Monday, December 30, 2013

"9 Things The Rich Don't Want You To Know About Taxes"

An Oldie but Goodie from David Cay Johnston @ AAN (4/11):

For three decades we have conducted a massive economic experiment, testing a theory known as supply-side economics. The theory goes like this: Lower tax rates will encourage more investment, which in turn will mean more jobs and greater prosperity -- so much so that tax revenues will go up, despite lower rates. The late Milton Friedman, the libertarian economist who wanted to shut down public parks because he considered them socialism, promoted this strategy. Ronald Reagan embraced Friedman's ideas and made them into policy when he was elected president in 1980.

For the past decade, we have doubled down on this theory of supply-side economics with the tax cuts sponsored by President George W Bush in 2001 and 2003, which President Obama has agreed to continue for two years. You would think that whether this grand experiment worked would be settled after three decades. You would think the practitioners of the dismal science of economics would look at their demand curves and the data on incomes and taxes and pronounce a verdict, the way Galileo and Copernicus did when they showed that geocentrism was a fantasy because Earth revolves around the sun (known as heliocentrism). But economics is not like that. It is not like physics with its laws and arithmetic with its absolute values.

Tax policy is something the Framers left to politics. And in politics, the facts often matter less then who has the biggest bullhorn.

The Mad Men who once ran campaigns featuring doctors extolling the health benefits of smoking are now busy marketing the dogma that tax cuts mean broad prosperity, no matter what the facts show.

As millions of Americans prepare to file their annual taxes, they do so in an environment of media-perpetuated tax myths. Here are a few points about taxes and the economy that you may not know...  (All figures are inflation adjusted.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

"The Fear Economy"

Professor Krugman @ NYTs:
More than a million unemployed Americans are about to get the cruelest of Christmas “gifts.” They’re about to have their unemployment benefits cut off. You see, Republicans in Congress insist that if you haven’t found a job after months of searching, it must be because you aren’t trying hard enough. So you need an extra incentive in the form of sheer desperation.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"The GOP's Great Depression agenda"

Ryan Cooper at WaPo "Plum Line":
Paul Ryan has set everyone’s socks ablaze with a new comment suggesting he wants to shake down the country again over the debt limit. This inevitably inspired a lot of amateur psychoanalysis attempting to figure out whether he was serious or just pandering to the base. Whether that is true is an important thing to figure out, but the deeper subtext here is that the Republican Party continues to organize itself around the kind of austerity agenda that, should they obtain enough power to implement it, would cause another recession immediately, possibly a very bad one.

Retrospective on dishonesty and hysterics around the rapidly declining deficit

One of the last handful of honest conservatives, Bruce Bartlett @ NYTs, looks back at the Bush-induced "Obama" deficits:
On Dec. 20, the Brookings Institution economist Justin Wolfers sent out this provocative post on Twitter: “The decline in the budget deficit since 2009 is the largest four-year improvement since the demobilization from WWII.”

I was aware that the deficit was declining sharply, both in nominal terms and as a share of the gross domestic product, but hadn’t thought much about the magnitude. Mr. Wolfers, whose partner Betsey Stevenson is a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, is correct, as the data show. Fiscal year 2014 began on Oct. 1.

Congressional Budget Office
The Congressional Budget Office further projects that the deficit will fall to just 2.1 percent of G.D.P. in fiscal year 2015, less than it was in fiscal year 2008, when it was 3.1 percent of G.D.P. Thus we will have seen a decline in the deficit of 7.7 percent of G.D.P. over seven years.

There is indeed no comparable period in which the deficit fell as much since the aftermath of World War II for the simple reason that the deficit never grew large enough to drop so much. The largest deficit recorded in the postwar era before 2009 was in 1983, when it reached 6 percent of G.D.P.

After the war, the deficit fell to 7.7 percent in 1946 from 22 percent of G.D.P. in 1945. A surplus of 1.2 percent of G.D.P. was achieved in 1947.

This got me thinking about President Obama’s budgetary record when viewed from 2009. I turned first to the last C.B.O. projection of the George W. Bush administration, which was made on Jan. 7, 2009, and thus includes no Obama policies. The decline in the deficit after 2010 is largely attributable to the assumed expiration of the Bush tax cuts, because the C.B.O. must assume current law and they were set to expire at the end of 2010.

Congressional Budget Office
What’s important to see is that the federal government was going to run the largest deficit since World War II in fiscal year 2009, which began on Oct. 1, 2008, regardless of who became president on Jan. 20, 2009. It was baked in the cake by policies put in place by the Bush administration and the natural rise in spending and fall in revenues resulting from a sharp drop in economic growth and rise in unemployment, which economists call “automatic stabilizers.”

This point was always known by anyone who bothered to look carefully at the data, regardless of how many hand-wringers on both sides of the aisle acted as if the deficit was solely a result of President Obama’s policies. Both because of myopia and because everyone tends to invest the president with far more power than he actually has, there is a tendency to assume that whatever happens on his watch is attributable solely to him.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Losing it over Obamacare"

Barkley Rosser @ Econospeak:
I know, I know.  That every GOP hack who wants to stay on Fox News and so on must relentlessly spout idiotic drivel about the old Heritage Foundation plan cooked up by Stuart Butler back in 1989 and supported by many Republicans, even being adopted successfully in MA by one Mitt Romney as governor, although all shifting into massive opposition when Obama came out for it in an effort to gain GOP support (hah!).  So, I should not waste my or anybody else's time pointing out the specific lies and stupidities emitted by any such "pundit."

However, I cannot resist in the case of Charles Krauthammer in the Washington
Post of Dec. 20, 2013...he really shows the pathetic state of those trying to block the implementation of Obamacare (OK OK, "ACA").  It may be that I am using him to complain about a syndrome so entrenched that we do not even pay it any more mind. But the basis of its ongoing constant diatribes on this matter are becoming increasingly inane and absurd.  So, I shall pick this particular column apart.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Minimum Wage Brouhaha According to Comedy Central

Jon Stewart supports fast-food workers' strikes, invokes the populist compassion of the new Pope and takes on the wretched, dim-witted, morally obtuse cretins of cable "business" chatter:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pope Francis v. "Unfettered capitalism" and "The tyranny of markets"

The new Pope appears to be taking the church back to basics. Reuters via NYTs:
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny" and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church.
The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, was the first major
work he has authored alone as pope and makes official many views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.

In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry of money", and urged politicians to "attack the structural causes of inequality" and strive to provide work, healthcare and education to all citizens. 
He also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment
'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday. 
"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?" 

The pope said renewal of the Church could not be put off and said the Vatican and its entrenched hierarchy "also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion". 

"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," he wrote. 

Italian theologian Massimo Faggioli greeted the work as "the manifesto of Francis" while veteran Vatican analyst John Thavis called it a "Magna Carta for church reform". 

"The message on poverty sets Pope Francis on a collision course with neo-liberal Catholic thought, especially in the United States," said Faggioli, an expert on the Second Vatican Council and reform in the Catholic Church.

Tales of the Great Recession

Breadlines are making a comeback. At the NYT's Editorial Page Editor's blog, Teresa Tritch:
The Great Recession was the worst downturn since the Great Depression.  And yet, throughout the recent decline and today’s sluggish recovery, conditions have never seemed as bad as they were in the 1930s. Breadlines, for example, have not been commonplace.
That may be about to change.  

In an article published on Monday, The Times’s Patrick McGeehan described a line snaking down Fulton Street in Brooklyn last week, with people waiting to enter a food pantry run by the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger. The line was not an anomaly. Demand at all of New York City’s food pantries and soup kitchens has spiked since federal food stamps were cut on Nov. 1. The cut — which affects nearly all of the nation’s 48 million food stamp recipients — amounts to a loss of $29 a month for a New York City family of three. On the shoestring meal budgets of food stamp recipients, that’s enough for some 20 individual meals, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

The food stamp cuts are occurring even though need is still high and opportunity low. In a report released today, the Coalition estimates that one-sixth of the city’s residents and one-fifth of its children live in homes without enough to eat. Those numbers have not improved over the past three years. The lack of economic recovery for low income New Yorkers is at odds with gains at the top of the income ladder, reflected in soaring real estate prices, rising stock prices and big Wall Street bonuses.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

We should be talking about increases in Social Security, not cuts...

The initiative supported by Senators Tom Harkin, Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other reliable liberals to change the conversation about Social Security from cuts to the need for increases in a program where the typical senior gets less than $1500 a month for their retirement has freaked out the "serious" people at the Washington Post. The Professor responds. Paul Krugman @ NYTs:  
The Washington Post editorial board wants to cut Medicare and Social Security. That has been its consistent position as long as I can remember. And what it advocates, always, are cuts in benefits, not costs — that is, while it may give lip service to efforts to control health-care costs (which seem to be going surprisingly well, in one of the untold success stories of Obamacare), what it has pushed repeatedly are things like a rise in the Medicare age. These are the kind of moves that are considered serious inside the Beltway. And as you might imagine, the Post has gone wild over recent suggestions that Social Security should be expanded, not cut.

But perceived seriousness is not the same as actual seriousness, which depends on the facts. We now know that raising the Medicare age is a truly terrible idea, which would create a lot of hardship while making next to no dent in the budget deficit. And the central premise of the latest editorial — that the elderly are doing fine — just isn’t true.

The Post writes:
The bill’s authors warn of a looming “retirement crisis” because of low savings rates and disappearing private-sector pensions. In fact, the poverty rate among the elderly is 9.1 percent, lower than the national rate of 15 percent — and much lower than the 21.8 percent rate among children.
This suggests that Social Security is doing a good job of fighting poverty as is and that those gains could be preserved in any attempt to trim the program.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Wall Street Isn't Worth It"

Economist John Quiggan @ Jacobin:

The financial sector has grown massively since the 1970s, whether size is measured in terms of the volume of transactions, the number and remuneration of highly skilled professionals, the share of corporate profits, or, most importantly, the political power of the finance capital. As Frase observes, referencing Felix Salmon, the huge returns extracted by this sector distort the distribution of income for the economy as a whole. The market return on any activity must be adjusted for the cut taken by the financial sector. This fact makes the attempt to assign ethical status to marginal productivity academic, in the worst sense of the term.

Taking this further, any strategy for the Left that yields more than modest changes in the distribution of income, wealth and power, must involve a direct conflict with the financial sector, and must imply a substantial contraction in the size, wealth and power of that sector. A necessary condition for such a strategy to be feasible is the premise that the incomes flowing to the financial sector come at the expense of the rest of the economy, and in particular, at the expense of working people.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Damage Done...

Professor Krugman @ NYTs:

Five years and eleven months have now passed since the U.S. economy entered recession. Officially, that recession ended in the middle of 2009, but nobody would argue that we’ve had anything like a full recovery. Official unemployment remains high, and it would be much higher if so many people hadn’t dropped out of the labor force. Long-term unemployment — the number of people who have been out of work for six months or more — is four times what it was before the recession.
These dry numbers translate into millions of human tragedies — homes lost, careers destroyed, young people who can’t get their lives started. And many people have pleaded all along for policies that put job creation front and center.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Income soars at the top, falls for the lower half

David Cay Johnston @ Al Jazeera:
Last year the median wage hit its lowest level since 1998, revealing that at least half of American workers are being left behind as the economy slowly recovers from the Great Recession.

But at the top, wages soared — the latest indication in a long-running trend of increasing inequality, with income gains going to top earners while the majority of workers see stagnant or falling wages...

Monday, November 4, 2013

The cruelty of cutting food stamps

Dorothy Samuels @ NYTs:
Even as negotiations proceed in Congress over a new farm bill likely to contain a
large cut in food stamps, needy Americans who rely on the program are confronting an immediate drop in benefits.

As of today, the boost to the federal food stamps program included in the 2009 Economic Recovery Act expires, abruptly slashing benefit levels that were already inadequate for millions of poor children and their families, as well as impoverished disabled and elderly people, who will now find it significantly harder to afford adequate food.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"EU Economist Backs Austerity's Critics"

 Matina Stevis @ WSJ:
Coordinated austerity in euro-area countries has stifled economic recovery and deepened the crisis across the currency bloc, according to a new technical paper prepared by an economist at the European Commission.

Spending cuts in Germany in particular have made things worse for the weaker members of the euro area through “spillovers” – the economic impact on economies connected to Germany’s– the paper says, adding that limited stimulus programs in richer countries could help the whole of the currency bloc.

The paper, which doesn’t necessarily represent the views of the powers-that-be at the Commission, presents some inconvenient conclusions for European authorities from one of their own economists. The European Union and national governments have come under fire from outside economists for pursuing austerity across the euro zone. These critics have argued that Germany in particular should be running bigger deficits to help drag the bloc’s weaker members out of their slumps.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Washington is still stuck in the wrong conversation"

Ryan Cooper @ WaPo Plumline explains how the Beltway is still stuck on Stupid...or worse:
With the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis over and budget negotiations beginning, it’s worth noting that we’re stuck back in the same old rut we’ve been stuck in since Republicans took the House in 2010. Republicans want cuts to social insurance, or say they do, and Democrats want a bit of new tax revenue in return. On a policy level, this is nuts. We’re trading austerity for…more austerity. Democrats and Republicans ought to consider bringing in other ideas. Almost anything else would be better.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Republicans are delusional about US spending and deficits"

Dean Baker @ The Guardian:
It is understandable that the public is disgusted with Washington; they have every right to be. At a time when the country continues to suffer from the worst patch of unemployment since the Great Depression, the government is shut down over concerns about the budget deficit.

There is no doubt that the Republicans deserve the blame for the shutdown and the risk of debt default. They decided that it was worth shutting down the government and risking default in order stop Obamacare. That is what they said as loudly and as clearly as possible in the days and weeks leading up to the shutdown. In fact, this is what Senator Ted Cruz said for 21 straight hours on the floor of the US Senate.

Going to the wall for something that is incredibly important is a reasonable tactic. However, the public apparently did not agree with the Republicans. Polls show that they overwhelmingly oppose their tactic of shutting down the government and risking default over Obamacare. As a result, the Republicans are now claiming that the dispute is actually over spending.

Anywhere outside of Washington DC and totalitarian states, you don't get to rewrite history. However, given the national media's concept of impartiality, they now feel an obligation to accept that the Republicans' claim that this is a dispute over spending levels.

But that is only the beginning of the reason that people should detest budget reporters. The more important reason is that they have spread incredible nonsense about the deficit and spending problems facing the country, causing most of the public to be completely confused on these issues. If budget reporters were held to the same standards as school teachers, with the expectation that they would be able to convey information, they would all be fired in a minute.

Contrary to the widely repeated stories of out-of-control deficits and spending, deficits have plunged in the last four years falling from 10.1% of GDP in 2009 to just 4% of GDP in 2013. The Congressional Budget Office projects the deficit to be just 3.4% of GDP in 2014. The latest projections show the debt-to-GDP ratio falling for the rest of the decade.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Truth in the Age of Niallism

This is too much fun not to post. Matthew O'Brien at Atlantic on Niall Ferguson's latest:
Here are three facts about how the 10-year budget outlook has changed in the past year: 1) the fiscal cliff deal raised $600 billion in new revenue; 2) the sequester, if left in place, cut spending by $1.2 trillion; 3) the CBO revised its projection for federal healthcare spending down by $600 billion. 
Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has a counterfactual take. Here's how he described how our debt trajectory changed the past year: 
A very striking feature of the latest CBO report is how much worse it is than last year's. A year ago, the CBO's extended baseline series for the federal debt in public hands projected a figure of 52% of GDP by 2038. That figure has very nearly doubled to 100%. A year ago the debt was supposed to glide down to zero by the 2070s. This year's long-run projection for 2076 is above 200%. In this devastating reassessment, a crucial role is played here by the more realistic growth assumptions used this year. 
This isn't a difference of opinion. It's incorrect. But it's incorrect for reasons that will escape casual readers.

Monday, October 7, 2013

"Debt Threat" nonsense from academic clown Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson, the egregious blowhard Harvard professor who gets everything wrong, strikes again via the Wall Street Journal with remarkable stupidity. Increasingly it appears Ferguson isn't simply in error, so much as a right-wing troll of the FOX & FRIENDS school of aggressive disinformation. UC economist Brad DeLong takes Fergie apart:
Niall Ferguson: The Shutdown Is a Sideshow. Debt Is the Threat:

Only a fantasist can seriously believe "this is not a crisis." The fiscal arithmetic of excessive federal borrowing is nasty even when relatively optimistic assumptions are made about growth and interest rates. Currently, net interest payments on the federal debt are around 8% of GDP…
DeLong responds:  Um…. No. Not 8. Only 1/6 of 8.

Look at: Currently, net interest payments on the federal debt are not 8% but only one-sixth that--1.3% of GDP:

Www cbo gov sites default files cbofiles attachments 44521 LTBO2013 pdf

The fantasy is the 8% number, and the belief that the debt is, right now, a crisis.

Moreover, 1.3% is the wrong number to look at. We want to adjust for inflation at 2%/year, and that gets us to 1.3% - 2% x 80% = -0.3% of GDP. We want our concept of budget balance to be not a stable real value, but a constant debt-to-GDP ratio. Making that adjustment tells us that right now the U.S. could run a primary deficit of 0.3% + 2.5% x 80% = 2.3% of GDP without seeing any increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio.

That's right: rather than the debt forcing us to cut spending on programs below the level of taxes (i.e., run a primary surplus) in order to keep the debt-to-GDP ratio from growing, right now the United States can have spending on programs exceed taxes by 2.3% of GDP (i.e., run a primary deficit) and still keep its debt-to-GDP ratio stable. In terms of real resources, right now the debt is not a burden. It does not reduce how much the U.S. can afford to spend on programs. It is a profit center. It is providing a net addition to federal resources to the tune of 2.3% of GDP.

That's how far the federal debt is today from being a burden on the economy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Everything you need to know about the rationale behind the GOP's government shutdown...

Via Politicalwire: Extra Bonus Quote of the Day

"We're not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

-- Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), quoted by the Washington Examiner, on the government shutdown.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"How a Debt-Ceiling Crisis Could Become a Financial Crisis"

Annie Lowrey @ NYTs Economix:

Come mid-October, the United States will have only $30 billion of cash on hand. On any given day, its net payments can reach as high as $60 billion. That means that unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, allowing the Treasury to issue new debt, the United States may find itself unable to make all of its payments — stiffing government contractors, or state and local governments, or even its bondholders.

Economists widely agree that such an unprecedented event would have profound effects for the markets, likely precipitating a stock-market sell-off and setting off a round of global financial turbulence. But it has always been a little unclear just how it may play out. The Treasury might announce it would be forced to delay some payments, promising to do what it could to make sure bondholders were made whole. But then what?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"The Austerians Have a Lot To Answer For"

 Professor Krugman @ NYTs:
Right now the official unemployment rate is 7.3 percent. That’s bad, and many people — myself included — think it understates the true badness of the situation. On the other hand, there are some reasonable people (like Bob Gordon) arguing that at this point, possibly thanks to long-run damage from the Great Recession, “full employment” is now a number north of 6 percent. So there’s considerable uncertainty about just how depressed we are relative to potential.

But we’re clearly still well below potential. And we’ve also had exactly the wrong fiscal policy given that reality plus the zero lower bound on interest rates, with unprecedented austerity. So, how much of our depressed economy can be explained by the bad fiscal policy?

To a first approximation, all of it. By that I mean that to have something that would arguably look like full employment, at this point we wouldn’t need a continuation of actual stimulus; all we’d need is for government spending to have grown normally, instead of shrinking.

Here’s a comparison of two series. One is actual government purchases of goods and services since the Great Recession began (this is at all levels; most of the fall has been state and local, but the Federal government could have prevented that with revenue sharing). The other is what would have happened if those purchases had grown as fast as they did starting in the first quarter of 2001, i.e., in the Bush years.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Stiglitz on inequality...again

Nobel Prize-winning Joe Stiglitz addressed the recent AFL-CIO convention:

I'm an economist-- I study how economies work and don't work. It’s been clear to me that our economy has been sick for a long time.  One of the reasons it's been so sick is inequality, and I decided to write an article and a book about it.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for Vanity Fair called, "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” which really got to the gist of it.  For too long, the hardworking and rule-abiding had seen their paychecks shrink or stay the same, while the rule-breakers raked in huge profits and wealth.  It made our economy sick, and our politics sick, too.  

You all know the facts:  while the productivity of America's workers has soared, wages have stagnated. You've worked hard – since 1979, your output per hour has increased 40%, but pay has barely increased. Meanwhile, the top 1% take home more than 20% of the national income.

The Great Recession made things worse.  Some say that the recession ended in 2009.  But for most Americans, that's simply wrong:  95% of the gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the upper 1%.  The rest — the 99% — never really recovered.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Why Janet Yellen, Not Larry Summers should lead the Fed"

An appointment of Larry Summers to the Fed Chair fits perfectly the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

In that vein, Joseph Stiglitz argues contra Mr. Summers @ NYTs, with a great in-depth analysis of the background and the stakes in this appointment:
The controversy over the choice of the next head of the Federal Reserve has become unusually heated. The country is fortunate to have an enormously qualified candidate: the Fed’s current vice chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen. There is concern that the president might turn to another candidate, Lawrence H. Summers. Since I have worked closely with both of these individuals for more than three decades, both inside and outside of government, I have perhaps a distinct perspective.

But why, one might ask, is this a matter for a column usually devoted to understanding the growing divide between rich and poor in the United States and around the world? The reason is simple: What the Fed does has as much to do with the growth of inequality as virtually anything else. The good news is that both of the leading candidates talk as if they care about inequality. The bad news is that the policies that have been pushed by one of the candidates, Mr. Summers, have much to do with the woes faced by the middle and the bottom.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Corey Booker's bona fides...

Corey Booker, soon-to-be Senator from New Jersey has enormous star-power.  There are things to admire about Booker - he seems to have done a good job as Mayor of Newark against steep odds. He strikes me as slightly ridiculous in the degree of his obsession with ephemeral social media, but that's probably generational.  (Politicians in their mid-40s like Booker tend to be desperate to comport to an older person's notion of what younger potential voters are all about.)

But IMHO Booker is absolutely not the kind of Democrat we need more of on the national
scene - he's way too cozy with the 1%, clearly open to cutting bad deals for the young folks he's eager to impress around their long-term Social Security benefits, babbling right-wing nonsense on the Sunday morning idiot gabfests about deficits as a major problem when we need to be focused on when unemployment has been the burning issue for five years, shamelessly pointing fingers regarding the origins of the financial crisis of 2008 without mentioning the word "banks."

 Noam Sheiber @ TNR has a good break-down of Bookers' deep flaws as an incoming high-profile Democrat addressing issues at the national level:
Exactly what kind of senator will Cory Booker make once he coasts to (a near-certain) victory this fall? On the one hand, Booker—the Newark mayor and reigning viceroy of Twitter—has a habit of lionizing the tech and finance executives who are his biggest campaign donors. Last year on “Meet the Press,” he famously criticized President Obama’s “nauseating” assault on the private-equity industry. Booker’s ease around business moguls is such that he betrayed no sheepishness when The New York Times disclosed that several had funded his personal Internet venture, potentially worth millions to him, while he was ensconced in City Hall.

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Are the rich getting too much of the economic pie?"

Derek Thompson @ The Atlantic:

"Not Really Labor’s Day"

Economist Nancy Folbre @ NYT's Economix:
The annual holiday supposedly celebrating labor has long lacked much celebratory feel. Over the last 30 years, employment has become more precarious and real wages for most workers have stagnated. Since 2008, in particular, the corrosive impact of persistent unemployment and declining wages on American workers has been felt at holiday picnics and parades.

The seasonally adjusted July unemployment rate of 7.4 percent showed a slight decline from last year’s 8.2 percent, but the gains came largely as a result of declining labor force participation rather than job creation.

The larger measure of underemployment (known as U-6) that includes people working part time because they cannot find full-time work, and those who want a job and have looked for one in the last 12 months but have given up currently looking, was a seasonally adjusted 14 percent in July, compared with 14.9 percent a year earlier.

Public policies could help. As Jared Bernstein explained in an earlier Economix post, the federal government could become an employer of last resort. A new report from the Urban Institute outlines several specific strategies to lower long-term unemployment in particular.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Scary Thought on Labor Day Weekend: Obama's Economic Team Think They Are Doing a Good Job

Dean Baker @ Center for Economic & Policy Research:

Ezra Klein gives us some terrifying news in a Bloomberg column today. President Obama's economic team think they are doing a great job, hence the desire to bring back former teammate Larry Summers as Fed chair. This is terrifying because the economy this Labor Day is described by a set of statistics that can only be described as horrible.

We are almost 9 million jobs below the trend level of employment. The number of people involuntarily working part-time is still up by almost 4 million from its pre-recession level. Wages have been stagnant for a decade and show no signs of increasing any time soon.

And, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the economy is still operating more than $1 trillion (6 percent) below its potential. Oh, and by the way, the financial sector is more concentrated than ever, with top honchos drawing the same sort of paychecks they did before the crisis.

I could go on but what's the point? This is an economy that under other circumstances we would all say is awful. The Obama team can pat themselves on the back for saying its better than a second Great Depression, but that's a bit like saying that the 1962 Mets didn't lose all their games. Horrible is horrible.

" The Audacity of the Fight for Higher Wages"

Jared Bernstein @ NYT's Economix:
I was struck Thursday by the juxtaposition of two stories in the news (two and half, really).
First, the banks had another banner quarter in terms of profits, up $42 billion, or 23 percent from last year.  News reports emphasized lower loan losses, meaning the banks had to mark down or charge off fewer nonperforming loans.  That increases the share of their capital that they can put to work spinning off profits, something they are very good at.

A classic case of it takes money to make money.

At the other end of the economy were the striking fast-food workers, calling for an increase in their pay to $15 an hour (the average for these workers is around $9, up from $8.66 in 2009).

I also noted — this is the half-a-report I mentioned above — that in the upward revision to second-quarter gross domestic product that came out on Thursday, corporate profits were  again up near record highs as a share of national income while compensation fell again and is now at the lowest share it has been since the year I was born (1955 — ancient history, I know).

And yet, what I mostly heard about this was about the audacity and the economic illiteracy of the strikers.  Don’t they realize that it’s still a tough economy?  Don’t they get that their employers are not the big corporations but the franchisees who can’t afford to pay more?  Don’t they get that the increase will just have to be passed on in prices?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Japan's pump-primed recovery proves US deficit hawks wrong"

Dean Baker @ The Guardian:
Many of the people who ridicule efforts at using government spending to boost the economy and create jobs like to turn to Japan to warn countries from following that route. After all, Japan's budget deficit last year was more than 10% of GDP. That would be more than $1.6tn in the US economy today. Its gross debt is more than 245% of GDP. That would imply a debt of almost $40tn in the United States, which would mean a debt of $125,000 for every man, women, and child in the country.

Those are the sorts of numbers that policy types in Washington find really scary. Fortunately for the Japanese people, the folks currently running their economy are more interested in sound economic policy than pushing scare stories about debt and deficits. Rather than rushing to reduce the deficit, Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, went in the opposite direction. He deliberately increased spending to create jobs.

He also appointed a new head of Japan's central bank who is committed to raising the inflation rate. Japan has been suffering from near-zero inflation, or even deflation, since the collapse of its stock and housing bubbles in 1990. Abe's pick as head of the central bank has committed the bank to raising the inflation rate to 2%. Implicit in this commitment is the notion that the bank will buy up as many Japanese government bonds as needed to reach its inflation target.

In other words, the bank is prepared to print lots of money.

While we are still in the early days of Abe's program (he just took office at the end of 2012), the preliminary signs are positive. The economy grew at a 2.4% annual rate in the second quarter, after growing at a 3.6% rate in the first quarter. By comparison, GDP in the United States grew at an average rate of just 1.4% in these two quarters.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Median Income Still 6% Below Level at Start of Recession in ’07

Robert Pear @ New York Times:
Median household income has begun to recover over the last two years, but households still have not come close to regaining the purchasing power they had before the financial crisis began, a new study says.

"Why are we rushing to get rid of Fannie & Freddie?"

Barkley Rosser @ Econospeak:
"How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?
Five: One to change the bulb and four to talk about how great the old bulb was."

I think I am turning into my late father, a conservative in the old traditional way of defending existing institutions and practices.  Here I go, about to defend Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whom all Very Serious People know should go as soon as possible.  President Obama thinks they should go, and we have two bills in Congress that will lead to that outcome, one in the Senate co-sponsored by Dem Sen. Warner of VA (my state) and Rep Sen. Corker of TN, both VSPs in good standing, while in the House Banking Chair Hensarling (R-TX) also has such a bill.  I mean wow, we have both the president and VSPs from both parties in Congress on this.  It must be great.  I mean, we all know that they were responsible for all the problems in the housing market that led to you know what!

Well, except maybe not.  Buried in the Saturday Real Estate section of the Washington Post today we have Kenneth Harley raising some questions.  Yes, indeed, both of these entities are most certainly open to serious criticism.  To varying degrees they have had histories of mismanagement and even corruption.  They were buying lots of subprime mortgages at the peak of the housing bubble.  Republican critics even claim that they were prime instruments in getting the whole bubble going because they supposedly pressured banks to lend to inappropriate poor minority home buyers under pressure from Clinton, although most observers do not buy this case.  Furthermore, they essentially went belly up with the bust and needed to be bailed out by a government takeover.  The case looks pretty strong for at least reforming them, if not outright getting rid of them.

However, Harley notes that they are now making money and paying off their loans.  Furthermore, not only have they been funding many housing market deals during these recent years of a desperately weak housing market, they were the only entity in the US that was doing so at the pit of the crash (a point Harley does not make).  Indeed, Harley reports that "Economists at Moody's Analytics estimate that dumping the companies and switching to a plan advocated by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and Mark Warner (D-VA) 'would increase the interest rate for the average mortgage borrower' by one-half to three-quarters of a percentage point."  And, it should be noted that in contrast to the Hensarling plan in the House, the Corker-Warner plan actually does propose putting in place a housing market equivalent of the FDIC to provide insurance for housing lenders in the absence of the evil Fannie and Freddie.  Presumably the rates would go higher under the no-backdrop-at-all-plan of Hensarling.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Inside a Subprime Mortgage Bundle...6 years later

Peter Eavis @ NYT's Dealbook:
A subprime deal came back to haunt Fabrice Tourre, a former Goldman Sachs trader, when a federal jury in Manhattan found him liable for civil securities fraud.
He is not the only one feeling the pain of a subprime transaction six years on.

Hundreds of thousands of subprime borrowers are still struggling. Some of their mortgages ended up in another Goldman deal that was done at the same time as Mr. Tourre was working on his own financial alchemy.

In February 2007, just before everything fell apart, Goldman Sachs bundled thousands of subprime mortgages from across the country and sold them to investors. This bond became toxic as soon as it was completed. The mortgages slid into default at a speed that was staggering even for that era.

Despite those losses, that bond still lives. It has undoubtedly left its mark on ordinary borrowers. But the impact of the deal spread ever further. It touched the bankers who sold the deal. It even landed on taxpayers, who ended up owning a large slice of the Goldman bond.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Does Walmart create jobs?

Kathleen Grier @ Salon:
Contrary to Walmart’s self-glorifying mythology, the retailer is anything but a job creator — in fact it is a huge job killer. Not only that, destroying jobs is an essential component of Walmart’s anti-worker business model. Let’s put aside Walmart’s happy talk and examine the cold, hard facts.

First, let’s look at the impact of Walmart on local labor markets. The largest, most rigorous study conducted on the subject is this peer-reviewed article from 2008. Its lead author is economist David Neumark, who is no wild-eyed liberal. (See, for example, this anti-minimum wage op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal).
Earlier studies did not adequately deal with selection bias: i.e., the problem that when and where Walmart chooses to open new stores is not random, but tends to be correlated with other variables. Those confounding variables make it difficult to determine whether local employment outcomes are causally related to Walmart‘s entry, or to something else. I’ll skip the technical details, but suffice it to say Neumark and his co-authors devised a sophisticated methodology that accounts for the selection bias. Using data from over 3,000 counties, their results show that when a Walmart store opens, it kills an average 150 retail jobs at the county level, with each Walmart worker replacing about 1.4 retail workers. These results are robust under a variety of models and tests.

Other strong studies found similar results. A 2008 peer-reviewed study that looked at Maryland concluded that Walmart’s presence significantly decreased retail employment, by up to 414 jobs. And a 2009 study by Loyola University found that the opening of a Chicago Walmart store was “a wash,” destroying as many jobs as it created: “There is no evidence that Wal-Mart sparked any significant net growth in economic activity or employment in the area,” according to the report. In short, when Walmart comes to town, it doesn’t “create” anything. All it does is put mom-and-pop stores out of business.

Justice for all...

The Daily Show on "Too Big To Jail"

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The economy is worse than the lower unemployment rate suggests

Wonkblog/ Ezra Klein @ WaPo:

From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
unemployment vs share

The core issue here is that the unemployment rate only counts people actively looking for work. That means there are two ways to leave the ranks of the unemployed. One way — the good way — is to get a job. The other way is to stop looking for work, either because you’ve retired, or become discouraged, or begun working off the books.

The yellow line on the left shows the official unemployment rate since 2008. It’s fallen from over 10 percent to under 8 percent. But the red line on the right shows the actual employment rate — that is, the percentage of working-age adults with jobs. What should scare you is that the red line has barely budged.

At the beginning of 2007, the employment rate was 63.3 percent, and the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. By the end of 2009 — so, after the worst of the recession — it had fallen to 58.3 percent, and unemployment was up to 9.9 percent. Today, it’s 58.7 percent, even though unemployment has fallen to 7.6 percent. That means a lot of the people who’ve left the rolls of the unemployed haven’t gotten a new job. They’ve just left the labor force altogether.

Some of that’s natural. The population is aging, and the labor force was expected to shrink. But it wasn’t expected to shrink this much. The economy is a lot worse than a glance at the unemployment rate suggests. And instead of doing anything to help those people get back to work, Washington canceled the payroll tax cut, permitted sequestration to go into effect, and is now arguing about whether to shut down the federal government — and possibly breach the debt ceiling — in the fall.

"Sex, Money & Gravitas"

 Krugman @ NYTs:
Can a woman effectively run the Federal Reserve? That shouldn’t even be a question. And Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Fed’s Board of Governors, isn’t just up to the job; by any objective standard, she’s the best-qualified person in America to take over when Ben Bernanke steps down as chairman.

Yet there are not one but two sexist campaigns under way against Ms. Yellen. One is a whisper campaign whose sexism is implicit, while the other involves raw misogyny. And both campaigns manage to combine sexism with very bad economic analysis. 

Let’s start with the more extreme, open campaign. Last week, The New York Sun published an editorial attacking Ms. Yellen titled “The Female Dollar.” The editorial took it for granted that the Fed has been following disastrously inflationary monetary policies for years, even though actual inflation is at a 50-year low. And it warned that things would get even worse if the dollar were to become merely “gender-backed.” I am not making this up. 

True, The Sun is a marginal publication, with strong gold-bug tendencies, and nobody would pay much attention if the rest of the right had ignored or distanced itself from that editorial. In fact, however, The Wall Street Journal immediately followed up with its own editorial along the same lines, in the course of which it approvingly quoted The Sun piece, female dollar and all. 

The other campaign against Ms. Yellen has been subtler, involving repeated suggestions — almost always off the record — that she lacks the “gravitas” to lead the Fed. What does that mean? Well, suppose we were talking about a man with Ms. Yellen’s credentials: distinguished academic work, leader of the Council of Economic Advisers, six years as president of the San Francisco Fed, a record of working effectively with colleagues at the Board of Governors. Would anyone suggest that a man with those credentials was somehow unqualified for office? 

Sorry, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that gravitas, in this context, mainly means possessing a Y chromosome. 

Both anti-Yellen campaigns, then, involve unmistakable sexism, and should be condemned for that reason. As it happens, however, both campaigns have another problem, too: They’re based on bad economic analysis. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Summers of our discontent

Jason Linkins @ Huffington Post:
Way way back at the end of this period of time that we like to call "the 1990s," Time magazine featured Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers on its cover and called them "The Committee To Save The World." And that was basically the moment that put the American economy on the Darkest Timeline. Somewhere, out there, there is a parallel universe where Brooksley Born, Sheila Bair, and ... I don't know, let's say a bottle of sriracha were appointed to the same committee, and there, the economy is humming and Elizabeth Warren didn't even need to run for Senate.
How did that work out?

In the intervening years since the Frio Trio were plastered all over your dentist's office, Greenspan has been forced to admit that his overarching theories were kinda-sorta all cocked up. Rubin ... well, he at least fell into a swimming pool at a big Wall Street to-do at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, in the most cosmically just thing that has ever happened at a political event. But Larry Summers has proven to be the sort of dread beast that even Ash Williams couldn't send off to a spectral dirt nap. Now, it is being rumored that Summers is atop the list of possible replacements for Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve.

Lordy, it was just 18 months ago that we were forced to ruminate on the possibility that Summers might end up leading the World Bank. At the time, the best (among many!) arguments against this came from Felix Salmon, who recognized that running the World Bank called for "a very high level of cultural and interpersonal sensitivity," and not, say, a high level of whatever personality traits lead one to opine, "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable."

Obamacare is still driving Republicans crazy

 Professor Krugman @ NYTs:
Leading Republicans appear to be nerving themselves up for another round of attempted fiscal blackmail. With the end of the fiscal year looming, they aren’t offering the kinds of compromises that might produce a deal and avoid a government shutdown; instead, they’re drafting extremist legislation — bills that would, for example, cut clean-water grants by 83 percent — that has no chance of becoming law. Furthermore, they’re threatening, once again, to block any rise in the debt ceiling, a move that would damage the U.S. economy and possibly provoke a world financial crisis.

Yet even as Republican politicians seem ready to go on the offensive, there’s a palpable sense of anxiety, even despair, among conservative pundits and analysts. Better-informed people on the right seem, finally, to be facing up to a horrible truth: Health care reform, President Obama’s signature policy achievement, is probably going to work. 

And the good news about Obamacare is, I’d argue, what’s driving the Republican Party’s
intensified extremism. Successful health reform wouldn’t just be a victory for a president conservatives loathe, it would be an object demonstration of the falseness of right-wing ideology. So Republicans are being driven into a last, desperate effort to head this thing off at the pass.

Some background: Although you’d never know it from all the fulminations, with prominent Republicans routinely comparing Obamacare to slavery, the Affordable Care Act is based on three simple ideas. First, all Americans should have access to affordable insurance, even if they have pre-existing medical problems. Second, people should be induced or required to buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, so that the risk pool remains reasonably favorable. Third, to prevent the insurance “mandate” from being too onerous, there should be subsidies to hold premiums down as a share of income. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

U.S. Health Care Spending...Again

The world's least cost-effective health care system. Shirley Wang @ WSJ:

That the U.S spends a lot of money on health care is a refrain many Americans are familiar with, but the latest health expenditure data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development still are striking. Here’s a graph of health-care expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product for the 34 member nations of the OECD between 1980 and 2012. As you can see, there’s one country whose expenditure begins to distinguish itself from all the others — the U.S.
In 2011, the most recent year in which most of the countries reported data, the U.S. spent 17.7% of its GDP on health care, whereas none of the other countries tracked by the OECD reported more than 11.9%. And there’s a debate about just how well the American health-care system works. As the Journal reported recently, Americans are living longer but not necessarily healthier .

"Much of Dodd-Frank is dying on the vine"

Erika Eichelberger @ Mother Jones:
The Dodd-Frank financial reform act of 2010 turns three years old this month. But because of intense Wall Street lobbying, only about a third of the provisions it requires have actually been made into rules by Wall Street regulators, and many have gaping loopholes designed by industry lobbyists. A new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for government transparency, starkly illustrates why regulatory agencies are so swayed by industry: over the past three years, those whose job it is to police Wall Street have met with big banks 14 times more often than pro-reform groups to discuss proposed Dodd-Frank rules.

The Sunlight Foundation reviewed three years worth of meetings that banks, industry lobbyists, corporations, and financial reform advocacy groups had with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, and found that these regulators had met 2,118 times with financial institutions, and only 153 time with pro-reform groups. Here's what that looks like, via the Sunlight Foundation:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Inflation-Mania Cranks & Crackpots

Conservative policy analyst Bruce Bartlett @ NYT's Economix on the "Inflationphobes," who are apparently a...uh...bunch of cranks and crackpots:
When the most recent recession began in December 2007, there was no reason at first to believe that it was any different from those that have taken place about every six years in the postwar era. But it soon became apparent that this economic downturn was having an unusually negative effect on the financial sector that threatened to implode in a wave of bankruptcies. The Federal Reserve reacted by doing exactly what it was created to do — be a lender of last resort and prevent systemic bank failures of the sort that caused the Great Depression and made it so long and severe.

As the Fed lent freely to banks and other financial institutions, its balance sheet grew very rapidly. The reserves of the banking system grew concomitantly; reserves are funds that banks have available for immediate lending that theoretically should lead to credit expansion and new investment by businesses, durable goods purchases by households and so on.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
During the inflation of the 1970s, most economists became convinced that if the Fed adds too much money and credit to the financial system it will inevitably cause prices to rise. Since the increase in the money supply in 2008 and 2009 was unprecedented, many economists reacted fearfully to the Fed’s actions.

Given the order of magnitude of the increase in bank reserves, from virtually nothing to more than $1 trillion almost overnight and now to more than $2 trillion, it was not unreasonable to be concerned about the potential for Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation.
But inflation fell rather than rising. In the five and a half years since the start of the recession, the consumer price index has risen a total of 10.2 percent. In the five and a half years previously, it rose 17.7 percent. That is, the rate of inflation fell by almost half.

Now, I don’t expect all the people who filled The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page in 2008 and 2009 predicting an imminent rise in inflation to offer a mea culpa, but at some point I think the inflationphobes should at least stop saying that hyperinflation is right around the corner.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Whither Dodd-Frank?

Wonkblog @ WaPo:
Sunday is the third anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Act. To get a sense of how
implementation has been going, I asked 16 people at the forefront of the debate to answer two questions: What has gone better than you had expected? And what has gone worse? – Mike Konczal

Sheila C. Bair served as the 19th chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for a five-year term, from June 2006 through June 2011.

“Things that went better than expected: just about all of the rules where an agency could act alone, e.g., the FDIC’s rules on resolution authority and deposit insurance premiums; the CFPB’s rules on mortgage lending standards; the CFTC’s rules on moving standardized domestic swaps to centralized clearing.

“Things that were bigger problems than expected: just about all of the rules where inter-agency coordination and agreement were required: e.g. tougher bank capital standards, the Volcker Rule, risk retention for securitizers. Between agency squabbling and industry lobbying, Sisyphus could move faster than the agencies in moving these rules.”

Michael S. Barr is a  professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and former assistant secretary of the treasury for financial institutions, where he was a key architect of the Dodd-Frank Act.

“The opponents of financial reform are losing. There’s a strong, new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, looking out for American households, and Senate Republicans finally relented and confirmed, by a lopsided vote, Rich Cordray as director of the bureau.

Capital requirements are going up, derivatives are coming out of the shadows and major financial firms will be subject to strict supervision and wind-down authority regardless of corporate form. But much remains to be done, from LIBOR reform to the Volcker Rule, and the financial industry will continue to try to lobby, litigate and legislate their way out of the tough new rules. Now is not the time to lose hope, stop fighting or give in, but to renew the commitment to making the financial system fairer and safer.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bernanke: Congress itself poses the greatest risk to growth

Binyamin Applebaum @ NYTs:
WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve’s chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, emphasized on Wednesday that the central bank remains committed to bolstering the economy, insisting that any deceleration in the Fed’s stimulus campaign will happen because it is achieving its goals, not because it has lowered its sights. 

Mr. Bernanke said he still expected to reach that point in the coming months but, in what may have been his final appearance before the House Financial Services Committee, he cautioned that Congress itself posed the greatest risk to growth. 

“The risks remain that tight federal fiscal policy will restrain economic growth over the next few quarters by more than we currently expect, or that the debate concerning other fiscal policy issues, such as the status of the debt ceiling, will evolve in a way that could hamper the recovery,” he told the committee. 

The sluggish economy has been a constant background for Mr. Bernanke’s biannual testimony. Unemployment, at 7.6 percent, remains stubbornly above the Fed’s goals. 

Inflation has sagged to the lowest pace on record. Growth continues at a “modest to moderate pace,” the Fed said Wednesday in its monthly beige book survey of economic conditions across the country, released separately from Mr. Bernanke’s testimony.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"A Call to Battle on Bank Leverage"

Former chief IMF economist Simon Johnson @ NYT's Economix:
On Tuesday, federal banking regulators opened an important new phase of the debate on how safe very large financial institutions should become. The next round of argument will be intense; the focus has shifted to the specific and high-stakes question of how much leverage big banks can have – i.e., how much of each dollar on their balance sheet they should be allowed to fund with debt rather than with equity.

The people who run global megabanks would rather fund them with relatively more debt and less equity. Equity absorbs losses, but these very large companies are seen as too big to fail – so they benefit from implicit government guarantees. A higher degree of leverage – meaning more debt and less equity – means more upside for the people who run banks, while the greater downside risks are someone else’s problem (the central bank, the taxpayer or, more broadly, you).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Income, Race and Voting

Professor Krugman ventures into Poli Sci, @ NYTs:
Still thinking about the new GOP idea — hey, let’s go for white voters! Why didn’t we think of that before? ... I’m venturing into political science territory here,and would be happy to have real experts weigh in; but I’m pretty sure I have the basics right here.

So, let’s look at some exit poll data, and cross-tab it with Census income data. In the figure below, the red lines show the income-voting relationship from the Times summary of exit polls, which also supplies the broad ethnic group data. For incomes, I use Census data on median household income for 2011, which is also available for regions. For voting I use Alabama to represent the South, Ohio to represent the Midwest.

So here’s my picture:

Contrary to what some people keep saying, people with higher incomes, other things equal, tend to vote Republican. Cut through the noise and fog, and it is true that Democrats broadly want to redistribute income down, and Republicans want to redistribute income up — and on average, voters get that (which is why “libertarian populism” is hot air). But race and ethnicity also matter, a lot. What you can see right away is that there are three groups that are fairly anomalous.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"The Lagging Public Sector"

Floyd Norris @ NYT's Economix:
Private sector employment in the United States is growing at about the same rate it did during the best days of the last decade.

The difference is in the government. It continues to shed workers.

Year-over-year change in employment.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics  Year-over-year change in employment.
The above chart shows the annual change in employment for the private sector, and for government jobs, since the end of 2002.

Over the last 12 months, private sector employment rose 2 percent. That is down a little from the 2.5 percent rate early last year, but it is about the same as the rate of growth in the fall of 2005.

But government employment continues to fall. It is down 0.2 percent, which is the best year-over-year showing since 2009, when the government cutbacks were starting to be felt.

On a monthly basis, over the last 12 months the economy added an average of 191,000 jobs a month in the private sector, and cut public sector employment by 3,000 jobs a month.

Politicians lamenting the slow pace of recovery might, logically, look for ways to increase hiring in the sector that is lagging the most.

(A note on the data: I used figures before seasonal adjustments, which is possible since annual changes presumably take care of seasonal adjustment. And I dropped from the numbers the temporary surge in government jobs caused by hiring for the 2010 census. Without that change, there would have been a rise in government employment in 2010 and a much steeper decline in 2011.)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Infrastructure repair is key to growth

 Barry Ritholz @ The Big Picture:
If you have spent much time traveling around the United States, you likely have noticed that our infrastructure looks a bit worn and tired and in need of some refreshing. If you spend much time traveling around the world, however, you will notice that our infrastructure is shockingly bad. So bad that it’s not an exaggeration to declare it a national disgrace, a global embarrassment and a massive security risk.Not too long ago, the infrastructure of the United States was the envy of the world. We had an extensive interstate highway system, deep-water ports connected to a well-developed rail system and a new airport in every major city (and most minor ones). Electricity was accessible to the vast majority of the nation’s residents, as was Ma Bell’s telephone network.

That was then. In the ensuing decades, we have allowed the transportation grid to get old and out of shape. Our interstate highway system is in disrepair; our bridges are rusting away, with some collapsing now and then. The electrical grid is a patchwork of jury-rigged fixes, vulnerable to blackouts and foreign cyberattacks. The cell system of the United States is a laughingstock versus Asia’s or Europe’s coverage. There are very few things that are done better by government mandate than by the free market, but cell coverage is one of them. Broadband, almost as laughable as our cell coverage, is another.