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The asterisk in real median household income

The asterisk in real median household income

This is a follow-up to the post I wrote last week about the latest data on real median household income.
One of the things I notes is that “households” includes the millions that are composed of retirees, a burgeoning demographic due both to healthier longevities and the demographics of the Boomer generation.
This morning Jared Bernstein helpfully includes a graph of real median household income excluding those over age 65:

Households headed by working age adults did finally surpass their 2007 income, but were still 3.4% below the all-time highs of incomes of 2000.

But mainly I wanted to follow up on that break in the graph in 2013.  It was caused by a change in methodology by the Census Bureau.

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Carbon Gridlock Redux in Washington State

byPeter Dorman (originally published at Econospeak)

Carbon Gridlock Redux in Washington State

A year ago—it already seems like another era—an initiative to set up a carbon tax in Washington State, I-732, was defeated by the voters.  The proposal was to use the money for tax reductions in accordance with the standard economic view that taxing “bads” rather than goods generates a double dividend.  I disagree with that (I think the deadweight loss case against taxes is weak), but I agree that carbon prices operate like a sales tax and are regressive, so it’s a good idea to return the money according to an egalitarian formula, preferably equal rebates per person.

But most of the political left sees it differently.  When they look at carbon pricing they see a big new revenue stream that can be used to fund all the things they have been unable to get in a period of conservative (or neoliberal) political dominance.  They want infrastructure, mass transit, community development projects and environmental restoration, and for them returning the money is unthinkable.  So the left in Washington State, including unions, social justice organizations and most of the environmental activist community, opposed 732, denouncing it as a corporate subterfuge.  A carbon tax is always going to face headwinds, but with the left as well as much of the right in opposition, it was doomed.

So here we are again, looking at another round of state carbon tax initiatives for 2018.  The group that organized the left campaign against 732, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, is drafting their version, which will surely funnel most of the money to the causes (and in some cases the organizations) of their constituents.  But, perhaps in a play to get a bigger voice in the process, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, an umbrella group of 57 tribal governments in the region, has just announced it has begun drafting its own initiative, one that earmarks most of the money for environmental purposes, with a chunk dedicated to the tribes.  The prospect is for heated backroom meetings, where the leadership of various organizations push and pull to divvy up the potential carbon cash.  Whether the product of this process can survive at the polls is another question.

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Obamacare Could Die

Obamacare Could Die

We are at this very odd moment now.  We thought ACA was saved by a narrow vote some months ago, when John McCain joined Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to block the last version of Trumpcare.  Whew!  No need to worry about millions of people having their health insurance taken away!  Time to start pushing for single payer, Medicare for all, hah hah!  But, ooops!

So here we are with only 12 days to go before the window in which the US Senate can pass a repeal and replace of ACA using budget resolution, and thus with only a majority vote.  But, hey, here we have Cassidy-Graham, which would turn the whole thing into block grants to the states, allowing them to allow insurance companies to charge more for preexisting conditions and pretty much get rid of all those things people have liked about ACA once they began to realize that it might disappear.  But now hardly anybody is aware of what is going down at all, with near zero media attention, since we all moved on to Korea and DACA and whatever..   But this stealth Cassidy-Graham bill could very well pass.

It looks like Collinis and Murkowski will again vote no, realizing that it slashes the Medicaid expansion, among other things, and would kill insurance for many people in their states who currently have health insurance thanks to ACA.  But one of the co-sponsors, Lindsey Graham of SC, is John McCain’s closest ally and friend in the Senate, maybe in all of Washington now.  Reports have it that McCain is in fact thinking seriously of voting for this bill, which most reports say is actually worse than what got shot down previously by McCain’s swing vote.  The only other reported possible negative vote is  Rand Paul, who is claiming this bill still contains too  much of ACA, but he voted for the “slim repeal” after  similar complaining last time.  He could easily vote for this.

The hard bottom line is that we could wake up in a week or so with this awful bill passed, ready to whiz through the House for Trump to sign, and Obamacare dead after all, with millions set to lose their insurance, with barely anybody even knowing what is up.  This is a seriously bad business.

Barkley Rosser

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Does Single Payer Pay for Itself?

by ProGrowthLiberal (originally published at Econospeak)

Does Single Payer Pay for Itself?

Was this the message of the title of the latest from Dean Baker:

The economies of a single system can be viewed as analogous to the Social Security system, which has administrative costs that are less than 1/20th as much as privatized systems in places like Chile and the United Kingdom. The analogous institution in the health-care sector is of course Medicare, which has administrative costs of less than 2 percent of benefits in the traditional fee-for-service portion of the program, roughly a tenth the cost for private insurers.

I will agree that the 20% gross margins received by the health insurance companies are obscene. This margin breaks down into a 14% operating expense to premium revenue ratio and a 6% operating margin. I would imagine competition could cut the former in half and the latter by a factor of two-thirds. I’m suggesting a 2% operating margin is reasonable as the reserve to premium revenue ratio is close to 25% for health insurance and an 8% cost of capital is more than reasonable. But Dean is arguing that we can live on a 1% gross margin, which seems to be very ambitious. OK- governments might be able to lower the cost of capital but nearly eliminating administrative costs sounds incredible. But what do I know – so I did a Google search and came across this interesting discussion:

The correct way to estimate administrative savings is to use actual data from real world experience with single-payer systems such as that in Canada or Scotland, rather than using projections of costs in Vermont’s non-single-payer plan. In our study published in the New England Journal of Medicine we found that the administrative costs of insurers and providers accounted for 16.7 percent of total health care expenditures in Canada, versus. 31.0 percent in the U.S. – a difference of 14.3 percent. In subsequent studies, we have found that U.S. hospital administrative costs have continued to rise, while Canada’s have not. Moreover, hospital administrative costs in Scotland’s single-payer system were virtually identical those in Canada.

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A Wake-Up Call for Students

Guest Author: Alan Collinge, StudentLoanJustice.Org,Both Alan and I have written various posts on the student loan crisis. Alan has been featured on Angry Bear Blog from time to time.

If you are in college and looking for something worthy to fight for today; as a student, you should consider the student loan issue. Student loans and how they are administered are the national injustice of our time reaching threatening proportions and impacting the livelihood of young adults going forward. While at first glance, the problem appears complicated, confusing, and overwhelming; it is actually quite simple and its debt genesis hearkens back to the creation of this country. This problem transcends partisan and cultural divides and could serve to bring together those on the left and right on campus.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others were in debt up to their eyeballs to British banks and merchants. They came to understand how a lending system could be used against the citizens. Of course it was not just the Founders who were being exploited, many early settlers were indebted to English banks as well. John Adams famously remarked;

“There are two ways to enslave and conquer a country. One is by the sword. The other is by debt”

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When the Founders created the Constitution, they made it a point to reflect on bankruptcy rights prominently. Few people realize that a uniform bankruptcy system is called for before the power to raise an army or a navy, ahead of the power to coin currency, and even ahead of the power to declare war in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.
Obviously, bankruptcy rights were very important to these men.

Free men are not forced into any type of behavior by the government that We The People established and ordained. The government is to serve the people – not to force them into servitude and obedience. The people are sovereign, as the people came before the government and the Constitution that gave rise to the government.

Adam Smith, the founder of free market economics provided the basis for western economic theory, was compelled to advocate for bankruptcy protection as a means to encourage entrepreneurship, risk taking, and also a means to compel good faith in a lending relationship.

When an individual or firm goes bankrupt, a legal process is instigated to discharge debts that cannot be repaid. In former times such debtors might have been put into a debtors’ prison and languished there for years. The process weighs assets against liabilities and allows the debts to be discharged at some fraction of their nominal value, leaving the debtor free of the burden, albeit subject to rules of financial behaviour and with a blemish on their credit record which can last for years.

Student loans violate longstanding economic principles and as such the beliefs of the Founders. Today, Congress has placed conditions on student loan bankruptcy so severe; that of 169,000 people with student loans who filed for bankruptcy in 2014, fewer than 20 received relief. When our legislators first restricted the right to student loan bankruptcy in the 70’s, some members warned that such a move had dire constitutional implications, but their concerns went unheeded. As one University of Connecticut expert Philip Schuhman testified to Congress:

” students should not be singled out for special and discriminatory treatment. I have the further very literal feeling that this is almost a denial of their right to equal protection of the law. Nor do I think any evidence has been presented that these people, these young people just beginning their years on the whole should be singled out for special, and as I view it, discriminatory treatment. I suggest to you that this may at least in spirit be a denial of their right to equal protection with the virtual pole star of our constitutional ambit.”

Today, student loans are the only type of loan in this country from which bankruptcy rights have been removed leading to consequences so severe as to result in a form of peonage. Despite peonage being made illegal after the civil war in 1867, it still flourished in the form of sharecropping with former slaves and poor farmers farming plots of land owned by others. Sharecroppers supposedly received a percentage of the profits from sale of grown crops. The sharecroppers were forced to take out relatively large loans just to get by and meet daily expenses, buy seed, rent land, and pay the interest rates imposed on them by landlords.

Also in the past African Americans could be accused of falsely owing money or trivial sums, given sham trials and quickly sold off by the courts into a privatized system of debt slavery to pay back debt. The peonage contracts contained enslaving terms and conditions, allowing the employer to trade, confine, whip and beat workers as long as the debt was deemed unpaid, which could practically last forever.

While not as severe as peonage, students in default are denied access to federal programs and unemployment benefits. Social Security and employment wages can be garnished leading to diminished lifetime earnings and poverty. All of these conditions have a severe impact upon the overall economy as younger workers do not achieve their full earning potential.

The student loan industry is willfully predatory and profitable for the banks who lobbied intensely for the removal of bankruptcy protections and work hard to keep their monetary advantage. As Mr. Potter would say; “The bank always get paid” and this comes no matter what the terms or conditions of the loan are.

(run75441) In my own discussion with a former University of Michigan lobbyist who was regaling me after I dared to make a statement to Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow about what her stance and actions were with regard to student loans. “There is IBR and Repaye which are programs allowing payment back on student loans based upon income.” These programs are mostly failing because of one rule requiring the yearly application to the program rather than an automatic re-up into the program. The re-up is required to report income a factor which is automatically done for Medicare via computer systems. The manual yearly application for the programs was bound to be a failure just by this alone.

It was not just the banks cashing in on the removal of consumer protections. In 2012, the federal government booked over $50 billion in profit on the lending system and this has increased in more recent years. What is disturbing is White House Budget data showing a profit being made on defaults. Think about this: where a credit card company is thrilled to get back a dime on the dollar for their defaulted accounts; the federal government is actually getting back more than a dollar in return. This is a defining hallmark of a predatory lending system and unfortunately for the students, the Department of Education sits on top of it all doing everything it can to perpetuate this situation. Department of Education lawyers fight tooth-and-nail behind the scenes to deny legitimate bankruptcy. This form of government enforced peonage spans many presidents and Congresses and both political parties going back to the seventies.

In 1998, when Congress made bankruptcy permanently unavailable for the overwhelming majority of borrowers, the nation owed roughly $100 Billion in student loans. Today that has exploded to $1.5 Trillion. By the end of this year, nearly one in four borrowers will have defaulted on their loans. People’s lives are being devastated. Families are being torn apart, particularly where cosigners are put on the hook for their kid’s exploded loans. People are fleeing the country, and some are even committing suicide as a result of their student loan debt.

If you think you don’t need to worry because there are forgiveness programs in place, you are wrong. With 57% already kicked out of them income based repayment programs are failing misrably. Assuming the programs are not ended by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, I estimate only 10% will be successful and have their loans forgiven and still potentially taxed as income. The rest will be disqualified from the program and left owing far more than when they graduated.

Alan Collinge is the Founder of Student Loan Justice Org and author of “The Student Loan Scam” (Beacon Press).

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How to kill Social Security in 2 easy steps

How to kill Social Security in 2 easy steps
Here’s Kevin Drum advocating for step 1:

 the best way to address retirement security is to continue reforming 401(k) plans and to expand Social Security—but only for low-income workers. Middle-class workers are generally doing reasonably well, and certainly as well as they did in the past. We don’t need a massive and expensive expansion of Social Security for everyone, but we do need to make Social Security more generous for the bottom quarter or so of the population that’s doing poorly in both relative and absolute terms. This is something that every liberal ought to support, and hopefully this is the bandwagon that President Obama in now on.

Step 2:
Now that 3/4 of the population will be paying into a system to transfer their income to the bottom 1/4, you have instantly created a majority constituency that will benefit from killing the now-welfare program.
Why does Kevin Drum want to kill Social Security?

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Why a Case Against a Dark Money Charter School Group Is Great News for Democracy

Via Alternet:

Why a Case Against a Dark Money Charter School Group Is Great News for Democracy

Billionaire charter school backers in Massachusetts wanted their identities kept secret. In one of the most important decisions ever about dark money in politics, a Massachusetts charter school advocacy group has been ordered to make the names of its donors public, and pay the largest campaign finance fine in state history. The case is likely to reverberate across the nation.

This week, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) exposed the charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, not as the education reform group of its own masquerade, but as a dark money front designed to hide millions in contributions from plutocrats. The donors, who sought to keep their identities secret, spent big on a ballot question to dramatically expand charter schools in the state; voters rejected itby a wide margin in November.

OCPF reached a Disposition Agreement with Families for Excellent Schools that required the organization to register as a ballot committee and to admit that it had raised (and spent through the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee) over $15 million from donors “without disclosing the contributors, and by providing funds to the GSM Committee in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions.” (Press release here).

“Intended to disguise the true source of the contributions.” Marinate in that phrase for a bit.

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Deficits Do Matter, But Not the Way You Think

Dan here…a reminder about our federal deficit.

Deficits Do Matter, But Not the Way You Think
07.20.10    Roosevelt institute  L. Randall Wray

In recent months, a form of mass hysteria has swept the country as fear of “unsustainable” budget deficits replaced the earlier concern about the financial crisis, job loss, and collapsing home prices. What is most troubling is that this shift in focus comes even as the government’s stimulus package winds down and as its temporary hires for the census are let go. Worse, the economy is still — likely — years away from a full recovery. To be sure, at least some of the hysteria has been manufactured by Pete Peterson’s well-funded public relations campaign, fronted by President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — a group that supposedly draws members from across the political spectrum, yet are all committed to the belief that the current fiscal stance puts the nation on a path to ruinous indebtedness. But even deficit doves like Paul Krugman, who favor more stimulus now, are fretting about “structural deficits” in the future. They insist that even if we do not need to balance the budget today, we will have to get the “fiscal house” in order when the economy recovers.

In fact, MMT-ers NEVER have said any such thing. Our claim is that a sovereign government cannot be forced into involuntary default. We have never claimed that sovereign currencies are free from inflation. We have never claimed that currencies on a floating exchange rate regime are free from exchange rate fluctuations. Indeed, we have always said that if government tries to increase its spending beyond full employment, this can be inflationary; we have also discussed ways in which government can cause inflation even before full employment. We have always advocated floating exchange rates — in which exchange rates will, well, “float”. While we have rejected any simple relation between budget deficits and exchange rate depreciation, we have admitted that currency depreciation is a possible outcome of using government policy to stimulate the economy.

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Hurricane adjusted initial claims for week of Sept. 2: 239,000

Hurricane adjusted initial claims for week of Sept. 2: 239,000

Last week I promised I would repeat an exercise I first undertook in 2012 when Superstorm Sandy disrupted the initial claims data: estimating what the initial jobless claims would have been, but for the hurricane.

In 2012 I created that adjustment by backing out the affected states (NY and NJ) from the non-seasonally adjusted data.  That gave me the number of initial claims filed in the other 48 states.  I compared that with the same metric one year earlier, and multiplied by the seasonal adjustment.

What that does is give me the number if the affected states had the same relative number of claims during the given week, as all of the unaffected states.  In 2012, it showed that Sandy was not masking any underlying weakness in the economy.

The state by state data is released with a one week delay.  So what follows is the analysis for the week of September 2, the number for which was reported one week ago. This week I only had to back out Texas.  Next week I will undoubtedly have to back out Florida as well.

Here is the table for the Week of September 3 in 2016 vs. September 2 this year:

Metric                              2016                   2017

Seasonally adjusted:       257,000              298,000

Adjustment for total:       1.18%                1.19%

Not seasonally adjusted: 217,715              250,621

Texas claims:                     15,707                63,788

NSA claims ex-TX           202,008              186,833

TX as % of total:              7.2%                   n/a

2017 w/ TX adjustment:  n/a                      201,405

If we use the 2016 weekly seasonal adjustment of 1.18% for the adjusted 201,405 total, this gives us ~238,000.

If we use the 2017 weekly seasonal adjustment of 1.19% for the adjusted 201,405 total, this gives us ~240,000.

Thus the hurricane-adjusted initial jobless claims number for the week of September 2, 2017 is 239,000.

The underlying national trend in initial jobless claims remains very positive.

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