Author: Lars Emerson

The Economics of the COVID-19 Rebate

You will probably be receiving a check from the federal government in the next few months. If you are a single filer and make under $75,000, you will receive the maximum rebate of $1,200. If you make over $75,000, this amount  will be cut by 5% per dollar for every dollar over $75,000, before hitting zero at $99,000.1If you make over $75,000 you can see exactly how much you’ll receive by taking your income above $75,000 subtracted from $24,000 and multiply it by 0.05. For example, if you make $80,000: (24,000-5000)*0.05 = $950. Or you can just use this calculator, I guess. Each dependent child will add $500 as well. If you file jointly the income level rises to $150,000 and if you file as a head of household it rises to $112,500. This rebate is one of the results of the “Phase 3” COVID-19 response package that Congress passed on Friday and President Trump signed later that afternoon.2Phase 1” was the immediate response passed at the beginning of March providing just over $8 billion to health agencies. “Phase 2” was a more thorough piece of legislation addressing sick leave and testing for the uninsured. The goal is to provide immediate aid to Americans who need it and inject a massive stimulus into the economy to counter a rapidly deteriorating economic situation.

You’re probably going to start seeing and reading a lot of articles with advice on what to do with with this money; and while I would love it if the world came to me for their personal financial advice, that is not what I want to do here. Instead I want to lay out the economics of why this rebate is being issued, and why you shouldn’t feel guilty about this money if you receive it but don’t think you need it as much as others might. 

First and foremost, this money is intended to support those who need it, many people are finding themselves temporarily out of work and it goes without saying that if you need to pay rent, buy food, cover expenses, or support yourself and your loved ones, you should use the rebate for that. Please, take care of yourself, take care of your family, be responsible, and don’t think that this means you should not continue to heed the CDC guidance and continue social distancing to the extent you are able. This is not just about you, it’s about hundreds of thousands of Americans who could die or become seriously ill if you and your 300 million compatriots do not keep to yourself. 

Now that the heavy stuff is over, if you are still employed and your life is carrying on more or less financially stable despite your wistful leering out your window at the forbidden out-of-doors, you may feel a little guilty about the check you’re about to receive. There’s a compelling argument to be made that money should only have gone to those who need it: the unemployed or underemployed, especially in the services industry. I have unwittingly made this argument myself, and while the intention is correct, the economics are not.

Spend, Baby, Spend

With little traditional monetary policy action available (the Federal Reserve has already slashed interest rates to near zero and the required reserve ratio, down to 10% since the Great Recession, was slashed to 0% this month for all depository institutions) and an incredibly unorthodox and indeterminate economic slowdown — the signs of which are emerging rapidly — a massive fiscal response or unconventional monetary policy option is necessary. Former Federal Reserve Chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen have historically endorsed the prospect of “helicopter money”, Federal Reserve-financed drops of money on the American public to encourage spending and break away from a contraction verging on a deflationary spiral. And current Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has noted the high possibility of the economy currently being in recession and promised potentially unlimited lending to keep financial markets operating, though he concedes the Fed’s abilities will be limited while the economy is tempered and will be most impactful “when the recovery does come, to make that recovery as strong as possible.” In the immediate term, however, fiscal stimulus is needed. And the Phase 3 COVID-19 legislation is the first major step to assure temporary financial survival and cash to the millions of Americans increasingly finding themselves out of work. So why? Why pay out billions of dollars to give all Americans, even those who don’t need it as much as others, a cash influx?

Because the more anyone spends money, the better off everyone will be. In economics, there is a metric called the marginal propensity to consume (MPC), which is a number between 0 and 1 that reflects what portion of additional disposable income will be spent. For example, if the marginal propensity to consume is 0.4, for every additional dollar you received, you’d spend $0.40 of it and save $0.60. It is the inverse of the marginal propensity to save (MPS).3There is also MPM, the marginal propensity to import, which is not negligible, though it is likely less pervasive in covering immediate costs such as housing, healthcare, and food, so for simplicity’s sake, I will leave it off. You’re welcome. It’s calculated as a derivative of the consumption function (C) over disposable income (Y), given that the change in C over the change in Y is equal to the MPC. The MPC plus the MPS (a derivative of the savings function (S)) is equal to 1:

The marginal propensity to consume is important because of an economic concept called the fiscal multiplier, a larger part of multiplier theory, which notes that when the government spends a sum of money, the national net income may increase by more than the increase in spending. This was first conceptualized in the early 1930s by a student of John Maynard Keynes named Richard Kahn, is a key component in Keynesian economics and many of its subschools, and was at the heart of many New Deal policies. You can think of it this way: if the US government were to spend $10 billion to build a brand new spaceship for NASA, GDP increases by $10 billion right off the bat in the production of a new creation; but consider the vast majority of that $10 billion is likely going to labor costs, who then pass much of  that money in the form of buying new things: a new home, new car, or cups of coffee; then those homebuilders, carmakers, and baristas receive a portion of that money that they would not otherwise have received and go on to buy their own new homes, cars, and cups of coffee, and this multiplies out to actually increase GDP by way more than $10 billion even though only $10 billion was initially spent, possibly two, three, five, or ten times as much.

The MPC is how you calculate the multiplier, K, which is equal to one over one minus the MPC, or, effectively, one over the MPS:

The share of labor compensation in GDP has been around 60% since the Great Recession and it’s been estimated that the marginal propensity to consume is around 0.10 (meaning K = 1.11), so let’s assume that in the example above $6 billion goes to the initial labor, who then spend 10% of their additional income, and so on, increasing GDP by $6 billion * 1.11, or $6.66 billion. That’s an additional $660 million in value purely by virtue of having spent money to begin with. And this is not just wishful thinking, this is really how it works, if to a lesser degree than what the traditional economics textbook might imply.4On another note, there’s also an inverse of this, which is the money multiplier, which reflects how banks perpetually lend given deposits. This creates a massive amount of cash in the process as determined by one over the reserve requirement. Recall that the reserve requirement during the Great Recession was 10%, meaning that for every $100 deposited in a bank, a maximum amount of $1000 would be created in a perfectly functioning financial and economic system. The multiplier did not perform at this level due to banks holding reserves over the required ratio (excess reserves). Since banks are not required to lend out cash, the money multiplier is actually closer to 1.2, falling far short of the economic estimate of 100, even if it could be that high in rough practice. Now that the Federal Reserve has dropped the reserve requirements to 0, an infinite amount of money can be created. How exciting! Of course, the marginal propensity to consume is greater at lower income levels, as consumption increases until all needs are met, which is a good argument for some fiscal restraint in capping the income level that receives the cash rebate. Different degrees of and targets for spending will have different multipliers based on who they impact and their mechanisms. Increasing food stamp benefits is estimated to have a multiplier around 1.73, whereas more regressive tax cuts or policies that crowd out more efficient spending like building sports stadiums are often thought and estimated to have multipliers lower than one, resulting in getting less economic gain than what was spent.5Thank you for clicking me and wanting to know more. Crowding out describes a situation wherein the government, due to spending more, “crowds out” investment because it needs to soak up funds via debt, thus cutting off private investment’s access to capital, or at least making capital more expensive. The crowding out phenomenon is a frequent argument against publicly-funded economic growth and Keynesianism as a long term solution. As for taxes, Ricardian equivalence assumes rational consumers who are aware taxation will be required to finance any such spending either now (so less money to them) or later (paid via bonds, the interest on which must also be paid at a later date, so ultimately also less money to them), so saving would increase, thus reducing the multiplier. Empirical modern research on this theory has refuted it, and many of the assumptions behind it are no longer widely held in all but the most basic economic models. But there is still something to be said for consumers at a certain range of income realizing that this will have to be paid for and being more thrifty, expecting a tax increase or inflationary pressure in the future — the bill comes due.

Nonetheless, because this payout is a no-strings-attached rebate, consumers are empowered to spend it on whatever they’d like, and the government is not spending it on what might be a less productive endeavor, the multiplier will almost certainly be positive. People still have to buy food, pay their rent, and take care of their day-to-day needs, and it’s likely those at the lower end of the income scale (who will benefit the most from this bill) will spend more of it on immediate necessities than those who need it less, multiplying out cash and spending power as this inflates earnings from spender to spender. 

There is even precedent for a similar kind of cash handout from not that long ago which gives us an idea of what we can expect. At the onset of the Great Recession, President Bush signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, which gave many Americans between $300-$600 with the aim of encouraging spending so as to provide a floor to the weak economy. These types of refundable lump-sum tax rebates were estimated to have a multiplier of about 1.26, comparatively higher than most other tax cut options, though not as high as various types of spending increases. Though the rebate did boost spending to a degree, it was not as much as expected since most Americans saved the money in lieu of spending it and the checks arrived too late to stave off the recession, which was already well underway by the time they arrived in the later half of the year. Nonetheless, it certainly did not hurt the economy, and the cash injection was valuable towards paying off debts, increasing savings (even if this didn’t effectively improve investment, as banks weren’t loaning much out in these times anyway), and providing some cash to many who may have desperately needed it. The situation in the US was also only getting started: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the federal government in September, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt only days later, the Troubled Asset Relief Program would be authorized in October and the Federal Reserve didn’t even drop interest rates to zero until December. And that was all before President Obama was sworn in in January of 2009 and had to address the back half of the crisis, managing the automotive industry bailouts and officially exiting the recession in June of 2009, though of course economic malaise would be persistent for the next several years. Though this initial stimulus was only about $152 billion, successive fiscal support such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (which authorized $700 billion, of which only about $440 billion was used), and the Recovery Act (which cost $831 billion) made up most of the federal government’s fiscal response to the recession.6To say nothing of the $4.5 trillion dollars the Federal Reserve provided in quantitative easing to inject additional funds into the financial system and lower long-term interest rates. And while history indicates this was probably not enough and the government should have spent more to mitigate the persistent economic torpidity that would follow, you might note all of these successive bills are already dwarfed by the $2.2 trillion spent on the Phase 3 COVID-19 response legislation alone.

A Recession Unlike Any Other

Despite its size, the Phase 3 COVID-19 response legislation will not be enough. The contraction at hand is not because of the traditional reasons economies fall into recession, such as burst asset bubbles, supply shocks (i.e., a sudden increase in energy prices), financial crises, and the like, wherein there is a decrease in aggregate demand. In recessions like these, the federal government often cuts taxes and increases spending, while central banks increase the money supply to lower interest rates. This encourages businesses to take out cheap loans, new public works projects to provide jobs, and consumers to run out and buy things with all that new cash. This recession is different because we don’t want these things to happen, at least not like that. We want businesses to keep their doors closed, schools to stay shuttered, and the last thing we want is consumers running around outside within six feet of each other waving their $1200 checks. Some have argued that the aim of a COVID-19 response should be to “actually decrease demand; a kind of anti-stimulus.” Tax cuts, more spending, and lower interest rates will not help the economy to the degree they historically have, and may even make the economic scenario worse if things abruptly turned around for folks and they started traveling, going back to work, and shopping around only to spread the virus further. Yes, the economy is in trouble because people aren’t spending — but not because they don’t want to or because they had to cut back. Instead it’s a self-imposed slowdown where governments are begging people to stay inside and requiring businesses to close. No matter how much money you have right now, you’re not going to go on that big vacation to Europe you had planned, nor should you. But it’s worth saying, and now saying again, how weird it is for such behavior to be discouraged in the context of your average recession. 

While discussing the psychology of markets, Keynes once famously remarked that “animal spirits” encouraged consumption and people would spend when these spirits were lifted, as opposed to precisely calculating exactly when their personal budgetary situation would improve. He wrote, “If the animal spirits are dimmed and spontaneous optimism falters, leaving us to depend on nothing but a mathematical expectation, enterprise will fade and die.” And though Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money came out in 1936 in response to the non-pandemic but still extraordinary economic foibles of its time, it is these insights on human behavior and psychology that have made his work so pervasive and applicable even in times like our own. The peoples’ outlook has to be a positive one and government is the only institution that can provide both the hope and support that the economy will need to improve.

Survival, Not Stimulus

The goal of the Phase 3 legislation is to survive. Send out some cash to help get you through a week or two, massively expand unemployment insurance in both its length and magnitude (the bill provides nearly 100% wage replacement for the average worker, which some might argue is the most important part of the law), freeze federal student loan payments until October, and provide loans to small businesses that will not cripple them for months once the economy rebounds. And it does many of these things very well. But if the goal is to do more than just survive and in fact prevent what could become the worst recession of our lifetimes from getting worse, this will not do the job. There are already voices calling for more nuanced and specific ways to trigger direct economic activity like online-only purchase vouchers, provisions for further payments if the crisis lasts longer than a month, and the digitization of or creating contingencies for essential services like education, mental health, and even elections.

Some of these items may come in a Phase 4 bill, but given Congress’ deteriorating ability to convene, the Senate’s announcement that it will not return until April 20, and the House’s indefinite recess, by the time such a bill even gets moving it will likely be overdue. This brings us back to what we can do now and what those Americans who are still employed and collecting a paycheck but will also be receiving rebates can do. If you really want to help, do not feel guilty about spending it: buy goods online for delivery, support local restaurants even if you can’t go to them by buying gift cards, subscribe to online fitness courses or support artists by buying digital media. Your spending will have a multiplicative effect on the economy to a larger degree than its surface value, and even spending it on something you may think is frivolous or unessential given all that is at stake can have positive effects for those who may need a source of income right now more than you do. Stay safe, take care of yourself, take care of those near you, stay inside to the degree you can, and if you want to buy that new album, that fancy new blender, or a new board game to help get you through these times — don’t feel guilty about it. You have an opportunity to help out a lot of people by helping yourself.

Running Mates: Episode 3 – 1976 – Mondale v. Dole

Lars and Michael discuss the first post-Watergate presidential election and how Gerald Ford fails to excite or unite his party by picking Bob Dole as his running mate, while Jimmy Carter manages to capture optimism and credibility with Walter Mondale.

The Race is Down to Two Candidates. Their Strongest VP Picks Are Almost Identical.

And just like that, what was once the largest primary field in modern history, became what it was always probably destined to be: a slug fest between the moderates and the left, personified respectively by former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In the days before Super Tuesday, the legions of moderates behind the recently dropped out candidates Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg coalesced behind the former vice president, with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joining them shortly thereafter. The only other notable further-left-of-center candidate in the race, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren similarly dropped out after Super Tuesday but has yet to endorse either Sanders or Biden (Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Bloomberg were all quick to endorse Biden following the suspension of their campaigns). The game theory of the Democratic primary that split the more liberal voters on Super Tuesday while unifying the moderate ones allowed Biden to come away with a sizable lead coming out of Super Tuesday.

Within a week, Biden went from being an underdog to favorite with a nearly 99% chance to  secure a majority of delegates and thus, the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders’ probability of becoming the nominee has shrunk to lower than 1%, coming down off a high of nearly 50% following his victory in the Nevada caucuses. Though Sanders hardly has a window to win the nomination now, the nation and media at large have been quick to note the similarities with 2016 primaries. Biden being perceived as more moderate and accessible to Republican voters than Hillary Clinton (and his fellow candidates throughout this primary) and Democrats being more eager than ever to find someone they deem electable both point in his favor. And Biden seems on a path to follow a similar trajectory as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign against Sanders by building a moderate coalition of Democrats that are more southern, more diverse, and older than that of Sanders’ supporters.

With these two candidates left,1Yes, Tulsi Gabbard is still in the race, for the <1% of you who constitute her polling average and two earned delegates so far. the primary has come down to a slug fest between two demographically similar candidates (though their supporters are dramatically different, more on that later). We talked in our last check-in on the state of the vice presidential picks after Iowa and New Hampshire about how Sanders and Biden are very similar in what they each bring to the table as a nominee: white, male, septuagenarians with over 25 years in the federal government who are both from very small and very liberal leaning states. This means their strongest vice presidential matches will likely be similar, and indeed, on comparison, they share many of the same top ten picks, most of whom we talked extensively about in our last piece (since they’ve been the front-runners in the tracker for some time now, as Biden and Sanders have been the most likely nominees for months): Senators Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth, Mazie Hirono, and Catherine Cortez Masto, as well as former Obama Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (and 2020 presidential candidate) Julian Castro. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan is creeping up in the rankings due to the increasing favorability for Democrats in the generic ballot. Oregon Governor Kate Brown also appears on both of their top ten picks, as does Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, the very same Amy Klobuchar who just endorsed Biden, how interesting

One major new addition to the tracker, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, has already made a sizable impact as the absolute strongest pick for Sanders and in the top four for Biden. Lujan Grisham is a very strong vice presidential candidate compared to these two because of her demographic and regional strengths, as well as her combined experience both as a member of Congress and as a governor. Her exclusion in the original listing of potential VPs was a clear oversight on our end, and she’s ranked number three overall between the candidates.

Where Biden and Sanders differ, they do not do so dramatically. Sanders does not have former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick due to them sharing a region (both are from New England), and Biden misses out on former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe because Sanders’ and McAuliffe’s cumulative experience in federal and non-federal positions add to a 21.31 differential over Biden’s. This is because they’re almost exactly at the correct balance of federal and non-federal experience between them. 

Between the two of them,, Biden and Sanders each have seven women rounding out the top ten, and seven candidates who are non-white. Four of the candidates are from the Far West region and two are from the Southwest. It appears the tracker is favoring geographic and demographic diversity over the competitiveness of states, as only three of these candidates are from states currently within the competitiveness metric: Cortez Masto of Nevada, Ryan of Ohio, and McAuliffe of Virginia. If the race does tighten, New Mexico and Minnesota are on the threshold, so Klobuchar and Lujan Grisham could see their numbers improve even further.

From here on out, as the odds have refined between the two candidates, there won’t be a lot of upheaval unless the generic ballot shifts (these shifts at the margin end up making a large difference, being able to put Ohio or Georgia in play and not have to worry about defending Virginia or Colorado is a huge potential factor in selecting a competitive running mate); but stay tuned for further analysis on who our likely VPs will be and what they individually bring to the ticket.

Other Updates

We have dropped Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Steyer, and Warren from the tracker as they have each dropped out — er, ahem, suspended their campaigns. Though we may work on an at-large tool for Democratic presidential candidates using our VP pick database that lets you play around with possible nominees for fun in the future.

Now that we’re in the endgame now, I will begin researching how to build out the tracker to be slightly less broad. My gut instinct tells me Sanders is unlikely to pick a staunch moderate as a running mate, as he seems more ideologically “pure” than Biden, who might be more inclined to search for a more left-leaning vice presidential pick. There are a few variables I thought about adding in the initial tracker but cast aside for lack of time or out of desire to keep the tracker as broad as possible such as an ideology scale, a more nuanced VPKeySeat metric, or an endorsement discounter (if a potential VP has already endorsed someone, they’re less likely to be picked by the opposing camp, for example). If this gets rolled out you can expect a separate methodology piece and explainer on that.

There is still some fluctuation amongst the various picks’ strengths as the generic ballot adjusts, Democrats now have a seven point tailwind in their favor, which may make some states more in reach (Ohio, R+7; Georgia, R+12) and make others less necessary to defend (Colorado, D+1; Michigan, D+1) than they were a few weeks ago.

Per the note above, I have added New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to the tracker, as both she and Florida Representative Val Demings (also added) have both been mentioned in some recent speculative press about possible vice presidential picks for both Biden and Sanders. Lujan Grisham skyrocketed towards the top of the pack.

Congress Needs to Take the Lead on COVID-19

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz recently received some attention for wearing a gas mask on the House floor as a messaging gimmick during the novel coronavirus response emergency spending vote. He has been accused of “making light” of the disease and pending public health crisis while the virus bears down upon America and indeed days after his Fallout cosplay stunt on the floor of the House, one of his own constituents died of the virus. Matt Gaetz has defended his display (while still in mask) by pointing out that “members of Congress are human Petri dishes… we fly through the dirtiest airports, we touch everyone we meet, so if anyone’s gonna get coronavirus, it’s totally gonna be Congress.” And the truth is, he’s actually absolutely right about this, even if his methods are in poor taste.

This is not to say members of Congress are uniquely vulnerable — obviously those who work as flight attendants, medical professionals, or in the larger transportation or health industries are as vulnerable, if not more so — but Gaetz’s off color actions and glib comments1I neglected to mention that he also joked about Trump not similarly donning a gas mask because of “what it does to the hair” and advised spring breakers not to cancel their trips to his home state, stating, “In my experience, the things that you consume on spring break will typically kill the coronavirus.” If Gaetz is not a personification of the State of Florida and its unholiness, I don’t know what is. And I’m not just making an easy joke about Florida Man, I can say this, I lived there for five years. speak to a striking concern as to a lack of preparedness by the ones who are tasked with handling national crises. When I’m not writing about elections and members of Congress here at The Postrider, I make my living following members of Congress, congressional hearings, and government schedules professionally. And as the Centers for Disease Control have warned that COVID-19 fully descending on the United States will not be a matter of if, but when, I have noticed a stunning lack of precaution and preparation by Congress for the disease affecting its members and its conduction of business. As the last few weeks have been full of stories of large events being cancelled or delayed due to the virus, notably SXSW in mid-March, Google I/O in mid-May, and the release of No Time to Die, the nation’s lawmakers remain on course to power through their spring and summer schedule with brief recesses. 

Some of this is likely optics towards maintaining a steady hand and remaining calm under pressure as they passed the supplemental appropriations for response to the virus, which was quickly shepherded and near-unanimously passed by the House, the Senate, and then signed by the president over the course of three days. I hesitate to think that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the Senate leadership have not at least considered adjusting the calendar in a situation where the virus hits hard and members of Congress are warned to avoid travel between their districts and the capital. But in a time where messaging from the White House has been unclear at best and dangerously mismanaged at worst, where national leadership on the issue has been absent or uncertain, and Americans are unclear on who to listen to or rely on during a potential public health crisis, Congress is in a position to take the lead. It would be comforting and astute for Congress to at least communicate to the nation and internally that it has contingencies in mind, despite this routinely being Congress’ busiest time of year.2Congress embarks on the lengthy and time-consuming budget and appropriations process in the spring and over the summer. 

As the branch closest to the American people, members of Congress are constantly traveling to and from their districts during recesses, as well as attending meetings, fundraisers, campaign events, votes, and functions, some of which have already been affected by the virus. The myth of the elected official working four day weeks, with a week off every month, and entire month-long recesses in August and October is a quaint misunderstanding of reality. Members often work 10 hour days and 70 hours per week while Congress is in session. 78% of members report spending at least 40 weeks per year back home in their districts, which seems pragmatic considering everyone who voted for them is there, as are 85% of their families. And, in case you thought this was just a bunch of Washington fat cats persistently seeking reelection, less than one-fifth of that time is spent on active campaigning or political activities. Remember, most of these members are not a simple train or car ride away. Many of them are forced to commute from California, Alaska, and Hawaii regularly, as opposed to those in the Northeast corridor like Joe Biden, who was famous for riding the 90-minute Amtrak back home to Delaware every night when he served in Congress. With over three-quarters of members traveling so regularly to and from their district, many members spending nights sleeping on the couches in their DC offices, or sharing residences with each other in DC, not to mention that many of the lower-paid Hill staffers who work for members of Congress and their committees cohabitate as well, all in incredibly public jobs, this is a sector primed for the quick spread of disease. If COVID-19 is to be taken seriously by Congress, the supplemental funding is a good start, but the leadership should lay out a plan for their members as well.

Watching the Weekly Leader, published by the House Majority Leader’s office, I’ve been on the look out for any notice or announced contingencies in the event it is no longer advisable for members of Congress to continue traveling or meeting in Washington due to an outbreak. Thus far, as expected, there has been none, but should the virus sweep the city and the country at large, leading to the types of closures other countries have endured, what would happen? Current House rules prohibit any kind of remote voting, though California Congressman Eric Swalwell and former New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce have submitted resolutions in the past to allow members to vote from their districts on select bills. Even if it were to become the policy of either chamber, there are constitutional concerns with this; Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution requires that “neither House… shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting,” and Section 6 notes privileges for those in “attendance”. Contingencies exist for physically relocating Congress if travel to DC were discouraged, but that linked report also dashes much hope for lawmakers assembling any way other than in one clustered room: “the possibility of remote voting… could require legislative or even constitutional responses.” 

If Washington, DC somehow became a hotbed of the virus, the Congress could physically move to another area on agreement between congressional leadership, specifically the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader, as permitted by the 108th Congress in 2003 under House Concurrent Resolution 1. And if there were political or partisan tension or conflict surrounding when to convene, Article 3, Section 3 allows the president to, “on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them.” A relocation still leaves a wide array of unanswered questions, the answers to which are largely classified, such as security procedures in such an event, not to mention conflict between a state government and a federal government as the seat of government is under the authority of the Congress. Quorum requirements are yet another nightmare, since the Constitution is quite clear that a majority is required for business in each chamber. If lawmakers are self-quarantining in their home districts, or if many were to succumb to the illness themselves, the reality of a crippled legislature unable to conduct any business is a serious reality. Both chambers generally operate on the assumption of a quorum, though members are entitled to ask if a quorum is present — which would provide a workaround in the event members decide to look the other way. This is not uncommon in daily proceedings as it allows for more efficient use of time by members who are off participating in events, hearings, or meetings during the routine proceedings of the chambers. Rule XX of the House contains rules for dealing with a situation in which “the House should be without a quorum due to catastrophic circumstances,” also allows some flexibility in adjusting the provisional number of the House. I don’t want to get into a deep dive of parliamentary procedure here but this is to say that in the event of a crisis there is something on the books for if members are incapacitated, though this could be potentially controversial (and lead to legal challenges, which in and of itself leads to another set of questions on if the Supreme Court can even meet), and does not eliminate the requirement for physical presence of members. 

The United States Congress is a complicated institution, and its relationship and reliance on the other branches of government are hard to understate, but this is why Congress should be clear about these issues and their own plans now. Agreement between congressional leaders as to how the schedule would change, how and where they would convene in a situation where Washington becomes untenable for a short time, or in the event a large number of members are incapacitated or otherwise spread across their districts is something they should get in front of now and clearly communicate internally and to the public at large.

Angst within Congress is starting to show after weeks of dragging, with several members self-quarantining in the near term, individual offices rolling out policies, and the respective party caucuses expected to bring it up with their leadership this week. And while the executive branch, which Alexander Hamilton prescribed as the unitary branch, the one most suited to manifest the “energy” and “safety” in a crisis has failed to manage the one potentially before the country, it falls to the people’s branch to take the lead. That starts with an appreciation as the public’s forum for how they will uniquely be affected by it, and must culminate with enterprising to address the scientific, operational, and physical realities of the situation. Congress is rarely proactive, but this crisis is an opportunity to live up to its expectations, it should communicate its plan before it is too late.

I Listened to Every Hoodie Allen Album So You Don’t Have To, Though You Should

When I became single again a few months ago, I warned my co-editors that there was a non-zero chance I’d get back into “frat rap”, as I had been a bit infamous for a few years prior. Turns out, it happened, and here I am, writing an entire article about it in order to bore myself of it and finally get through this phase. Frat rap occupies this special place in our musical world, somehow sharing more with doo-wop than with the jazzy righteousness of Kendrick Lamar or 2Pac, and also somehow making lyrics like, “I met her at my show, then we smashed right after, If we go three rounds then she’ll fall in love faster,” and “mouth my words, don’t say shit, shh, shut up bitch and ride this dick,” sound almost cool and totally not problematic at all coming out of white-as-hell G-Eazy and Mac Miller… almost. Frat rap is pretty silly, what’s not hilarious about a bunch of white guys rapping over 1950s samples about how many women they’ve slept with, while declaring themselves the “James Dean of Rap” (whatever the hell that means)? But, for all that, it’s got an anthemic quality and irresistibly catchy nature that really hit the spot in the early-to-mid 2010s, which I guess some of us are nostalgic for. 1If there is a place on the Internet for me, where people still believe The 20/20 Experience and Random Access Memories are cool, are still excited for President Hillary Clinton, are still playing Minecraft to death, and still consider “Gangnam Style” the greatest music video of all time, please, email me right away. 

This is not to say that I am your stereotypical frat rap fan. I am vehemently opposed to sandals, I do not drink Budweiser (all praise the King of Beers), nor do I own any pastel-colored clothing. I don’t endorse the misogynistic Georgetown frat boy aesthetic, the lyrics that treat women like objects, the college party scene, or white rappers above those they were influenced by. I do not myself get all the women and I have never thrown up from drinking a Kavanaugh of beers, but being a white boy myself, I embrace the trashiness and comedy that encompasses frat rap at its best. Not necessarily as a serious contribution to the compendium of humankind’s contribution to music, but because it’s catchy and it makes me smile. If that makes me a monster, so be it.

To my credit, I have never actually been to a frat rapper’s concert. I just have a bizarre taste in music where I barely care what the words say as long as I can get down and groove along. To quote something that has probably been said at a Mike Stud concert, “It’s all about the production, man.” And I totally agree, dude. So I’m channelling what I’m sure is a deeply problematic sense of music I sometimes like into a definitive ranking of the discography of my favorite frat rapper… the one, the only, Hoodie Allen.

Hoodie, or, Mr. Allen, whatever you prefer, is a University of Pennsylvania graduate and Google alumni who decided to leave that life behind to pursue his passion in pumping out some feel-good beats about partying at the beach house, not having to go to work, and getting it on the low. Hoodie Allen started to make waves when he appeared on Billboard’s Uncharted charts and peaked at #1 on the Billboard Rap charts in 2016. I’ve always surmised and contested that Hoodie Allen is more talented than he gets credit for. He seems to tackle his fame and obscure place in the musical universe without taking himself too seriously, and he has had some clever lyrics commenting on fame, trying to make it, and the prospect of getting laid all over his house. He’s got strong, unique production work to support his lyrics (and decent flow!) and has paired up with some genuinely talented artists like Chiddy, Chance The Rapper, and — though I accept that I may be in the minority in not considering him “genuinely talented” — Ed Sheeran. Hoodie Allen may raise an eyebrow every time I ever say his name in a crowd amongst my friends, colleagues, and fellow bus passengers, but he is nonetheless a relatively harmless, fun, and exemplary frat rapper worthy of your attention.

So if you’re looking to join me in my appreciation for the stylings of one Steven Adam Markowitz, here’s where you should start. Hoodie Allen has eight “albums”, which I quote because this includes his three mixtapes (Pep Rally, Leap Year, and Crew Cuts); one EP (All American), and four studio albums (People Keep Talking, Happy Camper, The Hype, and Whatever USA). I’m excluding his other EP, Americoustic, because it is a collection of acoustic versions of some of his earlier songs and it’s real weird. I’ve listened to all of these albums and ranked them so that you, dear reader, do not have to — though by the end of this, I hope I’ve convinced you that one of these albums stands out and is genuinely a good album worthy of your ear.

#8 – The Hype (2017)

I can’t believe I’m about to admit this on the Internet, but I have an autographed vinyl copy of this album. It’s not my favorite, but it was pressed on vinyl and came with Hoodie Allen’s signature, so why the hell not! I’ve listened to enough of his music for free (most of his content is free to download) so I felt I should throw him 20 bucks, and here I am, that’s in my credit card statement now. The average track on this is better than its predecessor, Happy Camper, but it still loses out simply because it falls flat for not really bringing anything really new to the table — though he does a serviceable Fall Out Boy impression throughout, be it intentional or not. The Hype’s big difference over Happy Camper is that it probably errs towards singing over rapping, taking on a pop rap sound over a frat rap one. It tries to be trappy, and really has no singular hit, instead kind of starting to blend together with much of his later work. When Allen tries to be serious, solemn, and take himself too seriously is when he does his worst work, and that’s where The Hype goes wrong. That said, you can take my autographed Hoodie Allen merchandise over my cold, dead body.

Best Song: “All for Me” has some serviceable pop culture references and I have a whole conspiracy theory that this samples the part of MIKA and Ariana Grande’s “Popular Song” that in and of itself samples “Popular” from Wicked. It doesn’t really feel that special, but it’s okay. Justin Timberlake’s “Señorita” gets a shout out in this song, so, there’s that.

Worst Song: This is a close one, both “Play the Field” and “Fakin” are pretty bad. The production on “Fakin” is better, and though the vocals are kind of trash on both, Wale is featured on “Fakin,” which chocks it up a notch. I think it really comes down to the fact that the chorus on “Play the Field” is literally just “play the field, play the field, play the field, play the field, play the field, play the field, play the field, play the field…”, so that one is probably worse.

#7 – Pep Rally (2010)

His first mixtape, Pep Rally features some tracks sporting the by-then-long-in-decline “Chipmunk soul” samples (ask Kanye West), and an interesting enough rap over a sample of the Black Keys’ “Tighten Up” in a song of the same name. “You Are Not A Robot” is the most famous song on this album and has a vocal sample mixed to sound not dissimilar to the “Pretty White Girl Sings Dave’s Thoughts” bit from Chappelle’s Show. There’s a franticness to this album, as if there’s a lot to get out in a little bit of a time, and he doesn’t quite have his footing yet but needs to go through this to know he can fully get there. But that makes it novel, and does feel like something genuinely new. The production quality on this mixtape is both impressive given its homegrown nature, but its amateur nature still kind of shows through. It’s not as tight or crisp sounding as his later albums, but has some understated upbeat tracks that are indicative of where his music will go at its finest over the course of the next few years. This album does stick pretty close to the average it sets at the onset, never really totally dropping the ball, but only probably once rising above it. I blame some of that on the lower quality sound overall more than I do the talent or production behind it.

Best Song:You Are Not A Robot” is the most memorable song on this album for a reason, the flow over the sample and the mixing makes for a genuine groove.

Worst Song: Going to have to give it to “Words of Wisdom” on this one, though “So Much Closer” was… close. “So Much Closer” is pretty tedious, but “Words of Wisdom” is just a really bad song, and the sample on it is very of an era.

#6 – Happy Camper (2016)

His second studio album, Happy Camper, doesn’t have the unbridled excitement and thrill that makes his hits on All American, Crew Cuts, or People Keep Talking really work; and really only has one really good song. It does try a couple of new things, reaches into some unexplored territory, and that’s why it’s better than The Hype, but it is largely unmemorable even as the sound quality has evolved.

Best Song: Easy choice here, “Surprise Party”. Blackbear’s vocals and Hoodie’s faster crescendo towards the chorus mix and match for a solid banger. Unlike his other top songs, I don’t think there are any particularly clever lyrics in here, or enough to really let them take hold. It’s pretty straightforward about what it is, a song about having a girl over for the having of sex, and that, contrary to the title, “this ain’t no surprise party.”

Worst Song: “Remind Me Of”, it’s kind of poppy in a bad way, and it’s just… repetitious nothing. I also really do not care for “Champagne and Pools”, one of the singles off this album — it insists on itself being fancier or better than I think it at all is. It’s honestly baffling to me how this is was chosen as a single but “Surprise Party” was not.

#5 – Whatever USA (2019)

His most recent album, Whatever USA falls prey to the problems of its predecessors Happy Camper and The Hype, preferring to linger on more boring and repetitive vocals (we’re talking using the same line over and over and over on repeat) with production that mostly goes unnoticed, and never really living up to the enthusiasm and passion of some of his earlier albums. I do think Whatever USA does something well in that it manages to not have a truly bad song, but the flip side of that is that it has no tracks that truly stand out, and does not make a meaningful impact on his larger discography. Or maybe by the time I got to this album, my ears were trained to accept all Hoodie Allen songs as a baseline “fine”, who knows.

Best Song: “Giving Up On Us” flies higher than the rest of this album mostly thanks to Spencer Sutherland’s featured vocals and a slightly more emotional performance and staccato beat. 

Worst Song: This is hard, like I said, they’re all just pretty “fine” on this album, but I suppose “Hell of a Time” is the most plastic and boring, so I’ll give it to that one.

#4 – Leap Year (2011)

Leap Year starts out more relaxed and comfortable than its predecessor, Pep Rally. It takes its time and has a more casual, pool party vibe (which is exactly what the album cover is telling me!), like he’s having a good time and isn’t stressed about it. The production and sound quality have improved to the point where this really does come through in the music and in his voice. It gets a bit louder and more crowded than it needs to in the middle, and I genuinely thought Hoodie Allen was in fact Kanye West at a few points, they sound really similar for a few verses in “Soul On Fire”, so maybe there’s some lingering influence there. “Push You Away”, a softer song in the middle of the album, is probably the first truly introspective and “sadboi” track he’ll have, previewing what will come in some later albums. It’s kind of mellow and haunting, while still giving you a beat you can sing to in the car, and I dig it. It kind of abruptly jumps to a song that proceeds to rhyme “Ibiza” with “pizza” but hey, can’t win ‘em all. The album starts to pick up as it closes with “#WhiteGirlProblems” which is fun enough, but loses the oomph with an underperforming closer in “Dreams Up” before ending with a Elton John-esque song about how he’s handling a girl asking him to move out via a “Moon Bounce” (the piano in this song is actually kind of good though).

Best Song: “The Chase Is On” is an all around feel good song, the chorus makes me want to do that arm roll-ey move that people do when they dance, it’s very danceable even though it’s not quite the most special song on this album; which is actually a pretty good metaphor for this album in the wider context of his entire collection. “Push You Away” is also pretty damn good, it’s like a Shakira song was slowed down and a sad boy is rapping over it. I think my heart is telling me “Push You Away” but my need to dance is telling me “The Chase Is On”, so since I make the rules here, I’m calling it a tie.

Worst Song: I am tempted to say “Flipping Out”, which doesn’t so much have the aesthetic as a chill pool party as it does a cheap luau that someone got high at and is now playing in slow motion for them. But I think “Dreams Up” is probably the worst song on this album, it’s kind of cheap, repetitive, and optimistic in a way that doesn’t quite land.

#3 – All American (2012)

His first non-mixtape release, All American debuted as the number one album on iTunes and skyrocketed him to fame! If you know him from one thing, it’s probably from this album. Despite the fame, he was able to maintain his signature personal and more intimate appeal, regularly interacting with his fans, promising to personally call every fan that bought the album on its first day. This album starts to lean more on Hoodie’s vocals and singing, mostly to its discredit,2Some of the better songs from this album are on his previously-mentioned Americoustic, his 2013 acoustic album… if you want to ruin “No Interruption” for yourself, here you go. Though I’ll admit I do like the acoustic guitar riffs in its beginning. but has a saving grace in “No Interruption”, the lead single which absolutely makes the album and elevates it from its dregs. “No Faith in Brooklyn” is the other single on the album, and if you somehow missed the “No Interruption” love, you may have found something to enjoy in the more sentimental and sappy song here. I think I overdosed on that song a few years ago so I find it a bit boring now, but it is a nice nostalgic listen. There are some other just fine songs in here which I feel do not reflect his best work but are at least serviceable and may even have been your favorites if you were an early fan of Hoodie, like “Small Town”, “Ain’t Gotta Work”, and the Disney-bop-like “Eighteen Cool”. Nonetheless, the production and sound quality are clearly stepping up and he’s starting to get slightly more experimental and emotional, while hitting the mark exactly with “No Interruption”.

Best Song: As if it even needs to be said. “No Interruption” is hands down Hoodie Allen’s best song of all time. I could listen to this song for days and never get tired of it. I know every line and beat and it just pumps me the hell up! It reminds me of such great times hanging with good friends, nodding and singing along to this song before heading out for a great night. It never hesitates to get me doing the signature head side-to-side dance that he does in the music video. Endlessly catchy, it’s the epitome of the best of its genre and of Hoodie Allen: something that takes a boyish, immature concept and glorifies it with a sick flow and a well orchestrated beat, turning it into a semi-parody of itself while making everyone in the room admit they actually kind of like it. 

Worst Song: “Top of the World,” it’s just a little plain with a relatively uneventful build. It also doesn’t say much other than that he’s “makin’ money right now.”

#2 – Crew Cuts (2013)

His third mixtape, Crew Cuts may be Hoodie Allen’s most sensitive album, featuring more reflective slower songs like “Let Me Be Me”, “Where Do We Go Now”, and “Good Intentions”. Hoodie’s singing on this works better than it does in All American and this album probably has his first big featured artists, with Chance the Rapper and Chiddy complementing some of the best songs he’s done. It’s also very well produced for a mixtape, and most of the production value is laudable and unique compared to the more audibly consistent Pep Rally and Leap Year. It’s also probably his “chillest” album, in that no song is a true rager, but mostly ideal for a more moderate yet upbeat vibe, with pretty heavy piano instrumentals scattered throughout; even if the lyrics can be over the top, it’s sung with a cadence not dissimilar to what might be expected from a boy band. Even his most lewd song on this album, “Two Lips”, is weirdly more sentimental than you’d expect. Seriously, listen to this song and think about what he’s singing compared to the instrumental, it’s very interesting. But it works! Hoodie Allen’s unexpectedly pleasant voice actually works even when he’s not rapping and counter to what the lyrics in the songs actually are, the album cover, and its larger genre, it comes across incredibly straightforward, understated, and sedated; rarely sounding douchey at all. 

Best Song: Fame Is for Assholes”, this song featuring Chiddy, chugs along at a pace that works really well with the simple notes over which they’re rapping. It’s probably the most exciting song on the album and Chiddy’s stint on here is fun and fast enough to balance out some of the slower songs throughout the album. It’s chock full of clever pop culture double entendres and is probably the song with the most clever lyricism of Hoodie’s works.

Worst Song: “Reunion”, its chorus-like sample and Kanye West-like processional do not land very well. I really don’t care for “Cake Boy” either but I think its rap is more interesting even if its chorus is worse. “Cake Boy” has a simplistic instrumental not unlike Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” that kind of gives this a feel that it truly is happening in a kitchen with a group of friends banging on pots and pans while Hoodie is spitting rhymes over them, whereas “Reunion” feels too produced.

#1 – People Keep Talking (2014)

This is his masterpiece, his reaction to fame, how it feels to succeed and get what he wanted, and how to stay true to his art in the face of studio exploitation and those around him who want him to focus on them instead of his vision. Okay, maybe I’m stretching it a little, but not really, it is genuinely about all of these things! It’s in all honesty a really good album. People Keep Talking is his first studio album and it lands with the corniness, passion, flow, and excitement you’d expect from an independent rapper who suddenly got to fulfill his dreams. It received acclaim on its debut, and arrived at number 8 on the Billboard 200, has four singles, some great music videos, and so neatly contains the unbridled fun that Hoodie Allen is at his finest. It’s his longest album, but unlike The Hype, it manages to maintain its speed and cohesiveness throughout, never verging on the tediousness of the albums that would follow it.

It opens with the mellow “100 Percent of Something”,  a reflection on his success and how much work it takes to still require some degree of luck to even get close to getting there. Now that he’s there, he doesn’t want to let it go, and can’t help but want more, and closes with a set up for the next song where two fans attempt to call his phone number. This leads into the title track, “People Keep Talking”, where he faces down his so called fans who say he’s changed and has to rationalize them as haters, taking pride in the fact that their girlfriend’s don’t have time for them anymore since they’re too busy listening to his music. His emphasis on being accessible to his fans and not signing to a major label seems to bite him, as he doesn’t charge to meet fans and just tries to put out what people will like, but ultimately finds the best way to keep on doing what he’s doing is to ignore the comments, calls, and criticism. The album manages to coherently stay the throughline on its theme, braggadocious when it needs to be, parodying the record industry with some sketches and scathing lines, and keeping the momentum with underrated hits like “Sirens” and “Won’t Mind” (this song absolutely should be played at every wedding) that are embellished by the shouts, excitement, and pure enthusiasm that deliver in keeping Hoodie authentic to his more humble homegrown roots on top of genuinely great sounding music. Ed Sheeran is featured on the most famous song on this album, “All About It”, and even he gets in on the fun by rapping along. It’s an exuberant ode to being true to what you want and like, reaping the rewards for it, and having a blast doing it. This is not to say there are not melancholy notes; “The Real Thing” ends with a woman calling Hoodie upset that she hasn’t heard from him because he’s been putting his time into the album, a call he immediately deletes. Does fame mean having to leave some part of yourself behind? Or is it a crutch to get away from adult responsibilities that impede on his childish indulgences? 

Is People Keep Talking quite the exploration on the affliction of fame that Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly are? Of course not, but the clever rhymes and references intermingled against sketches of fans and producers delivers a satisfying picture of what it feels like to finally achieve what you were looking for: if you can channel out what doesn’t matter, it feels good. 

Best Song: “People Keep Talking” is an all around great song, it’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s really what this is all about. It’s the heart of the album and it cleverly weaves between how to be a good celebrity with the annoyances therein. “Sirens” and “Won’t Mind” are also really great.

Worst Song: Really the only bad song on this album is its last track, “Against Me”, which aims for the sentimental to close it off, but comes across a little overdone and whiny. 

Running Mates: Episode 2 – 1972 – Shriver v. Agnew

Lars and Michael discuss Richard Nixon’s deliberation over whether or not to keep his vice president, Spiro Agnew, on the ticket and take a deep dive into the bleak prospects for the Democratic nominee George McGovern and his struggle to even find a running mate in the first place.

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