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Mechanisms, not numbers

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The NIESR claims that Johnson’s Brexit deal “would ultimately lead the UK economy to be about 3.5% smaller than it would have been had the UK remained in the EU.” Reaction to this, I fear, highlights an important way in which the media and public misunderstand economics. They pay too much attention to numbers (and seek a spurious precision in them) and too little to mechanisms.

To see what I mean, consider the NIESR’s reasoning. This starts from the fact that leaving the EU’s single market will throw a little sand into the wheels of trade by imposing trade barriers – “not the classic barriers of tariffs, but the insidious ones of differing national standards, various restrictions on the provision of services, exclusion of foreign firms from public contracts.” (I’m quoting Lady Thatcher, who called the single market “a fantastic prospect for our industry and commerce.”) A few days ago, Dominic Raab and Priti Patel claimed that Johnson’s deal was great for Northern Ireland because it gave the region “frictionless trade” with the EU. But if frictionless trade is good for them, its absence must be bad for us.

Now, you might object that these barriers will be small – and they will initially given that we start from the same regulations and product standards. But this is where another mechanism becomes absolutely crucial. My chart hints at what this is. It plots annual growth in world trade (as measured by the CPB) against UK GDP per worker-hour: the data starts in 1997 as this is when monthly GDP data begins. It’s obvious that there’s a strong correlation between the two.

Of course, a big reason for this is that the same things drive both, such as fluctuations in credit conditions, animal spirits and aggregate demand. But this is not the whole story. We’ve strong reasons to think that world trade drives productivity. One reason for this was pointed out in the first lines of the first book on modern economics. “The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour” wrote Adam Smith “seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.” Greater world trade means greater division of labour and hence more efficiency. Also, freer trade encourages exporting firms to expand, which raises productivity as workers shift to these better firms. And then there’s the fact that more trade increases competition which spurs firms to raise efficiency and innovate. There’s also a knowledge diffusion channel; if managers visit suppliers and customers overseas, they should learn from them ways of increasing efficiency. As Danny Blanchflower says, you can learn a lot just by walking around.

These mechanisms are crucial. Over the long-run, they act as a multiplier. They cause apparently small barriers to trade to lead to significant losses of income because less trade means less productivity.

But we don’t know precisely how powerful these mechanisms are. Yes, fact and theory tell us their direction: the natural experiment of dividing Korea proves that openness creates prosperity. But their magnitude is uncertain; this is why the NIESR's estimate differs from that of the UK in a Changing Europe (pdf).

In fact, there’s another uncertainty. We don’t know what future trading arrangements will be. Brexiters claim the frictions in trading with the EU will be minimized by a deep free trade agreement, and compensated for by freer trade elsewhere. Many, though, are sceptical of this: as the old saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Even 10% rises in goods exports to China or Japan would not compensate for a mere 1% loss of exports to the EU – and 10% is perhaps an optimistic estimate of what free trade deals typically achieve.

For these reasons, Julian Jessop is right to say there are big uncertainties around the NIESR’s estimate. This does NOT, however, justify philistine sniping at economists: “what do they know, ner, ner?” Instead, it directs our attention to the main issues: how strong is the link between trade and productivity? How likely are we to get meaningful trade deals? And what would these do to actually boost trade? It is possible to have a rational, intelligent debate about these issues – not that we’ll get one on the BBC.

Julian says these uncertainties cause him to “give little weight to long-term forecasts.” Some of us, however, draw the opposite inference: what is the point of introducing such uncertainties into the economy when there was no pressing need to do so?



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Economy

The Basics: Anarchy and Public Goods, by Pierre Lemieux

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Should Socrates have drunk the hemlock or was Antigone right to claim that one may morally disobey political authority? What is the state for? The economic concept of “public good” is central to answering these questions in economics and political philosophy. Here’s a short introduction—with some further questions.

A public good (sometimes called “collective good”) is something for which all members of a group are willing to pay some price, something that they will all be able to consume simultaneously, and for which it is impossible (or too costly) to charge a price to consumers. Think about fireworks over a city or national defense. Whether or not the state is required for the production of public goods is what makes James Buchanan a limited-government (classical) liberal and Anthony de Jasay an anarchist (even if other considerations such as the effects of political competition play a role).

The theory of public goods as today’s economists understand it was elaborated by Paul Samuelson in two articles of the Review of Economics and Statistics: a mathematical exposition in “The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure” (Novembre 1954), and a graphical and less technical presentation in “Diagrammatic Exposition of a Theory of Public Expenditure” (November 1955).

A public good can also be viewed as something that transmits positive externalities to all individuals in a group. An Econlib article by Bryan Caplan provides a good and short explanation of the concept of externalities. Although externalities and public goods are often thought as distinct concepts, their overlap has been noticed in the economic literature—from identifying “public good externalities” as a category of externalities (Francis M. Bator, “The Anatomy of Market Failure,” Quarterly Journal of Economics [1958]), to noting that, between the two concepts, “there are no purely formal differences as far as necessary and sufficient conditions for top-level optimality are concerned” (E.J. Mishan, Introduction to Normative Economics, Oxford University Press, 1981). A public good exists, then, when its production for the benefit of paying customers automatically creates positive externalities for all those who do not pay.

Externalities are a more complex concept than many imagine. As noted by Mishan, they extend to the mere “an awareness of what is happening to others.” You transmit a negative externality to me if you privately do (or even just think about) something I don’t like being done (or thought about). This follows from the definition of externalities combined with the subjectivity of individual preferences. In a sense, public goods are a simpler concept than externalities because, by definition, they are unanimously liked. They are also more difficult to find.

Yet, there is little doubt that public goods exist, but the question is whether they exist for a group defined over a country, that is, for everybody in the group occupying a large territory dominated by a central state. Most if not all public goods are “public” only for a specific subgroup of society.

Are there public goods that justify the domination of a (central) state over a (wide) territory? De Jasay answers negatively. For Buchanan the answer is positive: individuals contract (implicitely) to form a country because there are some public goods such as national defense that they want.

Many questions remain. Buchanan uses a less technical or a priori concept of public goods that makes their existence depend on the definition of property rights in the social contract. Does not this open a Pandora box? What have the participants in the implicit social contract really “signed”? How can the state, if it is necessary, be limited? On de Jasay’s side, how can anarchy maintain something resembling a free society with formal individual rights and the rule of law?

Of course, other anarchist and liberal theorists exist. I am focussion on de Jasay and Buchanan because their theories are especially interesting and because they show the central place of public goods.

Can we avoid choosing between de Jasay and Buchanan by rejecting the relevance of public goods in social theory and framing the social problem in terms of coordination by evolved rules? This is the approach of David Hume, the Scottish Enlightenment, and Friedrich Hayek. But it is not sure that this third way provides an escape. De Jasay claims to be following Hume. And Buchanan suggests that “evolutionary and contractarian explanations can be complements rather than substitutes” (Economics and Philosophy 4 [1988]).

De Jasay and Buchanan share many ideas. They are both methodological individualists, that is, they study society starting from the positive positive observation of individual preferences and choices. Normatively, they believe that no economic or moral value exists outside the preferences of individuals.

In a sense, both de Jasay and Buchanan believe that anarchy is the ideal. De Jasay is not sure that an anarchic society could avoid being taken over by a foreign state. Buchanan sees the liberal contractarian state as protecting “ordered anarchy.” He echoes French philosopher Raymond Ruyer, who, in his 1969 book Éloge de la société de consommation (“In Praise of Consumer Society”), wrote that “real anarchism, feasible and realized … is simply the [classical] liberal economy.” In the same vein, another French classical liberal, Émile Faguet, wrote that “an anarchist is an uncompromising liberal” (Politiques et moralistes du dix-neuvième siècle [“Nineteenth-Century Politicians and Moralists”], 1891).

This suggests another approach to avoiding a definitive choice between de Jasay and Buchanan: the closer we can get to anarchy, the better; if we can’t get the real thing and the state is necessary, it is to produce or finance the few public goods (narrowly defined) that would go unproduced or seriously underproduced under anarchy. In this perspective, paradoxically, the humble role of the state is to maintain and protect as much anarchy as possible.

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Economy

America’s Arms Sales Addiction

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It’s no secret that Donald Trump is one of the most aggressive arms salesmen in history. How do we know? Because he tells us so at every conceivable opportunity. It started with his much exaggerated “$110 billion arms deal” with Saudi Arabia, announced on his first foreign trip as president. It continued with his White House photo op with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which he brandished a map with a state-by-state rundown of American jobs supposedly tied to arms sales to the kingdom. And it’s never ended. In these years in office, in fact, the president has been a staunch advocate for his good friends at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics — the main corporate beneficiaries of the US-Saudi arms trade (unlike the thousands of American soldiers the president recently sent into that country’s desert landscapes to defend its oil facilities).

All the American arms sales to the Middle East have had a severe and lasting set of consequences in the region in, as a start, the brutal Saudi/United Arab Emirates war in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians via air strikes using US weaponry and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine. And don’t forget the recent Turkish invasion of Syria in which both the Turkish forces and the Kurdish-led militias they attacked relied heavily on US-supplied weaponry.

Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that he cares far more about making deals for that weaponry than who uses any of it against whom. It’s important to note, however, that, historically speaking, he’s been anything but unique in his obsession with promoting such weapons exports (though he is uniquely loud about doing so).

Despite its supposedly strained relationship with the Saudi regime, the Obama administration, for example, still managed to offer the royals of that kingdom a record $136 billion in US weapons between 2009 and 2017. Not all of those offers resulted in final sales, but striking numbers did. Items sold included Boeing F-15 combat aircraft and Apache attack helicopters, General Dynamics M-1 tanks, Raytheon precision-guided bombs, and Lockheed Martin bombs, combat ships, and missile defense systems. Many of those weapons have since been put to use in the war in Yemen.

To its credit, the Obama administration did at least have an internal debate on the wisdom of continuing such a trade. In December 2016, late in his second term, the president finally did suspend the sale of precision-guided bombs to the Royal Saudi Air Force due to a mounting toll of Yemeni civilian deaths in US-supplied Saudi air strikes. This was, however, truly late in the game, given that the Saudi regime first intervened in Yemen in March 2015 and the slaughter of civilians began soon after that.

By then, of course, Washington’s dominance of the Mideast arms trade was taken for granted, despite an occasional large British or French deal like the scandal-plagued Al Yamamah sale of fighter planes and other equipment to the Saudis, the largest arms deal in the history of the United Kingdom. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 2014 to 2018 the United States accounted for more than 54% of known arms deliveries to the Middle East. Russia lagged far behind with a 9.5% share of the trade, followed by France (8.6%), England (7.2%), and Germany (4.6%). China, often cited as a possible substitute supplier, should the US ever decide to stop arming repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, came in at less than 1%.

The US government’s stated rationales for pouring arms into that ever-more-embattled region include: building partnerships with countries theoretically willing to fight alongside US forces in a crisis; swapping arms for access to military bases in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Persian Gulf states; creating “stability” by building up allied militaries to be stronger than those of potential adversaries like Iran; and generating revenue for US weapons contractors, as well as jobs for American workers. Of course, such sales have indeed benefited those contractors and secured access to bases in the region, but when it comes to promoting stability and security, historically it’s been another story entirely.

The Nixon Doctrine and the Initial Surge in Mideast Arms Sales

Washington’s role as the Middle East’s top arms supplier has its roots in remarks made by Richard Nixon half a century ago on the island of Guam. It was the Vietnam War era and the president was on his way to South Vietnam. Casualties there were mounting rapidly with no clear end to the conflict in sight. During that stopover in Guam, Nixon assured reporters accompanying him that it was high time to end the practice of sending large numbers of US troops to overseas battlefields. To “avoid another war like Vietnam anywhere in the world,” he was instead putting a new policy in place, later described by a Pentagon official as “sending arms instead of sending troops.”

The core of what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine was the arming of regional surrogates, countries with sympathetic rulers or governments that could promote US interests without major contingents of the American military being on hand. Of such potential surrogates at that moment, the most important was the Shah of Iran, with whom a CIA-British intelligence coup replaced a civilian government back in 1953 and who proved to have an insatiable appetite for top-of-the-line US weaponry.

The Shah’s idea of a good time was curling up with the latest copy of Aviation Week and Space Technology and perusing glossy photos of combat planes. Egged on by the Nixon administration, his was the first and only country to buy the costly Grumman F-14 combat aircraft at a time when that company desperately needed foreign sales to bolster the program. And the Shah put his US-supplied weapons to use, too, helping, for instance, to put down an anti-government uprising in nearby Oman (a short skip across the Persian Gulf), while repressing his own population at the same time.

In the Nixon years, Saudi Arabia, too, became a major weapons client of Washington, not so much because it feared its regional neighbors then, but because it had seemingly limitless oil funds to subsidize US weapons makers at a time when the Pentagon budget was beginning to be reduced. In addition, Saudi sales helped recoup some of the revenue streaming out of the US to pay for higher energy prices exacted by the newly formed OPEC oil cartel. It was a process then quaintly known as “recycling petrodollars.”

The Carter Years and the Quest for Restraint

The freewheeling arms trade of the Nixon years eventually prompted a backlash. In 1976, for the first (and last) time, a presidential candidate — Jimmy Carter — made reining in the arms trade a central theme of his 1976 campaign for the White House. He called for imposing greater human-rights scrutiny on arms exports, reducing the total volume of arms transfers, and initiating talks with the Soviet Union on curbing sales to regions of tension like the Middle East.

Meanwhile, members of Congress, led by Democratic Senators Gaylord Nelson and Hubert Humphrey, felt that it was long past time for Capitol Hill to have a role in decision-making when it came to weapons sales. Too often Congressional representatives found out about major deals only by reading news reports in the papers long after such matters had been settled. Among the major concerns driving their actions: the Nixon-era surge of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, then still an avowed adversary of Israel; the use of US-supplied weapons by both sides in the Greek-Turkish conflict over the island of Cyprus; and covert sales to extremist right-wing forces in southern Africa, notably the South African-backed Union for the Total Independence of Angola. The answer was the passage of the Arms Export Control Act of 1978, which required that Congress be notified of any major sales in advance and asserted that it had the power to veto any of them viewed as dangerous or unnecessary.

As it happened, though, neither President Carter’s initiative nor the new legislation put a significant dent in such arms trafficking. In the end, for instance, Carter decided to exempt the Shah’s Iran from serious human-rights strictures and his hardline national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, undercut those talks with the Soviet Union on reducing arms sales.

Carter also wanted to get the new Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) he established — which eventually morphed into the U.S. Central Command — access to military bases in the Persian Gulf region and was willing to use arms deals to do so. The RDF was to be the centerpiece of the Carter Doctrine, a response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Shah of Iran. As the president made clear in his 1980 State of the Union address: “An attempt by any outside forces to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States. It will be repelled by use of any means necessary, including the use of force.” Selling arms in the region would prove a central pillar of his new doctrine.

Meanwhile, most major sales continued to sail through Congress with barely a discouraging word.

Who Armed Saddam Hussein?

While the volume of those arms sales didn’t spike dramatically under President Ronald Reagan, his determination to weaponize anti-communist “freedom fighters” from Afghanistan to Nicaragua sparked the Iran-Contra scandal. At its heart lay a bizarre and elaborate covert effort led by National Security Council staff member Oliver North and a band of shadowy middlemen to supply US weapons to the hostile regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. The hope was to gain Tehran’s help in freeing US hostages in Lebanon. North and company then used the proceeds from those sales to arm anti-government Contra rebels in Nicaragua in violation of an explicit Congressional ban on such aid.

Worse yet, the Reagan administration transferred arms and provided training to extremist mujahedeen factions in Afghanistan, acts which would, in the end, help arm groups and individuals that later formed al-Qaeda (and similar groups). That would, of course, prove a colossal example of the kind of blowback that unrestricted arms trading too often generates.

Even as the exposure of North’s operation highlighted US arms transfers to Iran, the Reagan administration and the following one of President George H.W. Bush would directly and indirectly supply nearly half a billion dollars worth of arms and arms-making technology to Iran’s sworn enemy, Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein. Those arms would bolster Saddam’s regime both in its war with Iran in the 1980s and in its 1991 invasion of Kuwait that led to Washington’s first Gulf War. The US was admittedly hardly alone in fueling the buildup of the Iraqi military. All five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the US, the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom, and China) provided weapons or weapons technology to that country in the run-up to its intervention in Kuwait.

The embarrassment and public criticism generated by the revelation that the US and other major suppliers had helped arm the Iraqi military created a new opening for restraint. Leaders in the US, Great Britain, and other arms-trading nations pledged to do better in the future by increasing information about and scrutiny of their sales to the region. This resulted in two main initiatives: the United Nations arms trade register, where member states were urged to voluntarily report their arms imports and exports, and talks among those five Security Council members (the largest suppliers of weapons to the Middle East) on limiting arms sales to the region.

However, the P-5 talks, as they were called, quickly fell apart when China decided to sell a medium-range missile system to Saudi Arabia and President Bill Clinton’s administration began making new regional weapons deals at a pace of more than $1 billion per month while negotiations were underway. The other suppliers concluded that the Clinton arms surge violated the spirit of the talks, which soon collapsed, leading in the presidency of George W. Bush to a whole new Iraqi debacle.

The most important series of arms deals during the George W. Bush years involved the training and equipping of the Iraqi military in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But $25 billion in US arms and training was not enough to create a force capable of defeating the modestly armed militants of ISIS, when they swept into northern Iraq in 2014 and captured large swaths of territory and major cities, including Mosul. Iraqi security forces, short on food and equipment due to corruption and incompetence, were also short on morale, and in some cases virtually abandoned their posts (and US weaponry ) in the face of those ISIS attacks.

The Addiction Continues

Donald Trump has carried on the practice of offering weaponry in quantity to allies in the Middle East, especially the Saudis, though his major rationale for the deals is to generate domestic jobs and revenues for the major weapons contractors. In fact, investing money and effort in almost anything else, from infrastructure to renewable energy technologies, would produce more jobs in the US. No matter though, the beat just goes on.

One notable development of the Trump years has been a revived Congressional interest in curbing weapons sales, with a particular focus on ending support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. (Watching Turkish and Kurdish forces face off, each armed in a major way by the US, should certainly add to that desire.) Under the leadership of Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA), Congress has voted to block bomb sales and other forms of military support for Saudi Arabia, only to have their efforts vetoed by President Trump, that country’s main protector in Washington. Still, congressional action on Saudi sales has been unprecedented in its persistence and scope. It may yet prevail, if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020. After all, every one of the major presidential contenders has pledged to end arms sales that support the Saudi war effort in Yemen.

Such deals with Saudi Arabia and other Mideast states may be hugely popular with the companies that profit from the trade, but the vast majority of Americans oppose runaway arms trading on the sensible grounds that it makes the world less safe. The question now is: Will Congress play a greater role in attempting to block such weapons deals with the Saudis and human-rights abusers or will America’s weapons-sales addiction and its monopoly position in the Middle Eastern arms trade simply continue, setting the stage for future disasters of every sort?

Originally published at TomDispatch.com.



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Economy

Newsletter: Sex, Drugs and GDP

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This is the web version of the WSJ’s newsletter on the economy. You can sign up for daily delivery here.

It’s jobs day! We’ll have a special edition of our newsletter following the November jobs report. First, here’s a quick dive into key developments across the global economy.

Gross, Domestic Product

When the U.S. calculates its gross domestic product, it only includes things that are legal. But if the wares of drug dealers, pimps, bookies and other black-market denizens were included, GDP would expand measurably, Jo Craven McGinty writes.

  • Canada has found that accounting for illicit sales of cannabis alone would add around 0.4% to its GDP. The U.K. has estimated that prostitution and illegal drugs represent around 0.4% of its GDP. And in the U.S., Rachel Soloveichik, a research economist with the Bureau of Economic Analysis, has estimated that in 2017, illegal activities would have added more than 1% to GDP.
  • As a percentage, the amount would represent a larger portion of U.S. GDP than agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.

WHAT TO WATCH TODAY

U.S. nonfarm payrolls for November are expected to increase by 187,000 from the prior month and the unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 3.6%. (8:30 a.m. ET)

The University of Michigan’s preliminary consumer sentiment index for December is expected to tick down to 96.5 from 96.8 at the end of November. (10 a.m. ET)

U.S. wholesale inventories for October are expected to rise by 0.2% from the prior month. (10 a.m. ET)

The Philadelphia Fed’s Patrick Harker gives opening remarks at a forum on the evolving credit economy at 10:15 a.m. ET.

The Baker Hughes rig count is out at 1 p.m. ET.

U.S. consumer credit is out at 3 p.m. ET.

TOP STORIES

Work It

The Labor Department releases the November jobs report at 8:30 a.m. ET, offering a view of the U.S. economy’s health as the year winds down. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect employers added 187,000 jobs and a 3.6% unemployment rate—signs of a steady-to-strong labor market. What to watch: Look to see if manufacturing employment bounces back after striking General Motors employees returned to work. And follow wages, participation and the employment-to-population ratio to see how tight the labor market is getting. Labor-force participation among those in their prime working years—between the ages of 25 and 54—reached a 10-year high in October. How many more will come off the sidelines? A large pool of people ready to work may be one factor holding down wage gains.

Trade Deadline

American firms bought fewer Chinese-made consumer goods in October in the wake of new U.S. import tariffs. That helped narrow the overall trade deficit: The foreign-trade gap in October goods and services contracted 7.6% from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted $47.20 billion, the Commerce Department said. The U.S. on Sept. 1 imposed new tariffs on about $111 billion in Chinese products, including for the first time some consumer goods. U.S. firms ramped up imports ahead of the tariffs, followed by a big dropoff in October. In total, the U.S. now has tariffs on about $360 billion of Chinese imports and is scheduled to add 15% tariffs on another $165 billion or so of goods on Dec. 15, unless the two sides strike a deal, Harriet Torry and Joshua Zumbrun report.

Sign of progress? China’s State Council has started the process to exempt some U.S.-imported soybeans and pork from punitive tariffs, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said on Friday. The waiver comes amid increased tension between the world’s two largest economies over human-rights issues in China. On Thursday, Beijing said trade talks remain on track, though during the past few days U.S. officials have become less optimistic about a deal. One hangup: the value of U.S. farm goods Beijing would buy.

Healthy Spending

More Americans are going without health coverage and the pace of spending on health care nationally is rising. A federal report from actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showed national health-care spending rose to $3.65 trillion in 2018, up 4.6% from 2017. While the overall acceleration in national health-care spending wasn’t that large relative to other years, an Affordable Care Act tax accounts for most of the increase, according to the report. The tax, an annual fee on all health insurers, is among several imposed under the law to cover its estimated 10-year cost of more than $1 trillion, Stephanie Armour reports.

Germany Shifts into Reverse, France Grinds to a Halt

German industrial production fell more than expected in October. The Federal Statistics Office said Friday that total industrial output—across manufacturing, energy and construction—fell 1.7% in October from September. Year over year, industrial production was down by 5.3%. “Today’s data suggests that the German economy is continuing to flirt with stagnation and contraction in the final quarter of the year,” said ING economist Carsten Brzeski.

Cities across France were paralyzed by a massive public transport strike against a planned overhaul of France’s pensions system, in a test of President Emmanuel Macron’s resolve to modernize the economy. Trains, subways and buses were severely curtailed, hundreds of flights were canceled, many schools closed, and several museums said parts of their collections might not open. About 806,000 protesters hit the streets across the country, according to the French interior ministry. Unions warned the strike could last days and become one of the biggest in France in over two decades, Noemie Bisserbe reports.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING

Administrative assistant jobs helped propel many women into the middle class. Now they are disappearing. “The U.S. unemployment rate is 3.6%, a half-century low, and there are more job openings than unemployed Americans. Technology has created more positions than it has destroyed, economists say. But although the nation is likely to have many jobs for years to come, it’s less clear whether they will be well-paid jobs. On the presidential campaign trail, the conversation has focused mainly on the plight of workers losing manufacturing jobs (and potentially truck driving jobs) to automation or trade. Most of those workers are male. Almost no attention has been paid to the upheaval that women in administrative positions are facing,” Heather Long writes in the Washington Post.

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