The Democrats Are Half Right (and Half Wrong!) on the Economy

 

In my opinion both of the two main presidential candidates have overall poor economic plans.  But at least several major Democratic figures such as Hillary Clinton, the NYT columnist Thomas Friedman, and the economist Larry Summers do understand the importance of economic growth.
In particular, says Mr. Summers, “What is unfortunate is that many (progressives), in their eagerness to focus on fairness, neglect the single most important determinant of almost every aspect of economic performance – the rate of growth of total income, as reflected in the gross domestic product.”
Furthermore,

  • More growth means more employment. For each 1 point increase in adult male employment, the employment of young black men rises by 7%.
  • More growth reduces the need for desperation monetary policies that risk future financial stability.
  • If U.S. growth continues to have a 2% ceiling, it is doubtful if we will achieve any of our major national objectives. If we can boost growth to 3%, interest rates will normalize, middle-class wages will rise faster than inflation, debt burdens will continue to melt away and the power of the American example will be greatly enhanced.
  • The question is not whether business success is desirable. The question is how it can be achieved.

All of the above is very positive on the part of Mr. Summers. But then he adds, “What is needed is more demand for the product of business.  This is the core of the case for policy approaches to raising public investment and increasing workers’ purchasing power.”  In other words Mr. Summers is ignoring that:

  • Our national debt is huge and growing way too fast.
  • Wages are now increasing fairly rapidly which increases demand by itself.

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  • Investment in new business structures, equipment and intellectual property has now fallen for three quarters in a row.

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Conclusion. The way to achieve the faster rate of growth which Mr. Summers (and almost everyone else) wants is not more public investment but rather more private investment. The House Republicans have a plan to accomplish exactly this.

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Racism and Black Progress

 

At this time of heightened racial tensions in the U.S. it is worthwhile to step back and take a broader view of the economic and social status of blacks in America. The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson has done just this in a recent column. As pointed out by Mr. Samuelson blacks have made much progress since the 1960s:

  • Poverty. Black poverty has dropped from 39.3% in 1967 to 26.2% in 2014, which was still double the white rate of 12.7%
  • Education. In 1950 only 13.7% of adult blacks had completed high school. By 2014 this had jumped to 86.7%. Over the same period the percentage of black adults with a four year college degree jumped from 2.2% to 22.8%. The corresponding percentage for whites in 2014 is 36%.
  • Upward Mobility. The black upper middle class (with incomes of $100,000 or more, inflation adjusted) has grown form 2.8% of households in 1967 to 13% in 2014. For the U.S. population as a whole it is now 31%.
  • Politics. In 1965, when the voting rights act was passed, there were five blacks in Congress, now there 46. Over the same time period, the number of black state legislators grew from 200 to 700.
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  • Life Expectancy. The life expectancy gap between blacks and whites shrank from 8 years in 1970 to 5 years in 2010.

Conclusion. Most people understand that life for blacks in America is more difficult than it is for whites. On the whole American society is trying to help blacks lift themselves up to be able to enjoy a more prosperous and satisfying life.  Much progress has been made in this respect in the last half-century but there is clearly still a long way to go in achieving full equality with white America. In my next post I will discuss one of the biggest barriers which remain in achieving equality between races.

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How Progress Has Led to Discord

 

We were reminded by Robert Samuelson in yesterday’s Washington Post that America has made amazing progress in the last half century.
Consider that in 1960:

  • Men and Women held rigid gender roles.
  • African-Americans were restricted by legal segregation in the South and informal segregation almost everywhere else.
  • Homosexuality was virtually under the radar.
  • There was little environmental regulation.
  • Immigration was not an issue.
  • Defense made up 52% of government spending.

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Think about all the (mostly) positive changes which have taken place in the meantime:

  • Women have taken paying jobs by the millions.
  • Racial segregation has been outlawed.
  • Gay rights have been established.
  • Environmental regulation has exploded.
  • Immigration, both legal and illegal, has increased.
  • Social spending has soared.
  • Defense is down to 16% of the federal budget in 2015.

Consider how our national politics is now stalemated:

  • The political system favors extremes.
  • Minorities live largely in big cities where they produce Democratic super-majorities.
  • Rural areas produce Republican super-majorities.
  • Incumbents are insulated from general election challenges which might pull them towards the center but are perpetually vulnerable to primary challenges from extremists who pull them towards the fringes.
  • Ideological purity trumps pragmatism. In the internet and cable-news era, politicians are constantly reassuring their constituents that they haven’t sold out.
  • The center sags and paralysis prevails.

Meanwhile serious national problems are getting much worse and not being addressed. Our public debt (on which we pay interest) is 74% of GDP, the highest since WWII.  The U.S. economy is growing only slowly at the rate of 2.1% per year ever since the end of the Great Recession seven years ago.  Neither presidential candidate has a credible plan to deal with these two most aggravating problems.
As a country we are in a huge mess.  How do we break out of it?  I wish I knew!

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Why the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative Is So Important

 

North Korea recently launched another long-range rocket as reported by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post The editorial boards of all three newspapers deplore this development but differ in suggesting how the U.S. should respond.

  • The NYT says that sanctions should be imposed to limit North Korea’s ability to finance warheads and missiles. Such sanctions would most acutely be felt by the Chinese companies doing business with North Korea.
  • The WP supports economic sanctions as well as deploying an advanced missile defense system in South Korea as quickly as possible.
  • The WSJ is concerned about the “rogue state” ICBM threat in general. North Korean missiles can now reach Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago. Iran recently conducted two ballistic missile launches in violation of the recent nuclear deal.

Ronald Reagan’s launch of the SDI in the 1980s helped win the cold war. The Bush Administration is responsible for the missile defenses which exist today, including long-range missile interceptors in Alaska and California and Aegis systems aboard Navy warships.  The Obama Administration has cut its missile defense budget request from $9.8 billion in 2016 to $9.1 billion for 2017.
Capture6Admiral Bill Gortney, Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, says that “We’re ready 24 hours a day if he’s (Kim Jong Un) dumb enough to throw something at us.”  But any miss would be catastrophic and a 100% interception rate won’t happen without engineering advances and presidential leadership.
SDI should be a very high priority within the overall military budget.  Our national security depends on it!

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It’s Easy to be Pessimistic about America’s Future

 

As I remind readers from time to time, this blog is concerned with America’s fundamental fiscal and economic problems: a slow economy, massive debt, and increasing income inequality. Largely because of these apparently intractable problems, more and more people are becoming pessimistic about the future of our country.
CaptureAlthough I am by nature an optimist, these matters weigh on me as well:

  • The just introduced “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015” is a sell-out to the status quo. It breaks the agreed upon sequester spending limits by $112 billion over two years with essentially no attempt to create long term spending restraint.
  • As pointed out recently by the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson, the presidential candidates are talking mainly about new entitlements (the Democrats) or tax cuts (the Republicans). In both cases this represents a flight from reality.
  • Entitlements: The number of people aged 65 or older will increase from 15% of the population today to 22% of the population in 2040. The cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will jump from 6.5 % of GDP today to 14% of GDP in 2040. We simply must control these costs by raising eligibility ages for SS and Medicare and increasing premiums for wealthier recipients.
  • Economic Growth: Annual growth has averaged only 2% of GDP since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. Slow growth means weaker gains in wages, more unemployment and larger spending deficits. This can be fixed long term with honest tax reform, but not with unrealistic tax cuts.

Conclusion: Isn’t it obvious that we need political candidates who will speak forthrightly with the people about the need for addressing these humongous problems? Americans aren’t dumb.  They will respond to straight talk from their supposed leaders.   

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The Six Issues That Could Cause a Government Shutdown

 

It is now just ten days until the new government fiscal year begins on October 1 and Congress has not yet passed a budget for the new fiscal year. Although a temporary funding bill could be brought up and passed at any time, the Washington Post thinks that there are six big impediments to adopting a new budget.
CaptureThey are:

  • Planned Parenthood. 31 House Republicans insist that they will support no spending bill which has funding for Planned Parenthood. Short term funding should not be in danger because the Democrats will step in if necessary to keep the government open.
  • The Sequester. This is a much tougher issue because the Democrats want to break the 10 year Sequester spending limits. It’s the Republicans strongest leverage and they should insist on dollar for dollar spending cuts elsewhere in order to relax the Sequester cuts.
  • A Challenge to Boehner. The anti-Planned Parenthood caucus is threatening to try to oust John Boehner as Speaker if they don’t get their way. Hopefully the Democrats would help to keep Boehner because any replacement would be more conservative and less accommodating to them. I personally think that John Boehner is a miracle worker given the hyper-partisanship in Washington at the present time.
  • The Iran Nuclear Deal. Republican desire to express opposition to the Nuclear Deal could surface as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations. As bad as the Nuclear Deal is, this is a bad budget strategy.
  • The Export-Import Bank. The Ex-Im Bank expired in June. Its supporters might try to refund it as part of a budget deal for next year. It should be allowed to die unless it undergoes reform to remove subsidies for big businesses such as Boeing and GE.
  • The Highway Trust Fund. The problem is that the 18 cent/gallon federal gasoline tax is insufficient to fund our infrastructure needs. The most sensible approach is to raise the gas tax by a few cents per gallon. Attempts to provide funding from other sources should be resisted.

 

Bottom Line: Republicans should be flexible except on overall spending limits. It is absolutely essential to the future wellbeing of our country to strongly focus on eliminating budget deficits.

Baltimore Is About Economics, Not Racism

 

The death of another black man at the hands of the police, this time Freddie Gray of Baltimore, has again set off a national debate about poverty, inequality and racial injustice.
CaptureThe Washington Post journalist Marc Thiessen wrote about this several days ago in, “The Baltimore Democrats Built,” saying that:

  • Although 63% of Baltimore residents are black, so are 40% of police officers.
  • City officials injected $130 million into the Sandtown-Winchester community (where the riots took place) in a failed effort to transform it.
  • The poverty rate in Baltimore is 24% compared with 14.5% nationally.
  • The unemployment rate for black men in Baltimore between the ages of 20 – 24 is 37%.
  • Among the nation’s 100 largest counties, the one where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is the city of Baltimore.
  • In 2014, Baltimore public schools ranked third in the country in per-pupil spending, yet 55% of Baltimore fourth graders scored below basic in reading.
  • In the Sandtown-Winchester community, nearly half of all high school students missed at least 20 days of school in 2011.
  • This community’s murder rate is double the average for Baltimore, which in turn had the fifth highest murder rate last year among major U.S. cities.

In other words, Baltimore’s problems cannot be blamed on racial prejudice or on a lack of resources to combat poverty and low educational performance.  Clearly needed are better schools and more employment opportunities.  Better state and local leadership would help in this respect. But what is most needed is faster economic growth for the whole country.  There are many things which could be done to accomplish this.  It’s a shame that our current political system is too fractured to allow this to happen.