Baum on Money: Tallying Conspicuous Consumption

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Good morning, all. I hope you can aren't too tired from your Black Friday bargain-hunting to start the week with a look at what I'm reading:

An array of metrics on conspicuous consumption weekend

And they're off! The National Retail Federation estimates that 141 million unique shoppers "have already or will have shopped by the end of the big Thanksgiving weekend," 2 million more than last year. Each shopper spent a "planned" $407.02 on average this year, compared with $423.55 last year. (Now there's a number you can take to the bank!) For the entire weekend, the trade group estimates that sales fell 2.7 percent from last year to $57.4 billion. One quarter of the estimated shoppers were at the stores by 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Heck, why wait until Thanksgiving next year? Why not start Black Friday promotions on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Maybe call it super-duper Sunday. Or maybe the Friday before Black Friday. Or maybe...

A transatlantic comparison of labor mobility

Three IMF economists take a look at labor mobility in the U.S. and European Union before and after the Great Recession. The lack of labor mobility in Europe to absorb shocks was a concern two decades ago in the planning stages for a single currency union. Traditionally labor mobility wasn't a problem in the U.S. because there was no language barrier to prevent Vermont residents from following jobs to North Dakota. Recently the trend has shifted, with labor mobility increasing in Europe and declining in the U.S. The authors don't say, but the U.S. decline may have something to do with the housing bust, which left many households tied down by a home that was worth less than the mortgage.

Big improvement in healthcare portal, still more to do

The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff calls it "Vast Majority Sunday," the day on which the White House promised that would be working for the vast majority of users. The government defined vast majority as 80 percent of users, a metric that is hard to verify, Kliff says. The Department of Health and Human Services published a progress report yesterday with charts and graphs on response times on the website, etc. Until the system can verify users' identities, transit correct data to insurers and process payments, it's too early to declare victory.

Deadline approaching for resolution to budget talks

We haven't heard much in recent weeks about the House-Senate conference committee assigned to produce a budget agreement by Dec. 13. The only story I saw -- verified by a Google search -- in recent weeks was something in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. "Officials close to the talks say the building blocks for a deal have come into view -- if only because some of the most controversial issues have been taken off the table," the Journal's Janet Hook writes. What to expect? A "narrow agreement" consisting of no significant tax increases and no major changes in entitlement programs. Narrow indeed. Budget negotiators will probably replace the automatic cuts to discretionary spending (sequestration) with user fees and things like that. They need to step on it because both houses of Congress are only in session concurrently for four days -- Dec. 10-13 -- before the deadline.

Greg Mankiw gives Pope Francis a lesson in economics

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw responds to the Pope's comments last week that there's no proof trickle-down economics works. For starters, Mankiw explains to the Pontiff that "trickle-down" is not a theory but "a pejorative term used by those on the left to describe a viewpoint they oppose." Second, free-market capitalism has been a driver of economic growth and as such, a route to a moral society. Third, Mankiw wonders why the Pope didn't address the tax-exempt status of the church. "Maybe he thinks the tax benefits the church receives do some good when they trickle down," Mankiw says. If Pope Francis ever swings through Cambridge, he might want to sit in on Mankiw's "Ec 10" class.

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