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The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: Index to posts

1 day ago

– by New Deal democratFor future reference, links to my four posts on the Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic

Part 1: Structure and Background

Part 2: the First Hammer-blows

Part 3: the Final Hammer-blows

Part 4: the Empire as hegemonistic “Banana Republic” ruled by caudillos

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The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 4 of 4: the Empire as hegemonic “Banana Republic” ruled by caudillos

1 day ago

– by New Deal democrat
As we have seen, the Roman Republic was brought down by an escalating series of acts of political violence, from murders to organized political mobs, to private legions, to four military marches over a period of 40 years on a Rome which had no permanent  defense force whose loyalty was to the Republic. The violence and military takeovers occurred in part because senior magistrates were also expected to be generals in command of legions.  

The underlying causes were the festering inequality between Romans and their Italian allies, and between the landed oligarchs and the urban and rural plebeians. Over the long term, rather than compromise their power, the oligarchs in the Senate in particular were willing to play “constitutional hardball” and do away with the

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The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 3 of 4: the final hammer-blows

1 day ago

– by New Deal democrat
“The Republic is nothing, a mere name without body or form.” – Julius Caesar

This is part 3 of my four part look at why the Roman Republic, which was successful and stable for nearly 4 centuries, ultimately fell into tyranny. In part 1 I described the structure of the Republic and the underlying reasons for its fall. In part 2 I described the first 4 episodes of civil war that left the Republic dead on its feet in 78 BC. This part describes the final hammerblows.

5. Pompey and CaesarThe final blows were administered by the “first triumvirate” of Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar, after one last “Indian summer” for the Republic between the death of Sulla in 78 BC and 50 BC. Among other things, much of the power of the Tribunes and the plebeians was restored by

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The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 2 of 4: the first hammer-blows

1 day ago

– by New Deal democratThis is part 2 of my four part look at the Roman Republic and subsequent Empire. In part 1, I described the structure of the Republic, and its several centuries of stability and success, as well as the underlying causes of its ultimate downfall.

The hammer-blows that rained down on the Republic from the existential dispute between Senatorial oligarchs on the one hand, and Roman plebeians and Italian allies on the other, came in five episodes:1. The Gracchus brothers – in the 130s and 120s
2. Saturninus – approximately 100 BC
3. Marius and the Italian civil wars 90 BC

4. Marius, Cinna, and Sulla 90-80 BC
5. Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar 50-40 BCIn this part I make a *brief* summary sketch of the first four of the above five episodes. The fifth will be

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The rise and fall of the Roman Republic: part 1 of 4: Structure and Background

1 day ago

– by New Deal democrat“Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny,” by Edward J. Watts“The Storm Before the Storm,: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic” by Mike Duncan“Ten Emperors: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine,” by Barry StraussI’ve recently mentioned that lately I’ve been unable to read most American history books, with their currently unwarranted chipper optimism. Instead my recent reading has focused on other periods of crisis.One question I’ve been considering is, just how rare, and how stable have Republics historically been? There are few antecedents for the experience of the US, because it has aspires to both be a Republic under the rule of law and simultaneously a superpower.  In fact I believe there are only four, in reverse historical order:The

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Weekly Indicators for October 14 – 18 at Seeking Alpha

2 days ago

– by New Deal democratMy Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha. Although the economy, especially in the producer sector, is quite weak right now, the indicators in all time frames are, in the aggregate, positive.As usual, clicking over and reading should bring you right up to the moment on the data, and rewards me a little bit for my efforts.

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An important update on the yield curve

3 days ago

– by New Deal democratFor the last 10 months, readers of the financial press have been bombarded with stories about the inverted yield curve, where (some) longer term interest rates are lower than shorter term interest rates. I track them too! But they are by no means my only forecasting tool.In any event, in the past several months and weeks, the yield curve has resumed a much more normal configuration. So does that mean we are in the clear?It depends which measure you are paying most attention to. Which has always been an important caveat, because the inversion of the yield curve has, with the exception of about one week several months ago, always been partial – i.e., at least one “infallible” indicator must have been wrong.My “just the facts, ma’am” look at what the un-inversion of

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Positive housing, initial claims, and Philly Fed outweigh negative industrial production

4 days ago

– by New Deal democratSo, after a nearly empty week until now, there were four economic reports this morning. Three of them were good.

First, although overall housing starts and permits declined, single family permits, the most forward looking and least volatile of the metrics, were only 3000 off a new  expansion high (red in the graph below, vs. multi-family permits): 

Housing’s rebound is the biggest single argument against a recession later next year.

Second, initial jobless claims continued at only 6.6% off their lowest level of the expansion:

The one significant fly in the ointment is that the 4 week average of continuing claims, which is less volatile if less leading, was unchanged YoY:

This has happened 15 times in the past 50+ years. Seven times it was a

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Real retail sales decline slightly in September, but the consumer is still alright

5 days ago

– by New Deal democrat
Retail sales are one of my favorite indicators, because in real terms they can tell us so much about the present, near term forecast, and longer term forecast for the economy.

This morning retail sales for September were reported down -0.3%, while August, which was initially reported at +0.4%,  was revised upward by another +0.2%, so the net decline was -0.1%. Since consumer inflation increased by only +0.1% over that two month period, real retail sales have risen +0.2% in the past two months. As a result, YoY real retail sales, which had been faltering earlier this year, are  still up +2.3%.

Here is what the absolute trend looks like. Notice that this month’s decline barely registers and is well within the range of noise:

Others may use other deflators.

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The consumer is still alright

6 days ago

– by New Deal democratWay back in 2007, I wrote an article at Daily Kos entitled “Are hard times near? The great decline in interest rates is ending,” in which I highlighted the importance of debt refinancing at lower interest rates as an important way that the working and middle classes had dealt with stagnating wages since 1980. Whenever that spigot was turned off, as well as the ability to cash in appreciating assets, was when a recession happened.I wrote then that there was still room for one more refinancing. And that proved true, as mortgage rates in particular declined to yet lower new lows in 2012-13. When it comes to mortgage rates, they still have not made new lows in the 6 years since.Especially since, like 2015-16, manufacturing has rolled over, but low mortgage rates are

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Weekly Indicators for October 7 – 11 at Seeking Alpha

8 days ago

– by New Deal democratMy Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.The stars are aligning for the recovery from the present slowdown in the longer term. But in the meantime, the present and short term data is still soft.As usual, clicking over and reading helps reward me a little bit for my efforts.

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Real average and aggregate wages for September

10 days ago

– by New Deal democrat

Now that we have the September inflation reading, let’s take a look at real wage growth.

First of all, nominal average hourly wages in September increased +0.2%, while consumer prices were unchanged. As a result, after rounding, real average hourly wages for non-managerial personnel increased +0.1%. This translates into real wages of 97.7% of their all time high in January 1973:

On a YoY basis, real average wages were up +1.7%, still below their recent peak growth of 1.9% YoY in February:

Aggregate hours and payrolls improved sharply in the past several months, so real aggregate wages – the total amount of real pay taken home by the middle and working classes – are up 30%  from their October 2009 trough at the beginning of this expansion:

For

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Initial claims still positive, negative near term recession

11 days ago

– by New Deal democrat

I’ve been monitoring initial jobless claims closely for the past several months, to see if there are any signs of stress. This is because the long leading indicators were negative one year ago, and many – but not a majority – of the short leading indicators have recently turned negative as well. So I have been on “recession watch.” But no recession is going to begin unless and until layoffs increase.

To reiterate, my two thresholds are: 1. If the four week average on claims is more than 10% above its expansion low.2. If the YoY% change in the monthly average turns higher.

As of this week, initial claims continue to be very close to their expansion lows. The 4 week moving average of claims Is 213,500, only 12,500, or 6.1%, above the lowest reading of this

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August JOLTS report: nearly all employment measures now neutral

12 days ago

– by New Deal democrat
This morning’s JOLTS report for August showed a decline in all metrics m/m as well as a slowing trend overall.

To review, because this series is only 20 years old, we only have one full business cycle to compare. During the 2000s expansion:

Hires peaked first, from December 2004 through September 2005
Quits peaked next, in September 2005
Layoffs and Discharges peaked next, from October 2005 through September 2006
Openings peaked last, in April 2007 

as shown in the below graph (quarterly, normed to 100 as of May 2018): 

Here is the close-up on the past five years (monthly):

As you can see, in today’s report all four metrics declined. Job openings have completely rolled over, and both quits and total separations have essentially been stagnant for over a

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Scenes from the September jobs report

13 days ago

– by New Deal democrat

Yesterday I shared the best good news from the September jobs report released last Friday: there’s a good argument that the economy has reached “full employment,” although we could do even better if real wages improved more. Today let’s look at the bad news, which comes from examining the leading indicators for employment.

That there has been a jobs slowdown is by now well established. In the last 8 months, per the more reliable establishment report, 1,135,000 jobs have been added, an average of 142,000 per month, which If we subtract temporary census hiring of 26,000, becomes 139,000. And keep in mind that the number of jobs added between March 2018 and March 2019 is going to be reduced from roughly 210,000 to 167,000 per month:  

Next, the three

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Have we finally reached “full employment”?

14 days ago

– by New Deal democratAs I noted on Friday, the household report – the one that tells us about unemployment, underemployment, and labor force participation – was particularly good. In fact, the last two months together have been so good that, at least by some measures, we may finally have arrived at “full employment.”

Let’s start with the basics. Gains in employment as measured by the household survey (blue in the graphs below), as opposed to the larger (and, yes, more reliable) payrolls survey (red), were 590,000 and 391,000 in the last two months, respectively. Those were the biggest gains in nearly a year: 

At 3.5%, that gave us the lowest unemployment rate in the past 65 years (except for a few months in 1968-69):

The U6 underemployment rate is also at its lowest level,

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A TV watching recommendation: “David Makes Man”

15 days ago

– by New Deal democrat“Well, we all have a faceThat we hide away foreverAnd we take them outAnd show ourselves when everyone has gone”
 – Billy Joel, “The Stranger”“No one here is exactly what he appears.” – G’Kar, Babylon 5

“David Makes Man” is a loosely autobiographical coming of age drama created bt Terell Alvin McCraney, (executive produced in part by Oprah Winfrey) centered on the academically gifted 14 year old African American “David,” who lives in the projects of Homestead, Florida with his single mother and his little brother. His father, who he has never met, is a college professor with whom his mother, when a student, had a brief affair. During the day, he attends a magnet school where he is known at “DJ.” To the drug-dealing gang members at “the Ville,” as the housing

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Weekly Indicators for September 30 – October 4 at Seeking Alpha

16 days ago

– by New Deal democratMy Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.It’s pretty clear that manufacturing is in a recession right now. The economy as a whole isn’t because the consumer sector of the economy is still doing fairly well.As usual, clicking over and reading should bring you up to the minute on the economy, and reward me a little bit for my efforts.

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September jobs report: excellent in coincident and lagging sectors, cautionary in leading sectors

17 days ago

– by New Deal democrat
HEADLINES: 
+136,000 jobs added (+135,000 ex-Census)
U3 unemployment rate declined -0.2% from 3.7% to 3.5% (NEW LOW)
U6 underemployment rate declined -0.3% from 7.2% to 6.9% (NEW LOW)

Leading employment indicators of a slowdown or recession

I am highlighting these because many leading indicators overall strongly suggest that an employment slowdown is coming. The following more leading numbers in the report tell us about where the economy is likely to be a few months from now. These were mixed.
the average manufacturing workweek declined -0.1 from 40.6 hours to 40.5 hours. This is one of the 10 components of the LEI and is negative.
Manufacturing jobs declined by -2,000. YoY manufacturing is up 117,000, a deceleration from 2018’s pace.
construction jobs rose by

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September 2019 motor vehicle sales

18 days ago

– by New Deal democratMotor vehicle sales are a short leading indicator. In particular, on the consumer side, they have typically rolled over after housing but before consumer nondurables, so they are useful in gauging the health of the consumer.

More recently I’ve started tracking heavy truck sales as well. That’s because, in addition for being a proxy for the producer side of the economy, as the below graph shows, they are much less noisy that light vehicle sales, and susceptible to fewer false positives (note: measure is quarterly to cut down further on noise):

With the exception of 1969, heavy truck sales have always declined ~20% or more from peak prior to the onset of a recession. The only false positives are 1984-86, 1994-96, and 2015-16, all of which were pronounced

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Expect a weak report for the leading jobs sectors on Friday

19 days ago

– by New Deal democratSeptember motor vehicle sales will be reported later today, after the domestic US manufacturers post their numbers. Sales of all other vehicles were down -13% YoY, but that is without seasonal adjustment including for Labor Day, so the seasonally adjusted sales might tell a completely different story.

In the meantime, with an eye towards Friday’s jobs report, let’s take a look at what is happening with temporary help services, one of the most leading components of employment.

Every week I update the American Staffing Index, (from which site the first four graphs below are taken) which has a 14 year history and in that time has correlated pretty well with the final temp help employment numbers. This year it has turned increasingly negative, and this week had the

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Once again, two sharply contrasting reports to start the month

20 days ago

– by New Deal democrat
One month ago, I wrote that the first reports in September, construction spending and the ISM manufacturing index, showed two contrasting views of the economy. That was again the case today.As in last month, residential construction spending increased for the month. Below I show it in comparison with single family permits:

Typically construction follows permits. In the past few years, it has been almost coincident with permits. In any event, this is more confirming evidence that in the important and leading housing sector, the decline that started in early 2018 has ended. This is positive news for the economy as a whole in 2020.

But once again the ISM manufacturing index was bad news, falling further below 50 from 49.1 in August to 47.8 in September. Just as

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Weekly Indicators for September 23 – 27 at Seeking Alpha

21 days ago

– by New Deal democratMy Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.If you’re wondering why it’s so late, it’s because SA pretty much shut down between Friday afternoon and this morning.Anyway, recession risks are rapidly receding, at least through the 4th Quarter.  As usual, clicking over and reading puts a little jingle in my pocket, as well as brining you up to the moment on the economy.

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Personal spending shows consumers OK; durable goods shows producers still struggling

24 days ago

– by New Deal democratThis morning’s reports on personal income and spending continue to show a consumer that is doing alright. Meanwhile durable goods orders continue to show a production sector that is struggling.

First, real personal income (red in the graph below) rose +0.4% in August, while real personal spending rose +0.1%. Since July spending (blue) was revised down -0.1%, the result was a wash:

The rising trend remains intact.

In general, spending has slightly lagged income in the past few years. Thus the personal saving rate has increased:

Overall the savings rate has increased since before the Great Recession, meaning that households are being more cautious with spending. This is a real change in the trend of declining savings that started in about 1980.

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Initial jobless claims continue near expansion lows

25 days ago

– by New Deal democrat
I’ve been monitoring initial jobless claims closely for the past several months, to see if there are any signs of stress. This is because the long leading indicators were negative one year ago, and many – but not a majority – of the short leading indicators have recently turned negative as well. So I have been on “recession watch.” But no recession is going to begin unless and until layoffs increase.

To reiterate, my two thresholds are:1. If the four week average on claims is more than 10% above its expansion low.2. If the YoY% change in the monthly average turns higher.

As of this week, initial claims continue to be very close to their expansion lows. The 4 week moving average of claims Is 212,000, only 11,000, or 5.2%, above the lowest reading of this

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August new home sales continue rebounding trend

26 days ago

– by New Deal democratLet me start out my look at this morning’s August new home sales report with my typical housing mantra:

Interest rates lead sales
Sales lead prices
Prices lead inventory

We saw all of that in this morning’s report.

First, the trend of rising single family sales continues, and the three month average of this very volatile series (blue), shown in comparison with single family housing permits  was the highest since late 2007:

Note, by the way, that new single family home sales have a tendency to lead every other metric, including permits – but they are much more volatile and heavily revised.

Next, the median new home price (red) turned positive YoY, for only the second time since the slump that began last year, vs. the YoY change in sales (blue) which has been

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The incipient housing choke collar: July prices update

27 days ago

– by New Deal democratThree months ago I first wrote about the concept of a “housing choke collar” constraining economic growth, to wit:

The FHFA and Case-Shiller price indexes have only decelerated to a point where they roughly match median household income growth. This makes me wonder if prices for new homes will shoot back up again quickly as demand returns. If so, we could wind up in a “choke collar” situation (similar to what we had with gas prices 5 to 10 years ago), where rapid price increases choke off demand, which causes prices to back off, which reignites demand, and so on repeatedly. 

This is important, because if the producer side of the economy falters, a choking off of higher new demand for housing would enhance the chances of a recession.

Three months later, and it

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Tame inflation —-> “soft landing”?

28 days ago

– by New Deal democratI have a new post up at Seeking Alpha. So long as inflation remains tame, the Fed has scope to bring about a “soft landing” to the slowdown, without there necessarily being a recession (so long as the Toddler in the White House doesn’t tip over the whole apple cart).As usual, clicking over and reading puts a penny or two in my pocket.

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What Kurt Eichenwald says – Saving the Republic

29 days ago

– by New Deal democratWhen I’m not reading and writing about the economy, I do occasionally comment elsewhere on political topics. 
So it was on Thursday when, in response to this post asserting that Democrats were powerless to do anything – (including enforcing THEIR OWN GODDAM SUBPOENAS!) – and that it was “green lantern-ism” to believe otherwise, I decided I had had enough (see comment #25), for which I was called a “kook” and a disloyal Democrat. It would “hand the President a public relations victory,” it would have “undesirable optics,” and wouldn’t show “comity.”

Worse, most of these people – presumably people paying attention to the news – didn’t know that each House of Congress, like courtroom judges, have the the power of “inherent contempt,” meaning that they don’t have to

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Weekly Indicators for September 16 – 20 at Seeking Alpha

September 21, 2019

– by New Deal democratMy Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.For all of the discussion about various iterations of the treasury bond yield curve, it is little noted that right now it is sending a different message than virtually every other long leading indicator for the economy.As usual, clicking over and reading should bring you up to the moment on the economy, and bring me a penny or two for my efforts.

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