2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

In 47 of America’s fine states, if you want to accept people’s money in order to give them advice on decorating and other people want to pay you to give advice on decorating, then congratulations-you’re an interior decorator. In the other three states, and the District of Columbia, you need undergo 2,190 hours of training and apprenticeship and pass an exam before practicing. This, of course, is why homes in DC are wildly better-decorated than the homes in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs or in other large American cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, and Philadelphia. Except of course that’s not true.

District 12 is a quintessential extractive economy. It’s oriented around a coal mine, the kind of facility where unskilled labor can be highly productive in light of the value of the underlying commodity. In a free society, market competition for labor and union organizing would drive wages up. But instead the Capitol imposes a single purchaser of mine labor and offers subsistence wages. Emigration to other districts in search of better opportunities is banned, as is exploitation of the apparently bountiful resources of the surrounding forest. With the mass of Seam workers unable to earn a decent wage, even relatively privileged townsfolk have modest living standards. If mineworkers earned more money, the Mellark family bakery would have more customers and more incentive to invest in expanded operations. A growing service economy would grow up around the mine. But the extractive institutions keep the entire District in a state of poverty, despite the availability of advanced technology in the Capitol.

When lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, a fellow Republican, called for suspending the state’s 23.5 cent gas tax during a price spike in May 2006, Romney rejected the idea, saying it would only further drive up gasoline consumption. “I don’t think that now is the time, and I’m not sure there will be the right time, for us to encourage the use of more gasoline,” Romney said, according to the Quincy Patriot Ledger’s report at the time. “I’m very much in favor of people recognizing that these high gasoline prices are probably here to stay.

The real workforce of Facebook is all the people who are creating Facebook content. That’s closer to 800 million people (roughly their user base) than to 3,000 people (roughly their number of employees). There’s nothing new about medica companies getting people to produce content for free (that’s what the letters to the editor page or comments section is) but Facebook has built the most amazing vehicle for the appropriation of surplus value that the world has ever known. Ergo its stunning profits and amazing ratio of market capitalization to formal employees.

Deadweight loss exists any time the profit-maximizing price of a unit of something exceeds the cost of producing an extra unit. In a highly competitive market in which many sellers are offering largely undifferentiated goods, profit margins are low and deadweight loss is tiny. But the whole point of copyright is that the owner of the rights to, say, Breaking Bad has a monopoly on sales of new episodes of the show. At the same time, producing an extra copy of a Breaking Bad episode is nearly free. So when the powers that be decide that the profit-maximizing strategy is to charge more than $100 to download all four seasons of Breaking Bad from iTunes, they’re creating a situation in which lots of people who’d gain $15 or $85 worth of enjoyment from watching the show can’t watch it. This is “deadweight loss,” and to the extent that copyright infringement reduces it, infringement is a boon to society.

Leaving the payroll tax intact and reducing Social Security benefits for higher-income seniors is, in effect, an increase in marginal tax rates but it was clear from the discussion at this morning’s GOP Presidential debate that few Republicans see it this way. Still, it’s true. The way Social Security works is that you pay taxes when you’re working and you collect benefits when you retire, with the benefits proportional to what you paid.

2011

Loser liberalism, by implying that all fortunes are created equal, alternately goes too easy on scoundrels and comes down too hard on people who are merely prosperous. Chris Paul is in the one percent, but he’s also a kid from a working class background who’s spent his entire career being structurally underpaid and victimized by cartels. By contrast, even substantially lower-paid (and there’s lots of room to be both lower-paid than Chris Paul and very highly paid) folks working on Wall Street are making a living in an industry that’s systematically dependent on implicit and explicit government guarantees. Making a living as a patent troll is totally different from making a living as a genuine innovator.

If the problem is years of “living beyond our means” the solution dictated by cosmic justice is years of laboring in auto plants building cars for South Koreans to drive. If the question is “why are we consuming so much less than we produced” the answer may be “it’s because in the past we consumed more than we produced.” But right now the question facing America is “why are so many millions of people producing nothing at all.” The answer can’t be simply that we had too much debt in the past or that we lived beyond our means.

I suppose I agree with Will Wilkinson about the importance of “an ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility” though I have no real idea why he thinks most progressives are against such an ethos. It strikes me that cultivating such an ethos is sort of integral to making a progressive agenda work. I think back sometimes to the time when I stumbled into a Stockholm Metro station and got the person working the booth to explain what I needed to do to use the city’s bikeshare system. This wasn’t really her job, and the conversation wasn’t in her native language, and obviously no practical harm would have come to her if she’d blown me off but I take it that she took pride in working for Stockholm Metro and had a self-conception as someone who’s a helpful public servant. Any effective public agency from the United States Marine Corps on down is built in pretty profound ways on an ethos of duty and hard work in an even more profound way than things in the for-profit business sector. People who believe in public sector work and public services must believe in the idea of a strong work-ethic.

the Bush administration took a very ideological view of “the war on terror.” They viewed the United States as broadly in conflict with a vast-yet-hazily-defined array of Muslim Bad Guys such that Saddam Hussein and the government of Iran were somehow part of the same problem as Osama bin Laden. The conceptual alternative to this that Obama offered … was to think of al-Qaeda as a specific, narrow thing that ought to be obsessively targeted and destroyed. … You see in the rising body count that this all wasn’t just talk. There’s been some kind of meaningful reallocation of national resources away from Bush’s geopolitical vision in favor of a much more literal global effort to identify, locate, and kill members of al-Qaeda.

These rogue traders are out there because their bosses don’t want to know what they’re doing. I never get a “rogue burrito” at Chipotle because the management wants people to get burritos that are rolled properly. But suppose the management wants people to obtain the kind of high returns that can only be achieved through unduly risky trades. Well, you can’t very well issue a directive telling people to make unduly risky trades. You certainly can, however, create circumstances under which incentives, control, and supervision are structured so as to make it the case that “rogue traders” will pop up here and there and then there rogueishness can be blamed ex post for undertakings that go badly.

Looks like we had 17,000 thousand new private sector jobs in August, which were 100 percent offset by 17,000 lost jobs in the public sector. The striking zero result should galvanize minds, but it’s worth noting that this has been the trend all year. The public sector has been steadily shrinking. According to the conservative theory of the economy, when the public sector shrinks that should super-charge the private sector. What’s happened in the real world has been that public sector shrinkage has simply been paired with anemic private sector growth. This is what I’ve called “The Conservative Recovery.” Conservatives complain about the results because the President is a Democrat named Barack Obama. But the policy result is what conservatives say they want. Steady cuts to the government sector, offset somewhat by private sector growth.

The National Flood Insurance Program Reextension Act of 2010 was sponsored by a bipartisan group, it passed the filibuster-ridden Senate by unanimous consent on September 21, it passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote on September 23, and was signed into law by President Obama a week later. The lead sponsor of the current Flood Insurance Reauthorization is Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi. Amidst fierce ideological debate about the size and scope of the federal government, in other words, there’s no serious budget-cutting move to stop subsidizing people from living in dangerous flood zones.

imagine a small country that never borrows money. Alongside funding its normal operations out of tax revenue, it sets a little bit aside each year in an investment fund looking forward to the time when there’ll be enough money in the pot to build a giant monument to the country’s founder. Then along comes a recession-unemployment rises and revenue plummets. Under the circumstances, deciding to skip a year or two of contributions to the Monument Fund in order to maintain regular levels of public services is the most intuitive thing in the world. What would sound strange would be the idea that economic growth could be maximized by reducing spending to cut the deficit in order to “restore confidence” by making full contributions to the Monument Fund. Who cares about the Monument Fund? Back to the actual situation, the basic logic of “deficit spend in a recession if you can get away with it” holds just as clearly whether you have a Monument Fund or a budget deficit.

The basic notion seems to be that if you see “the government” doing “something” and the outcome is perverse, that proves that when “the government” does “things” it gets bad results so the government shouldn’t do anything. But pay attention to the story! This looks to me essentially like a story of the slightly perverse consequences of what amounts to privatization of infrastructure provision. The New York State Thruway Authority dealt with the Hudson River bridge issue in a manner designed to maximize profits rather than a benevolent social planner putting the bridge in the socially optimal more southerly location.

I remember well the contention that there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between George W Bush and Al Gore. And, indeed, there wasn’t. Both wholeheartedly embraced American military hegemony as a foreign policy and the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” approach to international economic policy. Both emphasized improved education as the key to long-term prosperity, both valorized capitalism as an engine of growth, and neither in any meaningful way challenged the various prevailing economic and social dogmas of the era. And yet looking back in concrete terms, it seems to me that the 2000 election turns out to have been one of the most consequential in American history. That’s because while both Bush and Bill Clinton pursued policies from within the paradigm of the elite American ideological consensus of the post-Cold War era they actually pursued very different policies.

Even with several decades of median wage stagnation, the fact of the matter is that the median American household has quite a lot of money compared to the median household of almost every other country. And yet, I think there are a lot of other respects in which quality of life in the United States falls short. We spend a lot of time in traffic jams. We have both a frighteningly high murder rate and a frighteningly high level of incarceration. Our health care system is very inefficient. Americans work very long hours and have unusually little vacation time. It’s not clear to me that any of these issues can be usefully tackled primarily by focusing on higher taxation of the very wealthy.

Suppose the government had two choices. It could either pay for infrastructure improvements as it went along out of tax revenue or it could borrow money build the infrastructure now and then repay the money with tax revenues. Ordinarily the question would be, does the advantage of building quickly outweigh the cost of the interest. However, right now the interest cost is negative. The government saves money by borrowing now rather than waiting and paying cash. ThinkProgress

(via Yet Another Conservative Economist Thinks Barack Obama Can Travel Through Time | ThinkProgress) Business investment started trending toward way back in 2006 and did the bulk of its plunging in 2008. It also seems to me that George W Bush was president at this time. Soon after Barack Obama took office, investment bottomed-out and began to rebound. Neither Obama’s rhetoric nor his policies can possibly be responsible for the Obama-era drop in investment for the simple reason that no such drop occurred.

Obviously the federal government has the authority to specify for what purposes federal grant money can be used. Obviously. How else could it work? The other is the tendency to regard any existing profit stream as a form of property. Banks are entitled to their federal subsidies to offer student loans. For-profit colleges are entitled to their own student loan subsidy stream. Health care providers are entitled to unlimited wasteful spending at federal expense. Potato growers are entitled to their school lunch money. Great take down of Tea Party constitutional interpretation.

A very large share of the public has no income that hasn’t already been reported to the IRS by the payer and doesn’t itemize deductions. Under the circumstances, the sensible thing would be for the IRS to send everyone a sheet of paper that says “based on the income that’s been reported to us and your family status from last year, your taxes owed (or refund owed to you) is $X with standard deductions. If something’s changed, or if that income number is wrong, or if you want to itemize deductions, you should fill out forms blah blah blah. Otherwise, just send a check.” A lot of us would still need to wrestle with the forms and nobody likes to give up money, but this would be much more convenient for millions of people. We don’t do it because H&R Block and TurboTax don’t want to lose customers and, crucially, because the conservative movement wants taxes for ordinary people to be as annoying as possible. Rich people don’t care about this kind of simplification because they itemize their deductions and hire accountants. But they benefit from middle class people resenting the tax process because it helps them build the case for low tax rates.

The complaint alleges that a Georgia-Pacific paper mill on the Coffee Creek in Arkansas - owned by the billionaire Koch Brothers -emits 45 million gallons of paper mill waste including hazardous materials like ammonia, chloride, and mercury each day. Coffee Creek then flows into Louisiana’s Ouachita River where the pollutants have left the formerly pristine water speckled with odorous foam, slime and black pockets of water, said Jerry Johnson, who has been visiting the Ouachita River for 35 years. “People used to swim in it,” said Johnson, who now lives along the river. “In the summertime, it was the place to go.”

2010