Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tax Rates Are Lowest in Sixty Years

The bonddad blog reports that, contrary to the constant rhetoric from the Right Wing, taxes rates as a percentage of GDP are lowest they've been since the Truman Administration. They are now substantially lower than during the Reagan Administration.

I refuse to call those of the Right Wing "conservatives." 

If you think it's better to put our nation's operating costs on a credit card than to pay the bill with fair and adequate tax revenues such as we had in the 1990s, you're no conservative.

If you pass two big tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 and don't bother to cut spending, you're no conservative.

If you launch a war in Iraq for dubious reasons but refuse to pay for it, you're no conservative.

If you pass a major new entitlement, Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit for seniors, and, astonishingly, the rules prevent the government from negotiating prices with drug companies, you're no conservative.

Well, if you do all that stuff and you're not a conservative, what are you?

You're working for the Top One Percent.

Chart source: Reuters


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Exposing the Supply-Side Myth

“If you don’t pay the people enough money, they can’t buy the cars.” - Henry Ford

Norton Garfinkle, former economics professor and current chairman of the nonprofit, nonpartisan education and research organization, Future of American Democracy Foundation, has written a highly readible book about the modern American economy.

The American Dream vs. The Gospel of Wealth: The fight for a Productive Middle-Class Economy is written for the lay reader, has a good reading pace, and uses minimal jargon. Early in the book, Garfinkle lays out the framework for the economic debate:
"Every important economic policy has three kinds of consequences: factual, moral, and political. In effect, in evaluating economic policy, we have to ask three questions: (1) Does it work? (2) Is it fair? and (3) Will it sustain the democratic structure of our society? Today, our debate tends to focus on the first question, at the expense of the other two. It was not always so."
Garfinkle traces the history of American economic thought from the Declaration of Independence to the present. Perhaps what the book does best is discredit the so called “supply-side” economic dogma, the “Gospel of Wealth.” One of the most influential gurus of neoconcervative supply-side movement is Irving Kristol, father of Fox News pundit and editor of the Weekly Standard, William Kristol.

Supply-side basically says that cutting taxes for those in a position to produce goods (corporations and their wealthy investors) will stimulate production, increase worker productivity, and make more goods available to consumers without causing inflation. A key to this idea is increased productivity, which comes from a combination of efficiency, technology, and cheaper unit labor costs.

The opposite of supply-side is demand-side economics. Henry Ford’s comment at the top of this post exemplifies the demand-side approach: that the economy is built from the foundation, and that a large, prosperous middle class arises from people having access to good schools and earning enough to better their lives. 

That’s the American Dream

Dating back to the bad-old stagflation days of the late 1970′s is the supply-side idea that tax cuts grow the economy so that more revenue is generated than if taxes were not cut. The mathematical limits of this absurd logic would have revenues approaching infinity as taxes approached zero. It is not hard to find economists and editors of the Wall Street Journal who preach this economic “gospel” to whomever will listen.

From page 150:
"As for the economics of the supply-side doctrine, few economists believed that supply-side tax cuts would pay for themselves. The consensus view among economists was probably expressed by Alan Greenspan, former chairman of President Ford’s Council of Economic Advisers. He thought the tax cut might generate 20 percent new revenue, that is, a $100-billion tax cut would increase tax revenues by $20 billion and cost the government $80-billion."
Garfinkle uses readily available government economic data to refute the association of income tax cuts with economic health.

Dr. Garfinkle may have bolstered his argument even further by addressing three powerful factors at work in the late 1980s and 1990s: cheap oil, the technology boom, and demographics. During that time, workers of the Baby Boom generation moved into their peak earning years. These three fortuitous factors coincided with the implementation of supply-side dogma and helped create the illusion that it actually might have worked. Garfinkle has plenty of data to show otherwise.

The economic mess we find ourselves in now, especially the slow growth and massive national debt, is a direct result of tax-cutting supply-side policies of the last thirty years. I highly recommend this book to understand how we as a nation got to this point, and where we are likely headed if we don’t examine, understand, and confront the supply-side snake oil for what it is – a strategy to end the middle class and create a small super-rich, elite political class with even more power to buy the government they want..

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ugly Police Action at Wall Street Protest

Veteran Atlantic correspondent James Fallows weighs in with this article about potential abuse of power by a member of NYPD. Assuming the video is accurate, the situation looks to me like several NYPD officers stand around while one of their own assaults two women with pepper spray. The video runs about a minute and a half and is worth watching. .

The viewer can decide whether or not the spray is appropriate. Notice that the women are already "captured" inside a police fence. Fallows describes the scene:
He walks up; unprovoked he shoots Mace or pepper spray straight into the eyes of women held inside a police enclosure; he turns and walks away quickly (as they scream, wail, and fall to the ground clawing at their eyes) in a way familiar from hitmen in crime movies; and he discreetly reholsters his spray can.
I don't see anything in the video that looks like the crowd is out of control. No punching, spitting, or charging the police line. Nothing but standing around and making some noise. The spray looks like selective punishment of two individuals apparently the officer didn't like. It's possible the policeman was attempting to escalate the situation, which, along with the spray, should be more than enough to get him thrown off the force.

The way the officer simply walks away strikes me as extremely cowardly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Land Grant Universities: Brought to You by Liberals

Central kitchen, University of Wisconsin, circa 1900.
If you're a fan of a school like Penn State, the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University, University of Nebraska, Purdue,  University of Florida, or University of California-Berkley, you're a fan of a Land Grant University.
In 1862, Congress passed a law known as the Morrill Land Grant Act, whereby the federal government bestowed upon participating states 30,000 acres of land for each Senator and Representative sent to Washington. The states were to use the land grants to build and finance colleges "to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education"  (Washington State University Extension).

The Morrill Act was opposed by politicians from most southern states, who saw it as a big-government intrusion into education. When first introduced in 1859, the bill passed but was vetoed by President James Buchanan. After southern secession, Congressional politics was dominated by northern liberals. The Morrill Act passed and Lincoln signed it into law in 1862.

Passage of the Morrill Act led to establishment of state Agricultural Experiment Stations through the Hatch Act of 1887. The experiment stations are housed in the Land Grant Universities and carry out some world-class scientific research.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created County Extension offices to form a nexus between the scientists and the farmers. County 4H (head, heart, hands and hustle) is supported by funding authorized by the Smith-Lever Act.

It's hard to imagine any government law or program that did more to build the American middle class than the Morrill Land Grant University Act.  Next time you visit a doctor trained at a land grant university or buy a prize-winning steer from a a proud youngster at the County Fair, you might remember it all started with the Land Grant Act, a bill introduced in congress by a liberal Vermont Senator named Justin Smith Morrill.

Photo Credit: Cornell University Library