Tag Archives: economics

The Middle East, Iraq, and the United States

OK, you’re sick and tired of this issue and want it to go away. But it never does and it may never, at least not in our lifetimes. So I challenge and urge you to read a recent interview and the comments made.

As someone who started life amid bombs raining down from time to time, I’ve been conscious and fearful of armed conflict since my earliest days. As a three year old, I can remember waking up one morning under the dining room table next to my mother. She had decided the table might provide at least some protection if a bomb hit nearby.

As an American citizen since 1959, I’ve been here as VietNam engulfed us and evolved, along with Somalia and Iraq and Afghanistan and all the many “little” conflicts along the way. I didn’t want to go to VietNam but received notice in the fall of 1960 to appear for my draft physicial. I remember driving to Ocala, getting on a bus with a bunch of other 19 year olds and we drove to Jacksonville. But I failed my physical and was given a 1-Y status instead of 1-A. So I’ve not served in the military.

Today we have a bunch of neocons and other ‘conservatives’ pushing for us to go to war with Iran. None of them will see a minute of combat like will the current crop of recruits. They seem to think dropping a few bombs on Iran and sending several hundred special operations troops will cause Irans’ national ambitions to suddenly change and conform to our version of democracy and lifestyle.

The map above is a link to the interview sent to me by my son. It is a compelling summary of how we got to where we are now, who the players are, and how we might move this whole idea forward to benefit all of us.  I urge you to read it, think about what is said and the implications, and not overlook the comments section that follows. Click the map above or click HERE NOW.

Time US Leadership Woke Up To New Economic Era

CharityMy Comments: As many of you know, my professional life has revolved around financial issues and economics. The world I’ve lived and worked in was largely shaped by the global forces at work following World War II. That era has ended.

We can shake our heads and whine about what might have been but it will serve little purpose to do so. The sooner we as a nation come to terms with all this and make the necessary adjustments, the sooner we, and here I imply ALL OF US, can get on with creating a framework that will allow our children and grandchildren an optimistic future.

Admittedly, Larry Summers is a Democrat with questionable management skills. But I can’t fault his analysis below and his thoughts about our collective future. And I will add that the aggressive stance of Israel re the Iran agreement underway, is a self-serving effort to maintain the post WWII status quo and avoid hard decisions about the future.

By Lawrence Summers, April 5, 2015

This past month may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system. True, there have been any number of periods of frustration for the US before, and times when American behaviour was hardly multilateralist, such as the 1971 Nixon shock, ending the convertibility of the dollar into gold. But I can think of no event since Bretton Woods comparable to the combination of China’s effort to establish a major new institution and the failure of the US to persuade dozens of its traditional allies, starting with Britain, to stay out of it.

This failure of strategy and tactics was a long time coming, and it should lead to a comprehensive review of the US approach to global economics. With China’s economic size rivalling America’s and emerging markets accounting for at least half of world output, the global economic architecture needs substantial adjustment. Political pressures from all sides in the US have rendered it increasingly dysfunctional.

Largely because of resistance from the right, the US stands alone in the world in failing to approve the International Monetary Fund governance reforms that Washington itself pushed for in 2009. By supplementing IMF resources, this change would have bolstered confidence in the global economy. More important, it would come closer to giving countries such as China and India a share of IMF votes commensurate with their new economic heft.

Meanwhile, pressures from the left have led to pervasive restrictions on infrastructure projects financed through existing development banks, which consequently have receded as funders, even as many developing countries now see infrastructure finance as their principal external funding need.

With US commitments unhonoured and US-backed policies blocking the kinds of finance other countries want to provide or receive through the existing institutions, the way was clear for China to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. There is room for argument about the tactical approach that should have been taken once the initiative was put forward. But the larger question now is one of strategy. Here are three precepts that US leaders should keep in mind.

First, American leadership must have a bipartisan foundation at home, be free from gross hypocrisy and be restrained in the pursuit of self-interest. As long as one of our major parties is opposed to essentially all trade agreements, and the other is resistant to funding international organisations, the US will not be in a position to shape the global economic system.

Other countries are legitimately frustrated when US officials ask them to adjust their policies — then insist that American state regulators, independent agencies and far-reaching judicial actions are beyond their control. This is especially true when many foreign businesses assert that US actions raise real rule of law problems.

The legitimacy of US leadership depends on our resisting the temptation to abuse it in pursuit of parochial interest, even when that interest appears compelling. We cannot expect to maintain the dollar’s primary role in the international system if we are too aggressive about limiting its use in pursuit of particular security objectives.

Second, in global as well as domestic politics, the middle class counts the most. It sometimes seems that the prevailing global agenda combines elite concerns about matters such as intellectual property, investment protection and regulatory harmonisation with moral concerns about global poverty and posterity, while offering little to those in the middle. Approaches that do not serve the working class in industrial countries (and rising urban populations in developing ones) are unlikely to work out well in the long run.

Third, we may be headed into a world where capital is abundant and deflationary pressures are substantial. Demand could be in short supply for some time. In no big industrialised country do markets expect real interest rates to be much above zero in 2020 or inflation targets to be achieved. In the future, the priority must be promoting investment, not imposing austerity. The present system places the onus of adjustment on “borrowing” countries. The world now requires a symmetric system, with pressure also placed on “surplus” countries.

These precepts are just a beginning, and many questions remain. There are questions about global public goods, about acting with the speed and clarity that the current era requires, about co-operation between governmental and non-governmental actors, and much more. What is crucial is that the events of the past month will be seen by future historians not as the end of an era, but as a salutary wake up call.

The writer is Charles W Eliot university professor at Harvard and a former US Treasury secretary

‘It’s the Weather…!’

My Comments: The cacaphony of negative comments by Republicans about the Obama administrations efforts re the economy used to be deafening. Now, not so much.

As an economist, I’m sensitive to the fact that there are too many variables at play to attribute success or failure to an individual in the White House or to a political party. But taking credit or placing blame is a tricky exercise. These comments by Scott Minerd, which to my mind describe events this past winter that can be attributed to global warming, are a lesson not to be missed.

April 10, 2015
Commentary by Scott Minerd, Chairman of Investments and Global CIO, Guggenheim Partners

When Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election, campaign strategist James Carville’s now-famous explanation was, “It’s the economy, stupid!” To paraphrase a more polite version of Carville, I believe the punch line to why real first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth will thwart the consensus forecast of 1.4 percent is just as simple: “It’s the weather…!”

Severe weather conditions this winter have had a profound impact on economic activity in the United States. Based on our analysis of retail sales, industrial production, and government spending, I wouldn’t be surprised to see U.S. economic growth near zero or even negative in the first quarter. This out-of-consensus position is supported by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, which recently forecast 0.1 percent growth.

When you look at the data, the winter ravages in first quarter are clear. Consumer spending declined in December and January, and was basically flat in February, while nonfarm payrolls were up by just 126,000 in March—the smallest gain since December 2013. As a result of the harsh March weather, 216,000 people reported being unable to work, and over 560,000 people were forced to work part time. Retail data have also borne out the consumer’s frigidness this winter. In February, U.S. retail sales declined 0.2 percent, adding to declines in January and December, and making it the worst three-month performance for retail sales since 2009. Other hard-hit sectors of the economy include construction, where spending declined in both January and February, and manufacturing, with the March Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reading worse than the lows seen last winter.

Essentially, it appears we are having a replay of what happened in the first quarter of 2014, where winter weather distortions caused the economy to slow dramatically. This winter, the warning signs are even stronger, but there seems to be some cognitive dissonance among economists. A Bloomberg survey pegs consensus GDP estimates at 1.4 percent, for example. Besides the Atlanta Fed, I have not seen many forecasts approach zero. All this leads me to believe the market may not be anticipating the full impact of weather distortions on the U.S. economy. Investors’ shock at the true state of first-quarter GDP could easily send interest rates back to test the lows of January, or maybe even lower.

Rather than hit the panic button, investors should view a disappointing first-quarter GDP print as a short-term dislocation. Since 1975, a slowdown in first-quarter growth caused by winter weather has usually been followed by a significant bounce back in the second quarter. The underlying strength of the U.S. economy remains sound, so I expect a similar pattern will play out in the remainder of 2015. While noise around the economy could lead to increased volatility in equities and credit spreads, the bottom line is that weather-induced weakness may present long-term investors with an opportunity to increase their positions to risk assets at discounted prices.

America Will Lose Patience With European Appeasement

My Comments: It is much easier to imagine a future as an extension of the past as seen in our minds than to visualize a future with totally new and different dynamics. This is where I have a problem with leaders like Israel’s Netanyahu, with the likes of Rand Paul and others on the right.

They seem unwilling to recognize that the coming years will be dramatically different from those in the past and simply want to turn back the clock. You only need to look at the life of my grandparents as they grew up, married and had children in the late 1800’s and the lives their children lived in the 1920’s and ‘30s. Never mind my life in the 40’s and 50’s. The shifts in what they experienced as “normal” are almost like night and day as I look back.

The issues faced by my children and grandchildren to advance themselves in society will demand different skill sets, different rule sets, and a different mind set if they are going to be happy and productive citizens. The sooner we elect leaders who are sufficiently imaginative and willing to articulate this perspective, the more comfort I will have as my life ends.

( Some of you will note that I’ve been absent for a week or so. I’ve been trying to find a way to legitimately use this site to help promote my business activities without infringing on my ability to simply express ideas that I want to share. If any of you have any ideas about this, I’d like to hear from you. – TK )

Robert D Kaplan April 7, 2015

Why should Washington defend a continent that will not defend itself, writes Robert Kaplan

Appeasement is an age-old tactic of diplomacy. It can be a defensible one, but not as a frame of mind for an entire continent. Yet no word captures the general mood of Europe better than appeasement.

Europeans, it has been said, cherish freedom but do not want to sacrifice anything for it. Only about half a dozen of Nato’s 28 members spend 2 per cent of output on defence, the alliance’s guideline level. When Vladimir Putin’s Russia undermined the strategic state of Ukraine, they stood and watched.

This is of a piece with the EU’s inability to deal with its own economic difficulties. Whatever they may claim, each member follows its own national interest without asking what is best for Europe. Decades into the project, there is still no chill-up-your-spine loyalty to Europe. There is simply no larger purpose and nothing to fight for, other than providing for the good life under welfare state conditions.

Europe has been reduced over the decades to a regulatory regime. Yet a rules-based order, however much it protects the rights of the individual, is not a replacement for conviction: rather, it must evolve out of a healthy and determined national purpose. A supranational purpose might exists in Brussels but not on the European street.

Because of their anaemic sense of national purpose, European elites have in several countries ceded measurable ground to the far right or the far left, resulting in a lumpen and populist form of nationalism. Elites are often stranded in the middle, seeking ways to appease both Mr Putin and their own, homegrown extremists. Lumpen nationalism, defeatism and a latent anti-Semitism all flow together.

Europe’s elites are post-historical. Living in history means living in a world of constant threat where there is no nightwatchman to keep the peace among nations, so nations must keep the peace themselves by maintaining a balance of power. But for 70 years Europe has relied on the US to do exactly that: guarantee its security, so that Europe can spend relatively little on defence and relatively much on providing for the good life. Seventy years is much longer than the distance between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war; or between the end of that conflict and the outbreak of the first world war.
For 70 years Europe has relied on the US to guarantee its security, so it can spend less on defence and more on the good life.

This American security umbrella will not stay up for ever. Barack Obama’s alleged lack of resolve in dealing with Mr Putin may say less about the US president’s own foreign policy than about a gradual shift in US opinion. Why should America defend a continent that will not defend itself?

The last of America’s second world war veterans will soon be dead. The European-oriented elites that have influenced foreign and defence policy in Washington are gradually being replaced by bright young men and women — many of them the offspring of immigrants from Asia and Latin America — who bring with them different family histories and emotional priorities. This coincides with the security challenges and opportunities that America encounters outside Europe, particularly in Asia, where American allies are willing to maintain robust, deployable militaries.

Or take Israel, a country with which the American public has for more than half a century been stubbornly sympathetic, whatever its often-misguided politicians do to inconvenience US policy. This is (among other things) the result of Israel’s stiff national resolve and gutsy, demonstrated willingness to defend itself.

Gutsy is not a word one would use to describe Europe’s political class. And unless that changes, no US president will be as committed to Europe as his predecessors were during the cold war.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security

The Monetary Illusion

Global Nominal GDP Growth, as Measured in Dollars, Is Projected to Decline

global-growthMy Comments: It has been argued that Wall Street is corrupt and greedy and doing its best to create further income inequality in this country and across the globe. And that as a result, we should hold Wall Street accountable, send people to jail and reform the system. It’s suggested that only the Democrats can do this if they control Congress and the White House. I’m a liberal, and it’s not that simple.

Wall Street is playing the cards it has been dealt. I’ll agree they have done their level best to get good hands, but the responsibility for this falls on us as voters. If you want a more level playing field, you cannot avoid the voting booth. They say ignorance is bliss, but ignorance in this case will also be painful.

Until recently, during my 50 years as a marginally productive citizen in these United States, I’ve enjoyed an increasing standard of living. I feel that standard is now eroding, and by the time I’ve died, the prospects for my children and grandchildren will be less promising than were my prospects when I was their age. I’ll do my best for them, but I’m running out of time.

March 27, 2015 by Scott Minerd, Guggenheim Partners

The long-term consequences of global QE are likely to permanently impair living standards for generations to come while creating a false illusion of reviving prosperity.

A version of this article first appeared in the Financial Times.

As economic growth returns again to Europe and Japan, the prospect of a synchronous global expansion is taking hold. Or, then again, maybe not. In a recent research piece published by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, global economic growth, as measured in nominal U.S. dollars, is projected to decline in 2015 for the first time since 2009, the height of the financial crisis.

In fact, the prospect of improvement in economic growth is largely a monetary illusion. No one needs to explain how policymakers have made painfully little progress on the structural reforms necessary to increase global productive capacity and stimulate employment and demand. Lacking the political will necessary to address the issues, central bankers have been left to paper over the global malaise with reams of fiat currency.

With politicians lacking the willingness or ability to implement labor and tax reforms, monetary policy has perversely morphed into a new orthodoxy where even central bankers admittedly view it as their job to use their balance sheets as a tool to implement fiscal policy.

One argument is that if central banks were not created to execute fiscal policy, then why require them to maintain any capital at all? Capital is that which is held in reserve to absorb losses. If losses are to be anticipated, then a reasonable inference is that a certain expectation of risk must exist. Therefore, central banks must be expected to take on some risk for policy purposes, which implies a function beyond the creation of a monetary base to maintain price stability.

Global Nominal GDP Growth, as Measured in Dollars, Is Projected to Decline
With a surging U.S. dollar and growth remaining sluggish in much of the world, Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecasts that world output measured in dollars could fall in 2015 for the first time since the financial crisis. Over the past 34 years, this has happened just five times.

What kinds of risk are appropriate for a central bank? Well, the maintenance of a nation’s banking system would plainly be in scope, given the central bank’s role as lender of last resort. The defense of the currency as a store of value and medium of exchange is another appropriate risk. This was the apparent motivation of Mario Draghi, European Central Bank president, for his famous promise to defend the euro at all costs in the summer of 2012. The central bank balance sheet has proven a flexible tool limited in use only by the creativity of central bankers themselves.

In response to those who argue against the metamorphosis of monetary policy into fiscal policy, one need only point toward the impact of quantitative easing (QE) on interest rates. The depressed returns available on fixed-income securities, largely as a result of QE, are acting as a tax on investors, including individual savers, pension funds, and insurance companies.

Essentially, monetary authorities around the globe are levying a tax on investors and providing a subsidy to borrowers. Taxation and subsidies, as well as other wealth transfer payment schemes, have historically fallen within the realm of fiscal policy under the control of the electorate. Under the new monetary orthodoxy, the responsibility for critical aspects of fiscal policy has been surrendered into the hands of appointed officials who have been left to salvage their economies, often under the guise of pursuing monetary order.

The consequences of the new monetary orthodoxy are yet to be fully understood. For the time being, the latest rounds of QE should support continued U.S. dollar strength and limit increases in interest rates. Additionally, risk assets such as highyield debt and global equities should continue to perform strongly.

Rate Hike Rally

USA EconomyMy Comments: Interest rates and where they are going is a relatively hot topic. For those of you with savings accounts and Certificates of Deposit know, the returns you get are anemic at best. But if you need to borrow money for whatever reason, low interest rates are good. Since there is an expectation that interest rates will soon rise, people are scurrying to start projects now, before they start upward.

But when the Fed finally triggers an increase in the Fed funds rate, what will happen to the economy? Many thanks to Guggenheim Partners for these insights.

Commentary by Scott Minerd, February 26, 2015

In her testimony before Congress this week, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was keen to escape the bonds of nuance and innuendo the market attaches to Fed language. Her emphasis was clear—the Fed will raise the federal funds rate when economic data support the move, a decision I foresee taking place during its Sept. 16-17 meeting. In the meantime, the period before the Federal Reserve raises rates is historically a great time to invest.

Over the past six tightening periods since 1980, the S&P 500 has returned 23.5 percent on average in the nine months prior to the first rate increase. Assuming the next tightening cycle begins at the Fed’s meeting in September, the nine-month period this time around began in mid-December. Since that time, the S&P 500 is already up more than 7 percent. Currently, a number of indicators, including my favorite, the New York Stock Exchange Cumulative Advance/Decline Line, show that the stock market is improving and can sustain its upward momentum.

The period prior to a rate hike has also been a favorable environment for corporate credit. High-yield bonds and bank loans have outperformed investment-grade bonds on average by 4.0 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively, in the nine months leading up to the start of the last three tightening cycles. Even after the Fed begins to raise rates, tightening of monetary policy does not necessarily lead to an immediate widening of credit spreads. During four of the last five tightening cycles (1983, 1986, 1994 and 2004), default rates continued to fall for nearly the entire tightening period and ultimately ended lower than they were when the Fed started to tighten. In the past four instances where the Fed began raising rates following an extended period of monetary accommodation, high-yield spreads tightened on three occasions. On average, high-yield spreads tightened for nine months after the first Fed rate hike in a cycle.

All of this, combined with positive historical performance prior to past rate hikes, leads me to believe that a positive environment for U.S. equities and credit will continue between now and the first Fed rate hike. Even after the Fed commences on what I expect will be a slow and steady march of tightening, fundamentals can remain constructive, especially for high yield, for some time.

Economic Data Releases
U.S. Home Sales Slow While Prices Accelerate
• January existing home sales fell 4.9 percent, to an annualized pace of 4.82 million homes, a nine-month low.
• New home sales were largely unchanged in January, ticking down from 482,000 homes to 481,000. Sales in the Northeast region plunged 51.6 percent, likely reflecting poor weather.
• The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index showed a faster annual growth rate in December, rising to 4.46 percent year-over-year, the first acceleration in over a year.
• The FHFA House Price Index rose 0.8 percent in December, the largest gain since May 2013.
• The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index fell to 96.4 from 103.8 in February, but remained above 2014 levels despite the decline.
• Durable goods orders beat expectations in January, up 2.8 percent. Nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft rose for the first time since August.
• Initial jobless claims increased by 31,000 for the week ending Feb. 21, to 313,000.
• The Consumer Price Index fell into deflation in January, with prices down 0.1 percent from a year ago. However, core prices were stronger than expected, rising 0.2 percent from December and 1.6 percent year over year.

Continued Improvement in Euro Zone, China PMI Expands
• Economic activity strengthened in the euro zone in February according to the preliminary Purchasing Managers Indexes. Manufacturing ticked up to 51.1 from 51.0, and the services PMI rose to the highest since last July at 53.9.
• Euro zone economic confidence rose to 102.1 in February, the highest since last July.
• Germany’s manufacturing PMI was flat in the February preliminary reading, remaining in expansion at 50.9. The services PMI rose to a five-month high of 55.5.
• Germany’s IFO Business Climate Index inched up in February to 106.8 from 106.7. Expectations rose slightly while the current assessment fell.
• Germany’s GfK Consumer Confidence Index increased from 9.3 to 9.7 in the March survey, the highest since 2005.
• February preliminary PMIs in France were mixed, with manufacturing unexpectedly falling to 47.7 from 49.2 and services jumping to the highest since 2011 at 53.4.
• U.K. retail sales were weaker than expected in January, falling 0.3 percent. Sales excluding autos were down 0.7 percent.
• China’s HSBC manufacturing PMI rose back into expansion in February, up to 50.1 from 49.7.

Yellen’s problem with US felons

My Comments: We are a nation of approximately 316 million people, of which roughly 30% are “youth dependent” and 20% are “elderly dependent”. This leads me to assume that roughly half of us are capable of employment of some kind.

The next assumption is that if the employable number of people is about 158 million, and of those, 13 million have a criminal record, about 8% of the workforce has a red flag somewhere in the system.

Some of these people have limited education and work related skills. A common observation of prison populations is that few of them know how to walk and chew gum at the same time. That’s probably unfair, but I didn’t put them there.

All this means that if you are going to work toward keeping the level of unemployment down and limiting the amount of money thrown at people not now in the work force, we might be better off spending money on the development of employable skills and reducing the penalty for smoking pot. Unless you like building new prisons and make money by managing them.

Edward Luce | February 22, 2015

Some 13m Americans with a criminal record weigh on unemployment rate

When we think of crowded US prisons, we do not usually turn to economists — still less central bankers. Yet America’s steep rate of incarceration must be high on the list of what keeps Janet Yellen up at night.

Markets will be waiting to pounce on the US Federal Reserve chair’s slightest nuance in her congressional testimony this week. Will the central bank lift rates in June or September? The key to her thinking lies in the US labour force participation rate. If it improves, the Fed can keep rates at zero without fear of wage inflation. If it stays put, Ms Yellen may have to end the party far sooner.

Much has been made of the sharp fall in US unemployment in the past few months; it is now at just 5.7 per cent. But if the same number of Americans were active in the labour force today as at the start of the recession in 2007, the jobless rate would be almost 10 per cent. The labour force participation rate — the basis for calculating joblessness — has fallen to 62.8 per cent of adults today from a peak of 67.3 per in 2000.

Some of this fall is the result of changing demographics. The baby boomers are starting to retire. Some of it comes from the expansion of the US disability benefit, which pays millions more people to stay out of work than it used to.

What is often overlooked, however, is the starring role of the US criminal justice system. Critics of America’s willingness to hand out criminal records think of it as a social blight. It is also a crime against the economy. The numbers are staggering. At 2.3m, the US prison population is the highest in the world — close to the combined numbers of people locked up by China and Russia, and more than 10 times those of France, Germany and the UK combined. Think of it as a democratic gulag. It is almost double where it was in 1991. That means the US has millions more ex-convicts than it used to, the large majority of whom are routinely screened out by employers.

But the taint of a criminal past affects a far larger pool of people than felons, who number about 13m. Almost one in three adult Americans, about 75m people, are included on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal database. Details for roughly half those names are incomplete. To enter the FBI’s list, you need not have been convicted in a court — merely arrested at one time or another.

Most employers carry out background searches on job applicants and screen out those with criminal records. Among those whose applications would instantly be deleted is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, because of a 1977 arrest for a traffic violation. So too would that of George Clooney. He was arrested in 2012 for demonstrating outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington.

During the 1990s the US achieved close to full employment. This coincided with a shift to zero tolerance policing. About half of US states still have a “three strikes and you’re out” automatic jailing rule. But for most employers one strike is enough — and there is a good chance it was misreported. Persuading the FBI to expurgate your record, or amend it, is virtually impossible. That bouncing cheque that you wrote to your landlord in 1997 will probably show up as a “misdemeanour” until your dying day. Names are kept on the FBI’s database for 110 years. Among the
millions defined by labour statistics as “discouraged”, or who have stopped looking for work altogether, a high share had their discouragement thrust upon them.

What can Ms Yellen do about it? Not much directly. A year ago she tried to highlight the stigma of long-term unemployment — employers’ reluctance to hire people who had been out of work a long time. Two of those she cited had criminal records. She was pilloried for having failed to disclose that detail — yet her examples were on the money. She could also demand that questions about criminal records be included in the monthly labour force survey, and in surveys of employer attitudes. The US government gathers a lot of detail about households. It should add criminal records to its questionnaires.

She ought also to give a pat on the back to the Ban the Box movement, which persuades employers to remove questions about criminal records from screening forms. The information is disclosed at a later stage in the interview process, by which time companies are likelier to see your plus points. Ban the Box has been adopted by a few big companies, including Walmart, the retailer, which last week announced it would raise hourly wages. Ms Yellen should also give a thumbs up to the Redeem Act — a bill sponsored by Cory Booker, the Democratic senator, and Rand Paul, the Republican senator. The law would allow Americans to expunge non-violent crimes from the records. She might also try to shame the FBI into maintaining accurate data.

None of these steps alone would expand the US labour market in time to alter the Fed’s calculations. But together they would help lower a big structural barrier to US growth. Ending the three strikes rule would have a more lasting impact. It would also make America fairer. Ms Yellen has the biggest economic bully pulpit in the world. She should spell out the hidden costs of America’s tendency to criminalise.