Moral Hazard Concerns Raised for Some USDA Plans to Boost Plantings
Inflated anxiety about inflation has Biden taking Vilsack to Illinois farm on Wednesday
In Today’s Digital Newspaper
President Joe Biden has called on Congress to "immediately" pass a nearly $40 billion Ukrainian aid bill, warning for the first time that existing aid will run out in "approximately ten days." The House of Representatives is set to consider the aid package today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.
President Biden signed an updated version of the World War II Lend-Lease Act. The original, enacted in 1941, allowed the federal government to send weapons and supplies to Britain as it faced Nazi Germany. The new version will speed up shipments of weapons to Ukraine. The president also lifted a tariff on Ukrainian steel.
The EU failed to persuade Hungary to join an oil embargo on Russia Monday. Meanwhile, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Croatia are making their acceptance of an oil embargo conditional on assistance from Brussels.
Some more plans to boost 2023 plantings have surfaced, but some portions may need congressional approval. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack this morning appears before a Senate panel and will likely reveal more on this topic. But some are already raising a potential moral hazard for the crop insurance industry based on some of the potential changes.
White House and congressional Democrats have inflated anxiety about… inflation. As in the ag sector, they are discussing various way to bring prices down. USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack will travel with President Biden on Wednesday to a farm in Illinois to discuss food prices and inflation.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify before a Senate committee today to deliver the Financial Stability Oversight Council report to Congress. "While the recent deterioration in liquidity has not been as extreme as in some past episodes, the risk of a sudden significant deterioration appears higher than normal," the U.S. central bank said in the report, which is published each May and November. "Further adverse surprises in inflation and interest rates, particularly if accompanied by a decline in economic activity, could negatively affect the financial system."
Bitcoin fell to $31,075.70 on Monday evening, a 10% drop from a day earlier, according to CoinDesk, and down 54% from its record high in November.
U.S. gas prices hit a new record high at $4.37 per gallon.
Tyson Foods reported soaring profits as it raised prices for beef, chicken and pork. Details below.
Funding to combat highly pathogenic avian influenza should be a high priority when Congress sets the USDA budget for fiscal year 2023, said 10 senators in a letter.
SEC extends time for comment on climate, private fund proposals. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is extending the comment period for three major proposals, giving Wall Street firms and industry groups more time to respond to the agency’s plans for climate-change disclosures and rules for private funds.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister resigned after months of mass protests against his government’s handling of an economic crisis.
A NYT writer tries to answer the burning question: If economists are so smart, why aren't they rich?
Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed overnight. U.S. Dow is currently up around 400 points. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 closed 0.6% lower, the Shanghai Composite rose 1.1% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 1.8%. In Europe, at midday, London +0.6%. Paris +0.8%. Frankfurt +1.2%.
Peloton announced this morning that it lost $757 million in the first quarter, far more than analysts were expecting.
U.S. equities yesterday: Major U.S. stock indices were under pressure from the opening bell and never came close to positive territory. The Dow ended down 653.67 points, 1.99%, at 32,245.70. The Nasdaq dropped 521.41 points, 4.29%, at 11,623.25. The S&P 500 declined 132.10 points, 3.20%, at 3,991.24. The prospect of tighter monetary policy and persistent inflation has unnerved investors. Adding to fears of slower global growth, China reported on Monday that exports in April rose at the slowest pace in two years.
The biggest U.S. tech giants have shed over $1 trillion in market capitalization over the past three trading sessions. Among the biggest losers were Apple, which lost over $220 billion since last Wednesday, as well as Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla , which have all tumbled by around $200 billion.
Agriculture markets yesterday:
- Corn: July corn futures fell 12 3/4 cents to $7.72, the contract’s lowest closing price since April 11. December corn fell 10 cents to $7.10 3/4, a four-week low.
- Soy complex: July soybeans fell 36 3/4 cents to $15.85 1/4, the lowest closing price since on April 1. November soybeans fell 24 cents to $14.46 3/4, near a five-week low.
- Wheat: July SRW wheat fell 15 3/4 cents to $10.92 3/4 after earlier reaching a three-week high at $11.35. July HRW wheat fell 6 1/4 cents at $11.64 1/4. July spring wheat futures fell 2 cents to $12.06 3/4 after earlier posting a contract high at $12.34 3/4.
- Cotton: July cotton futures fell 68 points to 142.93 cents per pound, the contract’s lowest closing price since April 27.
- Cattle: June live cattle gained 80 cents to $133.55 after dropping to a three-month low earlier. August feeders fell 47.5 cents to $174.225.
- Hogs: June lean hogs fell $2.80 to $101.30, near a four-month closing low. The CME lean hog index fell 5 cents to $100.91, the eighth consecutive decline and a three-week low. The index for today is projected up 18 cents at 101.09.
Ag markets today: Corn, soybean and SRW wheat futures recouped a portion of Monday’s losses overnight. HRW and HRS futures strengthened more than they lost yesterday. As of 7:30 a.m. ET, corn futures were trading around 4 cents higher, soybeans were 5 to 9 cents higher, winter wheat futures were 9 to 10 cents higher and spring wheat as mostly 12 cents higher. Front-month U.S. crude oil futures were around $1.50 lower and the U.S. dollar index is near unchanged this morning.
Technical viewpoints from Jim Wyckoff:
On tap today:
• Federal Reserve speakers: New York's John Williams at an economic symposium in Rhein, Germany at 7:40 a.m. ET, Richmond's Thomas Barkin on inflation at 9:15 a.m. ET, Minneapolis's Neel Kashkari and governor Christopher Waller to the Economic Club of Minnesota at 1 p.m. ET, Cleveland's Loretta Mester on monetary policy and financial stability at 3 p.m. ET, and Atlanta's Raphael Bostic at a financial markets conference at 7 p.m. ET.
• President Biden will talk about inflation and his administration’s plan to deal with it. 1:30 p.m. ET.
• Biden meets Draghi. President Biden hosts Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi today at the White House, where the two leaders are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine — as well as energy, climate change, and the global economy. Unlike the U.S. government, Italy’s governing coalition is showing signs of unease with the prospect of sending more arms to Ukraine.
• China's producer price index for April is expected to increase 7.8% from one year earlier, and the consumer-price index is forecast to rise 2.0% from a year earlier. (9:30 p.m. ET)
White House adviser details efforts to slow inflation, doesn’t foresee recession. In an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that as it addresses inflation, the Biden Administration is focused on “improving supply-side issues. ... There are five ‘buckets’ for that: reducing energy costs, reducing kitchen-table costs, reducing transportation and logistics costs, reducing the deficit, and increasing labor supply.” According to Bernstein, “There is no question that both monetary and fiscal policy are pushing back against inflation this year.” Bernstein added, “When the IMF marked down global growth this year by 80 basis points, their markdown in the U.S. was only 30 basis points to 3.7%. Now, maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong. But that is still well above-trend growth. And I do think the expectation is for something like trend to above-trend growth on GDP.”
Elevated and persistent inflation, coupled with a sharp rise in interest rates, are among the greatest near-term risks to the U.S. economic system, the Federal Reserve said in its latest Financial Stability Report. The report also warned that a prolonged conflict in Russia could have adverse consequences to U.S. financial markets, particularly through exposures to tumult in commodities markets. Link to report.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee today to deliver the Financial Stability Oversight Council report to Congress. Digital assets may pose risks to the financial system, and increased and coordinated regulatory attention is necessary, Yellen said in prepared remarks for the hearing. The Financial Stability Oversight Council “is drafting a report that will identify financial stability risks and regulatory gaps” in that area, she said.
Longer-term inflation expectations ticked higher in April, according to a survey released by the New York Fed, challenging the central bank’s efforts to bring price pressures down. Respondents to a poll by the New York Fed see inflation rising by 3.9% three years from now, up from a 3.7% rise they predicted in the March survey.
Biden-Harris inflation plan: “Lowering costs and lowering the deficit.” President Biden is set to talk about inflation today, and the White House has a two-page memo (link) about how the administration proposes tackling rising costs. One of the points deals with the ag sector:
“Lowering Food Prices by Helping American Farmers Grow More, and Compete More Effectively: Calling for resources to help American farmers boost domestic food production in order to avert a potential global food crisis created by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine; taking actions to crack down on illegal price fixing and enforce the antitrust laws in the meat and poultry processing sector; investing federal resources to create more competition in meat-processing; and providing over one billion dollars in relief to small businesses and agricultural workers hurt by Covid-19.”
On Wednesday, Biden will travel with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to visit a farm in Kankakee, Illinois. Wednesday just happens to be the day of the latest Consumer Price Index.
Truckers want more trucks than manufacturers can build. The U.S. trucking industry, at the center of the nation’s struggle to move freight efficiently, is caught in its own constricted supply chain. Production of heavy-duty trucks that haul trailers is bogged down by parts shortages that can’t keep up with a long backlog of orders, industry executives told the WSJ (link), keeping fleets from replacing and adding trucks at the same time demand for shipping consumer goods and industrial materials is elevated. Dwindling availability of new trucks, along with a driver shortage and surging fuel prices, are deepening logistics problems that have been dragging on the U.S. economy, pushing up delivery times and increasing transportation costs. “It’s hard to grow when you can’t get equipment,” said Paul Truman, president of Truline Corp., a 300-truck fleet based in Las Vegas.
• Outside markets: The dollar traded either side of unchanged in a relatively quiet session for FX. Crude futures reversed a small push higher to trade down over 1%, and spot gold held Asia's gains near $1,860/oz. Treasuries resumed gains after a selloff earlier Tuesday, with the 10-year rate slipping 3 basis points to 3.01%. That follows a 9 basis-point plunge on Monday amid a rush to the safety of the U.S. dollar and sovereign bonds.
• Bitcoin briefly fell below $30,000 and is now almost 60% below its all-time high. Crypto has come under fire as investors prepare for a hawkish Federal Reserve.
• Crude oil futures: West Texas Intermediate crude fell 1.7% to $101.38 a barrel. Brent crude oil fell 2% to $103.85 a barrel.
• National average price for regular gasoline climbed more than 4 cents today to $4.37 a gallon, a new record high, according to AAA. That takes out the prior record of $4.33 set on March 11. The gas spike — prices are up 17 cents in the past week alone — will only add to inflationary pressures that have raised recession fears, rocked financial markets and soured Americans' views on the economy.
• West coast ports labor-contract talks start. Talks to negotiate new labor contracts for 22,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports in the U.S. are set to start today, two days ahead of schedule. Negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and about 70 employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association will take place in San Francisco, the union and the PMA said in a joint statement Monday. Talks are scheduled to continue on a daily basis until an agreement is reached, it said. The current contract expires July 1.
• Ag trade: South Korea purchased 65,000 MT of corn — likely to be sourced from South America. Japan is seeking 196,560 MT of wheat from the U.S., Canada and Australia in its weekly tender. Bangladesh tendered to buy 50,000 MT of optional origin milling wheat.
• Aided by easily available county permits, farmers in the Central Valley are in a well-drilling frenzy despite a 2014 state law that was supposed to preserve groundwater supplies; legislators hope a new bill will slow the stampede. Link for details via LA Times.
• NWS weather: Summer-like heat will expand northward through much of the Heartland; critical fire danger persists from the Southwest to the southern High Plains... ...Cold and mountain snows from the West Coast to the northern Rockies while rounds of heavy rain & thunderstorms will expand across the northern Plains... ...Severe storms possible in West Texas on Tuesday; Continued chilly conditions along the East Coast with prolonged high surf for coastal communities.
Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include:
• Corrective buying in grains overnight
• Consultant cuts U.S. corn yield projection amid delayed plantings
• HRW CCI rating improves, but still far below average
• China to crack down on destruction of wheat crop (details in China section)
• Malaysia may cut palm oil export tax
• Strong day for Choice beef
• String of losses for cash hog index ends
— Summary: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for international help to end the blockade of the Black Sea port to avert a global food crisis. At least 100 civilians remain in the Azovstal steelworks in the besieged port city of Mariupol, amid heavy Russian shelling, according to the mayor’s office. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has invited Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova to speak at Senate Democrats weekly caucus lunch today.
- The southern Ukrainian city of Odesa came under heavy attack yesterday, as Russian forces deployed cruise missiles — including Russia's new hypersonic Kinzhal missiles — that destroyed two hotels, a shopping center and a warehouse.
- The World Health Organization has verified 200 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.
- Biden said he’s worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin “doesn’t have a way out right now” of the war. Speaking at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, Biden told his audience that Putin, a “very calculating man,” started the conflict believing that he could cow NATO and the European Union.
- At least 86 of the 90 M77 howitzers that the U.S. has committed to Ukraine have been delivered, and about 310 Ukrainian soldiers have been trained on their use, a U.S. defense official said. Around 60% of the promised 184,000 artillery rounds have arrived as well.
- Putin called for the creation of an internal working group on international payments to work out terms for transactions with “unfriendly” states. Link for details via Reuters.
— Market impacts:
- Treasury official: U.S. sanctions are crippling Russian defense production. In an interview for Bloomberg TV, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said the Office of Foreign Asset Control is “targeting the Russian military industrial complex. They have taken a number of steps to go after the Russian financial system, and we’ve seen their economy is contracting by more than 10% due to that. And we are now focused on making sure that any money that remains in Russia can’t be used to further build out their military industrial complex. ... Today, because of the actions the Office of Foreign Asset Control has taken, the two top tank makers in Russia aren’t functioning because they cannot get access to the goods and services they need.”
- European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said it expects Ukraine's economy to shrink by 30% this year, assuming the war ends. The EU is weighing joint debt issuance to provide funds to the country to help fill Kyiv's $7 billion a month budget gap.
— Vilsack: Working with Congress on other ways to boost plantings. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is working with lawmakers to include funding in a coming bill that would offset the penalty for planting a crop after a prevent-plant claim. USDA also could extend final planting dates to let farmers into fields without crop insurance penalty for each late day (would help in places too wet to plant). Farmers normally receive only 35% of their prevented-plant indemnity if they plant a crop on the same land that year. Vilsack told Agri-Pulse USDA also is mulling some administrative changes, including expanding the number of counties where double cropping is insurable and allowing landowners with expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts to start preparing the acreage for planting before Sept. 30. Farmers can start prepping CRP land before contract maturity Sept. 30, but under current rules, they lose rent starting the date they begin land preparation, and such activity can’t start before July 1 or the nesting season which can vary by location. USDA also is looking at making winter wheat plantings eligible for conservation programs where farmers are supposed to plant a dedicated cover crop.
Comments: Vilsack appears this morning before the Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee and will likely bring this up and he will likely face several questions on this and other topics. The final plan will likely change but it is clear the Biden administration wants some changes to boost plantings for 2023 crops. As for the possible new options, some worry the suggestions would be a moral hazard for crop insurance by waiving prevent-plant penalties in the middle of the planting season.
One policy analyst said: “The prevent-plant rules work. They protect the integrity of the program and by doing so keep premiums down for all growers. Undoing those protections would undermine program integrity. If you want to do something on crop insurance, you might extend the final plant date to help producers who cannot get into the field due to wet conditions, but USDA would need to hold companies harmless. That would help, though they would have to be reset at dates that do not result in freeze damage in the fall. A better option still is for the Secretary to propose permanent changes to strengthen the safety net under the Farm Bill and under crop insurance or announce CCC payments using existing authority to address tight margins due to increased production costs. Most, though not all, farmers feel higher prices this year will allow them to navigate higher input costs, but they worry about next year and the year after when their prices soften but inputs stay high. Finding a way to meaningfully address that concern will go a long way to address impending food shortages. This year, commodity prices for most crops will be the incentive needed to plant and harvest.”
— Lawmakers could vote this evening on nearly $40 billion in aid for Ukraine. House Dems are moving ahead with a nearly $40 billion Ukraine funding bill as soon as this evening, without including Covid funding. The latest measure totals $39.8 billion, more than the $33 billion requested by President Joe Biden. It would include $3.4 billion more than requested for military aid, and $3.4 billion more for humanitarian aid.
President Biden said it’s fine to send him separate Ukraine and Covid funding bills, after originally calling on lawmakers to pass them simultaneously. Congressional leaders told him a combined funding package “would slow down action on the urgently needed Ukrainian aid,” Biden said in a statement. “We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort,” Biden said. “Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away.” Biden called on lawmakers to send the Ukraine bill to his desk in “the next few days.”
Next step: Republicans have not yet signed on to the plan. The extra military relief is less than the $8 billion increase that Senate Republicans had sought. The plan would need at least 10 GOP votes to pass the Senate. Blair Taylor, spokesperson for Senate Appropriations Committee top Republican Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said negotiations are still going on.
— Senate Democrats plan votes to confirm Lisa Cook’s nomination to be a Federal Reserve governor. Covid cases among Democrats in the evenly divided chamber have delayed several nominations over the last several weeks, sparking a logjam on Fed and other nominations. Votes to advance her nomination and to confirm her, both eyed today, would likely require a tie-breaker from Vice President Kamala Harris.
— Lockdown restrictions tightened further in Shanghai and Beijing. Reuters reports that both Shanghai and Beijing “tightened Covid-19 curbs on Monday, fueling public angst and even questions about the legality of its uncompromising battle with the virus.” According to Reuters, officials in Shanghai, which is “enduring its sixth week of lockdown...have launched a new push to end infections outside quarantine zones by late May.” Reuters adds, “While there has been no official announcement, residents in at least four of Shanghai’s 16 districts received notices at the weekend saying they wouldn’t be allowed to leave their homes or receive deliveries, prompting a scramble to stock up on food.” In the most severe restrictions imposed in Beijing so far, an area in the southwest of the capital on Monday forbade residents from leaving their neighborhoods and ordered all activities not related to virus prevention to halt.
— China to crack down on destruction of wheat crop. China’s provincial authorities have been asked by the ag ministry to investigate suspected illegal destruction of wheat fields for construction projects, and cases of the crop being cut prematurely for feed. Beijing has made food security a top priority and spent 5 billion yuan ($744 million) to stabilize the crop after a poor start last fall.
— New Indo-Pacific economic framework expected to launch when Biden visits Japan. President Biden’s trip to Japan from May 20-24 is “expected to coincide with the formal launch of a new U.S. economic strategy for the Indo-Pacific, Tokyo’s ambassador to the U.S. said on Monday. Koji Tomita told a virtual event hosted by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies that Japan and the U.S. had been working on the details of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which, he said, “needed to strike a balance between inclusivity and high standards.” Biden announced the plan for IPEF last year, and the administration’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific region announced in February said the plan was to launch it in early 2022.
Republicans want U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to add market access provisions and enforceable commitments to the framework despite the administration’s insistence that it will not resemble a traditional trade agreement.
ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE
— SEC extends deadline for public comments re: climate change proposal. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) extended how long the public will have to weigh in on a proposal that would require companies to reveal their vulnerabilities and contributions to climate change. In a Monday press release, the SEC said that people will now have until June 17 (from May 20) to comment on the proposal, which would require publicly traded companies to tell investors how climate-related risks like severe weather and efforts to limit their fossil fuel use may impact their business. It would also require publicly traded companies to disclose their own contributions to climate change, by making them reveal information about how much their activities directly add to climate-warming emissions. If it is deemed “material” to investors, companies would also have to disclose emissions they indirectly cause, such as those that come from using their products. SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a statement that it would extend the proposal’s comment period due to “significant interest” from investors and others. “Commenters with diverse views have noted that they would benefit from additional time,” he said. “I’m pleased that the public will have additional time to provide thoughtful feedback.”
LIVESTOCK, FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY
— Some ranchers and farm groups are urging the Senate to amend legislation (S 4030) meant to bring transparency to cattle markets, saying that it doesn’t go far enough to deal with industry consolidation. The bipartisan bill would divide the country into regions and task USDA with deciding, for each one, the minimum share of cattle that a packer must buy through the cash market.
— Tyson Foods Inc. reported soaring profits as the company raised prices for beef, chicken and pork, citing higher costs. The company said it increased prices for beef by an average 23.8% over the three months ended April 2, while its chicken prices increased 14.4% and 10.8% for pork. Tyson said its cost of goods sold increased by 15% over the quarter as the company paid more for animal feed, freight and labor expenses. Tyson Chief Executive Officer Donnie King said Tyson’s price increases are consistent with inflation. “We do not ask the customer to pay for our inefficiencies,” King said on a call with reporters. “We are asking customers to pay for inflation we see throughout the supply chain.”
— More HPAI funds sought. Funding to combat highly pathogenic avian influenza, which has hit 291 domestic flocks and killed 37.5 million birds, should be a high priority when Congress sets the USDA budget for fiscal year 2023, said 10 senators in a letter. Link for more info.
— Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at
POLITICS & ELECTIONS
— First congressional poll since Roe leak shows record Republican advantage. CNN polled after the Supreme Court leak, between May 3 and May 5. Result: Republicans suddenly had a 7-point advantage — the largest GOP advantage in the history of CNN’s generic ballot poll. Tied only with one other CNN survey this century, taken in September 2010.
— Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos won the Philippines’ presidency with a landslide. With more than 95% of the votes counted, Marcos Jr. has about 30 million votes, more than double that of his closest rival, the outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo. Marcos’ dictator father was run out of the country in 1986. The incoming president has published no policy agenda. Sara Duterte, the daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, looks set to become vice-president in a separate election.
— Senate wants quick passage of security for Supreme Court family members. The Senate is moving to quickly pass legislation (S 4160) that would extend security to family members of Supreme Court justices amid protests at the homes of members of the court in the wake of a leaked draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. “The events of the past week have intensified the focus on Supreme Court Justices’ families, who are unfortunately facing threats to their safety in today’s increasingly polarized political climate,” sponsor Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. About 100 demonstrators protested outside the residence of Justice Samuel Alito on Monday. The protesters chanted “keep abortion safe and legal” and “no uterus, no say” as they marched Monday in Alexandria, Virginia, where Alito lives, before stopping in front of his house.
— Immigration-reform vote ahead of Nov. 8 elections? The tight labor market and high U.S. inflation rate could spur a Senate vote ahead of the midterm elections on immigration reform, including revisions to the H-2A visa for agricultural guestworkers. Link to details via Roll Call.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
— U.S. has halved its research investment in the past 30 years, President Biden noted in a speech (link). The country now ranks ninth in global R&D investment, down from No. 1 three decades ago. China, on the other hand, has risen to second place, from eighth, he said.
— Violence erupted in Sri Lanka after Mahinda Rajapaksa, the prime minister, resigned on Monday, amid protests over his mismanagement of the economy. The announcement triggered fatal clashes between his supporters and protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s biggest city. Protesters also attacked members of the ruling party, burning down several of their homes. An island-wide curfew has been extended to Wednesday.
— South Korea’s new president said he is open to dialogue with North Korea and to providing support for its fragile economy if Pyongyang stops developing nuclear weapons.
— If economists are so smart, why aren't they rich? New York Times columnist Peter Coy (link) provides some theories, including that economists aren’t actually smart and that perhaps economists aren’t trying to be rich: "Nobody asks Trappist monks why they aren’t rich, because it’s understood that getting rich is not their aspiration. Economics likewise offers rewards beyond money."