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

Trump’s “Give the Rich a Break” Tax Plan

Trump’s “Give the Rich a Break” Tax Plan

National GOP leaders on Wednesday released a 9-page document that they called a tax “framework” (available here on the Washington Post site) describing in vague terms how they intend to cut taxes for the nation’s wealthiest people while doing very little that serves the government needs. Overall, the GOP framework would amount to about $2.2 TRILLION in less revenue to support federal programs (like protecting the environment from corporate pollutants, supporting higher education loans for students, funding basic university research) (assuming $5.8 trillion loss to lowering rates and shift to territorial system and maybe $3.6 trillion recouped by eliminating as yet unspecified deductions).  See GOP proposes deep tax cuts, provides few details on how to pay for them, Washington Post (Sept. 27, 2017).

  • They promise 3 rates (12%, 25% and 35%, without stating what the applicable income brackets for those rates should be).  That lowering of rates is primarily beneficial to the wealthiest, since the people who just barely get by on their wages (especially with the new corporate regime of calling people in for short shifts, as needed, rather than paying them a regular full-time job) are hit hardest by the payroll taxes that won’t be lowered at all under this plan.  That is, ordinary wage-earners in the middle and lower classes are generally already taxed on a consumption basis–they spend what they earn and have little left for saving for the future.  They pay relative low income taxes but pay significant payroll taxes through withholding on their wages (with no deferral).  This is another excursion into the current GOP’s ‘alternative fact’ universe, where huge tax cuts mainly benefiting the wealthy are sold as a ‘simplifying’ reform that will benefit ordinary people.

 

  • Although the lowest rate is higher than the poorest wage-earning taxpayers pay now, the planners claim that this is still a tax cut because of the “doubling” of the standard deduction for those taxpayers that do not itemize.  However, the personal exemptions are eliminated, so that the combination of the standard deduction and the higher rate is likely to be at best a minimal cut for small families and an actual tax increase for larger families.  See, e.g., this article.

 

  • They promise to eliminate the “alternative minimum tax”, a tax provision that was enacted as a safety provision to ensure that wealthy taxpayers who can afford tax planning and generally can most easily benefit from the various loopholes and tax subsidies written into the code would pay some modicum of taxes rather than get off scott-free from any tax burden. The “framework” (page 5) claims that “it no longer serves its intended purpose and creates significant complexity.”  It is admittedly somewhat complex, but not unduly so with modern tax preparation software which makes that complexity a minimal problem.  I have been required to pay the AMT, and it hasn’t made my life or tax return filing more complex.  In fact, the people who owe the AMT should be paying more tax than they would pay without the AMT, and that means it is in fact serving its intended purpose of ensuring that taxpayers cannot aggregate too many of the various haphazard subsidies in the Code to permit them to essentially escape a reasonable tax burden on their economic income.  Elimination of the AMT is a tax break for the well-to-do:  Trump, for example, has had to pay the AMT (real estate developers are one of the much-favored groups in terms of various tax expenditures in the Code that benefit them).

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How I Came To No Longer Be A Kaldorian Economist

How I Came To No Longer Be A Kaldorian Economist

Yes, for a period of time, according to some sources, I was a member of the “Kaldorian” school of Post Keynesian  economic thought, although I had not previously thought of myself as such, indeed, had been unaware that there even was such a school of economic thought.  But now, according to such sources, I am no longer a member of such a school.  Indeed, it is not clear that there even is such a school, if there ever was.  This is a tale of the ongoing tangle of schools of Post Keynesian economics, as well as how Wikipedia operates, and more broadly the history of economic thought.

I note that while it lasted, this matter was taken at least somewhat seriously.  So, a few years ago I was at a conference and walked into a plenary address that was being given by Tyler Cowen of George Mason.  There was a pretty large crowd, but Tyler interrupted his talk when I came in to note, “I see that Barkley Rosser has entered the room, so I had better be careful what I say about Nicholas Kaldor.”  Indeed, ironically, he was just about to say something about Kaldor, and I must say that I had no serious disagreement with his remarks, although maybe he cleaned up his act, given my presence as the representative of “the Kaldorian School,” if not the late Lord Kaldor’s personal representative.  That was then, but this is now, and I am nothing, nothing, I tell you!

Anyway, as I said, I had not been aware of such a school, much less that I was supposedly a part of it, but then in 2014, my friend Marc Lavoie published his excellent Post-Keynesian Economics: New Foundations.  In it he provided set of supposed schools of Post Keynesian economic thought.  I note that there has long been a history of arguing and battling and generally warring among various strands of Post Keynesian thought, with some expelling others, although not necessarily totally.  Joan Robinson coined the term back in the 1950s, and for a while Paul Samuelson was using the term for an eclectic bunch of Keynesian economists of the early 1960s.  But the term became narrower as the 1960s moved on and journals were started, and battle lines were drawn.  Going into the 1980s, and focused on Post-Keynesian summer schools being held in Trieste, Italy, there was a sharp split between Sraffian neo-Ricardians based in Italy, led by the late Pierangelo Garegnani, and American Post Keynesians who focused on uncertainty and the role of money led by Paul Davidson.  In between them was a more British and Australian based group, some of whom were thought to be followers of Michal Kalecki, and probably Joan Robinson, some of whom made efforts to overcome the sharp split between these other two.  The most important leader of that group was probably Geoff Harcourt, he of the “different horses for different courses,” how open-minded of him.  Anyway, those summer schools fell apart, with each of the more sharply opposed groups not attending the seminars of the other, and after this the Americans all but expelling the Italian Sraffian-neo-Ricardians from Post Keynesianism, even if they were still counted by others.

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Wow! Yellin confirms 2% inflation is the Fed’s ceiling

Wow! Yellin confirms 2% inflation is the Fed’s ceiling

You may have already seen this elsewhere, but in case you didn’t, Janet Yellin all but officially confirmed the other day that 2% isn’t in fact the Fed’s target, it’s their ceiling. Per the New York Times:

Given that monetary policy affects economic activity and inflation with a substantial lag, it would be imprudent to keep monetary policy on hold until inflation is back to 2 percent,” Ms. Yellen told the National Association for Business Economics .

Let me just remind you one more time that in the past 50 years, during recessions the inflation rate has typically fallen by more than 2%.   That means that if the Fed is “successful,” the next recession will tip over into outright deflation, including deflation in even nominal wages.

Now imagine a wage-price deflationary spiral beginning with Donald Trump as president and the GOP in control of both houses of Congress.

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A hurricane workaround for industrial production

A hurricane workaround for industrial production

Last week I mentioned that the regional Fed surveys plus the Chicago PMI can be used as a workaround to account for the effects of hurricanes on Industrial Production. It isn’t pretty and by no means is it perfect, but for the (hopefully only) two or three months that we need it, we can use the workaround to give us the underlying trend in production, particularly for manufacturing.This is a two-step correlation.

The first correlation is between the regional Fed indexes and the ISM manufacturing index.  This is something Bill McBride, a/k/a Calculated Risk, has been keeping track of for years.  Here’s his graph going back all the way to 2000:

While the correlation isn’t perfect, most notably in the years 2010 and 2011, when the regional Fed average was high, and in 2015 and 2016, when it was too low, in general it holds, with the two rising or falling between positive and negative in tandem, even if we just use the Empire State and Philly indexes.

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Gentrification

by Peter Dorman (originally published at Econospeak)

Gentrification

This is the bane of urban development, right? Old housing stock, built for yesterday’s working class, is spiffed up and priced far out of reach of today’s regular folk. High end shops replace hardware stores, bric-a-brac recyclers and appliance repair centers; a tide of designer coffee flushes out the cheap, refillable kind. Who can afford to live there?

But wait! Those refurbished old houses are beautiful. It’s a pleasure to peruse delicate artisanal fabrics and custom-designed furniture. The food is fresher, healthier and tastier. And what’s the alternative—to put a blanket over everything old and keep out all improvements? Is gentrification even a problem?

It is. It’s wrong if whole neighborhoods are uprooted, unable to afford housing and services available to them for generations, and the dynamism of city life is crippled if only those who have already made it can make their home there.

Regulations that restrict the development of new housing have rightly come under attack. Encouraging infilling and greater density benefits the environment and keeps housing costs down, but that only moderates the impact of gentrification. The luxury apartments that replace old single family houses are still beyond the means of most of us.

My hypothesis is that the basis of gentrification as an urban problem, rather than a type of broad-based development that benefits everyone, is extreme inequality of income. Gentrified neighborhoods are those outfitted for the upper echelon to spend their money on, and prices are geared to what the traffic will bear. The rest of us can’t afford it.

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Insanely Concentrated Wealth Is Strangling Our Prosperity

Dan here…Angry Bear Steve Roth’s clear and thorough writing continues…please go to the original for more graphs…I could not include the largest in the Angry Bear format in its proper place.  Go straight to read more to view the whole post….

By Steve Roth (originally published at Evonomics)

Insanely Concentrated Wealth Is Strangling Our Prosperity

Remember Smaug the dragon, in The Hobbit? He hoarded up a vast pile of wealth, and then he just hung out in his cave, sitting on it (with occasional forays to further pillage and immolate the local populace).

That’s what you should think of when you consider the mind-boggling hoards of wealth that the very rich have amassed in America over the last forty years. The picture at right only shows the very tippy-top of the scale. In 1976 the richest people had $35 million each (in 2014 dollars). In 2014 they had $420 million each — a twelvefold increase. You can be sure it’s gotten even more extreme since then.

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A thought for Sunday: the most important issue in the 2016 election was…

A thought for Sunday: the most important issue in the 2016 election was . . .

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for several months. For a while after the election last year, there was a debate about whether the “economic anxiety” in the (white) working class was the most important factor vs. was it simply a matter of racism. The consensus has nearly settled on the narrative that racism was decisive, to the point where “economic anxiety” has become a taunt, and some who embrace identity politics actively disparage progressive economic issues.

I’m here to show you data that – in part – disputes that consensus. What was the most important issue in the 2016 presidential election?  The below data on that issue all comes from the Voter Study Group, from its survey published several months ago: “Insights from the 2016 Voter survey.”

In the below graphs, the potency of various issues are examined in terms of how well they lined up on a liberal/conservative or favorable/unfavorable axis, but for simplicity’s sake it is pretty clear that they correlate with a vote for Clinton (left) or Trump (right).  The more vertical the line, the more decisive the factor, whereas a horizontal line means that the factor made essentially no difference in whether a vote was for one candidate or the other.  the 2016 results are in red, vs. the 2012 results in gray. What I’ve done is to delete the names of the nine factors they tested, so you won’t be swayed by any pre-existing opinion you might have had about the factor.  Here they are:
I’ll give away one finding right away.  The most decisive factor, shown at the right of the lowermost column, is party affiliation. D’s voted for Clinton. R’s voted for Trump.
But after that, it’s pretty clear that the close runner-up for most decisive factor in how people voted is the issue at the left of the middle column, which was …
the economy!
That’s right. The single most decisive factor in the 2016 vote was how people felt about the economy.

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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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