Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Imperfect Comparisons

Looking at (some of the very real) disruption in the retail sector has cause some in punditia to try to draw parallels between the evolution of the retail sector and changes in manufacturing over the past thirty years.  This New York Times story on the decline of malls exemplifies that trend.  This trend has caused some on the left to wonder whether identity politics explains why so much press attention has been given to manufacturing while the supposed decline of retail has been more ignored.  However, there might be a more quotidian reason why retail employment has gotten less attention than manufacturing: retail employment has grown over the past 15 years while manufacturing has shrunk. 

The New York Times piece on the decline of retail referenced the job losses in the "general merchandise" subsector.  However, looking at specific subsectors obscures the fact that retail jobs have been overall growing.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more people work in retail jobs than ever before in American history.  Nearly 14.5 million worked in retail in 2010, but almost 16 million work in retail now. About 400,000 more Americans work in retail now than worked in it in 2008, the last peak of employment in that sector.   Department stores might be declining, but employment in "health and personal care" stores is booming, as is employment at "nonstore retailers," which have added over 100,000 jobs since 2010.  While there has been a slight correction in retail employment after the holiday season (not exactly unusual), there is little evidence of a sustained decline in retail employment.  The retail market may be restructuring, and that restructuring may lead to dislocations and economic difficulties (things policy-makers should take seriously).  The phenomenon of zombie malls could exact social costs as well as provide opportunities for innovation.  And it is certainly possible that, in the future, ecommerce will destroy the retail sector.  (I'm not making any projections about the future here.)  But over the past fifteen years, retail employment has done relatively well in terms of job numbers.

Manufacturing tells a very different story.  There are over 5 million fewer manufacturing jobs now than there were in 2000.  While manufacturing employment has grown somewhat since the Great Recession, there are close to 2 million fewer manufacturing jobs than in 2007.  Inflation-adjusted manufacturing production in 2016 was only a little above the production level of 2008.

Whether one believes that decline in manufacturing employment to be a positive or negative development, it seems clear that there has been a decline--unlike in the retail sector.  If manufacturers had added jobs over the past 15 years, I doubt that the loss of manufacturing jobs would be getting that many headlines.  Retail may indeed be headed for difficulties in the years to come, and changes in the field could cause some dislocations.  But, over the past 15 years, the employment patterns of manufacturing and retail have diverged.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Changing Contours of Young Adulthood

A recent report from the U.S. Census about changes in living patterns among young adults from 1975 to 2016 has some interesting findings.  It reports the delayed forming of families.  In 1975, 57 percent of adults 18 to 34 were living with a spouse; that number dropped to 27 percent in 2016.  Meanwhile, the percentage living with their parents climbed from 26 percent to 31 percent.

Part of this change might be because of increased college attendance and changes in sexual mores, but part of it might also be because of increased economic pressures.  In 1975, only 25 percent of men between 25 and 34 were making under $30,000 a year (in 2015 dollars); by 2016, 41 percent of men were making less than that.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Populist Triangulation

At NRO today, I outline one possible way forward for the Trump White House: populist triangulation.  This strategy would target areas where the interests of populists and conservatives (including perhaps some Democrats) overlap.  An infrastructure program, reforms of guest-worker policies, and changes to the health-care marketplace could all be opportunities for this mode of triangulation.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Dog That Didn't Bark--Or Did It?

In a special election in Kansas's Fourth Congressional District, Republican Ron Estes won by about 8 points the seat formerly held by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.  This is a solidly Republican seat, so a GOP victory would be expected.  Pompeo won it by about 30 points in 2016, and Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton in that district.  Is this relatively narrow 8-point victory margin a warning siren for the GOP nationally?  Maybe--but only maybe.

Overinterpreting special-election results is a bit of a DC parlor game, and we should be wary about reading too much into them.  Estes still won handily, and his Democratic opponent, James Thompson was a Republican until 2016.  Congressional elections are in part shaped by candidate quality and local circumstances, and Kansas's Republican governor Sam Brownback struggles with a low approval rating.  Moreover, a special election tends to be dominated by more motivated voters, and, with Democrats locked out of power in Congress, they certainly are more motivated.  So a slightly narrower GOP victory margin might be expected.

That said, certain national factors do suggest that the GOP could be facing some electoral headwinds going into the 2018 midterms.  The party of the incumbent president usually loses seats during midterm elections.  The approval rating of the congressional GOP could be higher, as could President Trump's rating.

None of those broader forces mean that Republicans will necessarily lose Congress next year.  But they do suggest the risks of policy deadlock on Capitol Hill.  Republicans would be wise to think of areas where they can pass popular reforms that live up to the campaign promises of the president and the Republican party overall.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nuclear Detonation

Well, the nuclear option was invoked on Supreme Court nominees.  I'll get around to writing about something other than the filibuster shortly (really, there are other things to talk about?).  But a round-up of some filibuster-related links for now:

Fred Barnes on how Chuck Schumer tried to cut a deal to confirm Gorsuch and keep the filibuster.

61 Senators sign a letter to defend legislative filibuster.

Ed Whelan notes that we should not overstate the number of Republican filibusters of Obama nominees.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dr. Strangelove Cometh

Today, Democrats made clear that they had over 40 votes in order to sustain a filibuster of Gorsuch.

I'll have a piece coming out shortly that looks at how Republicans could try to avoid going nuclear over Gorsuch while still confirming him.  I'll post the link when it's live.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

More Gorsuch (Oh no!)

I hope you'll forgive my continued attention to the vote totals for Gorsuch.  But this vote-wrangling could set up a major confrontation in the Senate soon.

Two interesting announcements over the past few days:

The first is that Missouri's Claire McCaskill has announced that she will filibuster Gorsuch.  This is a significant change for the Missouri Democrat, who styled herself as a moderate when she first ran for the Senate and said in 2006 that she would not support a filibuster of Samuel Alito and would even vote to confirm John Roberts.  Now, Senator McCaskill will filibuster a nominee who doesn't seem any more out of the mainstream than Alito or Roberts.

What's interesting about this decision is that Senator McCaskill acknowledged earlier in March how counterproductive a Gorsuch filibuster would be.  In a leaked recording of her meeting with some major Democratic donors, Senator McCaskill made the following comments:
“The Gorsuch situation is really hard. There are going to be people in this room that are going to say, ‘No, no, no. You cannot vote for Gorsuch,’ ” McCaskill said in the recording. “Let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that we turn down Gorsuch, that there are not eight Democrats that vote to confirm him and therefore there’s not enough to put him on the Supreme Court. What then?”

She pointed to the list of potential nominees that Trump released before the election to galvanize conservative support. “By the way, Gorsuch was one of the better ones,” McCaskill quipped.

“So they pick another one off the list and then they bring it over to the Senate and we say no, no, no, this one’s worse. And there’s not enough votes to confirm him. They’re not going to let us do that too long before they move it to 51 votes,” she said.
So why is McCaskill supporting a filibuster when she foresees these consequences?  (More on that in a second...)

The second announcement is that Joe Donnelly of Indiana will vote for Gorsuch.

This means that 3 Democrats--Donnelly, Manchin, and Heitkamp--have announced their support for Gorsuch.  One senator from a heavily Trump state remains publicly undecided (Montana's Jon Tester).  According to Decision Desk HQ's count, other unannounced votes include Michael Bennet (Colo.), Chris Coons (Del.), Pat Leahy (Vt.), Angus King (Maine), and Mark Warner (Va.). Some other folks report that Ben Cardin (Md.) and Dianne Feinstein as up in the air about filibustering Gorsuch.

So is a nuclear stand-off guaranteed?  Maybe--but only maybe.  Gorsuch needs 8 Democrats to agree to cloture, and he already has 3.  There are at least 6 Democrats outstanding.  One is from a solid Republican state (Tester), one presents himself as a postpartisan independent (King), and one is from Gorsuch's home state (Bennet).  So all 3  2 of these could vote for cloture.

That would leave Gorsuch in need of 2 3 more.  Many of the remaining undecided votes on filibustering Gorsuch are broadly popular in safely Democratic states.  "Progressive" institutions like Pat Leahy could likely weather a primary challenge.  Senators Feinstein and Cardin are up for reelection in 2018, but some observers think that they may decide to retire from the Senate rather than run for reelection.  Thus, the handful of unannounced senators on the left side of the Democratic caucus could decide to vote for cloture in order to spare some colleagues (like McCaskill) the risk of a primary challenge while also preventing a nuclear stand-off over Gorsuch.  (One reason for the delay in votes could be negotiations among these Democratic senators to see who has to risk the wrath of "resistance" activists by voting for Gorsuch.)

Thus, there's a chance--a chance--that enough Democrats could vote for Gorsuch in order to avoid a nuclear stand-off and to preserve some leverage for the minority party during Supreme Court nominations.

UPDATE: Jon Tester just announced that he would vote against cloture on Gorsuch.  The "Doomsday Clock" for the nuclear option gets closer to midnight.  There's still a path to avoid a nuclear stand-off, but it gets narrower.