For years, even before Barack Obama was elected, one of the many complaints liberals (mostly) had about the current employer-based health insurance system was “job lock”—if you have insurance at your job, particularly if you or someone in your family has health issues, then you’re going to be hesitant to leave that job. You won’t start your own business, or join somebody else’s struggling startup (unless they provide insurance), and this constrains people’s opportunities and dampens the country’s entrepreneurial spirit.
That this occurs is intuitively obvious—you probably know someone who has experienced it, or have experienced it yourself. And today there’s an article in that pro-Democrat hippie rag The Wall Street Journal entitled “Will Health-Care Law Beget Entrepreneurs?” Amid the worrying about the implementation of Obamacare in January, and the quite reasonable concern that the news could be filled with stories of confusion, missteps, and dirtbags like that Papa John’s guy cutting employees’ hours rather than give them insurance, to avoid the horror of increasing the cost of a pizza by a dime,11This is important: when you hear a story about an employer who cut his employees’ hours so he wouldn’t have to abide by the law, what you’re reading about is a jerk who doesn’t want to offer his employees insurance, not some inevitable consequence of the law. That’s a choice he makes. And don’t forget too that the employer mandate only applies to companies with 50 or more employers, and 96 percent of them already offer health insurance, even without a mandate. it’s a reminder that there will probably be lots of stories like this one in the news too, stories about people whose lives have been changed for the better by the fact that Americans will have something they’ve never had before: health security.
So what kind of effect could the elimination of job lock have on the economy? That’s tough to say. The study referred to in the WSJ article finds that people are much more likely to start a business if they get their health insurance from their spouse’s job than if they get it from their own job; in the former case you’d still have insurance if you started a business, while in the latter case you’d lose it. In addition, and this is particularly interesting, even though you might think of 65-year-olds as looking forward to days of golf and eating dinner at 4 p.m., a large number of people seem to start businesses pretty much the minute they become eligible for Medicare. While it’s hard to get insurance in the current private market if you’re 44, it’s basically impossible if you’re 64.
So it seems that the fact that after January, job lock will be history means that more businesses will be started. How many more? Well, we don’t know yet, and it could depend in part on how affordable the insurance you can get through the exchanges is compared to what people are getting from their employers. And it will be hard to measure precisely how much more economic activity is generated by businesses that wouldn’t have otherwise been started. Obviously, some will succeed and more will fail.
Nevertheless, beyond additions to GDP, there’s something psychological that shouldn’t be discounted, touchy-feely though it might be. The end of job lock means the end of a certain kind of fear that all of us under the age of 65 live with to one degree or another. It’s the fear that leaving a job, voluntarily or otherwise, could become an utter financial calamity if we or one of our loved ones has a health problem. Even if you wish reform hadn’t been grafted on to the existing employer-based system (I’ll raise my hand on that one), ending that fear is huge; it’s one of the best things Obamacare does. Even if it’s difficult to communicate on a bumper sticker.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 9, 2013
The politics of paranoia can lead policymakers into some unfortunate directions. On everything from homeland security to education to guns, paranoid politicians invariably end up pushing some truly bizarre proposals for no good reason.
In the latest example, some far-right congressional Republicans have decided to wage a war on census data because they have paranoid ideas about “big government.”
A group of Republicans are cooking up legislation that could give President Barack Obama an unintentional assist with disagreeable unemployment numbers — by eliminating the key economic statistic altogether.
The bill, introduced last week by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), would bar the U.S. Census Bureau from conducting nearly all surveys except for a decennial population count. Such a step that would end the government’s ability to provide reliable estimates of the employment rate. Indeed, the government would not be able to produce any of the major economic indices that move markets every month, said multiple statistics experts, who were aghast at the proposal.
“They simply wouldn’t exist. We won’t have an unemployment rate,” said Ken Prewitt, the former director of the U.S. Census who is now a professor of public affairs at Columbia University.
The core issue is something called the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau uses as a supplemental to the decennial reports, providing information on commuting, income, family structure, educational attainment, housing, and finance. The results are used extensively by businesses, researchers, academics, and government agencies, and have been an invaluable tool for decades.
Right-wing lawmakers, however, have come to believe nefarious government officials are collecting the information as part of a larger scheme — it’s never been entirely clear to me what they see as the point of the plot — that must be stopped. Sen. Rand Paul (K-Ky.), who revels in strange conspiracy theories, proposed legislation in March to make elements of the American Community Survey optional, apparently because he didn’t realize that they were already optional.
But it’s not just the American Community Survey that congressional Republicans are eager to crush.
Indeed, Rep. Jeff Duncan’s (R-S.C.) bizarre proposal, which has 10 co-sponsors, would also explicitly eliminate the agricultural census, economic census, government census, and mid-decade census.
As a consequence, Duncan’s bill would eliminate the existence of the unemployment rate and the measurement of the nation’s GDP, among other thing.
Maurine Haver, founder of business research firm Haver Analytics and a past president of the National Association for Business Economics, told the Huffington Post‘s Michael McAuliff, “Do they understand that these data that the Census Bureau collects are fundamental to everything else that’s done? They think the country doesn’t need to know how many people are unemployed, either?”
The answers to these questions are unclear — Duncan and other supporters of this proposal have not explained why they oppose the data, why they see the need to eliminate the data, or even if they understand what it is they’re doing.
Duncan, incidentally, is the same deeply confused congressman who spewed bizarre conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon bombing, going so far that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano felt the need to say Duncan’s ignorant inquiries were “full of misstatements and misapprehensions,” and “not worthy of an answer.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 2, 2013
The very first post at FactCheck.org referenced that great line from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion — but not their own facts.”
During the years I spent at FactCheck, I certainly wittnessed my share of politicians trying to make up their own facts. And while I wasn’t allowed to say this at the time, it was always pretty clear (to me, anyway), that one side was making up a lot more facts than the other. Republicans have happily embraced half-truths and outright falsehoods. From “Death Panels” to climate change denialism to the austerity discussion to Paul Ryan’s budget math, the GOP appears to have embraced a policy of Making Stuff Up.
But now it seems that conservatives’ War on Facts has entered a new phase. If the facts are against you, just stop collecting them.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, has introduced a bill that would prevent the federal government from collecting data about the economy.
That’s right. The bill would require that the Census Bureau stop collecting the information that economists use to calculate (among other things) the unemployment rate, the labor force participation rate, housing construction rates, trade deficits, and much more.
So you might well be saying, “This sounds like a pain for economists, but why should I care if a bunch of stuffy economists are inconvenienced?”
The answer is that without this information, it will be impossible to tell how much any legislation coming out of the Congress costs.
When the Congressional Budget Office calculates the cost of a particular piece of legislation, they have to have something to compare it against. They do this by calculating a budget baseline—that is, they look at how much the federal government will spend and how much revenue it will collect under current law. It’s that last part that’s important here.
To know how much money the government will collect in taxes, you have to know a lot of things about the economy generally. Much of this is incredibly complicated, and a whole lot of extremely smart CBOers spend hundreds of person-hours each year trying to produce an economic forecast. Not being an economist, I can’t tell you exactly what goes into all of those models, but I do know one thing for sure. If you want to know how much tax revenue you’ll collect, you pretty much have to know how many people have jobs.
But, then, if you’re just planning to make up your own numbers anyway, you probably don’t much care whether the CBO has the data it needs to produce accurate estimates.
By: Joe Miller, Director of Digital Communications, Century Foundation, The National Memo, May 2, 2013
“Making Governing As Miserable As Possible”: Republicans Discover Sequester Budget Cuts Are Politically Unpopular
Back in February, a Pew Research Center poll showed that while Americans like the abstract idea of “spending cuts,” they don’t support reducing actual spending on, well, anything. Foreign aid very nearly (but not quite) achieved a majority in support of cuts, but for every other government activity – including education, entitlements, environmental protection and infrastructure – Americans are loathe to reduce the level of investment.
The GOP recently seems to have taken the public’s position to heart. Exhibit A is Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who took to the House floor last week to decry the so-called “sequester” because it “breaks everyone’s heart” to see services such as Head Start and Meals on Wheels cut. “There are numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future,” Bachmann said. “Didn’t you know this was going to happen? We knew it. That’s why we voted against this bill.”
As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler ably details, Bachmann is significantly rewriting history by claiming that she was against the sequester because it cuts too much from key services. At the time, she very publicly explained that she was against it – and other far more severe budget plans – because it did not cut enough.
But this trend goes far beyond Bachmann. Take, for instance, the GOP’s latest debt ceiling gambit. Come the fall, the federal debt limit will have to be raised again, and Republicans are already making noise about which policy concession they hope to wring out of the White House this time.
Unlike previous episodes, though, it seems that the GOP won’t demand entitlement cuts, but has instead decided that a revenue-neutral rewrite of the tax code (which would do nothing to reduce the deficit) will be the price of avoiding a self-induced economic calamity.
The reason for this shift is Republicans fear that embracing entitlement cuts such as those included in the president’s most recent budget “would be political suicide.” As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait puts it, “Oh! So you threaten to melt down the world economy unless Obama agrees to cut spending on retirement programs, and then he offers to do that, and then you decide it’s too unpopular?”
The only GOP goal at the moment seems to be making governing as miserable as possible for the Obama administration. That leads to a lot of heated rhetoric about the threat of the deficit and the imminence of a debt crisis, scaremongering about the U.S. turning into Greece and creating the impression that there are gobs of taxpayer dollars being flushed down some bureaucrat’s toilet somewhere, thus playing off the public’s fear of a budget deficit that it doesn’t understand but knows it doesn’t like.
But when push comes to shove – and people are actually living with the effects of government spending cuts as they, for instance, try to travel by air – the GOP’s true colors show. So we wind up with a cockamamie budget discourse in which one party doesn’t really want to cut spending but offers to do so anyway, while the other demands spending reductions but then turns them down when the president agrees. (Unless, of course, those cuts affect discretionary spending on the poor, in which case, the GOP does nothing to stop them, but, ala Bachmann, wants none of the credit.) And all the while, the economy sputters along without the support it so desperately needs.
By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, April 30, 2013