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Social Security as you know it, it’s over, forget about it.

I caught a bit of Jennifer Granholm’s The War Room for 2/23/12.  She was talking gasoline prices and had Ron Klain on for his ideas. He is a past chief of staff for Gore and Biden as VP’s. Mr. Klain also published his thought at Bloomberg2/20/12.
This post is not about solving the rising gasoline costs. This post is about the further screwing of the 99% by further reducing their security from the risk of life and living.
Let’s cut to the chase: 
One idea might be a “pocketbook protection” plan, which would work as follows: If the average price of gas exceeds $4 a gallon, an additional, automatic payroll tax cut of 1 percent would kick in, as much as $50 per month, per person. The cut would stay in place for at least 90 days; it would disappear when the price fell below $4.00 per gallon.
There are three advantages to this approach. First, because the plan is of limited duration and is capped at $50 a month, its cost is relatively modest — about $5 billion a month, or $20 billion total, assuming the usual four-month gas-price surge. Second, because it isn’t a reduction in gas taxes, it doesn’t weaken any incentives for fuel conservation or efficiency: All workers get $50 to soften the blow of higher gas prices, but the less fuel they use, the more money they save. And third, the relief provides the greatest relative help to lower-income workers who need gas to commute and feel the price pinch the hardest.
I have to assume our Colberly’s head has just popped. What Mr. Klain has proposed is the exact danger many have warned about regarding the use of SS as a means to make up for what is a major functional problem of our current economy: lack of share of income to the masses.

I have pointed out many times that we can not make up for the $1.1 to $1.4 trillion per year of income no longer in the hands of the 99% that is in the hands of the 1% with tax reductions. It can not be done. With that fact, considering taxation reduction in any form as a method to address this specific issue is nothing more than the continuation of the false economy that financialization created as observed from the position of those in the labor part of the economy. It quite literally is the government now using the mathematical gymnastics pioneered by Wall Street to trick the masses into believing that home equity was the same as earned income. Getting a tax cut anywhere is not the same as receiving a greater share of the nation’s income.  It is money, by the way, that you are more than justified to receive because you helped to create it. The rich used to have an opportunity to relearn this lesson every time there was a major strike, say the NY City trash collectors going on strike.
People, I hope we have learned that one’s home, your house has a more important roll to play in your life other than that of asset appreciation. The home is one of the foundations used to reduce the risk of living, of having a life: shelter. Social Security is another one of those life’s risk reducing foundations: longevity. I have asked often here: How many times to do we have to relearn a lesson?
Using SS as a means to offset the results created over the long term from bad policy is the polluting of a very good policy. We can look at the housing crisis as another already experienced pollution. The good policy was promoting home ownership. The bad policy was setting up an economy that changed the perception of home ownership from a life risk reduction activity to an asset building activity. Now that SS has been used once as a solution to an unrelated problem and extended once in a manor that moves it further from the original purpose (reduction of risk of living), with Mr. Klain’s proposal, the use of SS as a back stop for non-related policy results has become an unquestioned and considered reasonable use.
Mr. Klain’s proposal so exemplifies what our politico’s now consider acceptable for SS’s use that he even proposes to pay for it via a general funding solution: 
The plan could be almost entirely paid for with a modest, no-loopholes surcharge on corporate taxes on profit derived from the higher gas prices. The administration would be able to avoid pejorative terms such as “windfall” or “excess” profit tax, because the tax is neither confiscatory nor punitive. With higher gas prices, oil companies will make record profit — and a partial surcharge will still leave that profit at record high levels. In other words, the plan isn’t vulnerable to suggestions of creeping, soak-the-rich redistribution. It would leave in place all incentives for oil companies to increase production, do more research and development, and explore alternative fuels. But a modest surcharge would help fund at least a partial pocketbook protection program to make sure the cost of the oil companies’ gain isn’t excessive pain for the rest of us.
Just to be clear, that Mr. Klain proposes using SS for anything other than SS is the problem. The only difference in such action compared to the housing crisis which was tied to the removal of specific banking regulation is that it took us 10 year or so to experience the warning of Senator Byron Dorgan.

For those warning about the proverbial slippery slope phenomenon of using SS as a back stop for bad policy results leading to furthering the destruction of SS, it’s only been about 3 years since this application of SS first became a reality. This use is now acceptable. Social Security has now officially been changed from a purpose specific funded program to an general revenue program.  The establishment is so comfortable within this frame of use for SS we get a proposal such as Mr. Klain’s.   We also have on the record a warning in the vein of Senator Dorgan’s  from Senator Harkin:
“This Congress will be making a grave mistake — a grave mistake — and reinforcing a dangerous precedent,” Harkin said in a dramatic Senate floor speech late Thursday.
Mr. Klain freely proposing another application of a SS tax cut is proof of the truth to Senator Harkin’s warning.  The precedent stands.  It is “codified”.   And, with this precedent the conservative/monied movement has neutralized another barrier protecting SS and it’s status as the end-all be-all of the New Deal: the Democratic Party.
The Movement has also successfully completed the instillation of it’s virus known as Financialization into the nervous system of our government. Social Security no longer thinks as the mind of one living in a labor economy; as the 99%.  It thinks as the mind of one living in a money from money economy; as the 1%.

Payroll Tax Cut -Keystone vote up Saturday at 9 in Senate

by Linda Beale 

Payroll Tax Cut -Keystone vote up Saturday at 9 in Senate

Apparently, Senate leaders on Friday ironed out the difficulty between the GOP and the Democratic party.  The GOP got most everything it wanted, and the Dems got just barely more than nothing.  That’s the way “negotiating” seems to go in the Congress these days.  The right demands and demands and demands and gets most of it by obfuscating and obstructing.

This time the Dems were worried about not getting a spending bill.  So while the House passed a spending bill to carry the Federal Government through September 2012, the Senate caved on all the things they’d said they wouldn’t cave on–like the ridiculous provision for expedited approval of the Keystone Pipeline.  All to get just a 2-month extension of the payroll tax cut and expanded unemployment benefits–which the GOP knew it could not afford not to pass, no matter what.  And Obama has already flipped on his earlier looks-like-he’s-finally-figured-out-how-to-stand-tall position that he would veto any bill that carried the expedited Keystone approval provision.  See Steinhaur & Pear, Senate Agrees to a Two-Month Extension of the Tax Cut, New York Times (Dec. 16, 2011).
The GOP continues to call the Keystone pipeline project a “job creator”, even though it will create no more than 50 permanent jobs, at a considerable environmental cost.  Schumer calls the Keystone provision a “Pyrrhic victory” for the GOP, because he says Obama will not approve it if pushed.  That’s not so clear to me.  Schumer also spins the cave-in as a victory for Dems! saying that the GOP won’t have the leverage of the need to pass a spending bill when this issue comes back.  See  Rubin et al, U.S. Senate Leaders Agree on Two-Month Payroll Cut , (Dec. 16, 2011).
Again, past experience suggests this may be too rosy an assessment.  There were commentators who thought that surely the Congress would not pass further tax cuts after the 2001 tax cuts resulted in large deficits but instead we got the 2003 bill and the 2004 tax giveaway for corporations bill and many others, with the deficits mounting with each one.  One would have thought that the sunset of the various Bush tax cuts in 2010 would have been a perfect time for the Dems to develop a spine, but they didn’t.  And the Dems weren’t even able to pass a bill ending the carried interest subsidy for hedge fund managers, in spite of the Great Recession and the need to reign in financial institutions.
The Senate bill will apparently at least not include some of the bad stuff  that was in HR 3630 as passed by the House–it is “scaled back” so it looks like medicare premiums won’t rise for seniors, and  the GOP won’t win its attempt to end medicare’s coverage of outpatient rehabilitative therapy for stroke victims and medicare payments to doctors will not be affected.   Nor will it include the “extensions” of expiring tax provisions like the R&D credit or the active financing exception for the financial  industries’ deferral of its offshoreprofits.  Id.
The Senate bill will apparently be paid for by raising the guarantee fees for Freddie and Fannie, something that was included in HR 3630.  Id.  Vote is to take place at 9 am Saturday.
crossposted at ataxingmatter

GOP’s payroll tax cut bill (with a lot of other stuff)

Dan here…Linda Beale writes on the intent and passage of these bills. Whether the use of the payroll tax has political and budget consequences for people’s perceptions of Social Security and its future remains a question previously discussed at Angry Bear here.

by Linda Beale

(Update from Linda: Payroll Tax Extension Passes)

GOP’s payroll tax cut bill (with a lot of other stuff) up for vote on Tuesday

[edited 2 pm 12/13 to provide additional links to news coverage of some of the changes]

Congress has been playing politics as usual over the few policies that are on the table that have a real chance of assisting, to some degree, the plight of ordinary Americans and perhaps even the slow recovery that is still trying to gain steam–extension of the reduction in payroll taxes (from 6.2% to 4.2%) and extension of unemployment compensation.

The Republicans have refused to pay for these common sense tax reductions for ordinary Americans with a similarly common sense tax increase on the wealthiest Americans who have continued to capture all the productivity gains in the economyt.  Republicans in the House think that these kinds of provisions should be offset by more goodies for the “uberclass”–at least as evidenced by the H.R. 3630, the bill introduced by Dave Camp (R-MI) and to be voted on today at about 4:30 pm.

  • It would restructure unemployment compensation in ways that add hurdles and make it less likely that unemployed Americans will qualify–providing more state flexibility and experimentation (including paying employers to cover part of cost of wages exceeding the recipient’s prior benefit level), permitting demeaning drug testing of all unemployment compensation recipients (section 2127), and requiring a high school diploma or participation in state “reemployment services” for which recipients may be charged up to $5 weekly out of their unemployment compensation.  It would severely curtail the total number of weeks for which federal unemployment assistance is available–moving to a 59-week limit from a 99-week limit.  Methinks I see Scrooge here…..
  • It will interfere with the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate, letting corporations continue to harm the environment at the expense of ordinary Americans.   See Subtitle B.  Section 1102(b) lists rules that are “stayed” by the legislation and provides that no new rules can have an effective date earlier than 5 years out and requires consideration of various factors in determining that date.  Further, it requires adoption of the laxer 2000 definitions for certain key terms and the imposition of the “least burdensome” among potential regulatory alternatives.  This is a key cave-in to corporate polluters. 
  • It will expedite the KeystoneXL pipeline by requiring a permit to be issued within 60 days unless within that time the President determines that the pipeline will not serve the national interest (in which case within 15 days the President must provide various committees and members of Congress a report justifying that conclusion from various perspectives).  It indicates that the environmental impact statement from August will be treated as satisfactory for environmental and historical preservation purposes and shall not have to be supplemented if there are modifications to the plan  and no further federal environmental review shall be allowed.  This is a clearly ideologically driven provision, failing to give due regard to the potential longterm environmental impact on drinking water aquifers or historical preservation impact. 
  • It would provide yet another tax reduction for US corporations that have paid less and less taxes over the last decade, with a renewal of the ill-advised 100% expensing provision in section 168(k)(5) (along with the alternative of accelerating AMT credits)
  • it makes further changes to medicare such as applying a cap to hospital outpatient therapy services and reversing part of the Health Reform Act passed earlier, by permitting new doctor-owned hospitals and permitting existing ones to expand, even though it has been shown that such hospitals spend more on testing and procedures (and profit more from them).  See, e.g., Pear, G.O.P. Bill Would Benefit Doctor Owned Hospitals, New York Times at A24, Dec. 13, 2011.
  • it would continue funding for the “healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood” initiative, see 42 U.S.C. section 603(a)(2)  (the cynic in me suspects that these funds primarily go to programs supported by religious institutions and that they proselytize more than they teach reasonable relationship skills)
  • it includes an extensive section remaking flood insurance provisions, including, in section 3005, lifting the cap for premium increases for flood insurance from 10% to 20% (an apparent boon to insurers), and another section prohibiting the administration from “disregarding” any levee or floodwall, even if it is not accredited.  The goal, made clear in section 3009, is privatization of the national flood insurance program.
  • It includes extensive broadband spectrum auction provisions in Title IV, Subtitle A, reallocating spectrum from federal to nonfederal use.  These provisions, among many detailed ones, e.g., permit private administrators of state public safety networks to use the public spectrum for private purposes as well as the public safety  purposeand prevent states from denying requests for modifications of existing wireless towers that do not substantially change the physical dimensions thereof.
  • It increases the guarantee fees charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
  • It requires a social security number for the refundable child credit
  • It provides in section 5895 a 100% tax on “excess unemployment benefits” that go to millionaires (unemployment compensation is reduced proportionately as the adjusted gross income increases from $750,000 to $1 million)–The Times today has an article on the bill and notes that the number of millionaires receiving unemployment compensation is very small, but that their participation is predicated on the fact that the unemployment compensation program is a type of insurance into which payments are made to cover payouts.  Means testing such insurance programs is in sync with the right-wing goal of means-testing as a prelude to privatizing and/or eliminating all federally administered social welfare insurance programs, such as medicare and Social Security (and, see above, national flood insurance).
  • It increases pension contributions from longterm federal workers by .5% a year for 2012-2014 and for those “secure annuity employees” with less than five years of service, by more than 10% a year and using 5 year average pay rather than 3 year average pay, sets annuity amounts, and ends the annuity supplement for post-2012 retirees.
  • it extends the general freeze on federal pay for another year
  • It increases the premiums for Medicare Part B and Part D for those making $80,000 or more (for those making $200,000 or more, the applicable percentage is 90%)–this again appears to move these national social welfare insurance programs towards more means-testing that will facilitate privatization or eventual elimination. 
  • It sets up a number of procedural hurdles in the Senate, which is already hogtied by the ease with which a minority of its members can filibuster and thus stop legislation that is supported by a solid majority of its members.  For examples,
    • it requires a 2/3 vote in the Senate to amend the dates for section 601(c) of the 2010 Tax Relief Act–that’s the temporary employee payroll tax cut;
    • it provides that a point of order by any Senator against an emergency designation in a bill eliminates that designation and makes it impossible to bring the designation through a floor amendment unless there is a supermajority 3/5 vote in favor of doing so (limiting debate to 1 hour)–thus one right-wing Senator intent on obstructionism can make it very unlikely that an important provision can pass by preventing even reasonable debate about the importance of the provision!

The GOP, of course, touts its bill as creating jobs.   While the Keystone pipeline may create some short-term jobs (the New YorkTimes reports estimates from Transcanada itself  and the State Department of only about 6500 temporary construction jobs  and maybe 50 permanent new jobs–see Keystone Claptrap, Editorial, New York Times at A34, Dec. 13, 2011), the potential negative impact on aquifers could be life-threatening.  Most of the other provisions are Scrooge-like additions of hurdles and caps on social welfare provisions or attempts to roll back the social welfare insurance provisions into means-tested ones that will be even more susceptible to the derogatory and inflamatory class-action warfare that the right has increasingly unleashed on anything that doesn’t give a break to the wealthy and corporate clients of the all-powerful Washington lobbies.

On lobbies, just read the New York Times article about the wealth that online educators are getting from state and federal taxpayer dollars for delivering no or sub-standard education, and the amount of taxpayer money being spent on lobbying to ensure the continuous flow of that wealth.  See Saul, Profits and Problems at Online Charter Schools, New York Times, Dec. 12, 2011.  It’s obvious that the corporatist agenda sees no problem with siphoning off taxpayer dollars for private benefit with little public good created, but complains mightily about any siphoning off of exorbitant corporate profits–that tend to go to wasteful excess managerial compensation or portfolio enhancement–for taxes intended for public benefit.

The inclusion of the Keystone and other right-wing-rhetoric-driven items in a bill to provide the payroll tax cut and a limited unemployment extension (with hurdles) demonstrates the absurd level of ideological partisanship engaged in by the House Republicans.  Senate Majority Leader Reid characterized the bill as loaded with “ideological candy” that the Senate would reject.  Sloan & Rubin, House to Vote on Payroll Bill as senate Eyes Tax Sweeteners, (Dec. 13, 2011).    Of course, most of the sweeteners that Reid proposes adding are components of the right-wing corporate-friendly agenda–like the R&D credit that rewards what companies do anyway; the active financing exception for big banks, insurers and other financial institutions that lets them defer taxation on their financing income earned overseas; and accelerated depreciation for restaurants and motorsports tracks that provide special tax subsidies to particular industries!

Also read more:

Environment and Taxes, Insurance, Job creation, Payroll Taxes, Regulation, Tax in the News, Tax Legislation

Unforced Error, or How Well Has That Worked Out for You, BarryO?

PGL, in the process of an optimistic piece, points us to Martin Feldstein ringing in 2011. Apparently, the reason is this:

The most substantial potential boost to spending comes from a temporary reduction of the payroll tax, lowering the rate paid by employees on income up to about $100,000 from 6.2 per cent to 4.2 per cent. But, while the decline in tax payments will be about 0.8 per cent of GDP, it is not clear how much of this will translate into additional consumer spending and how much into additional saving. Because this tax cut will take the form of lower withholding from weekly or monthly wages, it may seem more permanent than it really is, and therefore has a greater impact on spending than households’ very feeble response to the previous temporary tax changes.

Feldstein attempts a free-finesse with “it may seem more permanent than it really is.” This is like playing the seven to the Queen when you’re only other holding is 10-x and expecting it to work.

It’s six months later. The crowd jewel of BarryO’s deficit-saving agreement, per Feldstein, was a low-impact change that was mostly (if my paycheck is any indication) neutralized by other factors (such as increases in health insurance costs). So the payroll cut is going to UHC or Aetna, or BCBS, or some other place where the money multiplier will be significantly less than one.

Even more interesting is that, just three paragraphs before, Feldstein understood that workers are still engaged in balance-sheet repair, and the likely consequences of same:

Even for those taxpayers who had feared a tax increase in 2011 and 2012, it is not clear how much the lower tax payments will actually boost consumer spending. The previous temporary tax cuts in 2008 and 2009 appear to have gone largely into saving and debt reduction rather than increased spending.

It is surprising, therefore, that forecasters raised their GDP growth forecasts for 2011 significantly on the basis of the tax agreement.

But Feldstein did see some good in the greater tax deal—it would temper deficit fears:

Obama wanted to continue the 2010 tax rates permanently for all taxpayers except those with annual incomes over $250,000….By agreeing to limit the current tax rates for just two years, the tax package reduces the projected national debt at the end of the decade (relative to what it would have been with the Obama Budget) by some $2 trillion or nearly 10 per cent of GDP in 2020.

That reduction in potential deficits and debt can by itself give a boost to the economy in 2011 by calming fears that an exploding national debt would eventually force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates — perhaps sharply if foreign buyers of US Treasuries suddenly became frightened by the deficit prospects.

There can be only one remaining question:

When will Martin Feldstein endorse Jon Hunstman for President?

Payroll Tax Cut

Labor cost as a share of business output is now at a post WW – II low. and has fallen about eight percentage points since 2000. This would suggest that the weak demand for labor does not stem from high labor cost. Actually since the third quarter of 2000 while labor cost as a share of total business cost has plunged, private payroll employment has also fallen from 111.2 million to 107.6 million in the second quarter of 2010. Yes, this data contradicts the theory taught in introductory economics.

But, if as this data series implies that weak employment is not because of high labor cost why should further cuts in labor cost via a cut in the payroll tax lead firms to hire more employees? I strongly suspect that those advocating cutting the payroll tax simply remember the theory they learned in their introductory economics class and have never actually looked at the data. If they had they would know that changes in the demand for labor and changes in labor compensation have a strong positive correlation. Of course this directly contradicts the theory they learned in introductory economics that labor demand is a downward sloping function of labor compensation. But remember, that theory is simply a massive over-simplification used to explain basic economic concepts to some teenagers. The theory assumes that all other things are constant and in reality that never really happens. In reality, the demand for labor is a function of many things of which labor compensation is only one factor and generally a relatively minor factor at that. In the real world the demand curve for labor is not a downward sloping function of compensation. Remember, when Alfred Marshall the great economist who did more to develop graphical analysis than anyone else was asked why he developed this approach his answer was,”so the gentlemen in the back row can understand what I’m talking about”.

Labor demand is a derived demand. Firms hire labor because they think they can profitably sell the goods and/or services the labor produces not because they derive some utility from hiring labor. Consequently, the dominant factor in the demand for labor is the firms perception of the demand for that firms output. Even if the cost of labor falls, firms still will not hire more labor to produce more output if the firms does not expect to sell the expanded output. Consequently, those claiming that cutting labor cost will induce firms to hire more labor are just spouting some ideological fantasy that has no basis in reality or even in advanced economic theory.

So what drives the demand for labor. If I want to forecast employment I make it a simple estimate of GDP less productivity. In this estimate labor cost does not play a enter the equation at all. In my experience labor costs is only important in the labor supply equation where higher labor payments induce individuals to enter the labor force.

In response to questions in the comments that if labor’s share fell, what rose, I’ve added this chart.
PS. The last time I published this chart it was of an index number that was derived by dividing one index number by another. So anyone could download the data from the BLS and reproduce it. But this chart is of the actual raw data that shows labor cost as an actual share of business output. BLS does not publish this raw data. Haver Analytics made special arrangements to get the raw data from the BLS so they could generate this data series. Consequently you will not be able to reproduce this data series from publicly available data.

Carried Interest: prospects?

by Linda Beale
crossposted at Ataxingmatter

Carried Interest: prospects?

At the ABA Tax Section meeting in Washington last weekend, there was surprisingly little talk about the carried interest proposal. Carried interest, for those who don’t work often in the partnership area, is the way that managers of real estate, hedge, and equity partnerships receive a generous payment for managing the fund–usually a “2 and 20” 2% of the assets under management annually and 20% of profits fee for services. The 20% is claimed to be gains from asset dispositions rather than services (providing a preferential rate in some cases, as well as no payroll taxation) and often has been deferred through offshoring.

Various tax experts have called for taxing both the fee and carried interest as ordinary compensation subject to payroll taxes and always taxable at ordinary rates. That proposal has been suggested in Congress at various times as a revenue raiser, but it has not yet been enacted as part of a bill, since the Senate has not included the House-passed version. The Real Estate Roundtable has lobbied strenuously against the carried interest provision in past years and successfully joined with private equity, hedge fund, and venture capital firms to defeat the idea.

There is talk now of including it in the jobs bill that Congress hopes to pass before the end of May. See Real Estate Group PUshes to Soften ‘Carried Interest’ Tax Rise, Bloomberg, May 8, 2010. Naturally, lobbyists are busy trying to eliminate or modify the provision. The head of the Real Estate Roundtable noted that the group is arguing for a “blended” tax rate that would provide a rate between the capital gains preference and ordinary rates, or a provision that would apply the capital gains rates for gains from investments that the partnership holds for at least 2 years. A spokesperson for the National Venture Capital Association siad that “we’re not accepting this as a fait accompli…we have not waived from our position.” Id.

The argument for taxing the carried interest of “profits” partners as compensation income, however, is strong: there is little justification for further complicating the Code with blended rates or a new long-term holding period for the capital gains rate. These managers should pay tax at ordinary rates and should also be liable for the ordinary payroll taxes on their full compensation income. Sure, they won’t like it and they “won’t waiver” from trying to push the Senate to ensure their cozy deal. But that is not a satisfactory argument for failing to make this change which is required for fairness’ sake.

(2 and 20 corrected by Rdan)