In 2017, Target announced it would raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of 2020, drawing praise from labor advocates who have called for other retailers to pay their employees a “living wage.”
But the new wage hike isn’t all it cracked up to be. Harry Holzer, in a 2016 Time Magazine article argued that “most minimum wage earners are not poor adults. They are, instead, young people (ages 16 to 24) or second earners in families where a spouse has a higher-wage job. So minimum wage increases help some poor heads of households, but are not well-targeted on them.”
Then there is this. A new report by CNN BUSINESS, found the big-box retailer has been slashing employees’ hours since the announced wage hike. So have TJMAXX, Marshalls, The Gap and Old Navy, and fast food chains such as Burger King. Nearly half of D.C. employers said they have laid off workers, and reduced hours due to a minimum wage hike
Heidi Shierholz, who was the chief economist at the Labor Department during the Obama Administration, said the wage hike is being counter-attacked by the company slashing employees’ hours, “Most workers aren’t getting any more of what they really need.”
Since the wage increase, Whole Food employees have told reporters that they have experienced widespread cuts that have reduced schedule shifts across many stores, often negating wage gains for employees. Further, companies often move to a nearby city or state to avoid the increase.
And that’s not all. A recent study suggests minimum wage hikes lead to automation replacing low-skill workers’ jobs. In New York City, the rise had people in a panic fearing the loss of other government subsidies, such as section 8 housing due to the added income.
Few would argue that finding a way to create living wages is a bad idea. But the unintended consequences of large raises in the minimum wage are clearly not worth the price. Here is a better way.
We now have a successful, if limited, device to raise wages without interfering in the marketplace. It is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It is a refundable tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children. Many states already have state EITC’s, which further expand total income for a household. Critically, the EITC encourages work since the credit is only available to those with earned income.
What needs to be done is to expand the EITC for single and childless couple workers. Also the 2009 changes in the EITC that reduced the marriage penalty and increased the credit for households with three or more children should be made permanent. These changes combined with a refundable child tax credit could be the basis of a broad wage supplement program. Finally, a reform should be instituted so that the EITC comes on a weekly or bi weekly basis, not the following year.
Holzer wrote that “when the minimum wage increases are moderate in size — up to, say, $10 an hour — such employment losses are very small, so the likely tradeoff between higher wage levels and lower employment becomes worthwhile.”
But when the minimum rises so dramatically, we will likely see much larger employment losses among young or low-income workers. The hard truth is that too many of them have too few skills to merit such high wages, at least in the eyes of prospective employers. Some (particularly immigrants) might instead be hired off the books, and paid in cash, while many more will lose employment entirely”.
Proposals such as those suggested by Isabel Sawhill and Quentin Karpilow along with Holzer combine a modest increase in minimum wage with revisions to the EITC. This may be the best alternative to large increases in the minimum wage.
The tsunami of minimum wage hikes comes from a well intentioned benevolence. Its results have been disastrous for the very people they were intended. A small increase in minimum wage combined with smart revisions to the EITC will benefit low wage earners without marketplace disruption and harm to the working poor.
An individual earning near the national median at $50,000 a year would pay more than $17,450 more per year in taxes to fund Democrats’ Medicare for All proposal. That’s not even half of it.
Democratic candidates for president continue to evade questions on how they will pay for their massive, $32 trillion single-payer health care scheme. But on Monday, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) released a 10-page paperproviding a preliminary analysis of possible ways to fund the left’s socialized medicine experiment.
Worth noting about the organization that published this document: It maintains a decidedly centrist platform. While perhaps not liberal in its views, it also does not embrace conservative policies. For instance, its president, Maya MacGuineas, recently wrote a blog post opposing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, stating that the bill’s “shortcomings outweigh the benefits,” because it will increase federal deficits and debt.
That centrist position makes CRFB’s analysis of single payer all the more devastating, because one cannot write it off as coming from a right-wing group. And its analysis is devastating, carrying it three main messages, as follows.
Consider some of the options to pay for single payer CRFB examines, along with how they might affect average families.
A 32 percent payroll tax increase. No, that’s not a typo. Right now, employers and employees pay a combined 15.3 percent payroll tax to fund Social Security and Medicare. (While employers technically pay half of this 15.3 percent, most economists conclude the entire amount ultimately comes out of workers’ paychecks, in the form of lower wages.) This change would more than triple current payroll tax rates.
Real-Life Cost: An individual earning $50,000 in wages would pay $8,000 more per year ($50,000 times 16 percent), and so would that individual’s employer.
A 25 percent income surtax. This change would apply to all income above the standard deduction, currently $12,200 for individuals and $24,400 for families.
Real-Life Cost: An individual with $50,000 in income would pay $9,450 in higher taxes ($50,000 minus $12,200, times 25 percent).
A 42 percent Value Added Tax (VAT). This change would enact on the federal level the type of sales/consumption tax that many European countries use to support their social programs. Some proposals have called for rebates to some or all households, to reflect the fact that sales taxes raise the cost of living, particularly for poorer families. However, using some of the proceeds of the VAT to provide rebates would likely require an even higher tax rate than the 42 percent CRFB estimates in its report.
Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “the first-order effect of this VAT would be to increase the prices of most goods and services by 42 percent.”
Mandatory Public Premiums. This proposal would require all Americans to pay a tax in the form of a “premium” to finance single payer. As it stands now, Americans with employer-sponsored insurance pay an average of $6,015 in premiums for family coverage. (Employers pay an additional $14,561 in premium contributions; most economists argue these funds ultimately come from employees, in the form of lower wages—but workers do not explicitly pay these funds out-of-pocket.)
Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “premiums would need to average about $7,500 per capita or $20,000 per household” to fund single payer. Exempting individuals currently on federal health programs (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) would prevent seniors and the poor from getting hit with these costs, but “would increase the premiums [for everyone else] by over 60 percent to more than $12,000 per individual.”
Reduce non-health federal spending by 80 percent. After re-purposing existing federal health spending (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid), paying for single payer would require reducing everything else from the federal budget—defense, transportation, education, and more—by 80 percent.
Real-Life Cost: “An 80 percent cut to Social Security would mean reducing the average new benefit from about $18,000 per year to $3,600 per year.”
The report includes other options, including an increase in federal debt to 205 percent of gross domestic product—nearly double its historic record—and a more-than-doubling of individual and corporate income tax rates. The impact of the last is obvious: Take what you paid to the IRS on April 15, or in your regular paycheck, and double it.
In theory, lawmakers could use a combination of these approaches to fund a single-payer health care system, which might blunt their impact somewhat. But the massive amounts of revenue needed gives one the sense that doing so would amount to little more than rearranging deck chairs on a sinking fiscal ship.
CRFB reinforced their prior work indicating that taxes on “the rich” could at best fund about one-third of the cost of single payer. Their proposals include $2 trillion in revenue from raising tax rates on the affluent, another $2 trillion from phasing out tax incentives for the wealthy, another $2 trillion from doubling corporate income taxes, $3 trillion from wealth taxes, and $1 trillion from taxes on financial transactions and institutions.
Several of the proposals CRFB analyzed would raise tax rates on the wealthiest households above 60 percent. At these rates, economists suggest that individuals would reduce their income and cut back on work, because they do not see the point in generating additional income if government will take 70 (or 80, or 90) cents on every additional dollar earned. While taxing “the rich” might sound publicly appealing, at a certain point it becomes a self-defeating proposition—and several proposals CRFB vetted would meet, or exceed, that point.
The report notes that “most of the [funding] options we present would shrink the economy compared to the current system.” For instance, CRFB quantifies the impact of funding single payer via a payroll tax increase as “the equivalent of a $3,200 reduction in per-person income and would result in a 6.5 percent reduction in hours worked—a 9 million person reduction in full-time equivalent workers in 2030.”
By contrast, deficit financing a single-payer system would minimize its drag on jobs, but “be far more damaging to the economy.” The increase in federal debt “would shrink the size of the economy by roughly 5 percent in 2030—the equivalent of a $4,500 reduction in per person income—and far more in the following years.”
Moreover, these estimates assume a great amount of interest by foreign buyers in continuing to purchase American debt. If the U.S. Treasury cannot find buyers for its bonds, a potential debt crisis could cause the economic damage from single payer to skyrocket.
To say single payer would cause widespread economic disruption would put it mildly. Hopefully, the CRFB report, and others like it, will inspire the American people to reject the progressive left’s march towards socialism.
One of the problems in health care today is that it turns Oscar Wilde’s quip on its head: In the United States, everyone knows the value of health care, but nobody knows the price of anything (because most spending is covered by insurance or by federal programs such as Medicare).
Pricing information is crucial in any system, because when people know what price they’re paying for a good or service, they can make informed decisions. Also, prices tend to come down over time as people demand better service at lower prices.
However, unlike Walmart or Amazon.com, the federal government isn’t especially good at negotiating lower prices. And now, crony health care interests are fighting to eliminate one of Medicare’s few pricing successes.
The issue involves prescription medicines. Since Medicare Part D was put into place to cover prescription drugs, generic and biosimilar medicines have usually been added to the program as soon as the FDA approved them. That’s given seniors access to safe, effective drugs at a much lower cost. In 2018, for example, generic drugs saved consumers almost $300 billion, with $90 billion of that going to Medicare recipients.
Sadly, though, they could have saved much more. In 2016, the Obama administration changed Medicare policy so that many generics would be priced in the same band as name brand drugs. That’s increased prices for seniors by more than $6 billion.
A good chunk of that money flowed to Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), which negotiate to get the generic meds priced in a higher band, then pocket “rebates” (kickbacks) from the big drug companies that make name brand drugs. Consumers, meanwhile, miss out on potential savings.
Under the Trump administration, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is finally taking steps to roll back the price increases. Next year, it wants to stop Medicare Part D plans from moving generic drugs into branded drug tiers. Instead, it plans to create a new tier reserved just for generics and biosimilars.
Many lawmakers support this sensible policy. “I am pleased to find that CMS is considering an ‘alternative’ policy,” Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “I applaud CMS for considering these cost-effective policies and urge the Agency to make them final for CY2020.”
Cassidy is a doctor and a leader in the fight for a more conservative approach to health care. He also joined fellow Republican Senators Steve Daines and James Lankford and Democrats Sherrod Brown and Robert Menendez in sponsoring an amendment to The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 that would have “ensured lower-cost generic drugs are placed on generic tiers and higher-cost brands stay on brand tiers.” They dropped that amendment for internal reasons, because Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley told them he’ll make certain the language makes it into the final bill.
Many other lawmakers are also pushing for the reform. “We encourage CMS to move forward with this policy effective CY2020 to lower out-of-pocket costs for millions of Americans, ensuring that they receive the full value of generic and biosimilar competition,” a bipartisan group of House lawmakers wrote to Azar. “Price competition is vital in the Part D program and beneficiaries deserve a choice at the pharmacy counter when possible.”
Seniors can thank these lawmakers, and should keep a sharp eye on Sen. Grassley. He has a chance to move forward in a bipartisan fashion with a plan that would save Medicare recipients money. That ought to be an easy sell in these divided times.
Conservatives are wary about expanding Medicare, of course. But we’re eager to use pricing power to improve the state of American health care. Let’s not allow PBMs to block this important step toward systemic reform.
Something’s happening to wages that neither Democrats nor Republicans care to acknowledge.
By The Atlantic•
Stop me if this sounds familiar: For most American workers, real wages have barely budged in decades. Inequality has skyrocketed. The richest workers are making all the money. Earnings for low-income workers have been pathetic this entire century.
These claims help drive the interpretation of breaking economic news. For example, the Labor Department yesterday reported that the unemployment rate fell to a 50-year low, while wage growth stalled. “The wage numbers here are INSANE,” the MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted. “The tightest labor market in decades and decades and ordinary working people are barely seeing gains.”
So, let’s play a game of wish-casting.
It turns out that all three of those things are happening right now.
According to analysis by Nick Bunker, an economist with the jobs site Indeed, wage growth is currently strongest for workers in low-wage industries, such as clothing stores, supermarkets, amusement parks, and casinos. And earnings are growing most slowly in higher-wage industries, such as medical labs, law firms, and broadcasting and telecom companies.
Bunker’s analysis is not an outlier. A Goldman Sachs look at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found growth for the bottom half of earners at its highest rate of the cycle. And even among that bottom half, the biggest gains are going to workers earning the least. A New York Times analysis of data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta found that wage growth among the lowest 25 percent of earners had exceeded the growth in every other quartile.
In fact, according to Bunker’s research, wages for low-income workers may be growing at their highest rate in 20 years.
What’s happening here? Donald Trump hasn’t sprinkled MAGA pixie dust over the U.S. economy. In fact, his trade war has clearly diminished employment growth in industries, that are sensitive to foreign markets, such as manufacturing. Rather, a tight labor market and state-by-state minimum wage hikes have combined to push up wage growth for the poorest workers. The sluggishness of overall wage growth is concealing the fact that the labor market has done wonderful things for wages at the low end.
One reason you haven’t heard this economic narrative may be that it’s inconvenient for members of both political parties to talk about, especially at a time when economic analysis has, like everything else, become a proxy for political orientation. For Democrats, the idea that low-income workers could be benefiting from a 2019 economy feels dangerously close to giving the president credit for something. This isn’t just poor motivated reasoning; it also attributes way too much power to the American president, who exerts very little control over the domestic economy. Meanwhile, corporate-friendly outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages, have reported on this phenomenon. But they’ve used it as an opportunity to take a shot at “the slow-growth Obama years” rather than a way to argue for the extraordinary benefits of tight labor markets for the poor, much less for the virtues of minimum-wage laws.
Democrats don’t want to talk about low-income wage growth, because it feels too close to saying, “Good things can happen while Trump is president”; and Republicans don’t want to talk about the reason behind it, because it’s dangerously close to saying, “Our singular fixation with corporate-tax rates is foolish and Keynes was right.”
But good things can happen while Trump is president, and Keynes was right. “Tighter labor markets sure are good for workers who work in low-wage industries,” Bunker told me. “This recovery has not been spectacular. But if we let the labor market get stronger for a long time, you will see these results.”
Average retirement account would lose $20,000 to tax
A financial transaction tax, though popular with 2020 Democrats, would raise little revenue and substantially shrink the U.S. economy, a recently released report concludes.
A transaction tax takes a percentage from financial trades, such as the sale or purchase of stocks, bonds, or derivatives. The United States levies an extremely small charge on each transaction to fund the Securities and Exchange Commission. A number of Democrats would like to bring a full-fledged financial transaction tax (FTT) back for the first time since 1965.
The idea’s most vocal proponent is presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) who has introduced a plan to charge a 0.5 percent fee on financial transactions. Sanders has made the tax “on Wall Street” a central revenue source to pay for his exorbitant spending proposals.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) introduced her own FTT proposal in 2015, Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) wants one to pay for expanding Medicare, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg has also said that he is “interested in” implementing an FTT. Congressional Democrats have supported the idea outside of the campaign trail. Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) has his own0.1 percent proposed FTT — the bill has more than 200 co-sponsors in the House, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.).
These Democrats and others cite several justifications for an FTT. The tax is aimed at “Wall Street,” a preferred target of populist liberals—at least in principle, that means it also falls more heavily on those who hold a lot of wealth in investments. Additionally, such a tax would impose major restrictions on so-called high-frequency trading, which involves computer-run trades at fractions of a penny—profits that could be wiped out by the tax.
“This Wall Street speculation fee, also known as a financial transaction tax, will raise substantial revenue from wealthy investors that can be used to make public colleges and universities tuition free and substantially reduce student debt,” a brief from Sanders’s office reads. “It will also reduce speculation and high-frequency trading that is destabilizing financial markets. During the financial crisis, Wall Street received the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world. Now it is Wall Street’s turn to rebuild the disappearing middle class.”
The scope of the tax, however, would extend beyond the confines of Manhattan, according to a report from the Center for Capital Market Competitiveness, an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce. The report argues that FTTs shrink the economy and hurt every-day Americans, not just Wall Street fat cats.
“Main Street will pay for the tax, not Wall Street,” the report argues. “The real burden [of an FTT] will be on ordinary investors, such as retirees, pension holders, and those saving for college.”
Much like a sales tax, the costs of a financial transaction tax would be passed on to consumers, who would pay more for each trade. Taxing transactions does not just drive up costs for the ultra-wealthy, but the 6 in 10 American households that own some kind of investment. Increased costs would have substantial effects on American savings. Under the Sanders plan, for example, the report estimates that a typical retirement investor will end up losing about $20,000 on average from his IRA.
These direct effects are arguably less significant than the overall effect that an FTT would have on the financial side of the economy. As multiple Democrats have acknowledged, the goal of an FTT would be to crack down on complicated financial instruments, such as high-frequency trades, to reduce what they perceive as dangerous market instability.
These instruments mostly serve vital functions greasing the wheels of the economy, according to the center’s report. An FTT would erase the razor-thin margins on which market makers operate, and severely constrain other forms of arbitrage. They would also reduce the use of vital risk-management tools, like many derivatives and futures contracts.
An FTT, the report argues, would thus serve to substantially slow the economy. Trade volume would fall; consumer good prices would rise; municipal bonds would generate less revenue for infrastructure; the cost of credit would increase, making mortgages more expensive—in turn exacerbating the homelessness crisis, depressing young home-ownership, and reducing family formation.
Obviously, each of these effects may not be massive—the U.S. economy grew substantially even during the 50-year period when we had an FTT. But, the new report argues, the experience of other nations indicates that the costs to the economy would substantially outweigh any benefit.
For example, they cite an economic analysis of a proposed 0.1 percent transaction tax in the EU—the authors found that “such a tax would lower GDP by 1.76 percent while raising revenue of only 0.08% percent of GDP.” Sweden’s 1 percent FTT caused a 5.3 percent drop in the Swedish market—meaning a 0.5 percent FTT, as Sanders proposes, would analogously cut nearly $800 billion from U.S. market capitalization. The evidence runs the other way, too: In the year following the repeal of the U.S. transaction tax, New York Stock Exchange trade volume increased by 33 percent.
All of this is why many countries—including Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Japan, Austria, and France—have eliminated such transaction taxes.
“Bad ideas have a habit of coming around again. The U.S., like many other nations, experimented with an FTT and wisely got rid of it. Yet each generation seems to be tempted by the false promise of a painless revenue stream,” the report said. “It would be wise to pay attention to the wisdom of experience and again avoid this false temptation. After all, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
President Donald Trump planned on seeking a second term based largely on the strength of the economy. Unemployment is down to a 50-year low. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the creation of nearly 6 million new jobs since he came into office. Wages and profits and revenues to the federal Treasury are up. The stock market is generally surging, and economic growth is once again the order of the day.
It’s an enviable economic record, especially when compared with his two most recent predecessors. Things are going so well, some of the president’s bitterest foes predict it’s strong enough to carry him across the 2020 finish line first.
The naysayers—those who’ve never liked Trump—point to a few statistics to suggest the fundamentals of the economy are softer than they appear. The inverted yield curve that appeared this week, now that the yield on 10-year U.S. government bonds is lower than that for two-year notes, has some people saying a recession sometime in the next two years is possible.
The U.S. economy is the world’s strongest right now but, says the president, would be even stronger had the Federal Reserve not raised interest rates too high too fast. Others say if things head south, it will be because of the ongoing trade war with China.
“I think we’re going to have a very long period of wealth and success,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “Other countries are doing very poorly, as you know. China is doing very, very poorly. The tariffs have really bitten into China. They haven’t bitten into us at all.”
In response to the U.S. imposition of tariffs on its exports, Beijing weakened the yuan, effectively blunting their effect. Trump countered by delaying until December the next round of tariffs, mostly on consumer goods, scheduled to take effect on September 1 until mid-December.
That’s right in the middle of U.S. retailers’ most profitable period and could cause trouble at home. These and other moves have caused dramatic fluctuations in the stock market. The U.S. Trade Representative says everything’s just “next steps” in the process of getting China to do a deal.
Whether that’s true is a subject for debate. Capital Alpha Partners’ James Lucier counseled investors to view the delay of the tariff imposition as being as advertised and not as “backtracking in policy or a ‘blink’ by the U.S.” and “a case of the White House and President Trump, in particular, getting ahead of his own administrative machinery.”
If the economics are sound, the politics are shaky. A second Trump term depends on Midwestern farmers and industrial workers and others whom the tariffs potentially affect adversely in critical states like Florida, Michigan, and Ohio.
These are places where the economy is always issue No. 1, where the three things voters care about most are jobs, jobs and more jobs. And, as of now, the tariffs are not working to the president’s advantage. As much as the China-bashing rhetoric may excite his base, it’s not helping them make ends meet.
Florida’s exports to China total about $1.6 billion annually. That includes $533 million in gold because Miami is now the leading hub for refiners and processors who then sell to China for use in manufacturing. Civil aircraft parts, the state’s second-biggest export, brings in $126 million now and more in the future as China becomes, over the next 20 years, the world’s largest single market for civilian aircraft sales.
The Miami Customs District alone did $7 billion worth of business with China in 2017. In South Florida, manufacturers are suffering because of the steel and aluminum tariffs.
Michigan has a $3.6 billion export relationship with China, with $1.2 billion comprising car parts. The Wolverine State contains 75 percent of North America’s auto R&D, and China is, by volume, the world’s largest automaker. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says higher-priced cars resulting from the tariffs could potentially lead to the loss of 700,000 American jobs.
It’s not just cars. Over half of all U.S. soybeans are exported, with 60 percent of them going to China and $700 million coming from Michigan. “The noose is getting tighter,” Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, told the Detroit Free Press in May. “We have lost market opportunities. We’re not shipping soybeans around the world like we normally would. We’re not shipping them to China. China was our biggest soybean consumer, and they’re not moving.”
Ohio’s exports to China total $3.9 billion, with more than $691 million worth of soybeans—the state’s top agricultural export—shipped to China in 2017. “This will be tough to take. China takes one out of every three rows [of soybeans],” Bret Davis, a Delaware County farmer and governing board member of the American Soybean Association of China, told The Columbus Dispatch about proposed tariffs in 2018. An Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership survey of 457 Ohio manufacturers conducted in January found that 14 companies were hurt by tariffs for each it helped.
The Trump tariffs have already impacted negatively states that were key to him winning the presidency in 2016 and will be just as important in 2020. If the president wants to continue his record of economic success, he should focus on ending the trade war before Florida, Michigan and Ohio swing in the other direction.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was by far the greatest economic calamity in U.S. history. In 1931, the year before Franklin Roosevelt was elected president, unemployment in the United States had soared to an unprecedented 16.3 percent. In human terms that meant that over eight million Americans who wanted jobs could not find them. In 1939, after almost two full terms of Roosevelt and his New Deal, unemployment had not dropped, but had risen to 17.2 percent. Almost nine and one-half million Americans were unemployed.
On May 6, 1939, Henry Morgenthau, Roosevelt’s treasury secretary, confirmed the total failure of the New Deal to stop the Great Depression: “We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. . . . I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. . . . And an enormous debt to boot!” (For more information, see “What Caused the Great Depression?“)
In FDR’s Folly, Jim Powell ably and clearly explains why New Deal spending failed to lift the American economy out of its morass. In a nutshell, Powell argues that the spending was doomed from the start to fail. Tax rates were hiked, which scooped capital out of investment and dumped it into dozens of hastily conceived government programs. Those programs quickly became politicized and produced unintended consequences, which plunged the American economy deeper into depression.
More specifically, Powell observes, the National Recovery Administration, which was Roosevelt’s centerpiece, fixed prices, stifled competition, and sometimes made American exports uncompetitive. Also, his banking reforms made many banks more vulnerable to failure by forbidding them to expand and diversify their portfolios. Social Security taxes and minimum-wage laws often triggered unemployment; in fact, they pushed many cash-strapped businesses into bankruptcy or near bankruptcy. The Agricultural Adjustment Act, which paid farmers not to produce, raised food prices and kicked thousands of tenant farmers off the land and into unemployment lines in the cities. In some of those cities, the unemployed received almost no federal aid, but in other cities — those with influential Democratic bosses — tax dollars flowed in like water.
Powell notes that the process of capturing tax dollars from some groups and doling them out to others quickly politicized federal aid. He quotes one analyst who discovered that “WPA employment reached peaks in the fall of election years. In states like Florida and Kentucky — where the New Deal’s big fight was in the primary elections — the rise of WPA employment was hurried along in order to synchronize with the primaries.” The Democratic Party’s ability to win elections became strongly connected with Roosevelt’s talent for turning on the spigot of federal dollars at the right time (before elections) and in the right places (key states and congressional districts).
Powell’s book is well researched and well organized. His chapter titles are a delight. He synthesizes a mass of secondary sources (and some primary sources) in making a strong and persuasive case that the New Deal was a failure and that the Roosevelt presidency, at least in its first two terms — was a disaster. Powell covers all the major New Deal programs; he draws on the research of historians both “liberal” and conservative; and he is nuanced — this is no hatchet job — in that he concedes that some of Roosevelt’s policies, such as tariff revision, were more economically sound than, say, his industrial and agricultural policies.
FDR’s Folly takes its place on the shelf alongside Gary Dean Best’s Pride, Prejudice, and Politics and his more recent Retreat from Liberalism as liberating revisionist works that challenge the long-standing adulation of Roosevelt given by almost all historians. In the most recent Schlesinger Presidential Poll (1997), the historians and “experts” chosen by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., collectively ranked Roosevelt as the greatest president in American history, even though every other American president had lower unemployment rates than Roosevelt did for his first eight years in the White House. As late as 1999, David Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for a book (Freedom from Fear) that largely praised the New Deal as a legislative program and Roosevelt as its author.
With the dawning of the 21st century, we may be witnessing the final departure of Roosevelt’s loyal academic propagandists and those targeted recipients of his federal largess. In such a climate, Jim Powell has given us, with FDR’s Folly, a refreshing, must-read account of the New Deal.
A new proposal under discussion by the Senate Finance Committee is a perfect example of the folly of trying to centrally design the economy — in this case by a ham-handed attempt at price controls.
The proposal, from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and under consideration by Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would change the Medicare Part D prescription drug rebate to penalize drugs whose prices rise faster than the rate of inflation.
It’s ironic the proposal targets Part D, one of the few islands of economic sanity to be found in the health care sector, which, beset by rampant government intervention, suffers from a wide variety of perverse unintended consequences.
Part D is one of the few government health care programs to successfully foster price-based productivity increases. In most parts of the economy, over time, prices go down and quality goes up, due to increases in productivity. The underlying mechanism driving this is competition.
One sign of how successful Part D has been in wielding competition is that in its first decade of existence, it cost over 40% less than what the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would, a historical and underappreciated achievement.
Tacking on feel-good, one-off pricing rules like Wyden’s “faster than inflation” penalty could easily disrupt the market-based dynamics that enabled Part D to flourish in the first place.
It’s just silly to think that something as complex, distributed and organic as a worldwide market for pharmaceutical drugs could be controlled by something as ramshackle as a “faster than inflation” rule.
Consider the variety of pricing mechanisms that exist in well-functioning markets. In retail, there are coupons, package deals, membership plans and other discounts. In the stock market, there is the “continuous auction,” providing ongoing price discovery that can react to new information in a matter of seconds.
Amazon’s server rental business offers clients a tremendous range of pricing options, split by eighteen datacenter regions, dozens of server types, and several tiers of availability.
There is a whole world of financing, from store-offered, no interest payment plans to credit cards to mortgages. Stores employ all manor of psychological pricing tricks, such as charging 99 cents instead of $1. One of the more incredible such tricks, which would be hard to believe without the well-established research backing it up, is that prices that contain fewer syllables (when read out loud) are more attractive than those with more syllables. For instance, $28.16 (five syllables) is better than $27.82 (seven syllables).
The incredible diversity in pricing practices stems from the decentralized nature of the market. You could never ask a single committee, or even a large organization, to come up with this level of creativity and variety on its own. It’s only from the organic interaction between millions of businesses and billions of customers, each expertly seeking their own interests, that it can ever arise.
You might compare Wyden’s “faster than inflation” proposal to the fences in Jurassic Park — “life finds a way,” as Dr. Ian Malcolm tells us, foreshadowing the inability of the park to contain the beasts contained within. Except, at least the 40-foot electric fences were a good faith effort. Wyden’s proposal is more like if they attempted to keep the T-Rex at bay with only the thin walls of the bathroom hut the hate-able lawyer ran and hid inside, shortly before becoming a dinosaur’s dinner.
In other word’s this “faster than inflation” rule is a laughable, pitiful attempt at something that isn’t even achievable by the most expert, determined effort — something like, say, the Soviet Union, which tried, and failed, to put price controls into practice at super power scale.
But that’s not to say it can’t do harm. At the very least, it will increase the cost of participating in the market, both in terms of compliance costs, and in the changed incentives and their inevitable unintended consequences. For example, a company that requires more revenue to survive might raise the prices slightly on all its products, instead of steeply on just one. How this all plays out is impossible to predict. What can be said for certain is the market’s “logic” would now be less about providing the most value for customers at the lowest price, and now more about the political ramifications of pricing decisions.
More specifically, as it relates to the Part D drug market in particular, the rule could crowd out existing rebates negotiated by the plans buying the drugs. Many plans have already secured “price protection rebates” which kick in if prices increase more rapidly than some agreed-upon threshold. In other words, the market has already invented, in a much more sophisticated and dynamic way, the “faster than inflation” rule on its own.
The worst case scenario is more dire. Generally speaking, fostering well-functioning markets in the health care sphere is exceedingly difficult, given the immense government intervention at every level. Part D’s success in doing so is nearly unique. Additional rules that make supply and demand less important to how the market functions could result in it ceasing to function as a market entirely. It certainly would not be the first time the government accidentally killed a market.
Wyden’s proposal exemplifies the folly of centrally-designed price controls. It will harm one of the only well-functioning parts of the federal government’s health care policy. For those reasons, Chairman Grassley and Committee Republicans should cast it in the dustbin of bad socialist ideas.
Americans continue to be on the move. According to North American Moving Services, California and New York were losing residents and had some of the highest rates of outbound moves (based on moving truck rental data) in 2018, while Texas and Florida were among the states with highest rates of inbound moves.
Broadly speaking, Texas and Florida tend to have public policies that support a free-market economy, whereas states like New York and California tend to do the opposite. The case can be made that residents seem to be voting with their feet in favor of economic freedom.
Economic Freedom Varies
While economic freedom varies across states within the U.S., it also varies within states, as my new study published by the Reason Foundation shows.
The “U.S. Metropolitan Area Economic Freedom Index” uses nine different measures of state and local government policies to produce an overall score for each of the nation’s 382 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). For purposes of rankings, the 52 largest with over a million residents were examined separately. Continue reading
By Andy Puzder • The Morning Call
Anyone listening to President Donald Trump and to Democratic presidential hopefuls hears an almost Dickensian tale of two very different Americas.
The president takes “the best of times” view and spoke during his State of the Union address about “an unprecedented economic boom” in which “our economy is thriving like never before.”
Democratic presidential hopefuls take the “the worst of times” view and speak of an America that works only for the rich, while working-class paychecks fail even to keep up with the cost of living and people are struggling to get by.
Is either side right?
The American public appears to increasingly share Trump’s sunny view. A Gallup poll released on Monday, under the headline “Americans’ Confidence in Their Finances Keeps Growing,” found that more than two-thirds — 69 percent — of Americans expect to be better off in the coming year. That’s “only two percentage points below the all-time high of 71%” recorded 20 years ago. The poll was based on telephone interviews with 1,017 adults conducted between Jan. 2 and Jan. 10. Continue reading
Americans now rank “gridlock” as their top concern when it comes to the economy. We are reluctant to disparage the wisdom of the masses, but in this case they’re wrong. Gridlock, for lack of a better word, is good.
The new IBD/TIPP Poll asked “Which of the following poses the greatest risk to the current U.S. economy?”
At the top of the list was “gridlock in Washington” which 41% named as the greatest risk. Coming in second a good distance back was “trade disputes” at 26%. “Higher interest rates” came next at 12%, followed by “rising prices,” 9%, and “Special Counsel investigation” at 8%.
“Gridlock” came in first place among Democrats, Republicans and independents. Among the young and old. Men and women. North, South, East and West. Rural and urban. Wealthy and working class. Investors and non-investors. Continue reading
Change: A just-released IBD/TIPP Poll shows big gains in key sentiment indicators. Given the pervasive negativity in the media these days, you might doubt these positive polling numbers. If so, have you looked at the economy lately?
When it comes to President Trump and the national mood, something seems to have happened in recent weeks, as shown by our IBD/TIPP Poll of 900 people taken from July 26 to August 2. Keep in mind that anything over 50 is optimistic; under 50, pessimistic.
Start with our Presidential Leadership Index, which jumped 3.2% in August to 45.7, the highest level since President Trump’s first full month in office.
Equally important, the Direction of the Country Index, which gauges how Americans feel about our nation’s current course, surged 13% to 50.1 in August. That’s the highest level since 2005.
1,000,000 new jobs. You’d think you’d hear a lot about such an impressive number. So far, it’s made little splash in the media. Nonetheless, since the Republican tax cuts were signed into the law the U.S. economy has created one million new jobs. And that’s just the beginning of the good news.
In May 2018 alone, defying the expectations of many economists, 223,000 jobs were created. The unemployment rate has dropped to 3.8 percent, its lowest point since April 2000. Unemployment among black people and Hispanics is at the lowest point since the numbers were first broken out by race during the Nixon Administration.
The American economy is surging, even before the new, lower corporate and personal tax rates go into effect. The promise that companies and most individuals will soon be able to keep more of what they earn has, alongside the Trump Administration’s successful effort to deregulate vital sectors of the economy, Continue reading
By Maireid Mcardle • National Review
The American economy finished stronger than expected in May, according to the Labor Department’s jobs report, released on Friday.
The unemployment rate was expected to remain steady but dropped a tenth of a point to 3.8 percent, the lowest since April 2000.
The U.S. added 223,000 non-farm jobs in May, beating the estimate of about 188,000.
Even the underemployment rate, including discouraged workers and those with part-time positions who would Continue reading