Category Archive for: Politics [Return to Main]

Monday, September 28, 2015

'The Growth Fairy Model'

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.
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'

Josh Barro:

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.

Paul Krugman: The Blackmail Caucus, a.k.a. the Republican Party

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'

Robert Reich:

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

'The Soaring Price of Political Access'

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

Jeb Bush's Claims and Reality

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.

Source: BLS, my analysis

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 Path from Deficit Concern to Deficit Deceit'

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.

Paul Krugman: Dewey, Cheatem & Howe

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'

Robert Kuttner:

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

'Jeb Bush Has No Clue About Business Regulation'

Kevin Drum is not impressed with Jeb Bush's plan for regulation, or his justification for it:

Jeb Bush Has No Clue About Business Regulation: Jeb Bush today in the Wall Street Journal:

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'

Menzie Chinn:

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, accessed 9/22/2015.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

'The Political Party of the President Matters for the Economy'

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

Paul Krugman: Fantasies and Fictions at G.O.P. Debate

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

'Bernie Sanders Wants to Spend $18 Trillion: So What?'

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

'Collecting Taxes Is Government Work'

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'

Paul Krugman:

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 [2] above for why that’s illiterate.
B2: Keynesians believe that printing money solves all problems. See [3]: 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 [4]: 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'

Brad DeLong:

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...

Paul Krugman: Labour’s Dead Center

"Mr. Corbyn’s triumph isn’t that surprising":

Labour’s Dead Center, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time leftist dissident, has won a stunning victory in the contest for leadership of Britain’s Labour Party. Political pundits say that this means doom for Labour’s electoral prospects; they could be right, although I’m not the only person wondering why commentators who completely failed to predict the Corbyn phenomenon have so much confidence in their analyses...
But I won’t ... get into that game. What I want to do instead is talk about one crucial piece of background to the Corbyn surge — the implosion of Labour’s moderates. On economic policy, in particular, the striking thing ... was that every candidate other than Mr. Corbyn essentially supported the Conservative government’s austerity policies.
Worse, they all implicitly accepted the bogus justification for those policies, in effect pleading guilty to policy crimes that Labour did not ... commit. If you want a U.S. analogy, it’s as if all the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2004 had gone around declaring, “We were weak on national security, and 9/11 was our fault.” Would we have been surprised if Democratic primary voters had turned to a candidate who rejected that canard, whatever other views he or she held?
In the British case, the false accusations against Labour involve ... claims that the Labour governments that ruled Britain from 1997 to 2010 spent far beyond their means, creating a ... debt crisis that..., in turn, supposedly left no alternative to severe cuts in spending, especially spending that helps the poor.
These claims have ... echoed by almost all British news media ... as facts. It has been an amazing thing to watch —... every piece of this conventional narrative is ... nonsense. ... And all of Mr. Corbyn’s rivals for Labour leadership bought fully into that conventional nonsense, in effect accepting the Conservative case that their party did a terrible job of managing the economy, which simply isn’t true. So as I said, Mr. Corbyn’s triumph isn’t that surprising given the determination of moderate Labour politicians to accept false claims about past malfeasance.
This still leaves the question of why Labour’s moderates have been so hapless.... Labour’s political establishment seems to lack all conviction, for reasons I don’t fully understand. And this means that the Corbyn upset isn’t about a sudden left turn on the part of Labour supporters. It’s mainly about the strange, sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

'Jeb’s Tax Plan Makes George W. Bush’s Policies Look Good'

Bruce Bartlett:

Jeb’s tax plan makes George W. Bush’s policies look good: ... There is no doubt that Bush’s tax plan would blow a massive hole in the budget deficit. His own economic advisers estimate that it would raise the budget deficit by $3.4 trillion over 10 years. Even if their dubious estimate of higher growth is achieved, massive spending cuts will be needed just to keep the deficit from rising above current projections.
In this respect, Bush’s tax plan is much more similar to his brother’s than to Reagan’s tax reform. According to the Congressional Budget Office, George W. Bush’s tax cuts added $3 trillion to the national debt and did nothing to raise growth or forestall the massive recession that began in 2007. That recession was still ongoing when Barack Obama took office, yet Jeb spends much space in his proposal criticizing him for not immediately reversing all the negative budgetary effects of his brother’s policies, which added a total of $12 trillion to the national debt, according to CBO.
It appears that Bush has relied upon advice from economists who have been wrong about just about everything to do with taxes for the last 20 or more years. One, Stephen Moore, who founded the Club for Growth and now works for the ultra-right-wing Heritage Foundation, published a book in 2004, “Bullish on Bush,” that made the same extravagant promises for George W. Bush’s tax cuts that Jeb Bush now claims for his.
The reality is that the U.S. economy did very, very poorly under George W. Bush – even before the recession began in December 2007. At the very minimum, there is zero evidence that his tax cuts did anything whatsoever to raise growth or lower unemployment. ..
We had a real world test of Jeb Bush’s tax plan from 2001 to 2008 – and it failed miserably. The people advising him have an unblemished record of being wrong... The only effect of this discredited ideology has been to make the rich richer while doing nothing for the average American. ...

Jared Bernstein talked yesterday about a few bones the Bush tax plans throws in the direction of the less fortunate (i.e. people not among the wealthy constituents the Bush plan mainly serves). But with such massive cuts in revenues, Bush as president (imaging what is hopefully impossible), and a Republican congress (not impossible), program cuts would almost surely follow leaving the less fortunate, on net, far worse off.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

'Jeb Bush’s New Tax Plan: A Revenue-Eating Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing'

Jared Bernstein on the Bush tax plan:

Jeb Bush’s new tax plan: A revenue-eating wolf in sheep’s clothing: It seems like just yesterday we were pointing out that a) the arithmetic in Republican presidential candidates’ tax plans didn’t add up, and b) they were highly regressive.
Well, crank up the old calculator, because Jeb Bush’s new tax plan appears to have both of those problems, big time. ... I can confidently assert that the plan loses piles of revenue. Perhaps that’s the point, but if so, it’s a serious problem for our fiscal accounts, our economy, and the ability of our government to do what we need it to do. ...[some details of the plan] ...
These are just absolutely huge, regressive changes, far bigger than his bro’s, and really–what did we get for all of W’s supply-side cuts? Growth, jobs, and productivity had little to show for them, while after-tax inequality significantly worsened.
There are a few pieces I’ll note below that claw back some lost revenue, but this is really aggressive tax cutting. ... But didn’t I say something about sheep’s clothing?
There are a few ideas in the plan that tilt in different directions from the usual supply-side formula. To its credit, the Bush team expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers... They also expand the standard deduction, thereby significantly reducing the number of households with federal tax liability..., this pits Bush against the Romney “makers/takers” crowd...
[More details, both positive and negative] ... OK, that’s enough of the weeds. And I give the Bush team credit for presenting a fairly detailed plan at this early stage of the race. Also..., we’ll have to wait for a score by someone not associated with the campaign (rev up the hamster wheels, TPC!) to see the real extent of the revenue and distributional damage. But I’d be amazed—and I promise ... I will admit my mistake on these pages ... if I’m wrong—if this plan doesn’t blow a huge hole in the budget and make the federal tax code less progressive.
And those are two things we really, really don’t need right now.

'How Rising Inequality Increases Political Polarization'

This research is examines how state-level income inequality impacts political polarization within state legislatures. It's from one of our graduate students, John Voorheis (who will be on the job market at the AEA meetings this year), along with Nolan McCarty at Princeton and Boris Shor at Georgetown (who have very good state level legislator ideology data).

They have some preliminary results, which were presented this at last weekend's APSA meetings (there is a preliminary working paper on SSRN). Here's a thumbnail sketch of the results:

  • They use a simulated instrument for state level inequality to address potential endogeneity between state politics and state income distributions. That allows them to estimate the causal effect of inequality on polarization (a first for this literature).
  • They find robust evidence that increases in state inequality cause increased political polarization (i.e. the ideological distance between Democratic and Republican parties).
  • Inequality affects the mean position of both Democratic and Republican parties, but the effect is larger and more precisely estimated for Democrats.
  • Income Inequality also causes a rightward shift in the average ideology of state legislatures.
  • They conclude that inequality's effect on polarization primarily occurs through moving the moderate wing of the Democratic party to the left; this occurs through replacing moderate Democrats with Republicans, which results in a more liberal Democratic party but a more conservative legislature overall.

John's work was supported by a young scholar grant from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

Monday, September 07, 2015

'Support for Redistribution in an Age of Rising Inequality: New Stylized Facts and Some Tentative Explanations'

From the NBER:

Support for Redistribution in an Age of Rising Inequality: New Stylized Facts and Some Tentative Explanations, by Vivekinan Ashok, Ilyana Kuziemko, and Ebonya Washington, NBER Working Paper No. 21529 Issued in September 2015 [open link to earlier version]: Despite the large increases in economic inequality since 1970, American survey respondents exhibit no increase in support for redistribution, in contrast to the predictions from standard theories of redistributive preferences. We replicate these results but further demonstrate substantial heterogeneity by demographic groups. In particular, the two groups who have most moved against income redistribution are the elderly and African-Americans. We find little evidence that these subgroup trends are explained by relative economic gains or growing cultural conservatism, two common explanations. We further show that the elderly trend is uniquely American, at least relative to other developed countries with comparable survey data. While we are unable to provide definitive evidence on the cause of these two groups' declining redistributive support, we offer additional correlations which may offer fruitful directions for future research on the topic. One story consistent with the data on elderly trends is that older Americans worry that redistribution will come at their expense, in particular via cuts to Medicare. We find that the elderly have grown increasingly opposed to government provision of health insurance and that controlling for this tendency explains about 40% of their declining support for redistribution. For blacks, controlling for their declining support of race-targeted aid explains nearly 45% of their differential decline in redistributive preferences (raising the question of why support for race-targeted aid has fallen during a period when black economic catch-up to whites has stalled).

Paul Krugman: Trump Is Right on Economics

The Republican base "doesn’t actually share the Republican establishment’s economic delusions":

Trump Is Right on Economics, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: So Jeb Bush is finally going after Donald Trump. ... Mr. Bush has chosen to attack Mr. Trump as a false conservative, a proposition that is supposedly demonstrated by his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care. And that tells you a lot about the dire state of the G.O.P. For the issues the Bush campaign is using to attack its unexpected nemesis are precisely the issues on which Mr. Trump happens to be right, and the Republican establishment has been proved utterly wrong.
To see what I mean, consider what was at stake in the last presidential election, and how things turned out after Mitt Romney lost.
During the campaign, Mr. Romney accused President Obama of favoring redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, and the truth is that Mr. Obama’s re-election did mean a significant move in that direction. Taxes on the top 1 percent went up substantially...
Conservatives were very clear about what would happen as a result. Raising taxes on “job creators,” they insisted, would destroy incentives. And they were absolutely certain that the Affordable Care Act would be a “job killer.”
So what actually happened? As of last month, the U.S. unemployment rate, which was 7.8 percent when Mr. Obama took office, had fallen to 5.1 percent..., lower than it ever got under Ronald Reagan. And the main reason unemployment has fallen so much is job growth in the private sector, which has added more than seven million workers since the end of 2012. ...
And here’s what’s interesting: all indications are that Mr. Bush’s attacks on Mr. Trump are falling flat, because the Republican base doesn’t actually share the Republican establishment’s economic delusions.
The thing is, we didn’t really know that until Mr. Trump came along. ... This is a real revelation, which may have a lasting impact on our politics. ...
I’m not making a case for Mr. Trump. There are lots of other politicians out there who also refuse to buy into right-wing economic nonsense, but who do so without proposing to scour the countryside in search of immigrants to deport, or to rip up our international economic agreements and start a trade war. The point, however, is that none of these reasonable politicians is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

'Dynasties versus Development'

From Vox EU:

Dynasties and development, by Jan Frederick P. Cruz and Ronald U Mendoza: The possibility of a showdown between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in the US Presidential polls may have some political pundits salivating, but perhaps many more Americans wondering. Is political power becoming too concentrated in the US? A Bush or a Clinton was President or Vice President in the US for almost 30 years between 1981 and 2009, a dynastic run that may yet be extended by the 2016 elections. ...
In the end, political dynasties in today’s modern and developing democracies are a reminder of how personalities still dominate the political landscape, be it in Washington, DC or in Bombay and Manila. Democracies do not necessarily reflect a level playing field, when certain political clans wield disproportionately large influence and control over public resources. And in the worst cases, all that political power is not wielded to advance development or reduce poverty. They appear, instead, to be linked to underdevelopment and rising inequality, particularly in countries and regions with relatively weaker democratic institutions.
Whoever said that during elections is the only time the vote of the richest citizen is equivalent to that of the poorest needs to start rethinking whether this still holds true...

Monday, August 31, 2015

Paul Krugman: A Heckuva Job

"Those predicting Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history":

A Heckuva Job, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn’t. But as long as he was talking tough about terrorists, it was hard for the public to see what a lousy job he was doing. It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration’s cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble.
What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they’re strong leaders. And that’s a lesson we’re learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.
You probably think I’m talking about Donald Trump, and I am. But he’s not the only one.
Consider, if you will, the case of Chris Christie. Not that long ago he was regarded as a strong contender for the presidency... Now Mr. Christie looks pathetic — did you hear the one about his plan to track immigrants as if they were FedEx packages? But he hasn’t changed, he’s just come into focus.
Or consider Jeb Bush... What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed.
And there’s more. Remember when Scott Walker was the man to watch? Remember when Bobby Jindal was brilliant?
I know, now I’m supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren’t any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing. ...
Which brings us back to Mr. Trump.
Both the Republican establishment and the punditocracy have been shocked by Mr. Trump’s continuing appeal to the party’s base. He’s a ludicrous figure, they complain. His policy proposals, such as they are, are unworkable, and anyway, don’t people realize the difference between actual leadership and being a star on reality TV?
But ... those predicting Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history, which tell us that poseurs with a knack for public relations can con the public for a very long time. Someday The Donald will have his Katrina moment, when voters see him for who he really is. But don’t count on it happening any time soon.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Paul Krugman: Crash-Test Dummies as Republican Candidates for President

It's a good thing Republicans, at least in theory, take a hands off approach when it comes to the economy (they actually don't, but let's pretend) because they "haven't a clue":

Crash-Test Dummies as Republican Candidates for President, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Will China’s stock crash trigger another global financial crisis? Probably not. Still,... this is a test:  How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?
And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.
Take, for example, Scott Walker... So what was his suggestion to President Obama? Why, cancel the planned visit to America by Xi Jinping, China’s leader. That would fix things!
Then there’s Donald Trump,... he simply declared that U.S. markets seem troubled because Mr. Obama has let China “dictate the agenda.” What does that mean? I haven’t a clue — but neither does he.
 ...According to Mr. Christie, the reason U.S. markets were roiled ... was U.S. budget deficits, which he claims have put us in debt to the Chinese and hence made us vulnerable to their troubles. ... Did the U.S. market plunge because Chinese investors were cutting off credit? Well, no. ...
In fact, talking nonsense about economic crises is essentially a job requirement for anyone hoping to get the Republican presidential nomination.
To understand why, you need to go back to the politics of 2009, when the new Obama administration was trying to cope with the most terrifying crisis since the 1930s. ...Republicans, across the board, predicted disaster. ...
None of it happened. ... Instead, the party’s leading figures kept talking, year after year, as if the disasters they had predicted were actually happening.
Now we’ve had a reminder that something like that last crisis could happen again — which means that we might need a repeat of the policies that helped limit the damage last time. But no Republican dares suggest such a thing.
Instead, even the supposedly sensible candidates call for destructive policies. Thus John Kasich is being portrayed as a different kind of Republican because as governor he approved Medicaid expansion in Ohio, but his signature initiative is a call for a balanced-budget amendment, which would cripple policy in a crisis.
The point is that one side of the political aisle has been utterly determined to learn nothing from the economic experiences of recent years. If one of these candidates ends up in the hot seat the next time crisis strikes, we should be very, very afraid.

How Rubio Would Deal With China

In the WSJ, Marco Rubio says Obama hasn't been tough enough with China on economic issues:

President Obama has continued to appease China’s leaders ...[with] his insufficient responses to economic ... concerns

What would he do?

For years, China has subsidized exports, devalued its currency, restricted imports and stolen technology on a massive scale. As president, I would respond not through aggressive retaliation, which would hurt the U.S. as much as China, but by greater commitment and firmer insistence on free markets and free trade. This means immediately moving forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements.

So, unlike Obama, who wants to move forward immediately with the TPP and other trade agreements, he'd move forward immediately with the TPP and other trade agreements.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

'The Politics of Income Inequality'

I have a new column:

The Politics of Income Inequality: f the policies favored by some Republicans seeking the nomination for president turned into reality, we’d roll back or eliminate our social insurance programs, cut taxes on the wealthy, cut spending even more to slash the deficit, and turn health care over to the private sector. 
The “you’re on your own no matter what bad luck comes your way” society is a desirable outcome according to this view because it creates the correct incentives for people to be gainfully employed and take care of themselves. Never mind that history shows many people won’t prepare for retirement, purchase health care, set aside funds in case of job loss, and so on unless they are forced to do so by government programs, and will thus then end up being an even bigger burden to the rest of society, Those who support these policies appear to believe that this time will somehow be different. 
What do these issues have in common? ...

'Stupid China Stories'

Paul Krugman:

Stupid China Stories: So a stock crash in China triggered a big decline around the world..., why should events in China matter for the rest of us?
Well, you and I might think that it’s because China is a pretty big economy... So when China slumps, you can and should expect knock-on effects elsewhere.
But trust the Republican field to declare that it’s all Obama’s fault. Scott Walker wants Obama to cancel a state dinner with Xi; Donald Trump says that it’s because Obama has let China “dictate the agenda” (no, I have no idea what he thinks he means). And Chris Christie says that it’s because Obama has gotten us deep into China’s debt.
Actually, let’s play a bit with that last one, OK? You could, conceivably, tell a story in which America becomes dependent on Chinese loans; then, when China gets in trouble, it demands repayment, pushing us into crisis too. But any story along those lines has a corollary: we should be seeing a spike in US interest rates as our credit line gets pulled. What you actually see is falling rates: ...
Oh, why am I even bothering?...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

'Musing on Right-Wing Affinity Fraud in Politics and Economics...'

Brad DeLong:

Musing on Right-Wing Affinity Fraud in Politics and Economics...: One reaction to the rise of Donald Trump in Republican presidential primary polls has been the extraordinary hurry with which many other candidates have fallen all over themselves to endorse self-deportation.
Note, however, that by "self-deportation" I do not mean what Mitt Romney meant by the phrase: make life so unpleasant for undocumented immigrants in the United States that they decide to leave. What I mean by "self-deportation" is candidates adopting policies that would deport themselves.
Piyush Jindal's parents were Indian citizens in the United States on student visas. Ted Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban-citizen father. Both of Marco Rubio's parents were Cuban citizens when he was born. Columba Bush--wife of JEB! Bush--was born a Mexican citizen in Mexico, and Wikipedia at least claims that as of her wedding she did not speak English.
Yet all are now denouncing as unforgivably lax the birthright citizenship constitutional guarantee and the naturalization laws by which they or their spouse claim American citizenship.
This is affinity fraud: saying, "I'm just like you! I think as you do! I hate immigrants! Why, I'd have applauded if the U.S. were to have deported me as a baby!" And the very non-sensicality of the claim is what makes it more credible.
But the most interesting thing to me this morning is that this sort of affinity fraud--pretending to believe, or convincing even oneself that one does believe, patently unbelievable things in order to demonstrate group allegiance--is the way America's right-wing is carrying on its internal and external discussion of economics. Paul Krugman provides three examples:
(1) Claiming to believe or actually convincing oneself that inflation is just around the corner...
(2) Claiming to believe or even believing that recessions are outbreaks of collective laziness on the part of workers and collective forgetting on the part of entrepreneurs...
(3) Claiming to believe or actually believing that doubling down on failed intellectual bets is the right strategy--that if statistical tests reject your models, so much the worse for statistical tests because the models are good...

More from Paul Krugman:

Pension-cutters and Privatizers, Oh My: I wrote Monday about the strange phenomenon of Republicans lining up to propose cuts to Social Security, a deeply unpopular policy that is, however, also a really bad idea. How unpopular? Lee Drutman has the data: only 6 percent of American voters support Social Security cuts, while a majority want it increased. I argued that this apparent act of political self-destructiveness probably reflected an attempt to curry favor with wealthy donors, who are very much at odds with the general public on this issue:...
Now we have another example: Marco Rubio has announced his health care plan, and it involves (a) greatly shrinking the tax deductibility of employer health benefits and (b) turning Medicare into a voucher system. Part (a) is favored by many economists, although I would argue wrongly, but would be deeply unpopular; part (b) is really terrible policy — proposed precisely at the moment when Medicare is showing that it can control costs better than private insurers! — and also deeply unpopular.
The strategy here, surely, is to propose things that voters would hate if they understood what was on the table, but hope that Fox News plus “views on shape of planet differ” reporting elsewhere will keep them confused, while at the same time pleasing mega-donors. It might even work, especially if Trump can be pushed out of the picture and the Hillary-hatred of reporters overcomes professional scruples. But it’s still amazing to watch.

'Tax cuts for the wealthy will help you too!' worked pretty well as a deception, so why not try it elsewhere?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Paul Krugman: Republicans Against Retirement

Why do Republicans want to get rid of Social Security?:

Republicans Against Retirement, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Something strange is happening in the Republican primary — something strange, that is, besides the Trump phenomenon. For some reason, just about all the leading candidates other than The Donald have taken a deeply unpopular position, a known political loser, on a major domestic policy issue. And it’s interesting to ask why.
The issue in question is the future of Social Security... The retirement program is, of course, both extremely popular and a long-term target of conservatives, who want to kill it precisely because its popularity helps legitimize government action in general. ...
What’s puzzling about the renewed Republican assault on Social Security is that it looks like bad politics as well as bad policy. Americans love Social Security, so why aren’t the candidates at least pretending to share that sentiment?
The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money.
Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.
And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. ... By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates.
You often see political analyses pointing out, rightly, that voting in actual primaries is preceded by an “invisible primary” in which candidates compete for the support of crucial elites. But who are these elites? In the past, it might have been members of the political establishment and other opinion leaders. But what the new attack on Social Security tells us is that the rules have changed. Nowadays, at least on the Republican side, the invisible primary has been reduced to a stark competition for the affections and, of course, the money of a few dozen plutocrats.
What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee — assuming that it’s not Mr. Trump —will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Paul Krugman: Bungling Beijing’s Stock Markets

The Chinese leadership appears to be "imagining that it can order markets around":

Bungling Beijing’s Stock Markets, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... Is it possible that after all these years Beijing still doesn’t get how this “markets” thing works?
The background: China’s economy is ... slowing as China runs out of surplus labor. ... The ... problem is how to sustain spending during the transition. And that’s where things have gotten weird.
At first, the Chinese government supported the economy in part through infrastructure spending, which is the standard remedy for economic weakness. But it also did so by funneling cheap credit to state-owned enterprises. The result was a run-up in these enterprises’ debt, which by last year was high enough to raise worries about financial stability.
Next, China adopted an official policy of boosting stock prices... But the consequence was an obvious bubble, which began deflating earlier this year.
The response of the Chinese authorities was remarkable: They pulled out all the stops to support the market — suspending trading in many stocks, banning short-selling, pushing large investors to buy, and instructing graduating economics students to chant “Revive A-shares, benefit the people.”
All of this has stabilized the market for the time being. But it is at the cost of tying China’s credibility to its ability to keep stock prices from ever falling. And the Chinese economy still needs more support.
So this week China decided to let the value of its currency decline... But Chinese authorities seem to have imagined that they could control the renminbi’s descent, taking it a couple of percent at a time.
They appear to have been taken completely by surprise by the market’s predictable reaction; namely, the initial devaluation of the renminbi was ... a sign of much bigger declines to come. Investors began fleeing China, and policy makers abruptly pivoted from promoting currency devaluation to an all-out effort to support the renminbi’s value.
The common theme in these wild policy swings is that China’s leadership keeps imagining that it can order markets around, telling them what prices to reach. ... Do the country’s leaders really not understand why that won’t work?
If they really don’t, that’s a big concern. China is an economic superpower — not quite as super as the United States or the European Union, yet, but big enough to matter a lot. And it’s facing tough times. So if its leadership is really as clueless as it has been looking lately, that bodes ill, not just for China, but for the world as a whole.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

'International Money Mania'

Paul Krugman:

International Money Mania: China is claiming that it’s not devaluing the renminbi to gain competitive advantage, it’s adding flexibility to prepare for the yuan as an international reserve currency, becoming part of the basket in the IMF’s SDRs and all that. That’s highly implausible as a story about what’s happening right now; but it may be true that China’s urge to loosen capital controls is driven in part by its global-currency ambitions. ...
So what are the advantages of owning a reserve currency? ...
What you’re left with, basically, is seigniorage: the fact that some people outside your country hold your currency, which means that in effect America gets a zero-interest loan corresponding to the stash of dollar bills — or, mainly $100 bills — held in the hoards of tax evaders, drug dealers, and other friends around the world. In normal times this privilege is worth something like $20-30 billion a year; that’s not a tiny number, but it’s only a small fraction of one percent of GDP.
The point is that while reserve-currency status may have political symbolism attached, it’s essentially irrelevant as an economic goal — and definitely not worth distorting policy to achieve. Someone needs to tell the Chinese, you shall not crucify this country on a cross of SDRs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trumping the Party and the Pollsters

Bruce Bartlett:

Will Donald Trump Crack-up the Republican/Tea Party Alliance?: ... It appeared that Trump was the favored candidate of Fox News before the debate... Trump was clearly shocked by the sharpness of the questions at the debate...
With Trump and Fox now on opposite sides and the Republican establishment eager to quash his threat to run next year as a third party candidate, which would virtually guarantee a Democratic victory, conservatives began to choose sides. Erick Erickson, a paid Fox contributor who runs the politically powerful RedState website, publicly disinvited Trump to an Atlanta gathering at which most other Republican candidates appeared.
Of particular interest, I think, is that two of talk radio’s most powerful voices, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, quickly came to Trump’s defense. I suspect this was as much a market-driven decision as an honest personal one – talk radio has long catered to the more downscale, less educated wing of conservatism, where most Trump supporters dwell. Whatever else one thinks of Limbaugh and Levin, they are enormously useful allies in the sort of fight Trump is waging.
It is too soon to know whether Trump is in this for the long haul, but I would not underestimate his ego or willingness to spend freely from his vast fortune to secure the Republican nomination. Early signs are that his support remains firm in post-debate polls and he is still leading the pack. If the Republican field stays divided, preventing consolidation around the strongest non-Trump candidate, one cannot dismiss his chances of success.
Of more importance to me is that if the forces for and against Trump play out as they have so far, with Fox and Tea Party leaders siding with the GOP establishment while talk radio and large numbers of the Tea Party grassroots are committed to Trump, we may see the crackup of the Republican coalition that controls Congress, many state legislatures and governorships. The Tea Party will go down in history as just another populist movement that lacked staying power and Donald Trump will be its William Jennings Bryan.

Paul Krugman:

Tea and Trumpism: Memo to pollsters: while I’m having as much fun as everyone else watching the unsinkable Donald defy predictions of his assured collapse, what I really want to see at this point is a profile of his supporters. What characteristics predispose someone to like this guy, as opposed to accepting the establishment candidates? ...
OK, here’s my guess: they look a lot like Tea Party supporters. And we do know a fair bit about that group.
First of all, Tea Party supporters are for the most part not working-class, at least in the senses that group is often defined. They’re relatively affluent, and not especially lacking in college degrees.
So what is distinctive about them? Alan Abramowitz:
While conservatism is by far the strongest predictor of support for the Tea Party movement, racial hostility also has a significant impact on support.
So maybe Trump’s base is angry, fairly affluent white racists — sort of like The Donald himself, only not as rich? And maybe they’re not being hoodwinked? ...
Again, this is just guesswork until we have a real profile of typical Trump supporter. But for what it’s worth, I think the Trump phenomenon is much more grounded in fundamentals than the commentariat yet grasps.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Paul Krugman: G.O.P. Candidates and Obama’s Failure to Fail

The GOP has failed again and again at predicting failure:

G.O.P. Candidates and Obama’s Failure to Fail, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: What did the men who would be president talk about during last week’s prime-time Republican debate? Well, there were 19 references to God, while the economy rated only 10 mentions. Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, but the candidates only named President Obama’s signature policy nine times over the course of two hours. And energy, another erstwhile G.O.P. favorite, came up only four times.
Strange, isn’t it? The shared premise of everyone on the Republican side is that the Obama years have been a time of policy disaster on every front. Yet the candidates on that stage had almost nothing to say about any of the supposed disaster areas.
And there was a good reason they seemed so tongue-tied: Out there in the real world, none of the disasters their party predicted have actually come to pass. President Obama just keeps failing to fail. And that’s a big problem for the G.O.P. — even bigger than Donald Trump. ...
What’s the common theme linking all the disasters that Republicans predicted, but which failed to materialize? If I had to summarize the G.O.P.’s attitude on domestic policy, it would be that no good deed goes unpunished. Try to help the unfortunate, support the economy in hard times, or limit pollution, and you will face the wrath of the invisible hand. The only way to thrive, the right insists, is to be nice to the rich and cruel to the poor, while letting corporations do as they please.
According to this worldview, a leader like President Obama who raises taxes on the 1 percent while subsidizing health care for lower-income families, who provides stimulus in a recession, who regulates banks and expands environmental protection, will surely preside over disaster in every direction.
But he hasn’t. I’m not saying that America is in great shape, because it isn’t. Economic recovery has come too slowly, and is still incomplete; Obamacare isn’t the system anyone would have designed from scratch; and we’re nowhere close to doing enough on climate change. But we’re doing far better than any of those guys in Cleveland will ever admit.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Paul Krugman: From Trump on Down, the Republicans Can’t Be Serious

They're all nuts:

From Trump on Down, the Republicans Can’t Be Serious, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: This was, according to many commentators, going to be the election cycle Republicans got to show off their “deep bench.” The race for the nomination would include experienced governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fresh thinkers like Rand Paul, and attractive new players like Marco Rubio. Instead, however, Donald Trump leads the field by a wide margin. What happened?
The answer, according to many of those who didn’t see it coming, is gullibility: People can’t tell the difference between someone who sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about and someone who is actually serious about the issues. And for sure there’s a lot of gullibility out there. But if you ask me, the pundits have been at least as gullible as the public, and still are.
For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is, fundamentally, an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party. ...
The point is that while media puff pieces have portrayed Mr. Trump’s rivals as serious men — Jeb the moderate, Rand the original thinker, Marco the face of a new generation — their supposed seriousness is all surface. Judge them by positions as opposed to image, and what you have is a lineup of cranks. And as I said, this is no accident.
It has long been obvious that the conventions of political reporting and political commentary make it almost impossible to say the obvious — namely, that one of our two major parties has gone off the deep end. ...
Until now, however, leading Republicans have generally tried to preserve a facade of respectability, helping the news media to maintain the pretense that it was dealing with a normal political party. What distinguishes Mr. Trump is not so much his positions as it is his lack of interest in maintaining appearances. And it turns out that the party’s base, which demands extremist positions, also prefers those positions delivered straight. Why is anyone surprised?
Remember how Mr. Trump was supposed to implode after his attack on John McCain? Mr. McCain epitomizes the strategy of sounding moderate while taking extreme positions, and is much loved by the press corps, which puts him on TV all the time. But Republican voters, it turns out, couldn’t care less about him.
Can Mr. Trump actually win the nomination? I have no idea. But even if he is eventually pushed aside, pay no attention to all the analyses you will read declaring a return to normal politics. That’s not going to happen; normal politics left the G.O.P. a long time ago. At most, we’ll see a return to normal hypocrisy, the kind that cloaks radical policies and contempt for evidence in conventional-sounding rhetoric. And that won’t be an improvement.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

'Unwavering Fealty to a Failed Theory'

Bad economic theory (but good if you are rich) has trickled down to this cycle's Republican presidential candidates:

Unwavering Fealty to a Failed Theory, by David Madland, US News and World Report: With their first debate set for tonight, Republican candidates have been trying mightily to claim they can help address the economic problems most Americans face. ...
While Jeb Bush declared in February that "the opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time," more recently he's been forced to backtrack from his statement that Americans "need to work longer hours" in order to boost their incomes. Sen. Marco Rubio's argument that if the United States is to "remain an exceptional nation, we must close this gap in opportunity," rings a bit hollow next to his tax plan that disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Gov. Scott Walker says he wants to help families achieve the "American Dream," but thinks the minimum wage is "lame," has stripped the words "living wage" from state laws, and has attacked workers' right to join together to collectively bargain for better wages.
Looking beyond the rhetoric and individual policies, however, lies the Republican Party's major problem: unwavering fealty to trickle-down economics. Virtually all Republicans since Ronald Reagan was elected president have run on a platform of supply-side policies, and the 2016 election will be no different. But it should be, because there is now a growing recognition that trickle-down economics has failed....

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

'I’m Not Denying That Trump is a Clown, but Given his Party’s Field, That’s Not a Distinctive Judgment'

I am supposed to be sorta kinda like on vacation this week -- I am writing this from a cabin on a lake that has internet service (a must for me), but no phone service. I'll try to keep up, but hope you will understand if posts are, temporarily anyway, a bit less frequent, etc. Anyway...when a quick post is needed, there's always PK:

Style, Substance, and The Donald: Just about the entire political commentariat has been caught completely flatfooted by Donald Trump’s durable front-runner status; he was supposed to collapse after being nasty to St. John McCain, but nothing of the sort happened.
So now the conventional wisdom is that we’re witnessing a temporary triumph of style over substance; Republican voters like Trump’s bluster, and haven’t (yet) realized that he isn’t making sense.
But if you ask me, the people who are really mistaking style for substance are the pundits. It’s true that Trump isn’t making sense — but neither are the mainstream contenders for the GOP nomination.
On economics, both Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are into deep voodoo. ... Is Trump any worse on economics than these guys? He’s suggested that a weaker dollar would be good for America (even though he also wants higher interest rates), which actually makes him more of an economic realist than his rivals.
His immigration proposals are extreme; but ... the Republican base agrees with him...
So why is Trump regarded as ludicrous, while Bush and Walker are serious? Again, on the substance they’re all ludicrous; but pundits are taken in by the sober-sounding personal style of the runners-up, while voters apparently are not.
Just to be clear, I’m not denying that Trump is a clown, an absurd figure. But given his party’s field, that’s not a distinctive judgment.

Monday, August 03, 2015

'Are All Tax Increases a Bad Thing?'

I have time for one more... This is John Whitehead at Environmental Economics:

Are all tax increases a bad thing?: Not necessarily. And yet, Greg Mankiw:

As long-time readers of this blog know, I have long advocated greater use of Pigovian taxes, such as taxes on carbon emissions. Such taxes can correct incentives by aligning private and social costs, and the revenue from such taxes can be used to reduce other, distortionary taxes.

Skeptics of Pigovian taxes on the right sometimes argue that such taxes are good in principle but in practice the left will co-opt them and, rather than using the revenue to reduce other taxes, will use it to fund ever larger government.

Sadly, that point of view is getting some support in Washington state.  The headline above from The Seattle Times reads 'Green' alliance opposes petition to tax carbon.  Why the opposition?  Because the ballot measure is revenue-neutral. Some environmentalists want to use the revenue from the proposed carbon tax to increase spending instead.

I believe that a carbon tax could someday win bipartisan support.  But before it does so, those on the left will need to convince those on the right that the tax would be a tax shift, not a tax increase.  The carbon tax needs to be evaluated on its own merits and should not be a stalking horse for a broader, big-government agenda.

The standard textbook treatment of a Pigouvian tax is agnostic on what happens to the revenue. It could be used efficiently to finance other projects..., reduce distortionary taxes or reduce government debt...

Mankiw's last paragraph strays far from the economics and is one-sided in its condemnation of those on the political left. A bipartison paragraph would read more like this:

I believe that a carbon tax could someday win bipartisan support.  But before it does so, those on the left will need to convince those on the right that the tax would be a tax shift, not a tax increase.  And those on the right will need to convince those on the left that the tax is not trojan horse for a tax cut for the rich. The carbon tax needs to be evaluated on its own merits. and should not be a stalking horse for a broader, big-government agenda.

The carbon tax needs to be evaluated on its own merits. Period. ...

I know of no empirical evidence to suggest that there is only one efficient use for Pigouvian tax revenue. 

'Is Deficit Fetishism Innate or Contextual?'

A quick one before hitting the road. Is deficit fetishism bullshit? This is from Simon Wren-Lewis:

Is deficit fetishism innate or contextual?: In a couple of interesting posts, Jonathan Hopkin and Ben Rosamond, political scientists from the LSE and Copenhagen respectively, talk about ‘political bullshit’. They use ‘bullshit’ as a technical term due to Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt. Unlike lying, bullshit tells false stories that pay no heed to the truth. Their appeal is more to common sense, or what Tyler Cowen calls common sense morality. At a primitive level it is the stuff of political sound bites, but at a slightly more detailed level it is the language of what Krugman ironically calls ‘Very Serious People’.
The implication which can then be drawn is that because bullshit does not reside in the “court of truth”, trying to combat it with facts, knowledge or expertise may have limited effectiveness. The conditions under which this might be true, and the extent to which information technology impacts on this, are fascinating issues...
In the case of fiscal policy, deficit fetishism as bullshit involves appeals to ‘common sense’ by invoking simple analogies with households, often coupled with an element of morality - it is responsible to pay down debts. The point in calling it bullshit (in this technical sense) is that attempts to counter it by appeals to facts or knowledge (e.g. the government is not like a household, as every economist knows) may have limited effectiveness. Instead it might be better to fight bullshit with bullshit...
I want to ask whether deficit fetishism will always be powerful bullshit, or whether its force is a symptom of a particular time, and what is more a time that may by now have passed. ...
At first sight deficit fetishism seems to be innate...

'The Revolt Against the Ruling Class'

Robert Reich:

The Revolt Against the Ruling Class: “He can’t possibly win the nomination,” is the phrase heard most often when Washington insiders mention either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.
Yet as enthusiasm for the bombastic billionaire and the socialist senior continues to build within each party, the political establishment is mystified.
They don’t understand that the biggest political phenomenon in America today is a revolt against the “ruling class” of insiders that have dominated Washington for more than three decades.
In two very different ways, Trump and Sanders are agents of this revolt. I’ll explain the two ways in a moment.  
Don’t confuse this for the public’s typical attraction to candidates posing as political outsiders who’ll clean up the mess, even when they’re really insiders who contributed to the mess.
What’s new is the degree of anger now focused on those who have had power over our economic and political system since the start of the 1980s.
Yet despite the growing revolt against the ruling class, it seems likely that the nominees in 2016 will be Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. After all, the ruling class still controls America.
But the revolt against the ruling class won’t end with the 2016 election, regardless. 
Which means the ruling class will have to change the way it rules America. Or it won’t rule too much longer.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Paul Romer: Freshwater Feedback on Mathiness

More from Paul Romer:

Freshwater Feedback Part 1: “Everybody does it”: You can boil my claim about mathiness down to two assertions:

1. Economist N did X.
2. X is wrong because it undermines the scientific method.

#1 is a positive assertion, a statement about “what is …”#2 is a normative assertion, a statement about “what ought …” As you would expect from an economist, the normative assertion in #2 is based on what I thought would be a shared premise: that the scientific method is a better way to determine what is true about economic activity than any alternative method, and that knowing what is true is valuable.

In conversations with economists who are sympathetic to the freshwater economists I singled out for criticism in my AEA paper on mathiness, it has become clear that freshwater economists do not share this premise. What I did not anticipate was their assertion that economists do not follow the scientific method, so it is not realistic or relevant to make normative statements of the form “we ought to behave like scientists.”

In a series of three posts that summarize what I have learned since publishing that paper, I will try to stick to positive assertions, that is assertions about the facts, concerning this difference between the premises that freshwater economists take for granted and the premises that I and other economists take for granted.

In my conversations, the freshwater sympathizers generally have not disagreed with my characterization of the facts in assertion #1–that specific freshwater economists did X. In their response, two themes recur:

a) Yes, but everybody does X; that is how the adversarial method works.
b) By selectively expressing disapproval of this behavior by the freshwater economists that you name, you, Paul, are doing something wrong because you are helping “those guys.”

In the rest of this post, I’ll address response a). In a subsequent post, I’ll address response b). Then in a third post, I’ll observe that in my AEA paper, I also criticized a paper by Piketty and Zucman, who are not freshwater economists. The response I heard back from them was very different from the response from the freshwater economists. In short, Piketty and Zucman disagreed with my statement that they did X, but they did not dispute my assertion that X would be wrong because it would be a violation of the scientific method.

Together, the evidence I summarize in these three posts suggests that freshwater economists differ sharply from other economists. This evidence strengthens my belief that the fundamental divide here is between the norms of political discourse and the norms of scientific discourse. Lawyers and politicians both engage in a version of the adversarial method, but they differ in another crucial way. In the suggestive terminology introduced by Jon Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind, lawyers are selfish, but politicians are groupish. What is distinctive about the freshwater economists is that their groupishness depends on a narrow definition of group that sharply separates them from all other economists. One unfortunate result of this narrow groupishness may be that the freshwater economists do not know the facts about how most economists actually behave. ...[continue]...

'U.S. Paychecks Grow at Record-Slow Pace'

Martin Feldstein says that when it comes to income inequality, you're all a bunch of whiners:

...we should not lose sight of how well middle-income families have actually done over the past few decades. Unfortunately, the political debate is distorted by misleading statistics that grossly understate these gains..., the US middle class has been doing much better than the statistical pessimists assert. ...

So it's yet another another round of "inequality has not grown as much as Democrats claim." Thought we had gotten beyond that. Today's news:

U.S. wages and benefits grew in the spring at the slowest pace in 33 years, stark evidence that stronger hiring isn't lifting paychecks much for most Americans. The slowdown also likely reflects a sharp drop-off in bonus and incentive pay for some workers.
The employment cost index rose just 0.2 percent in the April-June quarter after a 0.7 increase in the first quarter, the Labor Department said Friday. The index tracks wages, salaries and benefits. Wages and salaries alone also rose 0.2 percent.
Both measures recorded the smallest quarterly gains since the second quarter of 1982.
Salaries and benefits for private sector workers were unchanged, the weakest showing since the government began tracking the data in 1980. ...
The employment cost index figures now match the sluggish pace of growth reported in the average hourly pay data that's part of the monthly jobs report. ...

Paul Krugman: China’s Naked Emperors

What can we learn from the response of the Chinese government to the problems in China's stock market?:

China’s Naked Emperors, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... We’ve seen ... strange goings-on in China’s stock market. In and of itself, the price of Chinese equities shouldn’t matter all that much. But the authorities have chosen to put their credibility on the line by trying to control that market — and are in the process of demonstrating that, China’s remarkable success over the past 25 years notwithstanding, the nation’s rulers have no idea what they’re doing. ...
China is at the end of an era — the era of superfast growth... Meanwhile, China’s leaders appear to be terrified — probably for political reasons — by the prospect of even a brief recession. ... China’s response has been an all-out effort to prop up stock prices. Large shareholders have been blocked from selling; state-run institutions have been told to buy shares; many companies with falling prices have been allowed to suspend trading. ...
What do Chinese authorities think they’re doing?
In part, they may be worried about financial fallout. It seems that a number of players in China borrowed large sums with stocks as security, so that the market’s plunge could lead to defaults. This is especially troubling because China has a huge “shadow banking” sector that is essentially unregulated and could easily experience a wave of bank runs.
But it also looks as if the Chinese government, having encouraged citizens to buy stocks, now feels that it must defend stock prices to preserve its reputation. And what it’s ending up doing, of course, is shredding that reputation at record speed.
Indeed, every time you think the authorities have done everything possible to destroy their credibility, they top themselves. Lately state-run media have been assigning blame for the stock plunge to, you guessed it, a foreign conspiracy against China, which is even less plausible than you may think: China has long maintained controls that effectively shut foreigners out of its stock market, and it’s hard to sell off assets you were never allowed to own in the first place.
So what have we just learned? China’s incredible growth wasn’t a mirage, and its economy remains a productive powerhouse. The problems of transition to lower growth are obviously major, but we’ve known that for a while. The big news here isn’t about the Chinese economy; it’s about China’s leaders. Forget everything you’ve heard about their brilliance and foresightedness. Judging by their current flailing, they have no clue what they’re doing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

'Second-best Macroeconomics'

Paul Krugman wonders if he has been advocating for the right type of policies:

Second-best Macroeconomics: The ... economic problems facing both the United States and Europe have been quite straightforward and comprehensible. ... So no worries: just hit the big macroeconomic That Was Easy button, and soon the troubles will be over.
Except that all the natural answers to our problems have been ruled out politically. Austerians not only block the use of fiscal policy, they drive it in the wrong direction; a rise in the inflation target is impossible given both central-banker prejudices and the power of the goldbug right. Exchange rate adjustment is blocked by the disappearance of European national currencies, plus extreme fear over technical difficulties in reintroducing them.
As a result, we’re stuck with highly problematic second-best policies like quantitative easing and internal devaluation. ... In case you don’t know, “second best” ... comes from a classic 1956 paper by Lipsey and Lancaster, which showed that policies which might seem to distort markets may nonetheless help the economy if markets are already distorted by other factors. ...
The problems with second best as a policy rationale are familiar. For one thing, it’s always better to address existing distortions directly, if you can — second best policies generally have undesirable side effects... There’s also a political economy concern,... in a complicated world you can come up with a second best rationale for practically anything. ...
But here we are, with anything resembling first-best macroeconomic policy ruled out by political prejudice, and the distortions we’re trying to correct are huge — one global depression can ruin your whole day. So we have quantitative easing, which is of uncertain effectiveness, probably distorts financial markets at least a bit, and gets trashed all the time by people stressing its real or presumed faults; someone like me is then put in the position of having to defend a policy I would never have chosen if there seemed to be a viable alternative. ...
Which makes me ask myself the question: Do people like me spend too much time being limited by what is presumed to be politically practical? Should we devote more time to trying to widen the range of options, to pointing out that we really would be much better off if we threw off the fetters of conventional deficit fears, the 2 percent inflation target, and the extremely ill-advised euro project?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Politics of Economics and ‘Very Serious People’

New column:

The Politics of Economics and ‘Very Serious People’: The latest debate in the economics blogosphere is about the true meaning of the term “Very Serious People,” a term of derision initially used to describe some supporters of the Iraq war. It was later broadened to describe people who advocate for the tough position on any issue – budget cuts and entitlement reform to ease debt worries, increases in interest rates to prevent inflation, and so on – despite evidence contrary to their policy proposals.
Very Serious People often embrace unpopular policies; they adopt the tough and serious route they believe is needed to ensure the US remains on solid footing, and they ridicule the opposition as softies unwilling to accept that there is no easy way to overcome our economic problems. Gain requires pain, but we should note that the tough policies Very Serious People embrace usually impose the pain on other people -- often the poor and disadvantaged. When they are asked to step up and pay more taxes to reduce the deficit, for example, their tune generally changes.
Henry Farrell, an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University says, “Being a Very Serious Person is about occupying a structural position that tends to reinforce, rather than counter, one’s innate biases and prejudices.” I’m not sure that fully captures the desire to appear tough and disciplined, to be seen as the one willing to say what needs to be done no matter how hard it is, but it did lead me to think about the degree to which I, and other economists, are influenced by our political leanings. To what extent do our politics determine our economics? ...

'Should Central Bankers Stick to Talking about Monetary Policy?'

Simon Wren-Lewis on whether "central bankers need to keep quiet about policy matters that are not within their remit":

Should central bankers stick to talking about monetary policy?: Few disagree that the recent remarks on corporate governance and investment made by Andy Haldane (Chief Economist at the Bank of England) are interesting, and that if they start a debate on short-termism that would be a good thing. As Will Hutton notes, Hillary Clinton has been saying similar things in the US. The problem Tony Yates has (and which Duncan Weldon, the interviewer, alluded to in his follow-up question) is that this is not obviously part of the monetary policy remit.
Haldane gave an answer to that, which Tony correctly points out is somewhat strained. ...
I have in the past said very similar things to Tony...
However I am beginning to have second thoughts about my own and Tony’s views on this. First, it all seems a bit British in tone. Tony worked at the Bank, and I have been involved with both the Bank and Treasury on and off, so we are both steeped in a British culture of secrecy. I do not think either of us are suggesting that senior Bank officials should never give advice to politicians, so what are the virtues of keeping this private? In trying to analyse how policy was made in 2010, it is useful to have a pretty good idea of what advice the Bank’s governor gave politicians because of what he said in public, rather than having to guess. ...
It is often said that central bankers need to keep quiet about policy matters that are not within their remit as part of an implicit quid pro quo with politicians, so that politicians will refrain from making public their views about monetary policy. Putting aside the fact that the ECB never got this memo, I wonder whether this is just a fiction so that politicians can inhibit central bankers from saying things politicians might find awkward (like fiscal austerity is making our life difficult). In a country like the UK with a well established independent central bank, it is not that clear what the central bank is getting out of this quid pro quo. And if it stops someone with the wide ranging vision of Haldane from raising issues just because they could be deemed political, you have to wonder whether this mutual public inhibition serves the social good.

The danger is that the Fed will become politicized as a result of taking sides on hotly debated political/policy questions. This is from a post in February of 2007:

...Should the Federal Reserve Chair talk only about matters directly related to monetary policy, or is it okay to discuss broader issues such as inequality, minimum wages, and Social Security without making the direct connection to monetary policy evident?...:

Willem Buiter: Martin's Column "Why America will need some elements of a welfare state", refers extensively to a recent speech by Ben Bernanke...

I believe it is a serious mistake for central bankers to express public views on politically contentious issues outside their mandates. The mistake is no less serious for being made so commonly by central bankers all over the world.

Central bank Governors have a lengthy and unfortunate track record of holding forth in public on matters that are outside the domains of their mandate (in the case of the Fed, monetary policy and financial stability)... With the exception of the Governors of the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, every Governor on the block appears to want to share his or her views on necessary or desirable fiscal, structural and social reforms. Examples are social security reform and the minimum wage, subjects on which Alan Greenspan liked to pontificate when he was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Jean-Claude Trichet cannot open his mouth without some exhortation for fiscal restraint or structural reform rolling out. In the case of Chairman Bernanke's speech, equality of opportunity, income distribution, teenage pregnancy and welfare dependency are clearly not part of the (admittedly broad) three-headed mandate of the Fed: maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates. ...

When the Head of a central bank becomes a participant, often a partisan participant, in public policy debates on matters beyond the central bank's mandate..., the institution of the central bank itself is politicised and put at risk of becoming a partisan-political football. This puts at risk the central bank's operational independence in the management of monetary policy and in securing financial stability.

Central bankers, Mr. Bernanke included, should 'stick to their knitting' (if I may borrow Alan Blinder's phrase). Being the head of an institution with the national and global visibility of the Fed or the ECB gives one an unparalleled platform for addressing whatever one considers the great issues of the time. The temptation to climb that unique pulpit must be near-irresistible. Nevertheless, unless the text for the sermon concerns monetary policy or financial stability, that temptation is to be resisted in the interest of the institutional integrity and independence of the central bank.

As I've said before, I agree.

Fiscal policy has a clear connection to monetary policy through the government budget constraint, and there are also times -- e.g. recently -- when monetary policy needs the help of fiscal policy (if the Fed is forced to shoulder the entire burden, it can bring other risks). So I have no problem with the Fed chair raising fiscal policy issues (as Bernanke did, though not forcefully enough perhaps). I have a bit more trouble when the topic is inequality (e.g. Yellen's big speech on this -- and the subsequent reaction from the right). It's harder to see how that is connected to the Fed's policy mandate, and with Republicans already out to take away as much of the Fed's powers as they can, it was a bad time to tick them off.

Maybe this is too cautious. Perhaps Federal Reserve officials should feel free to address whatever topic they'd like. But the Fed's independence was instrumental during the Great Recession -- without it, monetary policy would have been as terrible as fiscal policy and things would have been much worse -- and I'd rather not take any risks.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Paul Krugman: Zombies Against Medicare

Despite what you might hear from conservatives, Medicare is "eminently sustainable":

Zombies Against Medicare, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Medicare turns 50 this week, and it has been a very good half-century. Before the program went into effect, Ronald Reagan warned that it would destroy American freedom; it didn’t, as far as anyone can tell. What it did do was provide a huge improvement in financial security for seniors and their families, and in many cases it has literally been a lifesaver as well.
But the right has never abandoned its dream of killing the program. So it’s really no surprise that Jeb Bush recently declared that while he wants to let those already on Medicare keep their benefits, “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others.” ...
The ... reason conservatives want to do away with Medicare has always been political: It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate, and they hate it even more when such programs are successful. But ... they usually shy away from making their real case...
What Medicare’s would-be killers usually argue, instead, is that the program as we know it is unaffordable — that we must destroy the system in order to save it... And the new system they usually advocate is ... vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance.
The underlying premise here is that Medicare as we know it is incapable of controlling costs, that only the only way to keep health care affordable going forward is to rely on the magic of privatization.
Now, this was always a dubious claim. .... In fact, Medicare costs per beneficiary have consistently grown more slowly than private insurance premiums... Indeed, Medicare spending keeps coming in ever further below expectations...
Right now is, in other words, a very odd time to be going on about the impossibility of preserving Medicare, a program whose finances will be strained by an aging population but no longer look disastrous. One can only guess that Mr. Bush is unaware of all this, that he’s living inside the conservative information bubble, whose impervious shield blocks all positive news about health reform.
Meanwhile, what the rest of us need to know is that Medicare at 50 still looks very good. It needs to keep working on costs, it will need some additional resources, but it looks eminently sustainable. The only real threat it faces is that of attack by right-wing zombies.

Friday, July 24, 2015

'Raise the Gas Tax Already'

James Surowiecki:

Raise the Gas Tax Already: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a conservative Republican. Senator Barbara Boxer is a liberal Democrat. So the fact that they’ve worked together to come up with a plan to fund highway spending for the next three years might seem like a good thing, a rare moment of bipartisanship in a Congress riven by ideological hostility. And, in fact, you could see the thousand-page bill they’ve produced as, in the words of the Times, “real progress,” except for one thing: their complicated, jury-rigged plan is only necessary because of the continued refusal by Congress to embrace the obvious, economically sensible solution to highway funding, namely raising the gas tax. ...
The fundamental problem, of course, is that raising taxes, no matter how economically sensible those taxes might be, is anathema to a huge swath of the Republican Party. ... Opposition to higher income taxes has some theoretical justification: higher marginal rates discourage people from working more and investing. ... But no such argument exists against the gas tax: all it does, in essence, is ask drivers to pay for the roads they use. It’s not even fair to say that keeping this tax at its current level is a check on big government, since most federal highway spending now goes toward rebuilding and repairing roads—maintenance that even conservatives recognize we must do.
Highway revenue has to be raised somehow. Congress should show some political spine, discard the Rube Goldberg funding schemes, and stop treating all taxes as bad ones.

As noted in the article, there are also, of course, environmental benefits from an increase in gas taxes.