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Posted at 6:43 AM ET, 01/31/2011

Wonkbook: Egypt and the economy

By Ezra Klein

egyptprotests.jpg

The remarkable uprising in Egypt is beyond Wonkbook's purview. But its roots in the country's recent economic performance and its likely impact on the global economy is not, and so that's the focus of today's top stories.

But there's a general point worth making, too: The chaos in Egypt is the sort of black swan that can roil markets, but that investors aren't very good at building into their models. And we're particularly vulnerable to such interruptions now: The current moment of economic healing is, at least in part, an extended attempt to convince businesses and consumers that the turmoil of the past few years is over and that it's once again safe to invest, spend, hire and plan. Dramatic reminders that events can turn very quickly (and, in particular, that oil prices can turn very quickly), derailing recovery and leaving those who bet on sustained growth holding the bag for the new workers or plants or car they just bought, do not help convince economic participants that they can trust in normalcy again. Rather, they strengthen that little voice that says, "maybe I should wait a couple more months to see how this shakes out." That little voice is, in large part, why the economy isn't adding more jobs.

The potential upside is that if the market weathers Egypt easily, it might convince businesses and investors that resiliency has returned to the world economy, and they can act with more confidence. In recent years, the global economy has been uncommonly fragile, forcing investors to fret over risks that markets could previously have handled. If the reaction to Egypt is relatively calm, it might be a signal that the recovery isn't so fragile at this point, which might in turn get people worried about jumping into the economy too late, as opposed to too early.

Egypt

The protests in Egypt could have major global economic ramifications, report Chip Cummins and Sudeep Reddy: "The turmoil in Egypt is reverberating around the world, battering stock markets, driving up oil prices and raising questions about whether the rising cost of crude could slow the global economy...The Egyptian economy is relatively small, with total output of just about $217 billion last year. But the nation carries outsize importance as home to the Suez Canal, a key shipping route for oil and other products between the Red Sea and Mediterranean...Canal traffic has continued unhindered through the protests. But if the violence in Egypt spreads to its oil-producing neighbors, crude prices will likely top $100 a barrel, which would damp an economic recovery gaining momentum in many countries."

The Egyptian middle class is feeling the brunt of the protests' economic impact: http://wapo.st/hRVmLZ

Egypt's economic isolation contributed to the current unrest, writes Zachary Karabell: "The mass movement engulfing Egypt exposes a fact that has been hiding in plain sight: In a decade during which China has brought more people out of poverty at a faster rate than ever in human history, in a period of time where economic reform has been sweeping the world from Brazil to Indonesia, Egypt has missed out. A decade ago, IBM ran a series of commercials featuring its global reach. One included a fisherman sailing on the Nile, tapping into a wireless network. It was an enticing image--and almost completely fictional. Few countries have been less integrated into the global economy. The country ranks 137 in the world in per-capita income (just behind Tonga and ahead of Kirbati), with a population in the top 20."

Stocks in Asia are plummeting over concerns about the uprising: http://wapo.st/gcm1xA

The protests are throwing the domestic Egyptian economy into disarray, report Nicholas Kulish and Souad Mekhennet: "An army tank stands guard at the port of Alexandria to make sure no one gets in. The bigger problem is that next to nothing is going out. For four days now, containers arriving on ships have been stacking up at Egypt’s largest port, shipping company employees and truck drivers here said. With distribution networks barely functioning and the Internet down since Thursday night, much of business in Egypt has nearly ground to a halt...'A big part of the production system is government-run, and this is frozen, including many of the bakeries making the subsidized bread,' said Hoda Youssef, an economist at the Arab Forum for Alternatives, an independent think tank, and a lecturer at Cairo University."

Oil prices are rising, but OPEC is relatively calm, reports Alex Lawler and Emma Farge. "Oil prices have spiked following tension in Egypt with Brent crude approaching $100 per barrel on fears instability could spread to the Middle East, which together with North Africa produces more than a third of the world's oil. Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri told reporters in London the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries did not at this stage think it was necessary to call a meeting before its next planned gathering in June but added that the mood was changing due to the situation in Egypt."

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Celebrity cameo interlude: Mark Zuckerberg crashes Saturday Night Live, with Jesse Eisenberg hosting.

Still to come: Obama reorganizing around trade; states and the federal government are heading to a clash on Medicaid cuts; Jeffrey Zients will lead the administration's government overhaul; the EPA is hearing industry concerns on climate rules; and Mark Zuckerberg meets Jesse Eisenberg.

Economy

The administration is looking to reorganize around boosting trade, reports Laura Meckler: "The White House is looking at combining a set of agencies involved in trade and exports as it works to implement President Barack Obama's State of the Union call to 'merge, consolidate and reorganize the federal government.' White House officials in recent months seriously considered a plan to combine parts of the Commerce Department with other trade and export agencies, and to have the president announce the proposal during the speech, according to two people familiar with the conversations. They pulled back amid unsettled questions over which agencies would fold into the new department, among other details. But trade, exports and boosting competitiveness remain the focus of White House thinking on a reorganization plan, a White House official said."

Global trade is still growing, despite stalled talks, reports John Miller: "Global trade has doubled and bilateral pacts have sprung up since the stalled Doha round began. While countries say they haven't given up on the decade-long world trade negotiations, the hurdles to a deal, already substantial, have increased recently. A report issued at last week's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, warned that Doha, named for the Qatari capital where the talks began, would perish if not completed this year...To be sure, some of the dire talk may be intended to create momentum where none exists. Global trade deals routinely stretch on for more than a decade. No major country every truly gives up on a deal because to do so would be to signal that the global trading system--and the era of globalization--may have reached its limit."

House prices are falling at an accelerating rate: http://on.wsj.com/eR3BwX

Chinese inflation is cutting the US trade deficit, reports Keith Bradsher: "Inflation is starting to slow China’s mighty export machine, as buyers from Western multinational companies balk at higher prices and have cut back their planned spring shipments across the Pacific. Markups of 20 to 50 percent on products like leather shoes and polo shirts have sent Western buyers scrambling for alternate suppliers. But from Vietnam to India, few low-wage developing countries can match China’s manufacturing might -- and no country offers refuge from high global commodity prices. Already, the slowdown in American orders has forced some container shipping lines to cancel up to a quarter of their trips to the United States this spring from Hong Kong and other Chinese ports."

Central banks should resist calls for higher interest rates, writes Paul Krugman: http://nyti.ms/fRvvWk

Innovation isn't helping incomes, writes Tyler Cowen: "Most well-off countries have experienced income growth slowdowns since the early 1970s, so it would seem that a single cause is transcending national borders: the reaching of a technological plateau. The numbers suggest that for almost 40 years, we’ve had near-universal dissemination of the major innovations stemming from the Industrial Revolution, many of which combined efficient machines with potent fossil fuels. Today, no huge improvement for the automobile or airplane is in sight, and the major struggle is to limit their pollution, not to vastly improve their capabilities. Although America produces plenty of innovations, most are not geared toward significantly raising the average standard of living."

Job creation is hard, but Obama's approach is working, writes Steven Rattner: http://wapo.st/ic6gmq

The current relationship between rich and poor countries is unstable, writes Steven Pearlstein: "Although developing countries are beginning to shift toward selling more goods and services to their own populations, they remain highly dependent on sales of manufactured goods to wealthy nations where incomes won't be growing and the emphasis will be on paying down excessive levels of debt and caring for aging populations. Unless developing countries can reorient their export machines toward selling to each other - a possibility, yes, but not a certainty - the robust growth of the past two years will be hard to sustain...Moreover, some of the recent growth in developing countries results from a surge of foreign capital flowing into those nations"

Movie cliché interlude: A supercut of movies using the line, "It's showtime!"

Health Care

A fight might break out between feds and the states on Medicaid cuts, report Marilyn Werber Serafini and Julie Appleby: "Financially strapped governors, Congress and the Obama administration could be headed for a showdown over the Medicaid health care program that covers 48 million poor, disabled and elderly people nationwide. Arizona's governor has already asked for permission to drop people from the joint federal-state program, which states say is eating up huge portions of their budgets. But to do so, they need the green light either from Congress or the Obama administration...The new health care law requires states to maintain their Medicaid eligibility levels for adults until 2014, when much of the law kicks in. In the meantime, federal funds that helped most states maintain their Medicaid programs - part of the 2009 stimulus package --comes to an end in June, even as enrollment remains at an all-time high while the nation struggles to recover from the recession. "

New Chief of Staff Bill Daley is walking back previous criticism of health care reform: http://politi.co/exPpv7

A federal Medicaid panel is off to a rough start, reports Brett Coughlin: "Trying to squeeze better data out of the morass of Medicaid information crunched by 50 different states has taken a toll on a new advisory panel. Tasked with issuing recommendations to Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services and the states and on a deadline to vote on them next month, the Medicaid and Chip Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) hit the reset button Friday when faced with the complexity and cost of the effort. After a series of draft recommendations were issued, panel members said they were 'nervous' and 'concerned' about the direction the panel was moving and there were also questions about the costs, given the 'brutal' budget situations that states face."

Health care reform will slow the rate of premium growth, not cut premiums: http://politi.co/evTL7U

Domestic Policy

OMB deputy Jeffrey Zients is leading the administration's government reorganization project, reports Ed O'Keefe: "Jeffrey D. Zients, the federal government's first chief performance officer and a deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, will lead President Obama's efforts to reorganize parts of the federal government. Zients, who has spent the past two years working on cutting government contract spending, reforming the federal hiring process and making other operational cuts, will focus first on reorganizing how the federal government handles trade and export issues, the White House said Sunday. He will be joined by White House staff secretary Lisa Brown, who led the Obama-Biden presidential transition's review of federal agency operations."

House Republicans are rejecting calls for hearings on gun safety: http://politi.co/fzFgTn

Regulators and industry are facing off on repetitive stress regulations, reports Lyndsey Layton: "The strained muscles that affect millions of American workers, from white-collar professionals who spend hours at their computers to poultry workers who process chickens, are proving to be painful as well to the Obama administration. Labor regulators came into office vowing to press employers to reduce injuries from repetitive motion, an affliction that caused 28 percent of the workforce to miss days on the job in 2009. But the administration has found itself in a pitched battle with industry, which fears that federal involvement in the matter will result in a massive financial and legal burden. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 3 million businesses, has lobbied vigorously against any additional regulation."

Sen. Tom Harkin is taking to the courts to reform the filibuster: http://bit.ly/h3fbJe

The failed filibuster reform proposal was a bad idea to begin with, writes Jonathan Bernstein: "What the Merkley-Udall-Harkin proposal would do, as I read it, is..make live filibusters the only show in town for a minority that wants to stall and defeat a bill it doesn’t like. But this would be only a mild inconvenience for the minority; its members would theoretically have to speak on the Senate floor for long periods of time, but that’s not really much of an imposition on them. On the other hand, it would seriously handcuff the majority, by bringing its entire agenda to a halt for hours, even days, on end...After the defeat this week, it’s time for filibuster reformers to regroup and prepare for a future battle, which may come soon if, say, Republicans choose to filibuster an inordinate number of judicial nominations. This time, the goal should be to find something smarter."

Glam-rock interlude: Smith Westerns play "All Die Young".

Energy

The EPA will take industry views into account in making climate rules, reports Andrew Restuccia: "The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a series of 'listening sessions' in the coming months in order to get input from stakeholders on the agency's plans to implement new greenhouse gas standards on power plants and refineries. EPA is certain to get criticism from a slew of stakeholders who fear the new rules will be a nightmare for industry, particularly during the sessions focused on the electric-power and oil industries."

"Smart meters" are spurring grassroots opposition: http://nyti.ms/f1Ho2A

Obama's weekly address was focused on clean energy, reports Abby Phillip: "President Barack Obama brought his weekly address with him on the road to Wisconsin, using his visit to a plant that manufactures clean-energy lighting systems as an example of how 'America will win the future.' 'I’m here because this business and others like it are showing us the way forward,' Obama said. On Wednesday, Obama toured the factory of Orion Energy Systems in Manitowoc, Wis., a cutting-edge business he said has taken advantage of his administration’s new business incentives and creating jobs. In his address to the nation, Obama used video of the plant and its workers to drive home his message: Innovation supported by the government creates jobs of the future."

The US is switching lightbulb measurement systems: http://wapo.st/gwNrGq

Obama's "don't talk about climate change" strategy is a smart bait-and-switch, writes Hendrik Hertzberg: "Obama’s State of the Union address was a masterly exercise in rear-guard tactics disguised as visionary optimism. A section was devoted to fighting climate change, but under an assumed name: 'clean-energy technology,' for which he proposed new public investments “that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.” (The second of that trio of goals was as close as he came to pronouncing the dread words.) He set a goal of generating eighty per cent of America’s electricity from “clean-energy sources” by 2035...The President has not, in fact, given up on doing something about climate change. If he holds firm, perhaps his efforts will yet make a difference."

Promoting clean energy is no substitute for climate change action, writes David Roberts: http://bit.ly/gFNYlf

A carbon tax would be an effective stimulus measure, writes Alan Blinder: "Jobs follow investment, and we need jobs now. Even if our economy manages 4% growth for several years in a row, unemployment is destined to remain high for years. We have become accustomed to grading stimulus programs on their 'bang for the buck.' The 2009 Recovery Act, for example, was expected to cost $90,000-$100,000 for each job created. The 'bang for the buck' from a phased-in carbon tax would be infinite at first: lots of jobs at zero cost to the federal budget. Furthermore, many of the new jobs will be good jobs with good wages, just what America needs right now. It is probably true, as some critics say, that much of the resulting manufacturing activity will move offshore--eventually. But not necessarily right away."

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Linda Davidson / The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  | January 31, 2011; 6:43 AM ET
 
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Next: 'The Great Stagnation'

Comments

http://detnews.com/article/20110130/METRO/101300320/California-man-arrested-with-explosives-outside-Dearborn-Islamic-center#ixzz1CZVSOFsk

Dearborn - An ex-Army veteran from California who is accused of driving to Metro Detroit's largest mosque with a trunk full of explosives is behind bars after being charged with making a terrorist threat.
Roger Stockham, 63, is charged with one count of a false report or threat of terrorism and one count of explosives-possession of bombs with unlawful intent after Dearborn police arrested him Monday outside the Islamic Center of America, one the largest mosques in North America.


California liberal tries to blow up a Mosque. Must be the violent rhetoric.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 31, 2011 9:09 AM | Report abuse

--*Trying to squeeze better data out of the morass of Medicaid information crunched by 50 different states has taken a toll on a new advisory panel.*--

Stupid socialism hits the wall. If the "experts" can't even crunch the data, how on earth to they expect to control one sixth the economy????

Short answer: Only freaking nutters think central planning works.

Posted by: msoja | January 31, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Damn Ezra, why do you always try to squeeze your most interesting stuff of the day into your first post, and then talk about wine tasting and Mitch McConnell for the rest of it?

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Regarding Egypt's economy, the three chief sources of income are tourism, money sent home from ex-pat Egyptians, and Suez canal revenue, in that order.

The first is obviusly in trouble temporarily, the others unaffected by the crisis.

Don't worry about oil, worry about food prices. What is likely to happen is that the poorer nations of the world will compete even harder for the limited grains of the world market, so as to stave off the type of shortages that started this whole thing in Egypt and Tunisia.

Commodity traders go where the action is, as they have been doing for the past year and will exacerbate that effect.

If you own any food retailers like grocers, restuarant chains or large consumer food companies like Sara Lee etc. sell over the near term. Their margins will rapidly decrease and they will fail to meet earnings expectations over the second half of the year onward. Use the cash to buy food related commodities, and companies that have control of the production end of agriculture.

Remember however as with all unsolicited financial advice, I am just a homeless guy on a public library computer.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link to the fact-check (at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/48389.html) regarding the PPACA's impact on health insurance premiums. As stated in the fact-check: "It’s a stretch to say, as Obama did in his speech at the Families USA conference Friday morning, that 'this law will lower premiums.' It may make them rise more slowly, BUT PRETTY MUCH NO ONE EXPECTS THAT PREMIUMS WILL ACTUALLY GO DOWN."

By the way, "it's a stretch to say" that the world is flat and the sun orbits around it... but some people still believe that non-fact, too.

Also, thanks to WaPo for its feature (at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/30/AR2011013004179.html) regarding Democrat Chrles Rangel, who was recently censured by the House in partial punishment for his multiple ethics violations. Even though the House was, at the time, led by members of Rangel's own political party, the overwhelming majority of Democrats joined minority Republicans in recognizing Rangel's wrongdoing. Rangel, one of only 22 people in the history of the nation to be censured by the House, was the primary sponsor of the Obama/Pelosi PPACA.

Posted by: rmgregory | January 31, 2011 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link to the fact-check (at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/48389.html) regarding the PPACA's impact on health insurance premiums. As stated in the fact-check: "It’s a stretch to say, as Obama did in his speech at the Families USA conference Friday morning, that 'this law will lower premiums.' It may make them rise more slowly, BUT PRETTY MUCH NO ONE EXPECTS THAT PREMIUMS WILL ACTUALLY GO DOWN."

By the way, "it's a stretch to say" that the world is flat and the sun orbits around it... but some people still believe that non-fact, too.

Also, thanks to WaPo for its feature (at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/30/AR2011013004179.html) regarding Democrat Chrles Rangel, who was recently censured by the House in partial punishment for his multiple ethics violations. Even though the House was, at the time, led by members of Rangel's own political party, the overwhelming majority of Democrats joined minority Republicans in recognizing Rangel's wrongdoing. Rangel, one of only 22 people in the history of the nation to be censured by the House, was the primary sponsor of the Obama/Pelosi PPACA.

Posted by: rmgregory | January 31, 2011 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Regarding Egypt's economy, the three chief sources of income are tourism, money sent home from ex-pat Egyptians, and Suez canal revenue, in that order.

The first is obviusly in trouble temporarily, the others unaffected by the crisis.

Don't worry about oil, worry about food prices. What is likely to happen is that the poorer nations of the world will compete even harder for the limited grains of the world market, so as to stave off the type of shortages that started this whole thing in Egypt and Tunisia.

Commodity traders go where the action is, as they have been doing for the past year and will exacerbate that effect.

If you own any food retailers like grocers, restuarant chains or large consumer food companies like Sara Lee etc. sell over the near term. Their margins will rapidly decrease and they will fail to meet earnings expectations over the second half of the year onward. Use the cash to buy food related commodities, and companies that have control of the production end of agriculture.

Remember however as with all unsolicited financial advice, I am just a homeless guy on a public library computer.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Soory for the double, damn the WAPO comment system. LOL

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Note to Alan Blinder:

This is compelte ididocy. It's almost as if it were ghost written by Krugman. Taxing the 90-95% of the economy that runs on carbon to support the 5-10% that does not is NOT stimulus!

"The 'bang for the buck' from a phased-in carbon tax would be infinite at first: lots of jobs at zero cost to the federal budget. Furthermore, many of the new jobs will be good jobs with good wages, just what America needs right now. It is probably true, as some critics say, that much of the resulting manufacturing activity will move offshore--eventually. But not necessarily right away."

No jobs that are entirely dependent on the outcome of the next two year election cycle, as any carbon tax based jobs would be, can be considered good jobs for long. American companies simply will not invest in new jobs for that capricious an opportunity.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 9:50 AM | Report abuse

johnmarshall5446,

Found this in the WSJ comments section.

"Why not mandate a phased in squirrel powered energy system? It wouldn't cost the federal govrnment a dime and the boon to squirrel ranching, squirrel powered generators, and the acorn industry would employ untold millions."

Same reasoning applies - it completely ignores the economic damage the tax creates and concentrates only on the gains.

Posted by: justin84 | January 31, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

justin:

Do you think they can be trained to move the wind turbines on the days when nothing is blowing?

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Quick IQ test for libs.

Based on the following climate data; http://www.lakepowell.net/sciencecenter/geologic%20global%20temp.jpg , regardless of what man does, is the Earth going to be getting:

A) Warmer
B) Colder
C) Stay about the same.

Posted by: illogicbuster | January 31, 2011 11:24 AM | Report abuse

If this continues much longer, the economic affects are going to start to show up in oil and food. Our govt is being made to look weak during this entire process as they sit around and wait to see what happens. All the talk shows this weekend discussed how this crisis has the white house "frozen".

Check out these hilarious cartoons on the Egypt crisis this morning.....

http://precisiontradingsolutions.blogspot.com

Posted by: kjordan3637 | January 31, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

http://egyptinternetprotest.blogspot.com/

Posted by: dseigler2 | January 31, 2011 12:00 PM | Report abuse

"Do you think they can be trained to move the wind turbines on the days when nothing is blowing?"

Absolutely, and we can add squirrel trainers to the tally for job creation.

Posted by: justin84 | January 31, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Obama lost Egypt. Why, oh why, can't the United States be on the right side of at least one of these uprisings? We have seen the results in Cuba, Iran and now Egypt of kissing up to the dictators. We have the power to force change: just cut off the $1.3 billion in foreign aid going to Egypt and you will see an immediate reaction.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | January 31, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Egypt Uprising to cause Price Rises " As if something like this was needed to raise prices. All the Oil players, the Middle East and every other greedy bastardo can rig he world. And how is only gasolene is always used for the Headline. We can cut down on our auto trips, consolidat them , but what about the Heating OIl ? Prices up in the NE part of N.J up to $3.30 a gal. And do you see Obama loading up the Driller's Mail with Permits to drill ? That farce of abiding by the Judge's ruling to lift the Moratorium on drilling hasn't stopped him from siding with Gore and the Green and Clean with their Solar, and Windmills and Electric Cars . When the Hell is Congress going to start proceedings to impeach this misfit ?

Posted by: puck-101 | January 31, 2011 3:33 PM | Report abuse

the boy pundit reveals his ignorance once again. The "roots" of the current Egyptian situation do NOT arise from Egypt's economic situation...that situation has been static and unhealthy for a loooonggg time. What's changed is obvious, just as it is obviously over the boy pundit's head - the success of the Tunisian people in getting a long-standing leader to stand down. It's that simple.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | January 31, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

It is all China fault, if they let yuan rise against, morons won't riot in the street
It is all China fault, they put lead in toothpaste to make people riot in the street
It is all China fault, unemployed stuipd people can only shop at Wmart to riot in the street

Posted by: dodobird1 | January 31, 2011 7:46 PM | Report abuse

silencdogoodreturns:

No the rioting in Tunsisia started with food riots and continues elsewhere. The price of food increased 17% last year in Egypt. You simply don't know what you're talking about.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 11:08 PM | Report abuse

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