Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Paul Ryan Declares War on Math"

Paul Ryan has emerged from his long post-election period of repositioning, soul-searching, and secretly but not secretly visiting the poor. He had been caricatured as an Ayn Rand miser and attacked as a social Darwinist, merely for proposing the largest upward transfer of wealth in American history. Ryan has identified the root cause of his difficulties, and it is fiscal arithmetic.

The new Ryan, now fully formed, emerges in an interview with Philip Klein that
is revealing precisely for its evasiveness. The overview of Ryan’s new strategy must be pieced together from several elements.

1. Tax cuts for all! Ryan has found himself caught between his career-long obsession with cutting taxes for the rich and the problem of what happens to the revenue that would be lost. During the 2012 campaign, he swept aside the problem by couching his plan as “tax reform,” promising not to cut taxes for the rich. Ryan’s new plan is just to go ahead and cut taxes.

He tells Klein, “Those of us who live in the tax system want to lower everybody’s tax rates.” If you lower everybody’s tax rates, then everybody will be paying less in taxes, and then the government will have less revenue, right? That’s where Ryan’s solution comes in: He plans to press the government budget agencies to adopt the optimistic assumption he prefers, which is that cutting tax rates for the rich creates faster economic growth. Ryan spent much of the Bush years assailing what he called “static scoring,” which is the standard budget practice of measuring the fiscal impact of tax cuts as if they do not contain magic pixie dust.

As Danny Vinick has noticed, Ryan has announced his intention to change the rules. Ryan reaffirmed that plan in his interview with Klein: “I’d like to improve our scorekeeping so it better reflects reality,” he said. “Reality” is Ryan’s description for a world in which Bill Clinton’s punishing tax hikes on the rich hindered the economy, which was restored to health when George W. Bush cut taxes.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Feast of the Wingnuts"

Jonathan Chait (This piece is adapted from Jonathan Chait's book, The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics, which will be published on September 12 by Houghton Mifflin): 
American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane. The scope of their triumph is breathtaking. Over the course of the last three decades, they have moved from the right-wing fringe to the commanding heights of the national agenda. Notions that would have been laughed at a generation ago--that cutting taxes for the very rich is the best response to any and every economic circumstance or that it is perfectly appropriate to turn the most rapacious and self-interested elements of the business lobby into essentially an arm of the federal government--are now so pervasive, they barely attract any notice.

The result has been a slowmotion disaster. Income inequality has approached levels normally associated with Third World oligarchies, not healthy Western democracies. The federal government has grown so encrusted with business lobbyists that it can no longer meet the great public challenges of our time. Not even many conservative voters or intellectuals find the result congenial. Government is no smaller--it is simply more debt-ridden and more beholden to wealthy elites.

It was not always this way. A generation ago, Republican economics was relentlessly sober. Republicans concerned themselves with such ills as deficits, inflation, and excessive spending. They did not care very much about cutting taxes, and (as in the case of such GOP presidents as Herbert Hoover and Gerald Ford) they were quite willing to raise taxes in order to balance the budget. While many of them were wealthy and close to business, the leaders of business themselves had a strong sense of social responsibility that transcended their class interests. By temperament, such men were cautious rather than utopian.

Over the last three decades, however, such Republicans have passed almost completely
from the scene, at least in Washington, to be replaced by, essentially, a cult.

All sects have their founding myths, many of them involving circumstances quite mundane. The cult in question generally traces its political origins to a meeting in Washington in late 1974 between Arthur Laffer, an economist; Jude Wanniski, an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal; and Dick Cheney, then-deputy assistant to President Ford. Wanniski, an eccentric and highly excitable man, had until the previous few years no training in economics whatsoever, but he had taken Laffer's tutelage...

Read the rest HERE

Medicare Miracle?

More Krugman on good health care news...Medicare is, perhaps not a "miracle," but in very good shape compared to the dire predictions of crank "deficit scolds" (who routinely used the worst Medicare predictions moving forward primarily to deflect from the the issue of health care cost inflation to attack any and all government spending - except of course defense):

So, what do you think about those Medicare numbers? What, you haven’t heard about them? Well, they haven’t been front-page news. But something remarkable has been happening on the health-spending front, and it should (but probably won’t) transform a lot of our political debate. 
The story so far: We’ve all seen projections of giant federal deficits over the next few decades, and there’s a whole industry devoted to issuing dire warnings about the budget and demanding cuts in Socialsecuritymedicareandmedicaid. Policy wonks have long known, however, that there’s no such program, and that health care, rather than retirement, was driving those scary projections. Why? Because, historically, health spending has grown much faster than G.D.P., and it was assumed that this trend would continue. 
But a funny thing has happened: Health spending has slowed sharply, and it’s already well below projections made just a few years ago. The falloff has been especially pronounced in Medicare, which is spending $1,000 less per beneficiary than the Congressional Budget Office projected just four years ago. 
This is a really big deal, in at least three ways.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Has the "Obamacare" Scare turned a corner?

Republican ads denouncing health reform have been dwindling month by month. 
The reason is fairly obvious, although it’s not considered nice to state it bluntly: the attack on Obamacare depended almost entirely on lies, and those lies are becoming unsustainable now that the law is actually working. 
No, there aren’t any death panels; no, huge numbers of Americans aren’t losing coverage
or finding their health costs soaring; no, jobs aren’t being killed in vast numbers. A few relatively affluent, healthy people are paying more for coverage; a few high-income taxpayers are paying more in taxes; a much larger number of Americans are getting coverage that was previously unavailable and/or unaffordable; and most people are seeing no difference at all, except that they no longer have to fear what happens if they lose their current coverage. 
In other words, reform is working more or less the way it was supposed to (except for the Medicaid expansion in non-cooperating states). 
Many of us argued all along that the right’s chance to kill reform would vanish once the program was actually in place; the horror stories only worked as long as the truth wasn’t visible. And that’s what seems to be happening.
It does look like swing-state Democrats are more willing to take on the cruel, but unfortunately, not unusual GOP governors who are refusing Medicaid expansion and denying millions of the working poor health insurance.

"Balanced Budget Fundamentalism"

Simon Wren-Lewis compares balanced budget fundamentalism to anti-evolutionists:
Europeans, and particularly the European elite, find popular attitudes to science among many across the Atlantic both amusing and distressing. In Europe we do not have regular attempts to replace evolution with ‘intelligent design’ on school curriculums. Climate change denial is not mainstream politics in Europe as it is in the US (with the possible exception of the UK). Yet Europe, and particularly its governing elite, seems gripped by a belief that is as unscientific and more immediately dangerous. It is a belief that fiscal policy should be tightened in a liquidity trap. 
In the UK economic growth is currently strong, but that cannot disguise the fact that this has been the slowest recovery from a recession for centuries. Austerity may not be the main cause of that, but it certainly played its part. Yet the government that undertook this austerity, instead of trying to distract attention from its mistake, is planning to do it all over again. Either this is a serious intention, or a ruse to help win an election, but either way it suggests events have not dulled its faith in this doctrine. 
Europe suffered a second recession thanks to a combination of austerity and poor monetary policy. Yet its monetary policymakers, rather than take serious steps to address the fact that Eurozone GDP is stagnant and inflation is barely positive, choose to largely sit on their hands and instead to continue to extol the virtues of austerity. (Dear ECB. You seem very keen on structural reform. Given your performance, maybe you should try some yourself.) In major economies like France and the Netherlands, the absence of growth leads to deficit targets being missed, and the medieval fiscal rules of the Eurozone imply further austerity is required. As Wolfgang Munchau points out (August 15), German newspapers seem more concerned with the French budget deficit than with the prospect of deflation. 
There is now almost universal agreement among economists that tightening fiscal policy tends to significantly reduce output and increase unemployment when interest rates are at their lower bound: the debate is by how much. A few argue that monetary policy could still rescue the situation even though interest rates are at their lower bound, but the chance of the ECB following their advice is zero.  
Paul De Grauwe puts it eloquently.  
“European policymakers are doing everything they can to stop recovery taking off, so they should not be surprised if there is in fact no take-off. It is balanced-budget fundamentalism, and it has become religious.” 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Legal" corporate crime

 Krugman @ NYTs:
In recent decisions, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has made clear its view that corporations are people, with all the attendant rights. They are entitled to free speech, which in their case means spending lots of money to bend the political process to their ends. They are entitled to religious beliefs, including those that mean denying benefits to their workers...
There is, however, one big difference between corporate persons and the likes of
you and me: On current trends, we’re heading toward a world in which only the human people pay taxes.
The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate  profits. But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s, a quarter or more well into the 1960s.... Part of the decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent.
Which brings us to the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion.” This refers to a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate...

The Great Economic Devolution: Median wealth dropped 20% in 30 years

CEPR:

A NYT article reported on a study from Russell Sage reporting that median household the study is that median wealth is down by around 20 percent from 1984.
wealth was 36 percent lower in 2013 than 2003. While this is disturbing, an even more striking finding from

This is noteworthy because this cannot be explained as largely the result of the collapse of house prices that triggered the Great Recession. This indicates that we have gone thirty years, during which time output per worker has more than doubled, but real wealth has actually fallen for the typical family. It is also important to realize that the drop in wealth reported in the study understates the true drop since a typical household in 1984 would have been able to count on a defined benefit pension. This is not true at present, so the effective drop in wealth is even larger than reported by the study. (Defined benefit pensions are not included in its measure of wealth.)

Raising the minimum wage and job creation

Teresa Tritch @ NYTs:
The standard argument against a higher minimum wage is that it will lead to job loss as employers, unable to pay more, lay off current workers or don’t hire new ones.
It’s important to state up front that research and experience don’t bear that out.

Bolstering what we already know, new evidence shows that job creation is faster in states that have raised their minimum wages. The Center for Economic and Policy Research used federal labor data to tally job growth in 13 states* that raised their minimums in 2014. In all but one, New Jersey, employment was higher in the first five months of 2014 (after the wage increase) than it was in the last five months of 2013 (before the wage increase). In nine of the 12 states with faster growth, employment gains were above the national median.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Inflation hysteria - hilarious

 CNBC nutcase Rick Santelli loses it!


Credit where credit is due - conservative tells right-wing inflation hysterics to accept the fact of low inflation and shut up !

American Enterprise Institute economist James Pethokoukos calls out his fellow conservatives as inflation cranks: 



071614inflation

Are conservatives forever and always doomed to be obsessed by fear that inflation is perpetually just around the corner? Perhaps, since it was the Great Inflation of the 1970s that helped give rise to Reagan and Thatcher and the conservative revival. Even worse, this inflation obsession spawns conspiracy theories that government is manipulating the data to hide skyrocketing prices.

Job creation and tax increases - evidence from the real world

David Cay Johnston takes on the conventional conservative "wisdom" - using DATA!
Dire predictions about jobs being destroyed spread across California in 2012 as voters debated whether to enact the sales and, for those near the top of the income ladder, stiff income tax increases in Proposition 30. Million-dollar-plus earners face a 3 percentage-point increase on each additional dollar.

“It hurts small business and kills jobs,” warned the Sacramento Taxpayers Association,
Anti-taxation cranks keep the crazy coming!
the National Federation of Independent Business/California, and Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee.

So what happened after voters approved the tax increases, which took effect at the start of 2013?
Last year California added 410,418 jobs, an increase of 2.8 percent over 2012, significantly better than the 1.8 percent national increase in jobs.

California is home to 12 percent of Americans, but last year it accounted for 17.5 percent of new jobs, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows.

America has more than 3,100 counties and what demographers call county equivalents. Eleven California counties, including Sacramento, accounted for almost 1 in every 7 new jobs in the U.S. last year.

California raises taxes and recovers from fiscal crisis, while the right-wing fiddles and burns

 Professor Krugman on California's recovery from budget crisis as tax-cutting Kansas sinks:
The states, Justice Brandeis famously pointed out, are the laboratories of democracy. And it’s still true. For example, one reason we knew or should have known that Obamacare was workable was the post-2006 success of Romneycare in Massachusetts. More recently, Kansas went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent in the belief that this would spark a huge boom; the boom didn’t happen, but the budget deficit exploded, offering an object lesson to those willing to learn from experience.

And there’s an even bigger if less drastic experiment under way in the opposite direction.
California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.

I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

What has actually happened? There is, I’m sorry to say, no sign of the promised catastrophe.

The Heritage Foundation's epic "data" fail

 Media Matters catches the current state of intellectual credibility among conservative economists:

Heritage Foundation chief economist Stephen Moore was caught using incorrect statistics to mislead readers about the relationship between tax cuts and job creation in the United States.

On July 7, Moore published an op-ed in The Kansas City Star attacking economic policies favored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. The op-ed claimed that "places such as New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and California ... are getting clobbered by tax-cutting states." Moore went on to attack liberals for "cherry-picking a few events" in their arguments against major tax cuts, when in fact it was Moore who cited bad data to support his claims. 
Stephen "Pants On Fire" Moore
 On July 24, The Kansas City Star published a correction to Moore's op-ed, specifically stating that the author had "misstated job growth rates for four states and the time period covered." The editorial board of the Star inserted this annotation to Moore's inaccurate claims:
Please see editor's note at the top of this column. No-income-tax Texas gained 1 million jobs over the last five years, California, with its 13 percent tax rate, managed to lose jobs. Oops. Florida gained hundreds of thousands of jobs while New York lost jobs. NOTE: These figures are incorrect. The time period covered was December 2007 to December 2012. Over that time, Texas gained 497,400 jobs, California lost 491,200, Florida lost 461,500 and New York gained 75,900. Oops. Illinois raised taxes more than any other state over the last five years and its credit rating is the second lowest of all the states, below that of Kansas! (emphasis original)
On July 25, Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah explained the correction in more detail. Abouhalkah wrote that Moore had "used outdated and inaccurate job growth information at a key point in his article" and that Moore should have used data from 2009 to 2014, rather than from 2007 to 2012. Abouhalkah also argued that "the problems with Moore's opinion article damaged his credibility on the jobs issue."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Even a stopped clock" etc. etc.

Uber-conservative "Red State" blogger Erik Erickson spills the beans on his party:

 "I’m just not sure what the Republican Party really stands for any more other than telling Obama no and telling our own corporate interests yes. That’s not much of a platform."

"Inequality Is Not Inevitable"


Joseph Stiglitz @ NYT:

AN insidious trend has developed over this past third of a century. A country that experienced shared growth after World War II began to tear apart, so much so that when the Great Recession hit in late 2007, one could no longer ignore the fissures that had come to define the American economic landscape. How did this “shining city on a hill” become the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality?

One stream of the extraordinary discussion set in motion by Thomas Piketty’s timely, important book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has settled on the idea that violent extremes of wealth and income are inherent to capitalism. In this scheme, we should view the decades after World War II — a period of rapidly falling inequality — as an aberration.

This is actually a superficial reading of Mr. Piketty’s work, which provides an institutional context for understanding the deepening of inequality over time. Unfortunately, that part of his analysis received somewhat less attention than the more fatalistic-seeming aspects.


Over the past year and a half, The Great Divide, a series in The New York Times for which I have
served as moderator, has also presented a wide range of examples that undermine the notion that thereare any truly fundamental laws of capitalism. The dynamics of the imperial capitalism of the 19th century needn’t apply in the democracies of the 21st. We don’t need to have this much inequality in America.

Our current brand of capitalism is an ersatz capitalism. For proof of this go back to our response to the Great Recession, where we socialized losses, even as we privatized gains. Perfect competition should drive profits to zero, at least theoretically, but we have monopolies and oligopolies making persistently high profits. C.E.O.s enjoy incomes that are on average 295 times that of the typical worker, a much higher ratio than in the past, without any evidence of a proportionate increase in productivity.

If it is not the inexorable laws of economics that have led to America’s great divide, what is it? The straightforward answer: our policies and our politics. People get tired of hearing about Scandinavian success stories, but the fact of the matter is that Sweden, Finland and Norway have all succeeded in having about as much or faster growth in per capita incomes than the United States and with far greater equality.

Source: The Atlantic
So why has America chosen these inequality-enhancing policies? Part of the answer is that as World War II faded into memory, so too did the solidarity it had engendered. As America triumphed in the Cold War, there didn’t seem to be a viable competitor to our economic model. Without this international competition, we no longer had to show that our system could deliver for most of our citizens.

Ideology and interests combined nefariously. Some drew the wrong lesson from the collapse of the Soviet system. The pendulum swung from much too much government there to much too little here. Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation.

The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty’s argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics.

"The Pitchforks Are Coming!""

From Politico:

Memo: From Nick Hanauer
To: My Fellow Zillionaires

You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries—from itsy-bitsy ones like the night club I started in my 20s to giant ones like Amazon.com, for which I was the first nonfamily investor. Then I founded aQuantive, an Internet advertising company that was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion. In cash. My friends and I own a bank. I tell you all this to demonstrate that in many ways I’m no different from you. Like you, I have a broad perspective on business and capitalism. And also like you, I have been rewarded obscenely for my success, with a life that the other 99.99 percent of Americans can’t even imagine. Multiple homes, my own plane, etc., etc. 

You know what I’m talking about. In 1992, I was selling pillows made by my family’s business,
Pacific Coast Feather Co., to retail stores across the country, and the Internet was a clunky novelty to which one hooked up with a loud squawk at 300 baud. But I saw pretty quickly, even back then, that many of my customers, the big department store chains, were already doomed. I knew that as soon as the Internet became fast and trustworthy enough—and that time wasn’t far off—people were going to shop online like crazy. Goodbye, Caldor. And Filene’s. And Borders. And on and on.

Realizing that, seeing over the horizon a little faster than the next guy, was the strategic part of my success. The lucky part was that I had two friends, both immensely talented, who also saw a lot of potential in the web. One was a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Jeff Tauber, and the other was a fellow named Jeff Bezos. I was so excited by the potential of the web that I told both Jeffs that I wanted to invest in whatever they launched, big time. It just happened that the second Jeff—Bezos—called me back first to take up my investment offer. So I helped underwrite his tiny start-up bookseller. The other Jeff started a web department store called Cybershop, but at a time when trust in Internet sales was still low, it was too early for his high-end online idea; people just weren’t yet ready to buy expensive goods without personally checking them out (unlike a basic commodity like books, which don’t vary in quality—Bezos’ great insight). Cybershop didn’t make it, just another dot-com bust. Amazon did somewhat better. Now I own a very large yacht.

But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all—I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks.

At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"All Science Is Wrong, Concludes Esteemed Fox News Panel"

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine exposes the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of "conservatism's" foremost alleged "intellectuals."  "Conservative intellectual" has truly become an oxymoron:
There is no issue where educated ignorance is on more perfect display than Post columnists, and Fox News All-Star panelists. They numbered among the select conservative intellectuals chosen to dine with newly elected president Barack Obama in 2009.
watching the conservative movement confront scientific evidence of climate change. Educated ignorance is not the same thing as the regular kind of ignorance. It takes real talent to master. George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer are two of the intellectual giants of the right, former winners of the Bradley Foundation’s $250,000 annual prize, Washington

On their Fox News All-Star Panel appearance this week, both men discussed the U.S. National Climate Assessment, which they dismissed with various irritable mental gestures. Their evasions and misstatements, clothed in faux-erudition, offer a useful entrance point to study the current state of the right-wing mind.

"Predictions and Prejudice" among that cohort of right-wing hacks posing as social scientists

Krugman @ NYT on the shame - or should I say "shamelessness" - of too many in his profession:
The 2008 crisis and its aftermath have been a testing time for economists — and the tests have been moral as well as intellectual. After all, economists made very different predictions about the effects of the various policy responses to the crisis; inevitably, some of those predictions would prove deeply wrong. So how would those who were wrong react?
The results have not been encouraging.

Brad DeLong reads Allan Meltzer in the Wall Street Journal, issuing dire warnings about the inflation to come. Newcomers to this debate may not be fully aware of the history here, so let’s recap. Meltzer began banging the inflation drum five full years ago, predicting that the Fed’s expansion of its balance sheet would cause runaway price increases; meanwhile, some of us pointed both to the theory of the liquidity trap and Japan’s experience to say that this was not going to happen. The actual track record to date:


Tests in economics don’t get more decisive; this is where you’re supposed to say, “OK, I was wrong, and here’s why”.

Not a chance. And the thing is, Meltzer isn’t alone. Can you think of any prominent figure on that side of the debate who has been willing to modify his beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence?

Now, you may say that it’s always like this — but it isn’t. Consider the somewhat similar debate in the 1970s over the “accelerationist” hypothesis on inflation — the claim by Friedman and Phelps that any sustained increase in inflation would cause the unemployment-inflation relationship to worsen, so that there was no long-run tradeoff. The emergence of stagflation appeared to vindicate that hypothesis — and the great majority of Keynesians accepted that conclusion, modifying their models accordingly.

So this time is different — and these people are different. And I think we need to try to understand why. Were the freshwater guys always just pretending to do something like science, when it was always politics? Is there simply too much money and too much vested interest behind their point of view?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The knives come out for Piketty...and they are pretty dull

Kathleen Geier outlines "What Piketty’s Conservative Critics Get Wrong" @ The Baffler:
With his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty has lobbed a truth bomb that has blown up several decades’ worth of received opinion about the way the economy works in capitalist societies. He makes a powerful, meticulously-argued, data-driven case that inequality is a feature of capitalist economies, not a bug. Let to its own devices, wealth tends to become highly concentrated. The only events likely to prevent our society from plunging into a dystopian spiral of inequity are, on the one hand, certain rarely occurring catastrophes, such as war or depression; or, on the other, dramatic government intervention in the economy, in the form of steep taxes on the wealthy.

You can see why conservatives are going to be enraged by this book.

A conservative backlash to Piketty was inevitable; the only surprise is that it’s taken so long to develop. But in the last week or so, responses from the right have finally begun to roll in. Send in the clowns!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Recovery Has Created Far More Low-Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones

Annie Lowrey @ NYT:
WASHINGTON — The deep recession wiped out primarily high-wage and middle-wage jobs. Yet the strongest employment growth during the sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurants.
In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. That is the
conclusion of a new report from the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, analyzing employment trends four years into the recovery.

“Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end — the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, the report’s author. “If this is the reality — if these jobs are here to stay and are going to be making up a considerable part of the economy — the question is, how do we make them better?”

The report shows that total employment has finally surpassed its pre-recession level. “The good news is we’re back to zero,” Mr. Evangelist said.

But job losses and gains have been skewed. Higher-wage industries — like accounting and legal work — shed 3.6 million positions during the recession and have added only 2.6 million positions during the recovery. But lower-wage industries lost two million jobs, then added 3.8 million.

Most of the jobs added during the recovery have been in lower-wage industries...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

U.S. is a world leader in class conflict over government spending


Political science Prof. Larry Bartels at WaPo:




(Data from International Social Survey Programme; tabulation by Larry Bartels)

(Data from International Social Survey Programme; tabulation by Larry Bartels)

The United States does less to redistribute income than virtually any other economically “advanced” democracy. So why does class conflict loom so much larger in U.S. public opinion about government spending than in other affluent democracies? The answer may have something to do with our peculiar system of taxation.

The claim that America is riven by class conflict may come as a surprise to people who like to think that “There are no classes in America,” as Rick Santorum put it during his 2012 presidential campaign. But the fact is that rich and poor Americans disagree about government spending to an extent virtually unmatched elsewhere in the world.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rand Paul is either an idiot or a calculated propagandist...or both

More Krugman on The Crazy:
I can easily understand it when people don’t know the facts about economic statistics; you need a fair bit of background knowledge even to know how to look these things up. It’s more surprising when people don’t know what they don’t know — when they make confident assertions that can be proved false in a few seconds by anyone who does know these things.

I had a one-on-one encounter with Rand Paul over such a case; there our heads were, talking on TV, and he insisted that government employment had risen under Obama. (It has actually plunged.) At the very least, you’d think he would have learned a lesson from the experience.

But no. There he goes, saying, "When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan … "

Hmmm:


It’s not just that more jobs were created under Clinton, who raised taxes on the rich, than under Reagan; I wonder how many people know that more jobs were created under Jimmy Carter than under either Bush?

But I guess I really do understand it: according to right-wing theology, The Blessed Reagan’s tax cuts must have created far more jobs than the policies of evil redistributors. And so that’s what must have happened. Hey, Clinton was probably cooking the books.

Liberal Facts and "Conservative" Crazy

Krugman @ NYTs on The Crazy:
“The facts have a well-known liberal bias,” declared Rob Corddry way back in 2004 — and experience keeps vindicating his joke. But why?

Not long ago Ezra Klein cited research showing that both liberals and
conservatives are subject to strong tribal bias — presented with evidence, they see what they want to see. I then wrote that this poses a puzzle, because in practice liberals don’t engage in the kind of mass rejections of evidence that conservatives do. The inevitable response was a torrent of angry responses and claims that liberals do too reject facts — but none of the claims measured up.

Just to be clear: Yes, you can find examples where *some* liberals got off on a hobbyhorse of one kind or another, or where the liberal conventional wisdom turned out wrong. But you don’t see the kind of lockstep rejection of evidence that we see over and over again on the right. Where is the liberal equivalent of the near-uniform conservative rejection of climate science, or the refusal to admit that Obamacare is in fact reaching a lot of previously uninsured Americans?

The rich got richer

In what is beginning to sound like a "Dog Bites Man" story from the WSJ:
The rich got richer, the poor got poorer.

recent article by Labor Department senior economist Aaron Cobet highlights the sharp disparity between the wealthiest and poorest Americans in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 recession.

“While average income has returned to pre-recession levels, income gains have been distributed unevenly,” Mr. Cobet said.

The economist mined Labor Department data to show that the top 20% of earners accounted for more than 80% of the rise in household income from 2008-2012. Income fell for the bottom 20%.

More "Capital in the 21st Century"

Martin Wolff reviews Thomas PIketty's opus @ The Financial Times. Read at link or below:
French economist Thomas Piketty has written an extraordinarily important book. Open-minded readers will surely find themselves unable to ignore the evidence and arguments he has brought to bear.

Karl Polyani Explains It All

Robert Kuttner has an excellent appreciation of the great critic of free market fundamentalism, Karl Polyani and his essential book, The Great Transformation, @ American Prospect:
The Great Transformation, written for a broad audience, is witty and passionate
as well as erudite. The prose is lyrical, despite the fact that English was Polanyi’s third language after Hungarian and German.
Contrary to libertarian economists from Adam Smith to Hayek, Polanyi argued, there was nothing “natural” about the free market. Primitive economies were built on social obligations. Modern commercial society depended on “deliberate State action” by and for elites. “Laissez-faire” he writes, savoring the oxymoron, “was planned.”

Libertarian economists, who treat the market as universal—disengaged from local cultures and historic time—are fanatics whose ideas end in tragedy. Their prescription means “no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.”

Like Marx, Polanyi begins in England, the first fully capitalist nation. In Polanyi’s telling, the slow shift from a post-feudal to a capitalist economic system accelerated in the 18th century, when the enclosure movement (“a revolution of the rich against the poor”) deprived the rural people of historic rights to supplement incomes by grazing domestic animals on common land, and the industrial revolution began to undermine craft occupations.

The Single Mother, Child Poverty Myth


This is an essential insight, given the dominant narrative about marriage, single-parenthood and poverty rampant not just among the usual suspects of the right but among many liberals.

Matt Breuning @ Demos:

I see it often claimed that the high rate of child poverty in the US is a function of family composition. According to this view, the reason childhood poverty is so high is that there are too many unmarried parents and single mothers, and those kinds of families face higher rates of poverty. The usual upshot of this claim is that we can't really do much about high rates of childhood poverty, at least insofar as we can't force people to marry and cohabitate and such.

One big problem with this claim is that family composition in the US is not that much different from family compositions in the famed low-poverty social democracies of Northern Europe, but they don't have anywhere near the rates of child poverty we have.

A number of studies have tested this family composition theory using cross-country income data and found, again and again, that family composition differences account for very little of the child poverty differences between the US and other countries...
More here.

The Crisis of Long-Term Unemployment

Economic Policy Institute:
(L)ong-term unemployment is elevated for workers at every education level… while there is considerable variation in long-term unemployment rates across groups—which is always true, in good times and bad—the long-term unemployment rate is substantially higher now than it was before the recession started for all groups. The long-term unemployment rate is between 2.9 and 4.3 times as high now as it was six years ago for all age, education, occupation, industry, gender, and racial and ethnic groups. Today’s long-term unemployment crisis is not at all confined to unlucky or inflexible workers who happen to be looking for work in specific occupations or industries where jobs aren’t available. Long-term unemployment is elevated in every group, in every occupation, in every industry, at all levels of education.

Financial Transaction Tax Gains Traction

High-frequency trading accounts for roughly half of all stock market volume in the United States. Michael Lewis' recent book on the gaming of markets by high-frequency traders makes a financial transaction tax increasingly attractive.  Nelson Schwartz @ NYTs:

It’s not every day that you find a fan club for new taxes, especially among economists and legal experts.

But a burst of outrage in recent days generated by Michael Lewis’s new book about the adverse consequences of high-frequency trading on Wall Street has revived support in some quarters for a tax on financial transactions, with backers arguing that a tiny surcharge on trades would have many benefits.

“It kills three birds with one stone,” said Lynn A. Stout, a professor at Cornell Law School, who has long followed issues of corporate governance and securities regulation. “From a public policy perspective, it’s a no-brainer.”

Not only would the tax reduce risk and volatility in the market, Professor Stout said, but it would also raise much-needed revenue for public coffers while making it modestly more expensive to engage in a practice that brings little overall economic benefit.

The "Too Big To Fail" Subsidy

David Dayen @ American Prospect:
Financial reformers in both parties have insisted for years that the largest banks remain too big to fail, and that Dodd-Frank did not cleanse the system of this reality. You can mark down this week as the moment that this morphed into conventional wisdom. In successive reports, two of the more small-c conservative economic institutions, without any history of agitating for financial reform—the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund—both agreed that mega-banks, in America and abroad, enjoy a lower cost of borrowing than their competitors, based on the perception that governments will bail them out if they run into trouble. This advantage effectively works as a government subsidy for the largest banks, allowing them to take additional risks and threaten another economic meltdown. With institutional players like the Fed and the IMF both identifying the same problem, Wall Street grows more and more isolated, setting up the possibility of true reform.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Capital in the Twenty-first Century"


John Cassidy @ The New Yorker reviews the definitive new book on income inequality:
In the stately world of academic presses, it isn’t often that advance orders and
publicity for a book prompt a publisher to push forward its publication date. But that’s what Belknap, an imprint of Harvard University Press, did for “Capital in the Twenty-first Century,” a sweeping account of rising inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty. Reviewing the French edition of Piketty’s book, which came out last year, Branko Milanovic, a former senior economist at the World Bank, called it “one of the watershed books in economic thinking.” The Economist said that it could change the way we think about the past two centuries of economic history. Certainly, no economics book in recent years has received this sort of attention... 
Piketty, who teaches at the Paris School of Economics, has spent nearly two decades studying inequality… The main task he set himself was exploring the hills and valleys of income and wealth, a subject that economics had largely neglected. At first, Piketty concentrated on getting the facts down, rather than interpreting them. Using tax records and other data, he studied how income inequality in France had evolved during the twentieth century, and published his findings in a 2001 book. A 2003 paper that he wrote with Emmanuel Saez, a French-born economist at Berkeley, examined income inequality in the United States between 1913 and 1998. It detailed how the share of U.S. national income taken by households at the top of the income distribution had risen sharply during the early decades of the twentieth century, then fallen back during and after the Second World War, only to soar again in the nineteen-eighties and nineties.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The widening productivity and income gap



If you must know only one fact about the U.S. economy, it should be this chart:

ch1_20140317_1
The chart shows that productivity, or output per hour of work, has quadrupled since 1947 in the United States. This is a spectacular achievement by an advanced economy.

The gains in productivity were quite widely shared from 1947 to 1980. Real income for the median U.S. family doubled during this time just as output per hour of work performed doubled. The rising tide was lifting all boats.

(But there has been a) remarkable separation in productivity and median real income since 1980. While the United States is producing twice as much per hour of work today compared to 1980, a small part of the gain in real income has gone to the bottom half of the income distribution. The gap between productivity and median real income is at an historic all-time high today.

The Crime of 2010

Professor Krugman blogs this indictment of the Beltway, Business and Media Elites @ NYT. Millions of lives have been ruined by the cruelty of the Deficit Hawks, the willful ignorance or appalling timidity of insider DC elites - including many top Democrats - and the flaming idiocy of the TeaBaggers, who converged to force the country into an austerity discourse when the economy quite clearly needed a robust injection of federal spending:
(W)hat we’re learning from a number of sources: it’s really hard to get employers to look at people who have been out of work for an extended period, so any sustained increase in long-term unemployment tends to become permanent.
The best way to avoid this outcome, then, is to avoid prolonged periods of high unemployment.

So let me make the obvious point, just in case anyone missed it: the “pivot” of
From the Annals of Deadly Expert Advice
2010 — when all the Very Serious People decided that the danger from debt trumped any and all concern for job creation — was an utter disaster, economic and human. It was even a disaster in fiscal terms, because a permanently depressed economy will cost far more in revenue than was saved by slashing the deficit by a few percent of GDP in the short term.

Now, you might think that this post should be titled The Mistake of 2010 — but that would only be appropriate if it were truly an honest error. It wasn’t. Some of the austerians were self-consciously exploiting deficit panic to promote a conservative agenda; some were slipping into deficit-scolding rather than dealing with our actual problems because it felt comfortable; some were just going along for the ride, saying what everyone else was saying. Hardly anyone in the deficit-scold camp engaged in hard thinking and careful assessment of the evidence.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Tea Party "populists" are pushing Wall Streets's agenda

Mike Konczal @ TNR:
"Our problem today was not caused by a lack of business and banking
regulations,” argued Ron Paul in his 2009 manifesto End the Fed, which outlined a theory of the financial crisis that only implicated government policy and the Federal Reserve, while mocking the idea that Wall Street’s financial engineering and derivatives played any role. "The only regulations lacking were the ones that should have been placed on the government officials who ran roughshod over the people and the Constitution.” …
The Tea Party's theory of the financial crisis has absolved Wall Street completely. Instead, the crisis is interpreted according to two pillars of reactionary thought: that the government is a fundamentally corrupt enterprise trying to give undeserving people free stuff, and that hard money should rule the day. This will have major consequences for the future of reform, should the GOP take the Senate this fall.

On the Hill, it’s hard to find where the Tea Party and Wall Street disagree. Tea Party senators like Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz, plus conservative senators like David Vitter, have rallied around a one-line bill repealing the entirety of Dodd-Frank and replacing it with nothing. In the House, Republicans are attacking new derivatives regulations, all the activities of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the existence of the Volcker Rule, and the ability of the FDIC to wind down a major financial institution, while relentlessly attacking strong regulators and cutting regulatory funding. This is Wall Street’s wet dream of a policy agenda.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dooming the long-term unemployed via inflation hysteria

Matthew O'Brian @ The Atlantic:
Are the long-term unemployed just doomed today or doomed forever?
That's the question people are really asking when they ask if labor markets are
starting to get "tight." Now, it's hard to believe that this is even a debate when unemployment is still at 6.7 percent and core inflation is just 1.1 percent. But it is. The new inflation hawks argue that these headline numbers overstate how much slack is left in the economy. That the labor force is smaller than it sounds, because firms won't even consider hiring the long-term unemployed. That our productive capacity is lower than it sounds, because we haven't invested in new factories for too long. And that wages and prices will start rising as companies pay more for the workers and work that they want.

In other words, they think that the financial crisis has made us permanently poorer. That the economy can't grow as fast as it used to, so inflation will pick up sooner than it used to—and we need to get ready to raise rates. (Notice how that's always the answer no matter the question).

There are only two problems with this story: There's not much evidence for it, and we should ignore it even if there is. It's pretty simple. If tighter labor markets were causing wage inflation, they'd have caused wage inflation. But they haven't, not really. Now, it's true that average hourly earnings ticked up in February, but, as Paul Krugman points out, that was probably a weather-related blip. All the snow kept 6.8 million people from working full-time like they normally do, and, historically-speaking, that tends to affect hourly workers more than salaried ones. So higher-paid people probably made up a bigger share of the workforce last month—and voilĂ , it looked like wages rose. But that was just statistical noise, and if you look at the bigger picture, wage growth is still far below its pre-Lehman levels.