Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, October 9 through Friday, October 15, 2021 [Vol.3 No.13]
Quitting and Striking
The Week’s Most Notable
I quit . . . 4.2 million times, 2.9% of the workforce. That’s how many American workers quit their jobs in August – a national record. The unprecedented scale of people voluntarily giving up their jobs, for whatever reason, adds to the sense that the American economy may be undergoing fundamental changes. Fundamental in the sense that for the first time in many decades, workers in the general economy have an advantage over employers. That’s because, simply put, there aren’t enough workers. Accurate figures on the shortage don’t exist yet, but guesstimates put the number around 8 to 10 million with a heavy concentration in services industries, particularly consumer-oriented services. The reasons for these labor shortages are complicated and difficult to evaluate. It does seem that the pandemic provided the trigger – huge swaths of the population out of or unable to work. It seems that coming out of the other side of the pandemic is revealing a number of aftereffects. Millions of women can’t return to the workforce because they can’t find or afford childcare. Millions of people sitting at home were forced to confront their feelings that they didn’t like their jobs, or the working conditions of those jobs. Many, at least so far, chose not to return. Then too, in other decades immigrants might have filled some of the gaps, but the Trump (and now perhaps Biden) immigration policies brought the number down from more than a million a year to almost nothing. Whatever the actual raw numbers, employers across many industries are having difficulty finding enough employees. There is a sense that wages and working conditions have been out of balance for a long time. How long will this sense last or, more actively, will it translate into unionization?
On strike . . . Words that have not been used much in the U.S. in recent years. Although the media have not paid much attention, the number of labor strikes – mostly union led – has recently increased, enough so that the current month has been labeled “striketober.” There are some numbers: In Hollywood more than 60,00 IATSE members are preparing to strike, John Deere has 10,000, Kaiser Permanente 24,000, Kellogg 1,400. These are still relatively small numbers. Take it for granted that backlash from employers of all sizes, the Republican Party, and the U.S. government in general will be massive. But the pressure for increasing wages and better working conditions won’t go away. Companies like Walmart and Amazon need thousands of new employees and are willing to run commercials bragging about their company’s benefits and high pay. The general economic atmosphere favors employees who want to unionize. It remains to be seen if the Democratic Party and other union-oriented organizations can take advantage of it.
Saturday, October 9
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 45,225,938; Deaths: 734,335
[Afghanistan] U.S. Talks with the Taliban – An official round of discussion between the U.S. and the Taliban is taking place this weekend in Doha, Qatar. It’s an indicator that both sides are still in negotiation mode, particularly over allowing people to leave Afghanistan, fighting a common enemy in Isis, and support for Taliban COVID-19 vaccination. In short, the U.S. is not recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government, but is willing to deal with it like it is one.
[Austria] Austrian Chancellor Resigns in Corruption Scandal – Based on evidence that Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz used taxpayers’ money to fund friendly media organizations, and the loss of support from his coalition partner Greens, the resignation signals not only a change in leadership but potentially the necessity for new elections.
Sunday, October 10 – We rested.
Monday, October 11
[Coronavirus – Texas] Texas Governor Bans Business Coronavirus Vaccine Mandates – After forbidding the Texas government to have vaccine mandates and promising in August that he had no intention to tell businesses and entrepreneurs how to run their business, Gov. Abbott (R) reversed that policy today. The executive order bars any entity, including private business, from mandating vaccinations. [Update: Several major Texas businesses, including American and Southwest Airlines, indicated they would ignore the governor’s order.]
[Airlines] Chaos at Southwest Airlines – The airline wound up canceling more than 10% of its schedule over the weekend and on Monday; many other flights were delayed. Finger-pointing ensued with the unions blaming mismanagement and right-wing media blaming pilots’ rejection of the company’s mandatory coronavirus vaccine policy. [Update: The situation was brought under control and normalized by the end of the week.]
[Nobel Prize – Economics] Economists Using “Natural Experiments” Awarded Nobel Prize – David Card of the University of California, Berkeley, Joshua Angrist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Guido Imbens of Stanford University were awarded the Economic Sciences prize for their exploration of real-world experiments to analyze labor economics and other issues.
Tuesday, October 12
[Debt Ceiling] Congress Punts Debt Ceiling to December – The House approved the Senate’s short-term deal to avert debt default until December 3. Then arbitrarily the crisis will return, which is fitting because it’s a faux crisis that exists only because politicians make it so. The Republicans may punt again, or not.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Changes Travel Rules – As of now, fully vaccinated citizens of Canada and Mexico will be allowed across U.S. borders. Fully vaccinated means having had both Pfizer or Moderna shots, or the J&J. People without vaccinations will have to show proof of testing. [Update: By the end of the week the U.S. extended open borders to more than 30 countries, including most of Europe. Conditions apply: Proof of full vaccination and a negative test within 72 hours of departure.]
[Labor Shortage] Record 4.3 Million Quit Jobs in August – According to data released by the Department of Labor this is a single month record in an economy that still features 10.4 million job openings. The term “worker leverage” is reappearing in employment negotiations.
Wednesday, October 13
[Supply Chain] Biden Tackles Critical Supply Chain Problems – Although what a president can do is limited, Biden is at least calling attention to supply chain bottlenecks, particularly in the California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The backlog of ships to unload, containers to move, and national distribution threatens to damage Christmas season commerce. The Biden administration has secured commitments from major corporations, unions, and transportation organizations to streamline and expedite shipping from key ports. The incentives are all in place, but it’s part of a worldwide logistics nightmare that will not be easy to solve.
[Jan.6 Investigation] Former Acting AG Jeffrey Rosen Testifies to House Committee – In a marathon eight-hour session, the testimony before the House Select Committee concerned his notes and recollections of the days leading up to the Capitol insurrection. The testimony was private, although at some point the transcript will be released. The session is typical of what will be a parade of former Trump officials. Eventually – and it could be many months from now – there will be a summary, and conclusions drawn. Meanwhile Democrats will have an ongoing source of revelation and scandal involving many aspects of the Trump administration and the Republican Party in the staging of the insurrection.
[Election 2022] No Investigation, No Vote, Trump Tells Republicans – The threat is bizarre, but as the Georgia runoff election showed, when Trump is negative about an election, a certain percentage of the Republican base loses interest and doesn’t vote. It probably cost Republicans the Senate. In this case, Trump is demanding that “the thoroughly and conclusively documented election fraud of 2020 [be] investigated.” It’s an empty threat, of course, but serves to underscore his control over the Republican base.
[Coronavirus] Biden Administration: Vaccine Mandates Work – U.S. vaccination rates have jumped 20% with the increase in vaccination mandates by government agencies, hospital systems, social institutions, and numerous businesses. The U.S. now reports 77% coverage by at least one shot of a vaccine. That translates into about 60 million still without vaccine, but a major improvement over the 79 million of only a few months ago. Keep in mind that these figures and the conclusion that mandates work are completely rejected by the Republican Party and the right-wing media.
Thursday, October 14
[Economy] Inflation Hits New Highs in September – The consumer price index went up by 5.4% from a year earlier, or on a monthly basis up by 0.4% from August. These are not overwhelming numbers, although they do indicate persistent inflation. At the moment economists are stuck between a downward pressure on the economy from the lingering effects of the Delta variant, which suppressed consumer demand, and the upward pressure on prices caused by the problems in the supply chain and the shortage of labor. The more sanguine economists admit that they are not sure what’s going on. This is a novel event for the economy – recovery from a massive pandemic under the circumstances of the global supply chain meltdown. Lots of conflicting dynamics, and very little confidence in economic forecasting.
[Economy] Jobless Claims Fall below 300,000 – For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, unemployment claims fell below 300,000 to 293,000, down 36,000 from last month. It’s a sign that the economy may be recovering from the effects of the Delta variant wave over the summer. There is some confusion about the number of total unemployed at the moment, which is set at 2.59 million but doesn’t square with the 4.3 million Americans who left their jobs in August.
[Abortion] Third Time No Charm: Texas Appeals Court Rejects DOJ Challenge to Abortion Ban – All attempts to prevent an abortion ban in Texas have been quashed by the Fifth District Court of Appeals, the most conservative appeals court in the U.S. This raises the appeals chain up to the Supreme Court, which is unlikely to hear this case before it deals with its pending Mississippi abortion case. Either way, decisions will not be available until sometime next spring, meaning women in Texas will not have an abortion option through that time. [Update: The DOJ has already moved to take the case to the Supreme Court.]
Friday, October 15
[Great Britain MP Attack] British Lawmaker Stabbed to Death While Meeting with Constituents – At the moment, little is known about the attack on David Amess, a conservative member of Parliament, who was attending a meeting inside a church with voters of his East London district. Police call it an act of terrorism.
[Climate Change] Manchin Influence to Kill Clean Power Program in Biden’s Infrastructure Bill – From a man who takes his marching orders from the coal and energy industries, one piece of flesh for his legislative support is removal of the $150 billion program to speed up replacement of coal and gas-fired energy generation.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 45,740,265; Deaths: 743,921
Although an FDA panel has approved booster shots for Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines, they come with caveats and conditions. The Moderna booster should be limited to people over 65 or those specifically immunocompromised. The panel said it did not have enough data to approve widespread use of this particular booster. For Johnson & Johnson the approval on Friday recommended that anyone who received the first shot should be eligible after two months for the second shot, with several panelists suggesting that it should have been a two-shot vaccine in the first place. The Pfizer booster has already been approved by the FDA and is moving into distribution. Several studies have indicated that booster shots from different companies could be used, but it seems this kind of recommendation serves only to confuse people and doctors. There is still some reluctance on the part of the medical community to accept the need for boosters – not to mention that there still are vaccine denialists in the same community. Expect controversies over pricing, distribution, and effectiveness to cloud the vaccine issue in the coming months.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
The media seem to have discovered that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is a problem. Not that much could have been done about it. However, recent profiles continue to emphasize that all the telltales indicate she is becoming more conservative, and moving toward either an independent or a Republican position in the Senate. None of this is good for Biden’s signature infrastructure legislation. Meanwhile Democratic leaders continue to exude confidence in the ultimate outcome, while canceling big chunks of the program for the votes of Manchin and Sinema. Meanwhile Sinema has been shopping in Paris. What are the odds now that she pulls a reverse-John McCain?
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, much of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Overall, then, modern data-driven economics tends to support more activist economic policies: Raising wages, helping children, and aiding the unemployed are all better ideas than many politicians seem to believe. But why do the facts seem to support a progressive agenda? The main answer, I’d argue, is that in the past many influential people seized on economic arguments that could be used to justify high inequality. [T]he political use of economic theory has tended to have a right-wing bias.
Paul Krugman, “Doing Economics as if Evidence Matters,” The New York Times, 10/11/2021.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]