Back in 2011, I looked at some CBO projections, and said that the country was in dire straits financially. Spending seemed to be on an absolute tear, and revenue–even if it lived up to wildly optimistic projections–wasn’t going to come close to keeping up.
Essentially, the CBO projections pointed to spending occurring at absolutely unprecedented levels, and relied on completely unrealistic projections of economic growth to [not quite even] pay for it. At the time, I said:
Even with those assumptions, where does spending fall historically? Even at these rosy projections, it never falls under 22% of GDP (on par with the highest spending the country has seen since WWII), and those rosy projections came in January 2010. A year later, in January 2011, the CBO outlook got worse. It now shows spending never falling under 23% of GDP during the decade 2011-2020. Historically, spending has not exceeded 23% of GDP for a single year between 1946 and 2008.
Where has revenue been over the last few decades? Well, for the years 1991-2000, during which time we suffered one mild recession followed by the tech bubble, total government revenue averaged 18.75% of GDP. For the years 2001-2010, where we dealt with the tech bubble collapse followed by the subprime bubble and then crash, total government revenue averaged 17.07% of GDP. A sizeable drop, to be sure (the worst spots being 2009 & 2010, where the financial crash slammed revenue below 15% of GDP). But fundamentally not that far out of line with historical precedent.
Now, I hadn’t gone back to look at the numbers since then. So I was very surprised to read a Cato post suggesting that spending was stagnant and was sitting at a mere 20.3% of GDP, not the 23%+ area that the CBO was projecting. As Daniel Mitchell from Cato puts it (emphasis added):
Here are some specific numbers culled from the OMB data and CBO data. In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent about $3.52 trillion. In fiscal year 2014 (which ended on September 30), the federal government spent about $3.50 trillion.
In other words, there’s been no growth in nominal government spending over the past five years. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves, but there’s been a spending freeze in Washington.
I was frankly shocked. So I ended up going straight to the OMB data (note: it’s an .xls file) to confirm.
Looks pretty legit. Spending was pushing well above 23% GDP for a few years due to the economic meltdown, the stimulus, and the continuing effects of global war.
What’s interesting, and I pulled this out of the graphic for clarity (go download the original source data if you want to confirm) is that this is NOMINAL spending. Considering there has been inflation since 2009, it’s actually fair to say that spending has decreased in real dollars over the last 5 years.
Spending is well below the CBO projections from 2010 that I used in my previous post. And frankly, revenue is WELL below their projections as well. But the spending restraint is sufficient to keep both spending as a percentage of GDP and deficits as a percentage of GDP in reasonable territory.
Now, there are always devils in the details. Mitchell points out a few in his post at Cato, and has even more to say on the subject here. But either way you slice it, the fiscal meltdown that many (including me 3 1/2 years ago) were predicting hasn’t come to pass.
Some on the left will credit Obama (even though they’ve never seen spending they didn’t like). Some on the right will credit the Tea Party (even though they spent the 8 years prior to Obama spending like a Kardashian wedding).
As for me, I’m just going to say that I’m glad my predictions–based on CBO projections–didn’t come to pass.
Conservatives do not believe that the government can “create” jobs directly. This canard of the left does nothing but destroy market-driven, sustainable jobs at the expense of increasing the national debt and attaching an anchor to GDP growth in exchange for short term government employment and expanded private sector government influence. That doesn’t mean that a conservative Congress can’t stand for job creation. The way we get there is by providing the modern infrastructure, economic freedom, and competitive tax code that attract, rather than repel the world’s wealth. We want to decrease the cost of doing business here at home and focus government resources on business-supportive roles, rather than coercive ‘partnerships’. It begins with a smarter tax code.
A) Pass Corporate Tax Reform (dare Obama to veto)
I don’t recommend settling for half-measures here and I recommend putting this near the top of the agenda for 2015. Obama has, on multiple occasions, put Corporate tax reform in his state of the union address in his 6 years in office (five addresses, 4 mentions). Corporate tax reform that accomplishes the closing of certain loopholes, the ending of certain forms of corporate welfare, and the reduction of rates to something that competes with the rest of the developed world has broad, bipartisan support among the voting middle class. In Washington, such measures have met with stiff resistance from corporate lobbies who do not want to see the corporate tax base broadened to include them, specifically (through the removal of loopholes). Let the GOP stand for the voters, not for special interests, and pass comprehensive corporate tax reform that does the following:
• Cuts the corporate tax rate to 25% at most
• Creates a two-tiered capital gains tax bracket, where all capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate below $250,000 each year
• Excises many of the tax-sheltering loopholes used by the biggest corporations to avoid paying; in particular, the shelters to profits earned overseas by American companies
• Gives corporations a ‘tax holiday’ to repatriate foreign capital until January of 2021
• Creates a lower corporate tax rate for wealth generated by manufacturing concerns – 15%, perhaps
There are, I’m certain, other great ideas that could be included in a sweeping change like this, and we’re all ears. This is just a start. The goal is to create an environment that encourages businesses to take risks and expand their workforce here at home without taking the punitive approach championed by Obama (penalize companies that keep their money overseas, rather than improve the economic climate at home).
B) Pass the REINS Act (obtain Obama’s veto)
REINS is a relatively simple piece of legislation passed in the GOP-controlled house and left to gather dust in Harry Reid’s file cabinet. It requires congress to approve all regulations in excess of $100M as scored by the Congressional Budget Office each year. If said regulations cannot be approved, they are immediately stricken. This is good policy on so many levels, not the least of which is that it maintains the separation of the non-political government agencies from the political process in the drafting of public policy regulations but forces Congress to exercise some oversight on those regulations that are particularly costly. We recognize that regulatory science should not be trapped by the political process, but we also believe that unelected agencies should not have carte blanche to pass regulatory rules without oversight that serve as a huge burden to economic growth. It will give the voters some ability to hold their representatives responsible for the regulatory state and encourage those who draft said regulations to minimize their costs or garner broad public support for their necessity. It will also make public the CBO scoring of the cost of every major regulation, helping the public to get a sense for the true costs and benefits of each.
C) Return the Full-Time Workweek to 40 Hours
We’ll talk more about the Affordable Care Act when we get to healthcare, but one of the most pernicious things the ACA accomplished was to effectively reduce the American workweek to 30 hours in the eyes of the law. Democrats supported this concept to avoid the tendency of corporations to get 39 hours of work per week out of employees to avoid having them counted as full time and thus be forced to offer benefits. The problem, of course, is that reducing the workweek to 30 hours meant a lot of people just got cut down to 29 hours. If you’re a struggling poor or working class American, this tends to drive you to take two part time jobs and you end up working more and still not getting benefits, or working drastically less and not making enough money to survive. If all else fails, regarding the ACA, increasing the workweek back to 40 hours at least offers some relief for people in this situation (and the CBO projects a big surge in part time labor under the ACA as it currently stands).
D) Expand the Earned-Income Tax Credit
Right now, if you earn less than $11,000 for an individual or $88,000 for a family filing jointly, and are legally eligible for that work, you can claim an earned-income tax credit (variable by family size and earnings). The EITC is good policy for the poor and working classes and should be expanded with increased credit sizes (perhaps another 30-40% proportionally) and availability (up to incomes of less than $125,000 for a family filing jointly). Make this revenue neutral by creating a “super-wealthy” tax bracket (>$1,000,000) that is taxed at a slightly higher rate and by eliminating eligibility for certain tax credits for people in this new upper tax bracket. Normally, the GOP is not associated with eve the smallest of tax increases for the wealthy, but if we reduce corporate taxes as previously outlined, this sort of minor compromise will come out in the wash while selling as good, fair tax policy to middle class voters.
E) Exempt Small and Moderate-sized Businesses from Burdensome Regulation
Small business start-ups are responsible for the majority of new jobs that pay above the media household income. They’re also in sharp decline here in the US. One of the major reasons for this is that, when Congress enacts legislation to regulate business, it does so with larger businesses in mind. We recognize that it is indeed necessary to regulate larger corporations, because they can have disproportional impacts on the environment, the free market, and the welfare of the people. We also recognize that big business can absorb the cost of our most aggressive regulations, but small business cannot. We also believe it is unreasonable for small businesses, frequently run by citizens without the resources to educate themselves on the full extent of the regulatory state cannot be expected to comply to the same degree as larger corporations, and that their likely impact on people, the market or the economy is greatly reduced. We, therefore, must pass a law stating that regulations determined to be of great impact by the CBO as in the REINS act, should be applied only to corporations with greater than 250 employees or more than a negotiable amount of total assets.
F) Repeal Sarbanes-Oxley and Replace with Common Sense Reporting
Again on the subject of over-regulation, this panic-move following Enron’s collapse is among the worst offenders for needless corporate regulatory burden, annually costing billions in the private sector for compliance and producing no change in accounting transparency. It reminds us of the mindless and often pointless busywork we used to get in school, and compliance requires companies to hire a fleet of folks who are specifically experts in the labyrinthine letter of this law. It must go and be replaced by much simpler-to-follow guidelines for financial reporting.
G) Greenlight Keystone XL and Other Energy Infrastructure Projects on Federal Lands
The latest estimate by industry sources is that Keystone XL pipeline would create in excess of 20,000 good paying jobs immediately and have extensive multiply impacts on the job market, not to mention making it cheaper to move oil to high-demand parts of the country where oil prices are currently far too high. Our best environmental impact studies conclude that the XL pipeline would be a net positive for the environment if you assume that the alternative is transport by rail, rather than non-use. This is a no-brainer.
H) Abolish the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Allow Nuclear Energy Expansion – Complete Yucca Mountain Facility for Waste Management
As the science improves to reduce waste products from nuclear fission power, and as the EU and Japan continue to move ahead of us on safe, clean nuclear energy, our ability to innovate and, perhaps, solve the problem of excessive fossil fuel emission is stymied by the anti-science left’s crusade against Nuclear Energy. It’s time to stop being parochial and superstitious in the face of overwhelming evidence that nuclear energy is, by far, our best source of affordable, clean energy.
I) Abolish the Export/Import Bank
It may not be immediately apparent how ending this brand of corporate welfare can help create jobs, but it becomes clearer when you realize that many of the businesses that benefit from Ex/Im assistance are the non-dynamic, struggling corporations not likely to hire a large labor force, and it always seems to come at the expense of healthy competition. Again, the key to job creation is a competitive, free market that rewards well-run companies, not the ones out begging for federal dollars to stay afloat and squash upstarts.
The question of class mobility has come to define the “American Dream” in political discourse. And, although this post will take a bit of a contrarian position, it is absolutely inarguable that there is a problem with economic immobility today that is having a very depressing impact on the way we communicate to solve problems and on our freedoms in general. But this is not how you go about making that point.
There are many accepted indicators of whether a person has “done everything right” but the most important such indicators have traditionally included college advancement (graduation and especially graduate degrees), marriage, and home ownership.
The original graphic is a classic example of a complex topic simplified into uselessness. When I look at the graph, I see that, in fact, college grads who started poor move up to the middle classes and stay there at much higher rates than rich kids who drop out of high school (yay!)…but somehow the Post comes away with the misleading headline: Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.
Really? This only looks at the shear proportions who “graduate college” vs. “drop out of high school” – that can hardly be seen as “doing everything right” vs. “getting everything wrong”. What did the college grads major in? There is ample research supporting the conclusion that most college majors these days are bad long term investments. What did the rich kids who didn’t finish HS go on to do? Were they drop-outs because they had alternative plans? Did they pick up a trade?
And more to the point – how many of those poor kids had good parenting examples at home upon which to build the foundations of healthy marriages?
Slate takes on many of my same talking points here. They mention other confounding factors, and note the misleading nature of the Post’s article title. Props to them!
But they make the unfortunate logical leap that there is something inherently wrong with a system where not all poor college grads do well later in life, or that the forces leading to their remaining in poverty are things we can fix.
The real issue, as O’Brien points out, is that rich kids enjoy lots of advantages that keep them from falling to the very bottom of income distribution, and sometimes those advantages keep them at the very top. They might be able to go to work for family businesses, for instance, or family friends. Researchers like Brookings’ Richard Reeves call that collection of advantages “the glass floor.” Educated poor kids are in the exact opposite position. Many attend second- or third-rate (and possibly for-profit) colleges that churn out less-than-useful degrees. And instead of a floor propping them up, their families and friends can act like an anchor pulling them down. A classic example: a college-educated woman who goes home and marries a boyfriend who never made it past high school and has trouble holding down a job.
Emphasis mine. Notice the not-so-subtle insinuation that colleges that operate for profit are bad for the poor, and that the less-useful degrees are not to be found in the halls of elite, expensive colleges, only those second rate low-end state schools or the aforementioned dirty capitalist institutions. Of course, even top end colleges (including the ivy leagues) are now offering degrees in a wide array of financially useless liberal arts curricula. Also notice the suggestion that the problem isn’t with the failure of people raised in poverty to establish and keep stable families, but that those families are holding them back. They’re getting it exactly backwards. Every credible study on the persistence of poverty finds that single parents and people who suffer divorce are the most likely to get stuck in poverty.
So let’s summarize the position of Slate’s team (and likely that of the Washington Post):
1) Economic mobility continues to be problematic at best for the poorest Americans, even with hard work.
2) Graduating from college is a mark of hard work.
3) Hard work should be rewarded with a high rate of success.
4) If we could separate the poor from the things that hold them back (especially their struggling families and their alternative education sources), they would thrive.
If the writers at Slate would like to address the problem of hard-working, driven poor people being less able to move up the economic ladder than (perhaps) would be ideal, I suggest that they stop grinding political axes and start looking at the hard data. The data all indicates that the leading indicator for economic immobility is single parenthood, and that children of single parents are more likely to also be single parents themselves later in life. Get to the root of the problem and you find that this is not something that government can forcefully correct – and frankly, I’d be terrified if they tried.
A couple of young Millennial women, Alyssa Lafage and Elly Mae, appeared on “The Rick Amato Show” on the One America News Network (don’t worry, you probably don’t even get the channel). Amato had both young ladies on to talk about how the policies of President Obama and progressives have harmed the Millennial generation.
Watch these two Millennial women describe how the polices of President Obama and progressives have harmed their generation and made their generation worse off than ever. Also, check out our own Quincy’s takedown of Obama drone Paul Krugman’s proclamation of Obama as one of the greatest presidents ever which touches on some of these same issues.
I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.
There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t know the dollar is falling. Everyone over 25 has stories of what prices were like, way back when (and younger people have heard them). I remember when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon, and my mom remembers when it was 20 cents.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledges the official objective to push the dollar down by 2 percent per year. This intention is behind the Fed’s ill-conceived loose money policy.
It’s important to measure each drop. This is not just to keep a scorecard on the Fed, but because a change in the dollar skews historical comparisons and distorts business decisions, like giving increases to workers and pensioners….
Read the whole piece, and then come back…
The thesis statement of the piece is correct, in that prices provide a misleading indicator of currency valuation (and that our weak dollar policy, as pursued by every administration since Bush 1 to some degree or another, is fundamentally wrong and destructive for that matter).
Unfortunately the author suggests that simply using a different price denomination and comparison (to gold) is a less misleading indicator… In this, he’s absolutely incorrect.
What you really want to compare is purchasing power parity (PPP) as measured by equivalent standard of living, expressed as a dollar cost in constant dollars normalized to average labor hour wage or compensation.
i.e. this item costs 5 minutes of average labor, this costs 8 hours, this costs 20 years; the cost to maintain this equivalent normalized standard of living across an aggregate population is 1940 hours of median labor wage etc… etc…
Note, this is NOT an expression of the fallacious labor theory of value, it is an explicit measure of purchasing power parity as actual cost, INCLUDING opportunity cost (in terms of time), not currency denomination.
The critical function isn’t price, and it isn’t wage… it’s cost, in this case expressed as a cost to value ratio as a normalized dollar (to make it easy to relate to wages and prices).
Cost is not price; it’s a totalized measure of inputs including resources, time, and opportunity.
I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.
Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra