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“Snake Oil Salesmen”: ALEC’s Worthless Recommendations For Prosperity In The States

For most of its history ALEC has operated in the background, but its influence recently drew the spotlight when its promotion of “Stand Your Ground” laws came to light in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Faced with the potential of consumer boycotts, corporate sponsors such as McDonald’s and Pepsi withdrew their support. Henceforth, the organization announced, it would concentrate on state economic policy.

State legislators who might look to the organization for leadership on economic policies should be wary of following ALEC’s lead in this arena. A startlingly candid report, “Selling Snake Oil to the States,” just released by the Iowa Policy Project and the Washington-based Good Jobs First, shows that ALEC’s recommendations for producing economic growth in the states are essentially worthless.

This is a strong claim, but the researchers support their conclusion neatly by putting under the microscope the implicit predictions in the 2007 edition of Rich States, Poor States, the volume written by economist Arthur Laffer and the source of the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index.

In brief, the authors take ALEC’s 2007 ranking of states based upon the states’ adherence to its recommendations, and seeing whether indeed the states that were predicted to prosper were doing so five years later.

None of ALEC’s predictors of economic growth—elimination or reduction of progressive taxation, reduced commitments to public services, tightening of social safety net programs, or reduced union influence—showed any relationship to economic prosperity.

In fact, if anything the ALEC formula for prosperity had an inverse relationship. As the authors put it:

…states that were rated higher on ALEC’s Economic Outlook Ranking in 2007…have actually been doing worse economically in the years since, while the less a state conformed with ALEC’s policies the better off it was.

Looking at median family income specifically:

Once again, actual results are the opposite of the ALEC claim. The more a state’s policies mirrored the ALEC low-tax/regressive taxation/limited government agenda, the lower the median family income; this is true for every year from 2007 through 2011; Figure 5 below shows the results just for 2011. The relationship is not only negative each year, it also became worse over time: the better a state did on the ALEC Outlook Ranking, the more family income declined from 2007 to 2011. The correlation, -.30, is statistically significant.

The authors of the report remind us that the only way to accelerate economic growth is to pursue policies that increase or maintain productivity, such as investing in roads, bridges and schools, and insuring an educated workforce and a healthy population.

One report can hardly be expected fully to turn back the simplistic analysis that ALEC has been promoting for understanding state economic development. But this one should provide a strong counter-weight to the notion that states can prosper by following the low road of tax cuts and limited support for the public sector.

By: Michael Lipsky, The American Prospect, December 3, 2012

December 4, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“At Risk Of Sliding Backwards”: Don’t Call Women The Richer Sex

Are women really on track to become “the richer sex” and replace men as primary breadwinners in American families, as recent headlines suggest? Not quite. The notion that women are outpacing men on the job has become a popular media narrative over the past few years. But the data on which it’s based don’t hold up.

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that, in fact, we’re in the middle of a “mancovery”—while women are slipping backwards. Between June 2009 and June 2011, women lost close to 300,000 jobs, while men gained more than 800,000. “We’ve never seen a recovery like this,” the National Women’s Law Center’s Joan Entmacher told NPR, “where two years into the recovery women are doing so much worse than men and are actually losing ground.”

Still, the popular perception is that women are soaring. Much is made of the “fact” that more than 40 percent of American women are their family’s breadwinner. In her recent Time magazine cover piece (adapted from her new book, The Richer Sex), for example, journalist Liza Mundy cites 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics data saying that one in four women outearn their spouses. This claim was picked up by scores of media outlets.

But look a bit more closely at the numbers, and the picture doesn’t seem so rosy for women. Which women are advancing? And which men are backsliding? The answers are important if you are going to talk about who’s getting “rich.”

In fact, the only segment of society in which a substantial percent of wives significantly outearn their husbands is low-income workers, according to two respected scholars who looked at large national data sets. Senior economist Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress says that in 2010, among couples whose earnings are in the bottom 20 percent, 70 percent of women outearn their husbands.

And Anne Winkler of the University of Missouri, in her detailed 2005 analysis, found that the wealthier the couple, the less likely it is that the wife will outearn her husband.

As family income goes up, fewer and fewer women outearn their husbands, Winkler told The Daily Beast. When you look at women who really are the breadwinners—who earn 60 percent of family income—the figure drops to about 10 percent. So when you talk about women who are making appreciably more than their husbands, it’s only one woman in ten. And it’s primarily among couples earning the lowest salaries, averaging some $20,000 a year per household. Clearly, using the term “rich” doesn’t describe what’s really happening for many women.

In addition, the 40 percent figure widely cited today drops dramatically when more sophisticated analyses are used. Only when you define a woman who outearns her working husband by as little as a dollar a day as the “breadwinnerand you include single mothers who are sole providers—can you get to that 40 percent figure.

Certainly, women have made significant gains in the past four decades, and there are indeed educated middle-class women who are the primary breadwinners, but they are far from taking over American homes.

The real story behind headlines touting the rise of women is that men, especially at the lower end of the wage scale, were doing poorly at the beginning of the recession. Even then, women weren’t doing great, but men were losing their jobs at a faster clip and their wages were declining. Now, women are sliding backward. But will the “mancovery” story have legs, or will it lose out to the “richer sex” narrative?

The latter seems likely, in part because women are graduating from college and grad schools at record rates, and there’s a strong belief that advanced degrees will turn into fat paychecks. But that doesn’t seem to be happening for women.

Women start behind when they enter the workforce and never catch up. This pattern holds true even with graduates from our most elite universities. Female Harvard alumni earn 30 percent less than their male counterparts 10 to 16 years after graduation.

And women’s representation hasn’t grown significantly in corporate boardrooms, executive suites or among companies’ top earners, reports Catalyst. CEO Ilene H. Lang said in 2011, “This is our fifth report where the annual change in female leadership remained flat. If this trend line represented a patient’s pulse—she’d be dead.”

In a recent speech, Harvard law professor Nancy Gertner said about women, “You’re supposed to say: ‘Things are fabulous.’ But they are not. Advancement has stalled.” Half of all new lawyers are women, she said, but only 16 percent of equity partners in law firms are female. And of lawyers who leave the profession, most are women—and most do it because of family and social concerns.

Under a veneer of success and progress, women are in fact at risk of sliding backward. A 2010 study by psychologist Jennifer Spoor and her colleagues at Queensland University in Australia found that men feel threatened by women’s gains.

As we wrote in a Daily Beast column last year, based on the anxiety men report over women’s successes, exaggerated news coverage of women “taking over the world” could result in a real pushback from men.

In contrast, when women focus on these gains, they report low levels of threat—as well as a diminished need to bond with other women. Spoor calls this the “rose-colored-glasses syndrome.” Too many women think all the battles have been fought, discrimination is a thing of the past and the future will bring ever-greater progress for them. This difference may explain the current low levels of feminist activism.

The “richer sex” narrative may blind women to reality, making it harder for them to build on the very real gains they’ve made in the past and truly move forward.

 

By: Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers, The Daily Beast, April 28, 2012

April 28, 2012 Posted by | Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Justice Thomas Doesn’t Ask Questions, But He Certainly Should Have Some Answers

Justice Clarence Thomas is famous for his silence. While his fellow Supreme Court justices regularly challenge and work out complex points with the lawyers who appear before them, Justice Thomas has not asked a question from the bench for five years and counting. Unfortunately, he has been quiet on another matter as well: the mounting concerns that he has flouted ethics and financial disclosure rules in accepting gifts and favors from wealthy friends who have a stake in the cases he decides.

Justice Thomas can choose not to ask questions. But it’s clearly time that he answered some.

Justice Thomas has, for at least the past few years, walked along the blurry edge that divides unethical conduct from acceptable practices on the Supreme Court. He notoriously chose not to disclose major sources of family income on federal forms for more than a decade in violation of federal law.  Although he reported no income earned by his wife Virginia, she in fact earned hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even worse, some of the income he failed to disclose came from a conservative think tank that frequently files briefs with the Court. He also drew fire for attending, with Justice Antonin Scalia, a private get-together sponsored by billionaire political powerhouses David and Charles Koch whose pet corporate causes often come across the Justices’ desks.

Then, this week, the New York Times broke the story of Thomas’ close friendship and mutual back-scratching with a politically active real estate magnate Harlan Crow. Crow, the Times reported, “has done many favors for the justice and his wife, Virginia, helping finance a Savannah library project dedicated to Justice Thomas, presenting him with a Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass [valued at over $19,000] and reportedly providing $500,000 for Ms. Thomas to start a Tea Party-related group.”  He also, the Times discovered, has been trying to hide his role as the main benefactor behind a multi-million dollar museum in Georgia that is a pet project of the Justice. In addition, the Times story raised concerns about whether some of Justice Thomas’s travel was underwritten by Mr. Crow and whether such support was accurately disclosed in the Justice’s notoriously inaccurate financial disclosures.

Crow isn’t just a friend of Thomas who happens to be rich. He’s active in political causes, and has “served on the boards of two conservative organizations involved in filing supporting briefs in cases before the Supreme Court” including one, the American Enterprise Institute, that gave Justice Thomas a $15,000 bust of Lincoln.

Obviously, Supreme Court Justices are allowed to have friends, just like the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us, their friendships — especially when they involve expensive gifts and multimillion dollar favors — can result in momentous conflicts of interest, or the appearances of conflicts, that affect the entire country. Who Justice Thomas chooses to befriend is his own private business. But who he or his pet projects receive huge gifts from is all of our business.

Ethics issues on the high court can be tricky, since Justices aren’t required to abide by any specific set of rules and don’t have a higher court to keep them in line. But many, including Thomas’ colleagues Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer, say that the justices hold themselves to the same code of conduct that regulates other federal judges and stipulates that judges “should avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety in all situations.” Failure to comply with the code of conduct “diminishes public confidence in the judiciary and injures our system of government under law.”

This is why the American people have the right to answers from Justice Thomas. Americans have become increasingly frustrated in recent years as the Supreme Court has handed down decision after decision that privileges the interests — and profits — of corporations over the rights of individual Americans to hold them accountable. Citizens United v. FEC was one such decision. Another is this week’s decision in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, which took away the ability of as many as 1.5 million victims of pay discrimination to band together in court to hold the company accountable for its discriminatory policies. Average Americans can’t afford a ride on a private jet or an expensive work of art, let alone afford to give these as a gift to a Supreme Court justice. Even if the motivations behind all these gifts are entirely pure, accepting them casts doubt on a judge’s ability to be impartial.

Justice Thomas needs to be open with the American people, all of whose lives are affected by Supreme Court decisions. He needs to tell us who is paying for his pet causes and whether he asked them to do so. He needs to tell us where his family income is coming from and whether it benefits from his work on the Court. He needs to tell us what gifts he’s received from individuals and organizations that have a direct interest in the decisions he makes. And he needs to tell us that he will recuse himself from any case that he appears to have a financial interest in.

If Justice Thomas wants us to trust that he will give a fair hearing to all Americans, regardless of cash or connections, he needs to be open and honest with us about the circles of influence he inhabits.

It’s time for Justice Thomas to speak up. The Supreme Court’s integrity depends on it.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For The American Way, Published in HuffPost Politics, June 23, 2011

June 26, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Democracy, GOP, Government, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, SCOTUS, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kicking The Unemployed When They Are Down

Recent highly publicized national jobs reports showing private-sector gains being offset by public-sector losses have drawn attention to the macroeconomic costs of the austerity program already underway among state and local governments, and gaining steam in Washington.  But the effect on the most vulnerable Americans–particularly those out of work–is rarely examined in any systematic way.

At The American Prospect, Kat Aaron has put together a useful if depressing summary of actual or impending cutbacks (most initiated by the states, some by Congress) in key services for the unemployed and others suffering from economic trauma.  These include unemployment insurance, job retraining services, and family income supports.  In some cases, federal funds added by the 2009 stimulus package are running out.  In others, the safety net is being deliberately shredded.

A recent report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the most important family income support program, TANF (the “reformed” welfare block grant first established in 1996) is becoming an object of deep cuts in many states, precisely at the time it is most needed:

States are implementing some of the harshest cuts in recent history for many of the nation’s most vulnerable families with children who are receiving assistance through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. The cuts will affect 700,000 low-income families that include 1.3 million children; these families represent over one-third of all low-income families receiving TANF nationwide.A number of states are cutting cash assistance deeply or ending it entirely for many families that already live far below the poverty line, including many families with physical or mental health issues or other challenges. Numerous states also are cutting child care and other work-related assistance that will make it harder for many poor parents who are fortunate enough to have jobs to retain them.

This is perverse precisely because such programs were once widely understood as “counter-cyclical”–designed to temporarily expand in tough economic times.  Not any more, says CPBB:

To be effective, a safety net must be able to expand when the need for assistance rises and to contract when need declines. The TANF block grant is failing this test, for several reasons: Congress has level-funded TANF since its creation, with no adjustment for inflation or other factors over the past 15 years; federal funding no longer increases when the economy weakens and poverty climbs; and states — facing serious budget shortfalls — have shifted TANF funds to other purposes and have cut the TANF matching funds they provide.

This retrenchment, mind you, is what’s already happening, and does not reflect the future blood-letting implied by congressional Republican demands for major new cuts in federal-state safety net programs–most famously Medicaid, which virtually all GOPers want to convert into a block grant in which services are no longer assured.

If, as appears increasingly likely, the sluggish economy stays sluggish for longer than originally expected, and both the federal government and states continue to pursue Hoover-like policies of attacking budget deficits with spending cuts as their top priority, it’s going to get even uglier down at the level of real-life people trying to survive.  If you are unlucky enough to live in one of those states where governors and legislators are proudly hell-bent on making inadequate safety-net services even more inadequate or abolishing them altogether, it’s a grim road ahead.

By: Ed Kilgore, Democratic Strategist, June 10, 2011

June 11, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Economy, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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