Saturday, October 31, 2015
The GOP Circus: Truth-Defying Feats, by Rick Perlstein: ...Step right up! Be amazed, be enchanted, by the magic GOP unicorn-and-rainbow-producing tax cut machine!
It takes a lot of energy to sustain a lie. When enough people do it together, over a sustained period of time, it wears on them. It also produces a certain kind of culture: one cut loose from the norms of fair conduct and trust that any organization requires in order to survive as something more than a daily, no-holds-barred war of all against all. A battle royale. A circus, if you prefer.
And the act in the center ring? The Amazing Death Spiral. One performer does something so outrageous that anyone else who wishes to further hold the audience’s attention has to match or top it––even if they know it’s insane. Listen to the warning of the one guy who dares grab the ringmaster’s microphone and say that if this keeps on going everyone will end up dead. That’s what poor old John Kasich did. Hear him cry about his “great concern that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job. I’ve watched people say that we should dismantle Medicare and Medicaid. . . . I’ve heard them talking about deporting 10 or 11 [million] people from this country. . . . I’ve heard about tax schemes that don’t add up.”
And what happened to him? Read the snap poll from Gravis research. Only 3 percent of Republicans thought he won the debate. (First place was Trump with 26.7; second was Rubio with 21.1; third was Cruz with 17.3; and fourth was Ben Carson with 12.5.) Only 2.4 percent said they would vote for Kasich for president. When the clowns are running the show, of course it’s going to be in disarray.
David Brooks says not to worry if candidates are lying about their economic plans, they are just exaggerating to make themselves more attractive to conservative voters (they couldn't possible be lying about who their true allegiance, could they?):
At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable. What matters is how a candidate signals priorities. Rubio talks specifically about targeting policies to boost middle- and lower-middle-class living standards.
Paul Krugman is, shall we say, unconvinced:
...My experience is that the best way to figure out a candidate’s true priorities — and his or her character — is to look hard at policy proposals.
My view here is strongly influenced by the story of George W. Bush. Younger readers may not know or remember how it was back in 2000, but back then the universal view of the commentariat was that W was a moderate, amiable, bluff and honest guy. I was pretty much alone taking his economic proposals — on taxes and Social Security — seriously. And what I saw was a level of dishonesty and irresponsibility, plus radicalism, that was unprecedented in a major-party presidential candidate. So I was out there warning that Bush was a bad, dangerous guy no matter how amiable he seemed.
How did that work out?
So now we have candidates proposing “wildly unaffordable” tax cuts. Can we start by noting that this isn’t a bipartisan phenomenon, that it’s not true that everyone does it? Hillary Clinton isn’t proposing wildly unaffordable stuff... And proposing wildly unaffordable stuff is itself a declaration of priorities: Rubio is saying that keeping the Hair Club for Growth happy is more important to him than even a pretense of fiscal responsibility. Or if you like, what we’ve seen is a willingness to pander without constraint or embarrassment.
Also, his insistence that the magic of supply-side economics would somehow pay for the cuts is a further demonstration of priorities: allegiance to voodoo trumps all.
At a more general level, I’d argue that it’s a really bad mistake to wave away policy silliness with a boys-will-be-boys attitude. Policy proposals tell us a lot about character — and the history of the past 15 years says that journalists who imagine that they can judge character from the way people come across on TV or in personal interviews are kidding themselves, and misleading everyone else.
"What matters is how a candidate signals priorities." Yes, and the priority seems to be lying is okay to get what you want. That's a great trait to have in a president who might fact the decision to send our kids to die in a war he or she wants. Oh wait.
Friday, October 30, 2015
Catherine Rampell blames the media for the behavior of Republicans during the debate (and more generally), but if the press called them on their "grifting,", would the Republican base listen?
Springtime for Grifters, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: At one point during Wednesday’s Republican debate, Ben Carson was asked about his involvement with Mannatech, a nutritional supplements company that makes outlandish claims ... and has been forced to pay $7 million to settle a deceptive-practices lawsuit. The audience booed, and Mr. Carson denied being involved...
As it happens, Mr. Carson lied. ... But the Republican base doesn’t want to hear about it... These days, in his party, being an obvious grifter isn’t a liability, and may even be an asset. ...
About the grifters: Start with the lowest level, in which marketers use political affinity to sell get-rich-quick schemes, miracle cures, and suchlike. That’s the Carson phenomenon, and it’s just the latest example of a long tradition..., a “strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers” goes back half a century. ...
At a somewhat higher level are marketing campaigns more or less tied to what purports to be policy analysis. Right-wing warnings of imminent hyperinflation, coupled with demands that we return to the gold standard, were fanned by media figures like Glenn Beck, who used his show to promote Goldline, a firm selling gold coins and bars at, um, inflated prices. ...
Oh, and former Congressman Ron Paul, who has spent decades warning of runaway inflation and is undaunted by its failure to materialize, is very much in the business of selling books and videos showing how you, too, can protect yourself from the coming financial disaster.
At a higher level still are operations that are in principle engaging in political activity, but mainly seem to be generating income for their organizers. ... For example, only 14 percent of what the Tea Party Leadership Fund spends is “candidate focused.”
You might think that such revelations would be politically devastating. But the targets of such schemes know, just know, that the liberal mainstream media can’t be trusted...
Furthermore, the success of the grifters ... defines respectability down.
Consider Mr. Rubio... There was a time when Mr. Rubio’s insistence that $6 trillion in tax cuts would somehow pay for themselves would have marked him as deeply unserious... But the Republican base doesn’t care what the mainstream media says. ...
The point is that we shouldn’t ask whether the G.O.P. will eventually nominate someone in the habit of saying things that are demonstrably untrue, and counting on political loyalists not to notice. The only question is what kind of scam it will be.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
The Republican presidential candidates are right. The media does suck.
But not for the reasons the candidates complained about Wednesday night.
We in the media suck because we have rewarded their rampant dishonesty and buffoonery with nonstop news coverage. Which, of course, has encouraged more dishonesty and buffoonery.
Hence the aggravating behaviors that candidates doubled-down on during the debate, based on lessons that we in the media taught them. To wit...
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
A Strategy to Ignore Poverty, NY Times: Arizona, where I was born, in July became the first state to cut poor families’ access to welfare assistance to a maximum of 12 months over a lifetime. That’s a fifth of the time allowed under federal law, and means that 5,000 more people will lose their benefits by next June.
This is only the latest tightening of the screws in Arizona. Last year, about 29,000 poor families received benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, 16,000 fewer than in 2005. In 2009, in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Depression of the 1930s, benefits were cut by 20 percent.
And if Paul Ryan, the Republican lawmaker from Wisconsin who is expected to become speaker of the House, has his way, poor people in many other states can expect similar treatment in the years ahead. ...
Monday, October 26, 2015
Mitt can't win:
Free Mitt Romney!, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Sometimes I find myself feeling sorry for Mitt Romney. No, seriously. In another time and place, he might have been respected as an effective technocrat ... for his ability to get things done. In fact, that’s kind of how it worked when he was governor of Massachusetts...
But now it’s 2015 in America, and Mr. Romney’s party doesn’t want people who get things done. On the contrary, it actively hates government programs that improve American lives, especially if they help Those People. And this means that Mr. Romney can’t celebrate his signature achievement in public life, the Massachusetts health reform that served as a template for Obamacare.
This has to hurt. Indeed, a few days ago Mr. Romney couldn’t help himself: he boasted to the Boston Globe that “Without Romneycare, we wouldn’t have had Obamacare” and that as a result “a lot of people wouldn’t have health insurance.” And it’s true!
But such truths aren’t welcome in the G.O.P. ... Not surprisingly, then, Mr. Romney quickly tried to walk his comments back, claiming that Obamacare is very different from Romneycare, which it isn’t, and that it has failed.
But you know, it hasn’t. On the contrary, the Affordable Care Act has been a remarkable success, especially considering the scorched-earth opposition it has faced. ...
In short, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who pushed the Affordable Care Act through despite total opposition from the G.O.P., have a lot to be proud of. And so does Mr. Romney, who helped lay the foundation. Instead, however, he’s trashing the best thing he’s ever done.
You have to wonder: Does Mr. Romney really think that his party would look more favorably on Obamacare if it worked even better than it has, if it cost no money at all? If so, he’s delusional. After all, the great majority of Republican-controlled states have turned down free money, refusing to let the federal government expand Medicaid...
The point is that from the point of view of the Republican base, covering the uninsured, or helping the unlucky in general, isn’t a feature, it’s a bug...: the base is actually willing to lose money in order to perpetuate suffering. ...
Maybe Mr. Romney ... just can’t bring himself to admit that he picked the wrong group of people to hang out with. Either way, one hopes for his sake that he eventually gives up his illusions. Trust me, Mitt: it will be a liberating experience.
Saturday, October 24, 2015
Summers and Mankiw:
Uniting Behind the Divisive ‘Cadillac’ Tax on Health Plans: One of us, a former member of the Obama administration, remains a fan of the president. The other, not so much. But we agree on one thing: The excise tax on high-cost health care plans, the so-called Cadillac tax, is good policy. Congress should side with President Obama and resist calls to scrap it. ...
To some, the Cadillac tax is unpopular because unions oppose it, having negotiated especially generous health plans. But legislators should not let special interests stand in the way of a more rational health care system for all Americans.
To some, the Cadillac tax is unpopular because it was passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. But the Cadillac tax can be evaluated as a stand-alone measure. Both fans and critics of Obamacare should see the merits in a more level playing field between alternative forms of compensation.
One of us worked for President Obama when the Affordable Care Act was passed. One of us worked for President George W. Bush and supported John McCain and Mitt Romney in their attempts to defeat Mr. Obama. We disagree on many things, but we agree that health policy is too important to treat as if it were nothing more than another political battlefield.
Some policies deserve bipartisan support. The Cadillac tax is one of them.
Are Canadian progressives showing Americans the way?: Reflecting on the recent outcome of the Canadian election, in which the Liberal Party of Canada cast itself as a progressive left of center party and reversed its fortunes in a major way to win a strong majority government, Larry Summers wrote in the Washington Post that “More infrastructure investment is not just good economics. It is good politics. Let us hope that American presidential candidates get the word!” ...
Paul Krugman echoes the same sentiment in a New York Times column entitled, somewhat inappropriately, “Keynes Comes to Canada.” ...
There is something ... that both countries share, and something they don’t, that sets an important backdrop.
Both countries have a significant need for important public sector investments in physical, and I would also say social, infrastructure. The populace sees this need as much in Canada as in the United States.
In Montreal, concrete slabs have fallen off of expressway overpasses, and killed unfortunate commuters. In Toronto, the gridlock associated with the commute to work is more than just a daily aggravation; it is a significant block to economic growth. In Vancouver, expansions in public transit are in need of significant funding. And the majors and city councils in countless municipalities battle with the need to update sewers and roads.
Both countries have this need, but in the US it is a harder sell. In a poll that I conducted with EKOS and The Pew Charitable Trusts, we found that the most significant difference in values on the two sides of the borders has less to do with philosophical issues associated with how to define a good life, but rather the role of government. Americans are much more likely to see government as hindering rather than helping them to achieve their personal goals.
My own view is that this comes down to a different view on the efficiency of government by a significant fraction of the population in the two countries. Canadians are much more likely to see government as a tool or a means to an end, Americans to see it as too inefficient and incapable of helping them accomplish their goals. A significant fraction of Canadians continue to have—in spite being told otherwise for a decade by their out-going conservative Prime Minister—a certain trust in the capacity for collective action through the public sector. Americans have seen too many failures to feel otherwise.
So in fundamental ways, Canadians may be more receptive to the message that Mr. Summers and Mr. Krugman would like to send Americans. ...
[In the full post, which is much longer, he discusses other important differences as well.]
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Quantitative easing has had a difficult time stimulating demand (which would put pressure on prices and raise inflation). The money mostly piles up in banks instead of turning into new loans and new spending. Helicopter money would, I think, do much better, especially if it was distributed to people with a very high propensity to spend the money (so it would have much better distributional consequences as well). But central banks seem afraid to try this, or even consider it seriously. Simon Wren-Lewis says those fears are unfounded:
Central bankers and their irrational fear: Mervyn King said
“Central banks are often accused of being obsessed with inflation. This is untrue. If they are obsessed with anything, it is with fiscal policy.”
As an academic turned central banker, King knew of what he spoke. The fear is sometimes called fiscal dominance: that they will be forced to monetize government debt in such a way that means inflation rises out of control.
I believe this fear is a key factor behind central banks’ reluctance to think seriously about helicopter money. Creating money is no longer a taboo: with Quantitative Easing huge amounts of money have been created. But this money has bought financial assets, which can subsequently be sold to mop up the money that has been created. Under helicopter money the central bank creates money to give it away. If that money needs to be mopped up after a recession is over in order to control inflation, the central bank might run out of assets to do so. A good name for this is ‘policy insolvency’. 
There is a simple way to deal with this problem.  The government commits to always providing the central bank with the assets they need to control inflation. If, after some doses of helicopter money, the central bank needs and gets refinanced in this way, then helicopter money becomes like a form of bond financed fiscal stimulus, but where the bond finance is delayed. In my view that delay may be crucial in overcoming the deficit fetishism that has proved so politically successful over the last five years, as well as giving central banks a much more effective unconventional monetary instrument than QE.  But central banks do not want to go there, partly because they worry about the possibility of a government that would renege on that commitment.
The fear is irrational for two reasons... [explains]...
Central banks overcame one big psychological barrier when they undertook Quantitative Easing. That was the first, and perhaps the more important, stage in ending their primitive fear of fiscal dominance. They now need to complete the process, so we can start having rational discussions about alternatives to QE.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Eduardo Porter tries to set the record straight on welfare's influence on behavior:
The Myth of Welfare’s Corrupting Influence on the Poor: ...Few ideas are so deeply ingrained in the American popular imagination as the belief that government aid for poor people will just encourage bad behavior.
The proposition is particularly cherished on the conservative end of the spectrum... But even Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the father of the New Deal, called welfare “a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” And it was President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who put an end to “welfare as we know it.” ...
And yet, to a significant degree, it is wrong. Actual experience, from the richest country in the world to some of the poorest places on the planet, suggests that cash assistance can be of enormous help for the poor. And freeing them from what President Ronald Reagan memorably termed the “spider’s web of dependency” — also known as forcing the poor to swim or sink — is not the cure-all....
Abhijit Banerjee ... released a paper with three colleagues last week that carefully assessed the effects of seven cash-transfer programs in Mexico, Morocco, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Indonesia. It found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.” ...
Still, Professor Banerjee observed, in many countries, “we encounter the idea that handouts will make people lazy.”
Professor Banerjee suggests the spread of welfare aversion around the world might be an American confection. “Many governments have economic advisers with degrees from the United States who share the same ideology,” he said. “Ideology is much more pervasive than the facts.”
What is most perplexing is that the United States’ own experience with both welfare and its “reform” does not really support the charges. ...
A Plea to My Fellow Free Marketers: As a free-market loving individual, it pains me to see so many of my fellow travelers claim the Fed has artificially suppressed interest rates since the onset of the crisis. Recently, I was disappointed to see George Will and Bill Gross repeat these claims. They have made these claims before, but I was hoping after all these years they would begin to question the premise of their views. But alas, it did not happen. Here is George Will's latest volley on this issue :
[S]even years of ZIRP — zero interest-rate policy — have not restored the economic dynamism essential for social mobility but have had the intended effect of driving liquidity into equities in search of high yields, thereby enriching the 10 percent of Americans who own approximately 80 percent of the directly owned stocks. ...
And here is Bill Gross in his latest newsletter:So the Fed has chosen to hold off on their goal of normalizing interest rates and... and the investment community wonders how long can this keep goin’ on. For a long time I suppose, as evidenced by history at least. Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have meticulously documented periods of “financial repression”[.]
There is no doubt the low interest rates over the past seven years has caused many problems: they have harmed individuals living on fixed income, incentivized unusual reaching for yield by investors, and made it easier to run large budget deficits. But are the low rates behind these developments really the Fed's doing?
What I wish George Will, Bill Gross, and other free market advocates would consider is the possibility that the Fed itself is not the source of the low rates, but simply is a follower of where market forces have pushed interest rates. That is, the Great Recession and the prolonged slump that followed caused interest rates to be depressed and the Fed did its best to keep short-term interest rate near this low market-clearing level.
But there is more to this story. ...
Monday, October 19, 2015
Bill McBride at Calculated Risk wonders how "deficit hawk" is defined:
Ornithology: What is a "deficit hawk"?, by Bill McBride, Calculated Risk: Nick Timiraos wrote yesterday in the WSJ: Debt, Growth Concerns Rain on Deficit Parade...
I'd like to see the definition of a "deficit hawk"!
I'd think a true deficit hawk would be truly concerned about, uh, the deficit. So they'd support both tax increases1 and spending cuts to reduce the deficit. They'd oppose policies that increase the deficit (like the Bush tax cuts, and the war in Iraq). They'd also be concerned about policies that led to the financial crisis and a deep recession - since the deficit increases during a recession.
Maybe I'm talking my own position since I opposed the Bush tax cuts (that created a structural deficit). I opposed the Iraq war. I frequently talked to regulators about lax lending in real estate (and posted some of those discussion on this blog in 2005) that led directly to the financial crisis and large deficits. And I support both intelligent tax increases and spending cuts.
Unfortunately, my experience is that most people who claims to be "deficit hawks", are really pushing a different agenda. I wish Timiraos would provide a few examples of deficit hawks!
Also the "red ink set to rise later this decade" is expected in increase the deficit from 2.5% of GDP to about 3.1% in 2020.
1 Note: Some people like to focus on "growth" to reduce the deficit, and they tend to focus on tax cuts to boost growth. However, all data and research shows that at the current marginal rates, tax cuts do not pay for themselves and lead to much larger deficits.
The important lessons we can learn from Denmark:
Something Not Rotten in Denmark, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: No doubt surprising many of the people watching the Democratic presidential debate, Bernie Sanders cited Denmark as a role model for how to help working people. Hillary Clinton demurred slightly, declaring that “we are not Denmark,” but agreed that Denmark is an inspiring example. ... But how great are the Danes, really? ...
Denmark maintains a welfare state ... that is beyond the wildest dreams of American liberals. ... To pay for these programs, Denmark collects a lot of taxes..., almost half of national income, compared with 25 percent in the United States. Describe these policies to any American conservative, and he would predict ruin. Surely those generous benefits must destroy the incentive to work, while those high taxes drive job creators into hiding or exile.
Strange to say, however, Denmark ...is ... a prosperous nation that does quite well on job creation. ... It’s hard to imagine a better refutation of anti-tax, anti-government economic doctrine...
But ... is everything copacetic in Copenhagen? Actually, no..., its ... recovery from the global financial crisis has been slow and incomplete. ...
What explains this poor recent performance? The answer, mainly, is bad monetary and fiscal policy. Denmark hasn’t adopted the euro, but it manages its currency as if it had... And while the country has faced no market pressure to slash spending ... it has adopted fiscal austerity anyway.
The result is a sharp contrast with neighboring Sweden, which doesn’t shadow the euro (although it has made some mistakes on its own), hasn’t done much austerity, and has seen real G.D.P. per capita rise while Denmark’s falls.
But Denmark’s monetary and fiscal errors don’t say anything about the sustainability of a strong welfare state. In fact, people who denounce things like universal health coverage and subsidized child care tend also to be people who demand higher interest rates and spending cuts in a depressed economy. (Remember all the talk about “debasing” the dollar?) That is, U.S. conservatives actually approve of some Danish policies — but only the ones that have proved to be badly misguided.
So yes, we can learn a lot from Denmark, both its successes and its failures. And let me say that it was both a pleasure and a relief to hear people who might become president talk seriously about how we can learn from the experience of other countries, as opposed to just chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
Friday, October 16, 2015
Financial tycoons broke up with Democrats. Now they ♥ Republicans (or maybe they are just using them with their money):
Democrats, Republicans and Wall Street Tycoons, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had an argument about financial regulation during Tuesday’s debate — but it wasn’t about whether to crack down on banks. Instead, it was about whose plan was tougher. The contrast with Republicans like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, who have pledged to reverse even the moderate financial reforms enacted in 2010, couldn’t be stronger.
For what it’s worth, Mrs. Clinton had the better case. ... But is Mrs. Clinton’s promise to take a tough line on the financial industry credible? Or would she ... return to the finance-friendly, deregulatory policies of the 1990s? ...
To understand the politics of financial reform and regulation, we have to start by acknowledging that there was a time when Wall Street and Democrats got on just fine. Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs became Bill Clinton’s most influential economic official; big banks had plenty of political access; and the industry by and large got what it wanted, including repeal of Glass-Steagall.
This cozy relationship was reflected in campaign contributions, with the securities industry splitting its donations more or less evenly between the parties, and hedge funds actually leaning Democratic.
But then came the financial crisis of 2008, and everything changed.
Many liberals feel that the Obama administration was far too lenient on the financial industry in the aftermath of the crisis. ... But the financiers didn’t feel grateful for getting off so lightly. ... Financial tycoons loom large among the tiny group of wealthy families that is dominating campaign finance this election cycle — a group that overwhelmingly supports Republicans. Hedge funds used to give the majority of their contributions to Democrats, but since 2010 they have flipped almost totally to the G.O.P. ... Wall Street insiders take Democratic pledges to crack down on bankers’ excesses seriously. And it also means that a victorious Democrat wouldn’t owe much to the financial industry.
If a Democrat does win, does it matter much which one it is? Probably not. Any Democrat is likely to retain the financial reforms of 2010, and seek to stiffen them where possible. But major new reforms will be blocked until and unless Democrats regain control of both houses of Congress, which isn’t likely to happen for a long time.
In other words, while there are some differences in financial policy between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, as a practical matter they’re trivial compared with the yawning gulf with Republicans.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Fed Debates and the EMU Technocratic Illusion, Gloomy European Economist: ...I have read with lots of interest the speech that newly appointed Federal Reserve Board Member Lael Brainard gave last Monday. The speech is a plea for holding on rate rises, and uses a number of convincing arguments. Much has been said on the issue (give a look at comments by Tim Duy and Paul Krugman). I have little to add, were it not for the point I made a number of times, that the extraordinarily difficult task of central bankers would be made substantially easier if fiscal policy were used more actively.
What I’d like to express here is my jealousy for the discussions (and the confrontation) that we observe in the US. These discussions are a sideproduct, a very positive one if you ask me, of the institutional design of the Fed. I just returned from a series of engaging policy meetings on central bank policy in Costa Rica, facilitated by the local ILO office, where I pleaded for the introduction of a dual mandate.
I wrote a background paper (that can be seen here) in which my main argument is that a central bank following a dual mandate will always be able to take an aggressive stance on inflation, if it deems it necessary to do so. ... No choice of weights, on the other hand, would allow a central bank following an inflation targeting mandate to explicitly target employment as well. Thus, the dual mandate can embed inflation targeting strategies, while the converse is not true. In terms of policy effectiveness, therefore, the dual mandate is a superior institutional arrangement.
I also cited evidence showing, and here we come at my jealousy for the Fed, that inflation targeting central banks, like the ECB, de facto target the output gap, but timidly and without explicitly saying so. This leads to low reactivity and opaque communication, that hamper the capacity of central banks to manage expectations and effectively steer the economy. I am sure that those who followed the EMU policy debate in the past few years will know what I am talking about.
One may argue that the cacophony currently characterizing the Federal Reserve Board is hardly positive for the economy, and that in terms of managing expectations, lately, the Fed did not excel. This is undeniable, and is the result of the Fed groping its way out of unprecedented policy measures. The difference with the ECB is that for the Fed the opacity results from an ongoing debate on how to best attain an objective that is clear and shared. We are not there yet, but the debate will eventually lead to an unambiguous (and hopefully appropriate) policy choice. The ECB opacity, is intrinsically linked to the confusion between its mandate and its actual action, and as such it cannot lead to any meaningful discussion, but just to legalistic disputes on the definition of price stability, of how medium is the medium term and the like.
And I can now come to my final point: a dual mandate has the merit to let the political nature of monetary policy emerge without ambiguities. It is indeed true that monetary policy with a dual mandate requires hard choices, as the ones that are debated these days, and hence is political in nature. The point is, that so is monetary policy with a simple inflation targeting objective. The level of inflation targeted, and the choice of the instruments to attain it, are all but neutral in terms of their consequences on the economy, most notably on the distribution of resources among market participants. Thus, an inflation targeting central bank is as political in its actions as a bank following a dual mandate, the only difference being that in the former case the political nature of monetary policy is concealed behind a technocratic curtain. The deep justification of exclusive focus on price stability can only lie in the acceptance of a neoclassical platonic world in which powerless governments need to make no choice. Once we dismiss that platonic view, monetary policy acquires a political role, regardless of the mandate it is given. A dual mandate has the merit of making this choice explicit, and hence to dispel the technocratic illusion.
I am not saying there would be no issues with the adoption of a dual mandate. The institutional design should be carefully crafted, in order to ensure that independence is maintained, and accountability (currently very low indeed) is enhanced. What I am saying is that after seven years (and counting) of dismal economic performance, and faced with strong arguments in favor of a broader central bank mandate, EMU policy makers should be engaged in discussions at least as lively as the ones of their counterparts in Washington. And yet, all is quiet on this side of the ocean… Circulez y a rien à voir
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Paul Krugman notes the correlation between getting tough on the financial industry and the flow of campaign cash. Some people argue this money doesn't much matter in terms of influencing elections, but the people giving it -- the ones so lauded on the political right for their wisdom on business and financial matters -- sure seem to think it does:
The Waaaaah Street Factor: Following up on my point about how this is looking like a Dodd-Frank election: to understand what’s going on this election cycle, you really need to know about the dramatic shift in Wall Street’s political preferences.
There was a time when Wall Street was quite favorable to Democrats. ...
But that all changed in 2010, when Democrats actually pushed through a significant although far from adequate financial reform, and Barack Obama said the obvious, that some financial types had behaved badly and helped cause the crisis. The result was a great freakout — the coming of “Obama rage”.
Wall Street doesn’t like the regulations, which really do seem to have more or less eliminated the implicit too-big-to-fail subsidy. Beyond that, with great wealth comes great pettiness: financial tycoons are accustomed to constant deference, and they went berserk at even the mild criticism they faced.
You can see the result in the chart: a drastic shift of campaign giving away from Democrats toward Republicans. And this will have consequences: if a Republican wins, he or she will be very much in Wall Street’s pocket. If a Democrat wins, not so much.
Monday, October 12, 2015
Why is Paul Ryan under so much pressure to become speaker, and why would he be wise to resist?:
The Crazies and the Con Man, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: How will the chaos that the crazies, I mean the Freedom Caucus, have wrought in the House get resolved? I have no idea. But as this column went to press, practically the whole Republican establishment was pleading with Paul Ryan ... to become speaker. ...
What makes Mr. Ryan so special? ... To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality.
On the first point, just look at the policy ideas coming from the presidential candidates, even establishment favorites like Marco Rubio... Josh Barro has dubbed Mr. Rubio’s tax proposal the “puppies and rainbows” plan, consisting of trillions in giveaways with not a hint of how to pay for them — just the assertion that growth would somehow make it all good.
And it’s not just taxes, it’s everything. ... Yet most of the news media, and most pundits, still worship at the church of “balance.” They are committed to portraying the two big parties as equally reasonable. This creates a powerful demand for serious, honest Republicans who can be held up as proof that the party does too include reasonable people making useful proposals. ...
And Paul Ryan played and in many ways still plays that role... This has been enough to convince political writers who don’t know much about policy, but do know what they want to see, that he’s the real deal. ...
Which brings us back to the awkward fact that Mr. Ryan isn’t actually a pillar of fiscal rectitude, or anything like the budget expert he pretends to be. And the perception that he is these things is fragile, not likely to survive long if he were to move into the center of political rough and tumble. Indeed, his halo was visibly fraying during the few months of 2012 that he was Mitt Romney’s running mate...
Predictions aside, however, the Ryan phenomenon tells us a lot about what’s really happening in American politics. In brief, crazies have taken over the Republican Party, but the media don’t want to recognize this reality. The combination of these two facts has created an opportunity, indeed a need, for political con men. And Mr. Ryan has risen to the challenge.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
In case you were wondering, yes, wealth from the energy and finance industries does dominate campaign spending early in campaigns, and flows mostly to Republicans:
Just 158 families have provided nearly half of the early money for efforts to capture the White House, NY Times: They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters..., they reside in ... exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.
Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign... Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago. ...
...the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right ... contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too. ...
Most of the families are clustered around just nine cities. ...
Tend to Be Self-Made ...
A number of the families are tied to networks of ideological donors ...
Friday, October 09, 2015
Beat the press:
It’s All Benghazi, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: So Representative Kevin McCarthy, who was supposed to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House, won’t be pursuing the job after all. He ... finished off his chances by admitting — boasting, actually — that the endless House hearings on Benghazi had nothing to do with national security, that they were all about inflicting political damage on Hillary Clinton.
But we all knew that, didn’t we?
I often wonder about commentators who write about things like those hearings as if there were some real issue involved... Surely they have to know better... Somehow, though, politicians who ... are obviously just milking those issues for political gain keep getting a free pass. And it’s not just a Clinton story.
Consider the example of an issue ... that dominated much of our political discourse just a few years ago: federal debt.
Many prominent politicians made warnings about the dangers posed by U.S. debt, especially debt owned by China... Paul Ryan ... portrayed himself as a heroic crusader against deficits. Mitt Romney made denunciations of borrowing from China a centerpiece of his campaign... And by and large, commentators treated this posturing as if it were serious. ...
Well, don’t tell anyone, but the much feared event has happened: China is no longer buying our debt, and is in fact selling ... U.S. debt... And what has happened is what serious economic analysis always told us would happen: nothing. It was always a false alarm. ...
People who really worry about government debt don’t propose huge tax cuts for the rich, only partly offset by savage cuts in aid to the poor and middle class, and base all claims of debt reduction on unspecified savings to be announced on some future occasion. ...
Sometimes I have the impression that many people in the media consider it uncouth to acknowledge, even to themselves, the fraudulence of much political posturing. The done thing, it seems, is to pretend that we’re having real debates...
But turning our eyes away from political fakery, pretending that we’re having a serious discussion when we aren’t, is itself a kind of fraudulence. Mr. McCarthy inadvertently did the nation a big favor with his ill-advised honesty, but telling the public what’s really going on shouldn’t depend on politicians with loose lips.
Sometimes — all too often — there’s no substance under the shouting. And then we need to tell the truth, and say that it’s all Benghazi.
Thursday, October 08, 2015
In case you are feeling Moody:
Timothy Geithner and the Auditors, by Dean Baker: Eduardo Porter had a good piece in the NYT pointing out the importance of having independent evaluations of government programs. The point is that the agencies undertaking a program have a strong incentive to exaggerate its benefits. ...
One of the areas noted by Porter is in the rating of mortgage backed securities (MBS). During the housing bubble years, the bond-rating agencies routinely gave investment grade ratings to MBS that were stuffed with junk mortgages. They ignored the quality of the mortgages because they wanted the business. They knew if they gave honest ratings, the investment banks would take away their business.
While Porter notes this is a problem with the issuer pays model (the banks pay the rating agencies), there actually is a very simple solution. In the debate on Dodd-Frank, Senator Al Franken proposed an amendment which would have the Securities and Exchange Commission pick the rating agency, instead of the issuer. The bank would still pay the fee, but since they were no longer controlling who got the work, it eliminated the conflict of interest problem. The amendment passed the senate 65-34, with considerable bi-partisan support.
Unfortunately, as Geithner indicated in his autobiography, the Obama administration apparently did not like the dismantling of the perfect system we have today. The Franken amendment was removed in the conference committee and the existing structure was left in place. This was possible because the bond-rating agencies and the banks have real lobbies, whereas the folks who like honest evaluations don't. Of course the news media didn't help much, giving the issue very little coverage. And what attention it did get largely reflected the views of the financial industry.
Anyhow, this is a good example of the difficulties in putting in place the sort of independent auditing process that Porter seeks.
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
I have a new column:
Economic Growth vs. Social Insurance—Why Can’t We Have Both?: Why do Republicans on the campaign trail tend to emphasize policies that are focused on enhancing long-run economic growth while Democrats tend to focus more on immediate problems such as high unemployment? Republicans have a Club for Growth that grades politicians on their support of “free-market, limited government” policies they believe are the key to economic growth. Democrats are more likely to pay attention to institutions such as the Economic Policy Institute where “policies that protect and improve the economic conditions of low- and middle-income workers” are promoted. In general, Democrats seem much more focused on short-run economic problems than Republicans. Is there any basis within economics for this difference in emphasis on which type of policy is most important?
As I’ll explain shortly, there is, or more precisely, there was.
Some Republicans use the promise of economic growth as a ruse for their real goal, lower taxes on the wealthy. For them, it’s really a “Club to Lower Taxes and Cut Social Programs.” But today I want to focus on the economics rather than the politics.
What is the source of the idea that we cannot address both long-run growth and problems such as high unemployment and rising inequality at the same time? Why have economists and politicians chosen sides on which of the two is most important? There are two reasons for this. ...
Why Marco Rubio is insisting that his massive tax cuts will pay for themselves, explained: On Tuesday, Marco Rubio told CNBC's John Harwood that his massive tax cuts — which estimates have found would blow a roughly $4 trillion to $5 trillion hole in the deficit — creates a surplus "within the 10-year window."
It is worth slowing down to make clear exactly what Rubio said there. Rubio's plan cuts corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, taxes on the rich, taxes on the middle class — it cuts taxes on everyone. The cuts are so large that the New York Times called it "the puppies and rainbows plan." And what Rubio is saying is that his massive tax cut is actually going to mean more tax revenue for the government — that two minus one will equal four. ...
Rubio's assurance will, to most tax analysts, sound like nonsense. And it is nonsense. A plan that massively cuts taxes isn't going to lead to budget surpluses. But it's nonsense that has been validated by an important conservative tax group, that shows the kind of candidate Rubio is looking to be, and that speaks to why the debate over taxes in Washington has become so dysfunctional. ...
TPP Take Two: I’ve described myself as a lukewarm opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership; although I don’t share the intense dislike of many progressives, I’ve seen it as an agreement not really so much about trade as about strengthening intellectual property monopolies and corporate clout in dispute settlement — both arguably bad things... But the WH is telling me that the agreement just reached is significantly different from what we were hearing before, and the angry reaction of industry and Republicans seems to confirm that.
What I know so far: pharma is mad because the extension of property rights in biologics is much shorter than it wanted, tobacco is mad because it has been carved out of the dispute settlement deal, and Rs in general are mad because the labor protection stuff is stronger than expected. All of these are good things from my point of view. I’ll need to do much more homework once the details are clearer. ...
Demand deniers: The Tories seem ... oblivious to problems of weak demand. ...
Jeremy Hunt tries to justify cutting tax credits by claiming that he wants to create a culture of hard work.
Let's leave aside the fact that working long hours is often a sign a economic failure - of low productivity - and ask: what would happen if people offered to work longer?
The answer is that, in many cases their employers would reject their offers. There are already 1.28 million people who are working part-time because they cannot find full-time work. This tells us that, for very many people, the problem isn't a lack of culture of hard work but a lack of demand for their services. ...
These ... examples raise the question: why are the Tories demand-deniers? Alex offers one answer: it's because they still believe that poverty is the fault of the individual - they are committing the fundamental attribution error.
The counterpart to this is a perhaps willful failure to see that there are also systemic reasons for low pay - not just bad policy, but fundamental properties of the capitalist economy.
Monday, October 05, 2015
Is Donald Trump right to call NAFTA a "disaster"?: Recently, Donald Trump made a strong claim about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in an interview on CBS 60 Minutes:
"It's a disaster. ... We will either renegotiate it, or we will break it. Because, you know, every agreement has an end. ... Every agreement has to be fair. Every agreement has a defraud clause. We're being defrauded by all these countries."
Is he right? Was NAFTA a disaster? ...
I also talk about immigration.
Why are Republicans hostile to initiatives that promote wind and solar energy?:
Enemies of the Sun, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Does anyone remember the Cheney energy task force? Early in the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney released a report that was widely derided as a document written by and for Big Energy — because it was...
But here’s the thing: by the standards of today’s Republican Party, the Cheney report was enlightened, even left-leaning. One whole chapter was devoted to conservation, another to renewable energy. By contrast, recent speeches by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — still the most likely Republican presidential nominees — barely address either topic. When it comes to energy policy, the G.O.P. has become fossilized. That is, it’s fossil fuels, and only fossil fuels, all the way.
And that’s a remarkable development, because ... we’re ... living in an era of spectacular progress in wind and solar energy. Why has the right become so hostile to technologies that look more and more like the wave of the future? ...
Part of the answer is surely that promotion of renewable energy is linked in many people’s minds with attempts to limit climate change — and ... the association with climate science evokes visceral hostility on the right.
Beyond that,... follow the money. We used to say that the G.O.P. was the party of Big Energy, but these days it would be more accurate to say that it’s the party of Old Energy. In the 2014 election cycle the oil and gas industry gave 87 percent of its political contributions to Republicans; for coal mining the figure was 96, that’s right, 96 percent. Meanwhile, alternative energy went 56 percent for Democrats.
And Old Energy is engaged in a systematic effort to blacken the image of renewable energy, one that closely resembles the way it has supported “experts” willing to help create a cloud of doubt about climate science. An example: Earlier this year Newsweek published an op-ed article purporting to show that the true cost of wind power was much higher than it seems. But ... the article contained major factual errors, and its author had failed to disclose that he was the Charles W. Koch professor at Utah State, and a fellow of a Koch- and ExxonMobil-backed think tank. ...
While politicians on the right may talk about encouraging innovation and promoting an energy revolution, they’re actually defenders of the energy status quo, part of a movement trying to block anything that might disrupt the reign of fossil fuels.
Friday, October 02, 2015
Why do Republican politicians support tax cuts for the wealthy despite their unpopularity (as documented in a part I left out), and their failure to spur economic growth?:
Voodoo Never Dies, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: So Donald Trump has unveiled his tax plan. It would, it turns out, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.
This is in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.
For what it’s worth, it looks as if Trump’s plan would make an even bigger hole in the budget than Jeb’s. Jeb justifies his plan by claiming that it would double America’s rate of growth; The Donald, ahem, trumps this by claiming that he would triple the rate of growth. But really, why sweat the details? It’s all voodoo. The interesting question is why every Republican candidate feels compelled to go down this path.
You might think that there was a defensible economic case for the obsession with cutting taxes on the rich. That is, you might think that if you’d spent the past 20 years in a cave (or a conservative think tank). ...
True, you can find self-proclaimed economic experts claiming to find overall evidence that low tax rates spur economic growth, but such experts invariably turn out to be on the payroll of right-wing pressure groups (and have an interesting habit of getting their numbers wrong)... There is no serious economic case for the tax-cut obsession.
Still,... every Republican who would be president is committed to a policy that is both demonstrably bad economics and deeply unpopular. What’s going on?
Well,..., it’s straightforward and quite stark: Republicans support big tax cuts for the wealthy because that’s what wealthy donors want. No doubt most of those donors have managed to convince themselves that what’s good for them is good for America. But at root it’s about rich people supporting politicians who will make them richer. Everything else is just rationalization.
Of course, once the Republicans settle on a nominee, an army of hired guns will be mobilized to obscure this stark truth. We’ll see claims that it’s really a middle-class tax cut, that it will too do great things for economic growth, and look over there — emails! And given the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism, this campaign of obfuscation may work.
But never forget that what it’s really about is top-down class warfare. That may sound simplistic, but it’s the way the world works.
Thursday, October 01, 2015
Marx on peasant consciousness: One of Marx's more important pieces of political writing is the The Eighteenth maire of Louis Bonaparte (1851) (pdf). Here is his analysis of the causes of the specific nature of peasant political consciousness leading to the election of Napoleon III:The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is furthered by France‘s poor means of communication and the poverty of the peasants. Their field of production, the small holding, permits no division of labor in its cultivation, no application of science, and therefore no multifariousness of development, no diversity of talent, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. A small holding, the peasant and his family; beside it another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these constitute a village, and a few score villages constitute a department. Thus the great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not constitute a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name, whether through a parliament or a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, an unlimited governmental power which protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power which subordinates society to itself.
This a particularly interesting analysis of the social psychology of group solidarity, and one that has contemporary significance as well. It sheds a lot of light on how Marx thinks about the formation of class consciousness -- even as it significantly misunderstands the agency of rural people.
What are the limitations of the French peasantry, according to Marx here? They are isolated, burdened, unsophisticated, primitive, apolitical, and ignorant of the larger forces around them. Therefore, Marx says, they cannot constitute a unified and purposive political force. (The photo of a battalion of Vietnam Minh troops in Indochina just a century later refutes this conception.)
From this description we can draw several positive ideas about the foundations of collective solidarity. Here are the elements that Marx takes to be crucial in the formation of collective consciousness in this passage:
- The group needs to possess "manifold relations" to each other.
- There needs to be effective communication and transportation across space, not just local interaction.
- There needs to be a degree of economic interdependence.
- There need to be shared material conditions in the system of production.
- There needs to be an astute appreciation of the social and economic environment.
- There needs to be organization and leadership to help articulate a shared political consciousness and agenda.
And Marx seems to have something like a necessary and sufficient relation in mind between these conditions and the emergence of collective consciousness: these conditions are jointly sufficient and individually necessary for collective consciousness in an extended group.
There are several crucial ideas here that survive into current thinking about solidarity and mobilization. So Marx's thinking about collective consciousness was prescient. It is interesting to consider where his thoughts about collective solidarity came from. How did he come to have insightful ideas about the social psychology of mobilization and solidarity in the first place? This isn't a topic that had a history of advanced theory and thinking in 1851.
Two sources seem likely. First is the tradition of French socialist thought in which Marx was immersed in the 1840s. French socialist thinkers were in fact interested in the question of how a revolutionary spirit came to be among a group of people. And second is Marx's own experience of working people in Paris in 1843-45. He writes of his own observations of working people in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts in 1844:When communist artisans associate with one another, theory, propaganda, etc., is their first end. But at the same time, as a result of this association, they acquire a new need – the need for society – and what appears as a means becomes an end. In this practical process the most splendid results are to be observed whenever French socialist workers are seen together. Such things as smoking, drinking, eating, etc., are no longer means of contact or means that bring them together. Association, society and conversation, which again has association as its end, are enough for them; the brotherhood of man is no mere phrase with them, but a fact of life, and the nobility of man shines upon us from their work-hardened bodies.
Here Marx gives as much importance to the substantive relations of friendship and everyday association as he does to shared material interests in the formation of the class consciousness of French workers.
Marx's misunderstanding of the political capacity and consciousness of peasant communities has been noted by many scholars of rural revolutions. James Scott once opened a public lecture on the revolutions of the twentieth century by saying that his lecture would only treat the peasant revolutions of the century. But he then paused and laughed, and said, this isn't much of a limitation, because they were all peasant revolutions! Marx's assumption that only urban workers were capable of revolutionary consciousness was a serious misreading of the coming century of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial struggles. (Here is an earlier post on Scott's studies of peasant politics. Scott's accounts can be found in Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance and The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. Eric Wolf's Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century picks up similar themes.)
Also interesting in the Eighteenth Brumaire is Engels' statement on the law of history as class struggle in his preface to the third edition of the book:In addition, however, there was still another circumstance. It was precisely Marx who had first discovered the great law of motion of history, the law according to which all historical struggles, whether they proceed in the political, religious, philosophical or some other ideological domain, are in fact only the more or less clear expression of struggles of social classes, and that the existence and thereby the collisions, too, between these classes are in turn conditioned by the degree of development of their economic position, by the mode of their production and of their exchange determined by it. This law, which has the same significance for history as the law of the transformation of energy has for natural science -- this law gave him here, too, the key to an understanding of the history of the Second French Republic. He put his law to the test on these historical events, and even after thirty-three years we must still say that it has stood the test brilliantly.
Engels plainly endorses the idea of laws of motion of society and the idea of class conflict as the primary motor of historical change. "History is a history of class struggle." There is not much room for contingency or conjunctural causation here! But this is a dimension of Marxist theory that is plainly incorrect. Far better is to understand history in a more multi-factoral way in which contingency, conjunction, and agency all play a role.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
“I think the left wants slow growth because that means people are more dependent upon government,” Bush told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo.
Remember, this is the establishment candidate for the GOP nomination — and he thinks he’s living in Atlas Shrugged.
Back when Romney made his "47 percent" remark, Rich Lowry of the National Review Online responded:
...The contention is that if people aren’t paying federal income taxes, they are essentially freeloaders who will vote themselves more government benefits knowing that they don’t have to pay for them. As NR’s Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed out, there’s no evidence for this dynamic. ...
Fear of the creation of a class of “takers” can slide into disdain for people who are too poor — or have too many kids or are too old — to pay their damn taxes. For a whiff of how politically unattractive this point of view can be, just look at the Romney fundraising video.
Bush didn't learn a thing from Romney' venture down this road. "There's no evidence" for the charge itself, it's a political loser except with a certain population that would vote Republican in any case, and it falsely asserts that Democrats are opposed to policies that spur economic growth (hence our repeated calls for things like infrastructure to provide jobs, get the economy ready for a highly competitive international economy, and avoid the potential for secular stagnation?).
What we are opposed to, or what I am opposed to -- guess I should speak for myself -- is growth where all the benefits are captured by those at the top. Imperfections in economic institutions along with changes in the rules of the game pushed forward by those with political influence have caused those at the top to be rewarded in excess of their contribution to economic output, while those at the bottom have gotten less than their contribution. It's not "taking" to increase taxes at the top and return income to those who actually earned it, to the real makers who toil each day at jobs they'd rather not do to support their families. It's a daily struggle for many, a struggle that would be eased if they simply earned an amount equivalent to their contributions. That's why it's so "politically unattractive", people explicitly or implicitly understand they have been, for lack of a better word, screwed by the system. The blame is sometimes misplaced, but that doesn't change the nature of the problem. They don't want "free stuff," they want what they deserve, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that.
The other thing I'm opposed to is tax cuts for those at the top that make this problem even worse without delivering any corresponding benefits. These tax cuts redistribute income upward and cause the income received by workers to fall even further below their contribution, and there's no corresponding benefit to economic growth (or if there is, it's very, very small). We keep hearing that putting money in the hands of the "makers' at the top will produce magical growth, but the reality is that these are the true takers, the ones who are receiving far more from the economy than they contribute, while those who actually work their butts off each day to make the things we all need and enjoy struggle to pay their bills.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Magic plans meet the reality called the Fed:
Trump World and the Fed, by Dean Baker: ...Suppose that Donald Trump's tax cut really is the magic elixir that would get the economy to 6.0 percent annual growth. But what if the people at the Fed's Open Market Committee (FOMC) don't recognize this fact? Suppose the FOMC thinks the economy is still bound by the pre-Trump tax cut rules and believes that inflation will start to accelerate out of control if the unemployment rate falls much below its current 5.1 percent level.
In this case, we would expect to see the Fed raise interest rates sharply as they saw the Trump tax cuts boosting growth. ... If the Fed raises interest rates high enough, it could fully offset the boost that Trump's tax cut is giving to the economy. In this case, even though the Trump tax cuts might have been the best thing for the economy since the Internet (okay, better than the Internet), we wouldn't see any dividend because the Fed would not allow it.
For this reason, the Fed's likely response to a tax cut is a fundamental question that reporters should be asking. If the Fed is likely to simply slam on the brakes to offset any possible stimulus, then a tax plan will have little prospect of providing a growth dividend.
Maybe they aren't asking because they know in their heart of hearts that the plan will be lucky to boost growth at all.
And Then There Were None: ...I ... want to weigh in for a minute on Donald Trump’s tax plan — which would, surprise, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit. That’s in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.
At this point there are no Republican candidates deviating at all from the usual pattern. Why, it’s almost as if nobody in the party ever cared about deficits except as an excuse to slash social spending, and is totally committed to redistributing income upward.
And there is, of course, no evidence — zero, nada, zilch — that cutting taxes on the rich will yield large economic benefits.
What we’re seeing here is a party completely incapable of reforming …
Sharun Mukand and Dani Rodrik at Vox EU:
The political economy of liberal democracy, Vox EU: There are more democracies in the world today than non-democracies, according to data from Polity IV.1 Yet, few of those are what we would call liberal democracies – regimes that go beyond electoral competition and protect the rights of minorities, the rule of law, and free speech and practice non-discrimination in the provision of public goods.
Hungary, Ecuador, Mexico, Turkey, and Pakistan, for example, are all classified as electoral democracies by the Freedom House.2 But in these and many other countries, harassment of political opponents, censorship or self-censorship in the media, and discrimination against minority ethnic/religious groups run rampant. Fareed Zakaria coined the term ‘illiberal democracy’ for political regimes such as these that hold regular elections but routinely violate rights (Zakaria 1997). More recently, political scientists Steve Levitsky and Lucan Way (2010) have used the term ‘competitive authoritarianism’ to describe what they view as hybrid regimes between democracy and autocracy.
Democracy developed in Western Europe out of a liberal tradition that emphasized individual rights and placed limits on state coercion (Ryan 2012, Fawcett 2014, Fukuyama 2014). In Britain, France, Germany, and even the US, mass enfranchisement arrived only after liberal thought had become entrenched. Most of the world’s new democracies, by contrast, emerged in the absence of a liberal tradition and did little to foster one. As the shortcomings of these democracies have become more evident, it has become commonplace to talk about a ‘democratic recession’ (Diamond 2015). ...
Circumstances supporting civil rights But liberal democracies do exist, and the question is how they can ever be sustained in equilibrium. We discuss several circumstances that can mitigate the bias against civil rights in democracies.
- First, there may not be a clear, identifiable cleavage – ethnic, religious, or otherwise – that divides the majority from the minority.
In highly homogenous societies, the ‘majority’ derives few benefits from excluding the ‘minority’ from public goods and suffers few costs from providing equal access. This may account for the emergence of liberal democracy in Sweden during the early part of the 20th century or in Japan and South Korea more recently.
- Second, the two cleavages that distinguish the majority from the minority and the elite from the non-elite may be in close alignment.
In such a case, the elite will seek both property and civil rights as part of the political settlement with the majority. Think, for example, of the position of the white minority government in South Africa prior to the transition to democracy in 1994.
- Third, the majority may be slender and need the support of the minority to mount a serious challenge to the elite.
Or there may be no clear-cut majority, with society characterized by a preponderance of cross-cutting cleavages. In these cases, repeated game incentives may ensure that each group recognizes the rights of others in return for its rights being protected by them. Lebanon’s ‘consociational’ democracy may have been an example of this, before differential population growth and outside intervention upset the pre-existing balance of power among different religious denominations.
The role of societal cleavages As these examples make clear, two societal cleavages play a crucial role in our story.
- First, there is the divide between the propertied elite and the poor masses.
This is largely an economic divide and is determined by the division of land, capital and other assets in society, as well as access to the opportunities for accumulating those assets. Standard class-based accounts of the dynamics of political regimes emphasize primarily this cleavage.
- Second, there is a cleavage between what we call a majority and a minority.
This particular divide may be identity based, deriving from ethnic, religious, linguistic, or regional affiliations. Or it may be ideological – as with secular modernizers versus religious conservatives in Turkey, and Western-oriented liberals versus traditionalists in Russia. (We will call this second cleavage an ‘identity’ cleavage for short, but it should be kept in mind that the relevant majority-minority cleavage will run often on ideological lines.) These two cleavages may align, as they did in South Africa, but more often than not, they will not. Their divergence is what allows us to make an analytical and substantive distinction between electoral and liberal democracy.
In our formal model, the majority-minority split exerts a variety of influences on the prospects for liberal democracy. First, and most crucially, it makes the majority favor electoral over liberal democracy. By discriminating against the minority, the majority can enjoy more public goods for itself. But there are effects that go in the opposite direction too. Under some circumstances, the split can make the elite favor liberal democracy. We identify two such consequences. First, the rate of taxation is generally lower under liberal democracy as the majority reap fewer benefits from redistributive taxation when they have to share public goods with the minority. So the elite may support liberal democracy when the income/class cleavage is very deep. Second, when the elite’s identity aligns with that of the minority, the elite have a direct stake in civil rights too. These channels can produce a rich mix of results.
Concluding remarks We suggest that the differential fortunes of liberal democracy in Western Europe and the developing world are related to the nature of dominant cleavages at the time of the social mobilization that ushered in democracy. In the West, the transition to democracy occurred as a consequence of industrialization at a time when the major division in society was the one between capitalists and workers. In most developing nations, on the other hand, mass politics was the product of decolonization and wars of national liberation, with identity cleavages as the main fault line. Our framework suggests that the second kind of transition is particularly inimical to liberal democracy. ...
Monday, September 28, 2015
Kevin Williamson at the National Review Online tells Republican candidates to get real:
The Thing about Tax Cut, by Kevin D. Williamson: Every Republican tax-reform plan should be rooted in this reality: If you are going to have federal spending that is 21 percent of GDP, then you can have a.) taxes that are 21 percent of GDP; b.) deficits. There is no c.
If, on the other hand, you have a credible program for reducing spending to 17 or 18 percent of GDP, which is where taxes have been coming in, please do share it.
The problem with the Growth Fairy model of balancing budgets is that while economic growth would certainly reduce federal spending as a share of GDP if spending were kept constant, there is zero evidence that the government of these United States has the will or the inclination to enact serious spending controls when times are good (Uncork the champagne!) or when times are bad (Wicked austerity! We must have stimulus!). So even if we buy Jeb Bush’s happy talk about growth, or Donald Trump’s, the idea that spending is just going to magically sit there, inert, while the economy zips forward and the tax coffers fill up, is delusional.
There are no tax cuts when the government is running deficits, only tax deferrals.
Remembering that the "math simply does not add up" for Republicans -- partly that's Williamson's point -- let's take a look at the evidence on government spending as a share of potential GDP. This is from Paul Krugman in 2013, but the underlying trends do not change. He explains why this is the best measure to use when looking at this question:
The Non-Surge in Government Spending: The fiscal debate in Washington is dominated by things everyone knows that happen not to be true. One of those things is the notion that we have a fiscal crisis... The crucial thing to understand here is that you do need to take the state of the business cycle into account; it’s not enough simply to do what Nate Silver, for example, does, and look at spending as a share of GDP — a calculation that can be deeply misleading in the aftermath of a severe recession followed by a slow recovery.
Why does this matter? First, if the economy is depressed — if GDP is low relative to potential — the share of spending in GDP will correspondingly look high. ...
Second, there are some programs — unemployment benefits, food stamps, to some extent Medicaid — that tend to spend more when the economy is depressed and more people are in distress. And rightly so! You don’t want to take a temporary spike in UI payments after a deep slump as a sign of runaway spending.
So how can we get a better picture? First, express spending as a share of potential rather than actual GDP; we can use the CBO estimates of potential for that purpose. Second, keep your eye on the business cycle — and, in particular, on how spending is evolving now that a gradual recovery is underway.
So, let’s look first at a longish time series of total government spending as a share of potential GDP:
Ratio of government spending to potential GDP
What you see is not a sustained upward trend: there’s actually a considerable fall during the Clinton years, reflecting in part falling defense spending, then a more modest rise in the Bush years, mainly reflecting spending on the War on Terror (TM), and finally a temporary surge associated with the financial crisis — but much of that surge has already been reversed.
Here’s a closeup on Bush’s last two years and Obama’s first four:
That was the spending surge that was. ...
The claim is that "the idea that spending is just going to magically sit there, inert, while the economy zips forward and the tax coffers fill up, is delusional." Here's an updated graph using the latest data:
Taking away the surge from the crisis, which has been reversed, the trend in the last few decades looks pretty flat to me. To the extent that there is a tendency for the ratio to move upward in recent years, it's hardly the fault of Democrats. There is something delusional here, but it's not that spending as a share of potential GDP -- the right way to look at this question -- always rises when times are good or bad, or that Democratic administrations cannot keep spending under control.
Trump Plan Is Tax Cut for the Rich, Even Hedge Fund Managers: Donald Trump’s tax plan, released Monday, does not live up to the populist language he has offered on taxes all summer.
When talking about taxes in this campaign, Donald Trump has often sounded like a different kind of Republican. He says he will take on “the hedge fund guys” and their carried interest loophole. He thinks it’s “outrageous” how little tax some multimillionaires pay. But his plan calls for major tax cuts not just for the middle class but also for the richest Americans — even the dreaded hedge fund managers. And despite his campaign’s assurances that the plan is “fiscally responsible,” it would grow budget deficits by trillions of dollars over a decade.
You could call Mr. Trump’s plan a higher-energy version of the tax plan Jeb Bush announced earlier this month: similar in structure, but with lower rates and wider tax brackets, meaning individual taxpayers would pay even less than under Mr. Bush, and the government would lose even more tax revenue. ...
A document from the Trump campaign says all these tax cuts would be “fully paid for” by the elimination of deductions and by a one-time tax on foreign profits of American firms held abroad. That math simply does not add up: As discussed above, rich people do not currently take enough tax deductions to offset the tax rate cuts Mr. Trump proposes, and the one-time foreign profits tax might raise $250 billion, not close to the trillions of revenue that would be lost through tax rate cuts.
At a news conference Monday, Mr. Trump offered another way his tax plan would pay for itself: economic growth, perhaps as fast as 6 percent a year, again a higher-energy estimate than the 4 percent Mr. Bush has proposed. But there is no evidence to support the idea that such rapid growth can be produced through tax cuts.
"That math simply does not add up" could be applied to Republican tax plans in general. There's always some sort of magical thinking that makes their plans work (or, perhaps, better described as cunning deception that relies upon the press remaining effectively silent, or playing the "he said she said" game that gives people little information about truth, in the face of absurd claims). Talk like a populist, act like a plutocrat seems to be a winning formula -- somehow many who have been disaffected by the economic system believe Republicans are on their side, and have their best interests at heart, that all the unfairness they see around them (which is not always real, but rather stoked by the closed loop news system they adhere to) will be addressed by a Republican administration. Not gonna happen.
Why is Boehner quitting?:
The Blackmail Caucus, a.k.a. the Republican Party, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: John Boehner was a terrible, very bad, no good speaker of the House. Under his leadership, Republicans pursued an unprecedented strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism, which did immense damage to the economy and undermined America’s credibility around the world. ...
For me, Mr. Boehner’s defining moment remains what he said and did ... when a newly inaugurated President Obama was trying to cope with the disastrous recession that began under his predecessor. ...
In 2008 a stimulus plan passed Congress with bipartisan support, and the case for a further stimulus in 2009 was overwhelming. But with a Democrat in the White House, Mr. Boehner demanded that policy go in the opposite direction, declaring that “American families are tightening their belts. But they don’t see government tightening its belt.” And he called for government to “go on a diet.” This was know-nothing economics, and incredibly irresponsible at a time of crisis...
The Boehner era has been one in which Republicans have accepted no responsibility for helping to govern the country, in which they have opposed anything and everything the president proposes.
What’s more, it has been an era of budget blackmail, in which threats that Republicans will shut down the government or push it into default unless they get their way have become standard operating procedure. ...
So why is he out? Basically because the obstructionism failed..., despite all Mr. Boehner’s efforts to bring him down, Mr. Obama is looking more and more like a highly successful president. For the base,..., this is a nightmare. And all too many ambitious Republican politicians are willing to tell the base that it’s Mr. Boehner’s fault, that he just didn’t try blackmail hard enough.
This is nonsense, of course. In fact, the controversy over Planned Parenthood that probably triggered the Boehner exit — shut down the government in response to obviously doctored videos? — might have been custom-designed to illustrate just how crazy the G.O.P.’s extremists have become, how unrealistic they are about what confrontational politics can accomplish.
But Republican leaders who have encouraged the base to believe all kinds of untrue things are in no position to start preaching political rationality.
Mr. Boehner is quitting because he found himself caught between the limits of the politically possible and a base that lives in its own reality. But don’t cry for (or with) Mr. Boehner; cry for America, which must find a way to live with a G.O.P. gone mad.
Why We Must End Upward Pre-Distribution to the Rich: You often hear inequality has widened because globalization and technological change have made most people less competitive, while making the best educated more competitive.
There’s some truth to this. The tasks most people used to do can now be done more cheaply by lower-paid workers abroad or by computer-driven machines.
But this common explanation overlooks a critically important phenomenon: the increasing concentration of political power in a corporate and financial elite that has been able to influence the rules by which the economy runs.
As I argue in my new book, “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few” (out this week), this transformation has amounted to a pre-distribution upward. ...
After a large number of examples illustrating how changes in the rules of the game driven by political influence have worked against the economic interests of the working class, he concludes
... The underlying problem, then, is not just globalization and technological changes that have made most American workers less competitive. Nor is it that they lack enough education to be sufficiently productive.
The more basic problem is that the market itself has become tilted ever more in the direction of moneyed interests that have exerted disproportionate influence over it, while average workers have steadily lost bargaining power—both economic and political—to receive as large a portion of the economy’s gains as they commanded in the first three decades after World War II.
Reversing the scourge of widening inequality requires reversing the upward pre-distributions within the rules of the market, and giving average people the bargaining power they need to get a larger share of the gains from growth.
The answer to this problem is not found in economics. It is found in politics. Ultimately, the trend toward widening inequality in America, as elsewhere, can be reversed only if the vast majority join together to demand fundamental change.
The most important political competition over the next decades will not be between the right and left, or between Republicans and Democrats. It will be between a majority of Americans who have been losing ground, and an economic elite that refuses to recognize or respond to its growing distress.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Inequality goes beyond income and wealth, it extends to the political arena:
The Soaring Price of Political Access, Editorial, NY Times: ... This year,... the two national parties reported to be planning tenfold increases in the rates V.I.P. donors will be charged to secure the right to attend exclusive dinners and presidential convention forums with candidates and party leaders.
This means that top-tier Republican donors will pay $1.34 million per couple for the privilege of being treated as party insiders, while the Democratic Party will charge about $1.6 million, according to The Washington Post. Four years ago the most an individual could give to a national party was $30,800. This time, that top $1.34 million ticket for a couple in the Republican National Committee’s Presidential Trust tier, reserved for the “most elite R.N.C. investors,” promises “influence messaging and strategy” opportunities at exclusive party dinners and retreats...
The prices for getting into the inner sanctum are rising because of loosened restrictions on political money from the courts and Congress. ...
The Republicans have rendered the election commission completely dysfunctional by blocking regulatory decisions and refusing to take action against improper practices. And now the Democrats are trying to get official approval of the very practices that eviscerate the law.
While Democrats led by Hillary Rodham Clinton have called for broad reforms of campaign fund-raising, Mrs. Clinton and party leaders say they will emulate Republican tactics in going after big money if that’s what it takes to compete. At what cost to democracy is the looming question for voters.
There was a time when unions provided a bit of countervailing influence over politicians, and hence provided a way to consolidate the political power of individual workers. That influence has faded over time, in no small part due to the very imbalances in political power that unions helped to overcome. Unfortunately, no new institutions have risen to take their place. Until that happens, until the power of individuals is magnified through collective coordination, if ever, it's hard for me to see how the problem of inequality of income, and the problem of inequality of political influence will be overcome.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Matthew Yglesias takes up a quote from Bush (I highlighted this yesterday):
Jeb Bush can't explain the cost of his tax cuts correctly: ...Jeb Bush ... talking to CNBC's John Harwood about the impact of his plan on the deficit:
Everybody freaks out about the deficit. And I worry about the structural deficit for sure. But if we grow our economy at a faster rate, the dynamic nature of tax policy will kick in. And so we'll be in the hole around $1.2 trillion over 10 years. And these are moderate growth effects. I'm not using the ones that I believe. I'm more optimistic.There's never been a time where there hasn't been a dynamic effect of taxation. That's not a risk at all. That's just a simple fact. Take the contrary argument here for a second: If tax policy doesn't matter, why don't we just tax everything?
Bush is referring to an estimate prepared for media consumption by John Cogan, Martin Feldstein, Glenn Hubbard, and Kevin Warsh — four men who are smart economists in good standing but who are also very much partisan Republicans. The right way to think about an estimate they put together is that it represents the outer limit of what a person is willing to claim on behalf of the growth impacts of Bush's tax cut and feel like he can still look at his graduate students with a straight face.
And guess what? The paper doesn't say what Bush says it says. ...
Obviously even if Bush were able to get his basic facts right, the underlying claim about the growth-boosting impact of the tax cuts is disputable. Jeb's brother claimed that the growth-boosting power of his tax cuts would avoid increasing the deficit, and we got eight years of fairly dismal economic performance.
The argument Republicans can make is that growth would have been even faster without the drag from Obama's policies.. But that's where comparisons to the past are useful. These comparisons establish a baseline on what we should expect. So let's take a look. This is from Calculated Risk. It shows private sector employment under recent past presidents:
So Obama's job growth is all but tied with Reagan's, he beats both Bushes, G.W. by a considerable margin, but loses to Clinton and Carter. The most relevant comparison here is to G.W. Bush since Jeb promises to follow his policies for the most part, and by that comparison Obama wins soundly.
What about public sector jobs? Government has expanded under Obama correct? So if you add private sector jobs to public sector jobs, or course Obama looks even better than for private sector jobs alone and wins handily -- it's the undue influence of government expansion that is driving the overall job numbers, not his economic policies.
That story falls apart when the data are examined:
Obama is the big "loser" here in terms of public sector job creation, a source of annoyance for me (that's not what you do in a recession, instead wait until the economy improves to make these kinds of cuts -- it's stimulative, it avoids sending people to unemployment and a dismal job market and compounding our problems, and it avoids the need to increase social services to help the unemployed during their struggle to find new employment). But to Republicans, Obama ought to be a hero.
Okay, but surely Obamacare has been a job-killer, right? Republicans are noted for their forecasting ability, that runaway inflation we've had, the spike in interest rates, the stimulative effects of austerity (well, they are noted for how bad their forecasts have been), so surely they are right about this too. Obamacare has killed jobs and caused employers to shift people to part-time work, right?
That story falls apart when the data are examined (this should be the first thing to think when Republicans start spouting claims about economics). This is from Jared Bernstein:
Smell Something, Say Something: Obamacare, O’Reilly, and full-time jobs: ...I heard Fox’s Bill O’Reilly claim that the Affordable Care Act “has made it more difficult to create full-time jobs in America,” (around 2:30 in the video). The figure below, which indexes both full-time and part-time jobs to 100 in 2010, belies his claim. As ACA measures have been introduced, most notably the arrival of the subsidized exchanges and the Medicaid expansion in 2014, there’s been no noticeable change and certainly no Obamacare-induced shift to part-time work. Other data show that the number of involuntary part-time workers is down 18 percent—1.4 million fewer workers—since 2013.
No one’s claiming that the ACA is having miraculous effects on job growth, or even that it’s responsible for the full-time job growth you see above. ... My point is that while Obamacare is having its intended effect of making coverage more affordable and thereby lowering the uninsured rate, I’ve not seen any data that would lead an objective person to conclude it’s having a meaningful impact on the job market one way or the other.
In other words, those who still want to repeal Obamacare need a new rationale besides “it’s not working” or “it’s a job killer.” It is working and it’s not killing jobs. Those who claim otherwise are, in fact, fact-killers. ...
If you want slow growth, poor job creation, tax cuts for the wealthy, harder times for everyone else as social programs are cut on the false pretenses of ending dependency and building character (we know what the true goals are for most Republicans), if you want health care to be harder to get for those "others", environmental policies to be rolled back in the name of "business interests", if you want all of this and more -- we haven't even touched on issues like the supreme court, war, and Federal Reserve appointments -- Jeb is the man for you.
Friday, September 25, 2015
The politics in the UK is so much better than here. Politicians in the UK would never think of using smokescreens like concern over the deficit to conceal their true intentions:
The path from deficit concern to deficit deceit, by Simon Wren-Lewis: ...A few days ago Lord Turnbull had the opportunity to question the Chancellor on his drive for further austerity. This is a part of what he said.“I think what you are doing actually, is, the real argument is you want a smaller state and there are good arguments for that and some people don’t agree but you don’t tell people you are doing that. What you tell people is this story about the impoverishment of debt which is a smokescreen. The urgency of reducing debt, the extent, I just can’t see the justification for it.”
A former head of the civil service, who had initially supported Osborne on the deficit, was now accusing him of deliberate deceit. Big news you might have thought. And quite a turnaround in just 5 years.
Yet it is not surprising. Osborne’s fiscal plans really have no basis in economics. That leaves two alternatives. Either Osborne is just stupid and cannot take advice, or he has other motives. George Osborne is clearly not stupid, which leaves only the second possibility. It is therefore entirely logical that Lord Turnbull should come to agree with what some of us were saying some time ago.
What a strange world we are now in. The government goes for rapid deficit reduction as a smokescreen for reducing the size of the state. No less than a former cabinet secretary accuses the Chancellor of this deceit. Yet when a Labour leadership contender adopts an anti-austerity policy he is told it is extreme and committing electoral suicide. Is it any wonder that a quarter of a million Labour party members voted for change.
This worked so well for Romney:
Our message is one of hope and aspiration," he said at the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual Shrimp Dinner. "It isn't one of division and get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting -- that says you can achieve earned success.
Bush says this is how he will win back black voters, but I have a feeling his message of "hope and inspiration" and the reference to "free stuff" is for another group of voters.
If the pope was a scientist, Bush would listen?:
“I oppose the president’s policy as it relates to climate change because it will destroy the ability to re-industrialize the country, to allow for people to get higher wage jobs, for people to rise up,” Bush said, according to the Huffington Post.
This is not the first time Bush has rejected the pope’s teachings on climate, but it may be the first time he has given the “not a scientist” reason.
“He’s not a scientist, he’s a religious leader,” Bush says
In fact, the pope studied chemistry and worked as a chemist. ...
He couldn't possibly be using concern about people's ability to "rise up" as a cover for supporting business interests, could he?
Tax cuts work, ignore the evidence:
HARWOOD: Do you regard your brother's economic tenure—which pursued a broadly similar strategy to what you're proposing—as a proof point that this strategy works?
BUSH: Well, look, he was impacted by some big secular events. The tech bubble, 9/11—those had huge impacts. There was growth. And there was some job growth.
Wage growth has been flat for a long time in our country. We have this big challenge that we have to fix. And that's part of the mission I'm on—growth by itself isn't going to create higher wages. But higher growth will generate more wage growth than no growth. And if you do it in the right way, where you're putting money in people's pockets, you can create economic activity.
The tax cuts will trickle down and let people "rise up" just like they did before. Oh wait. This is the "earned success" he talks so much about. It has nothing to do with supporting wealthy interests, it's all about economic growth and helping the disadvantaged. On the "earned success" point, it's hard not to recall Molly Ivins on George Bush:
Jim Hightower's great line about [George] Bush, "Born on third and thinks he hit a triple," is still painfully true. Bush has simply never acknowledged that not only was he born with a silver spoon in his mouth -- he's been eating off it ever since..., he doesn't admit to himself or anyone else that he owes his entire life to being named George W. Bush. He didn't just get a head start by being his father's son -- it remained the single most salient fact about him for most of his life. He got into Andover as a legacy. He got into Yale as a legacy. He got into Harvard Business School as a courtesy (he was turned down by the University of Texas Law School). He got into the Texas Air National Guard -- and sat out Vietnam -- through Daddy's influence. (I would like to point out that that particular unit of FANGers, as regular Air Force referred to the "Fucking Air National Guard," included not only the sons of Governor John Connally and Senator Lloyd Bentsen, but some actual black members as well -- they just happened to play football for the Dallas Cowboys.) Bush was set up in the oil business by friends of his father. He went broke and was bailed out by friends of his father. He went broke again and was bailed out again by friends of his father; he went broke yet again and was bailed out by some fellow Yalies.
That Bush's administration is salted with the sons of somebody-or-other should come as no surprise. I doubt it has ever even occurred to Bush that there is anything wrong with a class-driven good-ol'-boy system. ...
But of course, nothing like that could possibly be true of self-made, I did it all by myself Jeb! Bush success (he "made it!" himself).
Finally, surprise of surprises, when asked about the impact of his tax cut policies on the deficit, he gives the standard response, economic growth, like that his brother would have gotten if he wasn't so darn unlucky, will nullify much of the impact that tax cuts have on the deficit:
Everybody freaks out about the deficit. And I worry about the structural deficit for sure. But if we grow our economy at a faster rate, the dynamic nature of tax policy will kick in. ... There's never been a time where there hasn't been a dynamic effect of taxation. That's not a risk at all. That's just a simple fact.
It's also a "simple fact" (he hasn't moved on to "complicated facts" yet, apparently) that the Bush tax cuts did not trickle down, inequality was made worse by the Bush policies, and those in the lower parts of the income distribution had a harder time "rising up" because of these policies, and other policies that stripped away social support.
Jeb's I will do what my brother did, except this time it will work for those who are not in the top of the income distribution, is not exactly inspiring. Unless, of course, you are used to eating with silver spoons.
Republicans can't help but side with business, but there are very good reasons for the recent increase in regulatory oversight:
Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Item: The C.E.O. of Volkswagen has resigned after revelations that his company committed fraud on an epic scale, installing software on its diesel cars that detected when their emissions were being tested, and produced deceptively low results.
Item: The former president of a peanut company has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for knowingly shipping tainted products that later killed nine people and sickened 700.
Item: Rights to a drug used to treat parasitic infections were acquired by Turing Pharmaceuticals, which specializes not in developing new drugs but in buying existing drugs and jacking up their prices. In this case, the price went from $13.50 a tablet to $750. ...
There are, it turns out, people in the corporate world who will do whatever it takes, including fraud that kills people, in order to make a buck. And we need effective regulation to police that kind of bad behavior... But we knew that, right?
Well, we used to know it... But ... an important part of America’s political class has declared war on even the most obviously necessary regulations. ...
A case in point: This week Jeb Bush, who has an uncanny talent for bad timing, chose to publish an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal denouncing the Obama administration for issuing “a flood of creativity-crushing and job-killing rules.” Never mind his misuse of cherry-picked statistics, or the fact that private-sector employment has grown much faster under President Obama’s “job killing” policies than it did under Mr. Bush’s brother’s administration. ...
The thing is, Mr. Bush isn’t wrong to suggest that there has been a move back toward more regulation under Mr. Obama, a move that will probably continue if a Democrat wins next year. After all, Hillary Clinton released a plan to limit drug prices at the same time Mr. Bush was unleashing his anti-regulation diatribe.
But the regulatory rebound is taking place for a reason. Maybe we had too much regulation in the 1970s, but we’ve now spent 35 years trusting business to do the right thing with minimal oversight — and it hasn’t worked.
So what has been happening lately is an attempt to redress that imbalance, to replace knee-jerk opposition to regulation with the judicious use of regulation where there is good reason to believe that businesses might act in destructive ways. Will we see this effort continue? Next year’s election will tell.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
America’s Collapsing Trade Initiatives: ...Obama's trade policy is in tatters. The grand design, created by Obama's old friend and former Wall Street deal-maker, trade chief Mike Froman, comes in two parts: a grand bargain with Pacific nations aimed at building a U.S.-led trading bloc to contain the influence of China, and an Atlantic agreement to cement economic relations with the European Union.
Both are on the verge of collapse from their own contradictory goals and incoherent logic.
This past June, the president, using every ounce of his political capital, managed to get Congress to vote him negotiating authority (by the barest of margins) for these deals. Under the so-called fast-track procedure, there is a quick up-or-down vote on a trade agreement that can't be amended.
The assumption was that the administration could deliver a deal backed by major trading partners. But our partners are not playing. ...
The U.S. negotiators, increasingly, are prepared to give away the store, to get a deal. ...
It is a bit premature to write the obituaries for these deals. Never underestimate the power of corporate elites. But one has to ask, what was Obama thinking? The U.S. faces serious economic challenges from an economy that is still stagnant for regular people. And we face complex national security challenges from China. These trade deals address neither challenge, much less the even more daunting economic woes in Europe. ...
In general, I support lowering trade restrictions, but the details of trade agreements are important. Just because a deal is proposed does not necessarily mean it's a good one. I haven't kept up with the details of the current negotiations, but for the most part those that have appear less than impressed.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Kevin Drum is not impressed with Jeb Bush's plan for regulation, or his justification for it:
To understand what is wrong with the regulatory culture of the U.S. under President Obama, consider this alarming statistic: Today, according to the World Bank—not exactly a right-wing think tank—the U.S. ranks 46th in the world in terms of ease of starting a business. That is unacceptable. Think what the U.S. could be and the prosperity we could have if we rolled back the overregulation that keeps us from ranking in the top 10.
My goodness. That does sound unacceptable. Still, it never hurts to check up on these presidential candidates... So let's click the link ... and see what it says: "The rankings of economies with populations over 100 million are based on data for 2 cities." Hmmm. It turns out the World Bank is ranking the US based on starting up a business in New York City. That seems to tip the scales a wee bit, no? ...
Now I get it. This isn't about getting a business up and running. It's solely about registering a new business. And it's got nothing to do with any of Obama's regulations. It's all about state and local stuff. ... I'm not sure what Jeb Bush thinks he's going to do to streamline this. Bottom line: this is completely meaningless. ...
But wait! There's more. The World Bank does have a broader "Ease of Doing Business" rank that takes into account the things you need to do to get up and running: construction permits, electricity, credit, paying taxes, enforcing contracts, etc. As it happens, the bulk of this stuff is still state and local, and has nothing to do with Obama or the federal government. Still, let's take a look since Jeb chose not to share it with us for some reason...
The World Bank has us in 7th place. We're already in the top ten that Jeb is aiming for. Mission accomplished! ...
As for the outrageous regulations he promises to repeal on Day One, this would mostly just benefit big campaign donors, not the yeoman entrepreneurs he claims to be sticking up for. No big surprise there, I suppose.
The Return of Policy Uncertainty: From Hatzius et al., in Goldman Sachs Global Macro Research yesterday:
A federal shutdown due to a funding lapse looks no less likely than it did two weeks ago, and we believe the probability is nearly 50%. The Senate is expected to begin voting later this week on a funding extension, but the House looks unlikely to act until shortly before the September 30 deadline.
The impact on measured policy uncertainty is shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Daily policy uncertainty index (blue), and 7 day trailing moving average (red). Source: Baker, Bloom and Davis, at policyuncertainty.com, accessed 9/22/2015.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
I have a new column:
The Political Party of the President Matters for the Economy: Since WWII, the economy does better when there is a Democrat in the White House. That conclusion holds for “almost every metric” of the economy’s performance according to research by Princeton economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson. But is this due to policy differences between Democratic and Republican administrations? Or, with the limited number of observations since WWII, is this simply a statistical artifact, simply the luck of having Democrats in the office when good things happen?
The dominant position among economists, one I’ll push back against, is that presidents have little ability to influence the economy. Steven Dubner, one of the authors of Freakonomics, gives the standard response:“…just once I'd love a presidential candidate to get up there on the stump and say: 'My fellow Americans, I can't control the U.S. economy. I've got a little bit of influence but mostly it does what it does. So if it gets worse on my watch, you shouldn't blame me -- and if it happens to get better, you probably shouldn't give me too much credit either.'”
Austan Goolsbee, quoted in the same interview, echoes this:“I think the world vests too much power -- certainly in the president, probably in Washington in general -- for its influence on the economy, because most all of the economy has nothing to do with the government.”
I disagree. Whether the president is a Republican or Democrat can make a critical difference for the economy. ...
Friday, September 18, 2015
The Republican debate was "scary":
Fantasies and Fictions at G.O.P. Debate, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, Ny Times: I’ve been going over what was said at Wednesday’s Republican debate, and I’m terrified. You should be, too. After all, given the vagaries of elections, there’s a pretty good chance that one of these people will end up in the White House.
Why is that scary? ...G.O.P. candidates are calling for policies that would be deeply destructive at home, abroad, or both. ...
Let’s start at the shallow end, with the fantasy economics of the establishment candidates.
You’re probably tired of hearing this, but modern G.O.P. economic discourse is completely dominated by an economic doctrine — the sovereign importance of low taxes on the rich — that has failed completely and utterly in practice over the past generation. ... Yet the hold of this failed dogma on Republican politics is stronger than ever...
If the discussion of economics was alarming, the discussion of foreign policy was practically demented. Almost all the candidates seem to believe that American military strength can shock-and-awe other countries into doing what we want without any need for negotiations, and that we shouldn’t even talk with foreign leaders we don’t like. ...
The real revelation on Wednesday, however, was the ... candidates ... making outright false assertions, and probably doing so knowingly, which turns those false assertions into what are technically known as “lies.”
For example, Chris Christie asserted, as he did in the first G.O.P. debate, that he was named U.S. attorney the day before 9/11. It’s still not true ...
Mr. Christie’s mendacity pales, however, in comparison to that of Carly Fiorina, who was widely hailed as the “winner” of the debate.
Some of Mrs. Fiorina’s fibs involved repeating thoroughly debunked claims about her business record. ... But the truly awesome moment came when she asserted that the videos being used to attack Planned Parenthood show “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” No, they don’t. ...
I began writing for The Times during the 2000 election campaign, and what I remember above all from that campaign is the way the conventions of “evenhanded” reporting allowed then-candidate George W. Bush to make clearly false assertions — about his tax cuts, about Social Security — without paying any price. ...
Now we have presidential candidates who make Mr. Bush look like Abe Lincoln. But who will tell the people?
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
James Kwak (Dean Baker makes the same point):
Bernie Sanders Wants to Spend $18 Trillion: So What?: The front page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article claiming that Bernie Sanders wants to increase federal government spending by $18 trillion over the next ten years—an increase of about one-third over that time period. This was apparently supposed to raise some kind of alarm—what kind of maniac is this?—and I’m sure both Republicans and Hillary Clinton are happy the Journal is doing their work for them.
The problem is that a spending figure, even one as big as $18 trillion, is meaningless on its own.
Most of that money—$15 trillion—is the expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans. Yes, that’s a lot of money. But we are already spending a ton of money on health care—with embarrassingly poor results. In 2013,... Americans ... paid ... $1.4 trillion... Project that out for ten years, add health care inflation, and you’re talking about a lot more than $15 trillion.
At the end of the day, what matters isn’t the amount of money that the federal government spends for health care. What matters is the amount of money that the American people spend for health care. The government is just a device that we use to provide certain services that are better handled collectively than individually. If the government can provide equivalent service at lower prices, then the gross dollar amount involved doesn’t matter. ...
Now the big issue, I admit, is whether the government can provide equivalent service at lower prices. For the vast majority of consumer goods and services, it can’t. ... But real economists have known for more than half a century that health care doesn’t behave like ordinary consumer goods. ...
If you don’t want to read economics papers, the best evidence that health care is different comes from comparing the United States to other rich countries, which all have something closer to a single payer model for health insurance. As is well known, we spend a lot more money and have comparable or worse aggregate health outcomes. There is a huge ongoing adebate about why this is, which I’m not going to try to settle here.
The main point, however, is that if you want to argue against the Bernie Sanders health care plan, you have to make the case that Medicare for all will actually produce worse outcomes or higher costs than our current system. The fact that it costs a lot of money is beside the point.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
This was in links a day or two ago, but it's worth highlighting:
Collecting Taxes Is Government Work, Editorial, NY Times: Buried in the Senate-passed version of the big highway bill is a provision that would require the Treasury secretary to use private debt collectors to collect unpaid back taxes.
The provision, added to the bill by Republican leaders, is ostensibly intended to help pay for highways. But it’s a bad idea that should be kept out of the House version of the bill and out of any final compromise version.
Private tax collection was tried in the 1990s and in the 2000s. Both times it lost money. It increases the cost of handling complaints and appeals at the Internal Revenue Service, and it is far less efficient than simply increasing the collection budget of the I.R.S.
Worse, it fosters taxpayer abuse. The debts involved are ones that the I.R.S. has not been able to collect, in part because the taxpayers are too hard-pressed to pay up. A private company is probably not going to have better luck unless it uses abusive tactics.
And yet, private tax collection is an idea that keeps resurfacing. Why? One reason is that it would be a cash cow for the four companies likely to win tax-collection contracts...
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, has argued in the past that using federal money to pay private companies for tax collection would create jobs at those companies. But it would be better to increase the I.R.S. budget to create middle-class public-sector jobs in professional tax collection than to throw money at low-paying private-sector contractors who cannot do the job as well. ...
I've posted this before (in 2006) (I left out his two other examples of the Bush administration trying to take us "back to the 16th century"):
Back to a bad old future:
Tax Farmers, Mercenaries and Viceroys, by Paul Krugman, A Monarchy Commentary, NY Times: Yesterday The New York Times reported that the Internal Revenue Service would outsource collection of unpaid back taxes to private debt collectors, who would receive a share of the proceeds.
It’s an awful idea. Privatizing tax collection will cost far more than hiring additional I.R.S. agents, raise less revenue and pose obvious risks of abuse. But what’s really amazing is the extent to which this plan is a retreat from modern principles of government. I used to say that conservatives want to take us back to the 1920’s, but the Bush administration seemingly wants to go back to the 16th century....
In the bad old days, ...[t]here was no bureaucracy to collect taxes, so the king subcontracted the job to private “tax farmers,” who often engaged in extortion. There was no regular army, so the king hired mercenaries, who tended to wander off and pillage the nearest village. There was no regular system of administration, so the king assigned the task to favored courtiers, who tended to be corrupt, incompetent or both.
Modern governments solved these problems by creating a professional revenue department to collect taxes, a professional officer corps to enforce military discipline, and a professional civil service. But President Bush apparently doesn’t like these innovations, preferring to govern as if he were King Louis XII.
So the tax farmers are coming back...
Tax farmers, mercenaries and viceroys: why does the Bush administration want to run a modern superpower as if it were a 16th-century monarchy? Maybe people who’ve spent their political careers denouncing government as the root of all evil can’t grasp the idea of governing well. Or maybe it’s cynical politics: privatization provides both an opportunity to evade accountability and a vast source of patronage.
But the price is enormous. This administration has thrown away centuries of lessons about how to make government work. No wonder it has failed at everything except fearmongering.
Keynesianism Explained: Attacks on Keynesians in general, and on me in particular, rely heavily on an army of straw men — on knocking down claims about what people like me have predicted or asserted that have nothing to do with what we’ve actually said. But maybe we (or at least I) have been remiss, failing to offer a simple explanation of what it’s all about. I don’t mean the models; I mean the policy implications.
So here’s an attempt at a quick summary, followed by a sampling of typical bogus claims.
I would summarize the Keynesian view in terms of four points:
1. Economies sometimes produce much less than they could, and employ many fewer workers than they should, because there just isn’t enough spending. Such episodes can happen for a variety of reasons; the question is how to respond.2. There are normally forces that tend to push the economy back toward full employment. But they work slowly; a hands-off policy toward depressed economies means accepting a long, unnecessary period of pain.3. It is often possible to drastically shorten this period of pain and greatly reduce the human and financial losses by “printing money”, using the central bank’s power of currency creation to push interest rates down.4. Sometimes, however, monetary policy loses its effectiveness, especially when rates are close to zero. In that case temporary deficit spending can provide a useful boost. And conversely, fiscal austerity in a depressed economy imposes large economic losses.
Is this a complicated, convoluted doctrine? ...
But strange things happen in the minds of critics. Again and again we see the following bogus claims about what Keynesians believe:
B1: Any economic recovery, no matter how slow and how delayed, proves Keynesian economics wrong. See  above for why that’s illiterate.B2: Keynesians believe that printing money solves all problems. See : printing money can solve one specific problem, an economy operating far below capacity. Nobody said that it can conjure up higher productivity, or cure the common cold.B3: Keynesians always favor deficit spending, under all conditions. See : The case for fiscal stimulus is quite restrictive, requiring both a depressed economy and severe limits to monetary policy. That just happens to be the world we’ve been living in lately.
I have no illusions that saying this obvious stuff will stop the usual suspects from engaging in the usual bogosity. But maybe this will help others respond when they do.
I would add:
5. Keynesian are not opposed to supply-side, growth enhancing policy. They types of taxes that are imposed matters, entrepreneurial activity should be encouraged, and so on. But these arguments should not be used as cover for redistribution of income to the wealthy through tax cuts and other means, or as a means of arguing for cuts to important social service programs. Not should they be used only to support tax cuts. Infrastructure spending is important for growth, an educated, healthy workforce is more productive, etc., etc. Economic growth is about much more than tax cuts for wealthy political donors.
On the other side, I would have added a point to B3:
B3a: Keynesians do not favor large government. They believe that deficits should be used to stimulate the economy in severe recessions (when monetary policy alone is not enough), but they also believe that the deficits should be paid for during good times (shave the peaks to fill the troughs and stabilize the path of GDP and employment). We haven't been very good at the pay for it during good times part, but Democrats can hardly be blamed for that (see tax cuts for the wealthy for openers).
Anything else, e.g. perhaps something like "Keynesians do not believe that helping people in need undermines their desire to work"?
Monday, September 14, 2015
Thoughts on Dynamic Scoring: Last Thursday two of the smartest participants at last Friday's Brookings Panel on Economic Activity conference--Martin Feldstein and Glenn Hubbard--claimed marvelous things from the enactment of JEB!'s proposed tax cuts and his regulatory reform program.
They claimed it would boost economic growth over the next ten years by 0.5%/year (for the tax cuts) plus an additional 0.3%/year (for the regulatory reforms).
That would ... mean that over the next ten years faster growth would produce an average of $210 billion a year of additional revenue to offset more than half of the $340 billion a year "static" revenue lost from the tax cuts... And that would mean that in the tenth year--fiscal 2027--the $400 billion "static" cost of the tax cuts in that year would be outweighed by a $420 billion faster-growth revenue gain.
The problem is that if I were doing the numbers I would reverse the sign.
- I would say that, on net, deregulatory programs have been very costly to the U.S. economy in unpredictable ways--witness the subprime boom and the financial crisis.
- I would say that the incentive effects would tend to push up growth by only 0.1%/year, and that would be more than offset by a drag on the economy that would vary depending on how the tax cuts were financed.
- If they were financed by issuing debt, I would ballpark the drag at -0.2%/year.
- If they were financed by cutting public investment, I would ballpark the drag at -0.4%/year.
- If they were financed by cutting government programs, there might be a small boost to growth--0.1%/year--but any societal welfare benefit-cost calculation would conclude that the growth gain was not worth the cost.
And there is substantial evidence that I am right:
- You cannot find a boost to potential output growth flowing from either the Reagan or the Bush tax cuts.
- You cannot find a drag on growth from the Obama tax increases.
- You can find an effect of the Clinton tax increases--but it is that, thereafter, growth was faster, because the reduction in the deficit powered an investment-led recovery.
Over the past thirty years, the agencies that do the government's accounting have tried to reduce their vulnerability to the imposition of a rosy scenario by their political masters by claiming as a matter of principle that they do not calculate positive growth impacts of policies. This is clearly the wrong thing to do--policies do affect growth rates. But is overestimating growth effects in a way that pleases one's political masters a less-wrong thing? ...
The problem is that when I look at the example of "dynamic scoring" that was on the table at Brookings today--the 0.8%/year growth boost that I really think should be a -0.1%/year growth drag...
Yet the near-consensus of the meeting was that dynamic scoring--done properly--was a thing that estimating agencies like JCT and CBO (and Treasury OTA) should do.
If there were to be a day less favorable to such a consensus conclusion, I do not know what that day would have looked like...