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

Money makes the world…

Even though Angry Bear has as an audience of people who are more than beginners in economic thought,  I think it worthwhile to pursue basic stories about what we demand and value from our way of life, which includes the “economy”.

I had a recent experience where an acquaintance came up to me and asked about Angry Bear and then proceeded to explain what formed the basics of his economic narrative. In rough form and I think my summation accurate enough for casual conversation: Capital is like stocks, debt is like bonds, and rents are had by all…government (I think he meant taxes and ?), companies arbitage?, monopolies (profits and ?). He also asked who I read to get my information (I assume he was asking for a reference or two for Econ 202 information).

I actually wasn’t sure how to respond given his perceptions and also I wasn’t sure how great an interest he had in sorting out his stories or math on economics…I had mine, but there needs to be common ground somewhere. At least we had not begun with the tweet kind of economics spouted by political figures and slogans for PR campaigns.  And he actually might be interested and willing to re-think basics. What might the format be to encourage him to be more thoughtful?

I think this worth pursuing beyond the tired story line of avoiding Uncle so and so at Thanksgiving dinner or the neighbor who has clearly and unequivocally bought into simple political memes.   Barkley Rosser’s Could the US default due to a Complexity Catastrophe? offers another example.

Where does one begin with experience and smart people in one’s circles of activities?

How to think like and economist of that is what you wish by Brad DeLong

I have long had a “thinking like an economist” lecture in the can. But I very rarely give it. It seems to me that it is important stuff—that people really should know it before they begin studying economics, because it would make studying economics much easier. But it also seems to me—usually—that it is pointless to give it at the start of a course to newBs: they just won’t understand it. And it also seems to me—usually—that it is also pointless to give it to students at the end of their college years: they either understand it already, or it is too late.

By continuity that would seem to imply that there is an optimal point in the college curriculum to teach this stuff. But is that true?

What do you think?

(Dan here….also lifted from comments)

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What Will It Take for Republicans to Be Able to Revise the ACA

The first section of issues McConnell and Republicans must overcome requires 60 votes due to the Parliamentarian ruling the provisions of the BCHA violate the Byrd Rule; consequently, the Reconciliation procedure requiring only 51 votes can not be used to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or waive the Byrd rule. The second set of provisions ruled upon by the Parliamentarian only require 51 or a majority vote to pass these changes.

There is little McConnell and Republicans can do to get past a supermajority vote. McConnell appears to be confident and it may also be possible to kill the supermajority vote. It will be interesting to see what he is thinking. The vote will take place this week unless canceled or rescheduled.

The provisions that the Parliamentarian ruled may be stricken if raised by a point of order include (requires 60 votes to waive the Byrd rule)

• The provision defunding Planned Parenthood;
• The provisions prohibiting the use of small business tax credits and individual market premium tax credits to pay for health plans that cover abortions;
• The sunset of an essential health benefit coverage requirement for Medicaid plans;
• The section funding cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which the Parliamentarian ruled was redundant of current law, which already funds them (this ruling seems contrary to the lower court’s ruling in House v. Price that money had not been appropriated for the CSRs, but is consistent with the belief that the CSRs are already built into the budget baseline, thus an appropriation does not affect the deficit. A bill to clarify the appropriation situation could, of course, be passed separately from the reconciliation act;
• The six-month waiting period for individuals who have not maintained continuous coverage;
• The provision sunsetting the federal medical loss ratio requirement and allowing states to set the medical loss ratio;
• A provision, that has been removed from the most recent version of the BCRA, that might have allowed states to rollover unused Medicaid block grant funds and possibly use them for other purposes;
• The “Buffalo Bailout” which would have limited the ability of New York State to require counties other than those in New York City to contribute funding to the state’s Medicaid program (the ruling on this provision should caution against including further state-specific provisions in future versions of the legislation);
• A provision grandfathering certain Medicaid waivers and prioritizing Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waivers;
• A provision requiring a report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to Congress regarding the preferability of adopting a different system for reporting Medicaid data; and,
• A section requiring HHS to consult with the states before finalizing Medicaid rules,
• The provision allowing age rating at a 1 to 5 rather than the current 1 to 3 ratio, increasing premiums for older people and decreasing them for younger; and
• The provisions allowing small business association health plans that would be regulated as large group health plans, largely free from state regulation.

The Parliamentarian upheld against a Byrd rule challenge (requires majority vote to pass):

• A provision allowing state the option of imposing work requirement on Medicaid enrollees who are not disabled, elderly, pregnant, or within 60 days of giving birth;
• A provision granting $10 billion to Medicaid non-expansion states;
• The state stability and innovation fund, which imposes abortion restrictions by funding the program through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which already prohibits abortion funding;
• A provision adjusting per capita cap targets for low-spending and high-spending states to promote equity;
• The permanent repeal of the cost-sharing reduction program beginning in 2020; and,
• A provision requiring states to include information on per capita enrollment and expenditures, psychiatric hospital expenditures, and children with complex conditions in their Medicaid expenditure reports.

There are a few more issues the Parliamentarian still has to rule upon which I have not included; but, you can find them on the link I have provided. Senate Parliamentarian Rules on BCRA July 25, 2017

Senate GOP Wins Vote To Debate Health Care, Then Loses Vote On ACA Replacement Bill July 26, 2017, Tim Jost, Health Affairs Blog

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Of the two meanings of “Neoliberalism”

Of the two meanings of “Neoliberalism”

The use of the term “neoliberal” has recently been criticized as a meaningless epithet, a tabula rasa used to disparage anyone deemed unsatisfactorily conservative.

To the contrary, I think the term “neoliberal” is fairly precise, but much like the term “liberal” itself, it has two quite different meanings depending on whether the definition descends from its original European or American incarnation.  The first variety is very right-wing. The second is centrist.

A good description of right-wing neoliberalism can be found in this article in Al Jazeera this past weekend on a right-wing awakening in Latin America:

[N]eoliberalism is … a means to an end. The state is purposefully reduced in its scope of action to a minimum – by way of policies associated with fiscal austerity, financial deregulation, free trade and the privatisation of public assets, among others – so nothing can prevent the market and its profit-oriented agents from reaching a fair point of equilibrium between demand and supply. According to those who advocate such perspective, the state is nothing but a “necessary evil”.

Similarly, Brad DeLong has said:

[R]ight-neoliberalism is the claim that social democracy was one huge mistake–that it created a North Atlantic of takers who mooched off the makers. It holds that if we got rid of social democracy, we would have a utopia because the makers wouldn’t have to carry the takers on their backs and the takers would shape up ….

This right-wing meaning, of “neoliberalism” is a reincarnation of European-style 19th Century laissez-faire liberalism, a belief that the ideal state should operate and be limited by the rule of law, and administered by neutral officials selected on merit, with the economic markets left to themselves without interference by government. Nineteenth century liberals had no problem with, for example, government  promotion of infrastructure, including things like sanitation and education. Right-wing neoliberals, by contrast, see all government bureaucracy as inherently evil — even, as we saw in the case of Flint, Michigan, in the case of basic sanitation.

Note that right-wing neoliberalism is similar to, but not quite the same as, “libertarianism.” Libertarians believe the state also has no business in the private sphere of people’s lives. Thus it should stay out of the bedroom as well as the boardroom.  Not necessarily for right-wing neoliberalism. Right wing liberalism is agnostic as to whether foreign policy is passive or imperialistic, and whether or not government intervenes in the social sphere, so long as it stays out of the economic sphere.

The second type of “neoliberalsim,” centrist neoliberalism, originates from the US meaning of liberalism, and is once again defined pretty  well by Brad DeLong:

1. Most of the time the best way to accomplish social-democratic ends will be to get the money to the people who maximally want those ends accomplished, and then let them spend it.

2. Most of the time the best way to correctly manage the market system so that it doesn’t rain destruction upon the land is to impose the appropriate anti-destruction-raining Pigovian taxes (and subsidies).

3. Most of the time command-and-control is strictly dominated by other modes of government intervention that are less vulnerable to naked rent-seeking by the politically influential.

Elsewhere he quotes John Quiggin:

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More on Police Shootings and Race

In my last post, I linked to a post by Peter Moskos noting that:

People, all people, are 1.6 times more likely, per capita, to be shot and killed by police in states that are less than 10 percent black compared to states more than 10 percent African American. Blacks are still more likely than whites, per capita to be shot overall. But this ratio (2.6:1) doesn’t change significantly based on how black a state is.
For both whites and blacks, the likelihood of being shot by police is greater in states with fewer blacks. And the difference is rather large. There are seven states less than two percent black. In 2015 and 2016, zero blacks were shot and killed in Maine, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. But if you think cops don’t shoot people in these states, you’re wrong. Compared to the four states with the highest percentage of African-American (Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland are more than 30 percent black), the overall rate of police-involved killings in states with few blacks is higher. And this is despite a lower rate of overall violence.

It seems an odd result, so I have given it a bit of thought. I think I know what is happening and will try to provide a bit of an explanation over a few posts. I will start by noting that this is what the homicide rate looks like by state when put against the rate of killings by police:

Homicides v killings by police, figure 1
(Click to embiggen. Note that data sources are shown on the chart.)

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Could The US Default Due To A Complexity Catastrophe?

Could The US Default Due To A Complexity Catastrophe?

Definitely.

Front  page story in today’s Washington Post by Damien Paletta reports that “Treasury chief hurtles toward fiasco,” the fiasco being a failure to raise the US debt ceiling in time to avoid a default.  Trump has declared that Sec Mnuchin is responsible for this matter, which he should be, but somehow has not made a sufficiently definitive statement to keep his former Freedom Caucus big cheese OMB director, Mulvaney, from opining that Mnuchin is an out of it New York finance guy (Goldman Sachs even) who is not well connected in Washington, and he, Mulvaney, thinks that the dumb games he played as a Congressman threatening to default are appropriate for  somebody in charge of all this.

The deadline is approaching, although it might be somewhere between early September and mid-October, but at some point if the debt ceiling is not raised, the US will seriously default, something we have not seen, and I doubt that any deal Mulvaney might propose would get through this dysfunctional Congress.  And the article reports that while Mnuchin wants a “clean raise” before  the Congress really shuts down in August, well, according to WaPo, he does not have the “stature in Washington to press through a vote on a measure” supported by all previous Treasury Secretaries.  Indeed, the article is right that he may not be able to do so, and the US may well seriously default on its debt for the first time, something the gang that Mulvaney has belonged to has declared is no big deal. We may be about to find out if that is correct or not.

In thinking about this I have come to realize that part of the problem is that this is a very complicated issue, one that few people understand, and that this lack of understanding is self-propagating: that few understand it means that there are few who can teach those who do not understand it what it is about. The upshot is that an incredibly miniscule proportion of the US population has any remote idea what all this  is about, so are not  putting any pressure on these loud mouthed Congresspeople to behave resonably. If in fact there is a default and it leads to a global financial crisis that puts the world economy back into a serious recession, well, who could have known that, and who will be to blame?

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Game Of Thrones Guesses

Dan here…Lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts:

Game Of Thrones Guesses

1. I guess from the TV series it is official that John Snow is the son of Lyanna Start and Rhaegar Targaryan
2. I’m a fairly sure that Lyanna Stark is also the knight of the laughing tree (and that’s part of the reason Rhaegar loved her so much it caused a civil war).
3. in King’s Landing there is a black cat with one ear who hates Lannisters . I am suspect that he was Rhaenys Targaryen’s pet whom she calle Bellarion the dread. I also suspect that Arya Stark will see through that cat’s eyes.
4. I am fairly confident that the horn of Joramun was found by John Snow with obsidian weapons and given to Sam Tarly
5. I am quite confident that the younger brother of Cersei who will strangle her is Jaime not Tyrion.
6. of course John Snow is one of the heads of the dragon. I guess that Aegon Targaryen VI isn’t the third (he would appear in the TV series if he were important). Some suspect that Tyrion is the bastard son of the mad king. I don’t have a guess. Also Brandon as Warg might control a dragon.

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Foxconn aims to break the bank

Foxconn aims to break the bank

While the head of the illegitimate Trump regime makes multiple headlines telling the New York Times that he is above the law, we have to remember that there are plenty of other issues of concern to the middle class. One of the most striking is the latest huge bidding war for a gigantic Foxconn manufacturing plant (h/t David Haynes), slated to employ a massive 10,000 workers.

The linked article interviews an American consultant based in Beijing, Einar Tangen, who says that Foxconn’s standard procedure is to get as much incentives out of state and local governments as possible; indeed, he says, “You can expect Foxconn to get as close to zero cost as they can. They can do it because they bring so many jobs.” Yes — and no.

Yes, 10,000 jobs is a lot of jobs for a single U.S. investment project. But Foxconn has strong motivations to invest in the United States, most importantly the fear of protectionist trade policies that will keep their iPhones and other electronics out of the country. This mirrors the mid-1980s, when exactly the same fear spurred most Japanese automakers to build at least one assembly plant in the United States. If the company has to have a presence in the U.S. market, especially as competitors were doing during the 1980s, the firm does not actually have that strong a bargaining position vis-à-vis the United States.

The problem, just as in the 1980s, is that as long as individual states do not coordinate their bidding (as happens in the European Union), the dynamic of bidding wars will induce them to offer outrageously high location subsidies, sometimes even in excess of 100% of the cost of the investment. Individual states do not take into effect what happens in other states when they do their cost-benefit analyses of economic development projects. The fact that the new investment will directly or indirectly destroy jobs at competing facilities is of no concern to policymakers in, say, Wisconsin, who will not adjust their cost-per-job estimates to reflect this dynamic.

While the United States has a strong bargaining position, individual states bidding against each other do not have a strong bargaining position. Foxconn believes it *has* to come to the United States, but it does not have to locate its new manufacturing plant in Wisconsin. Nor does it have to put it in Michigan, another state apparently in the hunt for this factory. But we can see that there will be a bidding war with at least two states pursuing the facility, and it will drive up the cost of location subsidies spectacularly. Perhaps we’ll see a new all-time record.

Oddly enough, even the states have a factor increasing their bargaining power, a low unemployment rate. In May 2017, Wisconsin’s unemployment was down to 3.1%, while Michigan’s was 4.2%. For Michigan, this represents a decline of 10.7 percentage points(14.9% to 4.2%) since the peak in July 2009. All other things equal, both states should be less desperate to get these jobs than they would have been in 2009.

Call me cynical, but I’ll believe it when I see it for the states to refrain from a bidding war.

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US Public Support for Medicaid

Prominent among the things that the out of touch elite knows about regular Americans in, say Kansas where something is the matter, is that those people oppose means tested programs almost as much as they support Social Security old age and survivor benefits and Medicare.

(Another used to be that the didn’t support higher taxes on high income people. One of my angrybear obsessions was noting the solid to overwhelming majorities in all polls dating back to 1992 who have told Gallup that “upper income people” pay less than their fair share of taxes (search for Gallup here). For roughly a decade, I have been a voice crying out in a crowded room as the fact has become too obvious to deny.)

Now Kate Zernike & Abby Goodnough at the New York Times have noted the overwhelming support for means tested Medicaid (both the ACA expansion and legacy Medicaid).
update: I should write that I think the article is excellent. I object to one clause in the article.
End update:

But even when reporting the fact, they repeat the old falsehood asserting “The shift in mood also reflects a strong increase in support for Medicaid, ”

Now the mood certainly includes overwhelming support for Medicaid. The claim that this is an increase from previous lower levels is not supported by evidence presented in the article. There is the problem that, in plain English, high and increased are used as synonyms (that is people are generally innumerate about levels and changes). But, I think, it is also true that a plain fact clearly demonstrated in poll after poll has been denied by members of the out of touch elite. Here I think highly educated urban liberals assume most of our countrymen are savage reactionaries. Also political reporters talk to Republican operatives a lot and Republican operatives both live in the conservabubble and lie shamelessly.

In any case, US public support for Medicaid has been overwhelming for many years (always click and search for Medicaid)

In 2012 the fraction who found Medicaid cuts acceptable was a Kung Fu Monkey + 1 28%

“In order to strike a budget deal that avoids the so-called fiscal cliff, would you accept cutting spending on Medicaid, which is the government health insurance program for the poor, or is this something you would find unacceptable?” 12/13-16/12

Accept 28%
Unacceptable 68 %
Unsure 3%

On the stronger position “favor” not just “accept” Bloomberg found that cuts to Medicaid crushed the Kung Fu Monkey Crazification limit

“Cut Medicaid, which is government help for medical care for low-income people”

12/7-10/12

Favor 22 %
Oppose 74 %
unsure 4 %

McClatchy Marist found an almost Kung Fu Monkey crazy 26% in favor

“Cut spending for Medicaid”

12/4-6/12

Favor 26
Oppose 70
Unsure 4

With middle choice cut some but not a lot United Technologies got 35% support.

All these polls address the fiscal cliff. They were taken roughly four and one half years ago. They show support for cutting Medicaid very similar to support for the AHCA and BCRA in recent polls.

Back when the ACA passed, support for Medicaid expansion wasn’t as overwhelming as opposition to Medicaid cuts (it was a polarized debate and it is true that it is easier to refrain from giving than to take back once given). Still there was always at least plurality support for Medicaid expansion (even in the context of Medicare cuts).

23% support for Medicaid cuts (34% for increases when discussed in the context of the budget).

In particular, the pattern makes it very cleat that hatred of “welfare” isn’t hatred of welfare as defined by economists. I don’t know of much polling, but I certainly don’t know of much public opposition to disability pensions.

There has been overwhelming opposition to Medicaid cuts for many years. Public support for Medicaid is slighly lower than public support for Medicare, but basically feelings about the two programs are similar. This fact doesn’t fit the narrative, so the fact was surpressed.

The hatred of “welfare” is based on racism and not on any particular program or belief about incentives or anything else. In context “welfare” means “Money for black people”. The pattern in public opinion polling makes this almost undeniable.

I’m going to try to avoid discussing the implications for the argument that social insurance is politically feasible while redistribution isn’t. I can’t help noting that I consider this hypothesis to have been rejected by the data.

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Another Personal Observation On Privatized Highways

Another Personal Observation On Privatized Highways

Last month I posted a personal observation on Trump’s plan to privatize infrastructure, noting especially how in the long run privately owned turnpikes in Virginia ended up in government ownership.  In the comments on that post there was discussion of the Indiana Toll Road, privatized a few years ago.  I have just ridden on it (yesterday), and I shall recount as an anecdote datum my less than pleasant experience, bad enough to make me want to avoid it entirely in the future.

I was driving west on it from Ohio.  I stopped in one of the new service areas to get some pizza.  Fancy roof, but only two eating places, Lagrange in the east.  OK, but nothing great.  I would say road condition about same as Ohio’s, but tolls higher, although not as high as in Illinois or Pennsylvania.  Anyway, I saw that I had enough gas to make it to the LaPorte service area in the western part of the state, so did not refill there or at the Elkhart one.  Nowhere did I see any signs or information about any problems with any of the upcoming service areas.

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