Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

“Profits Without Production”

For me, Profits Without Production equates to Profits sans Direct Labor Input. In most manufacture in the US today, Direct Labor Input is an extremely small ~10% of the Cost of Manufacturing which will vary up and down dependent upon the industry. (For the accountants and the purists, this does not include customary or legislative benefits which I categorize as Overhead. Drucker and many other consultants [including myself] have repeatedly pointed out that whacking labor to reduce the costs of manufacturing is akin to beating a dead horse and this cost has been dropping because of efficiencies since the sixties. It no longer represents the mountain of cost even though it has been fictionalized and demonized by Delphi’s Miller while Delphi was angling for bankruptcy in the last decade.) Maybe I have not searched in the right areas or blogs to read up on this topic; but, Paul Krugman in his latest article dicusses what I believe has become more wide spread in the US over the last decade, Profits Sans Labor or as he points to Production. Yet this is a growing trend and I have not seen much on the topic of Profits sans Labor or Production.

“You can argue that Apple earned its special position — although I’m not sure how many would make a similar claim for … the financial industry… But here’s the puzzle: Since profits are high while borrowing costs are low, why aren’t we seeing a boom in business investment? …

Well, there’s no puzzle here if rising profits reflect rents, not returns on investment. A monopolist can, after all, be highly profitable yet see no good reason to expand its productive capacity. . . .”

While it is possible to produce a part without direct labor input to it with automated machines, my point in particular is about the rise of profits in certain industries (if one could call them such) with no direct labor input or material product in the end. Paul points to the financial industry as having spectacular profits as a percentage of the whole and most recently at 30% of Corporate Profits in the US. Pre-2008 Wal Sreet/TBTF recession, the percentage of corporate profits coming from the financial industry was even higher at 40%. Given not much has changed in the financial industry with new regulations and transparency of transactions, I suspect the financial industry will recoup this high with the government’s backing after almost committing self destruction in 2008.

“From 1990 to 2006, the GDP share of the financial sector in the broad sense increased in the United States from 23% to 31%, or by 8 percentage points. The figures on profits are even more striking. For example, the financial services industry’s share of corporate profits in the United States was around 10% in the early 1980s but peaked at 40% last year.How might the current financial crisis shape financial sector regulation and structure?

While I agree with Paul Krugman on the problem of growing monopoly rents or the profits without investment, I think he misses the larger picture. The growth of profit without production is coming at the expense of labor input and has been going on for a longer time than just recently. The financial industry has become gambling professionals with its CDS, naked CDS, etc. involving little or no investment in production or labor. That excessive profit-taking has expanded into nonfinancial industry such as Apple is no surprise. The tax rate supports such action by companies. Why should they invest?

Perhaps, I take it a bridge too far with Mr. Krugman’s comments; but until companies begin to expand utilizing Labor input, the problem with unemployment and a shrinking Particiaption Rate are not going to go away. In the end, we may yet reach the the Fed’s 7% unemployment goal as Participation Rate shrinks and U3 is determined from its smaller base.

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Inflation, Taxes, and Income

To add to the fire Jazz and Steve have kindled, YOY inflation is at its lowest level historically according to the BEA and Next New Deal blog. It does not look like we need austerity policies and a little fiscal fire might put people back to work and stir the economy into growth.

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“Last Friday, the BEA announced the lowest year-over-year rise in core inflation it has ever recorded. The year-over-year PCE core inflation, or inflation stripped of volatile energy and food prices, was 1.05 percent. As Doug Short notes, the previous all-time low was 1.06, and that is from March 1963. (The records go back to 1959.) Inflation is collapsing in 2013, both for observed values and future expectations. This is noteworthy because, as you may remember, the Federal Reserve took extraordinary actions at the end of last year to hit its inflation target.” Next New Deal: We Just Had the Lowest Core Inflation in 50 Years. What Does This Mean for “Expectations” and Monetary Policy?

EPI points to a ~40 year tax policy trend favoring Capital over Labor wages resulting in a stagnation of wages for much of the population and a skewing of gains to a small minority.

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“Most importantly, new economic research suggests that changes in tax policy over recent decades—particularly reductions in top marginal tax rates—have exacerbated market-based income inequality growth. This is critical because the shift in market-based incomes, particularly capital income’s rise as a share of total income, is driving income inequality growth. Tax policy changes have exacerbated post-tax, post-transfer income inequality by less than one might reasonably suspect, and there are practical limits to how much increased redistribution can push back against strong market trends (though we should be pushing harder). Meaningfully curbing income inequality growth necessitates reducing the market income share accumulating to upper-income households, and higher top marginal tax rates may be one of the more concrete policy levers to advance that end.” EPI: How Much Can Tax Policy Curb Income Inequality Growth? Maybe a Lot

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Tax Breaks Favor The Income Rich

Jon Perr at Crooks and Liars does a nice review on defining who benefits the most from tax breaks:  CBO Study Shows Tax Breaks Favor the Rich  

“Every year, tax expenditures–Uncle Sam’s myriad credits, exclusion, loopholes and breaks–cost the U.S. Treasury over $1 trillion a year. To put that in perspective, that figure is greater than the cost of Medicare, Social Security and national defense. Much larger than this year’s projected budget deficit of $642 billion, tax expenditures equal roughly 30 percent of federal spending. It’s no wonder why Republicans are so fond of calling for closing loopholes while lowering rates to produce “revenue-neutral” tax reform.

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“Per qualche dollaro in più” or For A Few Dollars More . . .

Having helped quite a few younger people rearrange student loans from the private sector to Direct Loans or consolidate loans to achieve lower interest rates or payments; I just find this market-place-staging by some politicians offensive. July 1st the rates are expected to double (3+% to 6+%) for subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans and probably Perkins loans which all typically go to students who can least afford the “few extra dollars” as suggested by this newly minted Congressman from Indiana who appears to not be able to tie a decent knot in his tie. Student debt is on the upswing and appears to be the next bubble in which to contend. The rising deficit as suggested by Congressman Luke Messer is not increasing but is in a steady rate of decline and the economy is mediocre with slow job growth slow but is still far better than 1,2 or 3 years ago although it could use a shot of stimulus again. What is also insidious about this foray of increasing interest rates for those who can least afford it is there is “almost” no-way-out of it once students sign up for a loan. Those who have defaulted on ninja-style mortgages or did not pay hospital bills might understand the relentless pressure brought to bear; however, student loans have the official distinction of being cast in stone by Congress once a student signs his name. With only death, disability, or a lack of income over 20-or-so years being reasons for discharge can a person escape a student loan. We would not tolerate such for a mortgage or healthcare; but yet, we have locked our youth into such an arrangement.

Read or listen in to a few comments Indiana Congressman Luke Messer makes:

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The real threat to a college education today is not a few more dollars on their student loans today, it is the fact of the explosive growth of debt; the fact the jobs in this economy for young people entering this economy have been the people most hurt by Obama’s policies

The bottom line is, what you’re saying is the president’s an effective politician. He does a good job of distracting people from things that they ought to be focused on, and sometimes focusing them on things that while important, listen, none of us want to see student-loan rates spike, are only part of the larger problem.”

“I think, as Republicans, we’ve got to do a better job of explaining how our ideas apply to young people. Sometimes it sounds like he’s selling ice cream and we’re selling spinach. But I think personal responsibility is pretty cool. There is nothing out of date about freedom, and we need to have the policies that get this budget back in line, stop the explosive growth of spending — spending that will be paid for by this generation. And we’ve got to do a better job of explaining that.”

Student debt as a result of high interest student loans is becoming more of a threat than the mortgage market ever did as there is no simple discharge. If one wanted to see the financial rats flee the commercial student loan business ship which this Congressman evidently supports, the president should propose simple interest for student loans.

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/05/31/18660880-house-goper-sees-student-loans-as-trivial-distraction?lite “House GOPer sees student loans as trivial ‘distraction’

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31 Million Uninsured Under the PPACA . . .

Over at “Economists View,” Anne and Muses are having a discussion over why some 30-something million will be uninsured under the PPACA Paul Krugman: The Obamacare Shock. The conversation goes back and forth citing references without giving any real explanation of what the 31 million is composed of and why they will not be covered. For some reason today, I can not log-in and add to the conversation with an explanation of the 31 million.

Perhaps it is a little known fact; but states today can, if they so choose to do so, qualify Medicaid coverage for everyone. States can also cover beyond 100% of FPL which some states do. The majority of states do not cover certain single adults as determined by each state’s rules for Medicaid coverage.

“Currently, few states cover non-disabled, non-pregnant parents up to 138 percent of FPL in Medicaid, and even fewer states cover such adults without dependent children. At present, only 18 states provide comprehensive Medicaid coverage to parents at or above 100 percent of FPL ($18,530 for a family of three in 2011), and the median state covers working and non-working parents up to only 63 and 37 percent of FPL, respectively. The majority of states do not cover non-disabled, non-pregnant adults without dependent children at any income level, and many low-income women only qualify for Medicaid coverage when they are pregnant. As has been noted, ‘it’s a very common misconception that Medicaid covers all poor people, but that’s far from the truth.’”

“Nationally, just over half (53 percent) of the uninsured who would be newly eligible for Medicaid are male. This is not surprising, since, as indicated above, Medicaid has historically had much broader eligibility for parents than for adults without dependent children, and a high proportion of these parents have been single mothers. ‘Overall, 47 percent of the uninsured who would be made newly eligible for Medicaid under the ACA are women.” Opting into the Medicaid Expansion under the ACA: Who Are the Uninsured Adults Who Could Gain Health Insurance Coverage?.

The expansion of Medicaid to 138% of FPL under the PPACA would have mandated state coverage for single adults not qualifying for the PPACA and its subsidies. The SCOTUS decision to allow states to back out of the expanded Medicaid coverage up to 138% FPL was previously mandatory under the PPACA with the threat of the removal of Medicaid subsidies. States not expanding Medicaid coverage will maintain the status quo and many who would have been covered under Medicaid may now go uninsured as they will not qualify for the PPACA. The state exclusions for which many blogs, politicians, and conservative think tanks such as Cato blame the PPACA as causing is the result of states not expanding Medicaid and accounts for 15.1 million uninsured of the potential 31 million. Another estimated 11.2 million are considered to be illegal residents of the US who will not be covered by the PPACA. Treatment of Non-Citizens under the PPACA and do not have healthcare insurance. The balance of the uninsured is made up of those exempt from being insured, those opting out and paying the penalty, those who may not understand how to apply for Medicaid, etc.

Without a doubt, Republicans hope the constituency will not understand the issues and blame the PPACA for the lack of coverage of single adults by using the 31 million as a political numeric. It is also doubtful whether there is a real concern by politicians for the coverage of illegal residents. I also believe it to be ironic when Republican-lead states are concerned a Republican-controlled House may pull the carpet out from under them by negating funding for the expansion of Medicaid in the future.

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Medicare Claim Costs Growth Under 1% in 2013??? Why?

All nine of S&P Healthcare Economic Indices showed slower annual growth rates for February 2013 compared to January 2013. As measured by the S&P Healthcare Economic Commercial Index, healthcare costs covered by commercial insurance plans rose by 4.62% in February, down from +5.41% reported for January. Annual growth rates in Medicare claim costs increased by 0.78%, according to the S&P Healthcare Economic Medicare Index, down from +1.40% recorded last month.” Annual Growth Rates Decelerate in February 2013;  https://www.spice-indices.com/idpfiles/spice-assets/resources/public/documents/11477_sphealthcare-press-release.pdf?force_download=true

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When economists such as Tyler Cowen and Congressional leaders such as Ryan and McConnell are calling for cuts in Medicare, and Medicaid;  one has to wonder what the basis is for doing so. Medicare and its associated programs have dropped below 1% cost claims growth in 2013. According to Glen LaFollette and Louise Sheiner, healthcare in the US is sustainable at 1% growth and will not crowd out the other necessities. “An Examination of Health-Spending Growth in the United States: Past Trends and Future Prospects”  http://www.bancaditalia.it/studiricerche/convegni/atti/fiscal_sustainability/session_3/Follette%20Sheiner.pdf

 

What gives?

For partisan and give-Barrack Obama-no-quarter-reasoning, politicians claim the PPACA will have no or little impact on healthcare costs. Hoping for pie-in-the sky universal health care today, some rather reasonable writers and blogs have also joined the bandwagon of claims against the PPACA (or Barrack Obama) and are advocating the same lack of impact. Train-wreck Baucus successfully scuttled single payer healthcare insurance (with the help of Lieberman) and kept prominent advocates away from the bargaining table having  protestors arrested. Baucus now advocates backing away from the PPACA. Then what has made government healthcare programs decrease in cost? Maybe the last couple of years of decreasing cost growth are the result of the healthcare industry and the healthcare insurance companies taking heed to the needs of the population and developing a heart??? Naaaawwwwwww, I don’t think so. It is still the same industry; but as a result of the PPACA, the industry is rapidly preparing for the implementation of the PPACA.  Some answers PPACA:

hard times or recession, accounted for only about 1/3 (37 percent) of slower growth in the nation’s health care bill.  My guess is that most of the effect was felt in the private sector.

“During 2009–11 per capita national health spending grew about 3 percent annually, compared to an average of 5.9 percent annually during the previous ten years. job loss and benefit changes that shifted more costs to insured people. We found that these enrollees’ out-of-pocket costs increased as the benefit design of their employer-provided coverage became less generous in this period. We conclude that such benefit design changes accounted for about one-fifth of the observed decrease in the rate of growth. However, we also observed a slowdown in spending growth even when we held benefit generosity constant, which suggests that other factors, such as a reduction in the rate of introduction of new technology, were also at work.” The Independent Payment Advisory Board and Medicare Spending: New Research Suggests a Change in Our Medical Culture; Maggie Mahar, Healthbeat Blog, http://www.healthbeatblog.com/2013/05/the-independent-payment-advisory-board-and-medicare-spending-new-research-suggests-a-change-in-our-medical-culture/

and the chief Actuary for Medicare?

“Paul Spitalnic, sees the recent past as prologue – at least to the near future. On April 30, he sent a letter to Marilyn Tavenner, acting Medicare administrator, saying that based on the most recent numbers, the projected 5-year average growth in Medicare per capita spending ia 1.15% , and the 5-year average growth target is 3.03 percent.” As a result, he advised Tavenner that we won’t need the IPAB until 2016—at the earliest.”  The Independent Payment Advisory Board and Medicare Spending: New Research Suggests a Change in Our Medical Culture

If Spitalnic’s and the S&P Healthcare Indice projections prove true over the next few years; Medicare will not be growing faster than GDP and healthcare costs would not be adding to the deficit or crowding out spending on education, infrastructure or the environment as predicted. There is no evidence the trend will not continue and Medicare cost growth is at the lowest level since its beginnings.

Health Beat Blog: “Michael Chernew, a Harvard health policy professor and co-author of the paper, told Modern Healthcare that slower growth was due to more than the weak economy or increases in out-of-pocket spending as employers shifted costs to employees. Instead, the results appear to point to a shift in culture and physicians who have who have grown more focused on greater efficiency in the last five years.” Economy Less of a Factor for Healthcare Spending, New Studies Say“; Melanie Evans; Modern Healthcare;  May 6, 2013

Or perhaps it is what many have said with the advent of the PPACA, a change has and is being brought about in how we are being treated. The overall cost model is moving from a services for fees treatment scenario to a better outcomes and efficiencies for fees scenario.

“The cost saving measures within the PPACA appear to be keeping medical expenses flat during the implementation of efficiencies. For example, in 2012, the average price paid for medical care, doctor visits, operations, glasses, etc. rose at about the same rate as other prices in the economy or less than 2%. Healthcare share of the economy in 2011 shrank from 17.12% to 17.04% due to other aspects of the economy growing faster. BEA Analysis; USA Today; Health Care Spending is Transferred Out of ICU

“‘Until now, the government has paid on volume. Now, it’s trying to pay more on quality,’ says Person, a doctor of internal medicine, as well as CEO of Essentia, which has 18 hospitals and 68 clinics.” For example: “Essentia now provides 300 of the sickest congestive heart failure patients with electronic home scales that relay information, such as weight and symptoms, to a nurse several times a week. The steady monitoring of small things has cut 30-day admissions to less than one-tenth of the national average and saved millions of dollars.”  Health Care Spending is Transferred Out of ICU; USA Today; March 4, 2013;  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2013/03/04/health-care-spending-growth-slows/1963165/

This is precisely what was provided to me by the Great Lakes Home care nurses. Each morning I would weigh in and take my blood pressure three weeks after my open-heart surgery. The nurse would come once per week to my home to which I was confined and check on me. These type of visits by nurses also gave me an early exit from the hospital initially even though the visits were 2-3 times per week and at a far lower cost than keeping me confined to the hospital (I was bouncing off the walls and wanted out).

“One big change is the government’s revived push toward managed care. The government wants to pay a lump sum for a patient or diagnosis, demand higher standards and expect the medical provider to get the job done for that cost. Rather than cutting reimbursement rates, the government is raising the bar for what it expects for every dollar it spends.” Health Care Spending is Transferred Out of ICU

says Person, the hospital chief: It is now the law, and it has teeth. We’re getting paid less,” he says. “We have to be more productive and efficient.” Health Care Spending is Transferred Out of ICU. USA Today; March 4, 2013

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What Is The Out of Pocket Maximum You Will Pay Under the PPACA?

There are quite a few blogs in the blogosphere who tend to get the PPACA wrong and conflate the issues of it well beyond what is reasonable and truthful. Maybe they just do not know what the facts are and miss the benefits of the PPACA to dwell on the negatives exclusively.  Many  tend to dwell  on the amount of money one has to pay out in insurance and deductibles,  what the PPACA does not do, and why we should go back to  . . . ahh nothing? For the record, the PPACA is not single payer nor is it even universal healthcare. It is a convenient compromise which has many positives which did not exist previously. Some thoughts for those who think differently .  .    .

Maggie Mahar at The Health Beat Blog: “Even if you do not qualify for a subsidy, your out of pocket spending is capped at about $5,500 for an individual; $12,000 for a couple. (That includes deductible and co-pays under a Bronze plan–or any other plan). 

A couple earning $65,000 joint might not have $12,000 lying around –especially if they were young. But they could work out a payment plan with the hospital or surgeon– paying, say $5,000 up front as a sign of good faith, and $7,000 over time. If they had to, they could borrow the $5,000 from relatives or friends or a credit card.(These days it’s pretty easy to get a credit card that charges 0% interests on cash withdrawals for 6 months to a year). 

Bottom line: they don’t lose their house, and they don’t go bankrupt. A $12,000 bill is the worst that can happen to them, even if they’re in a horrible accident and in the hospital for 3 months. 

There will also be no annual limit or lifetime limit on how much the policy will pay out. 

This is why the ACA is a boon—even for people who don’t qualify for subsidies. You can’t be ruined by medical bills, and they can stop paying even if you have a very expensive chronic disease.   

As for poor people –if they’re below 133% of poverty, they’ll be on Medicaid (once all of the states expand Medicaid which, eventually, they will).If they’re above 133% of poverty, the subsidies are rich enough to make insurance comprehensive  affordable.”  Maggie Mahar in an email.

Families USA Foundation:  Worry Less, Spend Less: Out-of-Pocket Spending Caps Protect America’s Families;  “The Affordable Care Act initially sets the level of these new caps by referencing an existing definition—the annual out-of-pocket spending limits for high-deductible health plans that are associated with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). If these caps went into effect in 2011,they would be $5,950 for individuals and $11,900 for families.http://www.familiesusa2.org/assets/pdfs/health-reform/out-of-pocket-spending-caps/National-Report.pdf “Worry Less, Spend Less: Out-of-Pocket Spending Caps Protect America’s Families”

I am not a big fan of Barack Obama who wanders down the double yellow, weaving from one side to the other in attempts to secure his place in presidential history; but in the end, we are better off with the PPAC than what we had before “nothing.”

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