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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

April 27, 2009 at 10:00 AM

Wall Street warily watches the flu news

Top of the News: It remains to be seen whether the swine flu outbreak becomes a pandemic. In today’s media echo chamber, the trivial appears serious and the serious can appear cataclysmic. Still, knowledge of the upwards of 20 million killed by the influenza of 1918-1920, which, like what is apparently happening in Mexico, struck otherwise young, healthy adults, is sobering. That is could come on top of the worst economic downturn in decades commands our attention.

This morning, the major indices began cautiously and lost even that momentum. Of course the markets are driven by millions of individual decisions, as well as news such as General Motors’ iffy restructuring and White House economic adviser Larry Summers’ comment that the economy will decline “for some time to come.” But you can bet that Wall Street is watching the flu updates. This isn’t an event that can be discounted in advance, and if it becomes more serious it could do substantial additional economic damage worldwide, on top of the human tragedy. The travel industry will already get hit by a European advisory against traveling here.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc., made this connection in arguing for $900 million for pandemic protection in the stimulus bill. He was concerned about a pandemic forcing workers to stay home, further lowering consumer demand, shriveling demand for transportation systems and increasing demand for health services. The idea died in the face of conservative opposition.

The Back Story: To continue the Washington tax argument without end, here’s a map from New Geography of state and local tax burdens. Washington comes in at the lower end, along with states such as Arizona, Mississippi and South Carolina. Top tier states include California, New York and New Jersey.

Last week’s Haiku winner. Check it out.

Note to readers: I’ll be on the road this week, signing copies of my new mystery The Pain Nurse. But I will be blogging from Phoenix and Tucson. (I’ll be doing a signing at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore, at noon, May 16).

Today’s Econ Haiku:

A little too close

To the folks he regulates

Too close for comfort?

Comments | More in Stock market

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