With the Presidential debate finished, we are officially in the final lap of America’s second-favorite spectator sport. (Yes, football is better than politics.) Of all the talking that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will do by Nov. 6, you can bet that a great deal of their breath will be expended on economic matters. Because that’s what the President of the United States does, right — runs our economy?
That, of course, won’t stop the candidates from talking about their plans to “fix” or “heal” or “restore” our economy — all of which imply that we are in an economic doldrums that is sure to pass. But what if it doesn’t? What if the massive economic growth the U.S. has experienced through most of our history is a thing of the past?
There are two broad shifts that account for much of this decline: globalization and computerization. From T-shirts to toys, manufacturing jobs have migrated to low-wage countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and of course China. Meanwhile, many of the tasks that might have been done by middle-income Americans employed as bookkeepers or middle managers have been replaced by spreadsheets and data algorithms.
Fisman argues that in order to succeed in the new economy, American workers need to shift away from construction and manufacturing jobs to “high touch” professions. “If jobs are being lost to low-wage Indians and computer programs, then what today’s worker needs is a set of skills that offers the personal touch and judgment that can’t be provided by a machine or someone 12 time zones away,” writes Fisman.
The BBC reports that Portugal will be cutting 4 of its 14 public holidays as an “austerity measure”:
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Two religious festivals and two other public holidays will be suspended for five years from 2013.
The decision over which Catholic festivals to cut was negotiated with the Vatican.
It is hoped the suspension of the public holidays will improve competitiveness and boost economic activity.
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In fact, today’s economic troubles are not simply the result of inadequate demand but the result, equally, of a distorted supply side. For decades before the financial crisis in 2008, advanced economies were losing their ability to grow by making useful things. But they needed to somehow replace the jobs that had been lost to technology and foreign competition and to pay for the pensions and health care of their aging populations. So in an effort to pump up growth, governments spent more than they could afford and promoted easy credit to get households to do the same. The growth that these countries engineered, with its dependence on borrowing, proved unsustainable.
Chris Turner explores Cuba’s current economic situation through the lens of a Canadian tourist:
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Canada is probably the second most important economic ally Cuba has after Venezuela, which supplies more than 60 percent of the island’s oil. (China exports more stuff to Cuba, but the Chinese don’t show up daily by the multiple charter-flight-loads to hand out gifts and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Cuban economy.) Cuba is our largest trading partner in the whole of Central America and the Caribbean. We export a range of commodities to Cuba — sulphur, wheat, copper wire — and we are the second-largest buyer of Cuban exports, particularly sugar, nickel, fish, citrus fruits, and tobacco. That’s over $1 billion in total trade.
Here’s something you don’t often hear an economist admit: We have very little idea where the economy will be next year.
Truth be told, our best guesses just aren’t very good. Government forecasts regularly go awry. Private-sector economists and cutting-edge macroeconomic models do even worse.
Our objective isn’t to beat up economists. Rather, we want to make the point that when we recognize our shortcomings, we’re forced to confront the enormous uncertainty that lies ahead. And appropriate humility about the economy changes how we think about policy. Read More »
We recently solicited your questions for Alan Krueger, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Below are Krueger’s answers, in which he talks about the Bush tax cuts, the American Jobs Act, and why NFL coaches should go for it on fourth down. Thanks to everyone for participating.
Q. The recovery from the recent recession has been great for corporate profits, but not so great for employment. I think that this is a natural result of the fact that when demand is insufficient, corporations focus on improving productivity rather than on producing more goods and services.
What can be done to increase employment? –Adam Read More »
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “It’s Not the President, Stupid.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.) The gist: it’s time to admit that the U.S. economy doesn’t have a commander-in-chief.
Over the years, we’ve regularly visited the question of how influential the president of the U.S. really is. This segment focuses on the president’s influence over the economy — which, if you believe polling data, will be the central concern for many voters as the 2012 election unfurls.
In this Marketplace segment, you’ll hear from Austan Goolsbee, the University of Chicago economist who has served President Obama as both campaign adviser and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers:
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GOOLSBEE: I think the world vests too much power, certainly in the president, probably in Washington in general for its influence on the economy, because most all of the economy has nothing to do with the government.