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

Issues Affecting Economic Growth – Gored Oxen Edition

I write about issues I believe affect economic growth. For example, over the years, I have written a lot about taxes. And here’s a simple graph showing why:

Tax Rates v Growth in Real GDP per capita

What we see is that tax rates at any given time seem to be related to the growth rate of real GDP per capita over the next decade. What is more, the correlation is positive. That is to say, growth tends to be faster when tax rates are higher, and not lower. This of course contradicts popular belief, particularly among Republicans. However, since economic growth is important for the quality of life of all Americans, getting this right matters. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, government policy has gradually moved us in a direction that inhibits growth.

Of course, it could be the relationship between tax rates and future growth shown in the graph is a spurious correlation. But that is unlikely, since it is very easy to explain why (up to a certain point) higher tax rates would lead to faster economic growth. Additionally, even people who get the direction of the correlation wrong are certain a correlation is there. But… if it ever does turn out that the relationship is spurious, we won’t find that out by keeping our head in the sand.

Another topic I have been writing on a lot lately is immigration. Here’s what a graph looking at the foreign born population in certain years and the growth rate of real GDP per capita over the next ten years:

Foreign Born Population v. Growth in Real GDP per capita

The correlation between the share of the population that is foreign born and the growth rate is negative, which indicates that as the foreign born share rises, growth falls. The correlation between these two variables, at least in the post WW2 era, is stronger than the correlation between tax rates and growth. This of course contradicts popular belief, particularly among Democrats. However, since economic growth is important for the quality of life of all Americans, getting this right matters. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, government policy has gradually moved us in a direction that inhibits growth.

Of course, it could be the relationship between the percentage of the population that is foreign born and future growth shown in the graph is a spurious correlation. But that is unlikely, since it is very easy to explain why (up to a certain point) having less immigration would lead to faster economic growth. Additionally, even people who get the direction of the correlation wrong are certain a correlation is there. But… if it ever does turn out that the relationship is spurious, we won’t find that out by keeping our head in the sand.

If it seems to you that I have written almost exactly the same thing about taxation and immigration, it isn’t your imagination.  I did a copy and paste of a big chunk of the first half of the post to the second half and changed a few words.  The fact is, the analysis is very similar. The only difference is whose ox is getting gored. A grown up is willing to look the data in the eyes and follow it where it goes.

Tags: , , Comments (27) | |

Risk Corridor, Healthcare Premiums, Companies Leaving the Exchanges, and Republicans

The Washington Post story “Rubio’s inaccurate claim that he ‘inserted’ a provision restricting Obamacare ‘bailout’ funds” is about a year old. Its relevance to the PPACA is in depicting how the Republicans undermined the PPACA causing many Co-ops to go bankrupt, insurance companies to leave PPACA exchanges, saddled insurance companies with $millions in debt, and is a reason for much of the premium increases. I am not pro-insurance; but, this effort to get even with Obama has set the stage for what will negatively affect millions of the insured.

I had written earlier about Rubio playing a part in cutting the funding for the Rick Corridor funding. He did play a not-so-critical part and while researching some additional information I ran across a better explanation.

The Risk Corridor program in the PPACA protects insurance companies from losses during the first three years if they did not estimate premiums properly which can happen in new markets with different characteristics. With the mandate to insure all with pre-existing conditions, keeping children on parents plans, the exchanges, etc.; the Risk Corridor program was put in place (besides two other safe guards) giving insurance companies and Co-ops a three year window to get it right. Besides looking at losses, the Risk Corridor also looked at the profits of companies who had estimated accurately, had excess profits as a result, and required them to pay a ratio of excess profits into the Risk Corridor fund to help underwrite the losses of other companies. Outside of a plus or minus 3% was the basis for whether you gave up a ratio of profits or received a ratio of funding from the Risk Corridor program. The Risk Corridor program is nothing new and was used successfully with Medicare Part D forcing the evil insurance companies to share profits with the government. It still is in place for Part D and “still” generates additional revenue for the government. I do not recall any Republicans complaining about funding for insurance companies then; but then too, Part D was Bush’s legislature while the PPACA legislation was Obama’s. Strictly politics and constituents will pay the price of it.

Depicting the Risk Corridor particulars rather than attempting to explain it in writing will give a better explanation. Click on the image to better read the chart. Please note the plus or minus 3% and then the different ratios of revenue sharing or funding from and to healthcare companies and Co-ops.

invisible hand So what happened? The Risk Corridor program works well for Part D, brings in revenue for the government, and is still in place. February 2014 found Rubio testifying to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on behalf of his bill. At the same time the CBO released their evaluation of the Risk Corridor program. Instead of being detrimental and a fiscal drag, the CBO projected the federal government would collect $16 billion from health insurers. Premiums would outpace claims, $8 billion would be distributed to the plans losing money, and $8 billion in additional revenue would be left for the federal government. Another House probe suggested initially there would be a shortfall with claims exceeding premiums.

The Republicans were not sitting idle and were investigating ways to derail the PPACA. As the ranking member of the Budget Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton came up with a plan to attack the legality of the Risk Corridor payments. They joined forces with the Appropriations Panel Chairman Rep. Jack Kingston whose panel funds the Department of Health and Human Services and the Labor Department. Kind of get the picture so far?

Questioning whether the Risk Corridor payments were being appropriated correctly, the Appropriations Panel forced the HHS to make changes in how they appropriated funds allowing Congress to stop all appropriations. The PPACA could no longer appropriate the funds as they were subject to the discretion of Congress. The GAO issue an opinion on the legality of what the HHS was doing with funds.

GAO Letter to Senator Jeff Sessions. September 30, 2014: Discussion; “At issue here is whether appropriations are available to the Secretary of HHS to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). Agencies may incur obligations and make expenditures only as permitted by an appropriation. U.S. Const., art. I, § 9, cl. 7; 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1); B-300192, Nov. 13, 2002, at 5. Appropriations may be provided through annual appropriations acts as well as through permanent legislation. See, e.g., 63 Comp. Gen. 331 (1984). The making of an appropriation must be expressly stated in law. 31 U.S.C. § 1301(d). It is not enough for a statute to simply require an agency to make a payment. B-114808, Aug. 7, 1979. Section 1342, by its terms, did not enact an appropriation to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). In such cases, we next determine whether there are other appropriations available to an agency for this purpose.”

Further down in the GAO letter, the GAO leaves the HHS an out of using other already available appropriations for the Risk Corridor payments to insurance companies. Classifying the payments as “user fees” was another way to retain the authority to spend other appropriations already made by Congress. Otherwise if revenue from the Risk Corridor program fell short, the administration would need approval for addition appropriations from Congress. As it was, the HHS could no longer appropriate funds to make Risk Corridor payments unless the funds were already appropriated by Congress or Congress approved new funds which was not going to happen with a Republican controlled House.

Appropriations Panel Chairman Rep. Jack Kingston put the final nail in the coffin by inserting one sentence in Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014) which escaped notice. In the 2015 Appropriations Act, the sentence inserted said no “other” funds in this bill could be used for Risk Corridor payments.

Sec. 227. None of the funds made available by this Act from the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund, or transferred from other accounts funded by this Act to the “Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–Program Management” account, may be used for payments under section 1342(b)(1) of Public Law 111-148 (relating to risk corridors).

This action blocked the HHS from obtaining any of the necessary Risk Corridor funds from any other Congressional appropriated program funds.

Nothing was said by Sessions, Upton, or Kingston before passage on what they had managed to do. It was Rubio who issued a news release saying the provision was appropriate even though he had little to do with it. In the end, Rep. Jack Kingston’s one sentence purposely created a $2.5 billion shortfall in the Risk-Corridor program in 2015 as the HHS had collected $362 million in fees. Insurers who had misjudged the market sought nearly $2.9 billion in payments, many nonprofit insurance Co-ops failed, healthcare insurance companies began to raise premiums to compensate, and some healthcare insurance companies recognizing an untenable environment created by Republicans took their losses and left the market.

Tags: Comments (13) | |

How do Americans get rich? (and stay rich?)

Originally published at Evonomics and reposted at Naked Capitalism, Angry Bear Steve Roth continues his conversation on riches, income, debt, and expectations. Steve Roth serves as Publisher of Evonomics.

By Steve Roth

How do Americans get rich?  (and stay rich?)

It’s the American dream. A third of Americans think they’ll be rich someday. More than half of 18–29 year olds think they will be.

Less than 5% actually make it.* And many of those do it the old-fashioned way: they inherit it. About 60% of U.S. household wealth is inherited. Between a quarter and a third of Forbes 400 billionaires got rich that way. It may not be the most common way to get there, but it’s widespread, and it’s surely the easiest way.

That aspiration to wealth is deeply understandable. Getting high income from a good job is all well and good, but because wealth begets more wealth — people are compensated simply for owning things — wealth is, potentially, forever. It persists, and spreads through families and dynasties. Wealth can, and often does, endure for generations.

So it’s worth asking: how do Americans accumulate wealth? And how does that vary across income and wealth classes? How do the bottom 50% accumulate wealth, for instance, compared to the top 1%?

The Distributional National Accounts

A huge aid to answering that question arrived last month. Gabriel Zucman, Emmanuel Saez, and Thomas Piketty (PSZ) released one of the most important pieces of economic research in the last century. Their Distributional National Accounts (DINAs) reveal the distribution of national income to different income classes, wealth classes, age groups, and genders (and potentially different races, etc. etc.). This has been unavailable in the national accounts, and as a result it’s absent in most macroeconomic empirical work.

Here’s one poster exhibit:

Collect the whole set.

Tags: Comments (17) | |

Culture Matters – Oil Curse Edition

The concept of the so-called Oil Curse is that countries that have an abundance of oil tend to be basket cases – undemocratic, kleptocratic, and poorly developed.  The Oil Curse is a special case of of what is sometimes called the Resource Curse.

Of course, not every country rich in oil has suffered from the Oil Curse.  Norway is a prime example of a nation that has benefited greatly from finding oil, but it is almost the exception that proves the rule.

On the other hand, if you think about it more broadly, there are plenty of other exceptions.  The big one is England.  Historians seem to think one of the reasons that the Industrial Revolution began there is because England had plenty of easily accessible coal and iron.  Which is to say, England struck oil, or at least the 18th century version of it.  Similarly, the oil boom that began in Titusville, PA around 1860 did great things for the US economy.

So what causes oil to be a curse for some countries but a boon to others?  One explanation commonly brought up is exploitation, particularly by Western oil companies.  I am no historian, but I don’t think this is right.  Many of the Oil Curse countries chose to go it alone, though some did so after expropriating the initial investments made by foreigners.

I think countries that appear to fall prey to the Oil Curse or any other Resource Curse don’t actually do so.  Instead, they are basket cases before the discovery of whatever resource, and they remain basket cases after.  On the other hand, countries that have functional economies that encourage innovation tend to find stumbling upon a resource to be a blessing.

Put another way…  having a culture that is conducive toward positive outcomes matters a lot.  And it seems to me that England on the verge of the Industrial Revolution, the US before 1860, and Norway before it stumbled on oil have a lot, culturally in common.  And the cultural traits those three cases have in common don’t seem to be shared by Oil Curse countries.

As I keep pointing out, the data shows that culture is a strong determinant of economic outcomes..

Tags: , , Comments (14) | |

Why Healthcare Premiums are increasing Faster than Healthcare Costs

invisible hand In the first three years of the PPACA, a Risk Corridor Program was established to help insurers get past the initial loss phases. This is typical of startups and was used with Republican President George Bush’s Part D Drug insurance program. The PPACA had built-in protections for insurers who enrolled many abnormally sick people, provided backup payments for very high-cost cases, and protected against big losses and gains during the first three years. Due to eliminating all “pre-existing conditions” with the implementation of the PPACA, this was the protection for companies and the incentive to take on the people with health issues. Not only did it help Insurers cover their losses; but, it was an incentive for insurers not to increase premiums. Much of the funding for the program comes from the Federal Government and profitable Insurance companies paying into the Risk Corridor fund which unprofitable companies use to recoup losses. However in the first three years losses exceeded funding from profitable companies due to a Republican Congress passing laws forcing the Risk Corridor Program to be budget neutral leaving 12.6% of the necessary funds available to make insurance companies whole. As many probably know, the shortfall of funding already forced many CO-OPs to go bankrupt and resulted in Healthcare Insurance companies pulling out of the Exchanges.

Those Healthcare Companies still a part of the PPACA have gone to Federal Court to sue the administration for sustained losses. Moda Health sued the administration for $191 million due to losses in implementing the PPACA supposedly covered by the Risk Corridor Program. Moda has dropped its program in Alaska as a result of its losses and has only received ~$14 million. The Risk Corridor Program ended in 2016 and companies now face the issue of never recouping losses beyond just this.

Interesting how the Republicans have been the proverbial slugs in the process and took advantage of the crisis they created by forcing the PPACA to be budget neutral when the Part D Drug Program had no restrictions. They limited how the PPACA can fund the same Risk Corridor Program used for George Bush’s Part D Program. In September of this year, “ five Republican Senators sent HHS Secretary Burwell a letter demanding how HHS is handling a much-maligned insurance provision within the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this month, the CMS had sent a memo to health insurance companies that said the agency would not be making risk-corridor payments for 2015 because any collections would be used to cover the $2.5 billion shortfall from 2014.”

Under the PPACA Budget Neutral Act passed by the Republicans, the administration (DOJ) must now defend the law claiming they were not guaranteed the massive payouts in the first place. In November Republicans introduced the “HHS Slush Fund Elimination Act,” which restricts the Administration from using any Federal funds for the Risk Corridor Program to settle with the healthcare companies owed money.

“We are going to repeal and replace Obamacare but, in the meantime, the last thing Americans need is for the Obama Administration to sneak in one last bailout on its way out the door,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)”

You can see;

– Why United Healthcare pulled out of the PPACA Exchange early as it did when a Republican controlled Congress reneged on the funding for the Risk Corridor Program to cover losses in the startup of the PPACA.

– Why Healthcare Insurance companies losing money would resort to increased premiums to compensate for the lack of Risk Corridor Program funds to cover the startup and losses.

– Why the Part D Drug companies have become successful and competitive amongst each other due to their successful startup with the availability of Risk Corridor Program funds.

All of this was an effort to deny the PPACA an opportunity to be successful by a Republican Congress who would deny its constituents healthcare just to get even with a President they did not like and deny him a legacy. Risk Corridors and associated programs still exist and will continue to exist for Medicare Part D; but then, this was pre-Obama and occurred under Republican President George Bush. No one called it a bailout then.

Furthermore, do you think any healthcare insurance company would ever want to be a part of a Government Healthcare plan for the public as implemented by Republicans after they have been repeatedly screwed by Congressional Republicans?

Tags: Comments (24) | |

Immigration, Democrats, Republicans and the NY Times

Tom Cotton, the junior United States Senator from Arkansas had a piece in the NY Times:

President-elect Trump now has a clear mandate not only to stop illegal immigration, but also to finally cut the generation-long influx of low-skilled immigrants that undermines American workers.

Yet many powerful industries benefit from such immigration. They’re arguing that immigration controls are creating a low-skilled labor shortage.

“We’re pretty much begging for workers,” Tom Nassif, the chief executive of Western Growers, a trade organization that represents farmers, said on CNN. A fast-food chain founder warned, “Our industry can’t survive without Mexican workers.”

These same industries contend that stricter immigration enforcement will further shrink the pool of workers and raise their wages. They argue that closing our borders to inexpensive foreign labor will force employers to add benefits and improve workplace conditions to attract and keep workers already here.

I have an answer to these charges: Exactly.

Higher wages, better benefits and more security for American workers are features, not bugs, of sound immigration reform. For too long, our immigration policy has skewed toward the interests of the wealthy and powerful: Employers get cheaper labor, and professionals get cheaper personal services like housekeeping. We now need an immigration policy that focuses less on the most powerful and more on everyone else.

Wasn’t this the Democrat’s position not long ago? When and why did that change?

 

Update…

1.  If it isn’t clear, Cotton is a Republican

2. The bolded section was part of Cotton’s piece, but I chose to bold it as I felt it was worth a special highlight.

Tags: , , Comments (66) | |