Tag Archives: Taxes

Money, Taxes and What We Can Afford

By Dan Kervick

People sometimes seem to suggest that the Western democracies are at the end of the road economically.  They claim that these governments are spent, broke, tapped out.  They insinuate that Western nations can no longer afford to carry out ambitious projects of the kind they organized in the past, and must downsize or dismantle many of the governance systems and public enterprises they currently operate.  They insist that these democracies must hand over yet more of their nations’ destinies to the financial and corporate baronies that dominate the private sector, and give the latter a free hand to arrange whatever kind of future they might deign to mash up for us as a by-product of  their voracious struggles for private gain and glory.

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Greg Mankiw Discovers the Math and the Arithmetic on the Same Day

By Dale Pierce

Raising taxes is a good idea after all. In fact, it is now quite necessary, according to former Romney flack and alleged deep thinker Greg Mankiw of Harvard University. (Whose introductory textbook in economics may go down in history as the single greatest disinformational success of all time.)

In this Sunday’s New York Times, Prof. Mankiw bravely challenges what he takes to be the newly prevailing group-think in Washington – namely, the bi-partisan idea that “taxes on the middle class must not rise.” This is “Bad Math”, we are told. This does not accord with the “laws of arithmetic” – at least not as Prof. Mankiw understands them. It is, he concludes, our government’s stubborn reluctance to tax the non-rich which explains why “the political process has become so dysfunctional.”

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NEP’s Stephanie Kelton Has Op Ed Piece in LA Times

Look, up in the sky! It’s a “fiscal cliff.” It’s a slope. It’s an obstacle course.

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what we call it. It only matters what it is: a lamebrained package of economic depressants bearing down on a lame-duck Congress.

Read the entire piece here.

Will We Be The Lamest Generation?

By Dan Kervick

Matt Yglesias is now hawking an initial White House budget proposal that is apparently being negotiated by Tim Geithner.   Predictably, the two-stage proposal involves entitlement “savings” and cuts in both stage one and stage two, and backs off a bit on higher tax rates on the rich.  In exchange, the White House gets some more stimulus spending.  Yglesias advises Republicans to tell Obama:

… he can have his stimulus and he can even have higher tax revenue if he really wants it, but that the price is giving up his obsession with higher rates. Is he more interested in soaking the rich or in creating jobs? I don’t think Obama says no to a deal like that, and if he does lots of sensible liberals (like this guy) will call him out on it. Then we can put this sorry episode behind us, proclaim the Grand Bargaining Era done for, and hopefully move on to other things.

It seems strange to endorse a grand bargain in order to move on and proclaim the Grand Bargaining Era over.  Maybe next week Democrats should propose the elimination of the minimum wage so we can then declare an end to the Era of the Fight Over the Minimum Wage?

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William Black on HuffPost Live

NEP’s William Black appeared on Huff Post Live’s Sound Off hosted by Mike Sacks. The topic was tax hikes on the middle class. You can view the clip below or if you want to go to HuffPost Live – click here.

Cutting Off Our Nose to Spite Our Face

By Joel David Palmer

We tie ourselves in knots developing strange moral equations to demonstrate why it’s ok to punish with impoverishment those we think don’t deserve an income. And we do it almost exclusively to rationalize a desire to not pay taxes. Our lives are hard enough, we say, without paying someone else’s way too. We suffer all kinds of anxieties – bad bosses, low wages, fear of layoffs, worry about having enough for retirement – and we are prone to resenting anyone who seems to have gotten even a slight advantage on us without, apparently, working so hard. Continue reading

Romney: The Little People Don’t Pay Taxes

By L. Randall Wray & Pavlina R. Tcherneva
(Cross posted at Huffington Post)

Everyone recalls the quip by Leona Helmsley: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes…”. By “we”, of course, she meant the likes of Mitt Romney. By little people, she meant Romney’s 47% – those not worth the bother. As President, the Mitt made clear, he will not be serving them.

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Michael Hudson on the State and Local Budget Crisis

The State and Local Budget Crisis
The cost of the 2011 cutbacks in federal spending will fall most directly on consumers and retirees by scaling back Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and social spending programs. The population also will suffer indirectly, by lower federal revenue sharing with U.S. states and cities. The following chart from the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA, Table 3.3) shows how federal financial aid has helped cities shift the tax burden off real estate, although the main shift has been off property taxes onto income – and onto consumption (sales) taxes.

Time to panic? You Betcha.

By Stephanie Kelton

Earlier this week, President Obama talked about the weakening state of the economy, telling us that he’s not worried about a double-dip recession and that the nation should “not panic.” It’s hard to imagine a more alarming assessment at this juncture.

The recovery is faltering. Our economy is growing at annual rate of just 1.8 percent. Manufacturing just grew at its slowest pace in 20 months. More than 44 million Americans – one in seven – rely on food stamps. Employers hired only 54,000 new workers in May, the lowest number in eight months. Jobless claims increased to 427,000 in the week ended June 4. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent. Nearly half of all unemployed Americans have been without work for more than 6 months. About 25% of all teenagers who are looking for work are unemployed. Eight-and-a-half million Americans are underemployed – i.e. working part-time because their hours have been cut or because they can’t find full-time work. There are, on average, 4.6 unemployed people for every 1 job opening. And even if all the open positions were filled, there would still be 10.7 million people looking for work.

The Case-Shiller index shows that the housing market has already double-dipped.

And, because of the huge shadow inventory of yet-to-be-foreclosed homes, Robert Shiller, a co-creator of the index, thinks home prices could easily fall another 15-25% before bottoming out. If he’s right – and I suspect he is – this spells the end of the recovery. As prices continue to decline they create hidden losses elsewhere in the economy, hurting not just homeowners but the financial institutions that hold their mortgages. The list goes on and on.

These are not, as Obama said, “headwinds” that will slow the pace of our recovery. They are gale force winds that will push millions of families into poverty and thousands of business into bankruptcy.

There is a way out, but it seems unlikely that Congress and the White House will work together to do what’s necessary to turn things around.  Why?  Because a recent poll shows that 59 percent of the public disapproves of the president’s handling of the economy.  And Republicans smell blood.  They know that since WWII no president has been re-elected with unemployment above 7.2 percent, so they see Harry Hard Luck and Sally Sob Story as their best chance at reclaiming the White House in 2012.  It’s a victory the Republicans have been masterfully engineering since February 2009, when they succeeded in restricting the size and scope of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Some of us saw this coming.  For example, Jamie Galbraith and Robert Reich warned, on a panel I organized in January 2009, that the stimulus package needed to be at least $1.3 trillion in order to create the conditions for a sustainable recovery.  Anything shy of that, they worried, would fail to sufficiently improve the economy, making Keynesian economics the subject of ridicule and scorn.
But it’s easy to see why the $787 billion package we ended up with didn’t do the trick.  Remember that the stimulus didn’t take effect all at once – it was spread out over a three-year period.  And while the left hand of the federal government was trying to rev up the economy with increased spending, the right hand of the private sector (together with state and local governments) was dutifully stomping on the breaks.  Just consider the fact that bank lending declined by $587 billion in 2009 alone – the biggest one-year drop since the 1940s.  That’s a $587 billion hole that businesses and households created just as the stimulus was rolling out the first $200 billion or so.  ARRA was the right medicine, but it was administered in the wrong dosage, and this became clear within months of its passage.

In July 2009, I wrote a post entitled, “Gift-Wrapping the White House for the GOP.” In it, I said:

“If President Obama wants a second term, he must join the growing chorus of voices calling for another stimulus and press forward with an ambitious program to create jobs and halt the foreclosure crisis.”

Two years later, both crises are still with us, and the election is just around the corner.
Meanwhile, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with a slight edge in a hypothetical race against President Obama, and Howard Dean is warning that without a marked improvement in the economy, even Sarah Palin could clobber Obama in 2012.
To avoid this, President Obama must get his economics right.  Unfortunately, he’s too busy fanning the flames of the phony debt crisis and complaining that the discouraging data is hampering the recovery because it “affects consumer confidence, and it affects business confidence.” But here’s the thing – the recovery isn’t going to be driven by a change in our mentality.  It’s going to be driven by a change in our reality.
So here’s what he needs to do – stop talking about the deficit.  It has always been his Achilles’ heel.  The US is not broke and cannot go bankrupt.  Let go of that myth, and deliver one of those jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring speeches of yesteryear.  Tell the American people that he’s calling on the Republicans to help him enact the most sweeping tax relief since Ronald Reagan was in office — a full payroll tax holiday for every employee and every employer in the nation.  Tell us that you understand that sales create jobs, and income creates sales.  Tell us that families and small businesses don’t have enough income to dig us out of the ditch we’re still in.  Tell us that you will not withhold a dime from our paychecks until cash registers across the nation are chiming and unemployment has fallen below 5 percent.  Tell us before it’s too late.

The Perfect Fiscal Storm: Causes, Consequences, Solutions

Approximately a decade ago I wrote a paper with a similar title, announcing that forces were aligned to produce the perfect fiscal storm. What I was talking about was a budget crisis at the state and local government levels. I had recognized that the economy of the time was in a bubble, driven by what I perceived to be unsustainable deficit spending by the private sector—which had been spending more than its income since 1996. As we now know, I called it too soon—the private sector continued to spend more than its income until 2006. The economy then crashed—a casualty of the excesses. What I had not understood a decade ago was just how depraved Wall Street had become. It kept the debt bubble going through all sorts of lender fraud; we are now living with the aftermath.
Still, it is worthwhile to return to the “Goldilocks” period to see why economists and policymakers still get it wrong. As I noted in that earlier paper:
It is ironic that on June 29, 1999 the Wall Street Journal ran two long articles, one boasting that government surpluses would wipe out the national debt and add to national saving—and the other scratching its head wondering why private saving had gone negative. The caption to a graph showing personal saving and government deficits/surpluses proclaimed “As the government saves, people spend”. Almost no one at the time (or since!) recognized the necessary relation between these two that is implied by aggregate balance sheets. Since the economic slowdown that began at the end of 2000, the government balance sheet has reversed toward a deficit that reached 3.5% of GDP last quarter, while the private sector’s financial balance improved to a deficit of 1% of GDP. So long as the balance of payments deficit remains in the four-to-five percent of GDP range, a private sector surplus cannot be achieved until the federal budget’s deficit rises beyond 5% of GDP (as we’ll see in a moment, state and local government will continue to run aggregate surpluses, increasing the size of the necessary federal deficit). [I]n recession the private sector normally runs a surplus of at least 3% of GDP; given our trade deficit, this implies the federal budget deficit will rise to 7% or more if a deep recession is in store. At that point, the Wall Street Journal will no doubt chastise: “As the people save, the government spends”, calling for a tighter fiscal stance to increase national saving!

Turning to the international sphere, it should be noted that US Goldilocks growth was not unique in its character. [P]ublic sector balances in most of the OECD nations tightened considerably in the past decade–at least in part due to attempts to tighten budgets in line with the Washington Consensus (and for Euroland, in line with the dictates of Maastricht criteria). (Japan, of course, stands out as the glaring exception—it ran large budget surpluses at the end of the 1980s before collapsing into a prolonged recession that wiped out government revenue and resulted in a government deficit of nearly 9% of GDP.) Tighter public balances implied deterioration of private sector balances. Except for the case of nations that could run trade surpluses, the tighter fiscal stances around the world necessarily implied more fragile private sector balances. Indeed, Canada, the UK and Australia all achieved private sector deficits at some point near the beginning of the new millennium.

As we now know, my short-term projections were not too bad, but the medium-term projections were off. The Bush deficit did grow to 5% of GDP, helping the economy to recover. But then the private sector moved right back to huge deficits as lender fraud fueled a real estate boom as well as a consumption boom (financed by home equity loans). See the following chart (thanks to Scott Fullwiler):

This chart shows the “mirror image”: a government deficit from 1980 through to the Goldilocks years is the mirror image of the domestic private sector’s surplus plus our current account deficit (shown as a positive number because it reflects a positive capital account balance). During the Clinton years as the government budget moved to surplus, it was the private sector’s deficit that was the mirror image to the budget surplus plus the current account deficit. This mirror image is what the Wall Street Journal had failed to recognize—and what almost no one except MMT-ers and the Levy Economic Institute’s researchers understand. After the financial collapse, the domestic private sector moved sharply to a large surplus (which is what it normally does in recession), the current account deficit fell (as consumers bought fewer imports), and the budget deficit grew mostly because tax revenue collapsed as domestic sales and employment fell.  

Unfortunately, just as policymakers learned the wrong lessons from the Clinton administration budget surpluses—thinking that the federal budget surpluses were great while they actually were just the flip side to the private sector’s deficit spending—they are now learning the wrong lessons from this crash. They’ve managed to convince themselves that it is all caused by government sector profligacy. Especially, spending on public sector workers.

For example, Wisconsin Governor Walker’s attack on workers has been taken on the pretext that state employee wages and pensions have driven the budget into deficit. We all know that is ridiculous. The reality is simple: Wall Street crashed the economy, crashed state revenues, and crashed workers’ pensions. Washington responded with a massive bail-out for Wall Street—perhaps $25 trillion worth. It gave a mere pittance to “Main Street” in its $1 trillion stimulus package. Since the recession manufactured on Wall Street cost the economy a lot more than that, Main Street is not on the road to recovery. No one is projecting that jobs will return for many more years. It is delusional to believe that economic recovery can really get underway until we have added 8 million jobs.

In other words, the fiscal storm that killed state budgets is the same fiscal storm that created federal budget deficits. You cannot lose about 8% of GDP (due to spending cuts by households, firms and governments) and over 8 million jobs without negatively impacting government budgets. Tax revenue has collapsed at an historic pace. State governments really do need to balance their budgets, and they really do need tax revenue to finance their spending or to service debt. The federal government, as the sovereign issuer of the currency is in a different situation. I will not go through the MMT approach to sovereign currency spending as all readers here are familiar with that. My point is that states really are facing a funding crisis. The federal government does not face a solvency constraint and it can always afford to buy anything for sale in dollars. Still, as we all know, Washington Beltway insiders have manufactured a fake budget crisis to serve political ends.

State spending cuts (or tax increases) will not restore their budgets. Just take a look at the results of austerity in Greece or the UK. Budget-cutting in a downturn does not reduce deficits significantly. The reason is obvious: austerity slows the economy and reduces tax revenue. Art Laffer’s supply siders were onto something, although they mostly got it the wrong way around. Yes, a booming economy will generate a movement toward balanced government budgets. They thought that tax cuts are always the answer to everything—cut tax rates and you get more tax revenue. I would not say that that never works, but it didn’t when Presidents Reagan and Bush tried it. However, if we get the Laffer Curve the right way around, we can use it to explain why austerity in a downturn just makes budget deficits worse.
In truth, state budgets will not recover before the economy recovers. And state austerity will just make the economy worse. So, as a Thatcher might say: TINA: there is no alternative–to federal government stimulus, that is. I realize that goes against the deficit hysteria in Washington. But it is the truth.
What kind of stimulus makes the most sense? I think we need another trillion dollars, minimum. This can be split equally between aid to the states and extension of the payroll tax holiday. The federal government should provide $500 billion in block grants to the states, on a per capita basis. On the condition that they stop attacking state workers. The funds would be used to replace lost tax revenue—to cover operating expenses (and where possible, to actually increase spending on priority projects). This program would continue until economic growth and job creation reaches established thresholds. Let us say 10 million more jobs or a measured unemployment rate of 4%.

The payroll tax holiday would also be expanded, with a moratorium on taxes for both workers and employers until those thresholds are reached. Why penalize job creation with an employment-killing payroll tax? Reward firms for providing jobs by giving them tax relief. Let workers keep more of their hard-earned pay. This is the quickest and best way to give significant tax relief to most Americans. In addition, we need to stop the attacks on unemployment compensation. To be sure, jobs should always be favored over unemployment compensation—but until we get the jobs we must extend the unemployment benefits. Cutting benefits will just prevent the jobs from coming back.

These measures are only a first step. We still have a lot of damage to repair—damage caused by Wall Street’s excesses. And we will need to reign-in and prosecute the fraudsters, otherwise they will blow up the economy again. Actually, they are already trying to do that—creating yet another commodities market speculative bubble. It is looking an awful lot like 2006 all over again. However this time, we are down by 8 million jobs and trillions of dollars of household wealth. Wall Street is bubbling up even as the economy as a whole is in the trenches. This bubble will not last long. It is going to crash. That will expose the huge accounting holes in the bank balance sheets. Wall Street will want another 25 trillion dollar bail out. This time, we’ve got to follow Nancy’s dictum: just say no.