U.S. Representatives Steve Scalise (R-La.) and David B. McKinley, P.E. (R-W.Va.) introduced a resolution that, if passed, would express the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy and harm working-class Americans the most.
This is self-evidently true. In fact, it is so obviously true, a reasonable person might ask why such a resolution is even necessary. Do we really need a resolution that is as obvious as the sun rises in the east?
Sadly, even though the resolution’s point — that carbon taxes are harmful — is painfully obvious, the resolution is necessary. There are many voices on the national stage that support virtually any new tax and particularly any energy tax. The Biden administration has made it clear it considers the energy sector the enemy — killing pipelines, proposing new taxes, and advocating for new burdensome regulatory regimes and mandates. But this is counterproductive!
A carbon tax — no matter who they tell you will pay it — will hit the economy hard and will hit lower-income Americans the hardest. A carbon tax would increase the cost of everything Americans buy — from groceries, to electricity and gasoline, to home heating in the winter, to everyday household products. Moreover, having a reliable source of affordable energy is foundational to a strong job market and strong economic growth. The rich don’t need a strong job market or strong economic growth to build a better future for themselves and their families. They’ve already got that. But the working middle class and the working poor need a robust jobs market and economic growth to push wages higher.
The additional costs imposed on the working class by a carbon tax are difficult to bear. Their budgets are already tight. Are they going to go to work less often or heat their home less in the winter? They are kind of stuck. If you increase their energy costs, they have to give up other necessities. And if you damage the economy, their hope for better times and brighter days ahead evaporates. That’s way too high a price to pay for whatever false promises the elites are offering.
America achieved energy independence when only a few short years ago, it was widely perceived that we would always be forced to import energy and rely upon energy from hostile nations. Energy independence had obvious economic benefits, but it also had national security benefits. For much of the last two generations, American foreign policy had to worry about keeping the oil flowing from the Middle East. Given the volatility of the region, that often forced some unpleasant foreign policy considerations on American policymakers. But with energy independence, hostile powers could no longer hold us hostage or use energy as a leverage point. Thus, we were more secure. A carbon tax would put all of this at risk.
Some privileged elites see their support for a carbon tax as some sort of virtue. And they think it makes them look good. But what is there to feel so superior about in forcing working-class Americans to pay higher energy bills, transportation costs, and higher costs for food and household items — all while also being forced to suffer lower or suppressed wages?
This resolution tells Congress and the Biden administration that Americans expect accountability in their government. The Biden Administration is attacking energy through its attempts to force us into expensive electric vehicles and to use legitimate infrastructure needs as cover for redistributing taxpayer money to favored technologies like windmills and solar panels. This is all reminiscent of Solyndra, which gave away hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to well-heeled political donors in the guise of energy policy but was ultimately a boondoggle and nothing more.
Rather than trying to use energy policy as a way to push Americans into the buying preferences of a few political elites, let’s unleash the power of the free market and human creativity! We can have reliable, affordable energy and a clean environment. But only if we allow and encourage innovation, rather than imposing government mandates and taxes.
Several of the Biden administration’s key climate goals — particularly steps to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the power and transportation sectors — are likely to be held hostage by China. A shift away from fossil fuels to renewables to produce electricity, and the deployment of more electrical vehicles on America’s roadways, depends upon batteries. Since China currently controls the entire life cycle of battery development, the Biden administration needs a strategy to mitigate China’s dominant position. While the president’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, hopes to approach climate as a “critical standalone issue,” the fact is that geopolitics will shape the choices President Joe Biden will have to make. The Biden administration will not be able to “compartmentalize” its climate policies from the overall U.S.-Chinese relationship. China’s strength in the new green industries presents a strategic challenge.
Energy storage has been called the “glue” of a low-carbon economy, enabling the greater use of intermittent power sources such as wind and solar. The World Economic Forum argues that batteries are a critical factor in reaching the Paris Agreement goal of limiting rising temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius. By 2030, it stated, batteries could enable 30 percent of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors.
Batteries and Bottlenecks
The battery supply chain is complex, but it can be reduced to four key elements: mining the critical minerals, processing them, assembling the battery parts, and recycling.
Under its “Go Out” investment strategy, China has spent the last two decades solidifying control over the main critical minerals for battery cells — lithium, cobalt, and graphite. Beijing now controls some 70 percent of the world’s lithium supplies, much of which is located in South America. More than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and China has secured control over 10 of the country’s 18 major mining operations, or more than half its production. Beijing is also the world’s largest consumer of cobalt, with more than 80 percent of its consumption being used by the rechargeable battery industry. Graphite is the largest component by volume in advanced batteries, but spherical graphite, the kind that makes up the anode in electrical vehicle batteries, must be refined from naturally occurring flake graphite. And China produces 100 percent of the world’s spherical graphite.BECOME A MEMBER
Second, China has developed the largest minerals processing industry in the world. After these critical minerals are mined from the earth, they must be separated, processed, refined, and combined. This process is dirty and environmentally unfriendly. Lithium-ion batteries contain hazardous chemicals, such as toxic lithium salts and transition metals, that can damage the environment and leach into water sources. This is likely a key reason why few processing facilities are located in North America. The critical minerals the United States does mine are often shipped back to China for refining.
According to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, Beijing also controls 59 percent of global lithium processing, 65 percent of nickel processing, and 82 percent of cobalt processing. And an important aside is that China produces roughly 90 percent of the magnets needed for the motors of electrical vehicles.
As early as 2008, China announced billions of dollars in infrastructure investments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by far the world’s largest cobalt producer, in exchange for mining rights. The partnership continues to flourish. In January of this year, the Democratic Republic of the Congo formally joined China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative. The Chinese mining company Tianqi Lithium has acquired stakes in major mines in Chile and Australia, giving it effective control over nearly half the current global production of lithium. China controls even more market share in the refining and processing parts of the mineral supply chain. Together, these state-backed investments have given Chinese battery makers like Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL) an advantage over Japanese and American competitors.
Third, once these minerals are processed, they are packed into battery cells, which are combined into modules and which, in turn, are wrapped into battery packs. This process takes place in dedicated battery factories called “gigafactories.” Like the rest of the battery supply chain, very few of these specialized factories are located in North America. About 136 of the 181 lithium-ion battery gigafactorieseither planned or under construction worldwide are, or will be, located in China. Just 10 are planned for the United States. An important step in the right direction is General Motor’s consideration of building a second battery factory in the United States — it already has a new facility online in Ohio — but the United States needs to do more.
Finally, once batteries have reached the end of their life cycle, the critical minerals in each cell can be reused. But China dominates the battery recycling industry as well. This is partially because China has built infrastructure to recycle lithium-ion batteries for consumer electronics. In 2019, around 70 percent of lithium-ion batteries were recycled in China and South Korea. And because China is by far the world’s largest electric vehicle market, it will remain a key contributor to lithium battery waste — thus allowing Beijing to recycle at scale.
China has been strategic about building up its recycling capabilities, requiring manufacturers of electric vehicles to be responsible for setting up facilities to collect and recycle spent batteries. As a part of this initiative, automakers were required to establish a maintenance service network to allow consumers to repair or exchange old batteries.. Going forward, recycling will only become more important. By 2030, 11 million metric tons of lithium-ion batteries are expected to reach the end of their service lives. Eventually, a robust recycling process could offer a way for countries to mitigate some Chinese-controlled bottlenecks in the supply chain. But taking advantage of this will require environmentally friendly recycling facilities in the United States.
Commanding Heights: Technology and Leverage
China’s dominance across this supply chain should come as no surprise. As in other key economic and technology sectors such as flexible manufacturing, solar panels, and wind turbines, China has achieved dominance by careful planning and investments — as well as unfair practices such as those that led to the dominance of China’s solar panel manufacturing industry. (And it’s worth noting that this issue became one of the most contentious issues between the European Union and China as well.) In addition, many pointed to China’s massive intellectual property theft as a key contributor to its dominance in these key sectors.
Because China takes a strategic national approach, it has been particularly good at identifying key foundational sectors or platforms to grow or control, thereby increasing its economic and geostrategic power. For example, it has used its dominance in financial technologies across Asia to increase the power of its surveillance state by collecting the data associated with payments. It has prioritized 5G, and, with state financing and other forms of support, it has built out its network and is far ahead of the United States in land stations. Notably, this 5G infrastructure will have direct relevance to China’s ability to develop autonomous vehicles, since self-driving vehicles and other platforms, like drones, depend upon the fast connectivity 5G networks provide. (And autonomous vehicles are closely related to the electrical vehicle industry.)
Beijing’s “Made in China 2025 plan,” announced some six years ago, called for major advances in semiconductor fabrication and provided more than $150 billion to support that goal. Some recent reports suggest that China aims to produce some 70 percent of its domestic chip needs within China by 2025 and to reach parity with international technologies five years later. As Jonathan Ward has pointed out, “the mastery of advanced technologies and the creation of a powerful industrial base for civilian and military purposes” are essential pieces of China’s global strategy and activities. While the United States now increasingly recognizes this reality — with legislation such as the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act (CHIPS for America Act), as well as executive branch attention by both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden — there remains a far gap between strategy development, desired outcomes, and actual implementation.
Advanced energy is another key platform. Thus, it is not surprising that the “Made in China 2025” plan also included “new energy vehicles” and “new energy” as one of its 10 areas of focus. Beijing considers advanced batteries and electric vehicles a key strategic sector worthy of extensive industrial planning. One report noted that, in the science and technology sector alone, the Chinese Communist Party has issued as many as 100 plans. Several of these, including its 2011 strategic emerging industries plan, focused on key strategic sectors, including the “new energy automobile industry.” In 2017, General Secretary Xi Jinping released an Outline of the National Strategy for Innovation-Driven Development that includes differentiated strategies to produce “modern energy technologies.” And China is using its “One Belt One Road” framework to make strategic investments around the world and vertically integrate its supply chain for battery production.
The Chinese Communist Party has recognized that pressure to address climate change will prompt a shift toward renewable energy around the world. With a regulatory push across Europe, some expertsanticipate that, by 2040, about 70 percent of all vehicles sold in Europe across different segments will be electric. Others believe that the global electric vehicle market — about $250 billion today — will grow to almost $1 trillion by 2027.
China has positioned itself well for this transition. On the one hand, China will have the benefit of cheap fossil fuels. China will not even begin to reduce its own carbon emissions for another 40 years, until 2060. It continues to build coal plants around the world. (In 2016 alone, Chinese development banks invested $6.5 billion in coal infrastructure overseas, mostly in neighboring developing countries). On the other hand, the Chinese Communist Party has positioned itself at the center of a global energy revolution.
If anyone has doubts about the determination with which this might unfold, China’s automobile market was virtually nonexistent until the early 1990s but surpassed the United States in 2009 to become the world’s largest.
Rewiring the global energy economy around China would provide Beijing with massive economic benefits. Experts have pointed out that China’s focus on energy security and technological self-reliance are key factors informing Beijing’s aim to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. Chinese ministries have estimated that achieving this goal could lead to over RMB 100 trillion ($14.7 trillion) in investments over the next 30 years.
As a result, China has made significant advances in energy storage, leading Europe’s top automakers to move most of their research and development operations to China. Since 2018, the largest European carmakers (BMW, Daimler, FCA, Groupe PSA, Renault, Volkswagen, and Chinese-owned Volvo) have chosen Chinese partners for 41 cooperation projects. And European carmakers have also directly invested in their own research and development centers in China, establishing nine such centers since 2018.
Whatever the real intentions behind General Secretary Xi’s effort to put China at the center of an “an ecological civilization,” it is shortsighted and ahistorical to think that China will not use this leverage. It has done so in the past. In 2010, a Chinese fishing boat rammed two Japanese coast guard vessels in the contested waters of the East China Sea. When Tokyo arrested the fishing boat’s captain, the Chinese Communist Party retaliated by placing an embargo on rare earth sales to Japan.
More recently, in June 2019, Chinese state-controlled media threatened disruption of rare earth supplies to the United States — this time targeting U.S. defense contractors. The threat noted that “military equipment firms in the United States will likely have their supply of Chinese rare earths restricted.” This past February, China threatened to use export controls to cut off U.S. access to the equipment used for processing rare earths, a ban that would be as devastating as cutting off production of rare earths themselves. And Australia is feeling such pressure as China has restricted imports of Aussie beef, wine, and barley — and reduced the flow of Chinese students to Aussie universities — unless Australia submits to a list of 14 politicaldemands by Beijing.
This behavior is consistent with China’s use of “sharp power” — diplomatic, economic, or technological coercion — to pursue its policy objectives. This fall, China passed its first unified export control law, allowing the Chinese Communist Party to control the export of items including very broadly defined “dual-use goods” to specific foreign entities. As the Merics institute has pointed out, any exports that fall under “overall national security” — and the law appears intentionally vague — could be prevented, thus allowing Beijing to retaliate against countries or companies for policy disagreements or geopolitical reasons. Given Beijing’s designation of the electric vehicle and battery sectors as strategic industries, the Chinese Communist Party could potentially weaponize key bottlenecks in the supply chain against the United States.
For much of 21st century, the United States was dependent upon the Middle East for oil. As the Biden administration seeks to shift to renewables and reduce carbon emissions through the deployment of more electric vehicles, it should not trade one dependency for another. As one expert group put it, the modern-day arms race revolves around super-sized lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing facilities and the mineral supply chains to support them.
Any successful effort to “position America to be the global leader in the manufacture of electric vehicles and their input materials,” as Biden has stated, cannot be based on a dependency on the United States’ most serious competitor. Rather, the United States should understand that American efforts will be contested — even if they are intended to help the “global good” of reduced carbon emissions. It is highly unlikely that Beijing, which has been working for years to “seize the commanding heights” in critical technologies such as batteries, will easily watch as its advantages melt away. In the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, the battery race means that China and the United States are locked in a battle over market share and access to scarce resources.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has already reminded U.S. leaders that U.S.-Chinese cooperation in specific areas is interrelated and subject to the overall U.S.-Chinese relationship. Maintaining dominance in battery production — particularly as the world increasingly relies on batteries — provides Beijing with valuable geopolitical leverage. While the Biden administration would like to compartmentalize climate change and geopolitics, the likelihood of China not doing so is high.
Moreover, as Biden seeks to build technology alliances with Europe and other allies to counter China, China’s efforts will constrain his leverage. With European electric vehicle manufacturers dependent upon China, it is hard to imagine that the Chinese Communist Party will not use these dependencies to ask for concessions in other domains.
To avoid a potentially debilitating dependence on China, then, the United States should treat clean energy technologies as a competitive space.
The Biden administration cannot afford to start from scratch and should build on the work of its predecessor. As it begins its new supply chain review, of which advanced batteries are one part, it should keep in mind the lessons of the Obama era battery initiative. In 2009, the Obama administration announced $2.4 billion in funding to produce next-generation hybrid electric vehicles and advanced battery components. One goal at the time, was to “end our addiction to foreign oil” through a plan that “positions American manufacturers on the cutting edge of innovation and solving our energy challenges.” As part of this, the Department of Energy offered up to $1.5 billion in grants to U.S.-based manufacturers to produce these batteries and their components. So what happened to these efforts and others like it over the past decade? Without setting forth what went right and what went wrong, it is hard to see how new initiatives can make progress.
How will Biden’s current efforts to use green technology to stimulate the economy differ from past failed efforts? Despite a string of incentives in the stimulus act in 2009, the solar supply chain largely moved to China after that country’s government invested heavily in the industry.
In addition to specifying lessons learned from past efforts, any future policy initiatives should take advantage of existing recent efforts. For example, Ellen Lord, the former undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, devoted significant time to identifying investment priorities, including the battery network. Since it takes five to seven years from the start of planning a battery-manufacturing plant and setting up a pilot production line to reach full operational capacity of a gigawatt factory that can produce several gigawatt-hours per year, the administration needs to concentrate some of its efforts on existing facilities, while encouraging new investments by U.S.- and foreign-owned suppliers.
The Biden team will also need to make choices, and fight for them internally. If the United States is to increase its processing of minerals for batteries in the United States, it will need to overcome the fact that such processing facilities are environmentally challenging. That tradeoff is worth it.
The new administration can make progress on its climate goals, but doing so will require a serious dose of climate realism, as well as a concomitant commitment to competitive policies to achieve U.S. independence from China in battery technology and manufacturing.
If President Joe Biden gets his way, the business of filing taxes in 2022 will be more complicated, more expensive, and more progressive than they’ve been in about 40 years.
Biden didn’t say much about taxes during the 2020 campaign besides his promise that those making less than $400,000 a year would not see their tax bill rise by “one thin dime.” The proposals he’s put forward as “payfors” for infrastructure, COVID relief, and other new spending programs are riddled with new taxes and hike existing levies to the point one can safely say the era of “tax and spend” has returned, in a punitive, almost vengeful way.
As the Committee to Unleash Prosperity observed Monday in its free daily Hotline, the top 5 percent of U.S. income earners pay half of all income taxes while the top 1 percent – the left’s favorite whipping post – pay more than 40 percent of the total tax intake. Meanwhile, as the chart below shows, the bottom half of income earners have an effective federal tax that’s close to zero – even when payroll and gasoline taxes are factored in. Quoting the Cato institute’s Chris Edward, “Joe Biden’s comments about the rich having low rates are clearly off base. The highest earners have tax rates twice the income of those in the middle and almost ten times the rates at the bottom.”
Biden’s plan to “soak the rich” is more about politics than economics. The numbers don’t add up and, if his tax cuts are enacted at the same time the United States is trying to emerge from a prolonged, lockdown induced recession, the results could be inflationary and job-killing rather than spark renewed growth in the economy as the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act did. Nonetheless, the Democrats are, as a party, committed to TCJA’s repeal in its entirety and, in the process, violate Biden’s campaign pledge.
Republicans on the House Ways and means Committee said Monday that if Biden gets his way on TCJA, it will do families “real harm” even at the median income level. A family of four with a household income of $73,000 could expect to see its federal taxes increased by $2,000. A single parent with one child should plan to pay $1,300 more.
Additionally, the committee said, the child tax credit would be cut in half as would the standard deduction, millions of middle-class households would again have to pay the Affordable Care Act individual mandate tax, and the American corporate tax rate would once again become the highest in the industrialized world.
The policies of tax and spend reached their apex in the 1970s under Jimmy Carter. America literally can’t afford to go back. The inflation alone would have a potentially ruinous impact on government discretionary spending. No Democrat who claims to be a moderate could go along with Biden’s plan to undo any part of tax-cutting, job-creating law Congress passed in 2017 – especially given what the president has planned for phase two. The prudent force forward is to keep the rates where they are, reduce overall federal spending, and let the U.S. economy boom. There will be plenty of money later to do the things we’ve already put off doing over the last four years, economists say, once the country is flush again.
The specter of inflation haunts Joe Biden’s presidency
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen got into trouble Tuesday for telling the truth. That morning, at a conference sponsored by the Atlantic, she raised the possibility that one day the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates “to make sure our economy doesn’t overheat.”
Anyone with a basic understanding of economics knew what she was talking about. The combination of President Joe Biden’s gargantuan spending and the accelerating economic recovery may well lead to a rise in consumer prices and hikes in interest rates. But an end to the Federal Reserve’s program of easy money would hurt asset prices and possibly employment as well.
Which is not what most investors want to hear. When Yellen’s words reached Wall Street, the market tanked. By the afternoon she was in retreat, telling the Wall Street Journal CEO summit that she had been misunderstood. “So let me be clear,” she said. “That’s not something I’m predicting or recommending.”
No, of course not. But it still might happen anyway.
A specter is haunting the Biden administration—the specter of inflation. Past inflations have not only harmed consumers, savers, and people on fixed incomes. They have also brought down politicians. Among the risks to the Democratic congressional majority is a rise in prices that lifts inflation to near the top of voters’ concerns, coupled by the type of Fed rate increase that hits stocks and housing. Inflation is one more signpost on the road to Republican revival, along with illegal immigration, crime, and semi-closed public schools embracing far-left critical race theory.
The classic definition of inflation is too much money chasing too few goods. That might also describe America sometime soon—if not already. The economy has started its post-virus comeback. Jobs and growth are on the upswing. U.S. households sit on a trillion-dollar pile of savings. Over the last year, on top of its regular spending, the federal government has appropriated a mind-boggling amount of money: a $2 trillion CARES Act, a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, and a $2 trillion American Rescue Plan. And President Biden wants to spend about $4 trillion more.
Surging this incredible amount of cash into an economy that is rapidly approaching capacity may have unintended and harmful consequences. But the Biden administration is either unconcerned about inflation or afraid of bringing it up in public.
Why? Well, one reason is that earlier warnings, after the global financial crisis in particular, didn’t seem to come true. (The inflation may have shown up in the dramatic ascent in prices of stocks and bonds, as well as in odd places such as the market for high-end art.) Another reason is that some economists think a little bit of inflation would be a good thing. But the main explanation may be related to status-quo bias: Inflation hasn’t been a driving force in our economic and public life for decades, and so we blithely assume it won’t be in the future.
Which is why an experienced leader worries about repeating the mistakes of the past. And yet, for a politician who came to Washington in 1973, Joe Biden has a lackadaisical attitude toward inflationary fiscal and monetary policy. Was he paying attention? It was the great inflation of the ’60s and ’70s, caused in part by high spending, the Arab oil embargo, and spiraling wages and prices in a heavily regulated and unionized economy, that helped ruin the presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Inflation led to bracket creep, with voters propelled into higher income tax brackets by monetary forces over which they had no control. And bracket creep inspired the tax revolt, supply-side economics, and the Reaganite idea that, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” The eventual cure for inflation was the painful “shock therapy” administered by Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and what at the time was the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Why anyone would want to repeat this experiment in the dismal science is a mystery. Biden, however, is fixated not on inflation but on repudiating the legacy of the man known for describing it as “always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output.”
Milton Friedman, whose empiricism led him to embrace free market public policy, was the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century. But Biden has a weird habit of treating Friedman as a devilish spirit who must be exorcised from the nation’s capital. For Biden, Friedman represents deregulation, low taxes, and the idea that a corporation’s primary responsibility is not to a group of politicized “stakeholders” but to its shareholders. “Milton Friedman isn’t running the show anymore,” Biden told Politico last year. “When did Milton Friedman die and become king?” Biden asked in 2019. The truth is that Friedman, who died in 2006, has held little sway over either Democrats or Republicans for almost two decades. But Biden wants to mark the definitive end of Friedman and the “neoliberal” economics he espoused by unleashing a tsunami of dollars into the global economy and inundating Americans with new entitlements.
The irony is that Biden’s rejection of Friedman’s teachings on money, taxes, and spending may bring about the same circumstances that established Friedman’s preeminence. In a year or two, the American economy and Biden’s political fortunes may look considerably different than when Janet Yellen blurted out the obvious about inflation. Voters won’t like the combination of rising prices and declining assets. Biden’s experts might rediscover that it is difficult to control or stop inflation once it begins. And Milton Friedman will have his revenge.
The beleaguered U.S. Postal Service again comes under scrutiny this Thursday as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee begins consideration of legislation to hopefully, once and for all, put the USPS on the path to sound footing.
The hearing will inevitably get political, and needlessly so. Too much anger remains over the 2020 presidential election (in which the USPS played a significant role thanks to the emergency procedures taken by states to permit mail-in voting on a scale never before seen) for it not to happen.
With any luck though, the committee’s chairman and ranking Republican will be able to keep things on track and prevent the hearing from denigrating into a shouting match. Everyone’s attention will be required to produce a plan to rescue the Postal Service without a bailout.
The hearing is an opportunity to examine the reforms already put in motion by U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. A controversial choice when he was selected, DeJoy has been attacked relentlessly as a “political hack” put in place by then-President Donald Trump and Republicans on the Postal Board of Governors to tilt the election in Trump’s favor.
His partisan pedigree is undeniable. He was a major donor to the GOP and to Trump, which led many high-profile Democrats to call for his ouster and, when the Board of Governors refused to remove him, for its ouster as well.
It didn’t happen but that doesn’t mean DeJoy is safe. The White House has sent the names of three labor-backed nominees to the Board that, when they’re confirmed by the U.S. Senate, would give the Democrats the majority and the ability to terminate him – even though he deserves considerable credit for having remained focused on the job at hand – keeping the USPS operating in the middle of lockdowns imposed during a pandemic – all the while cutting costs where he could.
DeJoy’s been following the plan, “Delivering for America,” a multi-faceted ten-year program to get things on track that he’s driven with the Boards’ approval. It, and he, deserve a chance to see where things go.
The plan is focused primarily on helping the USPS do what it is intended to do: deliver mail and packages efficiently to every address in America six days per week, rain or shine, sleet or snow, and, if necessary, “in the gloom of night.” By recommitting the Postal Service to this fundamental tenant and recognizing it is a core strength, DeJoy and the Board have put the USPS on the path to recovery without a taxpayer bailout.
That’s what we want – the ability to send and receive mail and packages throughout the country, direct to another address without someone at the other end having to travel to a drop-off and pick-up point, affordably and efficiently. I still send letters; and I receive lots of packages from online shopping (this year more than ever, just like most Americans). Some of my relatives receive vital medications via the Postal Service. And millions of small businesses depend on the Postal Service to ship their products – a function which will expand nearly exponentially if efforts to bring broadband to rural America happen as the White House wants.
Fortunately, neither the “Delivering for America” plan nor the draft of the legislation about to be considered in committee adopts any of the dangerous proposals to force the USPS to increase package prices by arbitrarily assigning that part of the business costs which the Postal Service then must pay for. As required by law, the Postal Service already covers cost caused by delivering packages as well as a share of the overhead. Driving artificial package price increases above levels set in the market would kill the one part of the Postal Service business that is succeeding and helping to keep mail service going – by more than $10 Billion last year over and above the costs of providing the package delivery service.
Less positive are the plan’s proposal calling for mail rates to increase several times the rate of inflation, while at the same time reducing first class mail service standards from 3 to 5 days (by substituting trucks for airplanes). People don’t want to have to pay more for less. Moreover, the actual savings from the service change are uncertain and pressure to raise mail rates would be less if USPS took a more aggressive stance on controlling labor costs.
The USPS has already begun implementing the plan taking preliminary steps to consolidate mail processing facilities and announcing planned investments to better deal with growing package volumes. It is also proceeding with the procurement of new delivery trucks (the existing ones you see on the street are over 20 years old, are falling apart, and represent a safety hazard to the people who must drive them).
Rather than being criticized, DeJoy should be commended for keeping his eye on the ball and not jumping into the political debate into which so many people tried to drag him.
Today is one hell of a hump day already: New government figures show that the Biden administration is getting it wrong on the border, getting it wrong on the economy and job creation, and getting it wrong on inflation.
No, Mr. President, This Is Not the Usual Seasonal Migration
I told you, back on April 19, that this month’s immigration numbers were going to be high, and represent a blinking red light. On May 4, I reminded Jen Rubin that no, nothing “happened” to the border crisis, the media just stopped discussing it. On Monday, I pointed out that the federal government’s official statistics were undermining Biden’s argument that what Americans were seeing on the border was just a routine seasonal pattern.
“The truth of the matter is, nothing has changed,” President Biden insisted in his press conference on March 25. “It happens every single, solitary year: There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.”
I’m sorry, Mr. President, but that is a load of bull. It is not a regular seasonal pattern to break a two-decade-old record two months in a row. In the month of April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection caught 178,622 individuals attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border, one month after they had caught an eye-popping 173,348 individuals.
The Biden administration is going to try to take a victory lap over the fact that the number of unaccompanied minors dropped from 159 in March to 134 in April. (That’s what NBC News chose to spotlight in this headline.)
(Over at the Center for Immigration Studies, Andrew Arthur wondered why it took until May 11 to release the numbers for April. No doubt it takes time to check and collate all of the data, and as of now, there’s no indication of any deliberate delay from CBP. But any time that new information that makes the administration look bad takes a while to get released, some people will fairly wonder if someone in the chain of command was dragging his feet.)
On April 30, when asked about March’s numbers, Biden insisted in an interview with NBC News, “Look, it’s way down now. We’ve now gotten control.” But the April numbers are not way down; they’re up a bit over the previous month’s record. At the time of that interview, did Biden genuinely believe that CBP encounters at the border had dramatically declined? (The other day a commenter on our site had a good observation: Biden’s usual reflexive denial of making a mistake and his habitual fuzziness with the facts make it very tough to tell when he’s lying, when he’s misinformed, and when he’s having any memory issues.)
Biden told NBC News that he “inherited a Godawful mess” from Trump at the border, but in January, CBP had only 78,443 encounters at the southern border. The first big jump came in February when it rose to 101,120, and then it continued rising into March. Hey, what happened in late January?
These are cold, hard numbers which prove that Biden’s assessment of the situation in late March was completely wrong. Whether or not Biden wanted to tell Central America that the border is open, his first moves on immigration — halting construction of border fencing, new guidelines to ICE agents to sharply curb arrests and deportations, an attempted moratorium on deportations, proposing a path to citizenship — all sent a signal to migrants and human traffickers that the door was wide open and everyone was welcome.
Recall this anecdote at the border, reported in the New York Times in mid March:
Jenny Contreras, a 19-year-old Guatemalan mother of a 3-year-old girl, collapsed in a seat as Mr. Valenzuela handed out hand sanitizer.
“I did not make it,” she sobbed into the phone as she spoke with her husband, a butcher in Chicago.
“Biden promised us!” wailed another woman.
Many of the migrants said they had spent their life savings and gone into debt to pay coyotes — human smugglers — who had falsely promised them that the border was open after President Biden’s election. [Emphasis added]
There is only one way that people in the poorest and most isolated communities in Central America will disbelieve the false promises of human smugglers and coyotes and understand that the border is not open. It requires the U.S. president to send a clear signal, loudly, frequently, and publicly, that U.S. immigration laws are still enforced, and that those caught crossing the border illegally will be criminally charged and quickly deported. I suspect that deep down, Biden and many other Democrats think those actions are inherently mean and unjust. This is why half the Democratic presidential field supported a repeal of the criminal statute for entering the country without permission. Additionally, almost all Democrats believe illegal immigrants should be covered by a government-run health-care plan, and they’re iffy at best on the use of E-Verify.
Many Biden supporters will insist that a continuing wave of migrants wasn’t the intended consequence of his early actions on immigration, and many Biden foes will insist this was precisely the intended consequence of his early actions on immigration. But that argument is almost moot; the waves of migrants are coming — and still coming.
Usually, a Record Number of Job Openings Would Be Good News
Yesterday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of job openings across the country had reached 8.1 million, the highest that the agency had ever recorded.
On Monday, President Biden said, “Families — families who are just trying to put food on the table, keep a roof over their head — they aren’t the problem. We need to stay focused on the real problems in front of us: beating this pandemic and creating jobs.”
But the BLS numbers show we’re already doing pretty darn well at creating jobs, or at least creating job openings. An economy in which there are a record number of job openings is not one that is sluggish, or struggling, or that desperately needs another round of stimulus spending. What it needs are the currently nonworking job applicants to walk through the door. Right now, in Massachusetts, the maximum weekly unemployment-benefit amount is $855 per week. In a 40-hour work week, that comes out to $21.37 per hour.
Meanwhile, Prices Keep Going Up . . .
The updated unfilled-jobs numbers released Tuesday morning were bad. The updated immigration numbers released Tuesday evening were bad. Guess how the updated inflation numbers released Wednesday morning look?
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.8 percent in April on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.6 percent in March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 4.2 percent before seasonal adjustment. This is the largest 12-month increase since a 4.9-percent increase for the period ending September 2008.
The index for used cars and trucks rose 10.0 percent in April. This was the largest 1-month increase since the series began in 1953, and it accounted for over a third of the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The food index increased in April, rising 0.4 percent as the indexes for food at home and food away from home both increased. The energy index decreased slightly, as a decline in the index for gasoline in April more than offset increases in the indexes for electricity and natural gas.
The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.9 percent in April, its largest monthly increase since April 1982. Nearly all major component indexes increased in April. Along with the index for used cars and trucks, the indexes for shelter, airline fares, recreation, motor vehicle insurance, and household furnishings and operations were among the indexes with a large impact on the overall increase.
The all-items index rose 4.2 percent for the 12 months ending April, a larger increase than the 2.6- percent increase for the period ending March.
In other news: Jennifer Granholm, during a press conference yesterday about the hack of the Colonial Pipeline, said, “We have doubled down on ensuring that there’s an ability to truck oil in — gas in. But it’s — the pipe is the best way to go. And so that’s why, hopefully, this company, Colonial, will, in fact, be able to restore operations by the end of the week as they have said.”
Oh, pipe is the best way to go, huh? Safer, more secure, more efficient, less risk of accidents? Then maybe this administration shouldn’t be canceling pipeline projects!
As slogans go, “build back better – which Joe Biden used to define his 2020 bid for the presidency – lags well behind “Happy Days Are Here Again,” “Make American Great Again,” and “I Like Ike” in clarity and vision. It’s not even close to “It’s the economy, stupid,” the unofficial campaign mantra of Bill Clinton’s successful run in 1992.
What Biden’s been doing during his first one hundred suggests even he didn’t understand what he meant. If he planned to create millions of new jobs – good jobs at good wages with good benefits as the Democrats used to say – the April jobs report indicates he’s failing.
What’s gone unreported is that jobs that are coming back – and there are some – are coming back as lockdowns are ending. The economic downturn that appears now to be ending was not the product of an expected downturn in economic activity but the direct result of state-by-state lockdowns that forced businesses to curtail operations or close as part of an ill-conceived effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
To supplement lost income, the Pelosi-led Congress joined first with Donald Trump and then with Biden to put the nation on relief. It’s no wonder, therefore, that business leaders are complaining they can’t find people to fill the jobs they have available once the Washington politicians incentivized joblessness instead of work by extending and enhancing unemployment benefits. It should be obvious that when you pay people not to work, they won’t work but somehow the experts in D.C. missed this.
Biden and the Democrats are nevertheless still all in. They said their $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” would save the economy. Instead, it looks like it’s dragging it back down while inflation, a monster the U.S. Federal Reserve was thought to have tamed, is once again rearing its ugly head. The price of goods and services on which the American people rely are increasing, suddenly and sharply, as the impact of trillions in new spending during the pandemic comes home to roost.
Now, according to the Washington Post and other outlets, the Democrats are having trouble building support for their latest $4 trillion tax and spend program. Moreover, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., is now warning the White House its planned tax hike “could hurt vulnerable House Democrats up for re-election in 2022.”
It’s an important message for Biden – who’s apparently sending it back marked “Return to Sender.” The president, it seems, remains intent on raising taxes on as many people, goods, and services as he can convince Congress to accept.
Biden’s initial proposal to take the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent landed with such a resounding “thud” he was forced to offer up 25 percent as a compromise. Even so, that would still move the United States back into an uncompetitive position with the world’s other industrialized economies. What is being omitted thus far from the discussion is that, when state-corporate levies are added in, the average U.S. combined national and subnational tax rises to 25.77 percent.
At 25 percent, what Biden has now put on the table, the combined rate would be 29.5 percent, higher than what is levied by China and higher than the average rate for countries in the OECD.
Moreover, says Americans for Tax Reform, a non-partisan group opposed to tax increases, “Workers, consumers, and shareholders will bear the burden of an increased corporate tax rate. Such a hike will cause businesses to invest less in the United States and more overseas, resulting in fewer job opportunities and lower wages for American workers:”
According to ATR:
–A Treasury Department study estimated that “a country with a 1 percentage point lower tax rate than its competitors attracts 3 percent more capital.” This is because raising the corporate rate makes the United States a less attractive place to invest profits.
–A 2012 Harvard Business Review piece by Mihir A. Desai notes that raising the corporate tax lands “straight on the back” of the American worker and will see a decline in real wages.
–A 2012 paper at the University of Warwick and University of Oxford found that a $1 increase in the corporate tax reduces wages by 92 cents in the long term. This study was conducted by Wiji Arulampalam, Michael P. Devereux, and Giorgia Maffini and studied over 55,000 businesses located in nine European countries over the period 1996-2003.
–Even the left-of-center Tax Policy Center estimates that 20 percent of the burden of the corporate income tax is borne by labor.
Biden’s insistence the corporate tax be raised, the cornerstone of his economic plan, will not create jobs, reduce debt, or bring increased revenues into the U.S. Treasury. It will however be a boon to almost every one of America’s competitors in the global marketplace.
Throughout the 2020 presidential campaign season, then-candidate Biden continually promised that he would not raise taxes on households making less than $400,000 per year. It was a promise echoed again by the White House just over a month ago, but the so-called American Jobs infrastructure plan rolled out by the administration pulls a bait-and-switch on the American people, particularly the working poor and ethnically diverse communities.
A key component of the Biden plan is the push for a nationwide transition to electric vehicles, which takes up some $174 billion in subsidies from the package, but one of the largest problems with the proposal is its disregard for the negative downwind effects it would have on those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. As of 2019, the average cost of an electric vehicle was $55,600, far greater than the cost of other vehicles more affordable for lower income families. In fact, another recent study showed that the average income of electric car owners is at least $100,000 per year, well over even the middle-income line. While the Biden plan throws truckloads of money at other angles of the electric vehicle issue, it does nothing to address the fact that lower income households simply cannot afford electric vehicles. To make matters worse, electric vehicles only account for 2 percent of vehicle sales in the U.S., even though they have been an option for vehicle purchasers for a significant period of time. The Biden plan is catering to a niche segment of an industry, in a show of political nepotism for a pet campaign promise while slapping the American worker in the face in the process.
An aggressive plan like Biden’s calls for significant bumps in energy and electric grids. Even currently, with a transportation budget of $1.5 billion, electric companies have almost $1 billion more in requests for expansion, and this is the case notwithstanding the drastic increase in energy grids that the Biden plan would implement. More electric grids cost the utilities more to operate, meaning large spikes in utility costs.
California provides an example of this type of policy gone wrong, as it invests the most of any state into electric vehicle infrastructure yet has increasing issues with blackouts, high utility costs, and general cost-of-living increases. For instance, as of 2010, SDG&E, the major energy provider in the San Diego and southern California region, has seen consistent rate increases. Conversely, utility disconnections due to overdue bills and payments has also steadily climbed within this time period, suggesting that ratepayers are finding it more difficult to keep up with rising costs. Even more specifically, those burdened with these rate hikes are disproportionately minority groups in disadvantaged communities, who shoulder these costs for the benefit of disproportionately affluent areas that can afford EV’s.
Additionally, American seniors are keenly affected by these rate hikes. Per an AARP testimony in 2019 in Arizona, “twenty percent of Arizonans 65 and older rely on Social Security as their sole income source. Fifty percent get a substantial portion of their income from Social Security…[which] is about $17,500/year…Older Arizonans have much higher medical costs so many already [are forced] to choose today between, food, rent, medical care and very limited transportation…they cannot afford higher electric utility rates much less for electric vehicles.” Yet again, ratepayers are being conscripted to subsidize a service that they do not use, at the cost of their own well-being.
These specific examples are simply the tip of the iceberg. If the Biden E.V. plan is implemented, the consequences would be far more drastic than even the current rate hikes. If less fortunate groups are not benefiting from electric vehicles, why should they be forced to pay for them? Spiked electric utilities affect the poor and vulnerable more negatively than any other economic demographic. Utilities are a difficult commodity to live without, particularly within a family, and they should not be burdened with rate hikes for services they do not use. Simply put, lower income households are not driving electric vehicles, and the Biden plan not only gives them no incentive or ability to do so but punishes them for costs incurred by wealthier households, all while claiming victory because rate hikes caused by government action aren’t technically a tax. Tax or not, the cost to the American people is the same. The ploy is a cruel bait-and-switch tactic that misleads the American people and should raise red flags about the Biden administration’s friendliness to the American worker.
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced an unprecedented amount of uncertainty into transportation infrastructure planning. Travel fell significantly across all modes and remains depressed, particularly for shared transportation modes such as commercial air travel and mass transit. Changes in travel behavior may persist long after the coronavirus pandemic finally ends, particularly for commuting trips given that a large share of employees may continue working from home. Given this uncertainty, investments in new infrastructure meant to provide service for decades into the future are incredibly risky. As Congress considers surface transportation reauthorization in this low-confidence era, it should adopt a preference for the lowest-risk class of projects: maintaining and modernizing existing infrastructure under a “fix it first” strategy.
COVID-19 led to dramatic changes in travel behavior. By April 2020, when much of the country was under stay-at-home orders, road traffic fell 40%, mass transit ridership fell 95%, and air travel fell by 96%. Since then, road travel has largely recovered, with vehicle-miles traveled back to within 10% of the pre-pandemic baseline.
However, travel by shared transportation modes, such as commercial aviation and mass transit, was still down by approximately two-thirds year-over-year by the end of 2020, according to data collected by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Travel is expected to continue its rebound as the number of people vaccinated grows and the pandemic wanes, but changes in travel behavior driven by factors such as the rise of remote work are likely to persist. To what degree pandemic-spurred changes in travel demand are permanent is unknown at this time, and this uncertainty has rendered pre-pandemic infrastructure planning and investment models nearly useless as accurate guides to the future.
While the drop in transportation demand and the fixed nature of transportation infrastructure supply has significantly reduced the productivity of existing transportation infrastructure, some are calling for large new investments by claiming that the nation’s infrastructure networks are crumbling. However, a review of the available evidence suggests a different and more complicated picture of infrastructure asset quality.
For example, Reason Foundation’s most recent Annual Highway Reportfound, “Of the Annual Highway Report’s nine categories focused on performance, including structurally deficient bridges and traffic congestion, the country made incremental progress in seven of them.”
Similarly, a June 2020 National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper on transportation infrastructure concluded, “Not only is this infrastructure, for the most part, not deteriorating, much of it is in good condition or improving.”
However, Reason’s Annual Highway Report shows large variation across states and the NBER analysis is limited in that it fails to account for transit infrastructure beyond rolling stock. Rail guideway assets such as tracks and signals have deteriorated in many cities. To be sure, there are sizeable transportation infrastructure needs in the United States. Reconstructing the Interstate Highway System alone has been estimated by the National Academy of Sciences to cost at least $1 trillion over two decades and mass transit’s maintenance backlog likely exceeds $100 billion.
Given all we know about existing transportation infrastructure needs and the uncertainty surrounding future travel activity, Congress should adopt a risk-minimizing “fix it first” strategy to restore our existing transportation assets to a durable state of good repair. This approach has been endorsed by organizations and think tanks across the political spectrum, from the progressive Transportation for America to the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Building new infrastructure that will last three to five decades based on pre-pandemic travel modeling is fundamentally imprudent at this time. Physical capacity expansions such as highway widening and new rail lines should at the very least face heightened scrutiny from policymakers until there is more confidence in post-pandemic travel behavior that can be used in transportation infrastructure planning and investment decisions.
As people all over the United States send their forms into the IRS, they’re probably seething over President Joe Biden’s repeated assertions that Americans are willing to pay more in taxes. In a recent interview with ABC News this week, he predicted that he would get Democrats in Congress to vote for what would be the first major federal tax increase since 1993.
Biden’s view is no doubt shaped by cognitive dissonance. He wants to raise taxes, so he believes the American people are behind him. His opinion on the subject is likely reinforced by the oft-repeated observation coming from thought leaders and other political influencers that the pandemic has created conditions favorable for passing a tax hike.
Part of this is a question of who’d pay for it. Everyone is always for a tax increase if it means lower debt or higher spending so long as they’re not the ones whose taxes go up. Few people think of themselves as “rich,” so calls for higher taxes on the wealthy don’t bother them. Everyone is generally happy when someone else pays the bill.
Pollster David Winston looked at the issue in early April and found, by a margin of 2 to 1, “voters do not believe the statement that because of what happened with Covid, I am willing to pay more in taxes.” Consider that carefully. Federal spending to fight Covid and blunt the impact of the lockdowns imposed by the states has added well over $4 trillion to the national debt – some say it’s more like $6 trillion – yet most voters are unwilling to fork over their dough to close the gap between what went out and what’s coming in. (By the way, that “gap” isn’t nearly as big as people have been made to think. A lot of states are ending the year in the black even without the money from Washington and, in D.C., federal revenues are just about what they were projected to be before Covid hit).
In the Winston survey, the biggest supporters of a tax hike are, no surprise, liberal Democrats – but they are willing to see their tax bill go up by what he calls “a very weak margin” of 43 to 36 percent. Only a third of moderate Democrats go along with the idea while 47 percent say they don’t. Interestingly suburban women, a targeted group for both Democrats and Republicans in the next election, say they disagree with the statement 20 percent to 55 percent as do most Republicans (70 percent) and most independents (53 percent).
A newly released Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey generally backed up the Winston Group findings. Its poll had 64 percent of likely U.S. voters saying they oppose increasing taxes while just 22 percent supported the idea and 14 percent said they were not sure.
The Rasmussen reports data also showed 45 percent of voters saying the current level of federal taxes “is already too high” while just 13 percent said they were “too low.” Another third – 33 percent – aligned themselves with the mythical Goldilocks saying, after the Trump tax cuts of 2017 that the current level of taxation is just “about right.”
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. President Biden has taken to saying Republican voters support his plans for the country even if GOP members of Congress reject it. Maybe – but what he doesn’t say is that – at least as far as taxes are concerned – members of his own party aren’t getting in line behind him.
“Whether or not congressional Democrats go along with Biden’s plan,” Rasmussen Reports said, “Democratic voters appear to feel differently. Only 19 percent of Democratic voters say the current level of federal taxes is too low, while 34 percent of Democrats say taxes are too high and 38 percent say the level of federal taxes is about right.”
Unsurprisingly, Biden’s wrong about the GOP voters too, at least on taxes. “Among GOP voters 56 percent say the current level of federal taxes is too high,” the survey found with, “just 9 percent say they’re too low and 29 percent say the level of federal taxation is about right. Unaffiliated voters are nearly five times more likely to say current federal taxes are too high (48 percent) than too low (10 percent).”
Despite what the New York Times lets prominent leftwing Keynesian economists write on its op-ed pages, there isn’t a lot of sentiment for raising taxes in America on anyone. The people are opposed to higher taxes on income, on gasoline, and just about everything else he’s proposed raising taxes on – tax hikes that would all break his campaign pledge that anyone making less than $400,000 per year wouldn’t see their taxes go up by “one thin dime.”
Infrastructure projects that are paid for by users, not by federal taxes, can be a big boost to the economy.
With President Joe Biden looking to pass a major infrastructure bill and other policy priorities, the growing question is how he will pay for them. While some Republican senators have signaled some interest in cutting bipartisan deals, both sides should be focusing on budget cuts and reprioritizing existing revenues. They must avoid tax increases that could undercut the economic recovery as the number of vaccinated Americans grows and we hopefully emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Biden has called for upping the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. While that’s still lower than the country’s corporate tax rate prior to the 2017 tax cut bill, which was then 35 percent, it’s a bad idea. At 28 percent, the federal corporate tax rate, combined with state corporate taxes, would be over 32 percent, putting the U.S. back to having the highest corporate tax among the highly-developed OECD, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, nations. For example, Canada’s corporate tax rate is 15 percent and Mexico’s is 30 percent. One outcome of Biden’s proposed tax hike would be more corporations looking to move out of the U.S. to lower-tax countries.
Decades of research also show higher corporate tax rates get passed on to workers, who end up paying the majority of the costs in the form of lower pay and benefits. The Tax Foundation estimates Biden’s corporate tax increase would eliminate 159,000 jobs, reduce long-run economic output by 0.8 percent and wages by 0.7 percent, with the bottom 20 percent of earners on average seeing a 1.45 percent drop in after-tax income in the long term.
Biden also wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. “Anybody making more than $400,000 will see a small to a significant tax increase,” Biden recently said to ABC.
Raising taxes on the wealthy consistently polls well with voters of both major political parties, but it’s a bad policy that doesn’t work as intended. An analysis in the Quarterly Journal of Economics of decades of data shows that tax increases on individual incomes reduce average incomes and economic activity, but the effect is the fastest and largest when taxing the top one percent. The so-called 1990 luxury tax, for example, killed so many jobs that the federal government actually lost revenue because of it. That is because the rich do not sit on mountains of gold in their vaults, as some might imagine. Most of their money is either invested or spent so raising taxes on the rich lowers consumption and all the jobs that creates, and lowers investment and all the jobs that creates. Hence, the top one percent pay considerably more in income taxes than the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers combined.
The country is expecting significant economic growth this year as more Americans are vaccinated and able to travel to visit loved ones, go on vacations, eat in restaurants and attend things like sporting events. Tax increases would undercut this growth by taking money that would be invested in expanding existing businesses or opening new ones.
President Biden and Republicans need to show some seriousness about dealing with the nation’s debt and deficits. In the debate leading up to the recent $1.9 trillion spending bill — which came after President Trump’s own $2.2 trillion stimulus bill and four years running up debt and deficits — the GOP could not credibly claim it cared about debt and deficits. Republicans and conservatives “ditched any semblance of fiscal restraint during the last four years of economic expansion (i.e., precisely when it’s easiest to cut spending),” Scott Lincicome recently noted in his newsletter for The Dispatch.
Spending cuts are needed and the country’s massive defense spending, over $700 billion a year, is ripe for cutting. A group of House Democrats is urging Biden to trim the Pentagon’s budget. Unfortunately, Republicans want more, not less, spending. “The problem with decreased or flat defense budgets is that our adversaries aren’t looking at cutting defense spending. It’s the opposite,” Rep. Mike Rogers, the leading Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, claimed.
As a military veteran I’d argue he is wrong because our current military is more than capable of defending our nation and, if we stopped our absurd and broken attempts at nation-building overseas, our defense budget is more than adequate already.
If Republicans aren’t going to support ending our forever wars and reducing defense spending, they should at least try to ensure that any big infrastructure and spending bills embrace the user-pays principle and utilize public-private partnerships. Raising the federal gas tax is counterproductive — as vehicles become more fuel-efficient — and politically unpopular, but private companies and private equity firms are ready to invest billions in major infrastructure projects. From water and sewer systems to roads and bridges, infrastructure can be built via public-private partnerships using private capital and charging user direct fees to pay for it.
Users don’t pay any more than they would’ve otherwise, the projects get built faster, private investors take most of the financial risks of losses if something goes wrong with the project, such as delays and cost overruns, and the companies can make a profit if they deliver the project efficiently.
Infrastructure projects that are paid for by users, not by federal taxes, can be a big boost to the economy. Combining this approach with some smart realignment of other federal spending would allow President Biden to achieve his policy goals without the harmful tax cuts he is considering and the consequent blow to the economy and to lower-income workers.
This past week, President Joe Biden unveiled his new $2 trillion infrastructure plan, scheduled for implementation over the next eight years. He delivered a pep talk about it before a union audience in Pittsburgh: “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America. It’s big, yes. It’s bold, yes, and we can get it done.” One central goal of his program is to tackle climate change by reaching a level of zero net carbon emissions by 2035. Many of Biden’s supporters gave two cheers for this expansion of government power, including the New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo, who lamented that the program is too small to work, but too big to pass. Huge portions of this so-called infrastructure bill actually have nothing whatsoever to do with infrastructure.
In one classic formulation by the late economist Jacob Viner, infrastructure covers “public works regarded as essential and as impossible or highly improbable of establishment by private enterprise.” Classical liberal theorists like Viner believe it is critical to identify a limited scope of business activity appropriate for government. And even here, while government intervention may be necessary to initiate the establishment of an electric grid or a road system, oftentimes the work is completed by a regulated private firm, overcoming government inefficiency in the management of particular projects.
Biden’s use of the term “infrastructure” is merely a rhetorical flourish, the sole purpose of which is to create an illusion that his proposed menu of expenditures should appeal just as much to defenders of small government as it does to progressive Democrats. A quick look at the proposed expenditures shows that they include large transfer payments to preferred groups that have nothing to do with either infrastructure or climate change. Consider this chart prepared by NPR, which breaks down the major categories of expenditure:
“Home/community care” and “affordable housing” constitute over 30 percent of the budget at $613 billion. Much of this money is for child and elder care. Both are traditional forms of transfer payments, which are already available in abundance. Why more? Why now? After all, these cash transfers are not taxable compensation for work done. They increase the motivation to stay out of the workforce, in fact, and thereby reduce the size of the tax base as overall expenditures are mushrooming. Moreover, large doses of home/community care are difficult to target exclusively to the needy. A correct analysis seeks to determine whether such payments are directed toward the truly needy and whether they induce people to leave the workforce to become tax recipients rather than taxpayers.
A similar analysis applies to affordable-housing expenditures, both for renters and owners. In the Biden plan, those expenditures operate as a combined program of disguised subsidies and disguised price controls. An affordable-housing mandate typically requires a developer to build some fraction of total units held for sale or lease at below-market rates to individuals who fall within certain broad income categories. In some programs, the losses to the developer may be offset in part by government subsidies.
These programs are not only costly but also a massive disincentive to new construction, especially when the fraction of affordable units is set too high, at which point the developers cannot recoup their losses on the affordable units by their profits on their market-rate units. A far more sensible regime that reduces both rent controls and subsidies over time allows housing resources to be allocated cheaply and sensibly by market forces. Housing markets are like all others insofar as people are willing to spend other people’s money for their own benefit, which leads to overconsumption. Similarly, price controls reduce the incentive to produce housing that people want, thereby creating systematic shortages, and the long queues and political intrigues that accompany them.
The rest of the initiative’s priorities include investments in electric vehicles at $174 billion, roads and bridges at $115 billion, the power grid at $100 billion, public transportation at $85 billion, and railways at $80 billion. There is absolutely no reason to believe that these expenditures will be made in a responsible fashion, given the political forces that will descend on Washington if the proposed funds become available. Nor is there anything inherently desirable about electric vehicles, for example, that merits their subsidization. To be sure, there is a constant risk of pollution from vehicles powered by fossil fuels, but the correct response is to tax the externality in order to reduce its incidence, not to guess which alternative technology merits a subsidy. Indeed, it is especially wrongheaded to subsidize both electric cars and public transportation when they should be allowed to compete with each other. More generally, any massive subsidy for energy investment is a bad idea for the same reason that it’s a bad idea for housing: it leads to overconsumption, such that total social costs exceed total social benefits.
Shifting to wind or solar energy—both centerpieces of the Biden strategy—is also a bad idea. Those energy sources are too precarious to make more than a dent in the overall energy market. As the US Energy Information Administration reports, fossil fuels account for about 80 percent of total energy production in the United States, as well as raw materials for making “asphalt and road oil, and feedstocks for making the chemicals, plastics, and synthetic materials that are in nearly everything we use.” Keeping crude oil and natural gas in the ground is not a winning strategy. Indeed, relying on wind and solar carries risks, as these forms of energy can respond poorly in extreme situations, a reality that became clear with the breakdown of the Texas power grid recently during an extreme cold snap.
The correct path to environmental soundness lies in the more efficient production and consumption of fossil fuels. This is why one of the best ways to deal with the externalities of fossil fuel consumption, such as air pollution and spills, would be to allow the development of the Keystone XL pipeline. Given how central fossil fuels are to the energy market, any small improvement in their production and distribution will result in enormous benefits. The effort to wean an entire economy off fossil fuels over the next two decades will provide short-term dislocations without any durable long-term relief.
The dubious nature of the Biden plan is made still more evident by looking at its rickety financing. As always, the two favorite targets for new taxation are increases in the corporate income tax and the income tax rates for wealthy individuals. The claim is that these targeted taxes will spare the rest of America from financial pain. Senator Elizabeth Warren made that case for her ultra-millionaire tax, saying her wealth tax would have no impact on 99.9 percent of the population. But that is one strong reason to reject her program or others like it: it encourages majorities to confiscate the wealth of the most productive. Those majorities, of course, would be far less eager if their own taxes were to rise at the same time.
Biden has rightly rejected that approach, but the price of his new, once-in-a-generation expenditure is an increase in the overall corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent. Yet this proposal has dangerous consequences too. The United States constantly competes with other nations for corporate investment. Biden’s policy will reduce the level of foreign investment in the United States while simultaneously increasing the level of American investment abroad. This in turn will reverse the beneficial effects of the Trump corporate tax cuts, which notably translated into higher wages. Additional taxes on the wealthy will barely make a dent in the anticipated financial shortfall.
Worse still, it is simply false advertising to say that even if these deferred revenues could be generated, they would cover the full costs of the Biden program. The public expenditures will take place over an eight-year period. As NPR reports, the government plans to keep the corporate tax in place for fifteen years to balance the books. That move will require the treasury to borrow money to cover the anticipated revenue shortfall. And there is no reason to think that the government will meet any of its revenue targets, let alone be able to find the revenues to cover the items on the Biden agenda.
At this point, Republican skepticism about the plan may perhaps peel away some Democratic support. To avert that result, Biden would be well-advised to unbundle the strange bedfellows in his omnibus bill, so that each component can be evaluated on its own merits. The likely result is a smaller program with better outcomes, both for Biden and everyone else.
President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar infrastructure proposal includes a major union handout that would overhaul labor law in the United States.
The White House released a fact sheet Wednesday detailing Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package that includes a call to pass the PRO Act, which is currently languishing in the Senate after passing the House. The law would overturn right-to-work laws in 27 states and expand the ability of the National Labor Relations Board to fine employers that violate employees’ organizing rights.
“[Biden] is calling on Congress to ensure all workers have a free and fair choice to join a union by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, and guarantee union and bargaining rights for public service workers,” the fact sheet states. The sheet also says that increased union membership can increase worker productivity. The labor overhaul, however, would overturn existing laws in more than half of the states in the country that allow employees to work without requiring union membership.
Biden’s infrastructure plan would also provide a massive handout to the Service Employees International Union by allocating $400 billion for in-home Medicaid health care. In many Democratic-run states, in-home Medicaid health workers are forced to join the SEIU, a major Democratic donor and labor union with nearly two million members.
Critics of the proposal said Biden is using the infrastructure package as “cover” to pass pro-union reform.
“By using his massive infrastructure proposal as cover for denying millions of American workers their right to decide for themselves whether or not to subsidize union activities, President Biden is proving that his top priority is really building the forced-dues empire of his union boss political allies,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, said. “The so-called PRO Act will eliminate by federal fiat all 27 state right-to-work laws and give union bosses a whole host of other new coercive tools to force workers into compulsory dues payments and one-size-fits-all union ‘representation.'”
The infrastructure bill, which Democrats have called “must-pass” legislation, may be the best vehicle for advancing the controversial PRO Act. Biden’s strong endorsement of the labor law has not helped it advance through the Democratic-controlled Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) reportedly told AFL-CIO leaders that he would not bring it to the floor without 50 cosponsors, according to the Intercept. Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), Mark Kelly (D., Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.), Mark Warner (D., Va.), and Angus King (I., Maine) have yet to back the package.
Other union watchdogs said the Democratic holdouts are right to be skeptical of the bill. Charlyce Bozzello, communications director at the Center for Union Facts, said the passage of the act could harm workers who are struggling to recover from the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Far from providing a ‘free and fair’ choice for workers, the PRO Act is nothing more than a union wishlist,” Bozzello said. “The bill does little to support American workers who are struggling to get back on their feet after the pandemic. Instead, it would consolidate more control with our country’s labor unions, force more employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, override the right to a secret ballot election, and threaten the livelihood of countless freelancers.”
Biden unveiled the infrastructure package at a speech in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He urged quick congressional action on the package, which Democratic lawmakers have said they want to pass by Independence Day. He also said that he wants to include Republicans in negotiations, but other Democratic leaders have indicated that they could push the infrastructure package through via the budget reconciliation process.
The passage of the PRO Act would likely require the elimination of the Senate filibuster, however, which would allow the Senate to move forward on a number of other Democratic legislative initiatives. Manchin and Sinema have said they oppose ending the filibuster.
The Biden administration did not respond to a request for comment.
Joe Biden made a lot of promises during his truncated run for the White House. One of them, that he wouldn’t be Donald Trump, he’s kept. The others, most of which were grounded philosophically in the idea he was a moderate Democrat – an image the mainstream media cheerfully did its best to confirm, have gone out the window.
On economics, on cultural issues, even on foreign policy he’s not just reverting to the positions taken during the Obama years. No, he’s breaking new ground in so many areas it’s clear he’s trying to be a transformational president rather than the caretaker who brought us all together he suggested time and again that he’d be.
His latest foray into the grand schemes of central planning is his lately-much-discussed infrastructure proposal that’s starting to look like “the green new deal” – which he said repeatedly he wasn’t for – plus a lot of other things.
What he wants to do is bad enough. How he plans to pay for it is even worse. Now, the whole business is carrying with it an estimated $2 trillion price tag, a figure that is ambitiously modest. It’s going to cost a lot more and, as if the Democrats ever need a reason to do it, he’s going to suggest a slew of new taxes and tax hikes to get the money.
According to an analysis of the proposal released Tuesday by Americans for Tax Reform, the starting point for Biden will be an increase in the top corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent alongside the introduction of a 21 percent global minimum tax, an idea beloved by European advocates for enlarging the welfare state to end tax competition between nations.
If that were not bad enough, he’s also calling for a doubling of the capital gains tax to almost 40 percent, imposing a second death tax by ending step up in basis, and raising the top individual income tax rate to 39.6 percent.
What he wants is tax reform in reverse. The right way to do it is to broaden the base and cap or eliminate deductions the way Reagan and Trump did it. In both cases that acted as rocket fuel to a moribund U.S. economy. What Biden is proposing to do will choke off growth and reduce incentives to save and invest – making America more like Japan in the process, a big economy with no appreciable growth.
“Biden’s tax hikes,” ATR said, “will hit Main Street small businesses hard. Small businesses that are organized as pass-through entities (sole proprietors, LLCs, S-corps etc.) pay taxes through the individual code and will be hit by Biden’s plan to raise the top income tax rate to 39.6 percent.”
Moreover, the group said, the increase in the corporate rate – if Biden gets what he is said to want – will cause utility bills to go up. “Utility customers bear the cost of taxes imposed on utility companies. Utility companies pay the corporate income tax. Corporate income tax cuts drive utility rates down, corporate income tax hikes drive utility rates up. When Republicans enacted a corporate tax rate cut, utilities across the country lowered their rates.”
What that means is higher taxes for just about everyone, shattering his promise that those making less than $400,000 a year (even if that’s by household and not individually, a distinction the then-former vice president never made on the campaign trail) “Inclusive of state taxes and the Obamacare 3.8 percent Obamacare tax, Californians would face a capital gains rate of 56.7 percent, New Yorkers would face a capital gains rate of 52.2 percent, New Jerseyans would face a capital gains tax rate of 54.14 percent.”
That makes it clear why Democrats from those and other high-tax states are adamant about repealing the cap the Trump tax reform put on the deductibility of state and local taxes also called “SALT.”
Without the SALT cap, taxpayers in well-run red states end up subsidizing the inefficiency, bloat, and wasteful spending in the poorly run blue states like New York and Illinois. That may be outrageous but it’s also Biden policy – and what the Democrats stand for. Taking money from the people (and states) that have it and oversee it responsibly to subsidize those who manage what they have poorly if at all.
As ATR points out, the proposed Biden’s corporate tax hike would make the U.S. top rate higher than Communist China’s 25 percent, a nation not thought likely to join in the effort to establish a global minimum corporate tax. What the president is proposing is an incentive for American companies to move to China rather than bring their operations home, something the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated “IRL” might be a good idea whose time has come.
The Democrats used to criticize the GOP for supporting tax cuts for any reason. Now the worm has turned. Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party are now for higher taxes for any reason, the health of the U.S. economy be damned. His tax plan is a bad policy – bad for everyone, except maybe China.