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

Texas Again: Which Rick Does More Harm?

That Rick Perry is a clueless candidate and skilled campaigner is something for Barack Obama’s minions to suffer.* That Perry’s curiosity goes no further than “Where’s My Next Corndog?” cannot be held against him; he only became what they made him, just as his predecessor did, though with a poorer transcript and lack of his father’s Rolodex. A real Horatio Alger story.

So we need to pay attention to who tells him things. And that appears to be people such as Richard Fisher, who recently went to W’s “home town” and bragged about the local economy. He starts by making any sane human being worry:

I, along with the 11 other Federal Reserve Bank presidents, operate the business of the Federal Reserve as efficiently as any bank in the private sector.

I’m certain that is true. Then he spreads the Usual Lie:

[W]e make money for the U.S. taxpayer: We returned over $125 billion to the U.S. Treasury in 2009 and 2010. You are looking at one of the few public servants that make money from its operations, rather than just spending taxpayer money.

English translation: We took money from the Treasury, and our Accounting looks nice because we don’t count the overpaying for “assets” or the free money on “excess reserves” as part of our losses. We can even make a fool out of Allan Sloan.

Oh, and by the way, we don’t “just spend taxpayer money,” like those evil people who run police departments, fire departments, and schools; or make roads, or ensure food and water safety; or do fundamental scientific research, to name a few, do.

Then he tries to tell his constituents that Texas is great, and that he will put “a heavy focus on the data,” which is supposed to explain (“connect the dots”) on why he “dissented from the consensus at the last meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).”

So the data should, at least, show an “I got mine, Jack” aspect, no? Let’s see below the fold if it does.

First he presents a graphic showing non-Agricultural Employment Growth baselined at 1990. Now, I might consider this a bit of cheating: in 1990, Texas was in the midst of its self-created S&L crisis. If it didn’t recover from them compared to the rest of the United States, I would assume (contra Brad DeLong [link updated]) that people realised there was no water table and therefore no opportunity for long-term growth (as opposed to the already-well-developed Greater NYC area and the San Francisco Fed areas** to which he contrasts Dallas).

Suffice it to say, you don’t get quite so dominant a picture if you start in mid-1992.

But let’s ignore that it’s easier to build if there’s Nothing There, and easier to expand if there are natural resources even if the rest of the area is a Vast Wasteland or Lubbock (but I repeat myself***). And let’s just look at what good all those jobs have done, with a heavy focus on, well, FRB Dallas data (from the start of their data):

Hmmm, not exactly consistent manufacturing productivity, even before the (recent) recession. Indeed, I might suspect that Texas since around early 2006 has been dependent on moving Services jobs there, not growth in the local economy. But I’m not a Fed Governor:

Now, let’s look at job creation in Texas since June 2009, the date that the National Bureau of Economic Research (or NBER, the body that “officially” dates when a recession starts and ends) declared the recent economic recession to have ended….[I]t is reasonable to assume Texas has accounted for a significant amount of the nation’s employment growth both over the past 20 years and since the recession officially ended.

Let us give him credit for admitting that the 49.9% number is major b*llsh*t. And half-credit for admitting that, if you drop the states that are still heavily negative, the number is below 30%. So things must be looking up in Texas, right?

Hmmm, a nice recovery—rather similar to the 1991-1992 gain—followed by some drop-off, water-treading, and another peak early this year that suggests seasonality, even though the data is Seasonally Adjusted.**** Difficult to argue an upward trend (see most recent footnote), but maybe stable.

Then again, I’m still not a Fed Governor. But let’s give him some credit for admitting this self-inconsistent point:

The most jobs have been created in the educational and health services sector, which accounts for 13.5 percent of Texas’ employment.

The education sector? Really? Can you say “stimulus monies“? People in Dallas sure can. Who is “just spending taxpayer money” now?

And credit Fisher for being fair enough to note the elephant in the Texas room:

I should point out that in 2010, 9.5 percent of hourly workers in Texas earned at or below the federal minimum wage, a share that exceeds the national average of 6 percent. California’s share was 2 percent and New York’s was 6.5 percent.

And for not thinking that the Fed’s dual mandate needs to prioritize nonexistent “inflation threats.”

It might be noted by the press here today that although I am constantly preoccupied with price stability―in the aviary of central bankers, I am known as a “hawk” on inflation―I did not voice concern for the prospect of inflationary pressures in the foreseeable future….My concern is not with immediate inflationary pressures.

Well, that’s good. And since the other half of the dual mandate is full employment, you’ll be expecting something positive from businesses, then, eh?

Importantly, from a business operator’s perspective, nothing was clarified, except that there will be undefined change in taxes, spending and subsidies and other fiscal incentives or disincentives. The message was simply that some combination of revenue enhancement and spending growth cutbacks will take place. The particulars are left to one’s imagination and the outcome of deliberations among 12 members of the Legislature.

Ma nishta ha-laili ha-zeh? But Fisher digs deeper:

On the revenue side, you have yet to see a robust recovery in demand; growing your top-line revenue is vexing. You have been driving profits or just maintaining your margins through cost reduction and achieving maximum operating efficiency. You have money in your pocket or a banker increasingly willing to give you credit if and when you decide to expand. But you have no idea where the government will be cutting back on spending, what measures will be taken on the taxation front and how all this will affect your cost structure or customer base.

Huh? I thought government was mean and evil and just spends taxpayer money. Shows what I know; I listened to a Fed Governor, one who tells me that businesses “have been driving profits or just maintaining your margins through cost reduction and achieving maximum operating efficiency.” Really should see some nice Production numbers in the past six months, then, no?

No. So when Richard Fisher later says:

[The business owner] might now say to yourself, “I understand from the Federal Reserve that I don’t have to worry about the cost of borrowing for another two years. Given that I don’t know how I am going to be hit by whatever new initiatives the Congress will come up with, but I do know that credit will remain cheap through the next election, what incentive do I have to invest and expand now? Why shouldn’t I wait until the sky is clear?”

There are two answers. The first is the obvious: the Fed only controls short-term rates for risk-free investment. They don’t control lending rates, and they don’t control long-term rates, which are what I’m interested in if I’m “going to hire new workers or build a new plant.” Now, QE2 made it marginally easier for me to borrow in the long-term, but that’s gone now. So unless I’m stupid enough to pretend I’m a bank—if I borrow short-term and create long-term liabilities, I better be damned sure someone will refinance me until the project is finished—the Fed guaranteeing that the short-term Government borrowing rate is going to stay low for a while doesn’t mean much to me.

The second is more interesting: if I believe in competitive advantage, I want my new products on the shelf before my competitor has hers there. I cannot sell what you cannot see. So I want my plant started now—while I can still get the best available workers before my competitor does, while I can still pick a prime location (less of an issue in a Vast Wasteland, but not insignificant if you’re Dallas- or Houston-area), and while I can negotiate a deal with someone who needs me in their space more than I need to be there.

But that is only true if Richard Fisher has been telling the truth about how well I’m running my Texas-based business. And that, not to put too fine a point on it, appears to be—to coin a Texas phrase—bullshit.

I know the reality of Rick Pery: it’s a hermetic, incurious one in which women are property, you read what they tell you, and you get to take credit for a win, even if it’s your handlers doing all the work, including telling you what to do later. It’s not a world of which I approve, but my lack of approval doesn’t mean I believe it doesn’t exist.

I don’t know what reality Richard Fisher inhabits; it is certainly not one in which there is “a heavy focus on the data.” At least not data that is related to the Fed’s dual mandate, or how nonfinancial businesses make long-term decisions, or how to attain a competitive advantage.

Rick Perry speaks to his true believers. Richard Fisher expects you to believe him. Currently, only one of them is trying to do national harm to the economy, and it’s not the (soon-to-be) 45th President of the United States.

*And the rest of the United States when Bachmann-Perry Overdrive starts on 20 January 2013, but that’s tangential.

**Fairness requires me to note that much of the state of California is a desert, though not so bad a one as most of West Texas. Accordingly, growth in those areas would, pari passu be similar to that of Texas, save that there is no not enough***** oil in Central California. But never let it be said that we would expect an FRB official to understand geography.

***And let us always remember that Lubbock gave us the greatest white rock musician of all time.

****Good thing I left out the pre-2006 data, so we don’t have to note that the peaks post-Great Recession are close to the ca. 2006 troughs.

*****Correction by dilbert dogbert in comments noted.

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A Bleg – Private Consumption Multiplier

from Mike Kimel

Hi. For a project I’m working on, I need to find estimates of a private consumption multiplier. That is to say, the multiplier resulting from changes in private consumption rather than, say, from changes in gov’t spending or taxation. Any pointers? Please let me know in comments are by email (mike period kimel at Thanks.

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Sources and Uses: Kash Delivers

Two posts on European Banks and their view of what constitutes a “Safe Harbor.”

His conclusion isn’t just The Pull Quote of the Year, it’s the Pull Quote That Explains the Year:

Putting it all together yields a compelling story: European banks are shifting their cash assets out of European banks and putting much of them into US banks. (An interesting question is what European MFIs have done with the remaining money they’ve withdrawn from the European banking system… but that’s a story for another day.) This has happened at a significant rate, with a net transatlantic flow from European to US banks that probably totals close to half a trillion dollars in just six months.

If you’re wondering exactly who has been the first to lose confidence in the European banking system, look no further. It seems that at the forefront is the European banking system itself.

Go Read the Whole Things

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Does Advertising Work (even though you think it doesn’t)

Nigel Hollis writes

Successful advertising rarely succeeds through argument or calls to action. Instead, it creates positive memories and feelings that influence our behavior over time to encourage us to buy something at a later date. No one likes to think that they are easily influenced. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that we respond negatively to naked attempts at persuasion.

Instead, the best advertisements are ingenious at leaving impressions.

So advertising works slowly at a time not correlated with seeing the ad. Hmmm, that’s just what advertisers would say if advertising didn’t work at all.

What is Hollis’s evidence that advertising works ?

“I often respond by pointing out that U.S. companies would not invest $70 billion (yes, that’s the size of TV’s ad market) in something they thought didn’t work.”

With the same approach, one could prove that huge compensation packagers for CEOs are in shareholders’ interests. I can think of an explanation based on principal/agent problems for why firms would advertise more than the shareholder value maximizing amount. It is more fun to be the CEO of a very famous firm than to be the CEO of a firm which sells its product because it is cheap. How can we test the shareholder value maximizing theory of advertising against the CEOs ego theory?

OK I admit that Hollis has another bit of evidence — the advertising skeptic who provoked the post remembers brands. I have thought of that. As a matter of principle, I remember funny ads but forget the brand. OK, I admit I remember a few Alka Seltzer ads (never bought the product) and ads for Lavazza, Segafredo and the Y10 (never bought any of the products).

I also remember the slogan “You always get your way at Oursman Chevrolet.” This doesn’t do Mr Oursman any good, because he sells Chevys in the Washington, D.C., area, and I buy Fords in the Rome area. But you can see how it was good for his ego.

It seems to me that there is a whooole lot of advertising which includes the bosses name.

My other claim is pretty much the opposite. I would guess that closely held firms advertise less—that advertising is a kind of managerial slack reduced by close alignment of ownership and control. I don’t live in the USA so I ask for information—has anyone seen a Walmart’s ad?

A natural experiment, what happened to their advertising when investment banks went public?

How about advertising by investment banks when they went public? What happens to advertising when KKR or Bain take over a company?

I sure have a guess.

Now I am not saying that there are no valuable brands (my daughter asked why a sign said coca cola when she was 3).

But it sure seems likely to me that advertising budgets are distorted up (compared to shareholders’ interests) by vain managers.

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Water, Rights and Privileges, and Global Markets

An article about famine in the Horn of Africa by Maude Barlow appeared today. It is worth your consideration. (h/t coberly) My own response is in comments. Following are excerpts:

Most Westerners see the crisis in the Horn of Africa as a combination of a large population, chronic poverty, corruption on the part of African government officials, failed states and no rain, and that none of this will ever change so giving money to this self perpetuating crisis is throwing it away. But I offered another narrative that I believe is closer to the truth.

I believe the water and food crises in the Horn of Africa are the direct result of old-fashioned colonial exploitation: land grabs by foreign hedge and investment funds and wealthy countries setting up large foreign-based agribusinesses that are guzzling the lion’s share of the water resources and using them to grow crops and biofuels for export and drive up speculation.

Foreign acquisitions are forcing small farmers and peasants off the land depriving them of access to food and water. The food and water of the region is being used for export for profit and not being used for local people. As a result, food prices in the region have gone up 200 per cent in less than a year and the price of water has risen 300 per cent. The foreign minister of Ethiopia defends his government’s actions with the neo-liberal explanation that these foreign “investments” will make the country wealthy enough that it can stop producing food and start buying it on the world market.

But exactly the opposite is happening when you drain the land of its water, as is being done by this agribusiness industry, and the rains stop coming. The drought is directly related to both climate change and the resulting desertification of a land stripped of its water sources. Here is what is essential to know: deserts can arise because humans treat land and water badly.

Desertification is taking place in over 100 countries in the world, as we strip the land of land-based water from aquifers and rivers, sending it to thirsty mega-cities (who dump it untreated into oceans), or using it to grow food and other goods for the world market, where it is transported out of local watersheds in the form of “virtual water exports.”

[end of excerpts. feel free to research the subject yourself. if Barlow is right, she provides a much more reality based understanding of what is going on in the world than the usual politicized and politicized economics analyses we usually see… coberly]

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Define Rich, Part III. What the tax tables of yore say.

 By Daniel Becker

Randolph Duke: Money isn’t everything, Mortimer.
Mortimer Duke: Oh, grow up.
Randolph Duke: Mother always said you were greedy.
Mortimer Duke: She meant it as a compliment.
A while ago (an understatement) I posted on the question of what is rich. The first dealt with what issues to consider in defining rich. The second was looking at the issue of getting rich if that is even what one wants to do. The “rat race”. I don’t believe most people really want to be rich. I believe most people when thinking about being rich are thinking about what it would take to remove the fears of events that would make one’s life either very difficult in a world that requires money to remove risk or drastically different from what one’s life was. I’m thinking things like losing a job, debilitating injury or illness possibly resulting in physical disability or Louis Winthorpe III.
This all ties into “The American Dream”. The “Dream” is not just an ideology of governance and social philosophy. It is also a life style and thus requires a specific level of income. I have posted on this issue also and noted just how high in income we have driven this “Dream” such that two people with bachelor’s degrees just starting life together may not be able to have it.
Now that we have entered a period where taxes are on everyone’s minds such that there is serious consensus to raising taxes, maybe we need to see what we had in the past to know what we need now. I am sure most readers are aware of Mike’s work defining what rates appear to effect economic growth the best. If I recall correctly the number for the top 1% was around 65%. I have also suggested that there is a range as to how large a share of the income the top 1% should have. That number for the top 1% is not to be above 15% and not to much below 10%.
I should also mention my postings on taxation’s purpose. Specifically I looked at taxing from the perspective of the legal profession as oppose to the economic profession. The conclusion was that there was one main reason for taxing. It is to fulfill the directive of our constitution: equality of power. It is to assure the concept of one voice one vote. If there was ever a time in our history to raise taxes in order to assure this directive it is now in the age of the Citizens United ruling. President FDR referred to the issue and those with the one voice multiple votes do to their monied power as “economic royalty”. I like that phrase and I wonder why it is not used as are retort to those who use “class warfare” as a guilt trip.
Let’s get started.

I have constructed 4 sets of data using the tax rates of 1936/37, 1945/46, 1965/67 and 2010. I chose 1936 because it is a tax rate increase after the economy had turned north based on Mikes posting. I chose 1945/46 because it is another adjustment that happens right after after WWII. I chose 1965/67 because it is the decrease often spoken of fondly. Of course 2010 is because that is where we are at.

This posting would be hugely long if I post on all 4 periods at once, so I have broken it up. Let me first and I think most importantly note that we people today have no idea just how much we were willing to tax ourselves to have the society that we now refer to as “the good old days”. Not only did we have the tax tables of 1936, that table eventually had a 10% surcharge added to pay for the war. Yes, another reason to consider the generation that fought the 1st and 2nd world wars the greatest generation. There was a 7% surcharge for the Vietnam war, though that number became less as time passed. Still, we knew that if we wanted to do exceptional things, we had to tax ourselves exceptionally. Also, the early taxation made no distinction for single or married, never mind filing joint or separate. Everyone paid the same rate. Most interestingly, with the current table, the people who comparatively get screwed are those who are married and file separately. All the rates kick in at a lower income than even those who are single. The other thing we don’t seem to understand is that all the tax rhetoric we have been hearing since Reagan we’ve heard before virtually to the word.
Andrew Mellon, Treasury Secretary 1921 to 1932 :
Generally speaking, Mellon argued that tax burdens were too high. Steep rates, he insisted, served only to stifle incentive and foster tax evasion. “Any man of energy and initiative in this country can get what he wants out of life,” he wrote. “But when initiative is crippled by legislation or by a tax system which denies him the right to receive a reasonable share of his earnings, then he will no longer exert himself and the country will be deprived of the energy on which its continued greatness depends.”
Worse yet, Mellon argued, high rates didn’t even raise money. By encouraging both legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion, they eroded the tax base and reduced overall revenue. Lower rates, he said, would actually raise money by spurring economic growth and reducing the incentive for tax avoidance. “It seems difficult for some to understand,” he complained, “that high rates of taxation do not necessarily mean large revenue to the government, and that more revenue may actually be obtained by lower rates.” In particular, Mellon insisted that high rates distorted investment decisions, boosting the popularity of tax-free state and local government bonds. Indeed, Mellon made these tax-free bonds a regular target of his reform attempts, but Congress resisted his plans to eliminate them.
Atlas Shrugged wasn’t even written then!  What we don’t hear much of are the original concerns and reasoning for progressive taxation. Teddy Roosevelt:
1906…We should discriminate in the sharpest way between fortunes well-won and fortunes ill-won; between those gained as an incident to performing great services to the community as a whole, and those gained in evil fashion by keeping just within the limits of mere law-honesty.
1907 regarding an income tax:…while in addition it is a difficult tax to administer in its practical working, and great care would have to be exercised to see that it was not evaded by the very men whom it was most desirable to have taxed, for if so evaded it would, of course, be worse than no tax at all; as the least desirable of all taxes is the tax which bears heavily upon the honest as compared with the dishonest man.
No advantage comes either to the country as a whole or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes which would be affected by such a tax; and as an incident to its function of revenue raising, such a tax would help to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity for the people of the generations growing to manhood. We have not the slightest sympathy with that socialistic idea which would try to put laziness, thriftlessness and inefficiency on a par with industry, thrift and efficiency; which would strive to break up not merely private property, but what is far more important, the home, the chief prop upon which our whole civilization stands. Such a theory, if ever adopted, would mean the ruin of the entire country–a ruin  which would bear heaviest upon the weakest, upon those least able to shift for themselves.
At this moment, I want to mention corporate taxes. There are lessons to be learned from it’s history. I think it is a factor in understand more completely the issue Mike is focusing on: taxation and GDP growth. Wrap your minds around the fact that from 1936 to 1943 there were 6 years that corporate tax collections were greater than personal income tax collections. 1943 was the best year for this as personal income tax collections were 68.1% of the corporate tax collections. Just one year later it flips to corporate tax collections being 75.3% of personal income tax collections. In 1944 $34,543 million in total for the two taxes was collected vs 1943 $16,062 million in total.  In fact, personal income taxes remain in the mid to high 40 percent of total revenue collections from 1944 to present. The corporate share of total revenue peaks in 1943 at 39.8% and declines to hover around the 10% level with a few ventures into the single digits. Most notably 1983 the corporate share was 6.2% and 2009 it was 6.6%.
First up is our current tax table. I used the “married filling jointly” as that would be consistent with the other tables. One big rule of this series of postings: DO NOT concern yourself or me about the deductions that exist. They do not matter for this presentation and for all intent and purposes we can consider the income to have already gone through the deduction calculator and is now ready to have the tax table applied. This is because, these tables only apply to adjusted gross income.
You will notice that the table is calculated out to $,1,000,000 of income. I did this in order to keep all the tables going to the same income level. The 1936 table actually has rates for incomes up to $8 million. That is $8 million in 1936. (Using my favorite money converter that would be $301,000,000 in unskilled labor or $573,000,000 in GDP/capita.) Going to $1,000,000 in income also allows one to see what happens at the top when the rate no longer rises.
A very important concept to understand is that not every dollar is taxed at the single percentage rate as you go up the income ladder. Thus, there are two columns in my charts. The “Marginal Tax” is the additional money paid at the top of the bracket for the corresponding rate. The “Total tax” is the actual money paid up to that level. It is the “effective rate”. In simple terms, if you are at the 35% level, you 
are not paying 35% on all that you earn. Instead you are paying the amount based on your income being divided up into the number of brackets that exist. For 2010, there are 6 brackets, thus you have six different incomes so to speak.
This is what it looks like as a graph.
When the rate maxed out, I divided the range to $1 million into even parts so that the tax paid for each additional income level is the same. For the 1945/46 and 1965/67 data sets I converted the net income to 2010 dollars. I used the “unskilled labor” and GDP/cap as those are the 2 factors suggested as being the best for knowing what income equivalents are over time. The 1936 data set is converted to 1967 dollar because the numbers just get crazy. For example, a net income of $3840 is $145,000 in unskilled labor and $275,000 in GDP/cap. Though it is only $60,400 via the CPI. Which doesn’t say much for today’s median family income. It also gives us a clue as to just how much money is considered “rich”.
Next posting, I will start presenting the historical data sets. I’m still thinking about the best way to do it as what is important is the comparison among the data sets.  Maybe post just the data charts and later the graphs or maybe one data set and it’s graphs at a time. 

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Links Worth Rants

Busy day on several fronts, but these should be discussed and I’ve already posted one rant this week, so a riff on the second piece would be overkill. Sort of an Open Thread, with four topics.

  1. Tyler Cowen argues that, instead of giving out stimulus monies, the government should just hire people directly. No, really:

    Let’s say seventy percent of the stimulus gets spent on labor at all, and only forty-two percent of that gets spent on unemployed labor….That’s less than thirty percent of the initial expenditure being spent on unemployed labor and that is before any other problems with the expenditures kick in. It’s hard for me to see that as a triumph of the program (NB: we are only talking about one part of ARRA here); would direct government employment have overhead costs that high?

    UPDATE: Matt Yglesias comes the same conclusion I did: that the Jones and Rothschild study advocates “a targeted make-work program for unemployed people.” And Mike Konczal does the definitive takedown of pretending the study reads as anything other than that ARRA was successful and too small.

  2. Anyone who thinks that S&P will be in business five years from now should read this piece. Not even the market is stupid enough to believe that house prices cannot decline 5%, or that the costs of payment delays and the like will not eat the “value” of these securities. That’s not unique; what has changed is that investors are saying so.
  3. Marshall Auerback suggests that Germany may be preparing to exit the Euro. My rough sketches suggest that’s a bad idea for their banks, but it might do their companies some good. As he notes, “[his] view, which was once considered borderline crazy, is now getting more serious consideration.”
  4. Everyone who claimed that Jon Huntsman is a “sensible, sane Republican” owes the rest of us a sackcloth-and-ashes level apology. Anyone who still does it is a pawn or an idiot.

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