Janet Yellen's Quiet Revolution

Donald Trump turned his rhetorical bazooka on Janet Yellen this week, accusing the Fed chair of being “highly political” and merely doing President Barack Obama’s bidding by declining to raise interest rates. In this as in so many things he says, Trump was issuing wisdom from his rear end, but the GOP candidate from clowntown did serve one useful purpose. He prompted us to ask yet again: What is Janet Yellen’s game?

Read More

FMN: Leading Indicators - A Brief History of Numbers That Rule Our World

Zachary Karabell on Leading Indicators of Success Every day we are bombarded with numbers. Some tell us how we are doing. Others indicate whether the economy is growing or shrinking and whether the future looks bright or dim. Figures showing gross national product, balance of trade, unemployment, inflation and consumer confidence guide our actions, yet few of us know what they mean or why they are so important.

Read More

Why the Jobs Report Means Diddly

The monthly ritual known as the jobs report made its appearance last week, followed metronomically by the monthly ritual of commentary and political reaction to the jobs report. It was a good report, as they go, with “ better-than-expected” job creation, more workers returning to look for work (hence a slightly higher unemployment rate of 5.7 percent) and major upward revisions to reported job creation in November and December of 2014.

Read More

Where Was Obama When the Middle Class Needed Him?

Six long years into presidency, Barack Obama has finally made the middle-class an explicit priority— placing “middle-class economics,” as he called it repeatedly in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, front and center on his agenda. But what the president is asking for may be too little and it’s arriving far too late. While his proposals are sensible— lowering the tax burden on middle-class families and expanding access to education, job training and retirement, in part by closing loopholes and raising taxes on capital gains—very few of them have much chance of passing.

Read More

Will Politics in 2015 Catch Up with the Economy?

In the waning moments of 2014, something happened that had been a long-time coming but seemed it might never arrive: the public mood in America shifted, ever so slightly yet significantly, from negativity and pessimism about the arc of the economy to something approximately hope about the future. If that holds, 2015 is going to look and feel rather different, and rather better, than things have in years.

Read More

Book TV After Words: Zachary Karabell, "The Leading Indicators."

There are a set of five economic indicators that have been guiding U.S. economic policy for decades, but most are not understood by the average citizen and, Mr. Karabell argues, are not as relevant today as when they were created. Gross national product, balance of trade, unemployment, inflation and consumer confidence should no longer be the primary basis for business plans or monetary policy, he says, as the technology revolution has made considerably more data available. He talks with Wall Street Journal reporter Kimberly Strassel.

Read More

How Counting the Unemployed Started as a Progressive Reform

In an excerpt from his book, reprinted here by permission of Simon & Schuster, Karabell traces how employment data collection originated as a progressive antidote to economic inequality. But even the reformists who developed those statistics, Karabell notes, were wary of the “mania for statistics.”

Read More

After Words with Zachary Karabell

Zachary Karabell talked about his book, The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers that Rule Our World, in which he argues that gross national product, balance of trade, unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence should no longer be the primary basis for business plans or monetary policy. He argued that the information revolution has made considerably more data available. He spoke with Wall Street Journal reporter Kimberly Strassel.

Read More

The Leading Indicators

n today's uncertain economy, both the public and the world's leaders rely heavily on certain indicators to tell us how we are doing. Gross national product, balance of trade, unemployment figures, inflation, and the consumer price index determine whether we feel optimistic or pessimistic about our future and dictate whether businesses hire or hunker down, governments spend trillions or try to reduce debt, and individuals buy a car, get a mortgage, or look for a job. Yet few of us know where these numbers come from, what they mean, or why they rule our world.

Read More

25 for 25: Leave the Big Numbers to Janet Yellen

There's a small problem with numbers we use to measure the economy. You know, those numbers you hear on Marketplace every day. "One simple number is never going to capture simple reality," says Zachary Karabell, historian and economist and author of "The Leading Indicators: A short history of the numbers that rule our world."

Read More

The Youth Unemployment Crisis Might Not Be a Crisis

There’s no doubting that worldwide, kids are out of work. In the United States alone, the unemployment rate for 15 to 24-year-olds is about 16 percent, nearly twice the national average. In parts of Europe, the figures are much worse, with a whopping 56 percent youth unemployment rate in Spain alone — representing about 900,000 people. But do these high numbers represent a global labor market crisis that imperils future growth, as the headlines warn? Maybe not. Maybe instead, they’re evidence of a generation of college graduates determined not to settle, which bodes well for our future.

Read More

Bubble or Not, Don’t (Necessarily) Blame Fed

Toward the end of her Nov. 14 confirmation hearing to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen faced a question from Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) about the effect of years of easy-money policies at the Fed: “Here’s what I’m saying. . . . I think the economy has gotten used to the sugar you’ve put out there. And I just worry you’re on a sugar high.” Yellen, who has been vice chair of the central bank since 2010, was not given time to address the charge, but her prominent role in supporting such policies gives us a strong sense of her answer.

Read More