Late Night: Chain of Fools

chained cpi

The President released his budget today, and it includes the promised benefit cuts to Social Security that the White House has tried to conceal by claiming it wants to institute a supposedly “more accurate” measure of cost-of-living, the Chained CPI. Of course at this point, anyone who is paying attention knows that the change will result in the average senior getting $1,000 less per year after 20 years. It’s a benefit cut pure and simple.

What many people don’t know yet is that switching Chained CPI will result in a significant tax increase for working poor and middle-class Americans.

Here’s your soundtrack for this post. Perhaps the great Aretha Franklin can make Obama’s budget slightly less nauseating. I’m also going to try to ease the pain with cartoons and visual aids.

Luckily, Grover Norquist and the folks at Americans for Tax Reform know darn well that Chained CPI amounts to a tax increase for people on the lower end of the income scale. This is right from their website.

The proposal in question is known as “Chained CPI.” The term is a Beltway euphemism for measuring inflation at a different, slower pace. Many tax and budget items are indexed to inflation, so slowing inflation’s measured rate of growth has both spending cut and tax increase implications.

On the tax side, all income tax brackets are subject to inflation. Slowing down the inflation rate slows down the annual rate of growth in all income tax brackets.

This means the Obama budget contains a tax increase on 100 percent of middle class taxpayers—anyone who pays the federal income tax.

Many other tax provisions—the standard deduction, the personal exemption, PEP and Pease, IRA and 401(k) contribution limits, and many others—are also tied to how CPI is measured.
Chained CPI as a stand-alone measure (that is, not paired with tax relief of equal or greater size) is a tax increase and a Taxpayer Protection Pledge violation. Various reports peg the tax increase amount as exceeding $100 billion over the next decade.

Ted Rall explains Chained CPI:

Chained CPI

Dylan Matthews broke it all down (with charts) in a December 2012 post. Here’s the gist:

The group getting the biggest tax hike is families making between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. Their increase is almost six times that faced by millionaires. That’s because millionaires are already in the top bracket, so they’re not being pushed into higher marginal rates because of changing bracket thresholds. While a different inflation measure might mean that the cutoff between the 15 percent and 25 percent goes from $35,000 to $30,000, the threshold for the top 35 percent bracket is already low enough that all millionaires are paying it. Some of their income is taxed at higher rates because of lower thresholds down the line, but as a percentage of income that doesn’t amount to a whole lot.

All told, chained CPI raises average taxes by about 0.19 percent of income. So, taken all together, it’s basically a big (5 percent over 12 years; more, if you take a longer view) across-the-board cut in Social Security benefits paired with a 0.19 percent income surtax. You don’t hear a lot of politicians calling for the drastic slashing of Social Security benefits and an across-the-board tax increase that disproportionately hits low earners. But that’s what they’re sneakily doing when they talk about chained CPI.

That’s why watchdog groups like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities argue that the only fair way to do chained CPI would be to pair it with an increase in Social Security benefits, and to exempt Supplemental Security Income, which provides support for impoverished elderly, disabled and blind people. Otherwise, it’s just a typical “raise taxes, cut benefits” plan, and an arguably regressive one at that.

So basically if you work for a living or depend on Social Security, you’re getting screwed coming and going.

Here’s another cartoonist’s evaluation of the situation:

chained cpi cat food

Chained CPI will disproportionately affects women, according to the AARP (3/6/2013).

The Social Security benefit cut known as Chained CPI remains a piece of the deficit puzzle for reasons that baffle conservatives, veterans, progressives, and almost everyone in between. The $85 billion in sequester cuts for 2013 have begun and many in Washington have still said they’re willing to cut the modest Social Security benefits we’ve earned by $127 billion over 10 years, even though Social Security by law remains separate from the budget and its deficit. Let’s give every woman and anyone who has or has ever had a mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, aunt or girlfriend a reason to despise this wretched proposal.

This week AARP began running ads about the impact of what the Chained CPI Social Security benefit cuts would mean to women. Below is a copy of one of those ads.

Women-and-Chained-CPI-751x1024

Here’s what Terri O’Neill, president of NOW had to say about women and Chained CPI.

Chained cpi terry o'neill

I’m sure you recall that our previous Republican President (let’s face it, Obama is a Democrat in name only) began his second term with the ambitious goal of privatizing Social Security. It didn’t end well for him. Here’s a cartoon from back then:

AARPpipedownstroller

And another one:

Social-Security-Cuts

That’s the kind of reaction politicians tend to get when they attack the most successful and powerful government program in history. That’s why it’s called “the third rail.” Remember in when Texas Gov. Rick Perry attacked Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme?” Look what happened to him?

third rail SS

Obama is already beginning to learn why politicians who step on the “third rail” end up regretting it. He’s out there on a limb all by himself. Democrats hate his budget and so do Republicans, because the vast majority of Americans like Social Security and if it’s threatened they tend to get mad–especially seniors.

Yesterday, Digby recalled what can happen “When seniors get angry …” She referred to an incident in 1989 which Democrat Dan Rostenkowski–the powerful Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee–was chased down the street by enraged seniors.

Andrea Stone told the tale at AOL News in August 2010 after the Illinois Congressman’s death: Rosty’s ‘Catastrophic’ Moment Over Health Care Was a First.

The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, first unveiled by President Ronald Reagan, became law in July 1989. The measure provided seniors on Medicare with protection against catastrophic medical expenses and coverage of prescription drug costs. The benefits were to be paid for exclusively by the elderly receiving them, with high-income seniors paying an extra premium surtax.

Soon after Congress passed the law on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, Rosty returned to his district. It was there, after a fairly civil meeting with seniors resentful over having to pay higher taxes for coverage they either already had from a former employer or didn’t want, that he was accosted by an angry mob of Social Security recipients.

As the Chicago Tribune reported the next day, Aug. 19, 1989:

Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, one of the most powerful politicians in the United States, was booed and chased down a Chicago street Thursday morning by a group of senior citizens after he refused to talk with them about federal health insurance. Shouting “coward,” “recall” and “impeach,” about 50 people followed the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee up Milwaukee Avenue after he left a meeting in the auditorium of the Copernicus Center, 3106 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the heart of his 8th Congressional District on the city’s Northwest Side.

Eventually, the 6-foot-4-inch Rostenkowski cut through a gas station, broke into a sprint and escaped into his car, which minutes earlier had one of the elderly protesters, Leona Kozien, draped over the hood. Kozien, one of more than 100 senior citizens who attended the gathering, said she had hoped to talk to Rostenkowski, her congressman, at the meeting.

But Rostenkowski clearly did not want to talk with her, or any of the others who had come to tell their complaints about the high cost of federal catastrophic health insurance. “These people don’t understand what the government is trying to do for them,” the 61-year-old congressman complained as he tried to outpace his pursuers.

“This was a setup,” said Jaffe, who can be seen in the video ducking into the backseat of the car. “They were standing with made-for-television signs about how he had sold them out.”

As the Tribune reported, “Kozien was soon on the hood, determinedly holding her sign only inches from the windshield. Except for the glass, she was virtually face-to-face with her congressman. ‘I was a little nervous,’ Kozien said later. ‘But I could see through the car window that he looked more afraid than I was.'”

And there is even video of the incident:

Obama is all alone out there on his limb. The only people who have his back are his apparently not-to-bright advisers. Does he really want to be remembered as the first Democratic President to tamper with Social Security? And BTW, his budget also cuts Medicare significantly. Is this really what he wants as his “legacy?” Is it really good enough to gain the applause of Wall Street and the “Very Serious People” in Washington, DC today but go down in history as a worse president than Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush? We shall see.


The Hurt Feelings of the Super-Sensitive Top .01 Percent

Mega-billionaire Leon Cooperman

I just finished reading an article by Chrystia Freeland of The New Yorker: Super-Rich Irony: Why do billionaires feel victimized by Obama? I think I’m finally beginning to understand why wealthy assholes like Mitt Romney disdain almost half of the country as losers who think of ourselves as victims and are dependent on the government. It’s because the superrich believe that they are the victims, and anyone who works for a paycheck–as opposed to running a business–isn’t really working. Seriously, I know it’s a cliche at this point, but it really is time to break out guillotines. It’s time to show the entitled, self-involved, stuffed-shirt class what real class warfare looks and feels like. For the sake of humanity, they need to be humbled.

Freeland centers the article around the billionaire financier Leon Cooperman, who listed his grievances against President Obama in a lengthy open letter last November. Cooperman’s complaints sound remarkably similar to Mitt Romney’s endless whining. (Although he is nowhere near as rich as Cooperman, Romney’s fortune still puts him in to top .01 of earners.)

Like Romney, Cooperman is all bent out of shape about Obama’s “tone,” i.e., he has said mean things about rich people, and he doesn’t bow down and abjectly worship “success” often enough.  Cooper also shares with Romney the belief that “success” is indistinguishable from wealth and that ordinary wage earners are just useless drags on the productive few at the top. From The New York Times’ Dealbook, on Cooperman’s letter, November 29, 2011:

Last week, in a widely circulated “open letter” to President Obama that whizzed around e-mail inboxes of Wall Street and corporate America, Mr. Cooperman argued that “the divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf, at this point as much visceral as philosophical, between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them.”

He went on to say, “To frame the debate as one of rich-and-entitled versus poor-and-dispossessed is to both miss the point and further inflame an already incendiary environment.”

….

Mr. Cooperman’s complaint has less to do with the substance of taxing the wealthy than it does the president’s choice of words in promoting it, an emphasis that he says is “villainizing the American Dream.”

I always thought the American dream was owning a house, raising a family, doing work you enjoy, and having a dignified retirement. But I guess I was wrong.

Getting back to the New Yorker article, Freeland writes that:

One night last May, some twenty financiers and politicians met for dinner in the Tuscany private dining room at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. The eight-course meal included blinis with caviar; a fennel, grapefruit, and pomegranate salad; cocoa-encrusted beef tenderloin; and blue-cheese panna cotta. The richest man in the room was Leon Cooperman, a Bronx-born, sixty-nine-year-old billionaire. Cooperman is the founder of a hedge fund called Omega Advisors, but he has gained notice beyond Wall Street over the past year for his outspoken criticism of President Obama. Cooperman formalized his critique in a letter to the President late last year which was widely circulated in the business community; in an interview and in a speech, he has gone so far as to draw a parallel between Obama’s election and the rise of the Third Reich.

This was the beginning of a rebellion, what Cooperman termed “a sleeper cell.”  The superrich are sick and tired of being disrespected and they aren’t going to take it anymore!  But what about this Third Reich business?  According to Freeland,

Comparing Hitler and Obama, as Cooperman did last year at the CNBC conference, is something of a meme. In 2010, the private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, of the Blackstone Group, compared the President’s as yet unsuccessful effort to eliminate some of the preferential tax treatment his sector receives to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. After Cooperman made his Hitler comment, he has said, his wife called him a “schmuck.” But he couldn’t resist repeating the analogy when we spoke in May of this year. “You know, the largest and greatest country in the free world put a forty-seven-year-old guy that never worked a day in his life and made him in charge of the free world,” Cooperman said. “Not totally different from taking Adolf Hitler in Germany and making him in charge of Germany because people were economically dissatisfied. Now, Obama’s not Hitler. I don’t even mean to say anything like that. But it is a question that the dissatisfaction of the populace was so great that they were willing to take a chance on an untested individual.”

Because, you see, Obama only “worked” for a paycheck, like the majority of us losers in the 47 percent.

America’s super-rich feel aggrieved in part because they believe themselves to be fundamentally different from a leisured, hereditary gentry. In his letter, Cooperman detailed a Horatio Alger biography that has made him an avatar for the new super-rich. “While I have been richly rewarded by a life of hard work (and a great deal of luck), I was not to-the-manor-born,” he wrote, going on to describe his humble beginnings in the South Bronx, as the son of working-class parents—his father was a plumber—who had emigrated from Poland. Cooperman makes it known that he gets up at 5:20 a.m. and is at his desk at Omega’s offices in lower Manhattan, on the thirty-first floor of a building overlooking the East River and Brooklyn, by 6:40 a.m. He rarely gets home before 9 p.m., and most evenings he has a business dinner after leaving the office. “I say that I date my wife on the weekends,” he told me one August afternoon at his office. The space is defiantly modest, furnished with nineteen-nineties-era glass coffee tables, unfashionable yellow couches, and family photographs.

So Cooperman has devoted his entire life to making money. Has he ever read a book? Does he appreciate art or music? Probably not, because that would take time away from hoarding more and more money. If that’s the “American dream,” I’m just not interested. I also find it ironic that these millionaires and billionaires supposedly pride themselves on being self-made–different from the landed gentry; yet at the same time, they are demanding to be treated like kings and princes, expecting the rest of us to bow and scrape before their awesome “success.”

Cooperman’s pride in his work ethic is one source of his disdain for Obama. “When he ran for President, he’d never worked a day in his life. Never held a job,” he said. Obama had, of course, worked—as a business researcher, a community organizer, a law professor, and an attorney at a law firm, not to mention an Illinois state legislator and a U.S. senator, before being elected President. But Cooperman was unimpressed. “He went into government service right out of Harvard,” he said. “He never made payroll. He’s never built anything.”

You see? If you didn’t start a business, if you worked for the government or a university or even for a corporation that you didn’t own, you never worked a day in your life. You are a worthless layabout, deserving of nothing more than starving to death on the street or dying of an untreated illness. Cooperman even looks down his nose at educated professionals from dentist office rochester mn. He’s very relieved that he dropped out of dental school and went into finance .

“I probably make more than a thousand dentists, summed up.” (A thousand dentist would need to work for a decade—and pay no taxes or living expenses—to collectively earn Cooperman’s net worth.) During another conversation, Cooperman mentioned that over the weekend an acquaintance had come by to get some friendly advice on managing his personal finances. He was a seventy-two-year-old world-renowned cardiologist; his wife was one of the country’s experts in women’s medicine. Together, they had a net worth of around ten million dollars. “It was shocking how tight he was going to be in retirement,” Cooperman said. “He needed four hundred thousand dollars a year to live on. He had a home in Florida, a home in New Jersey. He had certain habits he wanted to continue to pursue.

“I’m just saying that it’s not an impressive amount of capital for two people that were leading physicians for their entire work life,” Cooperman went on. “You know, I lost more today than they spent a lifetime accumulating.”

And Cooperman isn’t even a far right winger. He thinks the rich should willingly pay more taxes, and he has “signed Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least fifty per cent of [his] net worth to charity”–for which he was honored at the White House. Now we get to the deepest cut, the biggest slight to Cooper’s pride and self-image:

At the event, Cooperman handed the President two copies of “Inspired: My Life (So Far) in Poems,” a self-published book written by Courtney Cooperman, his fourteen-year-old granddaughter. Cooperman was surprised that the President didn’t send him a thank-you note or that Malia and Sasha Obama, for whom the books were intended as a gift and to whom Courtney wrote a separate letter, didn’t write to Courtney. (After Cooperman grumbled to a few friends, including Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, Michelle Obama did write. Booker, who was also a recipient of Courtney’s book, promptly wrote her “a very nice note,” Cooperman said.)

This is the American ruling class. These are the people who want to destroy what is left of the American social safety net. They’re complete assholes, and they think the rest of us are the scum of the earth–even the President of the United States.


Saturday Reads: Dismal Science Edition

Good Morning!

I’m going to concentrate on the economy this morning.  You better grab some coffee.

The unemployment rate dropped yesterday for a variety of reasons.  I thought I’d talk a little about that first.   The job growth was fairly strong this month in every sector but government.  This improved the labor outlook for some of the workers hardest hit by the last recession.  However, it was a mixed report–although you wouldn’t know that from the stock market–in that it still showed a number of people who are working part time that don’t want to be and again, a large number of people simply disappeared from the labor force.  Temp jobs surged.   Wage growth is “meager” as shown by graphs in this blog post by Tim Duy.  He also notes that the employment to population ratio remains at a levels not seen since the early 1980s.  This is an interesting situation.  We’re still in a huge hole.  At this growth rate, it will take us until 2019 just to gain back the jobs we had in 2008.

One interesting trend pointed out at Zero Hedge by Tyler Durden is that older workers are increasing the number of hours worked.  There appears to be a basic shift in many of the ‘normal’ labor habits.  Durden calculates an alternative measure to the unemployment rate by including workers that the BLS ignores.  He uses the long-term average labor force participation rate instead of the number of people that are participating now which is shrinking in a very odd way.

… do the following calculation with us: using BLS data, the US civilian non-institutional population was 242,269 in January, an increase of 1.7 million month over month: apply the long-term average labor force participation rate of 65.8% to this number (because as chart 2 below shows, people are not retiring as the popular propaganda goes: in fact labor participation in those aged 55 and over has been soaring as more and more old people have to work overtime, forget retiring), and you get 159.4 million: that is what the real labor force should be. The BLS reported one? 154.4 million: a tiny 5 million difference. Then add these people who the BLS is purposefully ignoring yet who most certainly are in dire need of labor and/or a job to the 12.758 million reported unemployed by the BLS and you get 17.776 million in real unemployed workers. What does this mean? That using just the BLS denominator in calculating the unemployed rate of 154.4 million, the real unemployment rate actually rose in January to 11.5%. Compare that with the BLS reported decline from 8.5% to 8.3%. It also means that the spread between the reported and implied unemployment rate just soared to a fresh 30 year high of 3.2%.

So, the deal is that the labor force participation rate is at a 30 year low.  That’s still the number that puzzles and bothers me despite the good looking job growth.  Why are people leaving the job market?  As shown in Durden’s numbers, it’s not baby boomers.  Here’s some speculation by Edward Harrison of Credit Write Downs who is concerned like me.  Look at the graph on the right from Durden that shows why reason number three isn’t the explanation right now.  The blue line is the participation rate by the older workers (55+) and as you can see it’s headed straight up.

My take on this: A declining labor force participation rate is a bad thing. It says people are dropping out of the labor force. So despite the bullish headline figure, the question still remains as to how robust the jobs market is.

Here are three things to consider:

  • Cyclical: that’s the point I made above. Low participation is a negative signal.
  • Structural: A lot of people have been pointing to long-term unemployment as a sign that the jobs market is weak. This makes sense and it should put downward pressure on the participation rate as people drop out of the labor force. The difference here is that if the problem is structural and not cyclical, the so-called output gap will continue to be large as throngs of people remain out of the labor force.
  • Secular: The first cohorts of boomers started to retire last year. I know many  people that were close to retirement when the recession began in 2007 that have had to change plans. Some have delayed retirement because of financial turmoil. But many others have accelerated retirement unwillingly because they were forced out of the labor force. Expect the loss of boomers to put downward pressure on the labor force for years to come.

My guess is that all three factors are affecting the labor force participation rate here. But I am beginning to think that the structural and secular forces are starting to predominate.

I’m still thinking that younger people may be holding up in school for awhile until things get better but I’d have to do some research to see if the university population is up.  I also think that there’s the discouraged worker factor too.   I actually know a lot of folks that are just hanging in there and cashing in their IRAs or have gone back to school and are living on student loans and or going back and forth between short term jobs and contract work. I guess we’ll see if the trend holds, but to me it’s a worrisome one.  If things were really getting better, those folks should be entering the job market now driving the participation rate up.  Since I’m a financial economist and not a labor economist,  I really don’t know the flows well enough to speculate on anything beyond a theoretical level.  It’s not my research area.

Thomas Fran has written an interesting post at Alternet on “Why We Got Ayn Rand Instead of FDR”.

An appropriate metaphor for the conservative revival is the classic switcheroo, with one fear replacing another, theoretical emergencies substituting for authentic  ones, and a new villain shuffling onstage to absorb the brickbats meant for another. The conservative renaissance rewrites history according to the political demands of the moment, generates thick smokescreens of deliberate bewilderment, grabs for itself the nobility of the common toiler, and projects onto its rivals the arrogance of the aristocrat. Nor is this constant redirection of public ire a characteristic the movement developed as it went along; it was present at the creation. Indeed, redirection was the creation.

Here, in one sentence, was a key to the amazing success the Right would shortly enjoy. They had an answer to the bailout outrage, and it was not modulated by lawyerly subtleties or votes-taken-with-nose-held, like the House Democrats who had voted for the TARP. “Let the failures fail”: it was a line that would allow the revived Right to depict itself as an enemy of big business, rooting for the collapse of the megabanks. The Tea Partiers may have looked ridiculous in their costumes, but their central demand was anything but.

Not all “failure” is the same, however. What the newest Right has in mind is something philosophical, something both personal and sweeping. It demands liquidation across the board,  a sort of deserved doomsday for the borrowing-based way of life. But in the great die-off it delights in imagining, the real culprits of 2008 have a way of disappearing from view.

If we watch closely, we can see the cards being switched. Whenever our tea-partying friends warm to the subject of  letting-the-failures-fail—and they do so often—sooner or later they inevitably turn from the bailed-out banks to those spendthrift “neighbors” identified by Santelli, those dissolute people down the street who borrowed in order to live above their station.

This could be why the Republican Presidential Wannabes sound so down right Dickensian.  We’ve had school children offered up as janitorial help.  We’ve had Willard talking about enjoying a good firing and ranting on about how he’s not worried about the poor because they are safe in their safety nets.  Instead of pointing to the business welfare queens, we’ve got poor children being held up as not having the fortitude and values. As Krugman says, Willard doesn’t feel any one’s pain.

Now, the truth is that the safety net does need repair. It provides a lot of help to the poor, but not enough. Medicaid, for example, provides essential health care to millions of unlucky citizens, children especially, but many people still fall through the cracks: among Americans with annual incomes under $25,000, more than a quarter — 28.7 percent — don’t have any kind of health insurance. And, no, they can’t make up for that lack of coverage by going to emergency rooms.

Similarly, food aid programs help a lot, but one in six Americans living below the poverty line suffers from “low food security.” This is officially defined as involving situations in which “food intake was reduced at times during the year because [households] had insufficient money or other resources for food” — in other words, hunger.

So we do need to strengthen our safety net. Mr. Romney, however, wants to make the safety net weaker instead.

Specifically, the candidate has endorsed Representative Paul Ryan’s plan for drastic cuts in federal spending — with almost two-thirds of the proposed spending cuts coming at the expense of low-income Americans. To the extent that Mr. Romney has differentiated his position from the Ryan plan, it is in the direction of even harsher cuts for the poor; his Medicaid proposal appears to involve a 40 percent reduction in financing compared with current law.

So Mr. Romney’s position seems to be that we need not worry about the poor thanks to programs that he insists, falsely, don’t actually help the needy, and which he intends, in any case, to destroy.

Still, I believe Mr. Romney when he says he isn’t concerned about the poor. What I don’t believe is his assertion that he’s equally unconcerned about the rich, who are “doing fine.” After all, if that’s what he really feels, why does he propose showering them with money?

The New York Review of Books has an entire list of economics books up that have to do with austerity and income inequality.   The heading basically sums it up.  We’re more unequal than you think.  Here’s a review of two that I found particularly interesting.

Robert Frank’s The Darwin Economy and Thomas Edsall’s The Age of Austerity provide much-needed information and analysis to explain why so much of the nation’s money is flowing upward. Frank, an economist at Cornell, draws on social psychology to shatter many myths about competition and compensation. While he doesn’t explicitly cite the classical French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, much in his exposition echoes Say’s axiom that “supply creates demand.” This doesn’t mean that if items are put on display, people will automatically buy them. Consumers decide what or if they’ll purchase, and clearly can only do so if they have the credit or money. Even so, the items they decide they want have been created by the suppliers, who put things on the shelves.

Frank carries this a step further. In recent years, he argues, the products and enjoyments set before us have become increasingly enticing—including houses, vacations, television programs, video games, electronic devices, and the attractions of the Internet. In many cases, the rich acquire them first; since what they have and do becomes widely known, emulation descends down the line.

Nor are these just Tiffany trinkets. Frank’s most vivid examples are newly built houses. As the very rich installed grander entrance halls and rarely used bathrooms, the professional classes felt they should have a semblance of such amenities. “By 2007,” Frank writes, “the median new single-family house built in the United States had an area of more than 2,300 square feet, some 50 percent more than its counterpart from 1970.” Indeed, it’s revealing that this expansion was happening as people were having fewer children. However, these homes—along with more elaborate wardrobes, holidays, and technical gear—are costly. If they were to be bought, salaries needed to keep pace.

Hence, I would argue, an unstated but still real compact was made between the employers and the new upper-middle class. Their pay would be raised to support their ascending status. As the samplings in Table B show, while real earnings for the overall workforce have risen only 7 percent since 1985, professions like physicians and professors have done several times better. Incomes of lawyers and executives, for their part, have soared much further than anyone would have forecast a few decades ago.2

One of the reasons the poor do so poorly is that the states have tax structures that are very regressive.  If you didn’t see me link to this down thread yesterday, take a look at how regressive state taxes really are.   Kevin Drum includes a table where you can check on how bad your state treats you.

And then there are state taxes. Those include state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and fees of various kinds. How progressive are state taxes?

Answer: They aren’t. The Corporation for Enterprise Development recently released a scorecard for all 50 states, and it has boatloads of useful information. That includes overall tax rates, where data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that in the median state (Mississippi, as it turns out) the poorest 20 percent pay twice the tax rate of the top 1 percent. In the worst states, the poorest 20 percent pay five to six times the rate of the richest 1 percent. Lucky duckies indeed. There’s not one single state with a tax system that’s progressive.

So, hopefully, you’re still awake!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today.


Boehner rejects Obama’s “Grand Plan” to exchange safety net cuts for cosmetic “revenue increases”

Nancy Pelosi meets with right wing Republicans

From Ryan Grim at Huffpo:

WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner is rejecting President Obama’s offer to make historic cuts to the federal government and the social safety net, saying in a statement Saturday evening that he can not agree to the tax increases Democrats insisted on as part of the bargain….

Obama had proposed to Republicans a “grand bargain” that accomplished a host of individual things that are unpopular on their own, but that just might pass as a huge package jammed through Congress with default looming. Obama offered to put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts on the table in exchange for a tax hike of roughly $100 billion per year over 10 years. Meanwhile, government spending would be cut by roughly three times that amount. It’s no small irony that the party’s dogmatic opposition to tax increases is costing the GOP its best opportunity to roll back social programs it has long targeted.

Republicans are now banking on a smaller deficit reduction deal that would still make major cuts, somewhere in the range of $2 trillion.

“Despite good-faith efforts to find common ground, the White House will not pursue a bigger debt reduction agreement without tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement. “I believe the best approach may be to focus on producing a smaller measure, based on the cuts identified in the Biden-led negotiations, that still meets our call for spending reforms and cuts greater than the amount of any debt limit increase.”

Politico reports that Boehner will still attend the President’s “summit meeting” at the White House tomorrow.

Is it possible that Boehner decided he didn’t want to risk tampering with Social Security and Medicare? After all, we know the Tea Party crowd doesn’t want to lose their safety net any more than the rest of us. Remember those signs at Tea Party rallies that read “Don’t mess with my Medicare?” One of the big issues for Republicans in 2010 was the claim that Obama’s health reform bill included Medicare cuts.

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Just a thought. On the other hand, maybe it’s all just a kabuki dance to fool the progs into supporting Obama’s Hooveresque policies.


The Latest Stupid Republican Tricks: The “Default Deniers”

GOP Leadership

{Sigh….} Is there any way to be rid of these crazies? The latest Republican nutty meme is that it will be much much better for all concerned if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling and the U.S. has to either cut trillions in spending or default on its debts. From Politico:

They are the newest breed of government skeptics, the swelling ranks of Republicans who don’t believe the Obama administration when it says a failure to raise the debt limit will prove catastrophic.

And they stand ready to make negotiations over raising the cap on debt as grueling as possible, making Treasury officials and Wall Street more nervous than ever that the country could suffer an unprecedented default with consequences no one can predict.

The suspicion, which once flourished on only the conservative outskirts of economic circles, has seeped into the mainstream in recent weeks, gaining broader acceptance among establishment Republicans, even as the administration issues increasingly dire warnings.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) validated the default deniers Sunday, saying, “I understand the doubts.” Jim Nussle, a budget director under former President George W. Bush, argued last week that “no one’s going to default” if Congress misses the Aug. 2 deadline. And Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, accused the White House of scare tactics similar to those used by the previous administration to win quick approval of the 2008 bank bailout after the markets crashed.

Via Think Progress, Rush Limbaugh yesterday responded to the Politico article by leaping aboard the GOP elephant just as it began to topple off the cliff. Limbaugh announced on his radio program that refusing to raise the debt ceiling will help the country’s credit rating.

LIMBAUGH: Today I claim the mantle. I proudly and honestly come to you today as the Mr. Big of the default deniers. We will not default on anything. And moreover, it is more likely that the country’s creditworthiness would go up around the world since we would finally be doing something to address our out-of-control spending and indebtedness if we were not to raise the debt limit. We would be perceived around the world as serious for a change, and responsible for a change. Otherwise we are headed for junk bond status.

I’m no economist, but according to Dakinikat Alan S. Blinder is a really good one, and he wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal today. Here is his analysis of what could happen if the Republicans get their way on the debt ceiling.

What happens if we crash into the debt ceiling? Nobody really knows, but it’s not likely to be pretty. Inflows and outflows of cash to and from the Treasury jump around from day to day as bills are paid and revenues arrive. But at average fiscal 2011 rates, receipts cover only about 60% of expenditures. So if we hit the borrowing wall traveling at full speed, the U.S. government’s total outlays—a complex amalgam that includes everything from Social Security benefits to soldiers’ pay to interest on the national debt—will have to drop by about 40% immediately.

The bottom line is that Timmy Geithner will have to decide whether to pay soldiers and old folks or pay China other foreign creditors. I guess that’s what the Republicans are hoping for–that it will spell the end of the entire social safety net. But they don’t seem to be thinking very long-term. Do they really believe Americans will passively allow that to happen? Back to Blinder:

If and when the time comes, Mr. Geithner and his boss will have to decide. But here’s one prediction: Defaulting on the national debt will not be their first choice. After all, the statue of Alexander Hamilton at the Treasury entrance reminds Mr. Geithner every day of the importance of maintaining the nation’s creditworthiness. Even if we hit the debt ceiling, maturing obligations still can be rolled over. And I’ll bet he will bend every effort to make the interest payments, too. Unfortunately, however, when you’re 40% short, not much can be ruled out.

Exactly. Geithner is going to choose to pay China, not the elderly and disabled–that’s what the Republicans are counting on. But that will be a choice between chaos in the world economy and mass uprisings on the domestic front–or we might get both. According to Blinder a contraction in the U.S. economy like the one the Republicans are pushing us toward could lead to world-wide financial panic. According to Blinder:

…suppose the federal government actually does reduce its expenditures by 40% overnight. That translates to roughly $1.5 trillion at annual rates, or about 10% of GDP. That’s an enormous fiscal contraction for any economy to withstand, never mind one in a sluggish recovery with 9% unemployment. Even contemplating such a possibility is evidence of a dark, self-destructive impulse.

Second, markets now assign essentially zero probability to the U.S. losing its fiscal mind. They’d be caught flat-footed if the threat of default suddenly started to look real, possibly triggering a world-wide financial panic. Remember how markets reacted to the Lehman Brothers surprise? As Mr. Geithner pointed out in New York on Tuesday, “As we saw in the fall of 2008, when confidence turns, it can turn with brutal force and with a momentum that is very difficult and costly to arrest.”

And Blinder isn’t even considering what the reaction would be among ordinary Americans here at home when the economy completely tanks and there is no social safety net whatsoever.


Poor little Barack … He sooo wishes he could be anonymous.

Poor Barack. His high-powered job has made him so famous and powerful that he can’t go anywhere to unwind anymore except the golf course. That’s why he golfs so much. He really wishes he could be “anonymous” so he could go the car wash or the grocery store. At least that’s what he told the editors and publishers of Hearst Magazines.

“I just miss — I miss being anonymous,” he said at the meeting in the White House State Dining Room. “I miss Saturday morning, rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls, driving to the supermarket, squeezing the fruit, getting my car washed, taking walks. I can’t take a walk.”

He says he enjoys golf but is not the fanatic that some have portrayed him to be because of the frequency of his golf outings.

“It’s the only excuse I have to get outside for four hours at a stretch,” he told the Hearst executives.

Awwww…poor guy. That’s so sad. He sounds so wistful about it too. He must get so stressed out when he has to made those “tough decisions” like selling out the American people to the Republicans so he doesn’t have to piss off any of his rich banker donors. No wonder he spends so much time playing golf.

Just imagine how hard it must be to be the first black president–and a Democrat too (supposedly)–and be *forced* to destroy the legacies of FDR, JFK, and LBJ! Imagine how hard it must be to realize that after he gets through, the Democratic Party will be well and truly dead.

He must really have to rush to play golf when he thinks about how he used the legacy of Martin Luther King to get himself elected, and now he has to hurt poor people, including a lot of African Americans, because those mean old Republicans are making him do it.

The President will probably have to spend a lot of time on the golf course after his speech on Wednesday. From what I’m hearing and reading, he is going to have to break it to the bottom 90% of Americans that they are utterly screwed, and explain why we must “sacrifice” our health care and our pittance of retirement from Social Security in order to make sure that the banksters don’t have to cut back at all. After all they are our betters, aren’t they?

It’s so sad that poor Barack will have to live with being the President who destroyed the social safety net in the U.S. What a terrible burden for him to carry! I just hope he can get enough stress relief from playing golf. Maybe he could also relieve his giant burden of stress with one of the Hearst magazines that he says he likes to read.

“If there are any magazines in the (White) House, they probably come from you guys,” he told the Hearst Magazine executives.

Hearst Magazines publishes periodicals including Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine, Popular Mechanics, Redbook, Esquire and Cosmopolitan, among others.

I wonder which of those magazines he like best. Maybe we could take up a collection and get him a subscription to Cosmo or something.

Poor, poor pitiful Barack!