment to apartment as rents are continually raised, with no hope of ever having a normal family life, of ever paying off student loans, in effect having to live a 21st century form of economic indentureship, a second or even third class economic citizenship—while they watch multimillionaires and billionaires almost exponentially add to their wealth.

In just the last three years under Trump, corporations registered record profits, wealthy investors and 1% were given $4.9T in tax cuts and $3.4T in stock buybacks and dividend payouts. While the rich and their corporations get richer, the rest make due with stagnant or falling wages, working two and three jobs, and constant job loss and turnover.

All those protestors on the streets this past week—virtually all young folks—are not just demonstrating against the murder of Floyd and institutionalized racism. That’s the tip of the protest spear. But it’s more than that. It goes deeper than that. There’s a deeper frustration and desperation behind it all, affecting tens of millions but especially American youth.

The youthful protesters looked at Floyd and they saw themselves. The protests are thus an eruption of social solidarity among wide sections of American youth! Not just among black and minority youth but American youth in general. Look at the composition of the demonstrators city after city. They are mostly Millennials and GenZers of all races and ethnicities and gender who feel they have been left behind by ‘the system’. Left out and declared disposable. They are virtually all working class youth. What the protests show is that Class and Race are coming together! Especially among the youth.

They are fearful of police brutality, especially blacks and youth of color. But they are fearful as well of being condemned to a life of low paid, no benefits, insecure and futureless part time and temp work. Working often two and even three jobs cobbled together just to get by.

And now, with the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, even those mostly low paid service jobs have been wiped out by the virus and recent economic crash—many of which, they sense, aren’t coming back soon or even at all. The Congressional Budget Office today, June 2, 2020 announced it will likely take ten years for the jobs now being lost to come back, and many won’t return at all! There will be no V-shape quick recovery. It will be W Shape, extended over a decade or more, with periodic brief and weak recoveries followed by repeated relapses and recessions—whether or not there are subsequent waves of the virus. The economic die is cast. The US economy (and global) have entered a phase of chronic, long run decline.

What the protestors don’t realize yet, but will soon, is that more of their low paid jobs with no future are about to be wiped out by the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution and automation now ramping up. According to McKinsey Consulting, AI will eliminate 30% of all occupations in the next five to ten years. Even their low pay, futureless service jobs will be eliminated.

Add to all the above fears of the worsening climate crisis the protesting youth know they will have to live through. And to that the growing public awareness of a deepening political crisis in America, as the nation drifts into tyranny driven by the Trump wing of the US political elite.

The USA has entered a ‘triple crisis’: health care & environment, jobs and the economy, and a growing political crisis of Democracy in America itself. The protestors know this. They sense and feel it and are growing frustrated, angry and desperate. The youth of America are growing increasingly desperate. All that ‘social crisis kindling’ is feeding the protests. Police brutality, institutional racism, and murder is just the spark that has set it all off. It’s not just about George Floyd any more.

WHAT TO DO? SOME PROPOSALS

So what’s the solution(s)? To escalating police murders; to white supremacist provocateurs who are intent on stoking a race war (as they say in their own words); to the sub-classless looters that prey upon the protests and demonstrations; to the local institutionalized racism. What might be done?

It’s no longer acceptable to say, as elites of both parties and their media declare daily, that demonstrators should calm down, go home, and let’s dialogue about how to reform the police. That’s been done before. Many times. With little result. It’s time for black folks, protestors and demonstrators on the streets today to develop their own independent solutions to the problem of police brutality.

There are three general actions that might be undertaken immediately to confront institutional racism in America that chronically gives us murders of George Floyds:

1. Break the iron nexus between Police Departments and District Attorney Offices

2. Launch a National ‘Policing the Police’ Movement

3. Form Local Community ‘Committees of Safety’

At the core of institutional racism is the relationship between local police departments and District Attorneys. The police rely on the DAs to smother, delay and defuse investigations and prosecutions of police who have engaged in brutality and murder against black and other minorities. The DAs depend in turn on police testimony in court cases to enable them to win their cases and advance their personal careers. In exchange for police assistance, the DAs go light on police charged with brutality. Knowing they are covered, police feel more inclined to shoot first and not worry about the outcome. It’s a ‘scratch my back-I’ll scratch yours’ mentality that permeates both institutions—police departments and DA offices—nearly everywhere in America today.

Coroner’s offices play a secondary but important role in the process when a murder is involved. They assist the DA by rendering a decision of the cause of death that conveniently points away from the police action in question. The decease died of a heart attack and had underlying heart problems is often the official cause of death. It wasn’t choking of the defendant by the police. It was a heart attack that would have occurred regardless of the choke hold. The guy had a bad heart or some other underlying condition was the cause of death—not the police tactic employed.

Another institutional player in the charade is often a local Grand Jury. This archaic institution is nothing like a real ‘jury’, although called that. It is a selected group of often pro-police and so-called ‘upstanding citizens’—meaning more often than not white, conservative and business oriented. Grand juries often rule to throw out charges, giving the DA cover not to proceed to prosecution. Should the DA still proceed, the charges are reduced from murder to something less based on Grand Jury lesser recommendations. If convicted, the police in question’s penalty is often reduced to only employment termination. But he is then eligible to go to another police dept. and rehired. Police departments often have a silent understanding to rehire each other’s ‘bad apples’. Thus a cop with a long record of abusing blacks and minorities continues to work somewhere ‘down the road’. It’s not unlike the Catholic church simply moving some pederast priest to another parish.

Breaking the Police-District Attorney Cover-Up Nexus

• Local DA’s must be prohibited from prosecuting their local police in cases of racist related brutality and murder. The prosecution responsibility must be moved to an independent source outside the county or city.
• Police department unions and organizations should be prohibited from contributing to DA election campaigns
• Coroners should be selected by the murdered party’s family to ensure impartiality
• Grand Juries should be abolished, especially and starting with cases involving police brutality and killing
• A police discharged for cause, involving a racist brutality case, should be prevented from rehire by another police department anywhere

Launching a national ‘Policing the Police’ Movement

• A national ‘Policing the Police’ movement should be launched. Wherever a cop confronts and stops someone, the public should use smartphones or other photo devices to record the interaction. This is now done haphazardly and occasionally. There should be a general education effort nationwide to get everyone to engage in the practice of video recording police whenever they see a police interaction with any citizen.
• An independent national database of photos and video recording of confrontations should be created.
• A public education campaign should be launched as well, encouraging the public to immediately send all videos to the independent national database.
• The public database should be accessible to everyone online

Forming Local Community ‘Committees of Safety’

• All cities should form local community ‘Committees of Safety’ to police the police, to gather information on confrontations and make the information available to the general public
• The Committees should organize protests and demonstrations and coordinate with other Committees outside their local area to organize larger protests and demonstrations
• During protests and demonstrations, Committee members should undertake the task of identifying, confronting, and rooting out provocateurs. And distribute photo leaflets of known white supremacists and provocateurs to participants in the protests and demonstrations
• The Committees of Safety should publicize to the community at large those identified as looters during the protests and demonstrations
• Committees should endorse and run candidates for city councils, city managers, DAs, and local elected judgeships that are committed to, and supportive of, black lives matter and other minority civil rights
• Committees would raise demands for local ordnance changes and state wide legislation to protect the rights of demonstrators, and organize recalls of politicians who do not
• Committees would undertake other measures as necessary to ensure the safety of protestors from provocateurs, white supremacist violence, and other proponents of violence against people or property during demonstrations

Many of these proposals are not new. Others are being introduced by protestors right now. But the point is the protests and demonstrations should be taken to the next organizational level. They cannot go on as just spontaneous events. They will eventually dissipate without organization. Or be captured by provocateurs and looters. Or manipulated by politicians for purposes of personal election and careers. Or all the above.

Without organization, the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ anti-racist, anti-policy brutality movement that has swept the country runs the risk of eventually fading—just as had other promising popular movements like ‘Occupy’ in 2011 and the ‘Yellow Vests’ in France of a few years ago. Without organization, the provocateurs and looters will also increasingly displace the protestors in the media–providing cover for a ‘law and order’ right wing reaction that will use the violence to crush the demonstrations while ushering in still further restrictions on civil liberty rights of assembly and expression. Nor will the police and politicians rid the protests of provocateurs and looters. The protestors must do so themselves. But that cannot be done without organization.

The other even greater risk, absent organization, is that mainstream politicians will divert the energy and anger of the protestors into channels to get themselves elected.

Organization is needed as well simply in order to expand and build the protests and demonstrations, and to ensure they continue with ever larger turnout.

Forming local community ‘Committees of Safety’ are the core organizational element necessary for building the organizational power of the protests and demonstrations. Launching a ‘policing the police’ movement is a way to connect the general ranks of the demonstrators—and the public in general—to the work of the Committees of Safety. And the Committees and the public Policing the Police movement are together the means by which to independently politically attack the institutionalized racism embedded today in the relationships between police departments, district attorneys, coroners, and Grand Juries.

Breaking institutional racism requires an independent political movement, with a grass roots organizational structure. That independent movement is on the streets of America right now. Will it take the movement to the next level, a level necessary to break the embedded local institutions of racism?

Dr. Rasmus is author of the recently published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020. He blogs at http://jackrasmus.com. Tweets at @drjackrasmus, and hosts the weekly radio show Alternative Visions on the Progressive Radio Network in New York. His website is http://kyklosproductions.com.

posted May 19, 2020
Low-Balling the Unemployed in the Era of the US 2020 Great Recession

This past Friday, May 8, the US Labor Dept. released its latest jobless figures. The official report was 20 million more unemployed and an unemployment rate of 14.7%.

Both mainstream and progressive media reported the numbers: 20 million more jobless and 14.7%. But those numbers, as horrendous as they are, represent a gross under-estimation of the jobless situation in America!

One might understand why the mainstream media consistently under-reports the jobless. But it is perplexing why so many progressives continue to simply parrot the official figures. Especially when other Labor Dept. data admits the true unemployment rate is 22.4% and the officially total unemployed is 23.1 million.

Here’s why the 20 million and 14.7% is a gross under-representation of the magnitude of jobless today:

Only Half Month Data

First, the 20 million for April is really only for data collected until mid-April. Nearly 10 million more jobless workers filed, and received, unemployment benefits after mid-April. And likely millions more jobless have been attempting to get benefits but haven’t. Even officially, more 33.5 million have filed for benefits, with several millions more in the pipeline. So the April numbers of jobless—both receiving benefits and not yet getting them—are more than 20 million!

Only Full Time Employed Layoffs

An even greater misrepresentation is that the official 20 million unemployed represents only full time workers becoming unemployed. It’s the figure from the government report that is the category called U-3, or full time workers. There are between 50-60 million more workers who are part time, temp, contract, gig and otherwise ‘contingent’ workers (i.e. not full time) who are not considered in the 20 million and 14.7%.

Check out the Labor Dept’s own data, in Table A-8, which shows for March and April no fewer than 7.5 million part time workers became unemployed. In April jobless in this group doubled over the previous month, rising by about 5 million in April, according to the Labor Dept.’s own monthly ‘Employment Situation Report’. 5 million to 7.5 million represent what’s called the U-4 government unemployment rate.

But there’s still more. It’s what’s called the U-5 and U-6 unemployed. Who are they? They are what the government calls workers without jobs who are ‘marginally attached’ to the labor force and workers who are too ‘discouraged’. They are just as ‘jobless’ as full time and part time workers. But they’re put in another category simply because they haven’t actively looked for a job in the most recent four weeks.

You see the US government defines unemployed as that subset of jobless who “are out of work and actively looking for work”. If you haven’t looked in the last four weeks, you may be jobless but aren’t considered unemployed! Go figure. Add them to the U-3 unemployed, and the totals for unemployed in America rise to 22.4%. Add in those who filed for benefits in the last half of April, or tried to, and we get closer to the publicly admitted 33.5 million without jobs and receiving unemployment benefits.

The Disappeared 8 Million Unemployed

But that’s not even the whole real picture. The way the government defines unemployment a worker must be part of the labor force. The labor force is composed of two groups: those who have jobs and those who are officially unemployed—i.e. out of work and looking for work in past four weeks. If you are not looking, you’re ‘marginally attached’ (U-5, U-6). It assumes if you have stopped looking in the past four weeks you are part of the 850,000 ‘marginally attached’. But that figure is not credible. Somehow there are less than a million jobless who simply haven’t tried to find a job in the last four weeks? Really? There are many millions.

A government stat that suggests there are likely millions more not in the labor force who are jobless nonetheless is called the ‘Labor Force Participation Rate’. It estimates the percent of the working age population who either have a job or are officially unemployed.
There’s approximately 164.5 million employed/officially unemployed in the US labor force as of May 1, 2020. In February 2020 the labor force participation rate was 63.4% of the US labor force. As of May 1, that had dropped to only 60.2%. Over the past 12 months, roughly 8 million have dropped out of the labor force. And remember: if they aren’t in the labor force they can’t be counted as unemployed. So where did the additional 8 million dropping out go?

The US government doesn’t consider them unemployed so they don’t show up in the U-3 or even U-6 statistics! But if they aren’t in the labor force they are jobless by definition. Perhaps 850,000 are counted as the ‘marginally attached’. But what about the remaining 7.2 million or so? The government has no category for them except the estimation of them in the labor force participation rate. It tries to explain the large number away by saying they retired or went back to school. But did 7.2m (63.4% in Feb. drop to 60.2% in April) retire in 2 months? And they certainly can’t have gone back to school in mid-March/April 2020.

Another government statistic that corroborates this ‘missing 8 million’ in the labor force participation rate is called the Employment to Population Ratio stat. It measures how many are in the labor force as a percent of the total US population of nearly 340 million.
If the EPOP percentage goes down, then fewer are working even though they’re obviously still alive and part of the US population. That figure has declined from 61.1% of the US population employed to 51.3% of the population employed as of May 1, 2020. That’s a nearly 10% drop. 10% of 340 million is about 34 million. And 34 million is not 20 million for April, or even the Labor Dept.’s total 23.1 million.
So both the labor force participation rate and the employed to population ratio both suggest the Labor Dept.’s official U-3 (or even U-6) unemployed figures are grossly under-representations of the total Americans without jobs today.

Voluntary Jobless Are Not ‘Unemployed’

One possible reason for the discrepancies between the official unemployed of 23.1 million vs. the 33.5 million receiving benefits, or the 7-8 million not being counted per the labor force participation rate and EPOP ratio, may be due to the government in this current crisis choosing not to count as unemployed those workers forced to leave work since February to care for dependents.

Remember the government’s driving definition of unemployed is the worker must be ‘out of work and actively looking for work’. Millions of workers who have been forced by the current crisis to leave their job to care for elderly and disabled family members, or to care for young children forced to stay home due to school closures, are not ‘actively looking for work’. Few Americans can afford nannys to watch their young children so they can work. But those in this situation are not considered unemployed by the US Labor Dept. because they don’t fit the definition of ‘actively looking for work’! It’s not clear how many in this category the Labor Dept. has recently refused to acknowledge as officially unemployed.

In America you may be jobless, but that doesn’t necessarily mean per the government you are unemployed!

The above stats and data show that the under-reporting of the jobless in the US is not some kind of conspiracy by the Labor dept. and the government. The data are there, buried in the monthly labor reports beyond the executive summaries. The government stats, moreover, are not perfect. There are serious problems related to raw jobs data recovery, to the various assumptions on that raw data the government makes to come up their jobs ‘statistics’ (always operations on raw data with assumptions which data to count and how). There are conflicting conclusions often between this or that data or statistic. Furthermore, in recent years changes in statistical processing have sought repeatedly to change definitions and processes in order to ‘smooth out’ swings in the statistics—whether employment, unemployment, wages, or inflation. The government has a vested interest in ensuring the smoothing. It reduces government (and especially business) costs of programs and operations.

If there’s a conspiracy of sorts, it’s in the media that purposely seems to always ‘cherry pick’ the most conservative stat to report. Thus we get the media trumpeting every month the nearly worthless statistic of the U-3 unemployment rate—a stat that applies only to full time workers and ignores part time, temp and other contingent labor who make up now nearly a third of the US labor force; a statistic based on a narrow definition of unemployed that has become an oxymoron when estimating unemployed; a statistic based on questionable assumptions and data gathering; and a statistic that can’t be reconciled with other statistics like the labor force participate rate.

The real unemployment rate is not the U-3 figure of 14.7% but easily 25% today. And the real total jobless are not the U-3 20 million, or even 23 million, but somewhere between 35-40 million… and rising!

However, what’s really disappointing is that many progressive and left economists simply parrot the government’s and mainstream media’s misleading U-3 statistic. One can understand why the corporate mainstream media keep pushing the U-3 stat and thus trying to make the unemployment situation look better than it is (or today not as bad as it is). But progressive economists should know better.

Jack Rasmus is author of the recently published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020, and ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, Clarity Press, August 2017. He blogs at jackrasmus.com and his twitter handle is @drjackrasmus. His website is http://kyklosproductions.com.

posted May 9, 2020
The Myth of US ‘V-Shape’ Economic Recovery

The spin is in! Trump administration economic ‘message bearers’, Steve Mnuchin, US Treasury Secretary, and Kevin Hasset, senior economic adviser to Trump, this past Sunday on the Washington TV talking heads circuit launched a coordinated effort to calm the growing public concern that the current economic contraction may be as bad (or worse) than the great depression of the 1930s.

Various big bank research departments predict a GDP contraction in the first quarter (January-March 2020) anywhere from -4% to -7.5%, and for the current second quarter, a further contraction from -30% to -40%: Morgan Stanley investment bank says 30%. The bond market investment behemoth, PIMCO, estimates a 30% fall in GDP. Even Congress’s Budget Office recently estimate the contraction in GDP could be as high as -40% in the 2nd quarter.

Mnuchin-Hassett’s New Old Normal

Despite the flashing red lights on the state of the US economy, the Trump administration’s key economic spokespersons are pushing the official line that the economy will soon quickly ‘snap back’. On the near horizon is a V-shape recovery coming in the 3rd quarter (July-September) or, at the latest, the following 4th quarter. The economy may be particularly bad, they admit, but be patient folks a return to normal is on the way before year end!

Speaking on Fox News Sunday Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin, declared the US economy is about to open up in May and June and “you’re going to see the economy really bounce back in July, August and September”. And Hassett echoed the same, just a barely less optimistic viewing the snap back in the 4th quarter. Getting ahead of the bad news coming this Wednesday when 1st quarter US GDP numbers are due for release, Hassett admitted a big shock is coming on Wednesday, to be followed by “A few months of negative news that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen”. But not to worry, according to Hassett, the 4th quarter “Is going to be really strong and next year is going to be a tremendous year”.

Meanwhile, the administration’s big banker allies were also making their TV news show rounds, singing the same ‘happy days will soon be here again’ tune. Bank of America’s CEO, Moynihan, appearing on ‘Face the Nation’ show, predicted consumer spending had bottomed out and would soon rise nicely again in the 4th quarter, October-December, followed by double digit GDP growth in 2021!

The Trump administration is pressing hard to reopen the economy now! It knows if it doesn’t the contraction of the economy could settle in to a medium to long term stagnation and decline. Business interests are pushing Trump and Republicans to reopen quickly, regardless of the likely consequences for a second wave of the virus devastating national health and death rates. There is a growing segment of US business interests desperate to see a return to sales and revenue, without which they face imminent defaults and bankruptcies after a decade of binging on corporate debt. A growing wave of defaults and bankruptcies could very well provoke an eventual financial crisis which would exacerbate the collapse of the real economy even further.

The Fed’s $9 Trillion May Not Succeed

So far the Federal Reserve central bank has committed to $9 trillion in loans and financial backstopping to the banks and non-banks, in an unprecedented historic experiment by the Fed. Not just the magnitude of the Fed bailout in dollar terms, already twice that the central bank employed in 2008-09 to bail out the banks in that prior crash, but the Fed this time is not waiting for the banks to fail. It’s pre-emptively bailing them out! Also new is the Fed is bailing out non-banks as well, trying to delay the defaults and bankruptcies at their origin, before the effects began hitting the banking system. Bailing out non-banks is new for the Fed as well, no less than the pre-emptive bank rescue and the $9 trillion—and rising—total free money being thrown at the system. But it should not be assumed the Fed will succeed, despite its blank check to banks and businesses. Its historic, unprecedented experiment is not foreordained to succeed—for reasons explained below.

For the magnitude and rapidity of the shutdown of the real economy in the US is no less unprecedented. Even during the great depression of the 1930s, the contraction of the real economy occurred over a period of several years—not months. It wasn’t until 1932-33 that unemployment had reached 25%.

As of late April 2020, that 25% unemployment rate was already a fact. The official government data indicated 26.5m workers had filed for unemployment benefits. That’s about 16.5% of the 165 million US civilian labor force. Bank forecasts are 40 million jobless on benefits by the end of May. But respected research sources, like the Economic Policy Institute, recently estimated that as many as 13.9m more are actually out of work but have not yet been able to successfully file for unemployment benefits. So the 40 million jobless may already be here. And that’s roughly equivalent to a 25% unemployment rate. In other words, in just a couple months the US economy has collapsed to such an extent that the jobless ranks are at a level that took four years to attain during the great depression of the 1930s

A contraction that fast and that deep likely has dynamics to it that are unknown. It may not respond to normal policy like enhanced unemployment benefits, emergency income checks, and even grants and loans to businesses on an unprecedented scale such as being provided by the Fed. The psychology of consumers, workers, businesses, and certainly investors may be so shocked and wounded that the money injections—by Congress and by the Fed—may not quickly result in a return to spending and production. The uncertainty of what the future may bring may be creating an equally unprecedented fear of spending the money. Economists sometimes call this a ‘liquidity trap’. But it may more accurately be called a ‘liquidity chasm’ out of which the climb back will prove very slow, very protracted, and the road strewn with economic landmines that could set the economy on a second or third collapse along the way.

The V-shape argument is predicated on the assumption that the virus’s negative effect will dissipate this summer. Those supporting the argument assume, openly or indirectly, that the economic collapse today is largely, if not totally, due to the virus. It’s not really an economic crisis; it’s a health crisis. And when the latter is resolved, the economic crisis will fade as well as a consequence.

But this assumes two things: first that the virus will in fact ‘go away’ soon and not hang like a dead weight on the economy. Second, that there were not underlying economic causes that were slowing the US (and global) economy already before the virus’s impact. The virus is seen as the sole cause, in other words, and not as a precipitating factor that accelerated an already weak and fragile economy into a deep contraction. But the virus may be best understood as an event that precipitated and then accelerated the contraction of an economy already headed for a slowdown and recession.

These latter possible ways to understand the current economic crisis are of course ignored by the advocates of a V-shape recovery. In their view, it’s just a health crisis. And the health crisis is about to end soon. And when it does, we’ll return to the old ‘normal’ and the economy will snap back. But the depth and rapidity of the decline into what is, at least, a ‘great recession 2.0’ and perhaps something more like the even deeper and longer great depression of the 1930s, strongly suggests that forces of decline have been unleashed in the US economy that have a dynamic of their own now. And that dynamic is independent of the precipitating cause of the virus which, in any event, is not going away soon either. In all cases of such virus contagion, there has always been a second and even third wave of infection and death. And Covid-19 appears the most aggressive and contagious.

It’s not just the 40 million and likely more unemployed that define the unprecedented severity of the current crisis.

Millions of small businesses have already shut down or gone out of business. More will soon follow. And many will never re-open again. The average number of days of cash on hand for small businesses before the virus impact was 27 days. Many small businesses are projected to run out of that by end of April. That’s why we are not witnessing growing protests and refusals to abide by a ‘sheltering in place’ order announced by various state governors. Small businesses and their workers, both on the brink of bankruptcy are taking to the streets—encouraged of course by radical right forces, conservative business interests, and political allies right up to the White House.
The millions of workers who haven’t been able to get through to successfully file and obtain unemployment benefits, and the millions of smallest businesses who have been squeezed out of the Small Business bailout program (called the Pay Protection Program) are fertile ground for right wing propaganda demanding the country reopen the economy immediately, even if it’s premature in terms of suspending virus mitigation efforts and almost sure to result in a second wave of infection that will debilitate the economy again later in the year.

And the flow of funding from recent small business legislation passed by Congress has been bottled up by big banks gaming the system—first using the crisis to extract concessions from the federal government on further bank deregulation, getting guarantees by the government on liability protection, ensuring they receive lucrative fees and charges from the lending, and requiring the government to reimburse them for loans that might later default and fail.

In addition to the slow distribution of the loans by the big banks, the same big banks began re-directing the small business program loan funds first to their own largest and best customers. Thus the first $350 billion in Congress funding for small business was directed to the banks’ best customers in less than two weeks. A second $320 billion supplement just added is reportedly already accounted for in less than half that time.

Despite the data on jobs, small business, and GDP much of the liberal economist establishment appear to be falling for the Trump administration official line and spin that there’ll soon be a V-shape recovery.

Liberal Economists Buy the Mnuchin-Hassett Line

The dean of liberal economists, Paul Krugman, in one of his columns recently, says it’s not an economic crisis but a disaster relief situation. Kind of like an economic hurricane, he added, that once it passes the sun will come out and shine again at the same economic intensity as before. And then there’s Larry Summers, Harvard economics professor and advisor to Barack Obama in 2009, who agreed with Krugman, saying “it’s possible to collapse and come back quite quickly.” Or Robert Reich, Cal Berkeley professor and former member of Bill Clinton’s cabinet, who declared in another TV interview recently, that the crisis wasn’t economic but a health crisis and as soon as the health problem was contained (presumably this summer) the economy would ‘snap back’.

Theirs is economic analysis by means of weather metaphors. And the error they all make is assuming that the fundamental cause of the crisis is not economic but the virus. They don’t see the virus as only a precipitating cause, exacerbating and accelerating what was a basically weak US and global economy going into the crisis, but instead the virus is the sole, fundamental cause of the deep contraction.
Krugman and other proponents of the ‘snap back’ (V-shape recovery) thesis all deny the counter argument that the current deep and rapid economic decline is precipitated by the crisis and that there is an internal economic dynamic set in motion that is taking over that driving the economy into a downward spiral regardless of the initial health crisis effect.

As one partial example of that internal dynamic: once the contraction in the real economy accelerates and deepens, it inevitably leads to defaults and bankruptcies—among businesses, households, and even local governments. The defaults and bankruptcies then provoke a financial crisis that feeds back on the real economy, causing it to deteriorate still further. Income losses by businesses, households and local government thereafter in turn cause a further decline. Once negative mutual feedback effects within the economy begin, it matters little if the health crisis is soon abated. The economic dynamic has been set in motion. Krugman and friends should understand that but either don’t, or are cautioned by their employers and political friends not to tell the whole truth lest it cause further concern, lack of business and consumer confidence, or even panic.

When mainstream economists don’t understand what’s actually happening, they hide behind their metaphors as a way to obfuscate their lack of understanding and ability to forecast the future. Or they employ the same metaphors to avoid telling the truth. But the truth is this isn’t just a health crisis. And it won’t quickly disappear even if the health issue were resolved in a matter of weeks or months.
Instead of pacifying the public with nice metaphors, they might just look at the recent past. No snap back economic recovery occurred after 2008-09, which was a contraction far weaker in relative terms than the present, with fewer job losses and a much smaller GDP decline.

2008-09 Recovery Was No V-Shape

Even after the less severe 2008-09 contraction, bank lending after 2009 did not return immediately or even normally. Only the largest, best customers of the big banks and their offshore clients received new loans from them. Bank lending to US small and medium businesses continued to decline for years after 2009. And jobs lost in 2008-09 did not recover to the levels of 2007 just before the recession began until 2015. Wages of jobs recovered from 2008 to 2015 was much lower compared to wages of 2007 jobs that were lost. The ratio between full time jobs and part time/temp/contract work deteriorated after 2009, with more of the latter hired and the former not rehired. Real wages still has not recovered to this day for tens of millions of workers at median income levels and below.

So one can only wonder what the Krugmans, Summers and Reichs are ‘smoking’ when they make ridiculous declarations about ‘snap back’ recovery. They should know better. All they had to do was look at the evidence of the historical record post-2009 that V-shape recoveries do not happen when there are deep and rapid contractions! And that’s true not only for 2009, but even for 1933 when the great depression finally bottomed out.

Between 1929 and 1933 the US economy continued to contract. Not all at once, but in a kind of ‘ratcheting down’ series of lower plateaus as banking crises erupted in 1930, 1931, 1932 and then again in early 1933. When Roosevelt came into office in March 1933 he introduced a program aimed at bailing out the banks first, and then assisting business to raise prices. It was called the National Recovery Act. That program stopped the collapse but generated only modest recovery, and by mid-1934 that recovery had dissipated. It was then, in the fall of 1934, that Roosevelt and the Democrats proposed what would be called the New Deal, which was launched in 1935 after the mid-term 1934 Congressional elections. The US economy began to recovery rapidly in 1935 to 1937. In late 1937 Republicans and conservative Democrats in the South allied together and cut back New Deal social spending. The US economy relapsed back into depression in 1938 until Congress, fearful of the return to Depression, reinstated New Deal spending and the economy recovered again to where it was in 1937. The permanent recovery did not begin until 1940-41, as the US economy mobilized for war and government spending rose from 15%-17% of GDP to more than 40% in one year in 1942.

But mainstream economists are not very attentive to their own country’s economic history. If they were they would understand that deep and rapid economic contractions always result in slow, protracted, and often uneven recoveries. There never is a ‘snap back’ when depression levels of contraction occur—or even when ‘great recession’ levels occur, as in 2008-09. It takes a long time for both business and consumers to restore their ‘confidence’ levels in the economy and change ultra-cautious investing and purchasing behavior to more optimistic spending-investing patterns. Unemployment levels hang high and over the economy for some time. Many small businesses never re-open and when they do with fewer employees and often at lower wages. Larger companies hoard their cash. Banks typically are very slow to lend with their own money. Other businesses are reluctant to invest and expand, and thus rehire, given the cautious consumer spending, business hoarding, and banks’ conservative lending behavior. The Fed, the central bank, can make a mass of free money and cheap loans available, but businesses and households may be reluctant to borrow, preferring to hoard their cash—and the loans as well.

In other words, the deeper and faster the contraction, the more difficult and slower the recovery. That means the recovery is never a V-shape, but more like an extended U-shape.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
copyright 2020

Dr. Rasmus is author of the just released book, The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020; and the preceding book, ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, Clarity Press, August 2017. He blogs at jackrasmus.com. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus and his website: http://kyklosproductions.com

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WHAT REVIEWERS SAY ABOUT THE PLAY 'FIRE ON PIER 32'
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