Response to a Persistent Critic


You keep saying that we need lower tax rates to boost the economy but what makes you think this will help? Businesses are sitting on piles of cash. They have plenty of money to invest in expansion. What they need are more customers. The basic problem is not enough demand for more goods. This is what is holding back the economy. It doesn’t much matter what the tax rates are. If the demand and customers are there, businesses will spend their own money or borrow as much money as they need, at low interest rates, to produce all the products they can sell.                                                                                                                Anonymous Critic

I have several responses to this criticism:

  • First of all I want to make it clear that all cuts in tax rates must be offset by shrinking or eliminating tax preferences.   So there will be no loss of tax revenue. Two thirds of all taxpayers take the standard deduction and will therefore automatically benefit from lower tax rates. This will put tens of billions of new dollars into the hands of middle class wage earners who will spend most of this money because they have tight budgets. This will give the economy a big boost.
  • As I discussed in my blog post from October 26, 2013 “Where are the Jobs? II. How to Create More of Them,” most net new job creation comes from businesses less than one year old, the true “startups.” New business owners are typically not wealthy, with lots of personal tax deductions. They need all the financial resources they can muster. Lower tax rates will save them money and therefore help them get their new business going.
  • In general, tax deductions such as for mortgage interest, municipal bond interest payments, state and local taxes, etc. benefit the wealthiest tax payers.  Therefore the lowering of tax rates, offset by shrinking tax deductions, represents a shift of funds from the wealthier to the less wealthy. This will at least slow down the increase of inequality which afflicts the modern world.

Conclusion: Lower tax rates will put more money in the hands of people who will spend it, thereby boosting the economy by creating more demand, provide support for entrepreneurs starting new businesses (which will create more jobs) and lessen income inequality. All in all this represents major progress!

Does Free Trade Increase Inequality?


Several days ago, David Bonior, a former Congressman from Michigan, wrote in the New York Times about “Obama’s Free-Trade Conundrum”. “The President cannot both open markets and close the wage gap.”  There is an “academic consensus that trade flows contribute to between 10 and 40 percent of inequality increases.”  This happens because “there is downward pressure on middle-class wages as manufacturing workers are forced to compete with imports made by poorly paid workers from abroad.”
CaptureBut there is another point of view, provided, for example, by the report “NAFTA at 20: Overview and Trade Effects”, prepared by the Congressional Research Service about a year ago.  “U.S. trade with its NAFTA partners has more than tripled since the agreement took effect (in 1993).  (Canada and Mexico) accounted for 32% of U.S. exports in 2012.  40% of the content of U.S. imports from Mexico and 25% of U.S. exports from Canada are of U.S. origin.  In comparison, U.S. imports from China are said to have only 4% U.S. content.”  In other words, NAFTA at least has been a huge success.
Being able to trade with others is the foundation of private enterprise.  Foreign trade is simply an extension of domestic trade.  To limit trading opportunities with other countries would be a huge barrier to economic growth and therefore to future prosperity as well.
But at the same time we do want a more equal society as well as well as a more prosperous one.  The key to resolving this “conundrum”, as Mr. Bonior puts it, is to address “opportunity inequality” as well as “income inequality.”
It is estimated that each billion dollars in U.S. exports provides employment for about 5000 workers.  Nebraska, for example, exported $12.6 billion worth of goods and services in 2012 which translates into 63,000 jobs.
More jobs and better jobs are what create economic opportunity.  One way to create more jobs and better jobs is to promote foreign trade by removing as many trade barriers as possible.  Hopefully Congress and the President can work together to get this done!

A Global Perspective on Income Inequality II. Where Are the Jobs?


My last post on January 23 shows vividly what the challenges are in restoring the American middle class to the prosperity which existed up until the Great Recession hit in late 2007.  The problem, of course, is the gale strength force of globalization which is lifting up low wage workers all over the developing world and creating huge competition for the many low-skilled workers in the United States.
In today’s New York Times, the former Obama Administration car czar, Steven Rattner, writes about “The Myth of Industrial Rebound” in the United States, explaining why manufacturing jobs are coming back much more slowly than other jobs.  “Manufacturing would benefit from the same reforms that would help the broader economy: restructuring of our loophole-ridden corporate tax code, new policies to bring in skilled immigrants, added spending on infrastructure and, yes, more trade agreements to encourage foreign direct investment.”
CaptureThe above chart shows the huge decline in manufacturing jobs relative to other parts of the economy such as the education and health sector as well as the professional and business sector.  Of course, these more rapidly growing service sectors are the ones benefitting from the information technology revolution.  In manufacturing, on the other hand, the low skill jobs are going overseas while the high skill jobs, using technology such as robots, are much fewer in number.
Conclusion: in order to increase manufacturing jobs in the U.S., we better government policies, as outlined above by Mr. Rattner.  But we also need to recognize that there aren’t going to be as many high skilled manufacturing jobs in the future.  We are going to need much better K-12 and post-secondary educational outcomes to prepare the middle class for the high skilled service jobs which will predominate in the future.

More on Inequality: How Bad Is It and Why?


A recent article in Bloomberg View by Cass Sunstein, “How Did the 1 Percent Get Ahead So Fast?“, discusses the significance of new research by the economist Emmanuel Saez, ”Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States”.  Referring to Saez’s table and chart below, the conclusion is that income inequality has been getting steadily worse since the early 1980s and has been especially pronounced since June 2009 when the Great Recession ended.
Capture1Capture2In particular, 95% of all income gain in the last four years has gone to the top 1%.  This is a much greater disparity than during the so-called Clinton Expansion, from 1993 – 2000 (45% to the top 1%) or during the Bush Expansion, from 2002 – 2007 (65% to the top 1%).  According to Mr. Sunstein, “one point is clear: through 2012 the gains from the current recovery were concentrated among the top 1 percent, and that pattern, extreme though it is, fits with a general surge in economic inequality over the last 40 years.”
CaptureBut there is more to the story!  Looking at the final chart, just above, it is clear that the economy grew much faster during the Clinton Expansion than during the Bush Expansion, and, in turn, much more slowly during the Obama Recovery.  In other words, the way to reduce inequality is to speed up economic growth.  There are tried and true ways to speed up growth (e.g. tax reform with lower rates, emphasis on deregulation, boosting entrepreneurship, etc.).  It is unfortunate that too many in Congress, as well as the President have ideological blinders which prevent them from moving in this direction!

Where Are the Jobs? III. The Real Inequality Gap


Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story “Job Gap Widens in Uneven Recovery”, which shows how unbalanced the economic recovery is.  For workers aged 25 and older, unemployment is only 6%, compared to the overall unemployment rate of 7.3%.  But for the young, ages 16 – 24, unemployment is 15%.  Since the end of the recession in June 2009, wages have risen by 12% for the highest paid 25% of all workers.  For the lowest paid 25%, wages have only risen by 6% over this time period.
“Households earning $50,000 or more have become steadily more confident over the past year and a half.  Among lower income households, confidence has stagnated.  The gap in confidence between the two groups is near its widest ever.  That isn’t only bad for those being left behind.  It’s also hurting the broader recovery, because it means families are able to spend only on essential items.  Consumer spending rose just .1% in September 2013, after adjusting for inflation.”
Unfortunately, this data is entirely consistent with other gloomy economic trends which I have been reporting on recently such as the threat of technology to the middle class, the increased competition from globalization, and the shrinking size of the labor pool because of baby boomer retirements.
The New York Times has a running series of articles on “The Great Divide” and how to address it.   Here is a clear cut example of this divide: how older, better trained and more affluent Americans are recovering from the recent recession more quickly than the less well off.  This evident unfairness is damaging to the health of our society.  The question is how do we address it in an effective manner?
The basic problem is the overall slow growth of the economy, about 2% of GDP per year, since the recession ended in June 2009.  There are many things that policy makers can do to speed up this growth if they were only able to set aside ideological differences.  The best single action by far is tax reform, for both individuals and corporations, lowering overall rates in exchange for reducing deductions and loopholes which primarily benefit the wealthy.
Here is yet another reason why it is so important to speed up the growth of our economy.  How exasperating that our national leaders cannot figure out a way to come to together and get this done!

Where Are the Jobs? II. How to Create More of Them

My previous post, two days ago, introduced a new book by two economists, John Dearie and Courtney Geduldig, “Where the Jobs Are, Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy”.  They make a very strong case that net job creation comes primarily from businesses less than one year old, true “start-ups”.  But, unfortunately, there has been a huge drop off in the number of new businesses created each year since 2007 and, furthermore, the historical average of seven new jobs created by a firm in its first year has now fallen to less than five.
How do we reverse this alarming trend?  Here is what the authors have learned from the many entrepreneurs they have talked to:

  • “Not enough people with the skills we need”
  • “Our immigration policies are insane”
  • “Regulations are killing us”
  • “Tax payments can be the difference between survival and failure”
  • “There’s too much uncertainty and it’s Washington’s fault”

Although there are 24 million Americans either unemployed or underemployed, there are also 3 million advertised high skill job openings going begging and many more potential jobs available for qualified individuals.  A greater emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in the U.S. would help.  But also immigration reform is urgently needed.  The Senate has passed legislation to raise the annual cap on H1-B visas (for high skilled workers) from 65,000 currently to 110,000.  Hopefully the House will concur.
A Preferential Regulatory Framework for New Businesses could be devised to help fragile new businesses in their first five years.  A Regulatory Improvement Commission could be created to streamline the entire federal regulatory process.  Likewise a Preferential Tax Framework for New Business should be created and could, for example, recommend taxing income for the first five years at a much lower rate than normal.
Regarding policy uncertainty the authors refer to the U.S. Economic Policy Uncertainty Index which is at a very high level since the Great Recession.  Economic uncertainty obviously discourages business growth.
Conclusion:  A very good way to boost the economy and create more new jobs is to put greater emphasis on supporting entrepreneurs who are trying to start new businesses.  There are a number of concrete actions that the federal government can take to do this and doing so should be a very high priority for our national leaders.

Where Are The Jobs? I. The Basics

Two economists, John Dearie and Courtney Geduldig, have just published a very interesting new book, “Where the Jobs Are, Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy”.   In April 2011, Mr. Dearie and Ms. Geduldig launched an effort to understand the nature and scope of the damage to the U.S. labor markets caused by the Great Recession and, if possible, identify new ways to enhance the economy’s job-creating capacity.
They quickly “learned of research that demonstrates how virtually all net new job creation in the United States over the past 30 years has come from businesses less than a year old – true ‘start-ups.’  Investigating further, they also learned that America’s job creation machine is faltering, with the rate of start-up formation declining precipitously in recent years.  To find out why, they launched an ambitious summer road trip – conducting roundtables with entrepreneurs in 12 cities across the nation.”  Here is what they learned.
First of all, the U.S. labor market is tremendously dynamic, as existing businesses create new jobs and eliminate others.  “In 2011, for example, 47.5 million separations occurred while 49.6 million Americans took new jobs.”  But “existing firms, of any age or size, in aggregate, nearly always produce more separations than hires.  … Indeed, existing businesses shed on a net basis a combined average of about 1 million jobs each year as some businesses fail, others become more efficient, and as separations simply outpace new hires.  By stark contrast, new firms in their first year of existence, create an average of 3 million new jobs.”
Unfortunately, there has been a huge drop off in the number of new businesses created annually since 2007.  Furthermore, the historical average of seven new jobs created by a new firm in its first year, has now fallen to less than five new jobs.
The obvious question which this discussion raises is: what policy changes are needed to boost the creation of new businesses?  This will be the topic of my next post in a couple of days!