Only a minority of Americans think there is too much regulation

Despite a massive and endless campaign by business lobbyists and associations to vilify government regulation, 50 percent of Americans in a recent Gallup poll think there is too little regulation or just the right amount, while a minority (46 percent) think there is too much. According to the poll, Democrats tend to think regulation is too lax (42 percent think there is too little regulation while 32 percent think the balance is about right), and more Independents think the balance is right or that there is too little regulation (50 percent) than think there is too much (46 percent).

In one sense, this is good news, showing that anti-government cynicism is substantial but still a minority position. Yet it is disturbing to know that 77 percent of Republicans are so opposed to additional regulation when

  • an estimated 100,000 people a year die needlessly from preventable hospital acquired infections;
  • thousands die, more than 100,000 are hospitalized, and millions are sickened by contaminated food while the rate of infections linked to foodborne salmonella has been rising and food safety rules are stalled in Washington;
  • air pollution that can be controlled for less than $3 billion a year causes between 13,000 and 34,000 preventable, premature deaths, 15,000 preventable, non-fatal heart attacks, 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits and 1.8 million days of missed work or school each year. As Steven Pearlstein points out in a recent column, the projected annual compliance cost of EPA’s final cross-state air pollution rule is $2.4 billion, compared with annual health benefits ranging from $120 billion to $280 billion. But the EPA rule was recently struck down by two Republican judges.

It is perfectly clear to me that more regulation would make millions of us both safer and freer—free from the fear that a random bite of spinach or a routine surgery will kill us or a loved one. And when I look back over the past 40 years and consider how much cleaner our lakes and rivers are now, how much more dangerous our workplaces were, and how unsafe the mines, factories, pharmaceuticals, and even the bridges and railways are in less advanced and less regulated countries like China, the last feeling I have about regulation is that we have too much, rather than too little.


How much do you really pay in taxes?

Last night’s vice presidential debate was a good, lively, back-and-forth between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.). The statement I singled out below was one that I found troubling (among a few)—and one that does a huge disservice in informing American voters on what changes in tax policy essentially mean. About halfway through the debate, Ryan said:

“Now, we think that government taking 28 percent of a family and business’s income is enough. President Obama thinks that the government ought to be able to take as much as 44.8 percent of a small business’s income.”

Far too often when discussing tax policy you will hear lawmakers and pundits use phrases such as the one above—government is “taking X percent of a family’s or a business’s income.” This, whether purposeful or not, unfortunately promotes misinformation regarding how tax rates work. A voter might hear something like what Ryan said and think, “I make $200,000, which puts me in the 33 percent bracket, which means government is literally going to take $66,000, or around a third of my total income, in taxes ($66,000 is 33 percent of $200,000).” This is wrong on a number of levelsRead more


Remembering Paul Wellstone

Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) was an inspiration to millions, an unrelenting advocate for the poor, for the disabled, for victims of domestic violence, and for the powerless in our society. When Wellstone and his wife and daughter died in a plane crash 10 years ago, along with staff members and the plane’s crew, the nation lost one of its most important and original voices. We also lost one of our most effective advocates for decency in political life, for justice, and for peace in the world.

We were honored to work closely with Sen. Wellstone on issues of worker safety, labor standards, unemployment insurance, and budget policy. After his death, EPI named its conference room the Paul Wellstone Room, and in our work we still look to his example and courage in telling the truth, fighting for the well-being of the poor and all working families, and treating everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve.

In These Times has published a remembrance of Sen. Wellstone, written by Peter Dreier of Occidental College, that captures how rare he was and what a tremendous loss his death was to Minnesota, to the United States, and to the world.

The ACA unequivocally increases insurance coverage

In the vice presidential debate last night, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) cherry-picked statistics from the Congressional Budget Office on the number of people covered by employer-sponsored health insurance once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) takes full effect. Several fact-checkers (PolitiFact, Washington Post, CNN, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, Think Progress) have already challenged his assertion that 20 million people would lose their employment-based health insurance. His number comes from a CBO report, which explored various extreme scenarios for employers under the ACA. That report states: “in CBO and JCT’s judgment, a sharp decline in employment-based health insurance as a result of the ACA is unlikely.”

What’s often left out of this story is the fact that, even in this extreme and unlikely scenario, 29 million more Americans will have insurance (under the ACA). Even if the extreme scenario where 20 million no longer retain insurance through their employer, the vast majority of them will be able to find high-quality, fairly-priced insurance through the new exchanges. Unlike today, the insurance exchanges will be well-run insurance markets where consumers can’t be discriminated against for having pre-existing conditions and where many will be offered subsidies to make insurance affordable. Further, as the CBO estimates, it is expected that those who no longer received ESI would receive “an increase in taxable wages and salaries.”

In that same report, the CBO illustrates another scenario where 3 million more Americans would receive employment-based insurance under the ACA. Their best guess was 5 million fewer, and 31 million more insured overall. So, while the scenario Ryan cherry-picked is highly unlikely, if it comes to bear, Americans without employer-sponsored health insurance will still be captured by the ACA safety net.

Romney budget hides nearly $9 trillion of painful consequences

The budget plan of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney includes large unspecified consequences; these are tallied here, and the complete implications of the plan are briefly illustrated. The tally includes not only the unspecified tax increases his plan dictates that have been the subject of much debate, it also includes the less-discussed unspecified budget cuts necessitated by a proposal to cap federal outlays at 20 percent of the economy.

  • To meet Romney’s commitment to limit spending as a percent of the economy to 20 percent while at the same time increasing defense spending to 4 percent of GDP, would require nondefense spending cuts totaling $6.1 trillion from 2014–2022, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). The Romney campaign has proposed only $2.4 trillion of specific spending reductions.  It has not specified the other $3.7 trillion in spending cuts necessary to achieve its budget plan.
  • Similarly, over the next decade Romney proposes $5 trillion in tax cuts, a widely-discussed figure that in fact appears to be understated.1 Beyond suggesting possibly capping the dollar value of itemized deductions—doing so could increase taxes on middle-income households and even fully eliminating itemized deductions would not keep upper-income households from receiving a net tax cut—the Romney campaign has not identified any specific changes in tax policies to offset these tax cuts, but in the Oct. 3 debate Romney stated his tax plan would be revenue neutral.
  • In combination, over the next decade the Romney budget plan would necessitate $11.1 trillion of spending cuts and tax increases. It specifies just $2.4 trillion of these, thereby hiding $8.7 trillion of painful decisions. Read more

Walmart strikes dramatize third-world inequities

The series of small strikes at Walmart stores around the country reminds me of the first outbreak of what became the Arab Spring, in the sense that it’s so unexpected and requires so much courage that you can’t help being astonished.  Democratic protest at Walmart is rarer than in any Arab dictatorship. Walmart, after all, is far more powerful financially than Tunisia, where the first Arab Spring protest occurred. In fact, Walmart’s $400 billion-plus revenues are about 10 times larger than the entire GDP of Tunisia.

But Walmart is very like Tunisia in two key ways: its workers tend to be impoverished while the benefits of its economic activity accrue to a tiny elite (principally, the Walton family). The World Bank reports that Tunisia is a highly unequal society:

“Tunisia continues to be a low-wage, low-value added economy, unable to absorb an increase in skilled workers. Cronyism and anticompetitive practices allowed a privileged minority to enjoy the lion’s share of the benefits of growth and prosperity.”

The striking Walmart workers’ complaints about poverty level wages contrast sharply with the Walton family’s shocking wealthRead more

Joel Klein’s false stories

“Sleight of Hand,” an article in the November-December issue of The American Prospect, describes how federal, state, and local housing policies, including the public housing program, were designed a half-century ago to segregate our major metropolitan areas, and how the residential patterns created by public policy at that time persist to this day.

The article does so by way of describing the childhood of Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor and now CEO of a Rupert Murdoch company selling technology and software to public schools. Klein has often used his life story to prove an educational theory—that poor quality teachers are the cause of disadvantaged children’s failures. The life story is that he grew up poor, in public housing, “a kid from the streets” with little interest in education until a high school teacher “saw something that I hadn’t seen in myself.” And this life story, Klein and his allies imply, proves that if only disadvantaged students today had the kind of teacher from whom he had benefited, they too would excel and succeed. Read more


Real hourly wage growth: The last generation

The last generation has been marked by a stark disconnect between productivity growth (up 80 percent between 1973 and 2011) and slow or stunted wage growth. The real hourly wages of the median worker grew less than 4 percent over this span, and real hourly compensation (wages and benefits) grew only 10.7 percent. The graphic at the end of this post parses this dismal wage record by gender, by wage decile, and by business cycle (wage dated updated through 2012, in June 2013).

For all workers, the erosion of real wages was broad and uneven from 1973 through 1995. The upturn of 1995–2000, the latter part of the 1989–2000 business cycle, brought a brief respite of across-the-board wage growth, some of which spilled past 2000 (although the wage growth from 2000–2007 skews much more to higher earners). The current recession and recovery (2007–2012) have brought with them wage losses for most workers.

For men, the pattern is even starker. Real wages begin falling for low-wage men in the mid-1970s, and this spread across all but the highest percentiles through 1979–1989 and through the first half of the 1990s (1989–1995). The late 1990s brings some relief, but this is short-lived: wage growth grinds to a halt in 2000–2007 and then loses ground—for all but highest earners—from 2007–2012.

For women, wage growth has been generally stronger. All wage levels show growth of at least 8 percent over the full 1973–2012 span, although the gains at the top (almost 60 percent for the 90th percentile, more than 70 percent for the 95th) are much more dramatic. Read more

Digging deeper into the BLS data: It was the ‘job creators’ and those in ‘real America’ that led to the job growth

I decided to dig a bit deeper into Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to gauge the divergence of employment growth in the household survey and the establishment survey in September and recent times. It is, after all, the divergence between these two series in September’s jobs report that generated outrageous charges of BLS economists manipulating the data (the household survey showed employment growth of 873,000 in September, which pushed the unemployment rate down to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent in spite of a surge of new workers into the labor force).

The BLS, being the highly professional agency that it is, provides documentation on how the two series differ and compares the trends obtained in each series on an apples-to-apples basis (or, as close as they can get it); this information is available when the numbers are released each month. That is impressive, by the way. BLS will also share, on request, a spreadsheet providing the actual adjustments made to reconcile the two series over the last 12-month period (using “not seasonally adjusted” data, which is why they show it for the same month a year apart).

The bottom line is that the household survey has shown comparable employment growth as the payroll survey over the last year and less employment growth than in the payroll survey since the trough in June 2009. That’s pretty strong evidence that the trends in the household survey are not spectacular or implausible Read more


Robert Samuelson is drinking Mitt Romney’s tax cut Kool-Aid

Wednesday night, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney added to the myriad of promises that make up his part-exceptionally detailed, part-mystery meat tax agenda—promising that none of his tax cuts would add to the deficit, that the middle class would see a tax break, and that upper-income households would see no tax break. Yesterday, I explained at length why these pledges, coupled with his specific tax cutting plans that cannot be written off, are mathematically impossible. Romney’s tax plan didn’t add up before Wednesday night, and it’s now further into the realm of fantasy. But the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson didn’t get the memo; instead he’s drinking Romney’s tax cut Kool-Aid.

Essentially, Samuelson is giving greater weight to vague promises—promises that don’t add up, mind you—than to the very detailed plan Romney has laid out for cutting individual and corporate income taxes and eliminating the individual and corporate Alternative Minimum Taxes, estate tax, and Affordable Care Act taxes, among other tax cuts. In doing so, he unjustifiably criticizes President Obama for Read more

Transporting black men to good jobs

On Sept. 26, the Economic Policy Institute sponsored a Congressional Briefing on how transportation infrastructure, transportation jobs, and public transit can provide good jobs for black men. This is a brief summary and discussion of key points of the presentations. Links to presentation materials can be found at the end of this post.

African American men have the highest unemployment rate by race and gender. So far in 2012, the black male unemployment rate has averaged 15 percent. This is the overall national rate, but in some metropolitan areas the black male unemployment rate has been even higher.

The figure shows the average metropolitan unemployment rates for non-Hispanic black and white males since the technical end of the recession in June 2009. From July 2009 to May 2012, in many of the nation’s largest metro areas, the black male unemployment rate has averaged close to or above 20 percent. Much needs to be done to end the “economic depression” black men are facing. Transportation investments provide one promising avenue for improving the employment situation of black men. Read more

Who has the better solution to the 300,000 teacher gap?

When asked about the role of government in the first presidential debate on Wednesday, both candidates touched on the importance of teachers, revealing what they would try to do to address the loss of teachers over the last several years due to recession-induced state and local budget shortfalls.

President Obama:

“But what I’ve also said is let’s hire another hundred thousand math and science teachers … and hard-pressed states right now can’t all do that. In fact, we’ve seen layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers over the last several years, and Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers. I do, because I think that that is the kind of investment where the federal government can help.”

Mitt Romney:

“Well, first, I love great schools. Massachusetts, our schools are ranked number one of all 50 states. And the key to great schools: great teachers. So I reject the idea that I don’t believe in great teachers or more teachers. Every school district, every state should make that decision on their own.”

Romney’s comment that school districts and states should make their own decision on whether to hire teachers ignores the fact that budget shortfalls over the last four years due to a loss of revenues caused by the recession have meant school districts have been forced to lay off teachers. It’s hard to imagine this is a choice any state or school district actually wanted to make. Read more

‘Generational’ accusations are nearly always wrong

Jim Tankersley really strikes out in his column yesterday. He levels the charge that the Baby Boom generation has somehow put the nation into unsustainable debt and calls them, only half-jokingly, “parasites.”

As a member of Generation X, I used to enjoy some good-ol’ hating on the Baby Boomers, but it turns out that such generational finger-pointing is really silly. The prime exhibit offered in defense of the parasite charge is a comparison between federal debt as a share of GDP in 1965 and 2012. It’s 37.9 percent in 1965 and 74.2 percent in 2012 so, voila! Parasites!

Here’s a similar chart. Look closely at what happened between 1965 and 2007—debt held by the public is lower in 2007 than 1965. So, the charge must be somehow that the Baby Boomers’ mooching in the past five years is the real culprit, right?

Or, more likely, some very large economic event happened between 2007 and 2012 that caused Federal borrowing to rise. What could that have been? Oh yeah, the Great Recession.

And this one is hard to hang on the entire Baby Boom generation.

As a general rule, if you find yourself blaming large macroeconomic trends on the moral failings of entire generations … you are surely barking up the wrong tree.

The outrageous attack on BLS

Apparently, Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, is accusing the Bureau of Labor Statistics of manipulating the jobs report to help President Obama. Others seem to be adding their voices to this slanderous lie. It is simply outrageous to make such a claim and echoes the worrying general distrust of facts that seems to have swept segments of our nation. The BLS employment report draws on two surveys, one (the establishment survey) of 141,000 businesses and government agencies and the other (the household survey) of 60,000 households. The household survey is done by the Census Bureau on behalf of BLS. It’s important to note that large single-month divergences between the employment numbers in these two surveys (like the divergence in September) are just not that rare. EPI’s Elise Gould has a great paper on the differences between these two surveys.

BLS is a highly professional agency with dozens of people involved in the tabulation and analysis of these data. The idea that the data are manipulated is just completely implausible. Moreover, the data trends reported are clearly in line with previous monthly reports and other economic indicators (such as GDP). Read more

What we read today

Here’s some of the thought-provoking content that EPI’s research team enjoyed reading today:

Even more mathematically impossible tax promises

Last night, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made news by substantially “etch-a-sketching” the tax policy he had been running on since the GOP primaries began. In making up policy on the fly, he promised that his tax cuts would be entirely revenue-neutral, that he would cut taxes on the middle class, and that he would not cut taxes on high-income earners. Taken together with his specific tax cutting plans, these pledges violate basic rules of arithmetic.

Early on in the debate, Romney disputed President Obama’s claim that the former governor’s central economic plan was a $5 trillion tax cut on top of extending the Bush-era tax cuts:

“First of all, I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don’t have a tax cut of a scale that you’re talking about. My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people.”

I’ve gone over these numbers before, but it’s worth a quick refresher about the broad thrust of what’s wrong with this claim: Romney is hugely specific about just how he’ll cut taxes (mostly for high-income earners) but refuses to specify any real-world offset though the “base-broadening” that he’s promising. Read more

Obama too quiet on job creation track record

Jobs were, not surprisingly, a big topic in last night’s presidential debate. President Obama, however, did not seize the opportunity to discuss his administration’s job creation record and substantive job creation proposals—in particular the American Jobs Act (AJA), which would provide a quantifiably substantial economic boost but has largely been stonewalled by the House of Representatives for more than a year.

Those who watched the debate saw Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ding Obama on some of the trends that my colleagues here at EPI are constantly analyzing: A) a high unemployment rate (though he misspoke and said it was rising—it’s not); B) millions of unemployed workers (though he overstated by saying 23 million are unemployed—12.5 million were unemployed in August; Romney was likely conflating unemployment with the number of people underemployed); and C) insufficient job creation measures (something I wouldn’t disagree with, though Romney’s budget proposals would have the opposite effect of creating jobs in the near-term). And despite this last point on his budget’s employment impacts, Romney promised, again unsurprisingly, that as president he would Read more

Checking Alabama’s ‘status’: HB 56 no cure for a sick labor market

The evidence continues to mount that HB-56, Alabama’s extreme anti-immigrant law, is anything but the economic cure-all that proponents claimed it would be. In fact, the economic data suggest that the law is only exacerbating the state’s stagnating economy and setting Alabama up for even greater trouble down the road.

As Figure A shows, Alabama’s employment levels have essentially flat-lined since the end of the recession. HB-56, the law that would allegedly “free up jobs for other Alabama workers” and “put thousands of native Alabamians back in the work force” has done nothing to jump-start job growth. Table 1 shows the change in employment from Sept. 2011, the month before the law went into effect, to Aug. 2012. With the exception of Mississippi, which lost employment, Alabama had the slowest job growth in the region over the period—less than half the rate of job growth for the nation as a whole.

Read more

The payroll tax cut is likely to expire—let’s replace it with better stimulus

Annie Lowrey’s recent piece in the New York Times on the likely year’s end expiration of the 2 percentage-point employee-side payroll tax cut has sparked a welcomed broadening of the discourse over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The punditry’s discussion of expiring provisions and pending spending cuts has, for months, been overly and narrowly focused on the looming sequestration cuts and expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts while ignoring the single largest pending fiscal headwind: expiration of the remaining ad hoc stimulus.

In our recent paper on the coming fiscal obstacle course (the “fiscal cliff” is a truly terrible metaphor as it implies a binary policy choice), my colleague Josh Bivens and I estimate that—should they all lapse—expiration of the payroll tax cut, emergency unemployment insurance, and recent expansions of refundable tax credits would shave 1.4 percentage points from real GDP growth in 2013 and lower employment by more than 1.6 million jobs, relative to full extension. This is not to suggest that the remaining ad hoc stimulus necessarily be continued in its existing form—the fiscal obstacle course represents an opportunity to fundamentally reorient fiscal policy to be Read more

No debate here, just facts on the presidential candidates’ economic policies

Tonight, President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will square off in Denver in the first presidential debate. In preparation, we’ve compiled some of our most relevant analyses of the economy and economic policy from the past few months:




What we read today

Here’s some of the thought-provoking content that EPI’s research team enjoyed reading today:

Capping federal spending at 20 percent of GDP would decimate state budgets

My colleagues Josh Bivens and Andrew Fieldhouse recently released a report finding that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s budget plan would reduce employment by between 550,000 and 1.9 million jobs over the next two years relative to current policy, depending on whether his tax cut is deficit-financed or fully paid for with base-broadening. This job loss is overwhelmingly fueled by his proposal to cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP.

But the impact of any fiscal plan goes beyond the job impact—after all, a little over 17 percent of non-interest federal spending flows directly to states (e.g., matching funds for Medicaid and unemployment insurance), and with a half trillion dollars in cumulative shortfalls that states have faced in the last few years and another $55 billion in shortfalls faced this year, states would have difficulty handling another blow to their budgets. So how would Romney’s proposed spending cap affect state budgets?

To make this calculation, I started with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of State Government Finances, which shows total expenditures and federal transfers to state governments, each by state. I then applied the Read more

What we read today

Here’s some of the thought-provoking content that EPI’s research team enjoyed reading today:


Barry Commoner, visionary environmentalist, teacher and activist dies at 95

Barry Commoner, path-breaking scientist and social activist, passed away yesterday at the age of 95. I was fortunate enough to work for Barry in the late 1970s as a research assistant on two of his books, The Poverty of Power (1976) and The Politics of Energy (1979). Commoner, a botanist and biologist, was a founder of the environmental movement, along with peers such as Rachel Carson (The Silent Spring, 1962) and Margaret Meade. He believed that scientists have an obligation to share scientific information with the general public to enable them to participate in public debate on scientific issues. His work on the effects of nuclear fallout, documented through the collection of baby teeth and reinforced by a petition signed by 11,201 scientists worldwide, provided the scientific foundation for the adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

Commoner also helped establish the roots of today’s BlueGreen Alliance of labor and environmentalists. He first began working with Tony Mazzocchi, a longtime leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers in the 1950s, who collected baby teeth from the children of members of his Long Island local union. Commoner’s work showed the connections between the environmental crisis and social and economic issues such as “poverty, injustice, public health, national security and war,”  and that the roots of the environmental crisis lay in excessive corporate power and flawed systems of production. He argued that only by changing those systems—for example, by replacing nuclear power, coal and oil with renewable energy—could the root causes of our environmental problems be eliminated. Not coincidentally, these same policies would create millions of new domestic jobs, reducing pollution, inequality and our trade deficit simultaneously. As Commoner established in The Closing Circle (1971), the first of his “four laws of ecology” was, “Everything is connected to everything else.” Indeed.

What we read today

As you head into your weekend, here’s some of the thought-provoking content that EPI’s research team came across today:

Another right-wing attack on public workers

How does government pay compare with that in the private sector? The answer is pretty much what you’d expect: Wages and salaries are lower, but benefits are better. Overall compensation is, if anything, slightly lower, though this varies by class of worker; less educated workers are better paid in the public sector and more educated workers are better paid in the private sector. This again is not surprising when you consider that less educated workers in the private sector often earn poverty wages with no health benefits and government employers have little incentive to shift costs onto Medicaid and other government programs.

But anti-government ideologues have deep pockets, so a minor industry has sprung up trying to show that government workers are overpaid. The latest report in this genre comes from Citizens Against Government Waste, and is typical of its kind. The research was done by an outfit called John Dunham and Associates, a.k.a. It shows many of the tell-tale signs of shoddy research:

1. Anecdotal evidence. Somewhere, there’s a government worker making an obscene amount of money and abusing the system. But focusing too much on specific examples is a sure sign they aren’t representative. The CAGW report claims the average San Diego firefighter makes more than $180,000 per yearRead more

Romney heavily exploits tax loopholes while slamming others for not paying income taxes

A Bloomberg article from yesterday highlighted the fact that a trust set up by Mitt Romney to benefit his children and grandchildren relied heavily on tax loopholes for maximum returns. Romney was able to avoid gift and estate taxes by relying on a vehicle known as an “intentionally defective grantor trust,” or IDGT, which tax planners sometimes refer to as “I Dig It.” This type of trusts allow donors to gift unlimited amounts to their children and grandchildren free of gift or estate taxes (the top gift tax rate is scheduled to return to 55 percent in 2013, after being cut significantly by President George W. Bush). The value of the Romney family trust is not counted, according to the article, as part of the $250 million that Romney’s campaign cites as his net worth.

Tax avoidance such as this relies heavily on the preferential treatment of capital gains in the tax code. As the article highlights, when a trust such as the one set up by Romney sells assets at a profit, the donors are able to pay relatively low capital gains rates on behalf of the trust. A Tax Policy Center report earlier this year that looked at the distributional effects of tax expenditures found that “relative to the population as whole, high-income taxpayers would lose the most from eliminating special rates for capital gains and dividends.” Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have ruled out closing this costly and lopsided loophole Read more


Multipliers, yet again

In a recent paper assessing the likely impact of President Obama and Mitt Romney’s budget plans if they became law, we applied standard macroeconomic multipliers to estimates of each plan’s fiscal impulse.

As always, the very term “multipliers” brings out critics, and the ones we used for this study (and have used often in the past)—those from Moody’s—seem to bring out even more. This is all very odd.

We often use the Moody’s multipliers because they’re transparent and slightly more detailed than many others that have been published. But, what drives our results in determining whose budget plans provide a bigger economic boost is simply the relative ranking of these multipliers; specifically the estimate that tax cuts (particularly for high-income households) provide less dollar-for-dollar economic support than do spending increases. This is not controversial at all. Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Council of Economic Advisers make similar relative judgments (see the tables here), and the general view that government purchases’ multipliers will lie above tax multipliers during economic circumstances like the present is buttressed by a number of academic papers in recent yearsRead more

Share of households owning stocks declined over the last decade

The recently released State of Working America, 12th Edition, documents in a variety of ways how the last decade in the United States has been a lost decade for all but the very well-off. One manifestation of this lost decade is the decline in the share of households owning stocks.

First, it’s useful to point out that even with the “401(k) revolution,” a surprisingly small share of households ever held any significant amount of stocks. As the figure shows, at its peak in 2001, just more than half (51.9 percent) of U.S. households held any stock, including stocks held in retirement plans like 401(k)s. Furthermore, many of that 51.9 percent held very small amounts—just over a third (37.8 percent) had total stock holdings of $10,000 or more. (Read this snapshot for more on the “democratization of the stock market” that never actually happened.) And even those modest shares have since lost ground. By 2010, less than half (46.9 percent) of all households had any stock holdings, and less than a third (31.1 percent) had stock holdings of $10,000 or more.

The strong rebound in stocks since 2009 amidst persistently high unemployment highlights the disconnect between Wall Street’s financial markets and most people. The stock market simply has little or no direct financial importance to the majority of U.S. households. Since 1989, the top fifth of households consistently held about 90 percent of stock wealth, leaving approximately 10 percent for the bottom four-fifths of households. If you want to assess how the economy is performing for most households in this country, don’t look to the stock market, look to the labor market, and measures of job opportunities like employment and wage growth.

Which candidate’s plans are more Keynesian?

Unemployment remains far too high, and the culprit is clearly deficient spending in the economy. Yet, a full-throated call for aggressive Keynesian remedies for this (i.e., something like another Recovery Act) is far from the top-shelf item on the agenda. Instead, most policy attention in the race centers on which candidate would more rapidly reduce projected budget deficits—a policy maneuver that, in the next couple of years, would be all but guaranteed to lead to higher unemployment rates. This move away from a defense of Keynesian cures for high unemployment started a long time ago and has codified by the 112th Congress (Jan. 2011–present), when federal budget policies pivoted sharply toward austerity.

Republicans have clearly led the charge away from Keynesianism, vociferously decrying the increase in budget deficits since the Great Recession began and demanding a dollar of spending cuts for every dollar increase in the statutory debt ceiling. Democrats have (generally) been more ambivalent—calling for (and passing) some fiscal support while often rhetorically privileging deficit reduction over other policy goals. Given this partisan pattern, it’s somewhat unexpected to hear some commentators speculate that a Mitt Romney administration Read more