Baum on Money: Outsourcing Obamacare

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Good morning. For those of you in the U.S., enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow. I'll see you again on Monday. Now for today's morning reading.

Why didn't Obama outsource the heathcare website?

Wait, he did. It was news to me and news to many of my colleagues, so I thought I'd share it with you. Fox News' Jim Angle reported on Monday that private companies are offering the same options, same prices and same subsidies as The Obama administration has apparently signed contracts with seven companies, including and EHealth, to supplement the government site. I understand that the administration wanted to demonstrate that the government could revamp one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and do it right. But with Obama's signature legislative achievement losing supporters by the day, you'd think the president would be indifferent on how people sign up as long as they sign up.

Bundesbank discovers constraints of monetary union

This just in: It's harder for countries in a monetary union to adjust their current account imbalances. And here I thought that was a given! I guess not. The Wall Street Journal's Brian Blackstone fills us in on the conclusions of a new Bundesbank paper. Some nuggets: "The exchange rate regime does indeed matter for the pace of current account adjustment." Indeed. And this: "We cannot rule out the possibility that a delayed adjustment process might lead to a balance of payments crisis with a sudden and disorderly current account adjustment in euro-area member countries." At least we won't be surprised if and when it happens.

Finally a substitute for the "new normal"

"Secular stagnation" is the new normal; at least it's a substitute for the trite, overused phrase brought to us by the folks at Pimco. Larry Summers is using secular stagnation to describe the macroeconomic failure in developed nations. So is Paul Krugman. HSBC economist Stephen King finds some flaws in Summers' claim that the current stagnation is due to insufficient aggregate demand (demand is only insufficient at a given price.) Instead, "developed economies no longer offer the supply dynamism of old," King writes in the Financial Times. Whatever the cause, escaping from it is difficult. Just ask Japan about its lost decade.

Consumers are glum about the present and the future

It looks as if the government shutdown in October wasn't solely responsible for the dive in consumer confidence last month. The Conference Board reported a further decline in November in both the present situation and expectations indexes. The survey showed a great deal of pessimism about the labor market. Only 12.7 percent of respondents expected more jobs in the months ahead, the lowest reading in two years. "All in all, with such uncertainty prevailing, this could be a challenging holiday season for retailers," says the Conference Board's Lynn Franco. Something to remember when you see folks lined up in the pre-dawn hours to snag holiday bargains.

Papal economics

Pope Francis isn't a fan of trickle-down economics, one of the many populist views he expressed in a 50,000 word papal statement, according to the Washington Post. The Pope said the facts don't support the idea that "economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world," according to the Post. I kind of doubt the Pope's economic ideas will prompt a challenge from supply-siders, for whom tax cuts are the cure to whatever ails us.

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