Doux Commerce and Jazz

One of Montesquieu’s most important contributions is the doux commerce thesis, which is French for “sweet commerce” or “gentle commerce.” In short, trade is peaceful and pleasant. It is based on persuasion and consent, and rejects force. It rewards honesty, politeness, and caring for the wants of others. Trade is both a cause of, and an effect of, civilization and peace. Countries that trade with each other are less likely to go to war.

The music historian Ted Gioia unintentionally makes a similar argument for music as a promoter of peace and exchange on page 215 of his excellent 2016 book How to Listen to Jazz:

“Perhaps we have failed to bridge the sociopolitical gulfs that separate all the peoples of the world, but at least on the bandstand we have shown both the possibility and the glorious upside from mutual respect, duty-free transactions, and non-coercive cooperation.”

I don’t know if Montesquieu, who died in 1755, would have liked jazz. But he almost certainly would have approved of its role in bringing different people from different backgrounds together in mutual respect and, often literally, in harmony.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

Air travelers no longer have to wear masks, although the decision is being appealed. Having solved all of the state’s other problems, Florida Republicans passed an anti-Disney law. Agencies issued new regulations ranging from bottled water to replica cars.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 41 final regulations last week, after 68 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every four hours and six minutes.
  • With 966 final regulations so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 3,096 final regulations this year.
  • For comparison, there were 3,257 new final regulations in 2021, President Biden’s first year, and 3,218 in 2020, President Trump’s final year.
  • Agencies issued 31 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 45 the previous week.
  • With 690 proposed regulations so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 2,211 proposed regulations this year.
  • For comparison, there were 2,094 new proposed regulations in 2021, and 2,094 in 2020.
  • Agencies published 526 notices last week, after 432 notices the previous week.
  • With 7,007 notices so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 22,503 notices this year.
  • For comparison, there were 20,018 notices in 2021. 2020’s total was 22,458.
  • Last week, 1,809 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,809 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue in 2022 contains 312 pages.
  • With 24,266 pages so far, the 2022 Federal Register is on pace for 77,776 pages.
  • For comparison, the 2021 Federal Register totals 74,352 pages, and 2020’s is 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are 10 such rules so far in 2021, none from the last week.
  • This is on pace for 32 economically significant regulations in 2022.
  • For comparison, there were 26 economically significant rules in 2021 and five in 2020.
  • The total cost of 2022’s economically significant regulations so far ranges from net savings of $1.14 billion to $3.74 billion. However, this figure is incomplete. Not all such rules issued this year give the required cost estimates.
  • For comparison, the running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from net costs of $13.54 billion to $19.36 billion. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • There are 76 new regulations meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far in 2022. This is on pace for 244 significant rules for the year.
  • For comparison, there were 387 such new regulations in 2021 and 79 in 2020.
  • So far in 2022, 265 new regulations affect small businesses, on pace for 849. Twenty-eight of them are significant, on pace for 90.
  • For comparison, there were 912 rules in 2021 affecting small businesses, with 101 of them classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

Podcast: Inflation

I was recently the guest on the Of Consuming Interest podcast, hosted by Shirley Rooker. We talked about common misconceptions about inflation and a few other economic issues. After we wrapped, the producer said I was “very understandable,” which is easier said than done in monetary economics.

The audio is here.

The Updated Case for Free Trade

Trade is a core value of civilization. The very act of trade implies respect for people’s rights. Suppose you have something I want. I could take it by force or I could offer to trade you something in exchange. Not only that, but since you have the right to say no, I have to offer you something you value even more than what you give up. Civil exchange puts the civil in civilization—both morally, by rewarding peaceful behavior, and economically, by making possible the division of labor.

Stanford University historian Josiah Ober argues that one cause of Ancient Greece’s cultural flowering was a relatively liberal attitude toward trade and commerce—and its decline was caused in part by a turn inwards. The great Belgian historian Henri Pirenne made a similar claim about Ancient Rome. Dartmouth University economist Doug Irwin traces free-trade arguments through Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas up to the first modern defense of free trade in Henry Martyn’s 1701 Considerations Upon the East India Trade. Adam Smith made a moral and economic case for trade in 1776 that economists have been refining ever since.

The 30-fold improvement in living standards since around 1800 is due in large part to gradual popular acceptance of the benefits of trade. The process has not been smooth. In the first half of the 20th  century, growing nationalist sentiment and a rejection of bourgeois virtues helped lead to two world wars and the Great Depression. The free world came to its senses after those horrors, and spent the next 75 years lowering trade barriers, helping hundreds of millions of people to rise out of poverty. That era may now have ended with the Trump administration’s protectionist turn, the Biden administration’s normalizing of that change, and rising nationalism here and abroad.

The case for free trade may be an old one, but it needs to be restated often. To that end, the Cato Institute’s Scott Lincicome and Alfredo Carrillo Obregon this week released “The (Updated) Case for Free Trade,” an accessible restatement of the moral and economic case for free trade that offers a stark contrast to the protectionist alternatives politicians from both parties are now proposing.

They also take a look at how trade policy can affect America’s most important foreign policy challenge going forward: China.

China represents real challenges, but dealing with it does not warrant abandoning free trade. Instead, historical and recent evidence demonstrate that China’s economic threat to the United States has been exaggerated, that aggressive unilateralism will prove less effective in influencing the Chinese government’s behavior than multilateral engagement, and that the United States will be better positioned to respond to a rising China if it embraces the openness and confidence that made America an economic powerhouse.

The whole paper is worth reading.

Trade might not be a front-page issue at the moment, but it underlies nearly every issue that is getting significant ink, including supply chain problems, housing prices, the pandemic response, and foreign policy challenges such as those involving Russia and China.

Sound trade policy and the liberal values that undergird it need as many able defenders as they can get; Lincicome and Obregon’s contribution is essential in that regard. Readers interested in another easily accessble defense of free trade should also check out Iain Murray’s and my paper “Traders of the Lost Ark.”

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet was sunk. Baseball season began, marking the unofficial start of spring. Agencies issued new regulations ranging from Potato Board membership to pesticide performance.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 68 final regulations last week, after 68 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 28 minutes.
  • With 930 final regulations so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 3,168 final regulations this year.
  • For comparison, there were 3,257 new final regulations in 2021, President Biden’s first year, and 3,218 in 2020, President Trump’s final year.
  • Agencies issued 45 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 45 the previous week.
  • With 659 proposed regulations so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 2,257 proposed regulations this year.
  • For comparison, there were 2,094 new proposed regulations in 2021, and 2,094 in 2020.
  • Agencies published 432 notices last week, after 502 notices the previous week.
  • With 6,571 notices so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 22,503 notices this year.
  • For comparison, there were 20,018 notices in 2021. 2020’s total was 22,480.
  • Last week, 1,809 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,419 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue in 2022 contains 312 pages.
  • With 22,809 pages so far, the 2022 Federal Register is on pace for 77,199 pages.
  • For comparison, the 2021 Federal Register totals 74,352 pages, and 2020’s is 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are 10 such rules so far in 2021, one from the past week.
  • That is on pace for 34 economically significant regulations in 2022.
  • For comparison, there were 26 economically significant rules in 2021 and five in 2020.
  • The total cost of 2022’s economically significant regulations so far ranges from net savings of $1.14 billion to $3.74 billion. However, this figure is incomplete. Not all such rules issued this year give the required cost estimates.
  • For comparison, the running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from net costs of $13.54 billion to $19.36 billion. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • There are 72 new regulations meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far in 2022. This is on pace for 247 significant rules for the year.
  • For comparison, there were 387 such new regulations in 2021 and 79 in 2020.
  • So far in 2022, 256 new regulations affect small businesses, on pace for 877. Twenty-six of them are significant, on pace for 89.
  • For comparison, there were 912 rules in 2021 affecting small businesses, with 101 of them classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

Inflation Rises to 8.5 Percent: Straining for Optimism

High inflation will likely be with us for a while, which means I’ll be writing a lot of posts like this. So, for the sake of variety, after this morning’s inflation news, I’ll try to put as optimistic spin on it as possible. Just keep in mind that today’s news is objectively very, very bad. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 1.2 percent during March, which annualizes to 8.5 percent inflation. This up sharply from February’s 0.8 percent month-over-month increase and 7.9 percent annualized rate. The Fed’s target inflation rate is 2 percent.

A small part of the CPI increase is due to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine and the related energy supply shock. As I recently explained, supply shocks are not inflation. When the administration points to Putin to deflect blame from itself, it won’t be entirely wrong, but it will be exaggerating.

For one, energy is only 7.5 percent of the basket of goods that CPI tracks, or less than 1/12th, not nearly enough to push inflation as high as it is now by itself.

Second, while, the Putin oil shock is severe enough to show up in the CPI, that doesn’t make it inflation. It is extremely difficult to tease out how much of a good’s price rise is due to monetary inflation that affects all goods and how much is due to a supply shock that affects just one good (and its downstream uses). The CPI is not up to the task, which is one reason why the Fed no longer uses it.

One way to compensate for this is to use the Core CPI instead of the regular CPI index. This is identical to the standard CPI, but excludes food and energy, which have frequent inflation-unrelated supply shocks. This currently reads an annualized 6.5 percent. The Atlanta Fed also calculates a Sticky Price CPI based on a similar philosophy. Its most recent reading is 4.3 percent.

These are both better than the standard CPI’s 8.5 percent inflation rate, and likely more accurate, since they exclude supply-shock-prone goods. But the target inflation rate is 2 percent, and inflation is still at multi-decade highs by any measure.

The second piece of (kind of) good news is that the Fed can get inflation back to its target 2 percent level very quickly. Congress and President Biden have not been helping with their multi-trillion-dollar deficit spending spree, which will likely add a percentage point or so to the inflation rate for as long as the next decade. But that’s only one percentage point out of eight.

Most of the rest is on the Fed, which has been creating new money at a frantic pace in an attempt to stimulate the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was not the right thing to do, since the economy was otherwise healthy, but this mistake is fixable. All the Fed has to do now is to slow money supply growth so that it matches growth in real economic output. It has the authority and the tools to do so.

That does not mean reducing the money supply in absolute terms. The money supply should still grow, which is an underappreciated point right now among inflation hawks. The money supply needs to grow at the same pace as the rest of the economy, but not slower than real growth, which would cause deflation. And not faster, which is what is causing today’s inflation, but as close a match as possible.

The Fed is able to quickly grow the money supply by buying large amounts of government bonds. It pays for these with new money it creates, which then spreads throughout the economy. The Fed can counteract this just as quickly by doing the opposite—selling government bonds. It can then retire from circulation the currency it receives from bond buyers.

The Fed seems to know this, and ended its multi-trillion-dollar COVID-stimulus bond buying program last month. It is also hiking the federal funds rate. This has smaller inflationary effects than the bond buying program’s direct money creation, but the federal funds rate has important psychological effects on the public’s inflation expectations. Many supply chain and investment decisions cover months and even years. Companies set their prices today in part based on what they expect inflation to look like over those periods. If the Fed credibly commits to getting its monetary house in order, companies will set their prices accordingly.

Expectations aren’t as important as the actual money supply, but they still matter for getting inflation back to Earth. Higher interest rates can play a positive role, despite their lack of oomph on attacking inflation directly. The Fed has indicated that it will continually raise the federal funds rate for at least most of this year.  

While it will take a few months for those changes to work their way through the economy, they bode well going forward, especially if the Fed ramps up its changes to the degree it should.

There is some reason for guarded optimism, if you look hard enough. On one hand, anything could happen with Russia and Ukraine, the Fed is being far too timid, and Congress and President Biden show no indication of reining in deficit spending. But on the positive side, supply shocks are not inflation, no matter what the CPI says. The Fed has finally started to do the right thing. These things take time to percolate through the economy, so inflation will likely remain at or near 40-year highs for a while, but we may be at or near the worst of it.

As Eric Idle sings in the crucifixion scene at the end of The Life of Brianalways look on the bright side of life.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

The Senate confirmed Ketanji Jackson Brown as the newest Supreme Court Justice. A rabid fox bit nine people on Capitol Hill, this time literally instead of figuratively. Agencies issued new regulations ranging from honeybee money to Minnesota bulk silos.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 68 final regulations last week, after 57 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 28 minutes.
  • With 862 final regulations so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 3,169 final regulations this year.
  • For comparison, there were 3,257 new final regulations in 2021, President Biden’s first year, and 3,218 in 2020, President Trump’s final year.
  • Agencies issued 45 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 50 the previous week.
  • With 609 proposed regulations so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 2,239 proposed regulations this year.
  • For comparison, there were 2,094 new proposed regulations in 2021 and 2,094 in 2020.
  • Agencies published 502 notices last week, after 459 notices the previous week.
  • With 6,139 notices so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 22,570 notices this year.
  • For comparison, there were 20,018 notices in 2021. 2020’s total was 22,480.
  • Last week, 1,419 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 2,253 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue in 2022 contains 309 pages.
  • With 20,998 pages so far, the 2022 Federal Register is on pace for 77,199 pages.
  • For comparison, the 2021 Federal Register totals 74,352 pages, and 2020’s is 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are nine such rules so far in 2021, two from the last week.
  • This is on pace for 33 economically significant regulations in 2022.
  • For comparison, there were 26 economically significant rules in 2021, and five in 2020.
  • The total cost of 2022’s economically significant regulations so far ranges from net savings of $1.14 billion to $3.74 billion. However, this figure is incomplete. Not all such rules issued this year give the required cost estimates.
  • For comparison, the running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from net costs of $13.54 billion to $19.36 billion. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • There are 68 new regulations meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far in 2022. This is on pace for 250 significant rules for the year.
  • For comparison, there were 387 such new regulations in 2021, and 79 in 2020.
  • So far in 2022, 241 new regulations affect small businesses, on pace for 881. Twenty-six of them are significant, on pace for 99.
  • For comparison, there were 912 rules in 2021 affecting small businesses, with 101 of them classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

FTC Merger Guidelines Update

All proposed corporate mergers above a certain size have to go through review by antitrust regulators. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department have written guidelines for that review process to help their officials decide which mergers to allow, and which to block. Those guidelines are currently being updated for the first time in more than a decade.

The guidelines are not binding, and are not always followed to the letter, but they heavily influence agency actions, and companies plan their mergers—or decline to merge—based on those guidelines. This round of revisions lacks transparency. Revisions usually have publicly available advance drafts, open hearings, input from panels of outside experts, and other accountability measures. This round of revisions has had almost none of that. About the only transparency measure current FTC Chair Lina Khan has permitted so far has been a public comment period.

While it is difficult to comment on something when the agency is not allowing anyone outside the agency to read it, my colleague Jessica Melugin and I weighed in with some principles for effective merger guidelines (footnote omitted):

• First, the process requires more transparency than the FTC is currently providing.

• Second, vertical mergers should be presumed to be competitive.

• Third, if the FTC’s policy goal is to have fewer mergers, then the policy solution lies outside antitrust enforcement. Not everything is an antitrust issue.

Our policy recommendations for improving transparency include adopting a set procedure for guideline revisions. An off-the-shelf option is to follow the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment rulemaking process. Another option is an in-house version of the APA process that includes public drafts, open hearings, an expert panel, and a public comment period. Additionally, all merger cases should take place in independent Article III courts, not in the FTC’s in-house administrative courts, where the agency pays the judges’ salaries and sets the procedures.

Vertical mergers should be presumed competitive. They are a form of the old make-it-or-buy-it decision that every company, household, and individual faces daily. The answer to these decisions, whether at the individual or the firm level, often depends on which option has lower transaction costs. The FTC’s merger guidelines should require the agency to consider potential transaction cost savings in proposed deals.

The FTC, when reviewing vertical mergers, should also consider the potential elimination of double marginalization (EDM), which results in lower consumer prices. Every company in a vertical supply chain marks up the price to earn a profit. Vertical mergers eliminate some of these multiple-markup opportunities. The evidence shows that these EDM savings typically result in lower consumer prices.

In merger reviews where the FTC can prove that a vertical merger would raise rivals’ costs, this should be measured against consumer benefits due to EDM. The FTC’s list of risks arising from mergers should be equally applied to risks of denying mergers—namely, whether blocking a merger “can lead to higher prices, fewer or lower-quality goods or services, or less innovation.” If consumers benefit on net, the deal should be presumed competitive.Antitrust policy is supposed to protect the competitive process, not this or that competitor.

Finally, if the FTC’s policy goal is to reduce the number of mergers, the answers often lie outside of antitrust. The FTC’s guidelines should require it to consider less intrusive policy alternatives. For example, post-Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank financial regulations make raising capital and initial public offerings (IPOs) costly and difficult. By comparison, a firm in the process of scaling up may find it easier to be acquired than to run through the gamut of financial regulations to go public.

That said, the FTC should adopt an agnostic approach regarding the number and size of mergers. Mergers are neither inherently good nor bad; they are part of the ongoing competitive process.

Our full comments are posted here. The full FTC docket, including more than 400 other public comments, is here.

See also the recent CEI paper by former FTC chair Timothy J. Muris and former FTC Bureau of Economics director Bruce H. Kobayashi on the stalled Illumina-GRAIL merger, which would lead to improved early cancer detection tests. CEI’s dedicated antitrust site is here.

The FTC’s public comment period is open to the public, and is open until April 21. If you would like to add your own comments, you can submit them here.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

The tide is slowly turning in Ukraine, though Europe’s biggest war since World War II continued. Meanwhile, conservative culture warriors declared “moral war against Disney” and Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) showed off his fluency in drug slang. Agencies issued new regulations ranging from self-driving car safety to product reviews.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 57 final regulations last week, after 52 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every three hours and four minutes.
  • With 794 final regulations so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 3,151 final regulations this year.
  • For comparison, there were 3,257 new final regulations in 2021, President Biden’s first year, and 3,218 in 2020, President Trump’s final year.
  • Agencies issued 50 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 66 the previous week.
  • With 564 proposed regulations so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 2,238 proposed regulations this year.
  • For comparison, there were 2,094 new proposed regulations in 2021 and 2,102 in 2020.
  • Agencies published 459 notices last week, after 454 notices the previous week.
  • With 5,637 notices so far in 2022, agencies are on pace to issue 22,369 notices this year.
  • For comparison, there were 20,018 notices in 2021. 2020’s total was 22,480.
  • Last week, 2,253 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,300 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue in 2022 contains 307 pages.
  • With 19,365 pages so far, the 2022 Federal Register is on pace for 76,845 pages.
  • For comparison, the 2021 Federal Register totals 74,352 pages, and 2020’s is 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are seven such rules so far in 2021, four from the last week.
  • This is on pace for 28 economically significant regulations in 2022.
  • For comparison, there were 26 economically significant rules in 2021, and five in 2020.
  • The total cost of 2022’s economically significant regulations so far ranges from net savings of $263.1 million to net costs of $522.9 million. However, this figure is incomplete. Not all such rules issued this year give the required cost estimates.
  • For comparison, the running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from $13.54 billion to $19.36 billion. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • There are 64 new regulations meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far in 2022. This is on pace for 254 significant rules for the year.
  • For comparison, there were 387 such new regulations in 2021, and 79 in 2020.
  • So far in 2022, 222 new regulations affect small businesses, on pace for 881. Twenty-five of them are significant, on pace for 99.
  • For comparison, there were 912 rules in 2021 affecting small businesses, with 101 of them classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

New Job Gains for March 2022 Shows Businesses Open with Jobs to Offer: CEI Analysis

This press release was originally posted at cei.org.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announced today that the U.S. economy added over 400,000 jobs in the month of March – good news for policy makers to build upon with spending and regulatory restraint.

Statement by Sean Higgins, CEI research associate:

“After more than two years, the economy has nearly crawled back to where it was before the Corona virus outbreak thanks primarily to the rolling back of the pandemic’s restrictions. March’s gain of 431,000 jobs, which brought the unemployment rate down to 3.6 percent according to the Labor Department, was impressive. But the more noteworthy news was the number of people said who said they were unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic was now 2.5 million, down by 1.7 million from the prior month. That more than accounts for March’s gains and reaffirms that the best thing the government at all levels can do to aid the recovery is to simply get out of the way and let the economy repair itself.”

Statement by Ryan Young, CEI senior fellow:

“The latest numbers provide further evidence of the COVID economic recovery. The most encouraging news is just under the surface, in the labor force participation rate. Today’s low 3.6 percent unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story, because it only counts workers who are actively seeking jobs. During the worst of COVID, many displaced workers didn’t even bother looking for work, due to safety and regulatory concerns.

“Before COVID hit, labor force participation was 63.4 percent. It quickly bottomed out at 60.2 percent when people first hunkered down — the lowest level since 1973, when there were far fewer women in the workforce. It is now at 62.4 percent, closer to pre-COVID levels than to that big COVID drop. There is still a ways to go, but barring another variant, the recovery will continue. It would go even faster if politicians used up fewer resources in their big spending bills and removed never-needed regulations that block opportunities for millions of people.”