Friday Reads

17022314_10154505890203512_1051292543946394533_nGood Afternoon!

Our Federal Government continues to morph into something hostile, xenophobic,and corrupt as we look at yet another weekend where taxpayer money will be filtered into a private resort owned by Kremlin Caligula.  The Cabinet is now filled with corrupt and unqualified people. Entire Departments are being defunded and destroyed.  First among them is the State Department.  This all appears to part of Bannon’s crusade to “deconstruct the administrative state”.

This week began with reports that President Donald Trump’s budget proposal will drastically slash the State Department’s funding, and last week ended with White House adviser and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon telling the attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.

In the last week, I’ve spoken with a dozen current and recently departed State Department employees, all of whom asked for anonymity either because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retribution by an administration on the prowl for leakers, or did not want to burn their former colleagues. None of these sources were political appointees. Rather, they were career foreign service officers or career civil servants, most of whom have served both Republican and Democratic administrations—and many of whom do not know each other. They painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.

Sometimes, the deconstruction of the administrative state is quite literal. After about two dozen career staff on the seventh floor—the State Department’s equivalent of a C suite—were told to find other jobs, some with just 12 hours’ notice, construction teams came in over Presidents’ Day weekend and began rebuilding the office space for a new team and a new concept of how State’s nerve center would function. (This concept hasn’t been shared with most of the people who are still there.) The space on Mahogany Row, the line of wood-paneled offices including that of the secretary of state, is now a mysterious construction zone behind blue tarp.

c59rpxrvuaa0eisUnder Trumps Slash and Burn Budget, everything loses but the military.  The EPA will be decimated.

A wide slew of Environmental Protection Agency programs could be under the knife to meet President Donald Trump’s budget proposal requirements, a source told CNN Wednesday night.

The source spelled out details of an Office of Management and Budget proposal that would cut the EPA’s budget by 24% and reduce its staffing by 20%. Some of the EPA’s most longstanding and best-known programs are facing potential elimination — including initiatives aimed at improving water and air quality as well as a number of regulations tasked with reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Other programs include the Environmental Justice program, which is meant to help local communities grapple with environmental concerns, and Global Change Research, a program funded by several agencies, including the EPA, which reports humans’ impact on the planet.

The Clean Power Plan, which could also be recommended for cuts, was an initiative by former President Barack Obama meant to reduce carbon emissions from each state. Fourteen separate EPA partnership programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could also be on the chopping block.

Also among the programs up for elimination are multi-purpose grants to states and tribes, Energy Star grants, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) graduate fellowships, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and initiatives aimed at environmental protections along the US-Mexico border.

Some of the grants recommended for elimination could be matching grants for local projects around the country, the source added.

Ken Cook, the head of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy and research organization, told CNN in a statement: “The Trump administration has decided fence-line communities across the country, whose residents already bear an outsized burden from pollution, are on their own to take on big polluters.”

Daryl Cagle / darylcagle.com

Daryl Cagle / darylcagle.com

The American Heritage Foundation has been out for the EPA for a long time.  Its even had a plan that may be part of the Adminstration’s vision for letting go of any kind environmental controls and regulation.

Right now, the Trump administration is crafting a budget proposal that envisions steep cuts to a number of federal agencies — including, reportedly, a 24 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency that would eliminate one-fifth of its 15,000 jobs.

There aren’t yet any final decisions on exactly which environmental and energy programs will be targeted for elimination; the White House is still discussing with the relevant agencies. But one place to look for clues is this budget “blueprint” put out by the Heritage Foundation, a major conservative think tank. According to multiple reports, Donald Trump’s team has been using Heritage’s blueprint as a rough guide in its search for $54 billion in domestic spending cuts for fiscal year 2018.

The Heritage budget explains how to get cuts of that magnitude — spreading them out across every agency. And it goes particularly hard after energy and environmental programs. The EPA’s climate-change programs? Gone. Federal research into wind, solar, electric vehicles, nuclear, and other clean tech? Gone. Environmental justice programs? Gone. There are cuts to pollution enforcement and EPA programs that deal with surface water cleanup to diesel truck emissions. Plus cuts in aid to poor countries that help deal with ozone depletion and global warming. Taken together, the blueprint’s cuts would amount to a stark change in US environmental policy.

These cuts won’t all necessarily fly with Congress — a few Republicans are already balking at some of the numbers Trump’s team is tossing about. But it’s a useful read as an aspirational document, a look at the programs that some influential conservatives with Trump’s ear would like to see rooted out of the federal government (and why)

11darcy-carson1jpg-c9d65932f15d4e86It isn’t clear at all that the Pentagon needs that much money or wants it for that matter.  It traditionally gets pretty much what it wants already.  The nation has been on a war time footing since 9/11 so it isn’t even clear that there’s been any kind of “depletion” of anything.

Defense spending accounts for almost the same proportion of the federal budget as all non-discretionary domestic spending, meaning that the Trump administration’s proposal will result in a roughly 10 percent across-the-board cut in all other federal spending programs.

Budgets for most federal agencies would be reduced substantially, said an OMB official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a call with reporters to discuss the proposal.

The announcement marks the beginning of a process in which the OMB will coordinate with agencies to flesh out the plan.

Trump said his budget, which will be submitted to Congress next month, will propose “historic” increases in spending to bolster the country’s “depleted military,” and he said it will support law enforcement in an effort to reduce crime.

court-of-donald-i-sans-text-300b

I really don’t think that any one in the administration has a clue what they’re doing in any kind of conventional sense since nearly all of them have no experience in governance at any level. Bannon’s slash and burn the state ideology appears to be driving much of this.  The cabinet appointees will have difficulty doing much of anything at this rate because staff is fleeing already.

The career executives who staff and run the approximately 250 federal departments and agencies not only formulate and implement executive orders, they also make choices every day that influence large swaths of public policy — from immigration to law enforcement to education to the environment. They use their legal authority to do what all executives do: interpret the power given them by their board of directors (in this case, Congress), set organizational priorities in formal guidance or memorandums and make decisions about where to allocate people and dollars.

The recent enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) illustrate how agency choices about what to prioritize and how to enforce the law can produce a dramatic policy change.

Trump’s success as president depends in part on his ability to get agencies to behave like ICE and choose to use their power in the ways he would prefer.

trump-cabinet-1170x864A number of agencies have already gone literally rogue on him with employees undermining him every chance they get.  This is even true of some of the agencies that are to be used to purge the country of whatever it is Trump fears.  Bannon has even indicated that the Cabinet picks were part of the Deconstruction plan.

President Trump’s critics have noted that at least some of his Cabinet picks seem uniquely unsuited to their roles. Scott Pruitt, recently confirmed as head of the EPA, had previously challenged its regulations in more than a dozen suits. Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, operated a company that depended on low wages and faced allegations of labor abuse. Puzder’s nomination was scuttled by the discovery that he had employed at least one undocumented immigrant.

Trump’s FCC chairman and energy secretary have also been critics of the very agencies they’re now tasked with managing. Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for energy secretary, famously called to eliminate the department while running for President in 2011.

Putting anti-regulation chairs at the top of regulatory bodies is nothing new for conservative administrations—George W. Bush’s EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, for instance, pushed back against staff recommendations and slackened enforcement. As the saying goes, elections have consequences, and lightening the regulatory load on businesses is a pillar of modern Republican doctrine.

What’s remarkable here, though, is Bannon’s framing of these moves as more anti-state than pro-business. The CPAC comments about ‘deconstruction’ are a toned-down version of startling statements made last August to the Daily Beast. Bannon impishly declared himself a “Leninist,” saying that the Soviet leader “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

It’s not a stretch to see Bannon’s comments reflected not only in Trump’s cabinet picks, but in his slow progress in filling hundreds of lower-level cabinet positions. Until they’re filled, those positions are staffed by temporary administrators with reduced power, leaving enforcement and other matters in limbo.

December 18, 2016

This is perhaps though why Paul Ryan–on top of Putin–find the Trump minions to be “useful fools”.  Ryan is known as the nation’s premier granny starver and all this chaos and cutting is pretty much right up his ally.  This is analysis by Jonathan Chait.

What is the substance of the supposed schism between Trump and the regular GOP? The Times depicts the president and the House Speaker as split over whether to cut “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” But, while Ryan has made it known that he would like to cut Social Security (a position that has won him immense inside-the-Beltway Establishment credibility), he has not persuaded his party to go along. The “Better Way” plan crafted by Ryan and endorsed by House Republicans makes no mention of Social Security at all. It does propose privatizing Medicare, but only for workers who are not retired or are near retirement — which means, despite its long-term significance, it has no impact on the budget over the next decade. And both Trump and Ryan are planning deep cuts to Medicaid.

The similarities continue. Both favor increases in defense spending and dramatically weaker enforcement of labor, environmental, and financial regulation. Both favor deep cuts to anti-poverty spending. Trump is more enthusiastic than the regular GOP about infrastructure spending, but he has decided to postpone that issue until next year and use it as an election messaging vehicle rather than a real legislative priority. Most important, both agree that large, upper-income tax cuts are the party’s highest priority. Trump has even endorsed Ryan’s legislative strategy of sequencing Obamacare repeal first in order to grease the skids for bigger tax cuts. (“Statutorily and for budget purposes, as you know, we have to do health care before we do the tax cut,” he said this week.)

It is true, as conservatives say, that Trump’s budget numbers do not really add up. But he is relying on the same voodoo economics assumptions that are de rigeur in his party. “The money is going to come from a revved-up economy,” Trump said on Fox & Friends. “I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we’re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to 3, maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame.” Remember that ultra-Establishment Republican Jeb Bush promised tax cuts and deregulation would produce 4 percent growth, so Trump’s 3 percent growth promise is actually moderate and realistic by Republican fiscal standards.

The illusion that Trump has radically altered his party’s agenda is convenient for all sides.

Democrats have already sent out a battle cry as have a few Republicans.  Lindsey Graham is having none of  the cuts to State.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that President Trump’s first budget was “dead on arrival” and wouldn’t make it through Congress.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Graham, according to NBC News. “It would be a disaster.”

Graham, a frequent Trump critic, expressed concerns with Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department budget, especially the targeting of foreign aid.

These are trying times.  Let’s just hope we have enough leaders in the District with other patriotism or deep seated interests in some of these agencies or our country will never look the same again.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: Late Edition

Good Afternoon!

download (2)I’m running really late today despite coffee and all the usual things I use to face the morning.  I seem to be in need of hibernation.  I’m not sure if it’s the ugly political situation or just the challenges of doing any little thing these days.  Have you noticed how businesses are basically set up to take your money efficiently and create hell for you under any other circumstance?  Calling them is to enter a hell realm.  Even when you do reach a person, there seems to be little they can do but offer sympathy and customer service surveys.  Why are businesses so damned rotten these days?  Is it because they are coddled while the rest of us have been basically dropped from the master plan?

I’m going to do a little sharing of local stuff juxtaposed on some national news because I’ve been noticing how difficult life is becoming for regular people.  Here in New Orleans, we’re chasing tourist dollars by destroying the culture that brings them here and basically driving off the workers that do the daily stuff of dealing with them.  I’m beginning to think that the entire plan of the Aspen Institute is to turn every major city into a seamless, architecturally bland, sea of guys sporting manbuns.  We seem to be selling our treasure to the highest out-of-town bidder who then remakes it into something totally new Portland or new Seattle or  new Brooklyn. Then, we all have to indulge boorish burbies in all the places we used to use to escape them.

Here’s a great example.  This nice old home used to be the equivalent of a hostel owned by a friend of mine. It was called the Mazant Guesthouse and was heavily used by Europeans because it had no A/C, a communal kitchen, and was extremely cheap.  The first thing the new owners did was try to tear down the backhouse.  Thankfully, the historic commission stopped them.  Now the entire property is just another reminder of the folks city government is trying to attract to all parts of the city including our personal, private backyards.   Asking price?  $1.65 million.  You could’ve bought entire blocks here for that just a few years ago.  So, you can imagine what that’s done to the rental market and what that’s doing to property tax valuations.

imageThis revitalization includes sanitizing the city’s really awful past as an outpost of the Confederacy and Lost Cause by removing statues that used to attract more pigeon shit than attention. We tear down a very historical Woolworth’s with an intact counter that was central to the Civil Rights Movement and no one mourns that at all.  We had an opportunity to put a great Civil Rights museum downtown for a real tourist experience.  But no, we spend time removing rather than preserving the sites to use them to elucidate the awful past.  We’d rather have a Dave and Buster’s than a National Jazz Park. 

Several items came to my attention today that show the master plan is to transform us into the destination of the manbun crowd  and that is having all kinds of unintended consequences.  The example sits right next door to me.  Two guys from NJ charge $180 a night for one side of a double that’s been redone to look like a badly decorated boutique hotel inside and barely maintains a semblance of its historical past outside.  It used to be home to two families.  Some NJ guy bought the family home across the street and it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen now. It was an arts and crafts double but now it looks like some weird, awkward Cape Code monstrosity and it’s selling for way over $.5 million. Both homes were stripped of their historic architecture during renovation. My guess is some out of town rich people will Air BNB the arts & crafts double too which is currently illegal and against zoning laws. It used to be a rental when I moved here but was a single family dwelling until it sold.  A barber who worked down in the quarter lived there.  Regular folks that are renters aren’t here any more.  But, don’t take my word for it.  New Orleans now ranks second as the worst market for renters in the nation. 

New Orleans is gaining notoriety among America’s mid-sized cities as a place where renters must devote an increasing share of their income to housing expenses.

Make Room, a campaign by nonprofit affordable housing developer Enterprise Community Partners, extracted Census data to rank the top “10 worst metro areas for cash-strapped renters.” New Orleans was No. 2.

According to Harvard’s data, 35 percent of renters in the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner statistical area devote 50 percent or more of their income to rent and utilities, only slightly less than top-ranked Miami where the rate was 35.7 percent.

The Make Room initiative was launched in May 2015 to push for policy changes and additional resources for cities where the lack of affordable housing is acute. Angela Boyd, the campaign’s managing director, said the effort seeks, in part, to debunk misconceptions that affordable housing is an issue only for coastal cities and targets renters in need of subsidies or government assistance.

“Some people think affordable housing is for the homeless or residents of public housing, but it also takes into account moderate income (renters),” Boyd said. “These are people who are probably already your neighbors.”

I wonder how all those restaurants are going to find help when there are no more places for their employees to rent in the city at the wages they can pay?   While the city is hassling over statues and renting its lampposts to hang fetus fetish propaganda, there’s vladimir-putin-man-bun-funny-meme-hairvery little discussion of things that are really wrong here.  We may be good at attracting celebrities to film stuff and buy houses, but we’re absolutely forgetting the majority of our population in the rush to be cool for pennies on the tax dollar.

On Wednesday night, Douglas Brown allegedly jumped over the counter of a New Orleans Subway after ordering a sandwich, according to the Times-Picayune, but was foiled in his attempt to nab the cash register drawer because it was tethered into place. Instead, he grabbed a bunch of cash and ran. He was detained 25 minutes later.

 It’s unclear who will represent Brown. Yesterday, the Orleans Public Defenders refused to take his case. The underfunded office, which says it represents nearly 85-percent of all defendants in the parish but has a budget just half the size of the district attorney, simply can’t handle any more.

“Our workload has now reached unmanageable levels resulting in a constitutional crisis,” Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton said in a December statement, giving one month’s notice that they would start refusing some clients charged with felonies carrying long sentences. “As Chief Defender, I can no longer ethically assign cases to attorneys with excessive caseloads or those that lack the requisite experience and training to represent the most serious offenses.”

This week, Bunton’s office made good on that pledge and began refusing clients. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last night filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Bunton and Louisiana State Public Defender James Dixon on behalf of plaintiffs who were assigned public defenders but then placed on a waiting list.

“So long as you’re on the public defender waiting list in New Orleans, you’re helpless. Your legal defense erodes along with your constitutional rights,” said Brandon Buskey, Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, in a statement. “With every hour without an attorney, you may forever lose invaluable opportunities to prove your innocence. You also may be forced into a crippling choice between waiting months for counsel or doing bail and plea negotiations yourself. The damage to your case can be irreparable.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu maintains that while the city has increased its funding of the office that they have “barely kept pace with state funding cuts,” the Times-Picayune reports. The defenders contend that “the additional local funding is enough to stave off mandatory furloughs, but not enough to provide representation in serious felony cases that is constitutional or ethical.” Bunton and Dixon could not be reached for comment.

abraham-lincoln-man-bun-hairstyle-funnyThe total focus on re-imagining New Orleans  appears to include putting street cars everywhere and making sure no road goes unfixed endlessly as long as it is  uptown.  I’m not sure it includes a vision of much else.  We seem to be highly focused on accommodating a certain segment of American society to the exclusion of a nearly everything else.   From what I can see, we’re really not “winning” in any sense but Charlie Sheen’s or whatever it is Mayor Landrieu has in mind.  He did come to us as the LT. Governor whose sole job is to fixate on tourism.  Maybe that’s the issue he just can’t move beyond.  I really don’t know. But, as far as I can tell, the development we’ve been getting recently is really killing exactly what we’ve been good at doing for a very long time.

Does resilience mean dumping your core competencies and the things that make you unique for the latest trendiness?

What happens when a city because a laboratory for hair brained schemes like charter schools and whatever you call this urban development trend that seems to be making us some blander version of ourselves?  One of our issues has been the lack of health care for so many people.  I’m hoping that the state’s move to now accept the Medicaid Expansion will help these kinds of statistics.  Meanwhile, we can only look at the skeleton of Big Charity Hospital which was once the hallmark of a civilized nation.

Indeed, Place Matters for Health in Orleans Parish, a report prepared by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Orleans Parish Place Matters Team, in conjunction with the Center on Human Needs, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Virginia Network for Geospatial Health Research, noted that “Life expectancy in the poorest zip code in the city is 54.5 years, or 25.5-years lower than life expectancy in the zip code with the least amount of poverty in the city, where it is 80.”

I’m beginning to think the entire “sharing” economy is basic piracy.  I came across this at AJ and was appalled that folks would do this on both supply and demand side of AIR BnB.  I swear this corporation is just an international crime syndicate that makes money off of illegal and destructive activities.

Airbnb may be the next high-profile target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, following media reports this week that the online accommodation service includes listings from settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories that are advertised as being in Israel.

Anyone staying in an Airbnb-listed settlement property “facilitates the commission of the crime of establishing settlements and therefore aids and abets the crime,” said John Dugard, professor of international law, and a former Special Rapporteur to the UN on Palestine.

“The same applies to making money from property built on illegal settlements.” Airbnb takes a commission on property rentals, and so is profiting from Israel’s colonisation of Palestine.

Hosts who list properties via the company are required to provide accurate locations. As such, stating that settlements are located in Israel – when they are in fact illegal under international law because they are built on occupied territory – is a violation of the company’s terms.

I would like to think that just because you can make money off of something doesn’t mean that you should do it, the government should allow it, or there should be legal businesses encouraging it.  But then, it seems state and local governments are also doing anything to quit providing services to citizens while heavily subsidizing private businesses for whatever reason.  At what point do we decide that businesses and rich people should pony up their fair share of the bill of living in a civilized country,state and city of laws, institutions and regular people?

The city of Flint, Mich., is in the midst of a water crisis several years in the making. The city opted out of Detroit’s water supply and began drawing water from the Flint River in April 2014, part of a cost-saving move. Eighteen months later, in the fall of 2015, researchers discovered that the proportion of children with above-average lead levels in their blood had doubled.

The city reconnected to Detroit’s water system in October, but the damage was done. Water from the Flint River was found to be highly corrosive to the lead pipes still used in some parts of the city. Even though Flint River water no longer flows through the city’s pipes, it’s unclear how long those pipes will continue to leach unsafe levels of lead into the tap water supply. Experts currently say the water is safe for bathing, but not drinking.

A group of Virginia Tech researchers who sampled the water in 271 Flint homes last summer found some contained lead levels high enough to meet the EPA’s definition of “toxic waste.”

Economic theory states that we should tax nuisance activities heavily to both discourage them and to collect funds for the damages they inflict on the citizens around them.  (Think any kind of pollution.) Subsidies are to be given to those manbunwashingtonsquareactivities that won’t occur–even though they are highly beneficial to society–because they won’t provide profits to private businesses. (Think public transportation and education.)  It’s a really basic and simply theory that’s been proven useful time and time again. There are some things we really do want to tax the hell out of because we want less of it and we want to recover the damage it creates. Many rules and regulations exist to protect current property owners and stakeholders.   Here’s a brief little lesson on Pigouvian Taxes and subsidies that’s worth a watch that gives you a good idea of the costs and benefits.   I’m not sure why the entire concept has gone out of style.  Perhaps it’s because the Aspen Institute doesn’t find it trendy enough. Although my gut says it’s likely because lobbyists and political donors prefer to be enabled rather than held accountable.

Anyway, what I think I can say is that we’re making it difficult (e.g. taxing) for the wrong people to exist in society and we’re subsidizing the folks that are just making things worse.  I believe this is why there’s such disgruntlement at working, poor, and middle class income levels.

The question now, is how do we really change this?  When are we going to stop selling our society to any bidder for any sleazoid reason in the name development?

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Friday Reads: Economic Anemia

Good Morning!

MuslinVoodooDoll-2Since I’m in the middle of revamping my course for Graduate Finance Students in International Finance and reviewing textbooks and the usual stuff, I thought I’d focus on the economy for the morning.

One of the most awful results of the Reagan years has been the creation of mainstream paranoia over policy using  data evident from the scientific method, intellectuals and academics that spend years researching and learning theory and empirical evidence, and the idea that government can’t ameliorate issues through policy but is somehow a potential enemy of the governed.

This kind of paranoid drivel used to be the realm of militia types like Clive Bunday and John Birchers like the Koch Brothers and father.  It had no place in mainstream discourse until Reagan started pumping up the idea that poor people game the government and the government games every one else.   Its now spread to Christian extremists, the NRA, and most of the Republic Party.

Let me give you the latest example of someone who is possibly going to be a Senator from Iowa.  Joni Ernst is doing the Sharon Angle thing of declaring any government issue she doesn’t like her potential enemy and any one supporting that view as a potential target of her nice little gun that she carries with her everywhere. 

Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, said during an NRA event in 2012 that she would use a gun to defend herself from the government.

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Ernst made the remark a little more than a month after gunman James Holmes allegedly killed 12 people and injured 58 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Ernst’s campaign did not respond to The Huffington Post’s request for comment about the remark on Wednesday evening.

Earlier this year, Ernst released an ad in which she points a gun at the camera and vows to “unload” on Obamacare.

We’ve also experienced this massive attempt to rewrite secondary school textbooks and curricula to reflect the deeply held philosophical and religious views of these folks rather than theory or empirical evidence brought about by hundreds of years of research and scholarship.  This also ignores primary documents that show just the opposite to be factual.

But, facts be damned, there’s children’s minds to warp.  Biased ideas are not at the center of legitimate academic pursuit. Folks that follow agendas tend to live at the edges of universities and most departments are quite embarrassed by them. I spent time in a department where one research professor’s favorite pursuit was proving that iqs and brain sizes among varying races were the reason for underachieving groups in an economy.  All DNA evidence shows that race is a social construct but this guy spent a life time trying to show the relationship between brain sizes of races and incomes and jobs.  So, most time when you see folks that believe this stuff, they reside some where on the fringes.  However, since the Reagan years, there’s been a major attempt by right wing religious zealots to teach propaganda and there’s been a rather significant increase in the level of ignorance on things from incoming freshmen.

This is happening even in economics where you would think that paranoia about “communism” would’ve gone away since the fall of the USSR.  Not true, however.  They prefer to fear imagined boogey men and to set up  imagined fairy tale rescuers over doing policy that’s be proven effective in years of empirical study.

The standards’ authors are clearly fans of the free enterprise system, consistently emphasizing the advantage of American capitalism over other structures.

For example, the high school standards state that students should be able to “understand how the free enterprise system drives technological innovation and its application in the marketplace.” The middle school standards clearly promote free enterprise capitalism over other economic systems, saying that students should be able to “compare and contrast free enterprise, socialist, and communist economies in various contemporary societies, including the benefits of the U.S. free enterprise system.” Finally, the standards connect capitalism with the conservative ideal of limited government, asking students to be able to “explain why a free enterprise system of economics developed in the new nation, including minimal government intrusion, taxation, and property rights.”

It really takes very little time spent in economics to realize that political constructs are not economic constructs. For example, the United States economy was founded on Mercantilism which began with monopolies, charters, grants and largess of royalty and aristocracy.  The concepts of Capitalismimages (3) and of Communism had the same roots and they were a lot more philosophical than ever real.  Even, now, we have a modified market system.  There has never EVER been a “free market” system or “communism” in an economic sense.  Socialism is just one end of a modified market system and still relies heavily on private ownership of the majority of factors of production.  Most facets of government policy are to make a market behave closer to a free market model because it can’t possibly d0 so under one factor, characteristic, or situation that exists. I mean really, who wants to leave the market for uranium to the free market?  That’s just an extreme example.

The problem is that dogma has overtaken reality among folks that now find themselves in office.  It’s bad for the country.  It’s bad for business. It’s bad for nearly every one.  The one thing that’s becoming abundantly clear since the Clinton Presidency and definitely during the Obama Presidency is that the Democratic Party is the party of Wall Street and Big Business.  It’s not the Republicans.  No where is this more evident than economic reports written by the private sector.  Today’s Republicans scare the shit out of big business and finance.  The last few battles to keep the federal government and the deficit funded has nearly caused market meltdowns twice. You also don’t see them complain about increasing the minimum wage or decreasing the current level of income equality.  NO REALLY.   This means Chris Christie is really going to have some ‘splaining to do over this statement. 

Labor Secretary Tom Perez on Thursday panned New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s comments that he’s “tired” of the minimum wage debate.

“Chris Christie’s got his head in the sand if he’s getting tired about the minimum wage,” Perez said according to Bloomberg Politics.

President Barack Obama and Democrats have led the push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, and the issue has made its way onto the campaign trail this year.

“Chris Christie needs to talk to his economists, who will tell him that 70 percent of GDP growth is consumption,” Perez said Thursday.

The criticism came just days after Christie said he was “tired of hearing about the minimum wage” at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference on Tuesday.

“I really am,” the Republican governor and potential 2016 hopeful said. “I don’t think there’s a mother or a father sitting around the kitchen table tonight in America saying, ‘You know, honey, if our son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all of our dreams would be realized.'”

“Is that what parents aspire to for our children?” Christie asked. “They aspire to a greater, growing America, where their children have the ability to make much more money and have much great success than they have, and that’s not about a higher minimum wage.”

Before the Labor secretary chimed in, the remark drew fire from other Democrats, and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest even quipped during a briefing Wednesday that people living on a minimum wage are those who are really tired.

Christie also used his time at the podium to make a 2016 prediction.

“I am convinced that the next president of the United States is going to be a governor,” Christie said. “We’ve had this experiment of legislating .. and getting on-the-job training in the White House. It has not been pretty.”

voodoo-doll-670So, this kind’ve talk is really making the economists of Wall Street and of huge corporations very nervous.  They’re quite aware that today’s Republican Party is tanking the economy.

Even though Republicans depict themselves as the party for business and banks, it turns out that the GOP’s economic policy is detrimental to their bottom lines and continued existence; particularly rising costs and stagnant wages since the Bush-Republican Great Recession. What both bankers and retailers really want instead of tax cuts, deregulation, and more Republican austerity and budget cuts are better incomes for all Americans that will lead to increased consumer confidence and greater purchasing power to trigger higher business profits. What they have learned after thirty years of “trickle-down” is that the trillions of dollars taken by the 1%, especially since 2009, have failed miserably to stimulate the economy. Instead, they demand more buying by the masses that Wall Street firms and analysis of 65 of the nation’s top retailers claim will only happen with, as President Obama preaches, growing the economy from the middle-out.

For example, in a report last month titled Inequality and Consumption, Morgan Stanley economists said, “Despite the roughly $25 trillion increase in wealth since the recovery from the financial crisis began, consumer spending remains anemic. Top income earners have benefited from wealth increases but middle and low income consumers continue facing structural liquidity constraints and unimpressive wage growth. To lift all boats, further increases in residential wealth and accelerating wage growth are needed.” Republicans completely disagree and either resist consideration of raising the minimum wage or promote abolishing it altogether. According to the Republicans, increasing income inequality must continue and it is crucial that they convince the population that no wage is too low. It is a belief the Koch brothers espouse but it is rapidly losing favor in circles whose survival depends on a population of consumers.

Standard and Poor’s (S&P) rating agency concurred with Morgan Stanley’s economists in their August report, How Increasing Income Inequality Is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, And Possible Ways To Change The Tide, and strongly advised the federal government to create “a path toward more sustainable growth, that in our view, will pull more Americans out of poverty and bolster the purchasing power of the middle class. A rising tide lifts all boats…but a lifeboat carrying a few, surrounded by many treading water, risks capsizing.” To “lift all boats,” S&P suggests a “high degree of rebalancing” that includes increased “spending in the areas of education, health care, and infrastructure to help control the income gap that, at its current level, threatens the stability of an economy still struggling to recover.” Contrary to wisdom of real economists concerned with America’s economic survival, Republicans across the country have been laser-focused on their austerity crusade to cut spending on education, infrastructure, and healthcare including the cruel heartlessness of refusing free Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Despite the call from both banks and businesses to increase the minimum wage and spending on essentials for a robust recovery, congressional Republicans have obstructed and outright blocked each and every attempt by the President and Democrats to stimulate the economy. Despite trailing every developed nation on Earth in infrastructure, Republicans consistently refuse the President’s calls to increase spending on desperately-needed infrastructure repairs including roads, bridges, public buildings, and sewers that numerous economists, including some highly respected conservatives, say is crucial for job-creation, increased consumer spending, and a vibrant recovery. Increased consumer confidence, and spending, is something all economists agree is for the good of the country’s economy but can only happen if incomes rise for the majority with higher wages and more well-paying jobs.

I’ve said this a million times but it’s true.  If you have an economy that’s 70% reliant on consumer spending for growth and 99% of the population has stagnant to falling real income, you’re going to run into trouble.  Especially since a huge part of that 99% spends high levels, all of, or beyond black-voodoo-dolltheir income and wealth levels.  Years and years of evidence has shown that consumers are the real job creators.  No business hires workers if no one is buying their goods and services.  Rich people–especially with some of the horrid changes we’ve had in the tax code during the Dubya years–are spending more and more of the income and wealth on gambling paper for paper profits.  This does not create anything of value in a real economy but it sure creates asset bubbles and the potential for financial meltdowns.   One has only to survey retailers to figure out the relationship between incomes of the middle and working classes and their bottom lines and their hiring plans.

Former Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon, whose company had seen consumer traffic drop for six straight quarters and same-store sales drop for five quarters, explained in July 2014 that “we’ve reached a point where it’s not getting any better but it’s not getting any worse—at least for the middle (class) and down.” Kip Tindell, CEO of the Container Store, put retailers’ feelings best when he said, “consistent with so many of our fellow retailers, we are experiencing a retail ‘funk.’” The culprit is obvious: low wage and income growth for the middle class. Median household income in 2013 stood 8 percentage points below its 2007 prerecession level.

The simple fact of the matter is that when households do not have money, retailers do not have customers. The failure of incomes to keep up with the growing cost of college, child care, and other middle-class staples leaves even less money for retail spending. A previous analysis by the Center for American Progress shows that this so-called “middle-class squeeze”—stagnant incomes and the growing cost of middle-class security—leaves the median married couple with two kids with $5,500 less to spend annually on food, clothes, and other essentials that retailers sell.

Or, as officials of J.C. Penney—whose sales fell 9 percent in 20136—put it when listing the risks to its stock value: “the moderate income consumer, which is our core customer, has been under economic pressure for the past several years.”

Moreover, retail spending—which includes spending on everything from clothing to groceries to dining out—has broad implications for the entire economy since it accounts for a large fraction of consumer spending, which itself makes up 70
percent of U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP.

Even Walmart is concerned even while not paying living wages, not providing good benefits, and not creating an environment where a worker feels secure about his/her future.  Now the weird thing is that fringe economists are still overly scared about inflation and high taxes.  These things, however, are not at the top of any one’s concerns that would be invited on any Fox News program.   Here’s a headline from Forbes: “Want a Better Economy? History Says Vote Democrat!”.  In 2012, a number of books evaluated the results of the economy under Democratic vs Republican administrations.  The results are startling.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is attributed with saying “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.“ So even though we may hold very strong opinions about parties and politics, it is worthwhile to look at historical facts. This book’s authors are to be commended for spending several years, and many thousands of student research assistant man-days, sorting out economic performance from the common viewpoint – and the broad theories upon which much policy has been based. Their compendium of economic facts is the most illuminating document on economic performance during different administrations, and policies, than anything previously published.

The authors looked at a range of economic metrics including inflation, unemployment, corporate profit growth, stock market performance, household income growth, economy (GDP) growth, months in recession and others. To their surprise (I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Goldfarb) they discovered that laissez faire policies had far less benefits than expected, and in fact produced almost universal negative economic outcomes for the nation!

From this book loaded with statistical fact tidbits and comparative charts, here are just a few that caused me to realize that my long-term love affair with Milton Friedman‘s writing and recommended policies in “Free to Choose” were grounded in a theory I long admired, but that simply have proven to be myths when applied!

  • Personal disposable income has grown nearly 6 times more under Democratic presidents
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 7 times more under Democratic presidents
  • Corporate profits have grown over 16% more per year under Democratic presidents (they actually declined under Republicans by an average of 4.53%/year)
  • Average annual compound return on the stock market has been 18 times greater under Democratic presidents (If you invested $100k for 40 years of Republican administrations you had $126k at the end, if you invested $100k for 40 years of Democrat administrations you had $3.9M at the end)
  • Republican presidents added 2.5 times more to the national debt than Democratic presidents
  • The two times the economy steered into the ditch (Great Depression and Great Recession) were during Republican, laissez faire administrations

The Obama economy is actually surprisingly good given that a large number of good economic policies have not been enacted due to Republican political kung fu.images (4)

It was no joke on Thursday when I asked Austan Goolsbee, a pretty fair amateur comic, to rattle of key economic indicators that are trending in very positive ways right now.
“Jobs created. Weekly U.I (jobless) claims. Unemployment rate. Auto Sales. Gas Prices,” said Goolsbee, former head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and a onetime winner of the annual “D.C.’s Funniest Celebrity” contest.

And, yet, as a headline in Politico.com also noted Thursday, “Economic Anxiety Dominates 2014.” So what’s really and truly up? What explains the disconnect between seemingly very strong numbers and the lack of love for Obama and the Democrats?

“You can’t brag about the economy because people can’t feel it,” said Thomas Bowen, a Chicago-based Democratic political and policy consultant.

“I’m sure (some) Democrats have polled this: ‘The recovery isn’t working for you.’ That’s why they’re not running on the economy improving.

Not long after, I was driving past a state unemployment office along a rather somber commercial strip on Chicago’s Northwest Side. The parking lot was full. And then I mulled the folks I know working part-time involuntarily or sticking with jobs they don’t especially like out of fear of the limited alternatives.

“You’re talking about indicators in the last six months,” said Bowen. “But look at the start of the recession until today. We’re just getting out of the hole from jobs losses. And the jobs aren’t the same. They’re not higher paying construction jobs.” “Not all indicators equate with average folks,” said Anna Greenberg, a Washington-based Democratic pollster.

“Wages and salaries are stagnant,” she said. “Yes, the stock market is up and the jobless rate down. But the cost of living is up and you may not have more money.”

images (5)So, a lot of economists like me remain very confused.  It’s not like there’s not support by people and businesses for good policy like infrastructure projects, improving the terms of student loans so more folks can access higher and continuing education, and a reasonable minimum wage.  The cities and states that have raised the minimum wage are even those that are doing well among states.   States that have raised their minimum wages have better job growth.

New data released by the Department of Labor shows that raising the minimum wage in some states does not appear to have had a negative impact on job growth, contrary to what critics said would happen.

In a report on Friday, the 13 states that raised their minimum wages on Jan. 1 have added jobs at a faster pace than those that did not. The data run counter to a Congressional Budget Office report in February that said raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as the White House supports, could cost as many as 500,000 jobs.

The Associated Press writes:

“In the 13 states that boosted their minimums at the beginning of the year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January through June. The average for the other 37 states was 0.61 percent.

“Nine of the 13 states increased their minimum wages automatically in line with inflation: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Four more states — Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — approved legislation mandating the increases.”

The AP notes: “[The] state-by-state hiring data, released Friday by the Labor Department, provides ammunition” to the camp in favor of raising the minimum wage.

“Economists who support a higher minimum say the figures are encouraging, though they acknowledge they don’t establish a cause and effect. There are many possible reasons hiring might accelerate in a particular state.

” ‘It raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster,’ said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The job data ‘isn’t definitive,’ he added, but is ‘probably a reasonable first cut at what’s going on.’ “

So, it just appears that there’s a huge portion of the United States electorate and elected that would rather live in their dream world of imaginary beings and dogma than have their lives made better by using what we know and what we’ve learned.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Saturday Early Morning Long Reads

144467100516725819_gh2w8YGN_cGood Morning

My eyes popped open at 5:30 this morning, and I could not go back to sleep. So while checking my RSS feeds I found a few articles from Alternet that you should take a look at. I will just post the link and a small part of the article to tease you…

First this look at a British documentary that spanned decades, The Brutal Truth About How Childhood Determines Your Economic Destiny

“Give me the child until he is seven,” the old Jesuit teachers say, “and I will give you the man.”

Back in 1964, filmmaker Paul Almond set out to test that theory by documenting the lives of a group of seven-year-old British children. Some were born to the manor; others grew up in charity homes. There were tykes from both the countryside and the city. Almond wanted to know if the destiny of the children had already been scripted by the circumstances of their birth — particularly those of class. His film Seven Up! has grown into a series spanning over five decades. Every seven years, like the cycle in some mythological saga, Michael Apted, the assistant on the original project, has returned to these children as they have morphed before our eyes into awkward adolescents, tentative adults, and now, the paunchy survivors of late middle-age.

As bright-eyed children, participants like Jackie Bassett, the product of a working-class neighborhood, or Andrew Brackfield, who attends a posh prep school, are already miles apart in attitude and habits. Tellingly, the children speak very differently about what they see in their future. Those from the higher ranks already know which universities they’ll attend, while Paul Kligarman, who lives at the charity home, asks plaintively, “What’s a university?”

This article is written by Lynn Parramore, and although I have disagreed with her position before…she does an excellent job on laying out the resulting class structures that conservative policies and austerity bring about…you know, the death of upward mobility.

On to another interesting long reads, this time written by Jennifer Holladay:  Why Are 8 Year-Olds Reading Stories That Glorify Rape?

Last spring, my 2nd-grade daughter came home with an extra assignment—a worksheet she hadn’t completed in class for a story called “The Selkie Girl.” She brought the book home, too, and it was one I’d never seen before, a Junior Great Books anthology (Series 3, Book 1), published by the nonprofit Great Books Foundation.

As we settled in, I asked my daughter to tell me about “The Selkie Girl.” Her rendition gave me pause, so I asked her to do her other homework first. She turned to a worksheet, and I cracked the book open.

“The Selkie Girl” is essentially about a magical seal-woman who is kidnapped and raped repeatedly during her long captivity. The man who holds her hostage proclaims early on that “I am in love” and “I want her to be my wife.” When he kidnapped her, “She was crying bitterly, but she followed him.” Later, the narrative tells us, “Because he was gentle and loving, she no longer wept. When their first child was born, he saw her smile.” When her means of escape is discovered, however, she explains quite bluntly to the children she bore: “For I was brought here against my will, 20 years past.”

It’s like the modern-day reality of Jaycee Dugard (who was kidnapped at age 11 in California and held captive with her two children for 18 years), told in folklore for the consumption of young children.

It is disturbing, but as you will read in the article, it goes back to conservative policies…this time the target is in education. I guess you can imagine where the discovery of this story “The Selkie Girl” will lead Holladay as she researches the publisher of the textbook, it is no surprise. Just read it.

On to another alternet post, this time a review of sorts of the latest crap written by Ben Shapiro. Conservatives Are Always Triumphant and Also an Oppressed Minority, According to Notably Stupid New Book

Ben Shapiro makes his living harrumphing over the sins of liberalism, and his new book doesn’t disappoint.

Being a doctrinaire conservative in this day and age requires you to do a lot of cognitive gymnastics.  Luckily, the captain of the right’s gymnastic team is Ben Shapiro, who has been an exceptional contortionist since his YAF days, when he simultaneously boasted of his unfashionable virginity and scolded everyone else about their allegedly unconventional sex lives.  Ben is married now, and presumably has engaged in heterosexual intercourse, but it hasn’t made him any happier or more relaxed, as he makes his living harrumphing over the sins of liberalism.  Hey, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean someone should do it.

Though not himself large, Ben has wrangled, by virtue of being a nuance-impervious loudmouth, the position of editor-at-large at Breitbart.com.  (You may recall that this position was once held by Andrew Breitbart himself, until his heart self-detonated rather than listen to him bellow for one more second.)  This job entails being a sort of all-purpose complainer, a queen bee fat on the jelly of foundation grants, forever sending out drones to gather the sweet nectar of gripe.  Just like that one guy on your Facebook who can’t relate to anything unless it has a  Star Wars reference in it, Ben has cranked out book after book of impotent whining about how liberals are ruining everything with their education and their pornography and their crazy rock and roll and their hair.  A 79-year-old man in the body of a failed attorney, his books (which I only hesitate to call unreadable because even I have better things to do than read them) attract praise from the kind of people who write books exactly like them — that is to say, endless litanies of alleged liberal treachery and evildoing.

When I read this post, it made me laugh…but the thought that more and more dudes (and dudettes) like Shapiro are getting airtime on major news channels made me cringe.

And I will end with this post: Is The American Hemp Renaissance About to Begin?

Kentucky was America’s leading hemp producer in the early 19th  century.  Now, two hundreds year later, after a  historic election for drug policy has led to a shift for marijuana policy reform in America, Kentucky lawmakers are taking steps to revive the crop.  While advocates for hemplegalization say the plant could bring a wealth of  green jobs to Kentucky, deep-rooted drug stigma and conflict with federal law have made t he legislation’s passing unlikely. Nonetheless, two state bills are in the works, while a federal proposal aims to clear the way for state legalization.  Lawmakers suggest the bills could at least open up the conversation about hemp, and clear misconceptions about its use.

Because hemp is increasingly imported from Canada, growing and making  it in the US could save the US money and create green jobs at home. Aside from soy, no other plant has shown the potential to create so many different products — from hemp soap to paper and oil. Moreover, hemp rarely requires pesticides, can be grown in the same fields over several consecutive years, and produces biodegradable plastics and biofuels. Lightweight and dense, hemp-limeis a building material that known to be an efficient insulator leaving behind a minimal carbon footprint.

Which, in light of the current Midwestern drought that is bringing about comparisons to the great Dust Bowl, this long read about a historic plant like hemp was actually hopeful. However, like most of the articles I’ve shared today…seeing the problem and actually fixing it are two different things.  I don’t know, maybe the real issue is staring us right in the face? Conservative policies don’t work, and it is painfully obvious to me that until we move away from these right-wing ideals…none of the solutions to many of our problems will ever get put into action.

Damn…now that is depressing.

Catch y’all later in the comment section, for now my eyelids are getting heavy and maybe I can get a few more hours sleep in before the kids way up.


Of Brass Tacks and Phony Crises

Yes, yes … the fiscal bunny slope has been somewhat solved and the press has moved on to discussing the next big self-inflicted fiscal crisis comingget-down-to-brass-tacks up in February. ( I guess we’re adopting the term “March Madness” just to make it all exciting and discussable.)  We’re still in the land of economic surreality instead of theory. It worries me.  The basic problem is that this country has forgotten its economic history, lessons and theory.  Fiscal policy should not be based on political memes and lurching from one crisis to the next.  Here’s some things to think on from economists.

Economist Nouriel Roubini points out that we’ve been let down by our political leaders who just don’t get that our basic problem is really one of development.  We’ve had substantial growth in upper incomes and corporate profits, yet we’re going nowhere in all the quality of life and economy numbers.  We have a tax policy that encourages folks like Romney to strip money out of functional businesses, shut them down, and move the proceeds to offshore bank accounts to avoid paying taxes that support basic features of a civilized country.  How is this kind of wealth creation helping our economy?  How is treating speculative gambling to tax favors instead encouraging actual business building creating a future upon which we can sustain our civilization? Why isn’t the press looking at the fiscal drag this cliff solution creates a well as the bigger issue of austerity facing us in March?  Austerity has done the UK no favors and is crushing parts of the Eurozone. Why are the media and the political elite focusing on policies that look like Herbert Hoover’s revenge?  Why feed the drone economy while starving granny?

President Barack Obama and his allies will argue that the deal concluded on Tuesday raises only $600bn of revenues over 10 years rather than their initial target of $1.4tn – and therefore there is further room for tax rises, at least for the wealthy. Republicans will argue that spending should now be radically cut, since this week’s deal did not address that side of the national balance sheet. (Even the 2011 debt ceiling deal reduced prospective spending by $1tn).

In the meantime, the likely fiscal adjustment in 2013 will be about 1.4 per cent of gross domestic product. (Spread between the expiry of the payroll tax cut, the increase in the tax rates of the rich, and some eventual cuts to spending.)

This translates into a 1.2 per cent of GDP drag on the economy during the year. If the economy was happily growing above trend – at say 3.5 per cent – that would not be such a big deal, as growth would still be above 2 per cent. In the past few quarters growth already averaged about 2 per cent. So the US could quite easily come perilously close to stall speed this year – or worse, if the eurozone crisis worsens.

The longer-term picture is bleaker still. The reality is that America is yet to wake up to the full extent of its fiscal nightmare. Even the typical Republican voter is not – being on average older and poorer than a Democrat voter – in favour of gutting the welfare state. Tea Party extremists are more noise than signal. That is why the plans of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ losing presidential ticket, postponed all the tough spending cuts on Social Security and Medicare by a decade.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans recognise that maintaining a basic welfare state, which is right and necessary in our age of globalisation, rapid technological change and demographic pressure, implies higher taxes for the middle class as well as for the rich. A deal that extends unsustainable tax cuts for 98 per cent of Americans is therefore a pyrrhic victory for Mr Obama.

Yes, they continue to eye cuts in social security under the guise of tackling the deficit.  Economist Dean Baker reminds us that Social Security has nothing to do with the Federal Deficit.  Yet, there’s Simpson and Bowles yacking up that granny starving canard again!  Let’s chain link our grandparents in the name of a lie, please!!  Baker is right.  Budget hysteria is a growth industry driven by lies and has nothing to do with what’s really happening in our real economy.

While the promotion of budget hysteria is one of the largest industries in Washington, the most important and widely ignored fact about the budget situation is that we have large deficits today because the collapse of the housing bubble sank the economy. This is not a debatable point.

The budget deficit was just 1.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2007. Before the collapse of the housing bubble the deficit was projected to remain low for the next decade and the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio was actually falling. This would have been the case even if the Bush tax cuts were allowed to continue.

When the bubble burst and the economy plummeted, tax collections fell. We also spent more on unemployment insurance and other benefits for unemployed workers. And we had further tax cuts and stimulus spending to try to boost the economy. The automatic and deliberate steps taken to counter the downturn fully explain the large deficits we have seen the last five years.

Record low interest rates on government bonds demonstrate that the current deficits are not a real problem. But even if they were, it is difficult to see how cutting Social Security could to be part of the solution. Under the law Social Security is not supposed to be part of the budget. It is an entirely separate program financed on its own.
This is not just a rhetorical point. We can talk about Social Security facing a financing shortfall in the future precisely because it is solely financed by its own revenue stream.

What we really need is a recovery.  That will not happen with all the fiscal policies being placed on the table right now.   Let’s review one simple thing.  As long as you have a good currency, federal debt instruments in demand, and a vast array of taxable assets in your country, there is no such thing as a ‘bankrupt’ government or excessive debt.  But, don’t take my word for it.  Let’s again, look at the economic studies and look at the demand for treasury bonds and bills.  Markets see no problem with debt levels in most industrialized nations because they know that with development and growth there comes decreased deficits and pay down of debt.

The sovereign bond markets in America, Japan, Britain, and the euro area’s “core” do not seem to think so. These governments can borrow cheaply for decades at a time. While it is certainly possible that the markets are wrong, policymakers should probably pay more attention to investors and less to the fear-mongers, especially since economists do not know how much government debt is too much. In fact, there is good reason to think that many countries with their own currencies could become far more indebted without risking trouble. One reason is that many private investors do not own enough sovereign bonds.

It is important to remember that there is an absence of evidence that governments with their own currencies are too indebted. Those who argue otherwise point to the work of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the celebrated authors of This Time is Different. Their paper “Growth in a Time of Debt” claimed that sovereign debt creates a burden on the rest of the economy. (They summarise their points here.) But, as Robert Shiller and Paul Krugman have pointed out, Ms Reinhart and Mr Rogoff never explain how public indebtedness restrains growth. There may be other forces at work, especially since sovereign debt ratios are usually at their highest after wars and financial crises. In countries with their own currencies, private interest rates are now so low that many investors have been grasping for yield wherever they can find it, such as in the revived CLO market. When he evaluated the evidence, my colleague concluded that “debt matters, but the precise way that it matters isn’t as clear-cut as Reinhart-Rogoff seem to indicate”.

Why would private investors want to buy more sovereign debt? A previous post on the shortage of safe financial assets mentioned how pension plans in many countries need to buy more government bonds to avoid mismatches between their assets and liabilities …

Nearly all the red states in our country may be Greece and Portugal–with the exceptions of Texas and Florida–but the blue states are overwhelmingly Germany and they continually bail out those loser states.  That’s why we are not the Eurozone.   However, those red states sure are trying to blow up the very arrangement that keeps them in roads, schools, and police forces.  Economist Clive Crook points out how these idiots have now created a situation where governing means we lurch between crisis because none of them appear to be able to accept the lessons learned from the civil war, the Great Depression, or about 60 year of economic and finance theory.

The latest fiscal deal does little to resolve those uncertainties. The spending-cut part has merely been delayed by two months. The tax increase for couples making more than $450,000, together with other changes and estimated savings in debt interest, shaves about $700 billion from the 10-year deficit. Savings of about $2 trillion will be needed to stabilize the ratio of public debt to national income. Bringing that ratio down to a safer level requires spending cuts and tax increases worth $4 trillion — the original “grand bargain” ambition.

Instead of dealing calmly with the problem, fiscal policy has settled into a mode of perpetual phony crisis. Phony doesn’t mean harmless, however. The risk of a real fiscal crisis gradually builds. Meanwhile, the cumulative effects of simulated crisis might be almost as bad. It’s the difference between an acute illness and a chronic wasting disease — one that’s beginning to look incurable.

Don’t tell me the economy just had a lucky escape. Whatever happens next, it has been paying for the fiscal standoff for months. It’s paying for what Congress might do with the next debt ceiling, and the one after that. The “significant uncertainty” that Geithner referred to has already held back the U.S. recovery. Another temporary fiscal patch isn’t a remedy. It’s just more of the same.

The economy needs a lasting fiscal compact that commands broad, bipartisan support. I can hear the groans. Not another call for compromise. Many Democrats and almost all Republicans find the idea disgusting. On Capitol Hill, it’s no longer enough for one side to win; the other has to be seen to lose. That attitude is the growing burden the economy has to carry.

Which brings me back to journalistic, political hacks that write columns like this one at Politico.  (Glen Thrush and Reid J Epstein are the guilty wielders of the keyboards of ignorance here.)  They just opine that Obama has a debt problem. Gee, guys, where did you get your doctorates in economics or finance?  The place is aptly called Tiger Beat on the Potomac by Charles Pierce.  They are all about being groupies to their DC stars.  No Republican meme is too outrageously wrong for this e-dishrag.

The staggering national debt — up about 60 percent from the $10 trillion Obama inherited when he took office in January 2009 — is the single biggest blemish on Obama’s record, even if the rapid descent into red began under President George W. Bush.

 Wow.  That sure isn’t what we read from people that know these things is it?  Steven Benen is right when he says this about the above travesty in journalism and public interest.
Glenn Thrush and Reid Epstein’s Politico piece on President Obama’s “debt problem” helps capture a lot of what’s wrong with the larger debate and the political establishment’s confusion about fiscal matters.

It’s the same damn problem that happens when you watch MTP and Dancing Dave and Tom Brokaw discuss anything about economics.  They don’t know a damn thing.  They just repeat what they’ve heard from their local lying republican friends.  Here’s more from Benen.

First, when there’s a global economic crash, and the government needs to invest to rescue the economy, large deficits are good, not bad, especially when borrowing is cheap and easy. Had the president focused on reducing the $1.3 trillion deficit he inherited from Bush/Cheney, instead of job creation and economic growth, the recession would have intensified, and yet, too many reports simply accept it as a given that higher deficits are worthy of condemnation.

Second, under Obama, as the economy started to improve, the deficit started to shrink anyway. Though the political establishment usually ignores these details, the deficit is $300 billion smaller now than when the president took office — marking the fastest deficit reduction since the end of World War II.

Third, Obama keeps pushing massive debt-reduction proposals on the table, as well as all kinds of policies that shrink the deficit (health care reform, cap and trade, Dream Act), but Republicans have opposed all of them.

And then finally, there’s the simple matter of what, exactly, is driving the nation’s budget shortfall.nytimes deficit drives

For Politico, the fact that the national debt is nearly 60% larger necessarily makes this a major “blemish” on the president’s record. This only makes sense, of course, if one assumes that a larger debt is a bad thing — and given the circumstances, it’s not — and that it’s Obama’s policies that are responsible for the increase.

But as we’ve discussed before, that’s simply not the case. The facts are incontrovertible: towards the end of President Clinton’s second term, debt clocks that had been established in various U.S. locations had to be shut down — the deficit had been eliminated and the clocks had never been set to run backwards. By the time Clinton left office in 2001, the nation not only had a large surplus, it was also on track to pay off the entirety of its debt — roughly $5 trillion at the time — by the end of the decade.

Then the Bush/Cheney era happened. Republicans took a massive surplus and turned it into an even more massive deficit, adding the costs of two wars, two tax cuts, Medicare expansion, and a Wall Street bailout to the national charge card.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) later referred to the Bush/Cheney era as a time in which Republicans decided “it was standard practice not to pay for things.” In just eight years, GOP policymakers added $5 trillion to the debt in eight years.

But then Obama was just as reckless, right? Wrong. The key takeaway here is that it’s Republican policies, not the president’s agenda, that’s driving the national debt now and into the future.

Okay, so I’ve made this an extremely long, wonky post and your eyes are probably glazing over by now.   The deal is this.  We have a huge number of issues facing our country and we have press and a political party that just plain lies and spreads lies on the big ones.  We can’t have a discussion on climate change science, or women’s health and reproduction and rape, or economics or a number of things because very few people bring data, science, statistics, and theory to the table.   They bring hype and religious and ideological dogma.  We continually see Republicans and press folks like Tom Brokaw say the economic equivalent of ‘women who get raped don’t get pregnant because their bodies shut down’ .  They don’t even realize they are doing it and no one calls them on it because they get all the air time they want and economists get very little.

So, we’re on the verge of starving children and the elderly based on that level of discussion.  How can we possibly get to a more fact-based reality and a healthier economy and democracy with this level of ignorance?


American Entrepreneurship on the Decline … Yet … not for the reasons you’d think

One of the great symbols of US spirit has always been its small businesses. It’s one of those myths that seems to carry everywhere  including to views of us in other countries.  There are two related memes that go along with this mythic American institution that are not borne out by statistics.  The first is that small businesses are the source of employment growth in the country.  This is not true. Most small businesses that do not fail stay small.  The majority of job growth comes from medium to large businesses.  Midsize business are far more important. (Data from the BLS.) The second meme is that either too much regulation or uncertainty created by the government is causing depressed job growth.  This is simply not true either.

What does this mean? By any reasonable interpretation, it is mid-size companies that are generating the bulk of the jobs in the recovery. From an economic development perspective, it means that job growth is more likely to come from mid-size companies that are adding several workers or perhaps a couple of dozen new employees, rather than the smallest or largest businesses.

And what are these businesses most worried about today? According to a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business (here):

“The two principal impediments to current small-business growth are business uncertainty and weak sales… The single most important indicator that would renew small-business owner confidence in business conditions is increased sales in their businesses.”

The economic recovery is a demand issue.

There is also some strange set of lies out there that the increase in taxes proposed by the Obama Administration on those making over $250k is going to kill small business.  Not true again! This tax hike would likely impact only about 3.5% of small businesses. The majority of these are partnerships formed by doctors and lawyers.  They are not your average mom and pop store.  I just heard Haley Barbor repeat this lie on CNN last night.

But to what extent would Obama’s tax plan actually affect small businesses?

In its latest estimate last month, Congress’s nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that in 2013, just 3.5 percent of small business tax filers would pay a higher rate — about 940,000 individuals, many of whom are lawyers and doctors in partnerships. But those few percent account for 53 percent of all small business income.

GOP aides accept those facts but they say those few small businesses are the ones overseeing growing companies whom the nation is counting on to hire. According to a variety of analyses, the lion’s share of the tax hike would be absorbed by Americans earning well over $1 million.

Late in 2010, when the same debate played out, William Gale, co-director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, called it a “myth” to suggest that ending the tax cut on top marginal rates would hurt small businesses.

“This claim is misleading,” Gale wrote in the Washington Post. “If the objective is to help small businesses, continuing the Bush tax cuts on high-income taxpayers isn’t the way to go — it would miss more than 98 percent of small-business owners and would primarily help people who don’t make most of their money off those businesses.”

There’s a new study covered by The Washington Monthly that shows that entrepreneurship and small business ownership is on the decline.  Get ready for this result.  It’s primarily Republican policies that are killing small businesses and not over regulation, over taxation or over anything else.  Here’s some interesting information about the decline and how some of it is due to other things too.

Data kept by the Small Business Administration, for instance, shows that the share of the working-age population that is self-employed has been declining since 1994. The share fell steadily until 2002, stayed level between 2003 and 2006, then began to drop again. Overall, between 1994 and 2009, the share declined nearly 25 percent.

This drop in the number of self-employed citizens relative to the overall working population is also captured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which isolates nonfarm workers. The BLS survey asks workers if they are employed by a private company, a nonprofit organization, or the government, or are self-employed. Self-employed workers are further separated into those who have incorporated their businesses and those who have not.

According to the BLS, the number of Americans who are both self-employed and not incorporated has fallen significantly as a share of the working-age population, from 461 per 10,000 in 1990 to 359 in 2011. This decline—more than 22 percent—reversed a long trend in the opposite direction during the 1970s and ’80s. The BLS data shows a somewhat different picture when it comes to self-employed persons who incorporate their businesses. As a share of the working-age population, their ranks grew 35 percent between 1989 and 2008, before dropping off sharply in 2009. Yet this increase in incorporation may be evidence not so much of rising entrepreneurship as of existing unincorporated one-person firms deciding to change their legal status—to take better advantage of new limited liability laws in many states, for instance, in order to cut their tax bills.

Even if we accept this number without question, however, the total share of the self-employed dropped steadily over the last two decades. In 1994 there were roughly 663 self-employed (incorporated and unincorporated) for every 10,000 working-age Americans; by 2009 this number was down to 606, an 8.5 percent decline.

If anything, there’s good reason to believe that this decline in entrepreneurship is even steeper than government data shows, thanks to what appears to be systematic miscategorization by the government of what counts as a true independent company. Since the 1990s, large companies have increasingly relied on temporary help to do work that formerly was performed by permanent salaried employees. These arrangements enable firms to hire and fire workers with far greater flexibility and free them from having to provide traditional benefits like unemployment insurance, health insurance, retirement plans, and paid vacations. The workers themselves go by many different names: temps, contingent workers, contractors, freelancers. But while some fit the traditional sense of what it means to be an entrepreneur or independent business owner, many, if not most, do not—precisely because they remain entirely dependent on a single power for their employment.

Again, it’s not taxes and it’s not over-regulation responsible for the decline.  Here are the two major reasons.

Perhaps the most common complaint among small business entrepreneurs is a shortage of financing. While the rise of the venture capital business might give the impression that financial support for entrepreneurs has never been easier to obtain, the truth is that only a tiny fraction of start-ups have access to venture funds. To get their businesses up and running, the vast majority of entrepreneurs today tend to rely at first, as they always have, on a combination of personal savings and contributions from family and friends. But with family balance sheets ravaged by stagnant wages and skyrocketing costs for health care and higher education, fewer and fewer average families have the savings needed to invest in a small business.

The effects of the radical consolidation in the banking industry that began in the 1980s are equally dramatic. Relatively few bank officers today have the leeway and local knowledge to lend to established local businesses, much less new ventures. This is especially true in bad times, when big institutions come under great pressure both from Wall Street and regulators. In Maryland, for example, Bank of America made 312 SBA-guaranteed loans to local businesses in 2007. In 2010, it made two. Consolidation also concentrates the power of a few financial institutions over small businesses, and radically raises the risk that entire funding systems can collapse all at once. The near breakdown of CIT Group in early 2009—averted only by a last-minute deal with bondholders—would have cut more than a million small businesses off from some of the most important forms of day-to-day business financing.

The single biggest factor driving down entrepreneurship is precisely the radical concentration of power we have seen not only in the banking industry but throughout the U.S. economy over the last thirty years. This revolutionary remaking of almost every economic activity in the nation was set in motion in 1981, when officials in the Reagan administration all but suspended traditional enforcement of America’s antimonopoly laws, a change in policy then adopted by every subsequent administration. Since then, regulators have done almost nothing to stop the great waves of mergers and acquisitions, with the result that control over most major economic activities is now more consolidated than at any time since the Gilded Age.

The effects have been nowhere more dramatic than in those sectors that have always been most congenial to individual proprietorships, like retail, services, farming, and small manufacturing. These were the activities most affected, for instance, by the type of “roll-up” strategies pioneered by financiers like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. In the case of the office-supply retailer Staples, Bain’s investment helped propel the company from a one-store operation to a 2,000-store international behemoth. Similar plays resulted in Home Depot capturing a vast proportion of the nation’s hardware business, in Best Buy capturing a vast proportion of America’s electronics business, and in Macy’s capturing a vast proportion of all department store sales. Just one company, Wal-Mart, now controls upward of 50 percent of some lines of grocery and general merchandise business—commerce that a generation ago was divided among tens of thousands of families.

So, next time you think that Republicans are the small business friendly party, think again.  It’s clearly the drive towards monopoly, market concentration and policies that benefit the One Percenters that’s killing US small business.

 


The Rise and Fail of Countries and their Economic Elite

US Economic Performance: Forty Years of economic stagnation for all but the Very Rich.

There’s nothing new about trickle-down economics policies and their failure to deliver growth and jobs.  The 1980s saw a lot of empirical testing of Reagan-Bush Policies and new growth models. Basically, the parts of these policies that led to growth were those that put money and spending power into the demand side  and not the supply side.  The failure of the Bush 2 policies to provide sustained growth of jobs and the real economy–as well as real per capita income–reinforced earlier findings.  However, this hasn’t stopped the spread of political memes that falsely assert that providing vast wealth for “job creators” is best for an economy. It’s a popular fairy tale spun by Republican Politicians and it’s unsupported by evidence as well as theory.

Development economists have been studying why some countries are rich and some are poor for some time. There have been a number of factors identified that seem to drive growth.  Education of women, good legal and justice systems that protect property rights, and basic economic freedom are some of the factors that have been identified over the years.   Daron Acemoglu–a Turkish M.I.T. professor–has written an important book based on his research and the research of his colleague James Robinson called “Why Nations Fail”. Their work explains how nations can basically destroy their economic futures when they let their richest citizens loot their poorest.  Evidence comes from both historical and present day economies.

Surely even the most kleptocratic dictator would be in favor of economic development. Economic development means greater income, greater taxes and more stuff to grab, so what’s not to like about it? But actually, it often doesn’t work that way.

In the early 1980s in Takasera, a village in Rukum District in western Nepal, a group of locals decided to begin a development project and bought a Swiss-made water mill which would power machinery such as a press to make oil and a saw mill. The community sent a group of men to Kathmandu who learned how to dismantle the machinery and then put it back together again. The machinery was brought back and successfully put into operation. In 1984, a government official wrote saying that in autonomously undertaking this project the community had “usurped the role of the king” and the mill would have to be shut down. When the locals refused, the police was sent to destroy the mill. The mill was only saved because the villagers were able to ambush and disarm the police.

So why was the Nepalese government opposed to the mill? The answer is that the monarchy and the elite surrounding it, who controlled the government, were afraid of becoming political losers. Economic progress brings social and political change, eroding the political power of elites and rulers, who in response often prefer to sacrifice economic development for political stability.

This is a prime example of politicians blocking technology that would improve the country’s economy to maintain political control.  This suboptimal outcome is one of many examples the two economists have found and documented in their study.

But through a series of legendary — and somewhat controversial — academic papers published over the past decade, Acemoglu has persuasively challenged many of the previous theories. (If poverty were primarily the result of geography, say, or an unfortunate history, how can we account for the successes of Botswana, Costa Rica or Thailand?) Now, in their new book, “Why Nations Fail,” Acemoglu and his collaborator, James Robinson, argue that the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy. It’s an idea that was first raised by [Adam] Smith but was then largely ignored for centuries as economics became focused on theoretical models of ideal economies rather than the not-at-all-ideal problems of real nations.

Consider Acemoglu’s idea from the perspective of a poor farmer. In parts of modern sub-Saharan Africa, as was true in medieval Europe or the antebellum South, the people who work the fields lack any incentive to improve their yield because any surplus is taken by the wealthy elite. This mind-set changes only when farmers are given strong property rights and discover that they can profit from extra production. In 1978, China began allowing farmers to benefit from any surplus they produced. The decision, most economists agree, helped spark the country’s astounding growth.

According to Acemoglu’s thesis, when a nation’s institutions prevent the poor from profiting from their work, no amount of disease eradication, good economic advice or foreign aid seems to help. I observed this firsthand when I visited a group of Haitian mango farmers a few years ago. Each farmer had no more than one or two mango trees, even though their land lay along a river that could irrigate their fields and support hundreds of trees. So why didn’t they install irrigation pipes? Were they ignorant, indifferent? In fact, they were quite savvy and lived in a region teeming with well-intended foreign-aid programs. But these farmers also knew that nobody in their village had clear title to the land they farmed. If they suddenly grew a few hundred mango trees, it was likely that a well-connected member of the elite would show up and claim their land and its spoils. What was the point?

This is basically the idea that disincentives cut both ways which is an idea lost on Republican Politicians.  Why work if the fruit of your labor goes to absentee owners and investors?

Acemoglu, Robinson and their collaborators did not come up with the idea that incentives matter, of course, nor the notion that politics play a role in economic development. Their great contribution has been a series of clever historical studies that persuasively argue that the cheesiest of slogans is actually correct: the true value of a nation is its people. If national institutions give even their poorest and least educated citizens some shot at improving their own lives — through property rights, a reliable judicial system or access to markets — those citizens will do what it takes to make themselves and their country richer. This suggests, among other things, that instead of supporting one-off programs promoting health or agricultural productivity, the international community should focus its aid efforts on deep political and economic change.

Perhaps just as interesting, “Why Nations Fail” also shows the effects of different economic and political systems over the centuries. The sections on ancient Rome and medieval Venice are particularly compelling, because they show how fairly open and prosperous societies can revert to closed and impoverished autocracies. It’s hard to read these sections without thinking about the present-day United States, where economic inequality has grown substantially over the past few decades. Is the 1 percent emerging as a wealth-stripping, poverty-inducing elite?

Well, maybe. Acemoglu and Robinson’s frequent collaborator Simon Johnson, the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, told me that financial firms have so thoroughly co-opted the political proc­ess that the American economy has become fundamentally unsound. “It’s bad and getting worse,” he told me. Barring some major shift in our political system, he suggested, the United States could be on its way to serious economic failure.

I downloaded their most current working paper which has a lot of political ramifications.  (Robinson is a political science professor at Harvard.)It’s on why voters dismantle checks and balances on political and economic elites.  You probably want to avoid the model and just look at the bottom line.  Essentially, when we remove the checks and balances in our government, we make it easier and cheaper for the richest in the country to bribe the political class.  This creates a disconnect between the politics and spending and tax policies.  It’s an interesting analysis and way to model the current disconnect between polling of the electorate and policy coming out of legislatures.  The most interesting outcome of the model is that this behavior eventually makes every one worse off.  The ability of the rich to bribe politicians is central to the outcomes.

One of the most interesting theses in the new books is elucidated in this Guardian Review.  It’s about China and its potential.

Far from seeing China as the clue to spreading prosperity, Acemoglu and Robinson see it as yet another instance of a society rushing into a cul-de-sac. China is not, on their analysis, on course for our own level of prosperity.

Their argument is that the modern level of prosperity rests upon political foundations. Proximately, prosperity is generated by investment and innovation, but these are acts of faith: investors and innovators must have credible reasons to think that, if successful, they will not be plundered by the powerful.

For the polity to provide such reassurance, two conditions have to hold: power has to be centralised and the institutions of power have to be inclusive. Without centralised power, there is disorder, which is anathema to investment.

China most certainly ticks this box – it has centralised power and order in spades. Some African societies don’t; localised power usurps the authority of the state. But China resoundingly fails to tick the box of inclusive institutions. Acemoglu and Robinson quote a summary of the structure of Chinese political power: “The party controls the armed forces; the party controls cadres; and the party controls the news.”

That states need order to prosper is important but no longer controversial. That they need inclusive institutions is, in view of China’s success, wildly controversial. Their argument is that order without inclusive institutions may enable an economy to escape poverty, but will not permit the full ascent to modern prosperity. Their explanation is that if the institutions of power enable the elite to serve its own interest – a structure they term “extractive institutions” – the interests of the elite come to collide with, and prevail over, those of the mass of the population.

So, in order for nations to grow, institutions should focus on inclusion instead of exclusion.  This seems like an intuitive suggestion and an unnecessary one for a democracy.  However, their work suggests that the rich and political elite will work against this if the right incentives and institutions exist.  It’s an interesting way to look at the current situation in the U.S. where politicians–using money from huge donors–work to remove regulations and dismantle organizations that increase inclusion.  Notice how public education, community activists, unions, and other institutions aimed at including workers and regular folks into policy making have been demonized recently.    I’m definitely up for reading more on this.