Posts Tagged ‘economics’

Economists and politicians: Parceling out credit and blame for the numbers

January 13, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 13, 2015

Gas prices are down! The economy is growing! More Americans are going to work!

Great job, President Obama! Oh, wait — perhaps new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, deserves credit for the turnaround?

Or maybe not. On Thursday, Politico’s Lucy McCalmont contacted 14 different experts and asked them to evaluate Sen. McConnell’s claim that “[t]he uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: The expectation of a new Republican Congress.”

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The good, the bad and the ugly: Looking at the newest job numbers

January 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 10, 2015

On Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment numbers for December 2014. Many commentators highlighted the positives: Unemployment dropped from 5.8 percent in November to 5.6 percent last month, and 252,000 new jobs were added, mostly in the private sector.

I’m no economist, but I thought that the data were mixed. Here’s my look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the latest BLS report:

• The good. Job creation fell slightly from November but was still strong. As Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum is fond of reminding readers, about 90,000 new jobs are needed each month to keep up with population growth; even so, the remaining number of jobs, 162,000, is not too shabby.

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Are you feeling nostalgic for cheap gas? Maybe you shouldn’t…

October 28, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 28, 2014

On Sunday night, I was driving around Durham, North Carolina, when I noticed that a nearby gas station was selling unleaded for $2.99 a gallon. I did a quick search on Gas Guru, an iPhone app, and found a bunch of local stations that were offering the same price. It’s the lowest I’ve seen in quite a while.

A web search on Monday morning led me to this chart at a website called, which showed that gas prices nationally have been trending downward since late June. It’s difficult to discern precise numbers and dates on the graph, but the average U.S. price is a little less than than $3.09 per gallon right now.

The last time gas was so cheap was around the start of 2011, when the price was headed up; in May 2011, the price spiked at above $3.85/gallon. That’s the second-highest price for gas in the past decade.

The peak price was near $4.10 in June 2008. But soon after that, the price plunged. About six months after gas reached its highest level over the previous decade, it hit its lowest level in the same period. On Nov. 27, 2008, gas cost just $1.59.

A lot of conservatives seem to have forgotten this, but 2008 — the final year of the George W. Bush presidency — marked the beginning phase of the great recession, which lasted until June 2009. (Technically, the recession began in December 2007.)

In case you’ve forgotten about the recession — from which the U.S. economy continues to recover in rather sluggish fashion — let’s review.

After months of being at or below 4.7 percent, the unemployment rate rose to 5.0 percent in December 2007. It hit 6.1 percent in August 2008 and 7.3 percent in December 2008. Four months after that, it was 9.0 percent. In October 2009, the unemployment rate peaked at 10.0 percent.

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Will the future resemble the past? Our changing atmosphere and our peculiar institution

May 23, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 23, 2014

I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the past few days reading about two disparate issues. One, climate change, is very contemporary; the other, slavery, continues to affect American society despite the fact that the practice was outlawed about 150 years ago.

Let’s start with climate change — specifically, with Bill McKibben’s 6,200-word essay on the subject from a 2012 edition of Rolling Stone. It is subtitled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” and it focuses on three numbers: The amount of temperature rise that the planet might — might — be able to sustain without triggering catastrophic environmental and geopolitical changes, the number of gigatons of carbon dioxide that scientists estimate humanity might be able to pump into the atmosphere while still retaining a chance of keeping below an unsustainable temperature rise, and the number of gigatons of carbon dioxide that would be added to the atmosphere if all known reserves of coal, oil and gas reserves are extracted and used.

McKibben focuses on those three numbers, as stated, but the most frightening part of the article can be boiled down to one sentence: Known fossil fuel reserves are capable of producing roughly five times the amount of carbon dioxide that the atmosphere is thought to be able to absorb safely.

Consider the other topic for a moment — slavery, which has euphemistically been called America’s peculiar institution. The Atlantic has just posted a comprehensive feature article by Ta-Nehisi Coates titled “The Case for Reparations.” The work comprises about 15,000 words; it’s also accompanied by “An Intellectual Autopsy,” a 2,100-word addendum (that I have yet to read) in which Coates explains how his opposition to reparations changed over the last four years.

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