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    The Car Market 'Is Insane': Dealers Can't Keep Up With Demand

    Rick Ricart is expecting nearly 40 Kia Telluride sport utility vehicles to arrive at his family’s dealership near Columbus, Ohio, over the next three weeks. Most will be on his lot for just a few hours.“They’re all sold,” Mr. Ricart said. “Customers have either signed the papers or have a deposit on them. The market is insane right now.”In showrooms across the country, Americans are buying most makes and models almost as fast as they can be made or resold. The frenzy for new and used vehicles is being fed by two related forces: Automakers are struggling to increase production because of a shortage of computer chips caused in large part by the pandemic. And a strong economic recovery, low interest rates, high savings and government stimulus payments have boosted demand.The combination has left dealers and individuals struggling to get their hands on vehicles. Some dealers are calling and emailing former customers offering to buy back cars they sold a year or two earlier because demand for used vehicles is as strong as it is for new cars, if not stronger. Used car prices are up about 45 percent over the past year, according to government data published this week. New car and truck prices are up about 5 percent over the past year.Those price increases have fed a debate in Washington about whether President Biden’s policies, particularly the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan he signed in March, are responsible for the sharp rise in inflation. The government said this week that consumer prices across the economy rose 5.4 percent in the last year through June.Republican lawmakers have argued that the March legislation is overheating the economy and are citing the rise in prices to oppose additional government spending. But Biden administration officials have pointed out that temporary supply shortages are largely responsible for the surge in prices of cars and other goods.Government stimulus may have helped some consumers, but it is hard to say how much. Several large forces are at play.The chip shortage, for example, is affecting automakers all over the world and is not directly related to U.S. policies. Industry officials blame limited production capacity for semiconductors and pandemic-related disruptions in supply and demand for the shortage.To make the most of limited chip supplies, General Motors has temporarily done away with certain features in some models, like stop-start systems that automatically turn off engines when cars stop for, say, a traffic light. And the French carmaker Peugeot has replaced digital speedometers with analog ones in some cars.Rental car companies that sold off thousands of cars during the pandemic to survive are now in the market to buy cars and trucks. They want to take advantage of a summer travel boom that has driven up rental rates to several hundred dollars a day in some places.“The industry has had strikes and material shortages before that have left us short of inventory, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Mark Scarpelli, the owner of two Chevrolet dealerships near Chicago. “Never, never, never.”His dealerships normally have 600 to 700 cars in stock. Now, he has about 50. Once or twice a week, a truck arrives with five or 10 vehicles. The cars disappear quickly because of customer waiting lists, Mr. Scarpelli said.Industry executives said the last time demand and supply were this out of sync was most likely after the end of World War II, when U.S. auto plants returned to making cars after years of churning out tanks and planes.Dealers said virtually everything was selling, from luxury vehicles and sports cars that cost more than $100,000 to basic used cars that many parents buy for teenagers.Even though the unemployment rate is still higher than before the pandemic, many people have money to spend. Government payments have helped lots of people, but many Americans, kept from vacationing or eating out, saved money. Financing cars is also relatively cheap — at least for people with good credit. Some automakers like Toyota, which has been less affected by the chip shortage than others, are advertising zero-interest loans on some cars.Mr. Ricart’s family businesses include a custom shop that sells high-end, special-edition trucks and sports cars. “We had a $125,000 Shelby pickup, and I said, ‘Who’s going to buy that?’” he recalled. “The next day it was gone. There’s so much free cash in the market. People are paying full price, even for the most expensive vehicles we have.”Buyers often have to take vehicles that don’t meet their specifications, and move fast when they find one close enough.Gary Werle, a retiree in Lake Worth, Fla., recently traded in a 2017 Buick Encore for a 2021 version, drawn by its safety features such as blind-spot monitoring and automatic braking. “I’m 80, and I thought it would be good to have those,” he said.On Memorial Day, his dealer called, and Mr. Werle didn’t hesitate. “I was at a party and left to buy the car,” he said. “I’d heard about the shortages, so I wasn’t sure the car would be there the next day.”Dealers are selling fewer vehicles, but their profits are up a lot. That’s a huge change from the spring of 2020, when most dealerships shut down for roughly two months and they had to lay off workers to survive.“The strong demand from consumers paired with a lack of supply from the manufacturers has created a gusher of profits for dealers,” said Alan Haig, president of Haig Partners, an automotive consultant.Now, dealers typically dictate the price of new or used cars. New cars typically sell for the manufacturer’s suggested retail price or, in some cases, thousands of dollars more for models in very high demand. Haggling over used cars is a distant memory.“There’s not a lot of negotiating that goes on right now on price,” said Wes Lutz, owner of Extreme Dodge in Jackson, Mich.Some customers have balked at paying top dollar for new cars and have opted to make do with older vehicles. That has increased demand for parts and service, one of the most profitable businesses for car dealers. Many dealers have extended repair-shop hours. Mr. Ricart said he had some repair technicians putting in 10- or 12-hour days three or four days in a row before taking a few days off.Of course, the shortage of cars will end, but it isn’t clear when.As Covid-19 cases and deaths rose last spring, automakers shut down plants across North America from late March until mid-May. Since their plants were down and they expected sales to come back slowly, they ordered fewer semiconductors, the tiny brains that control engines, transmissions, touch screens, and many other components of modern cars and trucks.At the same time, consumers confined to their homes began buying laptops, smartphones and game consoles, which increased demand for chips from companies that make those devices. When automakers restarted their plants, fewer chips were available.Many automakers have had to idle plants for a week or two at a time in the first half of 2021. G.M., Ford Motor and others have also resorted to producing vehicles without certain components and holding them at plants until the required parts arrive. At one point, G.M. had about 20,000 nearly complete vehicles awaiting electronic components. It began shipping them in June.Ford has been hit harder than many other automakers because of a fire at one of its suppliers’ factories in Japan. At the end of June, Ford had about 162,000 vehicles at dealer lots, fewer than half the number it had just three months ago and roughly a quarter of the stock its dealers typically hold.This month, Ford is slowing production at several North American plants because of the chip shortage. The company said it planned to focus on completing vehicles.Mr. Ricart recently took a trip on his Harley-Davidson to Louisville, Ky., and got a look at the trucks and S.U.V.s at a Ford plant that are waiting to be finished. He said he had seen “thousands of trucks in fields with temporary fencing around them.”He said he hoped to get some of those trucks soon because Ricart Ford had only about 30 F-150 pickup trucks in stock. “We’re used to selling a couple hundred a month.” More

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    Inflation? Not in Japan. And That Could Hold a Warning for the U.S.

    If the United States’ current bout of rising prices soon eases, its economy could fall back into the cycle of weak inflation that preceded the pandemic — a situation much like Japan’s.TOKYO — In the United States, everyone is talking about inflation. The country’s reopening from the coronavirus pandemic has unleashed pent-up demand for everything from raw materials like lumber to secondhand goods like used cars, pushing up prices at the fastest clip in over a decade.Japan, however, is having the opposite problem. Consumers are paying less for many goods, from Uniqlo parkas to steaming-hot bowls of ramen. While in the United States average prices have jumped by 5.4 percent in the past year, the Japanese economy has faced deflationary pressure, with prices dipping by 0.1 percent in May from the previous year.To some extent, the situation in Japan can be explained by its continued struggles with the coronavirus, which have kept shoppers at home. But deeper forces are also at play. Before the pandemic, prices outside the volatile energy and food sectors had barely budged for years, as Japan never came close to meeting its longtime goal of 2 percent inflation.It wasn’t for lack of trying. Over nearly a decade, Japanese policymakers have wielded nearly every trick in the economist’s playbook in an effort to coax prices higher. They have juiced the economy with cheap money, spent huge sums on fiscal stimulus like public works, and lowered interest rates to levels that made borrowing nearly free.But as Japan has learned the hard way, low inflation can be an economic quagmire. And that experience carries a warning for the United States if its current bout of inflation eases, as many economists expect, and its economy falls back into the cycle of weak inflation that preceded the pandemic.“Most economists, me included, are pretty confident that the Fed knows how to bring inflation down,” including by raising interest rates, said Joshua Hausman, an associate professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan who has studied Japan’s economy.However, “it’s much less clear, partly because of Japan’s experience, that we’re very good at bringing inflation up,” he added.For consumers, falling prices sound like a good thing. But from the perspective of most economists, they are a problem.Consumers are paying less for many goods, from Uniqlo parkas to steaming-hot bowls of ramen.Kazuhiro Nogi/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesInflation, they like to say, greases the economy’s gears. In small amounts, it increases corporate profits and wages, stimulating growth. It can also reduce the burden of debt, bringing down the relative costs of college loans and mortgages.Japan’s inability to lift inflation is “one of the biggest unsolved challenges in the profession,” said Mark Gertler, a professor of economics at New York University who has studied the issue.One popular explanation for the country’s trouble is that consumers’ expectations of low prices have become so entrenched that it’s basically impossible for companies to raise prices. Economists also point to weakening demand caused by Japan’s aging population, as well as globalization, with cheap, plentiful labor effectively keeping costs low for consumers in developed countries.The picture once looked very different. In the mid-1970s, Japan had some of the highest inflation rates in the world, approaching 25 percent.It wasn’t alone. Runaway prices set off by the 1970s oil crisis defined the era, including for a whole generation of economists who were groomed to believe that the most likely threat to financial stability was rapid inflation and that interest rates were the best tool to combat it.But by the early 1990s, Japan began experiencing a different issue. An economic bubble, fueled by a soaring stock market and rampant property speculation, burst. Prices began to fall.Japan attacked the problem with innovative policies, including using negative interest rates to encourage spending and injecting money into the economy through large-scale asset purchases, a policy known as quantitative easing.Shops and restaurants closed during a state of emergency in Osaka, Japan, in May. To some extent the situation in Japan can be explained by its continued struggles with the coronavirus.Carl Court/Getty ImagesIt seemed to do little good. Still, economists at the time saw Japan’s experience not as a warning to the world, but as an anomaly produced by bad policy choices and cultural quirks.That began to change with the financial crisis of 2008, when inflation rates around the world plummeted and other central banks adopted quantitative easing.The problem has been most notable in Europe, where inflation has averaged 1.2 percent since 2009, economic growth has been weak and some interest rates have been negative for years. During the same period, U.S. inflation averaged just below 2 percent. The Federal Reserve has kept its main interest rate at close to zero since March 2020.Some prominent economists viewed the low inflation as a sign that the U.S. and E.U. economies might be on the brink of so-called secular stagnation, a condition marked by low inflation, low interest rates and sluggish growth.They have worried that those trends will deepen as both economies begin to gray, potentially reducing demand and pushing up savings rates.In 2013, under newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan began its most ambitious effort to tackle its weak economic growth and low inflation.The government embarked on a grand experiment of huge monetary and fiscal stimulus, buying enormous quantities of equities and lowering interest rates in hopes of encouraging borrowing and putting more money into the economy. As the supply of cash increased, the thinking went, its relative value would decline, effectively driving up prices. Flush with money, consumers and companies alike would spend more. Voilà, inflation.Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leaving his last cabinet meeting in Tokyo last year. Under Mr. Abe, Japan began an ambitious but unsuccessful effort to tackle its weak inflation.Kazuhiro Nogi/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesTo encourage spending, Japan adopted a policy, known as forward guidance, aimed at convincing people that prices would go up as it pledged to do everything in its power to achieve its inflation target of 2 percent.But the government’s efforts at persuasion fell short, so there was little urgency to spend, said Hiroshi Nakaso, a former deputy governor of the Bank of Japan and head of the Daiwa Institute of Research.Japan found itself in a vicious circle, said Takatoshi Ito, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, who served on Japan’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy.Consumers came to expect “stable prices and zero inflation,” he said, adding that as a result, “companies are afraid of raising prices, because that would attract attention, and consumers may revolt.”The sluggish economy made companies reluctant to raise wages, he said, “and because real wages didn’t go up, probably consumption didn’t go up. So there was no increase for demand for products and services.”As inflation hardly moved, some economists wondered if Japan’s stimulus had been too conservative, even as it racked up one of the world’s largest debt burdens.Policymakers, citing a need to pay off the country’s debts and meet the growing costs of caring for an aging population, hedged against the spending by twice raising the country’s consumption tax, apparently weakening demand.A bus station in Tokyo. Economists point to Japan’s aging population as one reason for weakening demand.Charly Triballeau/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIn the end, Mr. Abe’s experiment, known as Abenomics, may not have been as successful as hoped. But it has informed policymakers’ response to the pandemic, said Gene Park, a professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who studies Japan’s monetary policy.One takeaway, he said, is that governments could spend more than they had ever thought possible without setting off a rapid rise in inflation. Another is that they might have to spend considerably more than they had once considered necessary to stimulate growth.Japan “has given the U.S. more freedom to experiment with bolder measures,” Mr. Park said.During the pandemic, Japan, too, has tried to apply the lessons learned since 2013.The government has paid shops and restaurants to stay closed, handed out cash to every person in the country, and financed zero-interest loans for struggling businesses. Prices fell anyway. That was partly at the behest of the government itself, which recently pressured telecom companies to lower mobile phone fees it deemed too high. Most Japanese consumers are also still waiting to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, holding back economic activity.Even after the pandemic wanes, however, Japan’s inflation rates are likely to stay low, said Sayuri Shirai, an economics professor at Keio University in Tokyo and a former board member of the Bank of Japan.After all, the primary problem remains unchanged: No one is really sure why prices have stagnated.“The central bank probably doesn’t want to say that they cannot control inflation,” Ms. Shirai said. “Therefore, this issue has just been left without a clear discussion.” More

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    A Great Inflation Redux? Economists Point to Big Differences.

    Prices climbed for years before the runaway inflation of the 1970s. Economists see parallels today, but the differences are just as important.The last time big government spending, supply chain shocks and rising wages threatened to keep inflation meaningfully higher, President Biden’s top economic adviser was in diapers.Jump forward half a century, and some aspects of 2021 look a little bit like a do-over of the late 1960s and the 1970s, which many economists think laid the groundwork for the breakaway inflation that took hold and lasted into the 1980s. At a time when prices have popped and debate rages over how quickly they will moderate, those comparisons have become a hot topic.Yet many inflation experts point out critical differences between this era and that one, from the decline of unionization to the ascent of globalization and shifting demographics, and say those discrepancies are part of the reason faster inflation is likely to be short-lived this time around. White House officials — including Brian Deese, Mr. Biden’s top economic adviser, who is 43 — say they expect price pressures to calm.“We’re looking at the implications of an economy that comes out of a policy-induced coma and comes roaring back,” Mr. Deese said at a recent event, explaining why prices have moved up.Inflation concerns may already be easing among investors. Yields on government debt rose earlier this year as investors demanded higher interest rates to compensate for the risk of higher inflation, among other factors. But yields have since fallen amid signs that the economic recovery is proceeding more slowly than initially expected.The main certainty that emerges from the debate is this: Like half a century ago, the American economy is being rocked by big and unusual changes that have hit all at once. But those trends make it hard for analysts to guess what will happen, since their tools use the past to predict the future — and there’s no historical precedent for reopening from a global pandemic. This won’t be 1969 or 1978 again, but what it will look like is difficult to foresee.“History doesn’t repeat itself,” said Rebecca L. Spang, a historian at Indiana University who has studied money and inflation. “Recognizing the complexity of any particular moment is something that economics, with its ahistorical models, is not very good at.”Monetary policy: Fine tuning, take two?The Federal Reserve entered the 1960s with the same two-part job that it has now: fostering stable inflation and maximum employment by keeping the economy growing at an even keel using its monetary policies, which influence how expensive it is to borrow money.Back then, the Fed was very focused on the employment part of its goal. The Employment Act of 1946 had instructed the government to dedicate itself to creating a strong job market. Years of weak price gains made runaway inflation seem like a distant risk, and a growing number of economists had come to believe that higher employment levels could be “bought” with slightly more inflation.Even when the then-Fed chair, William McChesney Martin, grew worried about price pressures in the mid-1960s, the institution was slow to move, because some of his colleagues hoped to drive unemployment down to 4 percent. When it did raise rates, it did so slowly — a situation that was exacerbated in the 1970s, when Mr. Martin’s successor, Arthur Burns, came under intense political pressure from the Nixon White House to keep easy-money policies in place.By the time the Fed began to fight inflation in earnest, it was too late. Some economists draw parallels between that era and now. The Fed last year renewed its focus on the labor market, calling full employment a “broad-based and inclusive” goal. And after years of tepid price gains, officials have signaled that they would be willing to accept periods of higher prices.Yet unlike in the 1960s, the Fed now has a clear framework for dealing with inflation. It no longer has a specific numeric goal for full employment — it looks for signs like faster wage growth. It has given no signal that it would again tolerate years and years of higher prices. “The Fed is very focused on keeping inflation relatively settled,” said Alan Detmeister, a former central bank economist who is now at the bank U.B.S. Plus, the White House now stresses the Fed’s separation from politics, and the Fed itself often talks about that “precious” independence.An Inflationary HistoryConsumer prices are rising quickly, but inflation is far from levels in the 1970s.

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    Annual percent change in Consumer Price Index
    Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesFiscal policy: Expansive then and now.The current moment resembles the period that laid the groundwork for America’s Great Inflation in another way: a rapid increase in deficit-funded government spending.Back then, the culprit was the Vietnam War. President Lyndon Johnson began ramping up U.S. troop levels in the mid-1960s, and with public opposition to the war rising, he was reluctant to pay for it by raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere in the budget. The result was what amounted to a jolt of fiscal stimulus at a time when the U.S. economy was already strong — a classic recipe for inflation.Today, the economy is growing quickly, and many companies have complained of difficulties in finding enough workers, suggesting that the United States might be closer to full employment than standard measures propose.“We’re not beyond full employment at this point, but a number of people are predicting that we will be, and there’s very little question that we are experiencing a big surge in demand,” said Alan Blinder, a Princeton economist and former Fed vice chairman.But there are obvious differences between the two periods. The 1960s saw historically low unemployment while the current economy is still missing millions of jobs. According to many standard measures, the recovery remains fragile enough that government spending should lead to faster job growth, not more inflation. Plus, fiscal stimulus will likely slow with time as pandemic-era programs such as enhanced unemployment benefits end. Supply shocks: Then it was oil, now it’s computer chips.In the 1960s, an overheating economy gradually pushed up prices, but it was in the 1970s when inflation really took off. Inflation jumped to 12 percent in late 1974, then moderated, and hit a peak of more than 14 percent in early 1980.The cumulative effects of that much inflation were eye-popping. In January 1970, $100 would have been able to buy as many goods and services as $280 could buy in January 1985. By comparison, $100 of purchases in 2005 would only have cost $135 by 2020.The immediate culprit, in both big 1970s spikes, was oil. The Arab oil embargo of 1973-74 and the Iranian revolution of 1979 both contributed to an oil slump, leading to price spikes and gas shortages, which in turn pushed up prices elsewhere in the economy. Shortages in commodities including lumber and agricultural goods also contributed.Oil prices are also rising now, jumping higher this week after talks between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies failed to reach a deal to ramp up production — but the situation is not as dire as the disruptions half a century ago. The economy is also facing snarls as it reopens and a dearth of computer chips is pushing up prices for video game systems and used cars. The Biden administration, much like the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations, has been examining what it can do to ease the bottlenecks, including creating a task force to look into disruptions affecting construction, transportation, semiconductor production and agriculture.“It gave me a feeling of déjà vu, because that’s what we were doing in the ’70s — we were trying to get supply-side effects,” said Barry P. Bosworth, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who led the Council on Wage and Price Stability under President Jimmy Carter. The efforts failed to control overall inflation, he said.“It doesn’t work,” he said. “As a macro policy, you can’t go around trying to put your finger in the dike everywhere it pops up.”Wages: The trouble with spirals.The big price spikes in the 1960s and 1970s reversed once the underlying conditions that created them eased. But not all the way — in each case, the rate of inflation bottomed out a bit higher than the time before. Many economists believe that pattern had to do with human psychology: Workers and businesses had come to expect a higher rate of inflation, and had adapted their behavior accordingly, creating a self-sustaining cycle.Economists particularly highlight the role of wages. Businesses can cut prices just as easily as they can raise them, but cutting wages is harder. No worker wants to be told that a job that was worth $10 an hour yesterday is worth just $9.50 an hour today. And if workers expect prices to rise at 5 percent per year, they will want raises to keep up with inflation.Most economists believe that the forces driving the current surge in inflation will ease in the months ahead. The question is whether that will happen before expectations shift. Some surveys have found that consumers are already beginning to anticipate faster inflation to stick around, although that evidence is mixed. Wages, too, have continued rising as employers struggle to rehire workers, although it’s not yet clear that they are taking off.One reason that temporary price increases turned into permanent wage increases in the middle of the 20th century is that many union contracts had escalator clauses that tied wage gains directly to inflation. Those provisions effectively helped lock in price increases, feeding into the price spiral, said David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the role of union contracts in inflation. Far fewer workers are members of unions today, and few contracts have inflation clauses, in part because they haven’t been necessary in a period of low inflation.Perhaps the largest difference of all? Time. In the 1960s, it took years of price spikes and policy failures for Americans to lose confidence that their leaders could keep inflation under control. “What happened by the ’70s took almost 10 years to develop,” Mr. Card said. “I don’t think it’s that feasible that it could happen that quickly.” More

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    Gas Price Increase Poses Challenge to U.S. Economy

    Experts say a period of costlier fuel is likely to be brief. But if consumers start to assume otherwise, it could mean problems for Biden and the Fed.As the U.S. economy struggles to emerge from its pandemic-induced hibernation, consumers and businesses have encountered product shortages, hiring difficulties and often conflicting public health guidance, among other challenges.Now the recovery faces a more familiar foe: rising oil and gasoline prices.West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil-price benchmark, hit $76.98 a barrel on Tuesday, its highest level in six years, as OPEC, Russia and their allies again failed to agree on production increases. Prices moderated later in the day but remained nearly $10 a barrel higher than in mid-May.Reflecting the increase in crude prices, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the United States has risen to $3.13, according to AAA, up from $3.05 a month ago. A year ago, as the coronavirus kept people home, gas cost just $2.18 a gallon on average. The auto club said on Tuesday that it expected prices to increase another 10 to 20 cents through the end of August.The price of a gallon of gas

    Note: Weekly prices through Monday. Data is not seasonally adjusted and includes all formulations of regular gasoline.Source: Energy Information AdministrationBy The New York TimesThe rapid run-up comes at a delicate moment for the U.S. economy, which was already experiencing the fastest inflation in years amid resurgent consumer activity and supply-chain bottlenecks. And it could cause a political headache for President Biden as he tries to convince the public that his policies are helping the country regain its footing.Asked about oil prices at a White House news conference on Tuesday, Jen Psaki, the press secretary, said the administration was monitoring the situation and had been in touch with officials from Saudi Arabia and other major producers. But she suggested that the president had limited control over gas prices.“There sometimes is a misunderstanding of what causes gas prices to increase,” Ms. Psaki said. “The supply availability of oil has a huge impact.”Indeed, energy experts said the recent jump in oil prices had more to do with global economic and geopolitical forces than with domestic policies. Global energy demand slumped when the pandemic hit last year, eventually leading the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies to cut production to prevent a collapse in prices. Demand has begun to rebound as economic activity resumes, but production has not kept pace: OPEC Plus, the alliance of oil producers, on Monday called off a teleconference to discuss increasing output.The direct economic impact of higher oil prices will probably be substantially more modest than in past decades. Energy overall plays a smaller role in the economy because of improved efficiency and a shift away from manufacturing, and the rise of renewable energy means the United States is less reliant on oil in particular.In addition, the surge in domestic oil production in recent years means that rising oil prices are no longer an unambiguous negative for the U.S. economy: Higher prices are bad news for drivers and consumers, but good news for oil companies and their workers, and the vast network of equipment manufacturers and service providers that supply them. Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at the accounting firm RSM, said oil prices of $80 or even $100 a barrel didn’t concern him. Not until prices top $120 a barrel would he start to worry seriously about the economic impact, he said.“The world has changed,” Mr. Brusuelas said. “The risks aren’t what they once were.”Still, the costs of higher prices will not be felt equally. Poor and working-class Americans drive older, less efficient cars and trucks and spend more of their incomes on fuel.Higher oil prices are no longer an altogether bad thing for the U.S. economy, but they are a particular burden to poor and working-class Americans.Audra Melton for The New York TimesScott Hanson of Western Springs, Ill., said $40 was enough to fill up his gas tank last year, when he lost his job as an office manager because of the pandemic. Now Mr. Hanson is paying over $60 to fill his Dodge Charger, making trips to take his mother to her medical appointments more expensive. Gas in Illinois is averaging $3.36 a gallon, according to AAA.“It’s too much for too many people that lost their jobs or have low-paying jobs,” Mr. Hanson said. “Everything bad that could happen is happening all at once.”Gas prices also remain a potent and highly visible symbol of rising prices when many consumers — and some economists — are nervous about inflation. Consumer prices rose 5 percent in May from a year earlier, the biggest annual increase in more than a decade, and forecasters expect figures for June, which will be released next week, to show another significant increase.Policymakers at the Federal Reserve have said they expect the increase in inflation to be short-lived, and they are unlikely to change that view based on an increase in energy prices, which are often volatile even in normal times, said Jay Bryson, chief economist at Wells Fargo.But if rising oil prices lead consumers and businesses to believe that faster inflation will continue, that could be a harder problem for the Fed. Economic research suggests that prices of things that consumers buy often, such as food and gasoline, weigh particularly heavily on their expectations for inflation. With public opinion surveys showing increasing concern about inflation, rising oil prices increase the risk of a more lasting shift in expectations, said David Wilcox, a former Fed economist who is now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.“I don’t expect the price of oil to be the last straw on the camel’s back, but it is another straw on a camel’s back that’s already carrying a fair amount of baggage,” Mr. Wilcox said. “There is a much greater risk today of an inflationary psychology taking hold than I would have said three to five years ago.”Republicans have seized on rising prices to criticize Mr. Biden’s energy policies, including his decision to cancel permits for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and his pause on selling new oil leases on federal lands, a move that a federal judge has blocked.“Bad policy is already creating conditions like higher gasoline prices that we haven’t seen in a very long time,” Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, wrote in an opinion essay last week. (Energy experts say Mr. Biden’s policies have had no meaningful impact on oil prices.)Ms. Psaki noted that Mr. Biden had consistently opposed an increase in the federal gas tax, which some Republican senators and business groups had advocated to help fund spending on infrastructure. The deal Mr. Biden reached with a bipartisan group of senators last month did not include a gas tax increase.“Ensuring Americans don’t bear a burden at the pump continues to be a top priority for the administration writ large,” Ms. Psaki said. “That’s one of the core reasons why the president was opposed — vehemently opposed — to a gas tax and any tax on vehicle mileage, because he felt that would on the backs of Americans. And that was a bottom-line red line for him.”Domestic oil production is expected to rise in coming months as higher prices and rising demand lead companies to step up drilling. But any rebound is likely to be gradual. U.S. oil companies have been cautious about investing in new exploration and production over the last year, even as oil prices have roughly doubled from the first half of 2020, when the pandemic punctured demand. Company executives say they are focused on share buybacks and debt reduction as sales rise.The Energy Department predicts that production will average 11.1 million barrels a day this year and 11.8 million barrels a day in 2022, 400,000 barrels a day less than in 2019.Even without a surge in domestic oil production, many forecasters doubt that prices will continue to rise at their recent pace. OPEC members generally agree that production should increase; they just disagree about how much. And a new nuclear deal with Iran or a thawing of U.S.-Venezuela relations could bring a flood of new supplies. Iran alone could potentially add 2.5 million to three million barrels of oil daily on the global market, or roughly a 3 percent addition to supplies.At the same time, the spread of new coronavirus variants has led some countries to reimpose or tighten restrictions on activity, which could dampen demand for oil. Capital Economics, a forecasting firm, said on Tuesday that it expected oil prices to peak at about $80 a barrel before falling back as supply increases. But the firm said that a collapse in prices or a further spike both remained possible.Reporting was contributed by More

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    Ambassador Tai Outlined Biden’s Goal of Worker-Focused Trade Policy

    The U.S. trade representative called for stronger worker protections in trade policy as the administration looks to curb the negative impact of globalization.Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, emphasized in a speech on Thursday that America is focused on protecting workers through trade policy and that it would try to push trading partners to lift wages, allow collective bargaining and end forced labor practices.The speech, Ms. Tai’s first significant policy address, highlighted the Biden administration’s goal of re-empowering workers and minimizing the negative effects of globalization, which has encouraged companies to move jobs and factories offshore in search of cheaper labor and materials.Less clear is how the administration will, in practice, accomplish those goals.“For a very long time, our trade policies have been shaped by folks who are used to looking at the macro picture — big economic sectors,” Ms. Tai said in an interview ahead of the speech, which she delivered at an A.F.L.-C.I.O. town hall. “We’ve lost sight of the impact of these policies, the really real and direct impact they can have on regular people’s lives, and on our workers’ livelihoods.”Ms. Tai, who spoke from prepared remarks, portrayed the administration’s push as trying to correct for decades of trade policy that put company profits ahead of workers and helped erode worker power in the United States.“A worker-centered trade policy means addressing the damage that U.S. workers and industries have sustained from competing with trading partners that do not allow workers to exercise their internationally recognized labor rights,” she said. “This includes standing up against worker abuse and promoting and supporting those rights that move us toward dignified work and shared prosperity: the right to organize and to collectively bargain.”Ms. Tai emphasized that the United States is already enforcing worker protections in the new North American trade agreement and trying to curb forced labor in the fishing industry at the World Trade Organization.On Wednesday, the Biden administration made its second request in a month for Mexico to review whether workers at two separate auto facilities were being denied the collective bargaining rights that were agreed to under the terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.“These enforcement actions matter,” Ms. Tai said in her speech, noting the aim is to “protect the rights of workers, particularly those in low-wage industries who are vulnerable to exploitation.”Last month, the administration submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organization aimed at curbing “harmful subsidies to fishing activities that may be associated with the use of forced labor, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.”Still, it remains to be seen how — or whether — the United States will effectively push for stronger labor standards outside of North America. Ms. Tai’s speech did not say directly how the administration would try and encourage some of its biggest trading partners, like China, to adjust trade practices.Asked what the plans are for other continents, Ms. Tai said, “In every direction that we have opportunities to formulate trade policies, we see opportunities to bring this worker-centered spirit to our work.”When it comes to China, she suggested that the goal was to work with other countries that have economic structures similar to the United States’, pairing with allies to “put ourselves on stronger competitive footing, to compete for the industries of the future.” More

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    Senate Passes Bill to Bolster Competitiveness With China

    The wide margin of support reflected a sense of urgency among lawmakers in both parties about shoring up the technological and industrial capacity of the United States to counter Beijing.WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation on Tuesday that would pour nearly a quarter-trillion dollars over the next five years into scientific research and development to bolster competitiveness against China. More

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    United Airlines Wants to Bring Back Supersonic Air Travel

    The airline, which plans to buy planes from Boom Supersonic, a start-up, could become the first to offer ultrafast commercial flights since the Concorde stopped flying in 2003.The era of supersonic commercial flights came to an end when the Concorde completed its last trip between New York and London in 2003, but the allure of ultrafast air travel never quite died out. More

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    For Many Workers, Change in Mask Policy Is a Nightmare

    After a shift by the C.D.C., employers withdrew mask policies that workers felt were protecting them from unvaccinated customers.The Kroger supermarket in Yorktown, Va., is in a county where mask wearing can be casual at best. Yet for months, the store urged patrons to cover their noses and mouths, and almost everyone complied. More