Tag Archives: payroll tax

Indiviglio’s Dogmatic Embrace of Failed Dogma in a Column Denouncing Dogma

By William K. Black

Daniel Indiviglio, a columnist for Reuters, wrote a column(“Dogma show”) denouncing the agreement to extend the payroll tax reduction. He was distressed by what he considered faux fiscal restraint. Indiviglio, writing at the same time that the Eurozone fell back into recession because of its austerity program, denounces both parties for being in the grip of dogmas that cause them to fail to impose greater austerity.

Why does Indiviglio want the U.S. to follow the worst possible response to a severe recession – austerity?  Because he is driven by a failed economic dogma, he has neither the capability nor any felt need to explain why he believes we should copy the Eurozone’s failed policies and join them in falling back into recession. He is so trapped by his dogma that he knows that austerity is the only rational economic policy and cannot conceive that his views are ideological because they are so self-evidently true. He has unintentionally proved his point about how destructive discredited economic dogma is.

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Should Congress Raise the Payroll Tax When the Economy Recovers?

By Stephanie Kelton

Dean Baker has just written another piece on Social Security. Dean and I have always disagreed at some fundamental level on the best way to run opposition against those that are committed to weakening and ultimately destroying this vital program. Thus, while Dean and the MMTers are on the same philosophical team (we all want to preserve the program), we run our offence using very different strategical play books.

When it comes to Social Security, MMTers have taken many pages out of Robert Eisner’s play book. To my mind, no economist has been a more honest and forceful defender of the program. (Eisner was Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University and one of Bill Clinton’s friends and former teachers. He passed away in 2010.)  In my favourite piece on the subject, Eisner said:

The notion that Social Security faces bankruptcy begins with a fundamental misconception, that payment of benefits somehow depends upon the OASDI (Old Age and Survivors and Disability Insurance) trust funds. The trust funds are merely accounting entities….

…Our payroll taxes or “contributions” go directly to the United States Treasury. Our benefit checks come from the Treasury-and those receiving them can verify on those checks that the payer is the Treasury of the United States, and not any trust fund. Social Security payments are an obligation under law of the U.S. government. Our government and its Treasury will not,indeed cannot, go bankrupt. As Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has recently put it, “[A] government cannot become insolvent with respect to obligations in its own currency.”

Baker’s latest piece is interesting because it shows that he has at least one foot in the Eisner door. He says:

While there is nothing in prin­ci­ple wrong with fi­nanc­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity in part out of gen­eral rev­enue for two or three years in the mid­dle of a se­vere eco­nomic down­turn, the ques­tion is what will hap­pen when the economy recovers enough that we no longer need this tax cut as stim­u­lus. In prin­ci­ple the tax should sim­ply re­vert to its nor­mal level.

When the economy recovers, Baker is worried that Congress will lack the political will to raise payroll tax rates, leaving the program vulnerable. He says:

If the Social Security tax were not re­stored to its for­mer level, then we could in prin­ci­ple con­tinue to make up the dif­fer­ence from gen­eral rev­enue. How­ever, there cer­tainly is no agree­ment that this will be done. Since its in­cep­tion, So­cial Se­cu­rity has been fi­nanced from the des­ig­nated pay­roll tax. This tax has been used to sus­tain the trust fund, which is in prin­ci­ple sep­a­rate from the rest of the bud­get.

Okay, there is a bit of MMT in here — the government could always make up the difference from general revenue — but the rest of the argument breaks sharply from Eisner, who explained that the perceived funding of Social Security through a dedicated payroll tax is nothing more than a useful myth.

Baker accepts that myth, arguing that as long as Congress has the guts to return the payroll tax to its original rate after the recovery takes hold, then the Trust Fund “would be suf­fi­cient to keep the pro­gram fully funded through the year 2038 and more than 80 per­cent funded through the rest of the century.”

To ensure that this happens, Baker proposes:

[A] very sim­ple way around this po­ten­tial prob­lem. If we want to give a tax cut to work­ers equal to 3.1 per­cent of wages, as Pres­i­dent Obama has pro­posed, along with a sim­i­lar cut to some em­ploy­ers, we can just write that into the law with­out any ref­er­ence to So­cial Se­cu­rity.

In other words, the tax cut would take the form of a tax credit that is paid out to work­ers and firms in ex­actly the amounts that Pres­i­dent Obama pro­posed. How­ever this credit would have no con­nec­tion what­so­ever to the So­cial Se­cu­rity tax, which con­tin­ues to get col­lected at its nor­mal rate.

MMTers would argue against this. Indeed, we have argued in favour of a more generous payroll tax cut — i.e. reducing FICA withholdings to zero for employees and the employers — and we would prefer to keep it that way so that the entire program is overtly, and permanently, funded out of general revenue.  Baker has vehemently opposed our policy recommendation, arguing that it would make the program vulnerable to attack if it lacked a dedicated source of funding.  So Baker wants to make sure the Trust Fund is “there” in order to protect Social Security from attack.

Here’s how Eisner dealt with the same problem:

Expenditures alleged to be related to trust funds are often less than their income-witness the highway and airport  funds as well Social Security. There is no particular  reason they cannot be more. The accountants can just as well declare the bottom line of the funds’ accounts negative as positive – and the Treasury can go on making whatever outlays are prescribed by law. The Treasury  can pay out all that Social Security provides while the accountants declare the funds more and more in the red. 

For those concerned, nevertheless, about the “solvency” of the trust funds, there are simple, painless remedies for this accounting problem….why not award balances in the Trust Funds, instead of the current 5.9 percent interest rate on long-term government bonds, [a] higher return… [for] it was not God but Congress and the Treasury that determined the interest rate to be credited on the non-negotiable Treasury notes of the fund balances.”

So Congress could simply agree to credit the Trust Funds at 10, 25, 40, 100, or 500 percent, making the entire “problem” go away. At 100 percent interest, even the most pessimistic CBO official would have to give the fund a clean bill of health, and future retirees could get 100 percent of the benefits they have been promised.

Which solution should progressives advocate?  Baker’s tit-for-tat replacement tax that promises to preserve Social Security in its current state — able to pay just 80 percent of promised benefits to future retirees?  Eisner’s tongue-in-cheek remedy that artificially pumps up the size of the Trust Fund to astronomical proportions in order to placate the accountants?  Or the MMT solution that advocates a straightforward payment of promised benefits to all future retirees?

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Find Me a Job

By Stephanie Kelton

Good news. Republicans have just unveiled a bold new plan (see below) to create jobs in the private sector. Don’t worry, it isn’t another “wasteful” stimulus package that hires people to repair roads and bridges or helps state and local governments hold onto their teachers and firefighters. This one won’t cost the government a dime! It’s a simple idea, really. A good old-fasioned meet-and-greet, where throngs of unemployed Americans can claw their way through a crowd of equally desperate men and women looking to land the perfect mate. I mean a reasonable match. I mean any job whatsoever.

Are these people delusional? (rhetorical) What, exactly, is it that prevents them from understanding the root of the problem? Econ 101. Sales Create Jobs. Income Creates Sales. So easy a caveman can do it.

We don’t need to introduce employers to the unemployed — they can throw a rock and hit one every 10 feet. We need to introduce employers to new customers. Sales create jobs. The problem, as Cullen Roche points out again today, is that too many households are still struggling with high debt levels. As Cullen said, “spenders have become savers,” and this is hurting the economy. Until households finish de-leveraging (restoring balance sheets by paying down debt), there will be no new source of demand — i.e. customers — to support private businesses.

The government could provide that demand — directly, through a job guarantee program modeled on the WPA, or indirectly, through a full payroll tax holiday and another round of revenue sharing for the states. But it looks like the deficit owls are the only ones prepared to support those kinds of bold initiatives. Until then, Congresswomen like Lynn Jenkins (my own “representative,” by the way) will settle for a pathetic event that promises to pair hundreds of potential employers with thousands of job seekers.

Dear Ms. Kelton,
It is my pleasure to announce the 2nd Annual Kansas 2nd District Jobs Fair.  If you are a job seeker looking for employment or an employer looking for employees, I invite you to join us on Thursday, September 1st at the Topeka Expocentre Agriculture Hall.  
As a CPA, I know the key to turning the economy around is not more government spending, but working with the private sector to create jobs. In order to get our economy back on track, we must first get America and Kansas back to work.  
This Jobs Fair will provide an unique opportunity to meet with some of the leading job creators in the state of Kansas.  There are retailers and manufacturers, service industry representatives, members from healthcare and not-for-profit companies, cities and universities, as well as financial services providers all gathered to help you find employment.  There will be over 60 companies looking to fill hundreds of jobs! 
Unlike many Jobs Fairs, participation is free of charge for both businesses and job seekers. I am hopeful that this event will prove an invaluable resource for you, your friends, and family. Please bring your resume and come explore job opportunities.
Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins’ 2011 Jobs Fair
Thursday, September 1st 
10am – 1pm
Topeka Expocentre Agricultural Hall
One Expocentre Drive
17th & Topeka Blvd
Topeka, KS
Over 1,000 job-seekers came out to last year’s Jobs Fair– providing a great opportunity for employers and job-seekers to meet. Whether you are looking for a full-time, part-time, or temporary position, do not miss this great opportunity to connect with local employers who are hiring. 
I hope to see you there! 

Lynn Jenkins, CPA
Member of Congress