Tuesday, January 30, 2024

CEOs excel at two things - grabbing money, and screwing things up as they do

With 40 years of tax cuts for the rich and corporate, we've gotten a culture of CEO that believes his (almost always his) own hype, and cares more about making their numbers and grabbing what they can over having any kind of concern over quality or injury that this mentality might cause.

David Roth has an excellent column in Defector where he notes that most Americans seethe at this reality, yet try to muddle past the sociopathy and mediocrity that exists in corporate boardrooms.

But then there's a point when everyday CEO arrogance, neglect and greed can't be ignored any more. Roth points out that it is no coincidence that more Boeing planes are falling apart when its corporate executives decided that "profit by any means necessary" was going to be the rule they lived by.
As someone who has been on four different Boeing-made airplanes in the last week, I can attest to the limits of this fantasy [of retribution against executives] in the face of the prospect that a door on your airplane — the production of which was outsourced and subcontracted by a flub-prone duopoly to save some money; the installation and inspection of which was overseen by an overworked and multiply pressured person working in a conflicted and careless system, also to save some money — might blow off at altitude. There are some problems an individual is not equipped to fix, and "airplane now has moonroof" is one of the classics, there. More to the point, the bad people enabling or actively authoring those problems can seem not merely out of reach but safely within a parallel reality that is, if not any less brutish or ugly or stupid, notably better insulated. You think less of mounting a Jack Reacher-style offensive on Boeing's executive suite, in that situation, and more about how strong an airplane seat belt is, really, and I guess also how reliable the subcontractor that produced that seatbelt was, and how carefully that was inspected.

There's a bit in Maureen Tkacik's comprehensively damning 2019 feature about Boeing in The New Republic that I keep coming back to, both here and in general. The central tension of that story is about how, as a former Boeing physicist told Tkacik, "a long and proud 'safety culture' was rapidly being replaced... with 'a culture of financial bullshit.'" The supplanting of that purpose — of any purpose, really, at just about any business in just about any industry you can think of — with the blank nihilism of financial capitalism's profit-driven imperatives is familiar by now; management's quest to see how much more cheaply an increasingly poor product can be sold at the same price and under the same name as what came before is, at bottom, the story of basically every industry or institution currently in decline or collapse.

If it was always foolish to expect the free market to make things better, it feels more fanciful by the day to imagine a future in which the cynics and sociopaths in charge of that market do anything but continue to make it worse; they've evinced no capacity for that, but also no interest in it. Whether this deterioration is the result of buccaneering libertarian delusion or just a bloodless calculation that concepts like "safety" and "quality" are more nice-to-have's than need-to-have's, it appears to be the only idea that any of these people have. As this slips further into abstraction — if those mishaps-at-altitude don't really ding the stock price enough to bother any of the parties capable of doing something about them — the problem compounds and compounds. In the case of my industry, there is the sense that the business dipshits smashing up various institutions and lives simply care more about their divine right to smash things up than they do about anything else; something new can be built around the ruins they make, but the needless, ugly, colossal waste of it all is offensive all the same. Also none of us know how to make airplanes.
These "business leaders" don't create anything, besides maybe more schemes to extract funds from companies without any need to work harder or do anything better.

As Roth alludes to, the recent blood-lettings in print and online journalism are yet another exampe where hedge funders don't care about the importance and consumer experience of the product, and will bleed those publications dry without caring about the consequences to the public when it comes to losing quality writing and reporting.

Now Some of those that are laid off will land on their feet in the industry (the great Greg Sargent quickly moved from WaPo to the New Republic, for example). But it's still going to be a net loss in the long run, as it becomes harder for a shrinking number of publications to not only look after national matters, but local day-to-day news that is more likely to have an immediate effect on readers' lives.

And I don't think it's any coincidence that CEOs have become more publicly obnoxious and uncaring after the 2017 GOP Tax Scam cut tax rates for the rich and corporate, and increased the incentive to hoard profits over paying workers or investing in improving the product. And if they can screw over everyday consumers over by using their market power to raise prices while misdirecting the blame, all the better.

The report’s authors scoured corporate earnings calls and found executives bragging to shareholders about keeping prices high and widening profit margins as input costs come down.

The findings come as the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates to their highest point in 20 years. The report casts serious doubt on the need for further interest rate hikes, and instead calls for stronger policies to rein in “corporate profiteering”.

Prices rose in 2021 as labor costs jumped and supply chain shocks from the pandemic and the Ukraine war snarled shipping traffic and left energy supplies in question. But those issues have in many cases been fully sorted out or are easing, and the labor market has stabilized. Many commodities and services producers’ prices have actually decreased, the report notes.
This type of greed and "get mine" mentality brings us back to Roth and his reflections on Boeing's cost-cutting, and how expendable these "leaders" think anyone outside of their Club is.
The physicist who talked to Tkacik about the "culture of financial bullshit" told her, too, about his attempts to get through to Wall Street types that shareholders were at much greater risk from that recklessness than they were by the deliberateness and expense of the old, dying "safety culture" that it was replacing. He tells Tkacik about a Wall Street analyst telling him: "'Look, I get it. What you’re telling me is that your business is different. That you’re special. Well, listen: Everybody thinks his business is different, because everybody is the same. Nobody. Is. Different

At some level, this is just one of the asshole capitalists who are wrecking the world talking like the sort of asshole capitalist who would wreck the world. But there is a threat only barely latent in it, too. It's an inversion of the way in which ideas like "everybody is the same" have traditionally been used in the culture; where that has typically been deployed, always rhetorically and usually insincerely, as a politician's shorthand for the belief that every life has value and every person's dignity is meaningful, it is here an assertion that every life — that every line of work and every person working in it, and every concern that those people have — is equally valueless and equally insignificant. It is, in its way, a statement of purpose: not just the assurance that every person, place, and thing is now or will become food for its rightful devourers, but that those doing the eating also think of it as junk food.
These a-holes think it's all a game, and just some numbers on a balance sheet. They are not our friend, and should only be trusted to try to take as much as they can, if they can.

Every Dem running in 2024 should identify these oligarch scumbags, call out their influence over our media and political system, and tell Americans their free ride is over. Our economy may be good, and this country and its people is better off than they were in 2019. But our society still needs to improve more, and remove the cloud of corporatism that hangs over much of America today.

Make those mediocre pricks pay taxes like it's 1975 (or at least 2017) and do more to break up their oligopolies and actively support and/or force competition. Sure, it takes a lot of time, money and effort, but the alternative is to have this country go down the drain into oligarchy for good, and have even more people give up on trying to succeed through legitimate means and hard work.

If we do fall into Third-World Oligarchy, we become much more likely to have even more "disruption". Not just for people with real jobs, but also for the greedhead mediocrities at the top.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Strong GDP with good income and spending growth to end 2023. Keep it ROLLIN for 2024!

At the end of this week, we got two more pieces of data that showed the US economy finished up 2023 in a great place. The first came on Thursday.

And if you're comparing the end of 2022 with the end of 2022, GDP growth was even stronger than that.

When broken down further, (hat tip to Econbrowser) is not only the 4 quarters of growth for 2023, but how consistent the growth is in being spread across several sectors, and the consistency of the growth in those sectors. Outside of a slowdown in consumption for Q2, only inventories and trade were factors behind changes in growth levels for 2023.

Then on Friday, we saw that not only did we get more evidence that Americans kept making money and spending more money in December, but also that inflation stayed at the low levels that we saw for most of 2023.


My main concern with that report would be the decline in the savings rate, down to 3.7% in December, lowest for any month in 2023. Combined with rising amounts of credit card debt and interest rates staying elevated compared to pre-COVID levels, you hope those debt payments aren't something that kicks out the legs of either income growth or consumer spending in 2024.

Combine that reality of a need to keep consumer spending going, and given that we are seeing economic growth remain strong without a corresponding rise in inflation, this is all the more reason that the Federal Reserve needs to get interest rates back down toward where they were at in 2019 (which is 3% below where they are today). And if central bankers are spooked by 3%+ growth as something that would cause prices to rise again, they're looking in the wrong direction, because it's very clear that 2021's and 2022's inflation was a combination of COVID-era supply disruptions and profiteering.

Things are in a very strong place in America's economy, with disposable incomes rising past inflation and unemployment staying low, and our policy bias should be toward keeping that going as long as possible.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Lower revenue estimate makes it harder for new WisGOP tax cuts to fit in

A certain corner of state government watchers always earmark a day in January when the Legislative Fiscal Bureau releases their annual revenue estimates. That day came (on Wednesday), and it turns out Wisconsin’s surplus isn’t as big as we thought it would be when the state budget was signed last July.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau today projected the state will now finish the 2023-25 biennium with a surplus of $3.25 billion, nearly $800 million less than what was expected when the budget was signed last year.

The drop was largely driven by two factors: a decrease in the projected growth of tax collections and the deal Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, struck with UW officials to curtail DEI positions that included additional funds for the system. The latter includes $423 million in state money for building projects on the UW campuses, among other things…..

On the tax front, LFB is now projecting $422.3 million less than previous estimates, a dip of about 1%. That’s largely driven by new projections that the state will take in $237.6 million less in individual income taxes over the two-year period than what had been expected and $181.6 million less in corporate taxes.

LFB attributed the lower projections to various changes in state and federal laws. For example, the 2023-25 budget decreased the lowest two income tax brackets beginning in tax year 2023. Meanwhile, withholding tables were last updated Jan. 1, 2022. While the taxable income covered by the brackets is adjusted each year for inflation, the withholding tables aren’t. LFB wrote in the memo the impact of that means wages that have grown with inflation will create higher refunds than previously expected when taxpayers file their returns for 2023.
It’s nice to know that many Wisconsin taxpayers will have higher refunds when we file with the state some time in the next 2 ½ months. But it also makes it more complicated for a Wis GOP tax cut plan that was finalized this week.

Republican lawmakers who control the state Legislature are proposing a $2.1 billion tax package that would significantly expand the state's second-lowest tax bracket to include more than 1 million Wisconsin residents earning between $19,000 and $150,000 per year.

GOP leaders announced on Tuesday they would be releasing four bills that would overhaul the state's tax system by also exempting up to $75,000 of retirees' income and expanding tax credits for married filers and for filers with children.

Altogether, the measures would cost $2.1 billion in the 2024-25 fiscal year and $1.4 billion every year afterward, according to a nonpartisan analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The measures would reduce the state's total income tax revenue by $2 billion per year in fiscal 2024-25 and $1.4 billion per year after that, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
A $2 billion tax cut would reduce the surplus to $1.25 billion, which still seems like a good spot to be in. That is, until you realize that this number also means we run a deficit of around $2.45 billion for the 2025 Fiscal Year alone. Then add in the LFB estimate of an ongoing cost of $1.4 billion a year after 2025, we’d be looking at a budget deficit for the next state budget, as well as a long-term sizable structural deficit (remember when GOPs cared about structural deficits?).

Those numbers don’t mean I don't think some kind of tax cut shouldn’t be pursued. On the surface, I like a few of the items listed in the WisGOP series of bills. Here’s a graphic breakdown of the costs of these items, based on LFB estimates:

I would argue that the $390 increase in the max Married Couple Credit (which is intended to remove the "marriage penalty" in the tax code) and the increase in the max Child and Dependent Care Credit (to $10,000 for one child and $20,000 for multiple kids) might have the most bang for the buck, and would have the best chances of keeping the budget in line for future years. But it's not so great for unmarried Wisconsinites, and especially those without kids in need of being taken care of.

That might make the 4.4% bracket expansion a better idea, but as you can see, it has a sizable price tag that could hamper future budgets. The withholding table changes wouldn't have ongoing costs, which is helpful, and the jump in inflation since the start of 2022 means there would be a noticeable impact in take-home pay for Wisconsinites, but also lowers the refunds they'll get in early 2025.

The retirement income exclusion is the easiest one to discard, because it has huge tax breaks for richer retirees (the average tax cut is $3,500 for people with incomes of $125,000 to $150,000, and $4,648 for those with incomes of $500,000 to $1 million). And especially because a lot of retirement income is already tax exempt, as the LFB tells us.
Under current law, the following retirement income categories are excluded from Wisconsin AGI: (a) Social Security benefits; (b) payments from the U.S. military employee retirement system and U.S. government retirement payments received by members of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service; (c) income from certain public retirement systems if the individual was a member of, or retired from, that system prior to 1964; and (d) up to $5,000 of retirement income for taxpayers aged 65 or over with federal AGI of less than $15,000 per filer or less than $30,000 for married-joint filers. Together, these provisions are estimated to reduce individual income tax revenues by nearly $950 million in tax year 2024 under current law (the exclusion for Social Security benefits accounts for an estimated $900 million [95%] of this total).
So the $642 million in year 1 of this new retiree tax break is on top of the $950 million of more universal incomes that are already tax-exempt. So why would we want to give this older age group even more of a tax benefit than they already get?

Ah, that explains a lot.

Now that the revenues and price tags of the GOP's tax cuts are known, let's see how much can be fit in. And see if there is an ability to get some kind of compromise that gives relief to those in need of it, while not breaking the state's bank in future years. This doesn't have to be an "all or nothing" scenario, if all parties choose not to make it so.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

With Court decision looming, WisGOPs try to protect themselves with new "fair" maps. NO SALE!

As Tony Evers was planning his State of the State address lsat night, the Wisconsin State Senate decided to jump into action.....to save their own phoney-baloney jobs.

The scheme came together too quickly to run the numbers on what the changes do for possible election outcomes, but I did find the Legislative Council's attachment with the maps that the GOP passed.

Then less than 24 hours after the Senate put the maps through, Speaker Robbin' Vos and the rest of the GOPs in the State Assembly sent the scheme off to the Governor.
Assembly Republicans voted Wednesday to send a set of legislative maps to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' desk that they argue make "minuscule" changes to his own proposal, with the intent of avoiding pitting GOP incumbents against each other.

Lawmakers voted 63-35, on party lines, to approve the bill.

The vote comes about a week before two consultants are set to submit a report analyzing several map proposals submitted as part of a redistricting case before the state Supreme Court, which declared the current legislative maps unconstitutional. The court said it is prepared to draw maps if Evers and the Republican-led Legislature cannot reach an agreement.
What a pathetic, desperate measure. And transparently done to protect Republican incumbents who might now see their homes located in the district of another GOP legislator. Which was rightfully called out by one of the leading proponents of the anti-gerrymandering movement in Wisconsin.

If these GOPs want to stay in the Legislature so badly, just move to an open district. This happens all the time with regular redistricting….unless one party wants to rig it so that it doesn’t happen.

And coming up with this scheme and jamming it through both houses of the Legislature in 24 hours without any public hearing, breakdown of the results, or input from pretty much anyone beyond the gerrymandered GOPs at the Capitol? With no analysis whatsoever as to how the outcomes of the districts might change?

NO SALE. And Evers has rightly promised to laugh this last-minute GOP panic scheme out of his office.

Or put another way.

I suppose the WisGOP Legislature's stunt allows Vos and LeMahieu to whine on KLAN Radio 1130 and try to turn the idea of “gerrymandering” on its head to mean “endangers incumbents who previously benefitted from gerrymandering.” But I don't think it's going to fly with the 2/3 of this state that don't marinate in a Bubble of RW BS.

It's telling how the GOPs are flailing around, given that an evaluation on the maps from academic consultants is set to be released next week. The WisGOPs are clearly not acting like a group that expects to have a favorable outcome from the state or federal courts, and seem flat-out frightened by the prospect of what maps the SCOWIS might put out by March 15.

Which is all the more reason not to get in the Court's way, and let this pathetic GOP attempt at "fairness" to die a hilarious death.

Monday, January 22, 2024

With State of State looming, Senate GOP Leader floats tax cut plan Evers can listen to

With tax season starting and Governor Evers having his State of the State address tomorrow, might we see something that gives back some of a what is still a multi-billion dollar surplus. And at an event earlier this month, the top GOP in the Senate indicate there might be a smaller, more sensible tax cut from Wisconsin Republicans in 2024.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu says he’s working on another income tax cut that would raise the income limits for the second-lowest tax bracket by more than $100,000. The Oostburg Republican told the WisPolitics luncheon at The Madison Club Thursday that he’s still hashing out the details with Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green. But he wants to raise the income limits of the second of four brackets so that families making up to $150,000 or $200,000 for married joint filers fit into the bracket, which currently has a limit of $36,840. The change would mean more Wisconsinites are eligible for the 4.4% income tax who currently fit within the 5.3% bracket, which currently has a cap of $405,550 for married joint filers.

LeMahieu said the proposal is aimed at addressing concerns Dems raised during the most recent budget cycle about Republicans’ proposal to collapse the four-bracket system into three. The plan would have essentially eliminated the top bracket and brought it down one bracket.
Now this actually makes some sense. We’ll see what the long-term costs of the tax cut would be (LeMahieu is quoted in the article as saying it would be around $1 billion a year), but this seems to give a lot of the benefits to everyday working Wisconsinites, and if the price tag isn’t too high, it won’t handcuff future budgets, allowing for needed investments to continue.

Let me remind you of how our tax brackets break down in Wisconsin today.

Also remember that the brackets are based on taxable income , which means actual incomes are $12,760 higher for singles and $23,620 for couples, until you get to around $18,400/$30,000. Then it fades back toward $0 by the time incomes reach 6 figures.

If you can do something like increase the upper limit of that 4.4% bracket from $27,630/$36,840 to $150K/$200K, and you're giving a sizable tax break to a majority of Wisconsin taxpayers (including the rich, by the way, since they're also getting taxed at 4.4% on more of their money). And as the Journal-Sentinel reminds us in their rundown of that WisPolitics event where LeMahieu mentioned the tax cut, it's not that far away from what Governor Evers wanted when he released his budget this time last year.
Evers said before the budget-writing cycle began he would not sign into law tax cuts for top earners in the state but instead wanted a 10% income tax cut for middle-class residents delivered through tax credits.
That story also has another pattern we've seen before in the last few years - LeMahieu shooting down something that Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos got out over his skis on, and didn't get the Senate's sign-off on.
LeMahieu also indicated the Senate would be unlikely to support a proposal from Assembly Republicans to eliminate taxes on retirement income as a way to keep Wisconsin's seniors from moving out of state. He argued that if seniors make decisions on where to live based on income tax relief, "so does the average working person," and said lawmakers shouldn't be "choosing winners and losers."
And there's also the fact that Wisconsin seniors get much of their Social Security income already removed from taxation, along with other money sources, so Vos's scheme was really a giveaway to richer Boomers, at the expense of things that might help the other 90%+ of us.

So let's see if Governor Evers uses the statements of Senator LeMahieu tomorrow, and reaches out on a moderate tax cut package that could keep the price tag down to maintain a lot of our surplus, but also give a noticed boost to paychecks (or higher refunds) for many Wisconsinites. Especially with new maps coming, it would be a good time to push Robbin' Vos into actually doing something worthwhile, since a lot more of his Republican colleagues are going to have to deliver for their constituents, and won't be as threatened by primary opponents put up by the Dweeb from Rochester.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Assembly maps - any of these are better, but some are better than others

Wanted to follow up from my breakdown of the maps submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the Wisconsin State Senate, and apply the same work to the Assembly maps.

First, I want to bring back Marquette Professor John Johnson's breakdown of these maps, which uses district-level results from 2012-2022 to project outcomes for 2022. That baseline is somewhere around 50-50 to a 1-2 point GOP lean.

I am going to throw out the Legislative Republicans' map, because they really didn't try to change their current gerrymander. With the rest, you can see that all maps make it at least somewhat more competitive than anything WisGOP has drawn up, and should make Robbin' Vos at least a little more nervous about losing his only reason to exist.

With this in mind, let's look at the six legitimate maps, as well as one I've drawn up to try to increase both competitiveness and compactness. Because of the smaller size of Assembly districts, I'm going to show both the statewide and Milwaukee-area maps so you can better see the differences.

We'll start with the maps Governor Evers submitted to the State Supreme Court.

Next we go onto the maps from the Law Forward litigants who got the current gerrymander struck down.

Now let's look at Professor Petering from UW-Milwaukee, who worked on having the best scores for compactness, and in matching the statewide votes.

Here are the maps the State Senate Democrats sent in for the other chamber.

Here are the only legitimate GOP maps, from the Bradley Boys at WILL.

The last maps submitted to SCOWIS came from a group of mathematicians that used computers to draw maps to match several criteria.

And here's what I got.

I'm going to use a slightly different baseline from Johnson's, where I think Democratic Governor Evers' 3.5% win in November 2022 should be about where we assume the state is falling these days. Just like we did with the Senate, let's see what we get using that outcome and Johnson's "tipping point" metric.

Evers map 50-49 Dem, Tipping point GOP +3.3%
Law Forward 50-49 Dem, Tipping point GOP +2.8%
Petering 53-46 Dem, Tipping point GOP +0.1%
Senate Dems 50-49 GOP, Tipping point GOP +3.6%
WILL map 53-46 GOP, Tipping point GOP +8.8%
Mathematicians 51-48 Dem, Tipping point, GOP +1.4%
My 50-50 map 54-45 GOP, Tipping point GOP +6.5%

Mostly a toss-up for control, outside of Petering's Dem-leaning results and the GOP lean for myself and WILL. Yes, I'm surprised that my map has more GOP seats in this situation than WILL's, but notice that WILL requires Dems to win by an extra 2.3% to take control, because I have many more close, competitive districts. That's another way to gerrymander, by giving up the size of the majority, but making it more durable , and able to withstand the will (pun intended) of the voters. Tricky stuff, Bradley Boys!

The last stat I want to give regards minority representation, because that is where the US Supreme Court jumped in last time, on the claim that the maps that originally passed the Wisconsin Supreme Court's muster gave too many seats to Black people in Milwaukee (I wish I was kidding). The SCOTUS majority claimed 7 majority-Black districts in Milwaukee were too many, so let's see what we have for majority-minority representation.

Evers map 5 majority Black districts (1 other has Black plurality of 47%), 2 Hispanic majority, 8 minority-majority
Law Forward same as Evers in all 3 categories.
Petering same as Evers and Law Forward in all 3 categories.
Senate Dems 6 majority Black districts, 2 Hispanic majority, 8 minority-majority (all 60%+)
WILL map 5 majority Black districts (1 other Black plurality of 47%), 2 Hispanic majority, 9 minority-majority (1 in Racine)
Mathematicians same as Evers, Law Forward, and Petering in all 3 categories.
My 50-50 map 6 majority Black districts, 2 Hispanic majority, 9 minority-majority

I would hope any of these maps are OK, given those minority representation numbers.

So, take a look and have at it.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Good signs all around for the economy as 2023 data wraps up.

The later half of the week gave us more positives to lean on with the US economy. First off, we saw consumers continuing to spend during the Holiday shopping season, showing that they had money to spend and weren't too worried about the spigot being turned off any time soon.

Retail sales increased 0.6% for the month, buoyed by a pickup in clothing and accessory stores as well as online nonstore businesses. The results were better than the 0.4% Dow Jones estimate.

Excluding autos, sales rose 0.4%, which also topped the 0.2% estimate.

On a year-over-year basis, retail sales ended 2023 up 5.6%. The numbers are not adjusted for inflation, so sales show that consumers are more than keeping up with an annual inflation rate of 3.4% as measured by the consumer price index. The CPI increased 0.3% in December, also lower than the retail sales increase.

Another measure of retail sales strength that excludes sales from auto dealers, building materials stores, gas stations, office suppliers, mobile homes and tobacco stores rose 0.8% for the month. The Commerce Department uses this so-called control group when computing gross domestic product.
And given that consumer spending is around 2/3 of overall GDP, that seems to portend a good number for Q4 in that stat when it gets its initial release at the end of the month.

Thursday also saw a series of promising bits of economic data.

And even that decline in housing starts isn't that bad, because it comes after a 10.8% jump in November, which was the highest number of starts since May, and December's rate of housing starts was the 3rd highest of the year, and the 2nd highest for single-family starts.

This continues an uptrend in 2023 that bucked the Federal Reserve-influenced rise in interest rates. It also combines with an increase in permits and completions that indicates more single-family homes should be up in 2024, which may help alleviate some of the concerns about affordability in housing that have been a drag for the last couple of years.

And also note the drop in new unemployment claims. That was the lowest we had seen since September 2022, and when you put together strong consumer spending and more single-family homes getting built, this headline from Friday doesn't seem that surprising. At least in a reality-based America.

The University of Michigan’s monthly consumer sentiment index rose 9.1 points to 78.8, the biggest monthly advance since 2005 and far exceeding expectations.

The news came after a similarly sharp rise in December. Joanne Hsu, University of Michigan’s director of surveys, said that over the last two months, sentiment has climbed a cumulative 29%, the largest two-month increase since 1991 as a recession ended.

“Consumer views were supported by confidence that inflation has turned a corner and strengthening income expectations,” said Hsu.

The rise was driven in large part by expectations that the rate of inflation will continue to decline. The survey found that consumers expect prices to climb at an annual rate of 2.9% over the next year, down from the 3.1% reported in December. Expectations about price rises over the next five to 10 years hit a four-month low of 2.8%.
We've been waiting a while for average Americans to figure out that the economy is in a great place, and that inflation is done as a significant economic concern. And as 2024 begins, it seems like that's finally setting in, and let's see if the improving feelings continue the strength we've seen in the last year.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A solid December ends a good 2023 in Wisconsin's jobs market

It looks like Wisconsin’s job market ended 2023 in a strong position, finishing up with a decent December report.
Place of Residence Data: Wisconsin's unemployment rate held steady at 3.3% in December, remaining 0.4% lower than the national unemployment rate, which was 3.7% in December. The number of unemployed people increased 500 over the month for a total of 104,700 unemployed. The labor force gained 2,200 workers over the month and increased by 80,000 workers over the year for a total of 3,148,600 workers. The number of people employed also increased by 1,700 over the month for an annual increase of 67,200.

• Place of Work Data: Total nonfarm jobs increased by 4,800 over the month and 42,700 over the year to a record-high of 3,026,500 jobs in December. Private sector jobs increased by 1,700 over the month and 34,400 over the year. Healthcare and Social Assistance added 12,400 more jobs over the year. Construction jobs increased by 1,000 over the month and by 5,200 over the year.
We also saw November’s job gains get revised higher by 1,400, meaning that nearly 8,000 jobs were added in the last two months of 2023. The construction gains are especially noteworthy, as that continued 3 ½ years of steady post-pandemic growth in Wisconsin, with 2023 seeing nearly double the gains that 2021 and 2022 had.

Manufacturing also had a gain for December (500 jobs), and November’s totals were revised higher by 1,400. Those two months have stopped a consistent slide in manufacturing employment that had been going on for over a year.

I also note the increases in both employment and labor force, which was true for 2023 overall. But the labor force has kept going up over the last half of the year while the number of employed Wisconsinites hasn't moved much, which explains how the unemployment rate rose from a low of 2.4% in April and May to the 3.3% level it is at today.

Attracting more workers to the labor force is an ongoing concern in our lower-population growth state. But for both net migration and labor force entries, Wisconsin showed signs of improvement in meeting those challenges this year, and we need to keep working to continue that momentum for 2024.

If Wisconsin gets another year of 34,000+ additional private sector jobs and keep unemployment under 3.5% for 2024 with a growing labor force, as we did for 2023, I think a lot of us will be in a very good place this time next year. And that type of strong, steady job growth should be our central economic goal both as a state, and as a country.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The maps are in, and they're definitely fairer. But some more than others

I've finally gotten back to a bit of normality, and wanted to give some info on the redistricting maps that were submitted on Friday.

Marquette Professor John Johnson has done a breakdown of the 7 maps submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which will then be anlayzed and possibly modified by 2 PoliSci professors, and then sent ahead to the full Court for their ultimate decision on what maps will be in effect this November.

Then Dan Shafer had links sent up to the maps themselves in his Recombobulation Area website, along with breakdowns from the commentators in that article, and that gives us a chance to look at these maps for both shapes and results.

I'm going to go in order of the list, outside of whatever pile of junk was thrown in by the legislative GOP. And only print up the Senate maps for brevity, although I will look at the Assembly for scoring.

First, here is Governor Evers' Senate map.

Now, here is the map from the Law Forward group that filed suit to get the maps overturned.

Here is Professor Petering's map, drawn with a computer program to make things as 50-50 as possible.

Now the map that Senate Dems want in place the next time they can run.

Now here's the "charity work" from the Bradley Boys at WILL.

And the last submission to SCOWIS is a group of mathematcians that also threw in their maps.

For the hell of it, I'll also include my attempt at a compact 50-50 map for the state.

Maruqette Professor Johnson's scoring of Dem vs GOP advantage is based on a series of state elections from 2012-2022. I think that is too wide a time period to look at, given that the Trump era has realigned a lot of voting patterns in the state (in general, rural areas have become more GOP-leaning, suburbs and college towns have become more Democratic, and dark blue Dane County has become more populated overall).

So let's see what we get, using Governor Evers' 3.5% win in 2022 as a base.

Evers map 18-15 Dem, Tipping point GOP +0.1%
Law Forward 18-15 Dem, Tipping point GOP 1.7%
Petering 18-15 Dem, Tipping point Dem +1.6%
Senate Dems 17-16 Dem, Tipping point Dem +0.1%
WILL map 18-15 GOP, Tipping point GOP +9.4%
Mathematicians 18-15 Dem, Tipping point, Dem +1.6
My 50-50 map 18-15 GOP, Tipping point GOP +4.0%

You can see where in all but the Bradleys' maps, an election like 2022's would lead to a close call as to who would control the State Senate, and most of these maps have several competitive seats between 47% and 53% for both parties. Heck, mine are the 2nd nicest to the Republicans!

I'll dig into the Assembly maps in the near future, but feel free to slice and dice as you want.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Back in now-Frozen TundraLand

You leave the state for a weekend, and you find out that Wisconsin Winter arrived while you were gone. And you get to see the Real America's Team take care of the Evil Empire in Texass. And new maps! And another month of higher real wages!

I was glad to avoid a lot of the "bleh" that we call reality over the last 4 days, but now it's time to return to it, whether I like it or not. It's sure to get plenty of interesting and weird from here, till I can do my next escape.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

I'm still here. Just tied up

It's not only a Funhouse on this site, but the last couple of days have been a bit of a Madhouse in my own life. Mostly in a good way, but between weather, work, family duties, and travel adjustments for the weekend (all 5 of my longtime readers can guess where I'm headed this time of the year), it's hectic.

CPI and unemployment claims come out tomorrow, and we'll see if there are any bumps from what has been a pretty smooth last few months in the economy. And we have more snow and the first blast of extreme cold set to hit here, although the precip looks like it'll miss much of Northern Wisconsin, which is badly in need of the white stuff for its winter tourism season.

Back to more last-minute preparing and packing.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Still more Packer season to go! And as usual, F*** JERRY JONES!

Now that was gratifying to watch yesterday evening. And I sure didn't see this coming in September.

And now it's onto Dallas and to take on the Evil Empire run by Republican megadonor and all-around piece of trash Jerry Jones. With Winter finally starting up for real in these parts, it flashes me back to this act from ol' Jerra 3 years ago.

People like Jerry Jones aren't geniuses. They just happen to get lucky at one thing, and/or are much more shameless and amoral than the overwhelming majority of us that have at least a drop of deceny.

From the football side, the Pack is playing with house money. I and many others didn't give them a chance to make the playoffs when they were 2-5, and this 7-3 finish has been so fun to watch. This has already been a wildly successful season, and the team's outlook is much brighter than it seemed going into the season. So why not mess up those pricks from Tex-ass on Sunday, and have the Packers succeed in getting Mike McCarthy fired for a second time?

Saturday, January 6, 2024

A decent-but-not-great jobs report to round out a still-strong 2023

It was another Jobs Friday in America this week, and at top glance, it seems like things continued to roll along in this country's job market as 2023 ended.

Sounds pretty good, unless you were hoping for rate cuts in the next month. And it wraps up a still-strong 2023 in the US jobs market, where we gained more jobs than in any year of the Trump Administration.

But you can also see things are slowing down when it comes to job growth. Now we should expect that in a year where unemployment was below 4% in every month (there are only so many people available to take jobs at that point), but even the last six months had a notable slowdown.

There are also some signs of weakness as you dig into the December jobs report that should calm any concerns about inflation. Starting with sizable downward revisions for the previous two months.
The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for October was revised down by 45,000, from +150,000 to +105,000, and the change for November was revised down by 26,000, from +199,000 to +173,000. With these revisions, employment in October and November combined is 71,000 lower than previously reported. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors.)
So the December increase was only 145,000 compared to what was previously reported. Wonder what the "experts" would have said if that was the December gain in this report? Also, while the unemployment rate stayed the same, the percentage of working-age adults working went down.
The labor force participation rate, at 62.5 percent, and the employment-population ratio, at 60.1 percent, both decreased by 0.3 percentage point in December.
Let's see if that's a one-month blip, or if it's a sign that things are slowing down even more, and/or a wave of retirements are hitting with the recent stock market rally and start of a new year.

That said, 3.7% unemployment and 6-figure job growth each month is a nice place to start 2024 from, and if we keep this going for the next year with inflation staying at or below a sub-4% unemployment rate, a lot of people will be feeling even better about this economy as they hit the polls in November.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

$200,000 for fair maps? Drop in the bucket vs what GOPs made us pay.

Not surprisingly, there will be a cost to have two PoliSci professors advise the Wisconsin Supreme Court on how Wisconsin's legislative maps can be unrigged.

Two consultants hired to analyze new legislative boundary lines in Wisconsin after the state’s Supreme Court tossed out the current Republican-drawn maps will be paid up to $100,000 each under terms of their contracts made public Thursday.

Each consultant will be paid an hourly rate of $450, up to $100,000 total, but the state director of courts has the authority to exceed the maximum amount if she determines it is necessary, according to the contracts. The costs will be paid by the parties in the case, which include private attorneys and those who are funded by taxpayers.

Which led a needy moron to give this whining response.

Lots wrong with the statement (especially when any Republican complains about decisions on the Wisconsin Supreme Court being "partisan"). But "waste of money" may be the dumbest part of that take.

The $200,000 to unrig the maps pales in comparison to what the GOP is making Wisconsin taxpayers shell out for as they try to keep their gerrymander in place.
Republican legislative leaders are poised to spend more than $1.8 million in taxpayer dollars on private attorneys to defend Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn legislative maps, according to contracts with three law firms....

Under three contracts signed last month by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, Wisconsin taxpayers will be on the hook for more than $1.8 million in fees to outside attorneys who have been hired to defend the state’s existing maps — considered some of the most gerrymandered districts in the nation.

A contract with law firm Lehotsky Keller Cohn states total fees will not exceed $870,000, while a second, with Consovoy McCarthy and Lawfair, states that legal fees through Aug. 15, 2024, will not exceed $965,000.

A third contract, with Bell Giftos St. John, charges $450 per hour for attorneys’ time and $150 per hour for work by paralegals. The contract does not include a pay limit.

The contracts, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, also require the Legislature to cover additional out-of-pocket costs.
And let's not forget an even bigger GOP-related taxpayer-funded handout to right-wing lawyers.

Or this.

You look at that, and spending $200,000 for these two professors to help decide fair maps seems like a bargain. Maybe we should have that (plus public hearings) as the permanent way we do our redistricting, instead of having elected hacks try to help themselves, eh?

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

More reports reiterate that 2023 was a year where Wisconsin workers beat inflation

Caught this story from Wisconsin Public Radio, which pointed out that our state is like much of the country in that wage growth likely beat inflation in 2023, but won't be as high as it was in the more inflationary year of 2022.
Wage growth in Wisconsin has been slowing down this year, but inflation-adjusted personal incomes are expected to grow slightly after declining last year.

The state’s year-over-year change in annual pay was 5.6 percent in November, down from 8 percent in the same month of 2022, according to a report from ADP Research Institute.

The consumer price index, a key measure of inflation, showed prices were 3.1 percent higher in November than they were one year prior. But in the same month of 2022, prices were 7.1 percent higher than in November, 2021.
I dug a little more into the ADP report on wages in all 50 states, which basically uses a "market basket" of the same types of jobs to compare wages and changes across the nation.
Each month, payroll data from about 17 million U.S. jobs are used to estimate the annual pay cited in this report. We track the same cohort of workers over a 12-month period to compute year-over-year change in pay for matched individuals. The matching process results in about 10 million individual pay change observations each month.
And what's interesting here is that when you look at the same types of jobs, Wisconsin shaped up rather well compared to the rest of the Midwest, tying Illinois for the fastest change in annual pay at 5.6%. That said, it was well behind the increases in the Mountain West, which exceeded 7%.

The WPR article also mentioned the Wisconsin Economic Forecast from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, which also mentions the return to real wage and income growth in 2023, and says it should continue for this year and beyond. It's not the growth we saw when stimulus checks were adding to these totals in 2020 and 2021, but it beats falling behind like we did in 2022.

Wisconsin personal income increased 2.0% in 2022 (revised down from 2.5%), with 7.6% growth in wages and salaries. The forecast anticipates nominal personal income growth of 4.1% in 2023 and 4.2% in 2024. High inflation rates resulted in a decline of 3.2% in real personal income in 2022, with expected growth of 0.5% in 2023....

US nominal personal income grew 2.0% in 2022, but inflation transformed that growth into a decline of 4.2% in real personal income. The expected 5.2% growth in personal income for 2023 will translate into mild growth of 1.3% after adjusting for inflation. S&P Global expects core PCE inflation to slow from 5.2% in 2022 to 4.2% in 2023 and further to 2.8% in 2024, reaching 2.2% in 2025.

Wisconsin personal income grew at an annual rate of 3.3% in the second quarter of 2023, compared to 4.3% nationwide and 4.1% in the Great Lakes region. A large drop of farm earnings was the main culprit for the lower Wisconsin growth in the first quarter of 2023. The September release revised personal income up and wages and salaries down in 2022 for Wisconsin and the US. Revisions to 2021 were upward for wages and personal income at both the state and national levels.

The forecast anticipates Wisconsin nominal personal income to grow by 4.1% in 2023 and 4.2% in 2024. After adjusting for inflation, Wisconsin real personal income is projected to increase 0.5% in 2023 and 1.8% in 2024 as inflation moderates.
Let's also note that while real incomes did fall in 2022, it was from a significantly higher level than we had in 2019. And if inflation continues to float down around 2% and wage and income growth for Wisconsinites stay around 4%, that seems like a pretty good deal to me.