In case you missed it (ISYMI) or haven’t read it yet, here is the article in Rolling Stone that is causing a massive right-wing panic. It’s being talked about a lot. Be sure to read it.
Federal unemployment assistance for 1.3 million people who have been unemployed longer than 26 weeks expired last Saturday, after Republicans blocked efforts to extend them. 3.6 million more people will lose these benefits over this year. Restoring these benefits is a moral, economic and political imperative.
On Monday the Senate will hold the first procedural vote on bringing back unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. The hope is to break a Republican filibuster so the extension can be passed and sent to the House (where Republicans will likely refuse to even allow it to come up for a vote).
A Moral Imperative
When the financial crisis hit the country provided assistance to (“bailed out”) the largest banks. We have a moral imperative to also help our fellow citizens. A democracy provides assistance for people who need help. A fair and just society provides assistance for people who need help. A moral society provides assistance for people who need help.
Have you ever wondered why an economist would say that giving tax cuts to the rich makes the economy better? Or why they say that getting rid of unions is good for the economy?
Watch this to learn why some economists say things like this:
Rachel Maddow shares details of a report showing Koch brothers funding behind an economic report flattering to conservative economic policies.
At the beginning of November, the poor went over the “Hunger Cliff” as Food Stamps were cut. Now long-term unemployment assistance will run out at the end of December. Regular people think the government has given up on them. They have been hit by one blow after another, with little or no help in sight. They see shutdowns and budget cuts at the very time the government needs to spend more to help Americans.
This is part of the Republican effort to turn Americans against government, because the public will blame Democrats. Democrats have to stop letting Republicans get away with it, and return to being seen as trying to help the unemployed and poor.
Long-Term Unemployment Assistance Running Out
In a few days, long-term unemployment benefits run out in spite of a “budget deal.” This cutoff of long-term aid means that in most states aid will end after a person is unemployed for 26 weeks, and in other states even less – some dramatically less. It occurs at a time when the average length of unemployment is 37 weeks, and there is still only one job for every three people still bothering to look for work.
1.3 million people will lose this assistance immediately, just after Christmas. By mid-2014 another 2 million will lose this aid as well.
“If my wife loses her benefit before she finds a job, we lose our house.” – Philadelphia resident.
Did the “stimulus” work? Republicans claim it was a failure, a waste of money, and was the reason the deficit soared. So let’s see what happened. And I do mean “see.”
(Actually, the deficit soared in Bush’s last budget year — all the way to $1.4 trillion! The stimulus kicked in after that. And now the deficit is down by more than half from where Bush left it. But hey, apparently repetition of lies is better than knowledge of facts…)
Anyway … did the stimulus work? See for yourself:
The very left side of this chart shows the last few months of the Bush administration. Those lines going down and down and down show job losses. By the time Bush left we were losing over 800,000 jobs per month.
Then the stimulus kicked in. See how the lines start going up and up and up? After a year the country was gaining jobs again, and has been ever since.
The stimulus worked, but it was not enough.
Austerity is holding back our economy — and that’s the plan. There is simply no other way to explain it. Republicans know voters blame (or credit) the party of the President for the economy, and they are doing everything they can to make things as bad as can be. This new “budget deal,” for example, holds the country in full austerity, with spending lower than even the original “Ryan budget” that shocked everyone.
Austerity kills economies and jobs, and they know it. We know it, they know it, everyone knows it. It is obvious in front of our faces, and Republicans continue to force cuts — with many Democrats going along.
Since the financial collapse government spending has been cut and the results have been terrible for the economy. Under every previous President government spending and hiring propped up the economy until recovery was underway. Republicans as well as Democrats understood this is how it has to be done. Until now.
In Charts: What if Obama spent like Reagan? Ezra Klein explains, “It’s simply a fact that real government spending fell in three of President Obama’s first four years.” Klein compares government spending to Reagan and ‘W’ Bush:
Under Reagan and ‘W’ spending went up. This helped the economy get out of recessions. Under Obama, with a much worse recession, Republicans forced spending to go down.
What was the effect of these cuts? This next chart shows how this is a drag on GDP:
So yes, the spending cuts are obviously hurting the economy.
Paul Krugman’s blog post, Unprecedented Austerity comments on this. He starts with a chart showing what has happened to government spending since Obama took office, writing, “Look at total government spending — federal, state, and local — and correct it for inflation …”
Krugman writes, “You can see that there was a brief, modest spurt in spending associated with the Obama stimulus — but it has long since been outweighed and swamped by a collapse in spending without precedent in the past half century.” He calls this, combined with private-sector deleveraging, “awesomely destructive.”
“Awesomely destructive.” And you can see it.
That “modest spurt in spending associated with the Obama stimulus”? This is the effect the stimulus spending had on jobs:
The stimulus took us from losing more than 800,000 jobs each month to gaining jobs every month since. It completely turned the situation around. But then it stopped and Republicans were able to force austerity and kill off the recovery.
This Budget Deal
So that’s the story of what has happened to government spending as Republicans impose austerity. Down down down. Now we have a “budget deal” (that even leaves out help for the long-term unemployed and doesn’t replace the “Hunger Cliff” $5 billion Thanksgiving Food Stamp cut, etc…) This next chart shows where this budget deal fits with earlier budgets proposals.
This is what is missing from the explanations of this budget “deal:” spending will still go way down. This is not a spending increase, it is less of a destructive, devastating cut than the full “sequester” would be next year. But it is still a cut, and it will still cost us jobs and economic growth. It will still be “awesomely destructive.”
And that is their plan. It will still let them campaign on “Obama’s terrible economy.”
This chart from Calculated Risk shows how government hiring pulled us out of previous recessions, which government firing is holding us in this one.
Key point, Presidents Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton and ‘W’ all increased public hiring to help get us out of recessions. But under Obama and austerity the public sector has lost 703,000 jobs.
The public sector grew during Mr. Reagan’s terms (up 1,414,000), during Mr. G.H.W. Bush’s term (up 1,127,000), during Mr. Clinton’s terms (up 1,934,000), and during Mr. G.W. Bush’s terms (up 1,748,000 jobs).
However the public sector has declined significantly since Mr. Obama took office (down 703,000 jobs). These job losses have mostly been at the state and local level, but more recently at the Federal level. This has been a significant drag on overall employment.
The 2014 Election
So let’s take bets: do you disagree that Republicans are planning to campaign in 2014 by saying that the terrible economy is Obama’s fault?
PS: Some of these charts are from Three Charts That Show That Republicans Have Won The Budget War by Danny Vinik, who writes that “the fact of the matter is that the GOP has won the budget wars.” Let’s see if they take credit for the economy and terrible human pain they are causing.
Ask Republicans running for office to answer this question: “Do you agree with Rush Limbaugh that the Pope is preaching pure Marxism?”
Limbaugh also said it is said he thinks it’s “sad how wrong” Pope Francis is. Ask Repuboican politicians if they agree.
Here is one thing Congress could do that would create more jobs, boost the economy and reduce both the budget deficit and the trade deficit. This one thing would not only provide a big boost now, but would provide an ongoing boost from now on. Congress should modify the “deferral” tax loophole that lets companies dodge their taxes by moving and keeping profits “out of the country.” Tax this cash at 5% a year.
The top corporate tax rate is currently 35%. But corporations are allowed to “defer” paying taxes on profits earned outside of the country until they “repatriate” those profits, which means bringing the money back into the country. (Any taxes paid elsewhere are deducted from the amount owed.) There are solid reasons to allow corporations to do this. Simply put, they might need to put that money to good use, which will benefit the company, which in theory will later benefit our country.
But this tax deferral has turned into a huge loophole that is draining our country of jobs, tax revenue, investment, manufacturing infrastructure and other good things We the People are supposed to receive in return for allowing these corporations to operate. Companies not only are keeping profits out of the country, the loophole gives them an incentive to engage in schemes that shift more and more jobs, production and profit centers out of the country. (One well-known example: Apple transferred ownership of it’s “crown jewels” — “intellectual property” — to Ireland.)
A Ton Of Cash That We The People Could Really Put To Use
The amount now being held outside of the country is astounding. Some estimates say that it is as much as $1.5 to 2 trillion, or even more. If the full amount were brought back and the tax rate applied that would bring a $525-700 billion windfall that the government could use to hire people to get things done that really, really need to get done like modernizing our infrastructure, hiring teachers, building high-speed rail, retrofitting homes and buildings to be energy-efficient … so many things… (Of course it would be less because of taxes paid elsewhere, etc., but we’re still talking hundreds of billions.)
And, of course, after that $1.5-2 trillion is brought back and the appropriate taxes are paid the rest would either be invested or distributed to shareholders — another nice boost to the economy.
Beyond the one-time windfall from bringing that cash back there would be two other major effects of changing this deferral loophole. The first, of course, is that tens of billions of revenue now withheld each year would be coming in to be taxed, thereby reducing the budget deficit. But perhaps more important, the incentive to move jobs, factories and profit centers (“crown jewels”) out of the country would be eliminated, so companies would keep factories and jobs here.
Why They Do It
The reason so much $$ is being kept away is that companies have good reason to believe that eventually they will be allowed to bring it back without paying the taxes they owe. Congress made a huge mistake in 2004 and gave corporations a “tax repatriation holiday.” They allowed companies that were holding profits outside of the country to bring those profits back without paying all of the taxes due. This created the expectation that Congress will of course do this again (and again). So, not looking a gift horse in the mouth, companies started to find ways to increase their outside-the-country profits and reduce their inside-the-country profits. Jobs, factories, production, profit centers (desks, chairs, carpets…) and everything else that could be moved out of the country started to be … moved out of the country. And it gets worse every year.
Solution: Put A Surtax On Money Held Outside The Country
Some people say we should just repeal the rule that lets companies defer taxes due on profits earned outside of the country until they bring it home. But that undoes the benefits that were the original reason to allow deferral.
Here is a simple idea that could go a long way toward solving this problem. Don’t eliminate the deferral, tax it. As I said, there are good reasons to allow it in certain instances. Instead, put a surtax on profits held outside of the country. Just for illustration, suppose this surtax was 5%. This means that if a company decides to keep $1 billion of profits outside of the country, they would pay 5% of that, $50 million, each year they do this. This is not later used to reduce the amount of taxes due when they eventually bring the money home; when they finally “repatriate” the profits they would be still taxed at the same rate as now (up to 35% minus taxes paid elsewhere, etc.) But instead of gaining from keeping the money out of the country, it instead costs them 5% each year they keep it out.
Of course, this must be coupled with the end of any hope that Congress will eventually give in to hostage-taking and let companies bring profits back at some reduced rate. That was a mistake that has cost the country dearly in lost revenue, jobs, factories, profit centers, (desks, chairs, carpets…) and also cost the country money that should be either invested or distributed to shareholders.
If the companies decide to continue to hold that $1.5-2 trillion outside of the country this surtax would bring the government between $75 and $100 billion per year of additional tax revenue, and these companies would also eventually have to bring it back and pay the up-to-$700 billion due in taxes as well. I’d be happy with that, and so would the country.
Martin Luther King Jr. outlined his dream 50 years ago this weekend. We made much of it happen. Let’s dream some more. Let’s dream about what we could do in the next 50 years.
Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and famously told the country “I have a dream.” Fifty years later there is progress and there are setbacks. We no longer have segregation — separate schools and bathrooms and the rest. Many states finally allow everyone to marry the person they love, but at the same time many states are returning to apartheid-era restrictions of voting rights.
One huge part of the “Jobs and Freedom” Dream that still evades us is the goal of full employment or an income until a job becomes available.
On August 16, 1967 King delivered a speech titled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” addressing the need for everyone to have a job or an income,
…our emphasis must be twofold: We must create full employment, or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available. In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote in Progress and Poverty:
The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves driven to their tasks either by the, that of a taskmaster or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who somehow find a form of work that brings a security for its own sake and a state of society where want is abolished.
A Country Based On A Dream
Our country was founded on the dream that We the People can do things for each other instead of depending on the rich and powerful to throw us scraps.
If you look at our Constitution you see that our country is supposed to be for We the People. And I mean just look at it, not read it. The only words you see from any distance are the words “We the People.” The Founders were making a point.
The Constitution told the world about a dream that “We the People” would build a country that protects and empowers us, where together we do things for the common good, to make our lives better. And for a while we did that.
We have lost sight of that dream. We no longer seem to recognize who our country is for. We no longer talk about the common good.
Who is our country for? Who is our economy for? Certainly a We the People economy would at the very least guarantee that We the People have jobs and an income until a job is available.
Every new job helps the economy.
Because every new job is another person shopping at local stores.
And every few new jobs mean the stores are hiring, too.
Every new job is another person not trying to take your job.
So let’s hire people to fix our roads and bridges, and teach our children.
Then, every few police, bridge-repair and teaching jobs will mean local stores will hire people.
And every few stores hiring people means a supplier hires someone.
AND our children will be educated, and our streets will be better and safer.
If we fix a bridge, it means stores around the bridge are doing more business, and will hire people, and suppliers will hire more people.
AND we will have a bridge that has been fixed!
To politicians: You know that budget cuts cost jobs and hurt the economy, no matter what you are saying in public. So any cuts you approve now mean that things will be even worse when the next election rolls around. When you are up for re-election, there will be fewer jobs and a longer recession.
So giving in to the “conventional wisdom” of the “serious people” on cutting the budget means that you are hurting yourself in the next election.
Two stories in the news today illustrate what is happening to the middle class. One story is about numbers showing how the middle is being squeezed. The other is about how people are literally being squished. “The new business model, apparently, is to shrink the seats, charge extra for everything and offer nothing for free that might be construed as an amenity.”
In the Wall Street Journal, Behind the Middle-Class Funk tells the numbers story,
Many economists define the middle class as those adults whose annual household income is between two-thirds and twice the national median—today, that means roughly $40,000 to $120,000. By this standard, according to the Pew Research Center, the middle class is significantly smaller than it once was. In 1971, it accounted for fully 61% of adults, compared with 14% for the upper class and 25% for the lower class.
Four decades later, the middle class share had declined by 10 percentage points to just 51%, while the upper class share increased by six points and the lower class by four. The U.S. income distribution is still a bell curve, but the left and right tails are fatter and the hump in the middle is lower.
[ . . . ] Between 1979 and 2007, on average, annual hours worked by middle-income households rose from 3,007 to 3,335—fully 10%, a larger increase than for any other income group. Some of the additional work reflects expanding opportunities for women. But much of it came in response to economic pressure and represents time that men as well as women reluctantly diverted from their children—hardly an unambiguous improvement in family well-being.
The middle class shrank by 10% and people in the middle have to work longer to get by…
Harold Meyerson illustrates this squeeze by showing how the non-corporate-rich are being literally squished. In A hard landing for the middle class, Meyerson writes about what is happening to airline passengers,
…Airline seating may be the best concrete expression of what’s happened to the economy in recent decades.
Airlines are sparing no expense these days to enlarge, upgrade and increase the price of their first-class and business-class seating. As the space and dollars devoted to the front of the planes increase, something else has to be diminished, and, as multitudes of travelers can attest, it’s the experience of flying coach. The joys of air travel — once common to all who flew — have been redistributed upward and are now reserved for the well-heeled few.
Meyerson describes the elevated luxury — and prices — for business and first-class passengers, while coach sections and seats get smaller. “The new business model, apparently, is to shrink the seats, charge extra for everything and offer nothing for free that might be construed as an amenity.”
Welcome to the new economy: More for the well-to-do, less for everyone else, and those without enough money literally are not on board.
Meyerson explains how this reflects what is happening to the whole economy,
The upgrading of business and the downgrading of coach present a fairly faithful mirror of what’s happening in the larger economy: the disappearance of the middle class. As University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez has documented, between 2009 and 2011, the incomes of the wealthiest 1 percent of American families grew by 11.2 percent while those of the remaining 99 percent shrunk by 0.4 percent. Median household income has declined every year since 2008. Profits, meanwhile, have risen to their highest share of the nation’s economy since World War II, while wages have sunk to their lowest share.
As more and more of the gains from our economy go to a few at the top the rest of us get squeezed — literally.
If you reward bad behavior you create an incentive for the bad behavior to continue. This is certainly the case with taxes on profits made outside the country. Rewarding multinational companies for keeping profits outside of the country has cost us jobs and tax revenue.
Today’s NY Times editorial Jobs and Taxes gets it right — and wrong. The editorial looks at President Obama’s proposal this week for “revenue-neutral” corporate tax “reform” with one-time “fees” to pay for a small bit of infrastructure repair. They correctly point out that this is a “dangerous” plan because “while the proposal would raise money for useful purposes in the short run, it would amount to an unjustified corporate giveaway in the longer term.”
Correct. But there is another danger in the idea, which the editorial gets right — and wrong. The editorial warns,
Similarly, the proposal calls for a minimum corporate tax on foreign earnings of American companies, which could be a step toward greater fairness but stops short of ending the damaging practice whereby companies defer tax on foreign profits until the cash is repatriated to the United States. The proposal does not say what the minimum tax would be. Any repatriation at less than the proposed top rate of 28 percent would encourage companies to keep stashing profits abroad.
Yes, any repatriation at less than the correct tax rate would certainly “encourage companies to keep stashing profits abroad.” The Times’ mistake is that a 28% rate would create the same incentive to keep doing it because the current tax rate is 35%, not 28%. These companies are evading a 35% rate, and rewarding this tax evasion by letting them bring the profits back at 28% just sets us up for more of the same.
In 2004 Congress gave multinational corporations a “repatriation tax holiday,” letting them return profits at dramatically lower tax rates. This didn’t work out so well for the country, economy or shareholders. Of course this incentive caused companies to start keeping even more profits out of the country. Jobs, factories and profit centers were moved to tax-haven countries because the game was defined: Congress hands out tax-holiday gifts so just wait for the next repatriation tax holiday. It is estimated that $1.7 – 2 trillion is now parked outside the country, withheld from taxation — and shareholders.
If this scheme pays off yet again the problem can only get worse. The right answer is to just end the “deferral” that lets these companies pretending the profits are not “in” the country to evade their taxes. That money is supposed the be taxed at the current 35% tax rate, and there is no reason for it to be taxed at a lower rate. End this evasion game now and watch the jobs, factories and profit centers return. And then use a sales-based apportionment system to decide where profits are made.