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    Biden’s Plans Raise Questions About What U.S. Can or Cannot Afford to Do

    Democrats are debating whether doing nothing will cost more than doing something to deal with climate change, education, child care, prescription drugs and more.WASHINGTON — As lawmakers debate how much to spend on President Biden’s sprawling domestic agenda, they are really arguing about a seemingly simple issue: affordability.Can a country already running huge deficits afford the scope of spending that the president envisions? Or, conversely, can it afford to wait to address large social, environmental and economic problems that will accrue costs for years to come?It is a stealth battle over the fiscal future at a time when few lawmakers in either party have prioritized addressing debt and deficits. Each side believes its approach would put the nation’s finances on a more sustainable path by generating the strongest, most durable economic growth possible.The debate has shaped a discussion among lawmakers about what to prioritize as they scale back Mr. Biden’s initial proposal to dedicate $3.5 trillion over 10 years to programs and tax cuts that would curb greenhouse gas emissions, make child care more affordable, expand access to college and lower prescription drug prices, among other priorities. The smaller bill under discussion could increase the total amount of government spending on all current programs by about 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent over the next decade, depending on its size and components. Mr. Biden has proposed fully paying for this with a series of tax increases on businesses and the wealthy — including raising the corporate tax rate, increasing taxes on multinational corporations and cracking down on wealthy people who evade taxes — along with reducing government spending on prescription drugs for older Americans.As the negotiations continue, Democrats are considering cutting back or jettisoning programs to shave hundreds of billions of dollars off the final price to get it to a number that can pass the House and Senate along party lines. One key part of Mr. Biden’s climate agenda — a program to rapidly replace coal- and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy — is likely to be dropped from the bill because of objections from a coal-state senator: Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.The discussions have focused attention on Washington’s longstanding practice of using budgetary gimmicks to make programs appear to be paid for when they are not, as well as opening a new sort of discussion about what affordable really means.The debate about what the United States can afford used to be pegged to its growing budget deficits and warnings that the government, which spends much more than it brings in, could saddle future generations with mountains of debt, sluggish economic growth, runaway inflation and enormous tax hikes. But those concerns receded after no such crisis materialized. The country experienced tepid inflation and low borrowing costs for a decade after the 2008 financial crisis, despite increased borrowing for economic stimulus under President Barack Obama and for tax cuts under President Donald J. Trump.In its place is a new debate, one focused on the long-term costs and benefits of the government’s spending decisions.Many Democrats fear the United States cannot afford to wait to curb climate change, help more women enter the work force and invest in feeding and educating its most vulnerable children. In their view, failing to invest in those issues means the country risks incurring painful costs that will slow economic growth.“We can’t afford not to do these kinds of investments,” David Kamin, a deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said in an interview.Take climate change: The Democratic think tank Third Way estimates that if Congress passes an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. companies will invest an additional $1.3 trillion in the construction and deployment of low-emission energy like wind and solar power and energy-efficient technologies over the next decade, and $10 trillion by 2050. White House officials say that if the country fails to reduce emissions, the federal government will face mounting costs for relief and other aid to victims of climate-related disasters like wildfires and hurricanes.“Those are the table stakes for the reconciliation and infrastructure debate,” said Josh Freed, the senior vice president for climate and energy at Third Way. “It’s why we think the cost of inaction, from an economic perspective, is so enormous.”But to some centrist Democrats, who have expressed deep reservations about spending $2 trillion on a bill to advance Mr. Biden’s plans, “affordable” still means what it did in decades past: not adding to the federal debt. The budget deficit has swelled in recent years, reaching $1 trillion in 2019 from additional spending and tax cuts that did not pay for themselves, before topping $3 trillion last year amid record spending to combat the coronavirus pandemic.Mr. Manchin says he fears too much additional spending would feed rising inflation, which could push up borrowing costs and make it harder for the country to manage its budget deficit. He has made clear that he would like the final bill to raise more revenue than it spends in order to reduce future deficits and the threat of a debt crisis. Mr. Biden says his proposals would help fight inflation by reducing the cost of child care, housing, education and more.A few economists agree with Mr. Manchin, warning that even fully offsetting spending and tax cuts could fuel inflation. Michael R. Strain, a centrist economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who supported many of the pandemic spending programs, said in an interview this year that additional spending that stoked consumer demand would “exacerbate pre-existing inflationary pressures.”President Biden visited the Capitol Child Development Center in Hartford, Conn., on Friday. He has warned that if Congress does not act to invest in children, the United States will face slower economic growth for generations to come.Sarahbeth Maney/The New York TimesRepublicans, who have vowed to fight any version of the spending bill, argue that the national economy cannot afford the burden of taxes on high earners and businesses that Democrats have proposed to help offset their plans. They say the increases will chill growth when the recovery from the pandemic recession remains fragile.“The tax hikes are going to slow growth, flatten out wages and both drive U.S. jobs overseas and hammer small businesses,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. “There will be a significant economic price to all this spending.”U.S. Inflation & Supply Chain ProblemsCard 1 of 6Covid’s impact on supply continues. More

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    Rising Rents Stoke Inflation Data, a Concern for Washington

    Economic policymakers have said inflation will prove temporary, but rising rents may challenge that view and pressure Washington to react.Terrell McCallum, a private wealth adviser in Dallas, spends a lot of time thinking about markets and interest rates. He knows that the Federal Reserve targets 2 percent annual price increases on average, so it was a shock when he learned that his rent would increase a whopping 10 percent this year.“I can afford it, but it gets to the brink of financial burden,” said Mr. McCallum, 33. He and his wife have been saving up for their first home, but now that they are paying $1,830 for their apartment and fees, that will become more difficult. He tried to push back on the increase, but the company he rents from wouldn’t budge.“They said: ‘This is what the market is doing.’”Mr. McCallum’s experience is echoing across America, as rents shoot higher after a brief pandemic slump, burdening households and fueling overall inflation. That is bad news for the Federal Reserve, because it could make today’s uncomfortably rapid price gains last longer. It’s also problematic for the White House because it hits households right in their pocketbooks, diminishing well-being and fueling unhappiness among voters.The jump in rents stemmed from a frenzy in the market for owned homes. People tried to buy as the pandemic took hold in the United States, often searching for extra space, but found that houses were in short supply after years of under-building following the housing crisis. That dearth of properties has been exacerbated by work stoppages, supply shortages and labor constraints during the coronavirus era, all of which have kept developers from ramping up production to meet demand.As buyers bid up prices on single-family homes and condominiums, many people who would have otherwise moved toward homeownership found themselves unable to afford it, increasing demand for apartments and home leases. Rents have been further boosted by the large number of people searching for places with more space and home offices during the pandemic, and as millennials in their late 20s and early to mid-30s look for more autonomy.“People might be looking to move out and on their own after being stuck with roommates during the pandemic,” said Adam Ozimek, the chief economist at Upwork, an online freelancing marketplace. “There’s also a possibility that remote work is playing a role here.”Government stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits also helped people amass savings over the course of the pandemic, so they can afford to move. Personal savings as a share of disposable income popped during the crisis, and while the share has come down toward normal levels, it remains slightly elevated at 9.4 percent, compared with about 8 percent just before the pandemic.The combination of factors seems to have created a perfect storm that pushed the Consumer Price Index measure of rent up 0.5 percent just between August and September, the fastest pace in about 20 years.That’s a concern for the Fed, because housing prices tend to move slowly and once they go up, they tend to stay up for a while. Rent data also feed into what is called “owners’ equivalent rent” — which tries to put a price on how much owners would pay for housing if they hadn’t bought a home. Together, housing measures make up about a third of the overall Consumer Price Index.Overall consumer prices have jumped sharply in 2021, climbing 5.4 percent in September from the prior year. Fed officials have been hoping and betting that the move is temporary, but they are watching housing measures carefully as a risk to that outlook.“Many participants pointed out that the owners’ equivalent rent component of price indexes should be monitored carefully, as rising home prices could lead to upward pressure on rents,” minutes from the Fed’s September meeting, released Wednesday, said.Rent is less critical to the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the one it officially targets when it shoots for 2 percent annual inflation on average, than it is to the C.P.I. But it is a big part of people’s experience with prices, so it could help shape their expectations about future cost increases.Those expectations matter a lot to the Fed. If consumers come to anticipate faster inflation, they may begin to demand higher wages to cover their rising expenses. As businesses lift prices to cover rising costs, they could set off an upward spiral. Already, some key measures of inflation outlooks — notably the New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations — have jumped higher.The Fed is already preparing to start slowing the large bond purchases it has been making during the pandemic to keep longer-term interest rates low and money flowing around the economy. If inflation stays high, the Fed may also come under pressure to raise its policy interest rate, its more traditional and more powerful tool. That might slow mortgage lending, cool the housing market and weigh down inflation.An apartment building in New York. The national median rent increased by 16.4 percent since January.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesBut doing that would come at a big cost, slowing the labor market when there are 5 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. So for now, Fed officials are getting themselves into a position where they can be nimble without signaling that they’re poised to raised rates.White House officials are also wrestling with their options for easing housing price pressures. President Biden’s economic agenda includes measures that would build more houses and discourage zoning rules that keep new construction at bay.Such an intervention would take time — homes are not built overnight. And in the meantime, rents will almost certainly continue moving in the inflation data, which reflect rising housing costs at a long delay. More up-to-date measures of rental pricing pressure produced by Apartment List and Zillow have shown costs climbing in recent months, though many measures of rent and new leases have calmed down somewhat after a red-hot summer.The national median rent has increased 16.4 percent since January, Apartment List said in its September rental report, with monthly growth slowing slightly from its July peak.“This is still very strong by historical standards — we’re in off season,” said Igor Popov, chief economist at Apartment List. “It’s a racecar slowing down ahead of a turn, but it’s still going faster than we ever have in our lives.”Whether rent growth speeds up or slows next year may hinge on whether the government support that has given households the financial ability to afford housing gives way to a strong job market.“There’s room to run, for sure,” based on demographics alone, Mr. Ozimek said. “The question is whether the economy is going to go into full employment, or whether there’s a slowdown.”Rents could heat up as big cities including New York and Los Angeles rebound from the pandemic, said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist of Redfin. While smaller cities’ rental markets have been hot for months, the median rent in Manhattan climbed for the first time since the start of the pandemic in September, data from Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman showed.The recovery in the New York area as a whole has been uneven as some families have moved to the city, bidding up prices, while others are struggling to pay, said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents landlords of mostly rent-stabilized housing.“You have bidding wars for one unit, and then a renter who can’t pay,” he said. “A tale of two cities is happening within the same building.”Drew Hamrick, the senior vice president of the Colorado Apartment Association, a landlord group, said the rise in rents is not driven by landlords but by market factors.“Landlords don’t really set the price, consumers set the price,” he said. “It’s musical chairs.”Even if there is a pullback in rents next year, today’s suddenly higher housing costs could make for a painful adjustment period. Higher rent costs can reverberate through people’s lives and force tough decisions.Luke Martinez, a 27-year-old in Greenville, a town in East Texas, is contemplating buying a trailer and setting his family up on an R.V. lot after learning that he is losing the three-bedroom house he has been renting for about $1,000 per month since 2016.“It’s insane the amount of rent, even in this little Podunk town,” Mr. Martinez said.He’s looking at paying up to $1,500 per month for a new place, which will be tough. After getting laid off at the start of the pandemic, he had been living partly on savings — padded by an insurance payout after his car was stolen and totaled. He returned to working in automotive repair only this week. His wife had been working the front desk at a hotel until two months ago, but she is now home-schooling their 8-year-old.If they end up renting at the higher price, they will most likely afford it by forgoing a new car.“It’s pretty much just scraping by,” he said of his lifestyle. More

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    Fed Minutes September 2021: Officials Worried About Supply Chains

    Federal Reserve officials were preparing to begin slowing down monetary policy support as soon as the middle of November, minutes from their September meeting showed, and policymakers debated when they might need to raise rates amid rising inflation risks.The Fed has been buying $120 billion in bonds each month and holding the federal funds rate near zero to make borrowing cheap and keep money flowing through the economy, stoking demand and speeding up the recovery. But the central bank’s officials signaled after their Sept. 21-22 meeting that they might announce a plan to pare back those asset purchases as soon as early November. Minutes from the gathering, released Wednesday, provided additional details on that plan.The minutes suggested that “if a decision to begin tapering purchases occurred at the next meeting, the process of tapering could commence with the monthly purchase calendars beginning in either mid-November or mid-December.”The process could end by the middle of next year, the minutes indicated. That backed up the timeline that Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, laid out during his news conference after the meeting.At the same time, Fed officials have been clear that they will continue to support the economy with low interest rates as the job market continues to heal. Their hopes of moving very gradually when it comes to rate increases could be complicated by rapidly rising prices, though, as supply chain disruptions tied to the pandemic persist and rising rents raise the prospect of sustained increases.The minutes showed that “various” meeting participants thought that rates should stay at or near zero for a couple of years, warning that long-run trends that had dragged inflation down before the pandemic would again come to dominate. But “in contrast, a number” of Fed officials said that rates would need to increase next year, and that “some of these participants saw inflation as likely to remain elevated in 2022 with risks to the upside.”The committee as a whole fretted about supply chain disruptions, which have been pushing inflation higher and curbing growth. They discussed several bottlenecks, including in the housing industry.“Participants noted that residential construction had been restrained by shortages of materials and other inputs and that home sales had been held back by limited supplies of available homes,” the minutes showed. Later, they added that “firms in a number of industries were facing challenges keeping up with strong demand due to widespread supply chain bottlenecks as well as labor shortages.”And officials noted that they might take time to fade.“Most participants saw inflation risks as weighted to the upside because of concerns that supply disruptions and labor shortages might last longer and might have larger or more persistent effects on prices and wages than they currently assumed,” the minutes showed.“Participants noted that their district contacts generally did not expect these bottlenecks to be fully resolved until sometime next year or even later.”Consumer prices jumped more than expected last month, data released on Wednesday showed. The Consumer Price Index climbed 5.4 percent in September from a year earlier, faster than its 5.3 percent increase through August. From August to September, the index rose 0.4 percent, also above expectations.Housing prices rose, and food — especially meat and eggs — cost consumers more. When volatile food and fuel prices are stripped out, inflation is still rapid, at 4 percent in the year through last month.Fed officials have repeatedly said they expect price gains to moderate as the economy gets back to normal, but they have stuck an increasingly wary tone as inflation has been slow to moderate.“I believe, as do most of my colleagues, that the risks to inflation are to the upside, and I continue to be attuned and attentive to underlying inflation trends,” Richard H. Clarida, the Fed’s vice chair, said during a speech Tuesday.Among the causes for concern: Inflation expectations seem to be picking up, at least by some measures.The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations showed this week that medium-term inflation expectations — those for three years ahead — climbed to 4.2 percent in September from 4 percent in August. That is the highest level since the series started in 2013. Short-term expectations jumped to 5.3 percent, also a new high. More

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    September Consumer Price Index: Inflation Rises

    A key reading of consumer prices jumped more than expected last month, data released on Wednesday showed, raising the stakes for the White House and Federal Reserve as they continue to wager that rapid inflation will cool as the economy returns to normal.The Consumer Price Index climbed 5.4 percent in September when compared with the prior year, more than expected in a Bloomberg survey of economists and faster than its 5.3 percent increase through August. From August to September, the index rose 0.4 percent, also above expectations.The gains came as housing prices firmed, and as food — especially meat and eggs — cost consumers more. Stripping out volatile food and fuel, inflation is still rapid, at 4 percent in the year through last month.Monthly gains have slowed from their breakneck pace earlier this year — they popped as much as 0.9 percent this summer — but they remain abnormally rapid. And price pressures have not been fading as rapidly as policymakers had hoped.

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    Change in monthly Consumer Price Index from a year ago
    Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesInflation jumped early in 2021 as prices for airfares, restaurant meals and apparel recovered after slumping as the economy locked down during the depths of the pandemic. That was expected. But more recently, prices have continued to climb as supply shortages mean businesses can’t keep up with fast-rising demand. Factory shutdowns, clogged shipping routes and labor shortages at ports and along trucking lines have combined to make goods difficult to produce and transport.The snarls show no obvious signs of easing, and while Fed officials still think inflation will fade, they are increasingly concerned that supply disruptions could last long enough to prompt consumers and businesses to expect higher prices. If people believe that their lifestyles will cost more, they may demand higher compensation — and as employers lift pay, they may charge more for their goods to cover the costs, setting off an upward spiral.Already, companies are raising wages to lure back employees who left the job market during the pandemic and have yet to return, and landlords are raising rents rapidly. Both factors could feed into inflation in the months ahead — and unlike pandemic-tied quirks that should eventually resolve themselves, higher wages and housing costs could become a more persistent source of price pressures.Fed officials have signaled that they would use the central bank’s policies to control inflation if it proves persistent — but they would prefer to leave borrowing costs at low levels until the job market is more fully healed. Those potentially conflicting goals could set the stage for a tense 2022.Wall Street is watching every fresh inflation data print closely, because higher rates from the Fed could dent growth and stock prices.And the White House is under pressure to come up with whatever fixes it can. Later on Wednesday, President Biden is expected to address the supply-chain problems — which are weighing on his approval ratings as they push prices higher. More

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    Biden to Announce Expansion of Port of Los Angeles's Hours

    The expansion of the Port of Los Angeles’s hours comes as the administration has struggled to untangle kinks in global supply chains and curb the resulting inflation.WASHINGTON — President Biden will announce on Wednesday that the Port of Los Angeles will begin operating around the clock as his administration struggles to relieve growing backlogs in the global supply chains that deliver critical goods to the United States.Product shortages have frustrated American consumers and businesses and contributed to rising prices that are hurting the president politically. And the problems appear poised to worsen, enduring into late next year or beyond and disrupting shipments of necessities like medications, as well as holiday purchases.Mr. Biden is set to give a speech on Wednesday addressing the problems in ports, factories and shipping lanes that have helped produce shortages, long delivery times and rapid price increases for food, televisions, automobiles and much more. The resulting inflation has chilled consumer confidence and weighed on Mr. Biden’s approval ratings. The Labor Department is set to release a new reading of monthly inflation on Wednesday morning.Administration officials say that they have brokered a deal to move the Port of Los Angeles toward 24/7 operations, joining Long Beach, which is already operating around the clock, and that they are encouraging states to accelerate the licensing of more truck drivers. UPS, Walmart and FedEx will also announce they are moving to work more off-peak hours.Mr. Biden’s team, including a supply chain task force he established earlier this year, is working to make tangible progress toward unblocking the flow of goods and helping the retail industry return to a prepandemic normal. On Wednesday, the White House will host leaders from the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to discuss the difficulties at ports, as well as hold a round table with executives from Walmart, UPS and Home Depot.But it is unclear how much the White House’s efforts can realistically help. The blockages stretch up and down supply chains, from foreign harbors to American rail yards and warehouses. Companies are exacerbating the situation by rushing to obtain products and bidding up their own prices. Analysts say some of these issues may last into late next year or even 2023.Administration officials acknowledged on Tuesday in a call with reporters that the $1.9 trillion economic aid package Mr. Biden signed into law in March had contributed to supply chain issues by boosting demand for goods, but said the law was the reason the U.S. recovery has outpaced those of other nations this year.Consumer demand for exercise bikes, laptops, toys, patio furniture and other goods is booming, fueled by big savings amassed over the course of the pandemic.Imports for the fourth quarter are on pace to be 4.7 percent higher than in the same period last year, which was also a record-breaking holiday season, according to Panjiva, the supply chain research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence.Meanwhile, the pandemic has shut down factories and slowed production around the world. Port closures, shortages of shipping containers and truck drivers, and pileups in rail and ship yards have led to long transit times and unpredictable deliveries for a wide range of products — problems that have only worsened as the holiday season approaches.Home Depot, Costco and Walmart have taken to chartering their own ships to move products across the Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday, 27 container ships were anchored in the Port of Los Angeles waiting to unload their containers, and the average anchorage time had stretched to more than 11 days.Jennifer McKeown, the head of the Global Economics Service at Capital Economics, said that worsening supplier delivery times and conditions at ports suggested that product shortages would persist into mid- to late next year.“Unfortunately, it does look like things are likely to get worse before they get better,” she said.Ms. McKeown said governments around the world could help to smooth some shortages and dampen some price increases, for example by encouraging workers to move into industries with labor shortages, like trucking.President Biden is set to give a speech on Wednesday addressing the problems in ports, factories and shipping lanes that have helped create shortages.Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times“But to some extent, they need to let markets do their work,” she said.Phil Levy, the chief economist at the logistics firm Flexport and a former official in the George W. Bush administration, said a Transportation Department official gathering information on what the administration could do to address the supply chain shortages had contacted his company. Flexport offered the administration suggestions on changing certain regulations and procedures to ease the blockages, but warned that the problem was a series of choke points “stacked one on top of the other.”“Are there things that can be done at the margin? Yes, and the administration has at least been asking about this,” Mr. Levy said. However, he cautioned, “from the whole big picture, the supply capacity is really hard to change in a noteworthy way.”The shortages have come as a shock for many American shoppers, who are used to buying a wide range of global goods with a single click, and seeing that same product on their doorstep within hours or days.The political risk for the administration is that shortfalls, mostly a nuisance so far, turn into something more existential. Diapers are already in short supply. As aluminum shortages develop, packaging pharmaceuticals could become a problem, said Robert B. Handfield, a professor of supply chain management at North Carolina State University.And even if critical shortages can be averted, slow deliveries could make for slim pickings this Christmas and Hanukkah.“I think Johnny is going to get a back-order slip in his stocking this year,” Dr. Handfield said. Discontent is only fueled by the higher prices the shortages are causing. Consumer price inflation probably climbed by 5.3 percent in the year through September, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is expected to show on Wednesday. Before the pandemic, that inflation gauge had been oscillating around 2 percent.Officials at the White House and the Federal Reserve, which has primary responsibility for price stability, have repeatedly said that they expect the rapid price increases to fade. They often point out that much of the surge has been spurred by a jump in car prices, caused by a lack of computer chips that delayed vehicle production.But with supply chains in disarray, it is possible that some new one-off could materialize. Companies that had been trying to avoid passing on higher costs to customers may find that they need to as higher costs become longer lived.Others have been raising prices already. Tesla, for instance, had been hoping to reduce the cost of its electric vehicles and has struggled to do that amid the bottlenecks.“We are seeing significant cost pressure in our supply chain,” Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, said during an annual shareholder meeting Oct. 7. “So we’ve had to increase vehicle prices, at least temporarily, but we do hope to actually reduce the prices over time and make them more affordable.”For policymakers at the White House and the Fed, the concern is that today’s climbing prices could prompt consumers to expect rapid inflation to last. If people believe that their lifestyles will cost more, they may demand higher wages — and as employers lift pay, they may charge more to cover the cost.What happens next could hinge on when — and how — supply chain disruptions are resolved. If demand slumps as households spend away government stimulus checks and other savings they stockpiled during the pandemic downturn, that could leave purveyors of couches and lawn furniture with fewer production backlogs and less pricing power down the road.If buying stays strong, and shipping remains problematic, inflation could become more entrenched.Some of the factors leading to supply chain disruptions are temporary, including shutdowns in Asian factories and severe weather that has led to energy shortages. Consumer habits, including spending on travel and entertainment, are expected to slowly return to normal as the pandemic subsides.But most companies have enormous backlogs of orders to work through. And company inventories, which provide a kind of insulation from future shocks to the supply chain, are extremely low.To get their own orders fulfilled, companies have placed bigger orders and offered to pay higher prices. The prospect of inflation has further encouraged companies to lock in large purchases of products or machinery in advance.“The customers that are willing to pay the most are most likely to get those orders filled,” said Eric Oak, an analyst at Panjiva. “It’s a vicious cycle.”Emily Cochrane More

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    World’s Growth Cools and the Rich-Poor Divide Widens

    The International Monetary Fund says the persistence of the coronavirus and global supply chain crisis weighs on economies.As the world economy struggles to find its footing, the resurgence of the coronavirus and supply chain chokeholds threaten to hold back the global recovery’s momentum, a closely watched report warned on Tuesday.The overall growth rate will remain near 6 percent this year, a historically high level after a recession, but the expansion reflects a vast divergence in the fortunes of rich and poor countries, the International Monetary Fund said in its latest World Economic Outlook report.Worldwide poverty, hunger and unmanageable debt are all on the upswing. Employment has fallen, especially for women, reversing many of the gains they made in recent years.Uneven access to vaccines and health care is at the heart of the economic disparities. While booster shots are becoming available in some wealthier nations, a staggering 96 percent of people in low-income countries are still unvaccinated.“Recent developments have made it abundantly clear that we are all in this together and the pandemic is not over anywhere until it is over everywhere,” Gita Gopinath, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, wrote in the report.The outlook for the United States, Europe and other advanced economies has also darkened. Factories hobbled by pandemic-related restrictions and bottlenecks at key ports around the world have caused crippling supply shortages. A lack of workers in many industries is contributing to the clogs. The U.S. Labor Department reported Tuesday that a record 4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August — to take or seek new jobs, or to leave the work force.A street in São Paulo, Brazil, in July. Poverty in many nations is on the upswing.Mauricio Lima for The New York TimesIn the United States, weakening consumption and large declines in inventory caused the I.M.F. to pare back its growth projections to 6 percent from the 7 percent estimated in July. In Germany, manufacturing output has taken a hit because key commodities are hard to find. And lockdown measures over the summer have dampened growth in Japan.Fear of rising inflation — even if likely to be temporary — is growing. Prices are climbing for food, medicine and oil as well as for cars and trucks. Inflation worries could also limit governments’ ability to stimulate the economy if a slowdown worsens. As it is, the unusual infusion of public support in the United States and Europe is winding down.“Overall, risks to economic prospects have increased, and policy trade-offs have become more complex,” Ms. Gopinath said. The I.M.F. lowered its 2021 global growth forecast to 5.9 percent, down from the 6 percent projected in July. For 2022, the estimate is 4.9 percent.The key to understanding the global economy is that recoveries in different countries are out of sync, said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “Each and every economy is suffering or benefiting from its own idiosyncratic factors,” he said.For countries like China, Vietnam and South Korea, whose economies have large manufacturing sectors, “inflation hits them where it hurts the most,” Mr. Daco said, raising costs of raw materials that reverberate through the production process.The pandemic has underscored how economic success or failure in one country can ripple throughout the world. Floods in Shanxi, China’s mining region, and monsoons in India’s coal-producing states contribute to rising energy prices. A Covid outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City that shuts factories means shop owners in Hoboken won’t have shoes and sweaters to sell.South Africa has sent a train with vaccines into one of its poorest provinces to get doses to areas where health care facilities are stretched.Jerome Delay/Associated PressThe I.M.F. warned that if the coronavirus — or its variants — continued to hopscotch across the globe, it could reduce the world’s estimated output by $5.3 trillion over the next five years.The worldwide surge in energy prices threatens to impose more hardship as it hampers the recovery. This week, oil prices hit a seven-year high in the United States. With winter approaching, Europeans are worried that heating costs will soar when temperatures drop. In other spots, the shortages have cut even deeper, causing blackouts in some places that paralyzed transport, closed factories and threatened food supplies.In China, electricity is being rationed in many provinces and many companies are operating at less than half of their capacity, contributing to an already significant slowdown in growth. India’s coal reserves have dropped to dangerously low levels.And over the weekend, Lebanon’s six million residents were left without any power for more than 24 hours after fuel shortages shut down the nation’s power plants. The outage is just the latest in a series of disasters there. Its economic and financial crisis has been one of the world’s worst in 150 years.Oil producers in the Middle East and elsewhere are lately benefiting from the jump in prices. But many nations in the region and North Africa are still trying to resuscitate their pandemic-battered economies. According to newly updated reports from the World Bank, 13 of the 16 countries in that region will have lower standards of living this year than they did before the pandemic, in large part because of “underfinanced, imbalanced and ill-prepared health systems.”Other countries were so overburdened by debt even before the pandemic that governments were forced to limit spending on health care to repay foreign lenders.A power outage on Monday in Beirut. Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis has been one of the world’s worst in 150 years.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIn Latin America and the Caribbean, there are fears of a second lost decade of growth like the one experienced after 2010. In South Africa, over one-third of the population is out of work.And in East Asia and the Pacific, a World Bank update warned that “Covid-19 threatens to create a combination of slow growth and increasing inequality for the first time this century.” Businesses in Indonesia, Mongolia and the Philippines lost on average 40 percent or more of their typical monthly sales. Thailand and many Pacific island economies are expected to have less output in 2023 than they did before the pandemic.Overall, though, some developing economies are doing better than last year, partly because of the increase in the prices of commodities like oil and metals that they produce. Growth projections ticked up slightly to 6.4 percent in 2021 compared with 6.3 percent estimated in July.“The recovery has been incredibly uneven,” and that’s a problem for everyone, said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust. “Developing countries are essential to global economic function.”The outlook is clouded by uncertainty. Erratic policy decisions — like Congress’s delay in lifting the debt ceiling — can further set back the recovery, the I.M.F. warned.But the biggest risk is the emergence of a more infectious and deadlier coronavirus variant.Ms. Gopinath at the I.M.F. urged vaccine manufacturers to support the expansion of vaccine production in developing countries.Earlier this year, the I.M.F. approved $650 billion worth of emergency currency reserves that have been distributed to countries around the world. In this latest report, it again called on wealthy countries to help ensure that these funds are used to benefit poor countries that have been struggling the most with the fallout of the virus.“We’re witnessing what I call tragic reversals in development across many dimensions,” said David Malpass, the president of the World Bank. “Progress in reducing extreme poverty has been set back by years — for some, by a decade.”Ben Casselman More

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    Inflation Expectations Climb, Dogging Federal Reserve Officials

    A key measure of inflation expectations released on Tuesday showed continued acceleration, a survey that came as Richard H. Clarida, the Federal Reserve’s vice chair, indicated that central bankers were alert to the risk of high inflation.The combination underscored that the threat of a longer period of rising prices has become more pronounced.In remarks prepared for the Institute of International Finance’s annual meeting, Mr. Clarida said he believed that the “unwelcome” jump in inflation this year, “once these relative price adjustments are complete and bottlenecks have unclogged, will in the end prove to be largely transitory.”“That said, I believe, as do most of my colleagues, that the risks to inflation are to the upside, and I continue to be attuned and attentive to underlying inflation trends,” he added, “in particular measures of inflation expectations.”Fed officials received bad news on inflation expectations Tuesday morning. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations showed that medium-term inflation expectations — those for three years ahead — climbed to 4.2 percent in September from 4 percent in August. That is the highest since the series started in 2013. Short-term expectations jumped to 5.3 percent, also a new high.Central bankers have said for months that they expect this year’s rapid inflation to fade as consumers and businesses get back to normal because it is the product of surging demand when supply is struggling to catch up thanks to factory shutdowns and shipping bottlenecks. But it has become increasingly clear that the adjustment will be measured in quarters and years rather than weeks and months, and policymakers have increasingly braced for the possibility that quick price gains could last considerably longer than they had first anticipated.Even so, Mr. Clarida and his colleagues at the Fed are moving only gradually to remove their support from the economy, cognizant that millions of jobs are still missing compared with before the pandemic. The Fed signaled in its latest policy decision that it would soon begin to taper its large monthly asset purchases, which it has been using to keep many types of borrowing cheap.Mr. Clarida reiterated that belief on Tuesday, saying Fed officials “generally view that, so long as the recovery remains on track, a gradual tapering of our asset purchases that concludes around the middle of next year may soon be warranted.” But even once that process gets going, interest rates are expected to remain near zero for months or even years.Still, the Fed is staring down a challenging 2022, a year when it may have to decide whether it can keep rates near rock bottom while inflation is taking time to fade. Officials are still hoping price gains will slow to more normal levels, allowing them to be patient in removing policy support. More

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    There Is Shadow Inflation Taking Place All Around Us

    Some companies haven’t been raising prices. Instead, they’ve been cutting back customer services and conveniences, but how should that be measured?Inflation has surged in 2021, with various official measurements of consumer prices rising faster than they have in years. But in a crucial respect, the data may be understating things.Many types of businesses facing supply disruptions and labor shortages have dealt with those problems not by raising prices (or not by only raising prices), but by taking steps that could give their customers a lesser experience.A hotel room might cost the same as a year ago — but no longer include daily cleaning services because of a shortage of housekeepers. Some restaurants are offering limited service, with waiters stretched thin. Would-be car buyers are being advised to be flexible on the color and even make and model, lest they face a long wait to get their new wheels.Customer sentiment on restaurant cleanliness fell 4.2 percent this year, according to Black Box Intelligence, which tracks online reviews of 60,000 restaurants. Complaints have been frequent about the cleanliness of tables, floors and bathrooms. Satisfaction with customer service was also down, especially regarding beverages, with guests complaining more about receiving the wrong order or no drink at all.People trying to buy appliances and other retail goods are waiting longer. According to J.D. Power, even at the highest-rated retailers, only 57 percent of customers were able to get customer service within five minutes this year, down from 68 percent in 2018.Government statistics agencies try to take changes in product quality into account when calculating inflation. But that process, known as hedonic adjustment, most commonly applies to physical objects. It is relatively straightforward to estimate the value of, say, the quality of stitching on a shirt or the value of a backup camera on a new car. There is a whole world of inflation alarmists who argue that this process leads to the understating of true inflation.But quality changes involving customer service can be ambiguous and hard to measure. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which generates the Consumer Price Index, does not incorporate quality adjustment on 237 out of 273 components that go into the index, including the vast majority of services.Alan Cole, a former staffer for Congress’s Joint Economic Committee who writes the newsletter Full Stack Economics, noticed these sorts of annoyances during a long drive through the Northeast this summer — fast food that took an awfully long time to come, poorly stocked condiment stations, soda machines that were out of stock. The dynamic became even more clear to him when he stayed in a hotel that had a large area designated for offering hot breakfast to guests — it was mostly empty, with a few sad mini-boxes of cereal.For years, he had argued that official inflation measures actually overstated inflation, because there were many below-the-radar product improvements not captured by the data, like software that was becoming less buggy. Now, he concluded, the reverse seemed to be happening.When there are shortages of labor or supplies, some businesses adjust mostly or entirely by raising their prices. Others find less obvious, less easily measurable ways to adapt. Consider, for example, rental cars versus hotels. Both were dealing with shortages. But they showed up in different ways.“The car company just had to charge higher prices, while the hotel could take the hit through service quality instead,” Mr. Cole said in an email exchange. “We measure them in different ways. The car company’s problem gets measured as inflation, while the hotel’s problem is mostly relayed by anecdote.”It is not unusual for businesses to deal with supply shortages through mechanisms other than price increases. Retailers don’t want to attract accusations of price gouging when goods are in short supply, especially in times of natural disaster. So they end up with empty shelves, a back-door form of rationing. In the 1970s, gasoline prices skyrocketed — but not enough to prevent long lines and rules around which cars could fill up on which days.This particular economic crisis has had far-reaching consequences that have made economic data harder to interpret than usual. “Usually when there is a disaster, if you’re a macroeconomist it’s a blip on the radar screen,” said Carol Corrado, a distinguished principal research fellow at the Conference Board who has researched inflation measurements. “But we’re talking a different kettle of fish with the Covid shock, and the economic implications and costs have become much more challenging to measure than in the past.”It would be difficult for government statistics agencies to try to measure these hidden costs and factor them into inflation measures, say people who study the data closely.Customer service preferences — particularly how much good service is worth — varies highly among individuals and is hard to quantify. How much extra would you pay for a fast-food hamburger from a restaurant that cleans its restroom more frequently than the place across the street?“What gets up to the level of a quality adjustment does become pretty subjective,” said Alan Detmeister, a senior economist at UBS who formerly tracked inflation data for the Federal Reserve. “If the Labor Department even decided they wanted to quality-adjust some of these things, they would have an extremely hard time doing it.”In some cases, one person’s quality enhancement is another’s deterioration. Is online check-in at a hotel a desirable timesaving feature, or a loss of personal touch that has real value? Reasonable people can disagree.Moreover, while there appears to be some shadow inflation in service industries, the reverse has arguably held true for many years.Suppose you believe that restaurant food has become more varied and delicious over the last few decades, as chefs have become more skilled and creative. If so, maybe the 2.7 percent average annual inflation in full-service restaurant prices from 2000 to 2019 that the Bureau of Labor reported was too high.It’s plausible to believe that’s true, and also that the 4.9 percent rise in those prices over the 12 months ended in August was too low if the effects of labor shortages had been fully accounted for.This hints at why inflation bothers people so much — and why it’s a political minefield for the Biden administration. It’s not just the prices you see and the numbers that are fed into economic models, or the news headlines and central bank inflation targets.It’s also that a given amount of spending buys experiences that are a little less satisfying, and that this adds up to an accumulation of frustrations that don’t necessarily show in the numbers. More