Political Calculations
Unexpectedly Intriguing!
30 November 2023

It's something you probably wouldn't ever notice unless it were a problem, but hanging coats and other clothes take up a surprising amount of space.

How would that be a problem? If you lived anywhere space is a premium, such as an apartment without closets, you might find dedicating space just for hanging up your coats or clothes imposes a larger than expected penalty on you. Freestanding wardrobes are a traditional solution, but one that might take up too much of your limited floor space. The alternative solution of just tossing your clothes anywhere is really adding the problem of clutter to your living space without doing anything to solve the other problems you have.

When Simone Giertz moved to Los Angeles, she encountered these problems. They bothered her so much that she spent three years working up a unique solution for them: hinged, folding clothes hangers. In the following video she describes how she solved those problems:

She is in the process of turning her solution into a product you can buy, via a Kickstarter campaign that will run through Friday, 16 December 2023. She was seeking $50,000 in pledges but as of this writing, has received pledges in excess of $300,000, so the project is going to move forward and become a real product.

For us, she's provided a great example of outside the box thinking because her "Coat Hingers" do just that, with the boxes being either closets or wardrobes.

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29 November 2023
Microsoft Bing Image Creator. Prompt: A picture illustrating the concept of prices rising over time. Digital art, 4k.

What a difference a month and data revisions make!

It was just a month ago that U.S. Census Bureau data on new home sales put the total value of all new homes sold during September 2023 within half a billion dollars of the $31.05 billion peak reached at the height of the U.S housing bubble in August 2005.

But downward revisions for the number of new homes sold in recent months combined with the falling average price of new homes sold has changed that picture. Political Calculations' initial estimate of the nominal (non-inflation adjusted) market capitalization of new homes sold during the month of October 2023 is $29.25 billion. That's below September 2023's revised estimate of $29.62 billion, which itself is a full billion below our initial estimate for that month.

So rather that being close to the August 2005 nominal peak, we find instead that the market cap of all new homes sold in the U.S. has yet to surpass their December 2020 pre-Biden era peak. The data for October 2023 is also the first to break what had been a series of consistently rising monthly values for this measure since November 2022, though it is too early to verify if that upward trend has been broken.

These figures will continue to be revised over the next several months, but for now, here is the latest update to our chart illustrating the market capitalization of the U.S. new home market since January 1976:

Trailing Twelve Month Average New Home Sales Market Capitalization in the United States, January 1976 - October 2023

The next two charts show the latest changes in the trends for new home sales and prices:

Rising trend for new home sales slows:

Trailing Twelve Month Average of the Annualized Number of New Homes Sold in the U.S., January 1976 - October 2023

New home prices heading downward:

Trailing Twelve Month Average of the Mean Sale Price of New Homes Sold in the U.S., January 1976 - October 2023

There are negative implications for the market cap of new home sales to have begun falling in October 2023. Since new home sales contribute roughly 3-5% to the nation's Gross Domestic Product, a change from a rising to a falling trend would mean the market for new homes may now be contributing a headwind to the U.S. economy.


U.S. Census Bureau. New Residential Sales Historical Data. Houses Sold. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 27 November 2023. 

U.S. Census Bureau. New Residential Sales Historical Data. Median and Average Sale Price of Houses Sold. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 27 November 2023. 

Image credit: Microsoft Bing Image Creator. Prompt: "A picture illustrating the concept of prices rising over time. Digital art, 4k.".


28 November 2023
A picture illustrating the concept of prices rising over time. Digital art, 4k. Source: Microsoft Bing Image Creator

Inflation indices like the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producer Price Index (PPI) have been in the news a lot since inflation began running hot in the spring of 2021.

As their names suggest, these seasonally-adjusted indices provide a measure of the inflation experienced by different groups within the U.S. economy. The CPI represents the measure of inflation experienced by all U.S. urban consumers (about 93% of the population) and the PPI measures inflation experienced by U.S. businesses that either produce goods or provide services.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported what was considered to be positive news for both the CPI and the PPI inflation indices for the month of October 2023. The CPI was unchanged from its reported level in September 2023, although it was up 3.2% year-over-year. The PPI "unexpectedly" fell by 0.5% from its September 2023 level, but was still up by 1.3% year-over-year.

How is this information less than useful? To understand why, try answering these two questions using the information presented in the previous paragraph:

  1. How will the CPI and PPI change from October to November 2023?
  2. How will the CPI and PPI change from October 2023 to October 2024?

If you're in the business of looking forward, as many analysts and business managers have to be because they're making decisions and plans about what to buy or what multi-million dollar investments to make, this information tells you virtually nothing about where inflation is heading. Their getting the answer wrong can cause big losses and/or jobs.

In 2010, money manager Barry Ritholtz slammed the CPI in particular and explained why to Time's Justin Fox:

Another we have to look at as not helpful at all is CPI. Thanks to the Boskin Commission, it has been rendered more or less meaningless. He (economist Michael Boskin) deserves credit for taking an otherwise valid economic indicator and pissing all over it. (Here’s Barry going on at length about his disdain for Boskin.)

Meanwhile, Moody's economist Mark Zandi faulted the usefulness of the PPI, grouping it with other economic indicators he described as "either often misleading or the signal to noise ratio is very high and thus hard to interpret". (Note: That's a verbatim quote. Zandi most likely meant the noise-to-signal ratio was very high for the indicators he cited, as that would be a bad thing for getting a good reading on the direction of the economy.)

Speaking of which, did you know the Federal Reserve, which is chartered with the jobs of providing for price stability and maximizing the number of jobs in the U.S. economy, doesn't have a good understanding of inflation? Here's how former Fed governor Daniel K. Tarullo put it in a 2017 paper:

The substantive point is that we do not, at present, have a theory of inflation dynamics that works sufficiently well to be of use for the business of real-time monetary policy-making.

It's not like the Fed doesn't have inflation data, as the CPI and PPI are just two measures of it. But it's clear doing anything useful with the information provided by the inflation indices is something of a problem for the people who have to be the most on top of it.

The CPI and PPI data reported to the public feeds into future expectations for inflation, and as Barry Ritholtz colorfully put it earlier this year, "inflation expectations are useless":

They aren’t merely lagging, backward-looking indicators, but instead, inform us as to what the public was experiencing about 3-6 months ago. Typically, it takes people a few weeks or months to subconsciously incorporate broad, subtle changes into their internal mental models, and longer to consciously recognize those nuanced shifts.

Beyond short-term trend extrapolation, inflation expectations have little to no ability to provide insight into the intermediate-future (e.g., 6-12 months) inflation. As to the longer-term, the 5-Year Forward Inflation Expectation Rate are ridonkulously, hilariously, laughably useless. They are so silly as to be “Not even wrong” — just goofy irrelevant guesses.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg Markets' Mark Cudmore takes aim at another frequently reported measure of inflation expectations that doesn't track with the CPI:

The inflation expectations reading from the University of Michigan is again being cited as a relevant input. It’s not. Anyone who is allowed to touch any of the real buttons in a trading room should ignore it.

It’s completely useless, not just as a guide to levels, but even directionally. No amount of data-mining can validate any useful signal from the reading since the inflation regime changed several years ago.

A 2021 paper by the Federal Reserve Board's Jeremy Rudd confirms the Fed's analysts have little-to-no confidence in the inflation expectations data.

Economists and economic policymakers believe that households’ and firms’ expectations of future inflation are a key determinant of actual inflation. A review of the relevant theoretical and empirical literature suggests that this belief rests on extremely shaky foundations, and a case is made that adhering to it uncritically could easily lead to serious policy errors.

As economic indicators, inflation indices are backward-looking metrics that are not useful for divining where inflation will go in the future. To the extent they are useful, it is as a means of quantifying how prices changed in the past. Inflation expectations data doesn't even have that going for it.

Previously on Political Calculations

Image credit: Microsoft Bing Image Creator. Prompt: "A picture illustrating the concept of prices rising over time. Digital art, 4k."


27 November 2023
Angry Bull photo by Carlos ZGZ via Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/carloszgz/15829576985/in/photolist-q7NHK8-aRQkYT

Welcome back from the Thanksgiving holiday! We're pleased to confirm that not much happened to affect stock prices during the week that was, so if you took the entire week off, you really didn't miss much.

That's because there was little news originating in the U.S. to give markets a convincing direction during the past week. The Thanksgiving holiday-shortened trading week saw the S&P 500 (Index: SPX) close at 4559.34, up 1.0% from the previous week's close.

For the latest update of the alternative futures chart, we find the index is continuing to follow a flat-to-slightly rising trajectory. That puts it above the unadjusted dividend futures-based model's short term projections, but that's only because we've chosen to not extend the redzone forecast range to account for the short term echo from October 2023's outlier noise event.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2023Q4 - Standard Model (m=+1.5 from 9 March 2023) - Snapshot on 24 Nov 2023

That echo effect is a result of the dividend futures-based model's use of historic stock prices as the base reference points from which it projects the future for the S&P 500. Those base reference points are taken from the S&P 500's value some 13 months, 12 months, and 1 month earlier. October 2023's short-term spike in long-term U.S. Treasury rates occurred just one month ago, so the model's raw projections are being skewed by the volatility in stock prices at that time. The echo will stop affecting the model's projections in one week, coinciding with its dissipation.

Our summary of the past week's market-moving headlines is blissfully short:

Monday, 20 November 2023
Tuesday, 21 November 2023
Wednesday, 22 November 2023
Friday, 24 November 2023

The CME Group's FedWatch Tool continues to expect the Fed will hold the Federal Funds Rate steady in a target range of 5.25-5.50% through next April (2024-Q2). Starting from 1 May (2024-Q2), investors expect deteriorating economic conditions will force the Fed to start a series of quarter point rate cuts at six-to-twelve-week intervals through the end of 2024, unchanged from their expectations of a week earlier.

The Atlanta Fed's GDPNow tool's estimate of real GDP growth for the current quarter of 2023-Q4 ticked back up to +2.1% from last week's projected +2.0% annualized growth.

Image credit: Angry Bull photo by Carlos ZGZ on Flickr. Public domain image. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 DEED.

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24 November 2023

It's officially "Black Friday" in the U.S. This is the traditional day that those who get an extra day off work following Thursday's official Thanksgiving holiday use to start the mad rush of shopping for Christmas presents.

Which brings us to a problem that only a select number of shoppers have. What can you get for those people you know who really like maths?

In previous years, we've recommended maths-inspired objects like Klein bottles and oddly shaped objects that roll smoothly, which certainly make for unique gifts. This year, we're going to suggest something that's both a unique item and highly interactive. A card game based on blackjack, or Twenty-One, that takes the old-fashioned game to a new level.

21X is a new card game developed by Naylor Games that was successfully kickstarted in the U.K. earlier this year. Here's how the creator's described the game:

21X is a light, fast paced card game that fuses Blackjack with algebra.

Like Blackjack, you'll be dealt 2 cards with the objective of getting them to add up to 21. However, the cards you're being dealt, have a twist to them... they're algebraic formulas!

It's a perfect gift for maths loving friends and family members, a fun algebra learning tool for schools and fantastic for avid newspaper puzzlers.

We know the mere mention of the word "algebra" is enough to scare many, but check out the following less-than-three minute long preview from Board Game Happy, which provides a very quick lesson in how to play it:

Here are the written rules from 21X's Kickstarter site:

Most cards feature N, X or both on them. N is equal to the number of cards you have, while X can be any integer of your choice (except 0). X must be the same across all your cards and you can change it at any time.

Everyone plays simultaneously to try to get 21 first. At any time a player can "twist" and draw another card from the deck. This could help them, but will make N bigger in the process.

If a player makes 21, they announce it, state their X value and show their working. If they're correct, they win!

Alternatively, if a player can't make 21 but is close, they can call "stick" and state their X value (you may not stick or win with exactly 20). This gives all other players just 1 minute to beat that score. Whoever is closest to 21 at the end of the timer, wins!

Unfortunately, since 21X was only just successfully kickstarted as of 19 October 2022, it won't be available until June or July 2024, which takes it off 2023's shopping list for gift-giving. For now, you can subscribe for pre-order notification at Naylor Games' site to get well ahead of the game when Black Friday 2024 rolls around.

But that still leaves the question of what gift might work for that maths-oriented person you know in 2023, and that's where the Kickstarter site offers useful inspiration. For those pledging support for the project, Naylor Games offered a discounted copy of Marcus du Sautoy's new book, Around the World in Eighty Games: From Tarot to Tic-Tac-Toe, Catan to Chutes and Ladders, a Mathematician Unlocks the Secrets of the World's Greatest Games.

If you're not familiar with du Sautoy, he presented the series A Brief History of Mathematics on the BBC in 2010. The 10 episodes of that series are freely available for download and provides a fantastic overview of who did what and when in maths.

His new book explores the centuries-long connections between maths and games, which makes it almost self-recommending for anyone who enjoys both. We're looking forward to it and also to playing 21X sometime in 2024!

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About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

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