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Latest Issue

Yellow Flag Jobs Data

August 7, 2020

As I file this letter Friday morning, people are reacting to the July jobs report. My own reaction: The headline report is absurd. I will explain further at the end of this letter. But first, I have another topic.

Regular readers know I worry about debt, mainly that the world has too much of it. But it’s a little more nuanced. Whether debt is excessive depends largely on what it buys.

Debt is problematic when it underwrites unnecessary consumption. Going on vacation, for instance, is generally a bad idea if it saddles you with years of credit card payments. But debt helps when used to finance productive assets. This kind of debt should, if all goes well, generate enough new wealth to pay for itself and more.

In fact, the economy needs the second kind of debt to grow. Access to credit helps entrepreneurs start businesses that create jobs and offer innovative products. The challenge is to keep it under control. Lenders and borrowers both get overextended in good times and then overcompensate. The resulting cycle is one reason we have recessions.

And that’s where we are now: in a deep recession, and facing a depression. We’ve already seen the savings rate climb to historic highs (with help from government stimulus). Now the second part is here as economically-critical credit begins drying up, sometimes even for stable, well-capitalized borrowers.

We don’t want banks getting into trouble that would require public bailouts. But lower access to capital is a growing problem...

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