Thursday Reads

Einstein reading

Good Morning!

The New York Times has added more fodder for the Republicans’ Benghazi attacks. James Risen Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt report that: U.S.-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands.

The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.

Of course there’s no evidence that this had anything to do with the Benghazi attacks, but I’m sure that won’t stop Senators McNasty, Huckleberry Closetcase, and their new pal Senator Kelley Ayotte from pretending otherwise.

No evidence has emerged linking the weapons provided by the Qataris during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to the attack that killed four Americans at the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in September.

But in the months before, the Obama administration clearly was worried about the consequences of its hidden hand in helping arm Libyan militants, concerns that have not previously been reported. The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.

Also at the NYT, Jared Bernstein once again explains why politicians (and the media) in the Village need to stop obsessing on taxes and start focusing in increasing employment and, along with it, consumer demand.

WITH the budget-and-tax showdown dominating headlines, most Americans probably missed an even more ominous story: according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, America’s underlying growth rate — that is, the best the economy could do, under optimal conditions, without driving up inflation — has slowed from just under 4 percent a year in 2000 to just under 2 percent today.

Why does this matter? For one thing, the combination of a lower underlying growth rate, which you could think of as the economy’s speed limit, and a less equitable distribution of that growth was a reason middle-income households did so badly and poverty went up in the 2000s.

During the 1990s, in contrast, stronger demand for goods and services led to much faster job growth and the last real gains experienced by middle- and lower-income households. Faster growth in those years also spun off a lot more government revenues, which interacted with slightly higher tax rates to take the budget from deficit to surplus.

Read the whole thing and fantasize what we could be doing if we had smarter leadership in DC.

Back in Republican la-la land, Joel Kotkin at Forbes claims that blue states are committing suicide by supporting raising tax rates on the rich.

With their enthusiastic backing of President Obama and the Democratic Party on Election Day, the bluest parts of America may have embraced a program utterly at odds with their economic self-interest. The almost uniform support of blue states’ congressional representatives for the administration’s campaign for tax “fairness” represents a kind of bizarre economic suicide pact.

Any move to raise taxes on the rich — defined as households making over $250,000 annually — strikes directly at the economies of these states, which depend heavily on the earnings of high-income professionals, entrepreneurs and technical workers. In fact, when you examine which states, and metropolitan areas, have the highest concentrations of such people, it turns out they are overwhelmingly located in the bluest states and regions.

Really? Then how come we did so much better under the Clinton tax rates in the ’90s? After all, that’s all that is happening–except that the first $250,000 of these poor rich people’s money will still be taxed at the Bush rates. But that’s not how Kotkin sees it.

The people whose wallets will be drained in the new war on “the rich” are high-earning, but hardly plutocratic professionals like engineers, doctors, lawyers, small business owners and the like. Once seen as the bastion of the middle class, and exemplars of upward mobility, these people are emerging as the modern day “kulaks,” the affluent peasants ruthlessly targeted by Stalin in the early 1930s.

OMB!! “Wallets…drained!” “Stalin!” Let’s all freak out!

The ironic geography of the Democratic drive can be seen most clearly by examining the distribution of the classes now targeted by the coming purge. The top 10 states with the largest percentage of “rich” households under the Obama formula include true blue bastions Washington, D.C., which has the highest concentration of big earners, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, California and Hawaii. The only historic “swing state” in the top six is Virginia, due largely to the presence of the affluent suburbs of the capital. These same states, according to the Tax Foundation, would benefit the most from an extension of the much-lambasted Bush tax cuts.

Hey Joel, maybe it’s not all about taxes, even though that’s all that seems to matter to you. Maybe some blue state folks think the whole economy would benefit if more people got back to work, earned some money and spent it–as suggested by Jared Bernstein in yesterday’s NYT (see above).

As Zandar notes, Kotkin then goes on to show how Republicans can use the home mortgage deduction and other methods to punish the blue state richies for voting for Obama.

– Keep the tax rate on capital gains the same.

– Raise income taxes on the top income bracket for 2013, those making $398,350 and up (single filers, married joint filers, or head of household).

– Means-test, or eliminate entirely, the mortgage interest deduction (which benefits taxpayers in areas with the highest real estate values and mortgages – i.e., Hawaii, D.C., New York, California and Connecticut).

– Means-test or eliminate entirely the federal deduction of state and local taxes, which is disproportionately utilized by those in high-tax blue states: “In 2005, taxpayers in California and New York together made up 20 percent of those claiming the deduction and accounted for 30 percent of its value. Itemizers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California claimed on average over $12,000 per household.”

Talk about a sore loser! Kotkin must be really bitter about Romney’s failure to get those blue state dopes to vote for him.

Meanwhile all those Romney voters in the red states are dreaming about seceding from the union. But if they did, asks The Nation, “Who’d Pay for Their Massive Government Handouts?”

In the wake of Obama’s victory, citizens in several states submitted petitions to secede from the United States. It is something of an irony that the very states seeking secession from “big government”—like Louisiana and Alabama—have been among the top beneficiaries of that selfsame government. Put bluntly, the government would be far smaller without them, and they would seriously struggle far more without it. Indeed, were they to become independent, most would be failed states in need of a bailout. Only this time their benefactor would be not the federal government but the International Monetary Fund, of which the United States is the principal donor. Louisiana and Alabama would go the way of Greece and Spain.

Oh, the irony of it all! And here’s another irony for Republicans to chew on. From TPM: Why Insurers Are Wary Of Raising The Medicare Age

House Republican leaders want to avoid the fiscal cliff with a proposal that would gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67. Democrats are broadly reluctant to cut benefits, but President Obama was willing to accept the policy last year in failed deficit reduction talks with House Speaker John Boehner, and top Democrats have left the door open to including that measure in a grand budget bargain.

It may seem counter-intuitive: why would an industry threatened by government insurance not want it to shrink?

The reason: hiking the Medicare eligibility age would throw seniors aged 65 and 66 off Medicare and into the private market, forcing insurers, who will soon be required to cover all consumers regardless of health status, to care for a sicker, more expensive crop of patients.

“The risk pool issue is important,” the insurance industry source said. “[I]f you add more older and sicker people to the pool, that’s definitely going to have any impact on premiums.”

The policy would save the federal government $113 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But it achieves that by raising the cost of private insurance: the Kaiser Family Foundation projected that a Medicare age of 67 would raise costs for under-65 patients by an average of $141 in 2014. (In practice it would be phased in.)

Duh!

And even more Republican stupidity: Right wing nutcases are all bent out of shape because their favorite crazy propaganda movie didn’t get any Oscar nominations.

Gerald Molan, the director of the extremely anti-Obama movie, 2016: Obama’s America , is mad that his and Dinesh D’Souza’s film [“2016”] wasn’t on the shortlist of documentaries nominated for an Academy Award.

“The action confirms my opinion that the bias against anything from a conservative point of view is dead on arrival in Hollywood circles,” he complained to the Hollywood Reporter.

It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that the movie is based on a pack of lies and right wing conspiracy theories, could it?

To cleanse your palate of right wing and DC craziness, try watching this video from NASA that show views of the Earth from space. Here’s a still shot:

new-view-earth-at-night-usa_62009_600x450

So what are you reading and blogging about today? I’ve been a little out of the loop for the past couple of days, so I look forward to clicking on your links!


If the Turkey didn’t put you to sleep …

Economics doesn’t take holidays.  It’s probably why we economists are so grim.  Just in case you need a good nap, here’s some of my pointy head friends with bow ties discussing things economic.  I was going to try to spare you out of holiday cheer, but Mark Thoma reeled me in and now I must share.

I’ve mentioned recently how absolutely baffled I am by the number of “conservative”  (i.e. radical) Republicans who keep buying into economic fallacies that even conservative (i.e. authentically conservative) economists can’t support.  I mentioned Nobel Prize winning and father of the Monetarists Milton Friedman’s huge study on the Great Depression.  His thesis was that very poor Fed policy made the Great Depression.  In 2002, Bernake even agreed and apologized to him for the FED’s errant ways. Friedman was a consummate free marketer and wrote pop books and pop Newsweek columns during his heyday as a conservative icon. I’m sure he would not be suffering these fools were he alive today.

Thoma points to two recent columns by two former Reagan Team economists.  One article is from Martin Feldstein who is probably the closest thing remaining to Milton Friedman in terms of conservative, free market, economic thought.  The other is from Bruce Bartlett who was one of the fathers of Supply Side economics during the Reagan years but has since repented.  He’s really adapted the Friedman statement “We’re all Keynesians now”.  Both economists are intent on stopping this current batch of policy nincompoops from recreating The Great Depression.

The first Thoma thread references Feldstein who writes on the QE2 at Project Syndicate.  Feldstein was Chair of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors and was President of the NBER.  You  may recall that NBER dates business cycles for the country.  I want to hit his bottom line first so those of you that are using this for nap material can see that it’s ludicrous to think the QE2 is wild-eyed and out-there policy experimentation.

In short, the Fed’s policy of quantitative easing is likely to accelerate the rise of the renminbi – an outcome that is in China’s interest no less than it is in America’s. But don’t expect US officials to proclaim that goal openly, or Chinese officials to express their gratitude.

China is experiencing inflation.  We are experiencing deflation.  The reason this is good for both countries is that it will offset each of these pressures.  Feldstein explains the goal of the QE2 in terms of US policy first.  I’ll cover that quote.  You’ll need to go read the explanation for the China side of the equation too.

The United States Federal Reserve’s policy of “quantitative easing” is reducing the value of the dollar relative to other currencies that have floating exchange rates. But what does the new Fed policy mean for one of the most important exchange rates of all – that of the renminbi relative to the dollar and to other currencies?

The effect of quantitative easing on exchange rates between the dollar and the floating-rate currencies is a predictable result of the Fed’s plan to increase the supply of dollars. The rise in the volume of dollars is causing the value of each dollar to fall relative to these currencies, whose volume has remained constant or risen more slowly.

The Fed’s goal may be to stimulate domestic activity in the US and to reduce the risk of deflation. But, intended or not, the increased supply of dollars also affects the international value of the dollar. American investors who sell bonds to the Fed will want to diversify the dollars that they receive from it. One form of that diversification is to buy foreign bonds and stocks, driving up the value of those currencies.

The result of this move will be to make our exports more competitive abroad and to make every one else’s exports–including those countries that have pegged their currencies to the dollar in an unfair manner–less competitive. We are simply turning the tables on the beggar-thy-neighbor growth policy China and others have adopted. The Fed is doing this because there is no will on the part of domestic policy makers to stimulate the demand in our country for consumers or government.  There are 4 major parts of GDP.  If fiscal policy doesn’t stimulate Consumption or Government demand, then there remain Investment and Exports.  Investment is the least reliable form of demand and is rather small compared to the rest of the economy.  The Fed is trying to tackle the  aggregate demand shortage as best it can in response to the laws that compel it to act when unemployment is high.

Which brings me to the Bruce Bartlett thread.  Bartlett has a piece today up at The Fiscal Times called ‘Starve the Beast: Just Bull, not Good Economics’.  As some one who is currently suffering from a governor who has selectively adopted the policy as a path to the White House, I personally can tell you that it is very much Bull and causes a lot of undue suffering.  It is ideology chosen over fact, logic, and above all, compassion.  Bartlett goes straight to the heart of Voodoo Economics by using data to show that Dubya  Bush’s embrace of  of tax cuts in his first term as president did nothing to further economic growth and did everything to drive us in to unnecessary deficit spending.

It ought to be obvious from the experience of the George W. Bush administration that cutting taxes has no effect whatsoever even on restraining spending, let alone actually bringing it down. Just to remind people, Bush inherited a budget surplus of 1.3 percent of the gross domestic product from Bill Clinton in fiscal year 2001. The previous year, revenues had been 20.6 percent of GDP, spending had been 18.2 percent, and there had been a budget surplus of 2.4 percent.

When Bush took office in January 2001, we were already well into fiscal year 2001, which began on Oct. 1, 2000. He immediately pushed for a huge tax cut, which Congress enacted. In 2002 and 2003, Bush demanded still more tax cuts, even as the economy showed no signs of having been stimulated by his previous tax cuts. The tax cuts and the slow economy caused revenues to evaporate. By 2004, they were down to 16.1 percent of GDP. The postwar average is about 18.5 percent of GDP.

Spending did not fall in response to the STB decimation of federal revenues; in fact, spending rose from 18.2 percent of GDP in 2001 to 19.6 percent in 2004, and would continue to rise to 20.7 percent of GDP in 2008. Insofar as the Bush administration was a test of STB, the evidence clearly shows not only that the theory doesn’t work at all, but is in fact perverse.

There is nothing better than an addict who has fought their demons and comes out the other side to explain exactly why the demon should die.  Bartlett succinctly explains why the Republicans continue to support the ideology and the drivel despite evidence that everything they believe is quite false.

Nor was Bush’s budgetary profligacy limited to programs that could be justified, however loosely, on national security grounds. As I detailed last week, he and a Republican Congress created a massive new entitlement program, Medicare Part D, to buy the votes of seniors and buy themselves reelection in 2004. Among those voting for this monstrosity were many Republicans still in Congress today who are unjustly considered to be staunch fiscal conservatives, including incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan.

Because of its obvious ridiculousness, one seldom hears conservatives say openly that tax cuts automatically reduce spending. But it still underpins the entire Republican budget strategy — tax cuts never have to be paid for, no meaningful spending cuts are ever put forward, earmarks and foreign aid are said to be the primary sources of budget deficits, and similar absurdities.

Both of these men have written tractable–albeit, tough–reads on policy decisions that people really need to understand.  I know there is a tendency this time of year to wallow in football games, shopping binges, and short term feel good embrace of childhood memories, but really, there is a lame duck congress in session and an incoming group of Congressional morons with a President in office who wants to play Let’s Make a Deal with them.

If you can awake from tryptophan dreams long enough to read these two articles thoroughly, please do so.  We can’t afford any more Voodoo policy mistakes.