Thursday, October 11, 2012

Another positive jobs statistic

In a further sign that the economy is improving, the Department of Labor today reported that first-time Unemployment Insurance claims reached a four-year low on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

An estimated 339,000 initial claims were filed during the week that ended October 6--the lowest seasonally-adjusted figure since February 16, 2008, shortly after the start of the recession.

Weekly unemployment claims estimates bounce around a lot, are subject to revision, and can be hard to seasonally adjust. Still, the low figure is consistent with other positive estimates about the job situation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Romney etch-a-sketch: "no tax cut that adds to the deficit"

You might recall former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney making this solemn pledge during last Wednesday's debate.
My number-one principle is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that: no tax cut that adds to the deficit.
Well, barely a week has gone by, and Gov. Romney has summarily dispatched his "number-one principle" (underlined no less) down the memory hole.

Gov. Romney had pledged to reform taxes by lowering tax rates, which reduces revenues, but also by "broadening the base," which raises revenues. Specifically, his tax plan calls for lowering marginal rates on individuals and corporations; eliminating taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for households with incomes below $200,000; eliminating the tax on multi-million dollar inheritances, and eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax. At the same time, he also said during the debate that he would "lower deductions and credits and exemptions, so that we keep taking in the same money."

Lower taxes for some; higher taxes for others. The net effect on the Treasury would be a wash.

Now, in a new ad, Gov. Romney is singing a different tune, saying "I'm not going to raise taxes on anyone."

Simple math tells you that if you lower taxes for some people but don't raise anyone else's taxes, total revenues have to go down.

Tax cuts for some with no tax increases for anyone are a net tax cut, which directly contradicts Gov. Romney's "number-one principle."

That is, it contracts his "principle," until Gov. Romney changes his tune again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

U.S. awash in debt? Hardly

In last Wednesday's debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney railed against the level of U.S. debt.
I think it's, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation and they're going to be paying the interest and the principal all their lives.

And the amount of debt we're adding, at a trillion a year, is simply not moral.
He went on to propose a "test" for cutting programs, including Obamacare (which actually saves money but nevermind) and the subsidy for PBS.
Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it.
Well, under Gov. Romney's criteria, Big Bird and Obamacare should be safe.

An analysis by Bloomberg shows that total U.S. indebtedness, as a share of the economy, has declined sharply since the start of President Obama's administration.
U.S. debt has shrunk to a six-year low relative to the size of the economy as homeowners, cities and companies cut borrowing, undermining rating companies’ downgrading of the nation’s credit rating.

Total indebtedness including that of federal and state governments and consumers has fallen to 3.29 times gross domestic product, the least since 2006, from a peak of 3.59 four years ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Private- sector borrowing is down by $4 trillion to $40.2 trillion.
While it's true that federal government borrowing has increased over the Obama presidency, state, local, and private borrowing have fallen much, much more.

As a practical matter, the next generation seems much more likely to be concerned about its total amount of debt service and not the entity--bank, Wall Street investor, or Chinese sovereign wealth fund--to which that debt is owed. A dollar taken out the next generation's pocket to service federal debts is the same as a dollar taken out to service school bond debts, housing debts, college borrowing, road construction, etc. A dollar of debt is a dollar of debt.

By the yardstick of what the next generation will owe, the Obama administration has been far more moral than the profligate Bush administration, which not only increased the total amount of indebtedness but did so in the context of a calamitous bubble that brought the economy to its knees (i.e., reduced our ability to pay).

And in terms of Gov. Romney's China syndrome, Americans are in a far better position to pay off their own debts and less reliant on the Chinese than they were four years ago.

Indeed, no less an authority than Fox News reported in September, "China has actually decreased its holdings of U.S. debt over the past year, dropping from $1.31 trillion in June 2011 to $1.16 trillion a year later."

You would think that someone with Gov. Romney's business experience would know how to add things. Maybe he should ask Big Bird.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gov. Romney joins the "unemployment truthers"

Former Mass. Governor, Mitt Romney, has cast his lot with the tin-foil-hat Republican crowd that sees a conspiracy in the positive jobs figures that were released on Friday.

Speaking at a rally in Florida, Gov. Romney said, "If we calculated, by the way, our unemployment rate in a way that was consistent with the way it was calculated when he came into office, it would be a different number."

Gov. Romney's allegation that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has altered the definition of unemployment is ludicrous. As a key economic adviser to President George W. Bush said, "The numbers are put together by trained professionals and in a process that keeps politicians from interfering...Any sort of suggestion to the contrary is wrong."

The allegation is also insulting, as it questions the integrity of the career staff at the BLS.

The allegation's absurdity notwithstanding, it is the sort of wild, baseless smear that Gov. Romney has made repeatedly. Gov. Romney's detachment from the truth seems grow greater by the day.

Besides being wrong, Gov. Romney's stance is hypocritical. He had no criticisms of the statistic when he cited the unemployment rate over and over in stump speeches and in Wednesday's debate ("We've had 43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent")."Straight months" does seem to imply a certain consistency to the statistic. Now that he can't use the 8-percent line, the statistic is called into question--not the underlying economic message.

As Greg Sargent has written, unemployment trutherism ultimately hurts the Romney campaign. The campaign's argument is built around an underperforming economy--any good economic news is bad news for the Romney candidacy. By harping on the figures, Gov. Romney and the truthers simply keep Friday's strong economic report in the news cycle and show the panic that has set in.

More from the House Science? Committee

Apparently, it takes a special kind of crazy to earn a Republican seat on the House Science Committee.

Previously, we were treated to Rep. Todd Akin's (R-MO and indefatigable Senate candidate) ruminations on women's magical abilities to ward off pregnancy when "legitimately" raped--"The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down."

Now we hear from Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA and a doctor no less), who sees the hand of Satan in the theory of evolution. TPM reports Rep. Broun sermonizing
All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.

You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.
Another colleague, Rep. Sandy Allen (R-FL), also discounts evolution in favor of "biblical terms of how we came about," while another, Rep. Dana Rohrabacker (R-CA) has mused about "clearing the rainforests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases."

It's hard to imagine a stronger refutation of the notion of intelligent design than these four.

Friday, October 5, 2012

September jobs report unequivocally good

The headline news from the September jobs report is that the national unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis, the lowest that it's been since January 2009.

Unlike some previous months in which unemployment fell because of people leaving the labor force, this month's figure was the result of a huge increase in the number of people who reported that they were working. The figure was also accompanied by a strong increase in the number of people in the labor force. Another unambiguous sign of labor market improvement is the the percentage of people who are working is the highest that it has been in two years.

Estimates from the employer survey indicate that 114,000 non-farm jobs were added on a seasonally-adjusted basis last month. Taken by itself, that would be a so-so figure, but the report also revised employment growth from July and August upwards by an additional 86,000 jobs. The Department of Labor also reported last week that the year's employment figures will likely by revised upward by another 300,000 to 400,000 jobs beyond that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Yes, out-of-work millionaires should collect unemployment benefits

Bloomberg reports on a Congressional Research Service (CRS) study about millionaires who collected unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in 2009.
Almost 2,400 people who received unemployment insurance in 2009 lived in households with annual incomes of $1 million or more, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The report was released after about 1.1 million people exhausted their jobless benefits during the second quarter of 2012, when more than 4.6 million filed initial unemployment claims. Eliminating those payments to high earners is one idea being considered as U.S. lawmakers struggle to curb a projected $1.1 trillion deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, with the nationwide jobless rate at 8.1 percent.

“Sending millionaires unemployment checks is a case study in out-of-control spending,” U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an e-mail. “Providing welfare to the wealthy undermines the program for those who need it most while burdening future generations with senseless debt.”
The Bloomberg article and CRS report note that approximately $20 million could be saved in federal contributions to UI over the next decade if benefits to millionaires were blocked from receiving UI benefits.

$20 million in savings sounds great, but that wouldn't be the bottom impact on the federal budget. In order to recoup that money, the federal or state governments would have to check income sources of UI recipients. That checking would cost money--quite possibly more money than goes out in UI benefits.

The CRS believes that the least costly approach would be to collect the payments through the income tax system. A 100 percent tax could be placed on UI benefits for households with incomes above one million dollars. Although cost-effective, this approach is far from costless. Tax forms would become more complicated making them harder to complete and harder to check.

Any other system to prevent millionaires from getting benefits is likely to be far more costly and less effective. The state agencies that administer the UI system only have access to some income information. Besides having to conduct additional checks against the available information, the agencies would have to make guesses about whether a household's total income worked out to one million dollars. The checks would be especially difficult for married couple households and for households that receive unearned income. Any such system would also likely impose additional reporting burdens on the broader set of unemployed households.

In the end, a policy of trying to keep benefits from going to a handful of millionaire households is likely to cost the treasury more than it saves. If the goal really is to reduce the burden on future generations, we should keep sending out those checks.