Bachmann on taxes

September 6th, 2006 – 11:24 AM by Eric Black

Last week, Patty Wetterling (DFL candidate for 6th Congressional District) floated a list of new tax breaks for the middle class. In the past, she has said that the Bush tax breaks for the highest income earners should be repealed.

Her Republican opponent, State Sen. Michele Bachmann, replied this morning with a defense of the Bush tax cuts, arguing that they help middle-class families. She estimates that a family of four with a household income of $50,000 would see their taxes rise by $2,000 if the Bush tax cuts expired.

I’ll request, and post, the assumptions behind that calculation.

But the indirect Bachmann-Wetterling exchange on taxes reflects a common disconnect in the discourse on this point this election year.

Wetterling and most Democrats do not favor the expiration or repeal of the Bush tax cuts as they apply to middle-class families.

The standard Democratic position this year is that only those in the top 1 or 2 percent of income earners should see their tax rates revert to the pre-Bush levels. You can argue against that on the basis of economic stimulus and how it indirectly benefits working families.

But apparently there is a broad bipartisan consensus that the $50,000 family of four should keep the benefits it has received under the Bush cuts.

297 Responses to "Bachmann on taxes"

Eric Zaetsch says:

September 6th, 2006 at 11:51 am

It is good you will do the fact validation, if there is any factual basis for the $50,000 and $2000 numbers. And how would that compare to a high-end rollback, say of the Bush cuts for the $300,000 and up families?

Unfortunately, my ISP’s IP has been blocked by the Bachmann campaign site and I cannot access your linked item.

However, going by what you describe w/o access to the original, it appears to be a typical Bachmann ploy. Try to change the subject. Responsiveness would be appropriate, non sequiturs only aggrivate.

Bachmann is correct that there is much room for reform of the federal tax situation. But she is focusing in all the wrong places. All of her ideas are wrong from the standpoint of lower and middle income families; exactly the people she would need to recruit to supplement her core constituency if she is to have a chance to win.

She wants to fix things that are not a problem – and to do so in ways that favor the wealthy. The estate tax is a key example. If anything, the higher value estates should be taxed more rather than eliminating the whole thing. And a consumption tax???? Eliminate all income tax and replace it with a consumption tax? A federal reliance on sales taxes is unwise, would have insufficient support to be taken seriously in DC, and would be especially hard on low and middle income families.

It makes no sense for her to tell the votes she needs that she would help the people who show up at Lake Minnetonka fundraisers when they are not MN 6 voters nor in the population segment she needs to recruit.

It sure looks as if she’s putting all the eggs in one basket – Makeover Michele blurbs to be run during the TV adds selling her along with beer and Chryslers during Vikings time-outs and between Twins innings.

Does anyone know of any polling results for MN 6, or the other districts – especially issue-by-issue? Perhaps Bachmann is hoping the Strangelove September – the short session set now to politicize over defense and security matters to the virtual exclusion of immigration, healthcare, and other domestic economic worries.

And are there any firm MN 6 debate dates yet set, to which all three candidates have committed?

Darin Haugland says:

September 6th, 2006 at 12:22 pm

I have never been nor will I ever probably be in the richest 1-2% income bracket. This being said, I find the estate tax itself immoral and unjust. Please justify why wealth (earned after taxes) passed down from father to son or mother to daughter is a taxable event? The common excuse is that it only affects the richest 1-2% is not an arguement but an excuse. Using that logic- let’s just take all of their money. Who cares if they complain, they are only a small number of people. If your goal is to make the tax code more progressive, fine, at least be honest about it. In reality, the fairest tax would be a consumption tax with exemptions for basic necessities (i.e. food and clothes) that would prevent it from being regressive on the poor. That being said- our tax code will never be radically changed. It will be tweaked and slightly bent for political reasons and votes. It simply has grown too big and too influential to be able to be fixed. As far as the tax cuts, if you cut the tax burden for $50,000 income 5% and you cut the tax burden for $150,000 by 2%- is this fair? Net dollars the larger income will have a bigger savings but percentage tax burden saved will be larger for the lower income level. This begs the question: Are you looking for fairness or a specific desired outcome?

bsimon says:

September 6th, 2006 at 12:50 pm

Darin, it all depends on what you value. One argument for the estate tax on large – as in tens of millions or more – estates is that we as a society are promoting work. Inheritors of such huge estates didn’t earn the wealth, and don’t have to work to maintain their lifestyle. The roots of this mindset come from the earlier days of America, when the founders designed a meritocratic society, rather than an autocratic one.

Its probably a worthwhile discussion to have; that is, do we want to use the tax code for the purposes of social engineering? What is more fair – a flat tax where everyone pays the same percentage (of income, or consumption, or ??), or a progressive tax where those who’ve benefitted the most also pay the most (in percentage terms)?

bsimon says:

September 6th, 2006 at 12:59 pm

Or, put another way, how many generations should benefit from the efforts of one large-earner? Its looking like the current top dogs have decided to dispose of huge portions of their estates (Gates & Buffet); though I understand Buffet’s kids will still be billionaires after he expires.

One argument against high tax rates on the wealthy is that high taxes take away the incentive to innovate, or to invest, or something comparable. Taking the devil’s advocate’s side for a moment, I’ll ask “So what?” What is the negative of putting a cap – say $1 Billion – on net worth, and taxing any further earnings at an obscene rate? I say the argument that innovation is squashed is bull-pucky. Others would step in to fill the gap. It would force the high earners to focus their attention elsewhere – on something other than amassing more and more wealth. God forbid.

RLW says:

September 6th, 2006 at 1:54 pm

Some history, from the faireconomy.org web site:

First, there was the belief that the hereditary transfer of concentrated wealth is incompatible with American values and democratic aspirations. Several decades after the passage of the tax, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Great accumulations of wealth cannot be justified on the basis of personal and family security … Such inherited economic power is as inconsistent with the ideals of this generation as inherited political power was inconsistent with the ideals of the generation which established our government.”

A second belief was that society played a significant role in the creation of individual wealth and therefore had some claim upon the wealth of the very rich. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proposed a federal inheritance tax, saying, “The man of great wealth owes a particular obligation to the State because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government.” Roosevelt recognized that wealthy citizens benefitted particularly from government protection of wealth and property rights.

RobertG says:

September 6th, 2006 at 2:36 pm

When did a family of 4 at $50,000 become middle class? That’s 2 adults earning just above minimum wage or one adult earning a middle income.
Todays middle class is closer to the $70-90 thousand bracket. Two working parents both earning over 35k a year which would cover a modest morgtage, 1 car payment and general living expenses. We are no longer living in the 60′s or 70′s, 30k a year in the metro is just above low income.
I would like to see the full tax cut breakdown, and who exactly is being called “middle” and “upper” class wage earners.`

Darin Haugland says:

September 6th, 2006 at 3:31 pm

excellent responses but I do take issue with a few. RLW, your info suggests that I would agree with FDR and Teddy’s viewpoints. Inherited money is much different that inherited power. New wealthly people from all classes and types of people are being created everyday. It’s not the concentration or acculumation of wealth, it’s how someone achieved the wealth and what they do with it. If someone abuses society with monopolies, corruption, unfair labor practices, etc, to achieve the wealth, this is an obvious problem. However, if an individual creates massive wealth (i.e. Google inventers) thru honest and fair methods, what is the problem? Correct injustices thru laws to constantly ensure a level playing field (not level outcomes!) not thru tax codes.
The notion that the wealthly derives special advantages from the government reaks of class envy and is a poor excuse hiding socialistic values. Does Teddy try to contend that because the government protects the rich from the poor who may simply seize their property and assets that this is a “special advantage”. This is a ridiculous. When the government starts to look at people more than just a person, we are all in trouble. At just what level does Mr. Roosevelt suggest individuals “deserve” protections from the law. THis is completely a false arguement. Our country WAS founded on the premise of individual and property rights. TO suggest, because of income levels, that these rights are subjective or open to debate is not what or founders or what I believe our country was founded on. If one doesn’t think 35% of gross income is not paying your “fair” share to enjoy the benefits of our government, then I guess I can only agree to disagree.
Finally, I simply believe that it is much more honest and more more aligned with our values to work with the tax code in other ways than the estate tax. I could tolerate a more progressive tax rate or a much higher rate at super wealth (as Bsimon suggested). In the end, they might be paying the same amount but at least be intellectually honest with them and yourself.

Mark says:

September 6th, 2006 at 4:05 pm

“What is the negative of putting a cap – say $1 Billion – on net worth, and taxing any further earnings at an obscene rate?”

Then what would be the incentive for an individual to invest once they have reached this limit on wealth?

The problem with the estate tax is two fold. First, the tax is very excessive. Second, the manner in which it is taxed.

A tax on wealth and inherited wealth is not totally repugnant to conservative, supply side theory. However, the current estate tax is done in a way that is totally inefficient and totally unfair.

If you inherit a business or large family farm that is not protected by trusts and other mechanisms you will face a tax that will be burdensome for the continuation of that business.

A more fair way to tax such inherited assets is to tax them on the original basis if such assets are sold.

Therefore, if you continue the familiy firm you would not face any tax penalty just because the original owner died. If the new owners did then sell the firm they would face tax consequences.

Bernice Vetsch says:

September 6th, 2006 at 4:39 pm

Here’s what Citizens for Tax Justice (www.ctj.org) discovered by analyzing the Bush tax cuts as they relate to his additions to the national debt & budget deficits.

A Minnesotan in the middle 20% income range (average income $46,200) will have received $2,236 in tax breaks for the period 2001-2006, which will be overwhelmed by the additional $9,679 s/he will pay to retire the Bush additions to debt. Net loss = $7,443.

A Minnesotan in the top 1%, making an average of $1,159,500 per year, will receive $79,128 in tax cuts and be liable for an additional $53,879 and his/her share of the debt. $79,128 minus $53,879 = a gift to the rich person of $25,249.

The “tax cuts for working families” has never been anything but a lie.

Darin Haugland says:

September 6th, 2006 at 4:55 pm

Bernice, Respectfully, those numbers don’t make sense. If the contention is that with the “lost” tax revenue from the tax cut will result in more future costs due to interest and delayed debt, then this cost would present at all levels of incomes. Why would the middle 20% income bracket tax cut cost approx. 5x in future costs but not proportionally cost 5x more for the richest group? Sounds like math with an agenda.

What is missing in the Tax Justice’s analysis is the economic growth caused by the tax cuts. When viewed in a bubble, sure the tax cuts may look to cost us future debt but reality begs to differ. Most non-partisan economists understand that taxes (while necessary) are a drag on our economy and that lower rates led to more economic activity which then leads to more tax revenue. History and the world has repeatedly demonstrated this.

The tax cuts may or may not be fair. However, when it is said “a gift to the rich person…” That statement assumes that that money was the government’s money FIRST and the individual does not have first claim on the money he/she earns. Thus explaining why it would be a “gift” from the government to the people.

Mark says:

September 6th, 2006 at 5:42 pm

Plus, what is missing is the concept of “paying the debt”. Listen, you need to get it out of your head the the national “debt” will be paid off or even needs to be paid off.

Unlike human beings the government never dies. Therefore there is never a time of reckoning where the government’s assets and debts will be settled.

The government debt only needs to be serviced.

Mark says:

September 6th, 2006 at 6:16 pm

And, further, the question must be asked. Is the $2236 a significant tax break for someone making $46,200. The answer is yes. That is a significant amount of their total federal tax liability and a significant amount of money to them.

Further, the whole analogy is ridiculous to begin with. The hypothetical middle class family does not pay the $9000 for the debt anyways.

When we use stupid metrics like the one suggested above you arrive at stupid conclusions.

Eric Zaetsch says:

September 6th, 2006 at 6:52 pm

Mark – [1] Tell me this please, what percentage of the annual budget now goes to debt service? If a nation gets so happy with using the bond market then it gets to where it can provide no services because it is servicing the holders of the debt with its taxes. Then, cheapen the currency, and wages do not keep up; as we have now, exactly. But cheapening the currency with a debt load denominated in dollars is one way to dig a deep hole other ways – such as encountering a large investment market premium required to sell new debt if the market sees debasing the currency as a factor. Balancing spending and income makes more sense other than pump priming in a recession via debt. However is Bush more attuned to the bond market than the citizens and providing real domestic services, healthcare reform, etc.?

[2] Also, Mark you miss the point Eric makes clearly in the post. No one is saying do not help the little guys. The Bush tax cuts for the little guys can be continued independent of taxing the more fortunate more heavily. Are you and Bachmann saying little guys, we are holding you hostage – approve the fat cats staying fatter or we stick it to you? Nice attitude. Bachmann I can see that, but Mark, you’re a nice guy.

Eric Zaetsch says:

September 6th, 2006 at 7:10 pm

RobertG – I agree with you that $50,000 is not a large income to support a family of four.

HOWEVER, just so the numbers are right, Minnesota minimum wage rates currently in effect are set out, Minn. Stat. Sect. 177.24.

A person earning the large employer minimum wage, $6.15/hr or the small employer $5.25/hr in a normal 2000hr work year, earns, gross, $12,300/yr and $10,500/yr respectively, so that two wage earners earning minimum wage at best, each working for a firm with over $625,000 in gross earnings and paying the $6.15 rate, would together have 1/2 of that $50,000 for family survival.

The minimum wage situation is that stinking bad.

And Bachmann is happy with it.

She says she wants no change because she tells Chambers of Commerce she is the friend of business – less regulation, no minimum wage hike, etc.

Less regulation means more Enrons, and we know how nice that turned out for all but Ken Lay, may he rest in peace.

A person earning minimum wage would, from his/her entire income NOT be able to pay the 2006 real property taxes on the Bachmann family home and its clinic property – $15,300, per Washington County tax records — there would be a $3000 shortfall for the more fortunate minimum wage earner at the $6.15/hr rate.

That is the disparity. Know it for what it is, if you want to support such a disparity as at all just.

The working poor are real, and Bachmann seems not to care a jot.

Mark says:

September 6th, 2006 at 7:23 pm

Here is the problem about the “little guy” first economic thinking. Little guys do not create jobs. Little guys do not create products and ideas. Little guys do not invest significant amounts of their money in new plant and machinery. Without these things there will be no economic growth.

I am not criticizing the “working man” or the poor. I am just indicating the error in your ways.

Further, by what standards do you consider it fair? A progressive tax system, regardless of its desirablilty is not fair. Why is cutting one group’s taxes “fair” while another group is expected to pay more in taxes? Fairness would be that everyone pay exactly the same amount in taxes (I mean LUMP SUM). Everything else is an unfair system that needs to have justification.

With that said, I support progresstivity in tax rates.

To address your questions.

1. “what percentage of the annual budget now goes to debt service?”

As a percentage of GDP in 2005 the amount paid in net interest is 1.5% GDP. This number peaked at 3.3% in 1991. It has been between 1.2% and 3.3% since 1962. So this number is within historical range.

2. “such as encountering a large investment market premium required to sell new debt if the market sees debasing the currency as a factor”

This is also called crowding out. The crowding out effect is minimal. I doubt if it amounts to more than 25 basis points for a t-bill. But this is just my estimate that I did when I was in grad school.

If you consider crowding out to be a major economic issue then you need to advocate cutting spending. Crowding out the bond market is not a justification of raising taxes, but eliminating spending which competes with the private money markets and reduces private investment.

3. “Balancing spending and income makes more sense other than pump priming in a recession via debt. ”

Not really. If we are talking recession then one way of increasing growth, whcih has such nice side effects like more employment for your little guys, is to get more money into the economy. The governmetn can do this by running a deficit and financing the deficit with new money (ala Keynes). A balanced budget has no such mechanisms.

3. “Bachmann saying little guys, we are holding you hostage – approve the fat cats staying fatter or we stick it to you?”

I do not believe anyone is saying that. Michelle and I both agree that continuing the Presidents tax cuts for all brackets is the right thing to do. I see no justification in raising taxes on anyone.

Here is what I would “concede”. I believe that tax rates should actually be a range within each tax bracket. Lets say the top bracket has a low end of 34% and a high end of 39.6% (the rate it was before the Bush tax cuts). The actual rate would be determined by some economic formula and other criteria such as emergency spending on defense and other issues like Hurricane Katrina. So, in my scheme taxes would increase to the higher end of the spectrum just like some of you want.

I like low taxes and believe that a low tax enviroment spurs investmetn and growth, as well as a whole range of other econimic good things. However, in reality it really does not matter if taxes range a point or two.

Nobody is a good enough forecaster to determine if an investmetn over a future period is going to be profitable at a 35% tax rate but not at a 36%.

But the price of this system would be that to change the tax ranges and/ or formula would require a super majority of 60 votes. That way it can only be changed with true national consensus either up or down.

Mark says:

September 6th, 2006 at 7:30 pm

“Less regulation means more Enrons”

I disagree. The illegalities that Enron committed were business operatins that took advantage of loopholes in regulations. More regulations makes more loopholes that cause problems as some corporations take advantage of these unintended consequences.

Mark says:

September 6th, 2006 at 7:34 pm

“That is the disparity. Know it for what it is, if you want to support such a disparity as at all just. ”

So, lets say we increase the minimum wage to $7.00 per hour. If such a person worked 52 weeks at 40 hours per week they would get $1644 more (I subtracted FICA taxes for ya). THEY STILL WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO PAY BACHMAN’s PROPERTY TAX. So what.

The problem with the “working” poor who work at minimum wage is that they are only worth $6.15 an hour. If they were worth more they would change jobs and get what they are worth.

Eric Zaetsch says:

September 6th, 2006 at 8:53 pm

Mark – If I understand you correctly you oppose any and all limitations on tort recovery litigation. That would be an interference in the litigation marketplace, and unwise?

If the litigation market allocates to a medical malpractice victim – one set of lawyers, one jury, say in Mississippi, a judgment of $72 million; and in Montanta, same medical error/omission, different litigators and jury, and the injured person gets $72,000; both are proper results market-wise, because in each instance the litigation market made an allocation, and each is a “fair” result in the sense that setting up a market system and allowing it to operate is “fair.”

The market is working as it should.

There are no normative positions that are superior to others, or are they?

Or do you not like the example?

It is a market where intellectual property is prized, as with patents, etc. Is that “Good,” “Bad,” “Fair,” or “Unfair”?

And is the lawyer with the 40% contingency contract getting 40% of the $72 million verdict, “worth” 0.4[72] = $28.8 million, in the same sense that the minimum wage worker is “only worth $6.15 an hour” to use your words?

It all seems compatible with your position, or am I missing something?

Mark says:

September 6th, 2006 at 9:22 pm

There is no such thing as a “litigation” marketplace. The awards are done by juries. Markets are defined by consumers and producers. THe price of a commodity in such a market is the market clearing price where consumers just value the item equal to its price. In a jury system a jury is like communist central planners who get to decide whatever allocation they want.

I will repeat that juries are not markets. So, most of your comments are unimportant.

To answer your question with respect to lawyers and minimum wage workers. The answer yes. If the minimum wage worker had the abilities to be a litigation attorney they would do that. If they had the abilities to be a top level attorney they would make $28.8 million.

So, to summarize, the answer is yes. The top level attorney is worth it. The top athletes are worth it. Bill Gates is worth it (so is George Soros).

And so is the minimum wage earner. If that “person” could have conceived of MS-DOS 35 years ago and been as smart in his business practices as Gates and the Microsoft crew he too would be worth billions.

Mark says:

September 6th, 2006 at 9:35 pm

And I do support tort reform. In this situation I believe that such regualtions would impact individual’s civil rights so there is a large burden of proof to show substantial public gains by such measure.

It is clear that all Americans are hurt by the arbritary nature of such litigation. Eric pointed out that there are wide ranges of jury awards. Often the awards are based on dubious science (such as the silicone breast implants) or poor law (almost all malpractice lawsuits).

Because of these often frivolous lawsuits product and service costs are more expensive for everyone. Service and quality of products are not as good.

Medical malpractice is probably the most egregious offender. Malpractice is any treatment that is not standard. It does not matter that something bad happened if the treatment was standard. However, juries award large malpractice awards just because something went bad. This is how John Edwards made his fortune.

If the punitive damages were capped in a systematic way that is fair and reasonable there would be improvements in prices and services.

Eva Young says:

September 7th, 2006 at 3:18 am

I believe the piece of the Bush tax cuts that help the low income would be keeping the lowest tax bracket at 10%, then increasing it gradually.

While I don’t favor getting rid of the current progressive income tax system altogether, I think the democrats are demogoging when talking about just “taxing the rich”, and the republicans are demogoging when calling the estate tax the death tax.

I think it’s in all our best interest to pay our fair share of taxes – this also means more people are concerned – and have a legitimate reason to be concerned – about how the money is spent.

I had problems with Wetterling’s tax plan, because although it offered some consilidation – and therefore was some simplification – it was also still doing alot of social engineering through the tax code. A truly bold way to make things simple would be to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction altogether (and reduce rates to pay for that), and then get rid of the tax credits for education, and increase the pell grant – which is a more honest way to address the policy objective (making education objective) rather than social engineering through the tax code.

Bachmann vs. Wetterling » Blog Archive » Taking Their Side says:

September 7th, 2006 at 9:47 am

[...] is 6th District Race, he is not quite as hostile to Bachmann, but he still instinctively has to defend Wetterling, and attack Bachmann. That is why I have repeatedly sa [...]

bsimon says:

September 7th, 2006 at 10:07 am

Mark says “Here is the problem about the “little guy” first economic thinking. Little guys do not create jobs. Little guys do not create products and ideas. Little guys do not invest significant amounts of their money in new plant and machinery. Without these things there will be no economic growth.

I am not criticizing the “working man” or the poor. I am just indicating the error in your ways.”

What a crock. Your entire premise is that the ‘little guy’ who typically starts life with nothing, is worth less than the ‘big guy’ who starts life with a silver spoon.

Did you know that small business creates more jobs than big business? I have more respect for the immigrant family that opened a restaurant down the street than I do for a guy who’s parents sent him to Yale and Harvard to skate through life doing a mediocre job, but making big money through family connections.

Mark says:

September 7th, 2006 at 10:47 am

“Your entire premise is that the ‘little guy’ who typically starts life with nothing, is worth less than the ‘big guy’ who starts life with a silver spoon. ”

But your concept of “worth” is not an economic concept. This is revealed by the word you choose “I have more respect”. That is your value judgement and you are entitled to them. But nothing I have written is about this type of worth or respect. The entire discussion is about economics, not values.

And the hard, cold truth about economics is that you are worth what you are being paid. If you are worth more your will be paid more. If you are worth less then they will let you go.

You may not respect the person who went to Yale or Harvard, but the fact is the market respects such pedigrees (rightly or wrongly, who cares it is the marketplace).

THe market sets the price on labor and talent based on supply and demand. That is why professional athletes are paid so highly. The pinnacle of success in that profession is the tip of the tip of the needle. Only a few select few can play to the level of professional sports. That is why the counter worker in a fast food establishment is paid so little. The requirement for the job are minimal and the supply of such skills very plentiful.

If you have a company you can eschew hiring top talent for your management positions. Forget about the Harvard MBAs applying. YOu can find a “little guy” from the street with a 8th grade education, speaks street talk, lets his pants hang down to his knees, and has lots of tatoos. That is your choice. I doubt that if you were actually put in the position of making such hires that your concept of “respect” would become true.

eric zaetsch says:

September 7th, 2006 at 11:04 am

Bachmann v Wetterling linkover – Eric, you must be doing something right. Nobody likes you, everyone thinks you are too hard on their favored candidate or not hard enough on their least favored.

My opinion, you are still not critical enough of Michele Bachmann – especially her social engineering goals for theocracy in lieu of the Establishment Clause. Marriage amendment, teaching creationism in either the strict-Genesis or Intelligent Design flavor, vouchers for sectarian schooling, etc. You are giving that one candidate a total free ticket on that stuff, and then Andy A. moans.

I suppose if you endorsed Kennedy and Bachmann he’d be saying it was too luke warm, whatever you said.

Seriously, I do not see the bias that is being asserted – I think you’re fair and balanced, on Klo v Ken, Wet v. Bach. Keep up the breaking news items also.

bsimon says:

September 7th, 2006 at 11:53 am

What’s your point Mark? Should one’s worth to society only be measured economically? The point I was making, which you conveniently overlooked, is that small businesses, that take a lot of hard work to start & keep solvent, provide more jobs and more benefit to the US economy than big business. On the subject of the obscene executive compensations currently enjoyed by the 1%ers, shoot, even the 5%ers, I find corporate compensation to be way beyond anything justified by cost-benefit analysis. You’re right, I’m not on any boards, so its not my decision to make. But I do own stock, so can make my minority opinion heard, though it is continually ignored. My point being: for every $300 million executive out there, I believe there are dozens who could do equally well for $30 million, or less. Corporate American overcompensates not only the successful, but the unsuccessful as well. They’re sticking it to the average joe that makes an operation run on a daily basis, but gamble millions on the guys and gals that sometimes make the right strategic decisions, sometimes not. To me this implies the system is broken. Why reward failure? Yet it happens – surely a nice gig, if you can get it.

Lastly, I’m not disparaging all recipients of ivy league degrees, I’m merely pointing out that there are people without them who end up doing more with less. Are you more impressed by a legacy ivy league graduate that coasts into a position ‘earned’ via family favors, or the person that betters themself & achieves success through hard work and “yanking on their own bootstraps,” to use a simplistic metaphor?

L David says:

September 7th, 2006 at 12:21 pm

Interesting Mark. You go on and on about how horrible the Democrats are “tax and spenders” but then you say…

–Plus, what is missing is the concept of “paying the debt”. Listen, you need to get it out of your head the the national “debt” will be paid off or even needs to be paid off.—

Mark you prove my point that the new GOP is all about spend and spend and rack up the debt. And you wonder why fiscally minded Republicans are jumping ship?

Mark says:

September 7th, 2006 at 1:59 pm

Some “fiscally minded Republicans” are jumping ship. The spending is politics. The electorate believes in more spending. Everyone has their priorities.

When Ronald Reagan was elected president he had promised three main things to the American public. First, supply side based, accross the board tax cuts. Second, to strengthen the American military. Third, to balance the budget and reduce spending.

What he realized is that essentially these three things could not be done, or at least not done politically. He prioritized and decided upon the first two goals.

How any conservative can abandon George W. Bush, while maintaining Ronald Reagan as an idol, is astounding.

And, again, national debts do not and never will be “paid off”. THey are not mortgages or other loans done to human beings. Human beings die. When they die there is a reckoning and everything must be paid off.

Governments do not die (again, if they do their debt dies with them). Their debt never has to be paid off. As long as the necessary payments are being made this can continue on for eternity.

Mark says:

September 7th, 2006 at 2:09 pm

“Should one’s worth to society only be measured economically?”

Again, we are not talking about one’s worth to society. Some of those “little guys” may be real swell people. THey may love their children and pets to a level that should be a Hallmark Family Channel movie. They may help their neighbor out in ways that would make Mother Theresa cry.

The problem is that the “little guy” has only so much economic worth in the market place. Whatever they are paid is what they are worth. If they were worth more they would find a better job and be paid more (what they are worth). If they are worth less then the will be fired (eventually, and you see how market frictin really works and how this is a cost of employment held against workers).

If you are making minimum wage that is what you are worth in the labor market.

Further, I do find corporate executive compensation to be “obscene” if you want to use that word. However, these are contractual agreements made to hire the best talent out there. Most of this compensation comes from options that are only valuable if the stockholders also make money. I also would agree that there is a you pat my back I will pat yours network out there on these corporate boards that abrogate their fiduciary responsibilities. I do not see how stockholders accept it.

I would suggest several rules to control some abuses that I have seen.

First, I would require that all executive compensation packages that include options never allow the strike price of those options to be less than the original price.

Second, I would clarify or create the laws that would prohibit any backdating of options.

One company that I worked at had a group of executives that started out well. Everyone was happy. The stock got into the 20′s. Then a disaster happened and the stock fell to 2 3/8 practically overnight. All of the executives got granted a sh-t load of options at the 2 3/8 price. Then the stock ran back up to 26 and they cashed in. It was ridiculous. They offered the stockholders absolutely no value and reaped a fortune. This I would prohibit.

L David says:

September 7th, 2006 at 2:49 pm

What is “Supply side economics” anyway? When I took economics, I learned about supply AND DEMAND. I guess that’s what the GOP does…leaves out half of the equation so there is no balance. Checks and balances is now just checks (spend and spend). The Republican’s have had many years to turn the budget around and have turned a surplus into huge debt with waste ful pork spending the like the GOP Bridge to Nowhere”.

Mark says:

September 7th, 2006 at 3:09 pm

Well, I do not have the time to explain supply side economics to you. Lets just put it this way, prior to the term of art there existed just Demand Side Economics. Supply side economics is just a different paradigm.

Lets review from my previus posts.

1. Surpluses are very rare animals. Since 1962 there has only been five years with a surplus. There has been only two with an on-budget (less any Social Security surplus) surplus.

2. The surplus year in the late 90′s were caused by historically low defense spending. During those years spending had decreased to 3.0% of GDP, less than half of the Cold War average of 6.5% GDP. This extraordinary event caused by the demise of the Soviet Union and capital gains tax revenue that was $80-100 billion dollars higher than normal allowed the Federal government to balance its budget.

3. Since 2001 we have had a recession, stock market bubble collapse, 9/11, and associated defense expenditures increases to 4.1% of GDP. This along with some other increases in discretionary spending has caused 70% of the current deficit. The other 30% has been caused by decreased tax revenue from the tax cuts.

4. With economic growth tax revenues, particularly corprate tax revenues have grown substantially.

5. Wasteful pork spending is bad. However, it is part of politics. It has been going on for decades. It is nothing new. It is not an exclusive Republican problem. It is a government and bureacratic problem.

You see, when government or buracracies face problems with spending they do not operate with any type of profit maximizing objective (or similar mechanism). They operate with a political maximizing objective. Each of the congressmen have their own pet projects (you can substitute any other type here: city councilman, school board member). These he protects. Therefore, when faced with a budget cut these individuals will project the least acceptable program for such cuts.

Want an example? Lets consider the Corproation for Public Broadcasting. When faced with budget cuts they protested. If you cut our budget we will not be able to offer Sesame Street and Barney, they contended.

Imagine you are the head of a network like PBS and you need to cut 10% of your budget and the only thing you can think of is cutting your most popular programs. Never mind the guy who paints with a knife, 43 shows featuring cajun cooking, and garden shows put on by a guy dressed up in what can only be described as an elf costume are on your schedule. You react because you know if you make it a choice between Barney and cutting your spending the public will side with Barney.

bsimon says:

September 7th, 2006 at 3:45 pm

The problem with the failed ‘trickle-down economics’ theories are that they theorize that all economic growth comes from rich people and/or big business. Unfortuantely the data shows that small and medium size businesses employ more people and produce more economic growth than big business and/or the rich.

Mark says:

September 7th, 2006 at 4:02 pm

No, you make the statement because you really have little understanding of the concept.

One of the major premises of supply side economics is that it will lead to increased business investment. We do not differentiate by large or small business.

Further, another point is that reduced marginal tax rates (the central policy premise of supply side economics) will cause people to work more or become available for work. This will increase economic growth.

Lets look at an example. You are a painter. You need $3000 to paint someone’s house at a profit. If you pay 50% marginal taxes like most business owners do that means you must charge $6000 for the job. If marginal taxes are higher you need to charge even more.

I am the house owner. I am looking to have my house painted. You estimate that the cost will be $6000. I decide that is too expensive. I paint the house myself.

Now, marginal taxes are reduced to 25% (these are just examples). You the painter now only needs to charge $4,000 to do the job. You present me with that estimate and I accept.

This has created $4000 in GDP growth.

Businesses and individuals invest more with lower marginal taxes (this is an economic truism). Individuals work more and longer because or lower marginal taxes. I will give you a url for a paper by Nobel Prize winner in economics (and former U of MN economics professor) Ed Prescott.

http://minneapolisfed.org/research/qr/qr2811.pdf#search=%22ed%20prescott%22

Peder says:

September 7th, 2006 at 4:43 pm

Late to the party, but I’ve got to say some things about the minimum wage arguments from earlier. How many two earner famlies of four are getting by on a double minimum wage? Are they more rare than ‘welfare queens’ and the like? Starting wages at fast food places are plentiful and start with higher wages. Anyone willing to show up at work on time and give good effort can stay above minimum wage.
Who works minimum wage? Mostly teenagers and workers who depend on tips. Not bread winners.
A national minimum wage is always going to work badly in some regions than in others regardless of where you peg it. Cost of living in Minneapolis is much higher than in Ely or Austin. If it’s a living wage in the Cities, it’ll be a job killer outstate.

Mark says:

September 7th, 2006 at 4:51 pm

The fact is that only 2.7% of the American workers make the minimum wage. With that, half of those are under the age of 25.

The other half are probably earning tips in excess of their minimum wage salaries (I think strippers are paid the minimum wage!).

You can see how the Democrats look at economic priorities!

Dave 1028...formerly Dave says:

September 7th, 2006 at 5:33 pm

Mark, you can push VooDoo economics all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that there as many economists out there that say it is bunk as there are to defend it.

Actually, even the main player in the Reagan budget (David Stockman) process admitted in his 1986 book Triumph of Politics that supply side economics doctrine “was always a trojan horse to bring down the top marginal income tax rate.” He also admitted to purposely running up the budget deficit and using it as an excuse to cut spending on domestic programs.

I don’t know where you were in the 80′s Mark, but anyone who lived through that BS of ‘trickle down economics’ can tell you that supply-siders are full of it.

The supply side economics of Reagan that subsequently required GHB to raise taxes cost him the election. But he did the right thing.

One other thing. I owned a large business for several years, and I was not paying 50% taxes. And further, your examples are flawed because you don’t take into account the lost productivity cost by painting your own house or the cost of supplies. Supplies are a major part of the cost of doint the job. Someone still has to buy the paint no matter what.

http://www.answers.com/topic/david-stockman
http://www.answers.com/main/ntquery?s=supply+side+economics&gwp=13

Dave 1028...formerly Dave says:

September 7th, 2006 at 6:20 pm

By the way Mark, kudos for the link to a detailed economics paper that 90% of the bloggers won’t read and can’t understand. Certainly, no one can challenge your facts if they are not
able to understand your supporting documentation.

I have a degree in Business, have taken advanced economic coursework, and I was barely able to follow it. I think you did that on purpose.

For those that don’t want to follow the link, there is an excerpt below from the conclusion to emphasize my point:

“In the process of determining the effect of differences in effective marginal labor tax rates on labor supply
across countries and time in the advanced industrial countries, I have estimated the elasticity of labor supply
and have found it to be large, nearly 3 when the fraction of time allocated to the market is in the neighborhood of the current U.S. level. This estimate of the elasticity is essentially the same one needed to account for business cycle fluctuations. That this elasticity is large is good news. If labor supply were inelastic, the advanced industrial countries would face a cruel choice of either increasing taxes on the young, thereby lowering young people’s welfare, or not honoring the promises made to the old, making the old worse off.”

Why Do Americans WorkSo Much More Than Europeans?
Edward C. Prescott
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Quarterly Review
Vol. 28, No. 1, July 2004, pp. 2–13

Mark says:

September 7th, 2006 at 7:47 pm

” don’t know where you were in the 80’s Mark, but anyone who lived through that BS of ‘trickle down economics’ can tell you that supply-siders are full of it.”

Then why do all major forecasting outlets use dynamic scoring when measuring the impacts of tax changes?

IF you lived through the 80′s then you also realize that the Philips Curve was broken.

If you do not know what the Philips Curve was it was a relationship between unemployment and inflation. If you wanted to reduce unemployment you increased deficit spending by borrowing/creating money with the impact that there would be more inflation. If you wanted to reduce inflation you contracted the money supply by selling bonds on the market and this had the impact of increasing unemployment.

The dominant Keynsian branch of economic theory maintained you could not reduce inflation and unemployment at the same time. There was no fiscal cure because of the Philips Curve relationship. These are the economist that Dave1028 is pointing out considered the Supply Side paradigm to be “bunk”. It cannot be done, they said. YOu cannot lower unemployment and lower inflation at the same time, they said.

So, what happened? Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States. When he inherited the job unemployment rates were 7.5% and rising fast. Mortgage interest rates were 14.90% and rapidly rising. Inflation was 12% and unstable.

When Ronald Reagan left office in 1989 the unemployment rate was 5.3%. Mortgage rates were 10.9% and declining and the rate of inflation was 5% and rapidly declining.

When confronted with a theory that says somethings will happen and they happen, it is not that outlandish to conclude that the theory, at least in general, must be correct.

You can claim that several additional factors happened or that the “Reagan Revolution” was just deep deficit Keynsianism (but how did the growth happen without massive inflation?) but what was predicted by the Supply SIders ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

Again, what the supply siders predicted would happen if Reagan was elected president ACTUALLY HAPPENED>

(I might also add that what Reagan predicted in foreign policy, especially in respect to the Evil Empire actually happened too, despite all of the critics who claimed it would lead to war or just a massive arms race.

Reagan predicted that if his tough policies and rearmament of the military happened that the Soviet Union would be destroyed. Despite the contrary claims of people like Teddy Kennedy (who was also wrong on the economic programs) it happened just the way it was predicted.)

Andre says:

September 7th, 2006 at 9:40 pm

This tax argument is so tiring. Let’s tax the rich (who already pay their share) and let others pay less or pay nothing.

Let’s simply have EVERYONE pay the same percentage or switch to a national sales tax. Everyone should pay taxes and it isn’t fair or ethical to make one class of people pay more than another.

Taxes on every level are out of control. Our government entities simply do not know how to manage money, nor do they even want to most of the time. They have an endless pit of money called taxes.

We need tax limits on the state & federal level.

We need term limits for legislators at the state & federal level.

We need to radically reform medicare/medicade, social security, education and our healthcare system.
These are the biggest drains on our resources.

We need to get government less involved in our lives and less involved in our financial matters.

Government has created most of our problems so why does anyone think they can get us out of them? They simply need to get out of the way and let us, the people (through ourselves and business), control our destiny.

We don’t need a national or state wide healthcare system. We need more competition in this market and less regulation. The government should maintain a very SMALL program for those very few people that would not be able to afford it that absolutely need it. Short of that the market would easily provide enough choices for people.

Public education is a huge problem. The federal Department of Education should be abolished and the states should be more in control. This being said, families should be able to educate their children how they see fit and not be forced to pay into a failing public system or a public system that a particular family may find curriculum inappropriate for their children. We are spending way too much on public education and it simply is not returning effective results.

Medicare/Medicade & Social Security are also HUGE programs that need reformed.

Our government simply can’t nor should it provide everything for everyone.

Our government entities are getting so far removed from what their actual roles are that our Founding Fathers would be sick if they saw what was happening.

I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating. Government only has those power explicitly granted to it by the people. All other powers reside with us. Those powers not explicitly granted to the federal government are given to the states. Those powers not explicitly given to our state governments are left with us, the people.

Government has no powers that we don’t grant it. We need to take some of those powers back. We also need to make sure everyone has a stake in the system by making everyone pay taxes.
If everyone paid taxes then more people would care if the rates went up or down. Along with this we need to eliminate the class warfare and make everyone pay equally.

These should not be hard concepts to understand.

This is suppose to be the land of the free and not the land of the repressed and highly taxed.

Also, remember that someone else making more money than you does not hurt you. Also, someone else paying more taxes than you does not help you. Maybe it will make you feel better but it does nothing to help or hurt you financially.

Government having more of anyone’s money just to have more of someone’s money isn’t a good thing. Anytime anyone can pay less taxes I’m happy for them and I’m not happy if someone else gets taxed more. Maybe I’m odd this way, but I simply can’t see why I should wish anyone pays more. It does nothing for me and simply hurts that person and gives our politicians more money to waste.

I hope you all reconsider some of your thoughts about why you feel some people should pay more. I think it may be a jealousy thing or simply being spiteful. You should be able to judge your own reasons for yourself.

One final note, remember, if you feel you are not paying enough taxes you are free to write a check to the government and give them more.

Please feel free to post if any of you actually have done this.

God Bless America

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 12:22 am

Andre,

Although I may be inclined to agree with what you present in theory the fact is that it does not make good politics.

School choice, for example, is an idea whose merits are almost impossible to argue against. Yet, the entrenched interest groups fight against it. These groups have been very succesful in creating a mythology about education and make it politically impossible to win on this issue.

For example, they will argue that the test scores for children involved in voucher programs or charter schools do not show improvements. Assuming this argument is correct (it is debatable)they ignore a basic fact, who cares. Test score improvement were not the only issue why a parent will choose to send their child to a school of their choice. Safety, cirriculum, values, discipline, uniforms, peers, and extra-cirricular activities all maybe factors in selecting a school.

Even Ronald Reagan had to prioritize his decision making to make what he considered (and I totally agree with him) to be the most important issues happen. Any Republican must. Voters now believe that they must get the federal dollars, the state dollars, and the local dollars. If you are a Congressman who has not brought a pork project back home for the constituents then what good are you?

In politics you must compromise on some issues, otherwise you will get nothing of your agenda.

MR says:

September 8th, 2006 at 8:12 am

I’ll just put one thing in here about the national debt.
It is a fact that the national debt will never be paid off entirely. It’s not going to happen. Unless we manage our money much worse than we are currently, we won’t default on it either (like the entirety of Latin America in the 1980s, but that’s a discussion for a different time).
My problem is that we pay such a large percentage of the federal budget simply for interest on our debt. The last figure that I heard was around 17% of the federal budget goes only to interest payments, and that was before the recent debt explosion. If the debt goes down by half, all of a sudden we have 9% more money to put into either tax cuts or useful programs.
I just don’t see why we’re throwing that money down a hole every year.

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 10:18 am

1. The reason why we are “throwing our money down a hole” on paying interest on the debt was because in years previous we had other “useful” programs to spend it on. That is the theory.

2. In 2005 net interest payments were 1.5% of GDP. This is very much in line with historical patterns. In the past 45 years the highest level of interest payments was 3.3%. Net interest payments through this period have always been more than 1.2% of GDP.

bsimon says:

September 8th, 2006 at 10:41 am

Strange how 1.5% of GDP doesn’t sound like much, but 17% of the Fed Budget does. There’s a valid question there; is spending 17% of the budget on debt service the wisest way we could be spending the money? Sure seems like (more than) 1 dollar of every 6 spent by the feds is a heck of a lot of money to be spending on interest. Particularly when we’re continuing to rack up the debt.

Another point that requires addressing is: what happens if the market for our bonds crashes? What if China stops loaning us money? I’m not in the chicken-little “the sky is falling” camp, but I’d also like a little more reassurance than “It’ll never happen – don’t worry about it.”

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 12:00 pm

The net interest paid out by the federal government is $184.0 billion. The total expenditures of the federal government is $2,472.2 billion dollars. Net interest paid to bond holders is 7.4% of the federal budget.

Again, the only way that you can answer the question of whether spending this money on interest is “wise” as bsimon asks or not is to consider this question:

Was what I borrowed money to spend yesterday a wise way of spending the money?

The only way to answer the original question is with the latter question. If the original spending was wise then we should not worry about the fact we are now paying interest on the moeny we borrowed to do it in the first place.

TO answer your chicken little questions, if that happens we will be forced to reduce spending and probably need to inflate the economy to pay for the excess loans.

Again, this is another reason why we need to thank Ronald Reagan. Reagans policies worked to kill the inflation beast of the 1970′s. (again, if you want to argue how and why that is another story, the fact is that inflation was essentially eliminated as a major economic problem for the last 20 years). With inflation killed interest rates have sunk to historical lows (my first home mortgage was at 9% intererest, my current is at 5%), Because of this these interest payments, in nominal terms at least, are half of what they would have been in the 1970s.

bsimon says:

September 8th, 2006 at 12:32 pm

I get some SPAM from time to time, from people claiming to be investment gurus. One from this morning claimed that cheap goods from China we the cause of the end of inflation. Concurrent with a drop in wages, a larger drop in cost of living – due in part to cheap imports – was the real reason the inflation beast died. An interesting theory, anyway. If true, it debunks another Reagan myth, the other being that he singlehandedly brought about the fall of the Soviet Union – a theory that ignores the efforts of Gorbachev on the other side. By the time Reagan demanded they “tear down this wall” the reforms were already well under way.

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 1:00 pm

1. Before there were cheap products from China there were cheap products from Japan. Lower prices of imports may have played a minor role, but inflation is almost exclusiely a monetary problem.

2. But the reforms were the result of the Soviet Union falling apart from the inside. They were not done because the Soviet politburo decided, HEY, lets liberalize. No, it was done because their country was crumbling.

Again, you can argue causes all you want. THe fact is that the Democrats belittled Reagan on both of these issues. THey said you could never tame inflation, lower unemployment, and have rapid growth at the same time. Not gonna happen….vooodoo economics (well, that was not a Democrat but George HW Bush) Voodoo or not, it did happen.

Further, you can argue causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union all you want. THe fact is that the Democrats belittled Reagan on this issue too. THe Soviets will just escalate the arms race they said. The scares of nuclear holocaust was on everyone’s mind. Nuclear FREEZE, that was a good one. No SDI, an even better one.

But the fact is everything that Reagan called for happened. YOu can talk about reform all you want, but when Reagan made the speech and demanded that they “tear down this wall” no one thought it would actually happen. The reforms you speak of, Peristoika and all of that were minor tweaks to the Soviet style of central planning, not the destruction of an Imperial power that occupied all of eastern Europe in a manner hostile to the United States.

bsimon says:

September 8th, 2006 at 1:43 pm

Sorry, you’ve not convinced me. As far as I can tell, trickle down economics don’t trickle down jack. Productivity is up, corporate profits are up, wages are essentially flat. Savings are negative. Yup, consumer spending was up in June, as was consumer debt. Bankruptcies are up – despite the new lender-protection legislation that makes it harder to declare bankruptcy. The whole house of cards will come crashing down, just like it did during Bush 41′s administration. Looks like, despite every effort to do otherwise, Bush 43 is going to share his father’s legacy of failure – only more so.

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 1:54 pm

Well, Bush 43 has already escaped his father’s legacy by being reelected.

I think history will treat Bush much more favorably than you think. Regardless of your anecdotal evidence, the economy is doing very well. I beleive the Bush foreign policy will play out very well too because in the end Iraq will be succesful.

Regardless, we live still live in the Reagan age. Bush I and Clinton tweaked tax rates a bit, but not anything substantial. THey knew that any major increases would have severe economic consequences. Low taxes, low inflation, low interest rates, and low unemployment.

Further, I can only say that the only real way to truly measure the US economy is to compare it to the other developed countries. Then we shine even more.

Like I said before, when Bill Clinton was president 4.7% unemployment was a wonderful thing. Now, it has problems. There are all kinds of anecdotal and qualitative issues that really makes 4.7 not that good.

MR says:

September 8th, 2006 at 2:37 pm

Mark, I don’t think that you can call the things that bsimon cited “anecdotal.” They may not be the economic indicators that you look at, but there are hard numbers backing up all of the things that he cited. Anecdotal would be saying that I lost my job when the Park Service had its funding cut (which is true), and therefore the economy is bad.

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 3:03 pm

“but there are hard numbers backing up all of the things that he cited”

Such as? Bankruptcies fluctuate. There really isnt a house of cards. This is a solid economy. Is it recession proof? No, but neither was the Clinton economy. The most recent recession started in 2000, when he was president.

Recent increases in the interest rates may indicate that we will have some slow down in the coming months, but a house of cards crashing down, I doubt it.

Like I said, this level of growth and employment was considered to be great in the Clinton era. Now it isnt. The bad economic worries are just that, worries.

bsimon says:

September 8th, 2006 at 3:25 pm

Worries, sure – who doesn’t put a pessimistic eye to the future when planning for one’s own economic security?

I’ll try to lay out my beef without getting too worked up. Some political leaders are trying to claim that we’re on solid economic ground, when we’re not. So far, we’re in a he-said, she-said deal. The Administration, for instance, points to economic growth numbers, productivity growth, etc and claims success, which also happens to (they say) be the result of their “economic stimulus plan.” Ok. Nobody’s disputing those numbers. The question is, what do you see when you look a little deeper? It would appear that only a small number of people are actually benefitting from the “strong, robust economy.”

Digging into the last couple years of growth, we see that much of the economy has been driven by the housing market. As homes have appreciated, people have collected their profits & spent the money, which has kept the market humming along nicely. People have been investing in real estate by buying 2nd or even 3rd+ homes, sometimes for speculative purposes. Now we see the housing market cooling off, a cooling which can’t necessarily be blamed on rising mortgage rates. I don’t have my fingers on the numbers, but they aren’t much higher than they were; they certainly aren’t high in historical terms – Mark mentioned a 9% mortgage, which, historically, isn’t the worst rate in the world. So, if the housing market is cooling, and wages are flat, what is going to keep the economy strong? From where will the growth come?

Calling the economy a “house of cards” was hyperbole, on my part. I freely admit that. But it is equally disingenuous to call this a “solid” economy. Consumer debt is up & without real estate equity to sop up that debt, people are seeing their budgets tighten; as interest rates go up, consumer capital is getting spent on interest, not on real goods and services. I don’t know what the result will be, but I have a hard time imagining that we’re about to ‘turn the corner’ economically and start seeing all this supply-side smoke and mirrors start trickling dollars down to the middle class.

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 3:31 pm

“all this supply-side smoke and mirrors start trickling dollars down to the middle class”

After 24 years of this kind of talk you would think we would have gone through something worse than the Great Depression somewhere in those two plus decades.

The Fed has been tightening interest rates for some time. I do not see any further tightening and they are in a good position that if there are signs of recession (and there are) they can ease back on money. With gas prices going down and productivity still there it should have limited inflatinary pressure.

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 3:41 pm

Further, let me ask you this question. With all of this terrible times the “middle class” has experienced would you rather live now or 30 years ago (same age). If you said 30 years ago you are crazy, crazy, crazy. The standard of living is way up. People are much better off.

Here is an interesting study on poverty. http://www.policyreview.org/138/eberstadt.html

bsimon says:

September 8th, 2006 at 3:42 pm

“After 24 years of this kind of talk you would think we would have gone through something worse than the Great Depression somewhere in those two plus decades. ”

That’s setting the bar a little low, isn’t it? Surely we can do better than merely avoiding another GD.

bsimon says:

September 8th, 2006 at 3:48 pm

Funny how you pick a recession for comparison purposes.

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 3:58 pm

But there has been enormous growth in the middle class living standard. That cannot be argued. Drive around the TC Metro area and look at all of the new home subdivisions built.

These houses have square footage and amenities that in 1980 your would have never thought possible. The level of entertainment technology and options dwarf what was available. In 1980 the number of people who did Spring Break and traveled was much more limited.

All of these measures are quatifiable. Read the url I mentioned above and look at the material gains made by the people below the poverty line. For example, in 1970 17.4 the poor lived in homes without adequate plumbing. Today, only 2.6% do. From 1980 to 2001 the number of square feet of living space for the poor has increase more than 30% and is almost equal to the median level in 1980.

In 1970 60% of the poor did not own a car. In 2001 75% of the poor people own vehicles, 14% of the poor households own two or more cars.

One important conclusion of this study is the disparity between reported consumption and income in low income households. In 1960 the reported household income in the lowest quintile was $9,613 (real 2002 dollars). In 2002 this had shrunk to $8316 (real 2002 dollars). But, in 1960 these groups reported spending $10,756 (real 2002 dollars). The lowest quintile of households report spending $19,061 (real 2002 dollars).

There are lot of reasons for this, but the important part is that the spending power of the lowest quintile has almost doubled and that this measure is much more important than the income measure when we are looking at standards of living.

bsimon says:

September 8th, 2006 at 4:23 pm

The Hoover Institution report looks to be taking a particular spin on the issue; I’ve not had the time to digest it fully, nor am I likely to. If you want to step out into different measures of quality of life though, why not start looking at incarceration rates & the like? Literacy rates? Education levels? Cuba, of all places, has lower infant mortality than we do. Surely there is room for improvement, even if billy-bob can park a newish pickup next to the camaro on blocks.

bsimon says:

September 8th, 2006 at 4:24 pm

P.S. Has the growth in the middle class standard of living kept up with the growth in the upper class standard of living?

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 5:25 pm

Incarceration rates are tied to crime and how crime is punished. Since the early 1980′s when the incarceration rates started to climb the rate of crime has plummeted. I think that speaks for a massive improvement in quality of life. Just ask the citizens of NYC.

As far as infant mortality rates, Cuba and the US are virtually the same. We are much higher in this respect than some European countries, but I am not sold on the measurements because I question if the statistics include all of the foreign born workers in these countries.

AS far as education levels there is a higher percentage of graduates than 30 years ago.

Is there room for improvement, you bet. The most pressing needs are

1. Better nutrition for children, especially the poor. The problem with poor children is that they are obese.

2. Better excercize for children….same comments as above.

And, about the relative standard of living between the upper and middle class. First, who cares. To each their own. Second, lets put it this way. The middle class of today lives like the upper and upper middle class did in the previous generation.

My parents were in between middle and upper middle class. The house I grew up in paled next to the house I bought at virtually the same age and same income levels (this is 1996 when I was 32. My childhood home was built in 1977 when my father was 34). My house had 600 more square feet. The jacuzzi tub in my master bathroom was about the size of my parents master bathroom. When you consider that at the time I had one child and my father had five children it only makes the difference all the larger.

THese results are typical. The rich have always been the rich.

Dave1028 says:

September 8th, 2006 at 5:42 pm

Mark, alot of the enormous growth in the middle class that has occurred can be directly attributed to a huge increase in two-earner houseolds. In the 70′s, you had primarily a single wage earner.

Dave1028 says:

September 8th, 2006 at 5:44 pm

How many hours did your mother work in 1977 in comparison to your wife in 1996?

Mark says:

September 8th, 2006 at 6:17 pm

Female labor participation has increased about 20% since 1975. My mother did work full time in 1977 but did not work full time for all of my childhood. There was also a major differenc between the educational and professional background of my wife and mother. My wife was college educated and working a mid level corporate job, as was I at the time. My mother was a secretary and was a HS graduate (as far as labor mobility goes, my mother makes $3.5 million dollars a year now, imagine that. Last year she paid over $1 million in taxes to the federal government).

Frankly, the contrast between lifestyles is even more exceptional if you look back in time. Some of the differences is centered around child rearing. I did not become a father until I was 28. My father at 21. When he was 28 he had 4 children.

But that only accounts for some of the difference.

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Looking back upon some earlier comments.

Mark,

I understand there is a lot of compromising to be done in politics from time to time but that doesn’t change the fact that people go into politics to affect change, not to keep the status quo. If you have good ideas, ideas that you feel strong about, ideas that you think will make a positive difference, then you fight for those and try to enact those ideas through public policy.

Getting back to school choice. This is something that needs to happen and people need to fight for it until it does and not simply sit on the sidelines and say “we all need to compromise”. If it is something you believe in then fight for it, make it happen. Get the totality of the idea enacted. Compromise can, and most certainly would be, needed to work out some of the details. That being said, it can and should be fought for until it is acheived.

I talk with people from all walks of life all the time about this issue and I would say an overwhelming majority of them agree that there should be major changes and more choice in education. I also hear from them that they simply don’t think it can be done because of the “powers” that be. I try to tell them they are the “powers”, they grant the power to the government. They are the government. If they want it, they can have it. I get tired of hearing people say that nothing can ever be done on this issue or a host of other issues. To me it just shows how lazy people are and also how uninformed many of them are.

I also talk with many high school & college age students. It is amazing what a lack of knowledge of history, economics, and civics they generally have. What are they learning in school today? Does anyone know?

Do we need more sports, arts, crafts, and foreign language classes? Another auditorium, sports facility, assistant principal, administrative clerical technician, or high paid superintendent?
Maybe another $50, $100 or $200 a month tacked on to each hard working family’s property taxes?

The fact is retired people, single people, and people who choose to not have children are getting soaked to pay for educations and school systems filled with waste for other people’s children.

How much money is enough? School districts will never have enough money.
They talk about “growth” and that is why the need money. If these communities are growing then why isn’t their tax base growing also without raising rates? These children have families that pay taxes. The per pupil expenditures are going up and not down.

The fact is our public education systems are failing us, taxing hard working families beyond what should be acceptable, wasting and mismanaging the revenues by not being able to prioritize and giving huge salary & benefit packages to the powerful teacher’s unions.

So, like I said earlier, if you truly think the system should change then fight for that and don’t stop until it happens. Don’t let the word “compromise” confuse you with victory. Win the battle for change first then compromise after otherwise nothing will ever change.

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