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“The Mutilated Economy”: Anyone Who Talks About How We’re Borrowing From Our Children Just Hasn’t Done The Math

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. Their pleas have, however, been drowned out by the voices of conventional prudence. We can’t spend more money on jobs, say these voices, because that would mean more debt. We can’t even hire unemployed workers and put idle savings to work building roads, tunnels, schools. Never mind the short run, we have to think about the future!

The bitter irony, then, is that it turns out that by failing to address unemployment, we have, in fact, been sacrificing the future, too. What passes these days for sound policy is in fact a form of economic self-mutilation, which will cripple America for many years to come. Or so say researchers from the Federal Reserve, and I’m sorry to say that I believe them.

I’m actually writing this from the big research conference held each year by the International Monetary Fund. The theme of this year’s shindig is the causes and consequences of economic crises, and the presentations range in subject from the good (Latin America’s surprising stability in recent years) to the bad (the ongoing crisis in Europe). It’s pretty clear, however, that the blockbuster paper of the conference will be one that focuses on the truly ugly: the evidence that by tolerating high unemployment we have inflicted huge damage on our long-run prospects.

How so? According to the paper (with the unassuming title “Aggregate Supply in the United States: Recent Developments and Implications for the Conduct of Monetary Policy”), our seemingly endless slump has done long-term damage through multiple channels. The long-term unemployed eventually come to be seen as unemployable; business investment lags thanks to weak sales; new businesses don’t get started; and existing businesses skimp on research and development.

What’s more, the authors — one of whom is the Federal Reserve Board’s director of research and statistics, so we’re not talking about obscure academics — put a number to these effects, and it’s terrifying. They suggest that economic weakness has already reduced America’s economic potential by around 7 percent, which means that it makes us poorer to the tune of more than $1 trillion a year. And we’re not talking about just one year’s losses, we’re talking about long-term damage: $1 trillion a year for multiple years.

That estimate is the end product of some complex data-crunching, and you can quibble with the details. Hey, maybe we’re only losing $800 billion a year. But the evidence is overwhelming that by failing to respond effectively to mass unemployment — by not even making unemployment a major policy priority — we’ve done ourselves immense long-term damage.

And it is, as I said, a bitter irony, because one main reason we’ve done so little about unemployment is the preaching of deficit scolds, who have wrapped themselves in the mantle of long-run responsibility — which they have managed to get identified in the public mind almost entirely with holding down government debt.

This never made sense even in its own terms. As some of us have tried to explain, debt, while it can pose problems, doesn’t make the nation poorer, because it’s money we owe to ourselves. Anyone who talks about how we’re borrowing from our children just hasn’t done the math.

True, debt can indirectly make us poorer if deficits drive up interest rates and thereby discourage productive investment. But that hasn’t been happening. Instead, investment is low because of the economy’s weakness. And one of the main things keeping the economy weak is the depressing effect of cutbacks in public spending — especially, by the way, cuts in public investment — all justified in the name of protecting the future from the wildly exaggerated threat of excessive debt.

Is there any chance of reversing this damage? The Fed researchers are pessimistic, and, once again, I fear that they’re probably right. America will probably spend decades paying for the mistaken priorities of the past few years.

It’s really a terrible story: a tale of self-inflicted harm, made all the worse because it was done in the name of responsibility. And the damage continues as we speak.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 7, 2013

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Unemployment | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Romney’s Tax Plan In Disgusting Perspective”: Making The Bush Tax Cuts Look Like A Gift To Poor People

In my post this morning on Cory Booker, I noted that Mitt Romney’s tax plan would save households taking in more than $1 million per year an average of at least $250,000 ever year. Let us just dwell on this number for a minute.

Earlier this month, Obama claimed the $250,000 figure. Politifact got to work on it. It turns out, says Politifact, that Obama was telling the truth, and in fact if anything could be described as using the more conservative of two ways of looking at the matter, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center.

You can read the Politifact description, which is thorough and clear. It comes down to this in plain language. As you know the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year. Let’s say Romney is elected and the Bush cuts are extended, as Romney says he’ll do (and then some). If you don’t credit Romney with extending the Bush cuts–that is, if you just assume they were going to be extended anyhow–then his plan cuts the tax bill for those making more than $1 million a year by $250,000.

But if you credit President Romney with the extension of the Bush cuts, then Romney’s gift to uber-million households come to $390,000 a year. To see how insane this is, let’s add a little perspective: Let’s look at those same Bush tax cuts.

According to this report from Democratic staff in Congress on the impact of Bush cuts that was issued in 2007, households earnings $1 million or more per year received an average cut of $120,000 per year. Let’s think about this.

The Bush tax cuts “accomplished” the following: lowered the tax burden of the very rich to lowest point in 50 years; added $1.8 billion to the deficit; exploded the publicly held debt as a share of GDP; and didn’t really lead to a single net job (depending on how you measure, which will be the topic of a future post).

In other words, they were a disaster for the economy, and brutally inequitable.

And now, Romney’s plan would give the above $1 million per year households twice as much as Bush did, or three times as much. It’s really and truly sad and unbelievable that something like this is even discussed seriously by serious people. This plan makes Bush’s look like a gift to poor people. Of course Romney would say he’s cutting the lower classes’ taxes too, which he is, but that just proves how much more aggressively the Romney plan would deplete the treasury, which again we’ll dig into in detail at other points.

Voters know Bush wrecked the economy. For Romney this deserves to be and can be much a bigger pain than Bain.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 21, 2012

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Class Warfare, Republican Style

Republicans have finally found a group they think deserves a tax hike: People who don’t make enough money to pay income taxes.

At the recent GOP debate, all the 2012 presidential hopefuls were unanimous in claiming they would reject a deficit-reduction deal if it contained a 10-to-one ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. But as Dave Weigel writes, the GOP’s supposed anti-tax zealots have been strangely unified in arguing that Americans who pay no income taxes — but pay a variety of other taxes — should see their taxes go up:

Republican politicians didn’t make this argument — until the Obama era. What changed? For decades, the “lucky ducky” number, the percentage of Americans that pay no taxes, never rose above 30 percent. The Bush tax cuts pushed it over 30 percent, but not too far over. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the economy collapsed. The government responded with, among other things, new tax deductions.

The result: The percentage of people paying no income taxes spiked up to 47 percent and stayed there. When the Tea Party started rallying in 2009, it wasn’t protesting higher taxes, because federal income taxes were lower, with more loopholes. It was protesting the perception that productive Americans were shelling out for an ever-expanding class of moochers. And Republicans have taken the Tea Party’s lead.

Of course, as Weigel reminds us, these people do pay sales taxes, payroll taxes, gas taxes and the like. As an April 2010 report from Citizens for Tax Justice explained: “Most of these other taxes are regressive, meaning they take a larger share of a poor or middle-class family’s income than they take from a rich family. This largely offsets the progressivity of the federal income tax.” Fat City!

This tax-the-poor attitude is widely held among Republicans, who are currently positioning themselves to oppose an extension of the payroll tax credit. After having demanded Obama extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Republicans are now fretting that the payroll tax cut will increase the deficit. Extending the Bush tax cuts increased the debt by far more than an extension of the payroll tax cut will, but that was worth it, because cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans is the GOP’s highest priority. It’s far more important than stimulating the economy by giving a tax break to people who might actually need the money.

Of course, we’re not supposed to call the GOP’s commitment to making sure the wealthiest Americans pay as little as possible in taxes   — and to increasing taxes on lower income folks — by its rightful name:  “Class-warfare.” That term only applies to socialists who think we ought to return to Clinton-era tax rates.

By: Adam Serwer, The Washington Post, August 23, 2011

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Up Is Down: Michele Bachmann Distances Herself From Reality

Talk about cognitive dissonance. I went to a breakfast this morning with Alice Rivlin and lunch with Michele Bachmann. How to put this politely? If men are from Mars and women from Venus, Rivlin is from Earth, Bachmann is from Saturn. Someplace way out in the solar system and removed from reality.

Rivlin, a Democrat, is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. She is, in short, a Very Serious Person and, like every serious person around, finds herself somewhere between disbelieving and aghast at the current crisis over raising the debt ceiling.

“Putting a limit on the debt and saying, ‘Hey, we made these decisions but we didn’t really mean it, we’re not going to pay our bills,’ is just an unthinkable thing to do,” Rivlin said at an event sponsored by Atlantic Media.

“This is outrageous, folks,” she told interviewer Linda Douglass. “The greatest democracy, oldest democracy in the world should not be behaving this way.…It’s embarrassing for us to have a government that is so dysfunctional and that has created this artificial crisis.”

And the consequences could be catastrophic. “Suppose the world has decided that [debt ceiling crisis] might happen again and this democracy isn’t quite as solid or thoughtful as we thought it was, so we not going to stop lending to the United  States but we’re going to charge more interest. As the interest bill goes up, two things happen. One is it’s must more expensive for the government to carry this large debt….But more seriously it means that everybody’s interest payment goes up….So we would be paying more on our mortgage, more on our car loans, more on our credit cards, more for business loans and that’s not good for the economy.

It takes nothing away from Rivlin’s considerable intelligence and insight to say that she is expressing the conventional wisdom.

Fast forward a few hours to Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota and Republican presidential candidate, addressing the National Press Club. Bachmann’s position is two-fold:

First, the debt ceiling should not be raised, under any circumstances. No deal could be good enough, Bachmann said, to induce her to do so. “I won’t raise taxes. I will reduce spending and I won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling,” she said. “And I have the titanium spine to see it through.”

Second, the United States will not default. “I want to state unequivocally I think for the world as well as the markets as well as for the American people, I have no doubt that we will not lose the full faith and credit of the United States,” Bachmann said.

Huh? Bachmann accused President Obama of employing “scare tactics” in warning of “catastrophic results for our economy.” But what do she and others in the titanium spine caucus think is going to happen when the United States can’t pay its bills?

Sure, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner could manage to pay off bondholders. But as Rivlin and others explained, it won’t be too long before the checks due exceed the amount in the coffers.

An analysis by former George W. Bush administration Treasury official Jay Powell by the Bipartisan Policy Center shows that if the administration prioritizes payments to bondholders, Social Security recipients, Medicare and Medicaid providers, defense contractors and unemployment benefits (total $172.7 billion for the month) then it wouldn’t be able to pay another $134 billion worth of bills, including military active duty pay, veterans affairs programs, federal salaries and benefits, food stamps and Pell grants. You can shift around the numbers all you want but the bottom line is that refusing to increase the debt ceiling is not a sustainable option.

Bachman said that “saying no” to an increase in the debt ceiling would be “saying yes to job creation and to the next generation.” Up is down in Bachmann-world. The credit rating agencies are already threatening a downgrade. The grave implications of that are clear, for jobs now and stretching into the next generation with the hangover of higher interest rates.

Bachmann spent a lot of time invoking Ronald Reagan, so here’s one from the Gipper back at her. “The full consequences of a default—or even the serious prospect of default—by the Untied States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate,” he wrote to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker in November 1983. “Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The nation can ill afford to allow such a result.”

By: Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post, July 28, 2011

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July 29, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Domestic Budget Extremists: Republicans, Zealots and The Threat To Our Security

If China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage.

Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists.

We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer doesn’t come from China, Iran or any other foreign power. It comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

House Republicans start from a legitimate concern about rising long-term debt. Politicians are usually focused only on short-term issues, so it would be commendable to see the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seriously focused on containing long-term debt. But on this issue, many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way. The upshot is that in their effort to protect the American economy from debt, some of them are willing to drag it over the cliff of default.

It is not exactly true that this would be our first default. We defaulted in 1790. By some definitions, we defaulted on certain gold obligations in 1933. And in 1979, the United States had trouble managing payouts to some individual investors on time (partly because of a failure of word processing equipment) and thus was in technical default.

Yet even that brief lapse in 1979 raised interest payments in the United States. Terry L. Zivney, a finance professor at Ball State University and co-author of a scholarly paper about the episode, says the 1979 default increased American government borrowing costs by 0.6 of a percentage point indefinitely.

Any deliberate and sustained interruption this year could have a greater impact. We would see higher interest rates on mortgages, car loans, business loans and credit cards.

American government borrowing would also become more expensive. In February, the Congressional Budget Office noted that a 1 percentage point rise in interest rates could add more than $1 trillion to borrowing costs over a decade.

In other words, Republican zeal to lower debts could result in increased interest expenses and higher debts. Their mania to save taxpayers could cost taxpayers. That suggests not governance so much as fanaticism.

More broadly, a default would leave America a global laughingstock. Our “soft power,” our promotion of democracy around the world, and our influence would all take a hit. The spectacle of paralysis in the world’s largest economy is already bewildering to many countries. If there is awe for our military prowess and delight in our movies and music, there is scorn for our political/economic management.

While one danger to national security comes from the risk of default, another comes from overzealous budget cuts — especially in education, at the local, state and national levels. When we cut to the education bone, we’re not preserving our future but undermining it.

It should be a national disgrace that the United States government has eliminated spending for major literacy programs in the last few months, with scarcely a murmur of dissent.

Consider Reading Is Fundamental, a 45-year-old nonprofit program that has cost the federal government only $25 million annually. It’s a public-private partnership with 400,000 volunteers, and it puts books in the hands of low-income children. The program helped four million American children improve their reading skills last year. Now it has lost all federal support.

“They have made a real difference for millions of kids,” Kyle Zimmer, founder of First Book, another literacy program that I’ve admired, said of Reading Is Fundamental. “It is a tremendous loss that their federal support has been cut. We are going to pay for these cuts in education for generations.”

Education programs like these aren’t quick fixes, and the relation between spending and outcomes is uncertain and complex. Nurturing reading skills is a slog rather than a sprint — but without universal literacy we have no hope of spreading opportunity, fighting crime or chipping away at poverty.

“The attack on literacy programs reflects a broader assault on education programs,” said Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic member of Congress from Connecticut. She notes that Republicans want to cut everything from early childhood programs to Pell grants for college students. Republican proposals have singled out some 43 education programs for elimination, but it’s not seen as equally essential to end tax loopholes on hedge fund managers.

So let’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.

By: Nicholas Kristoff, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 23, 2011

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Education, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Homeland Security, Ideologues, Ideology, National Security, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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