Repackaging the Bush agenda, just with austerity, is not the path to prosperity.
Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard apparently has a very short memory.
In a Wall Street Journalop-ed making the case for Romney's economic agenda, Hubbard presents a strikingly ahistorical account of the past few years -- not to mention sprinkling in one big questionable assumption. Let's take a tour of some of the lowlights.
"We are currently in the most anemic economic recovery in the memory of most Americans."
Does the memory of most Americans go back a decade? If it does, then they can remember a more anemic recovery -- at least when it comes to jobs. The post-2001 recovery had the slowest job growth of any postwar recovery. It also had the slowest private sector growth of any postwar recovery. It's puzzling that Hubbard doesn't remember this, considering that he was the chair of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors from 2001 to 2003.
Now, the economy did grow faster then than it has now. But that's because the government grew as much as it did then; it's shrinking now. Really. So why does this weak recovery feel weaker than that weak recovery? Well, the tech bubble recession was much milder than the housing bubble recession -- in other words, we're in a deeper hole this time around. All else equal, we would expect a better recovery from a worse recession, but all else is not equal. As Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff has shown with over 800 years of data, recoveries from financial crises are long, slow slogs. It's doubtful that recycling Bush-era policies will get us out of this ditch faster. It didn't ten years ago.
"[U]ncertainty over policy--particularly over tax and regulatory policy--slowed the recovery and limited job creation. One recent study by Scott Baker and Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University and Steven Davis of the University of Chicago found that this uncertainty reduced GDP by 1.4% in 2011 alone."
Well, that certainly sounds bad. When did all of this uncertainty peak? Let's look at the paper. August of 2011. Hmmm. What happened in August of 2011? Oh, that's right. The debt ceiling debacle. Why don't we let the authors speak for themselves. Here's why they said uncertainty was so elevated in 2011:
A series of later developments and policy fights - including the debt- ceiling dispute between Republicans and Democrats in the summer of 2011, and ongoing banking and sovereign debt crises in the Eurozone area - kept economic policy uncertainty at very high levels throughout 2011.
In other words, a debt crisis the Republicans manufactured and a debt crisis the Europeans manufactured drove uncertainty in 2011. Granted, tax uncertainty has been bad -- but so has monetary policy uncertainty. And have you noticed what we haven't talked about yet? The authors conclude that healthcare and financial regulation uncertainty were "much less pronounced" than all of the above questions.
And according to the Congressional Budget Office, the large deficits codified in the president's budget would reduce GDP during 2018-2022 by between 0.5% and 2.2% compared to what would occur under current law. [...]
The governor's plan would reduce federal spending as a share of GDP to 20%--its pre-crisis average--by 2016. This would dramatically reduce policy uncertainty over the need for future tax increases, thus increasing business and consumer confidence. [...]
The Romney plan would reduce individual marginal income tax rates across the board by 20%, while keeping current low tax rates on dividends and capital gains. The governor would also reduce the corporate income tax rate--the highest in the world--to 25%. In addition, he would broaden the tax base to ensure that tax reform is revenue-neutral.
Hubbard says that 1) Medium-run deficits are bad for medium-run growth, 2) Romney will cut public spending, which will increase private spending, and 3) Romney will lower tax rates and eliminate tax loopholes while keeping tax revenues the same. Individually, these might make sense. Together, they're the economic equivalent of saying two plus two equals five.
Let's unpack this fiscal mess. Romney wants to cut taxes, but he also wants to cut medium-run deficits too. That's a problem. His answer: He won't cut taxes, but tax rates -- while cutting spending too. But this creates new problems. For one, it means his tax plan will raise taxes on the bottom 95 percent, while cutting them for the top 5 percent. For another, it leaves Romney stuck embracing spending cuts that will hurt the economy.
Expansionary austerity is a myth, at least in the short-term. That was the conclusion the IMF reached in a 2011 paper that examined 173 cases of fiscal retrenchment over the past 30 years. On average, cutting the deficit by 1 percent of GDP led to a 0.5 percentage point increase in unemployment -- with private spending falling in tandem with public spending. Austerity can work over the longer-term, as long as interest rates or the currency falls to offset the fall in government spending. But interest rates are already at zero, and Republicans aren't too keen about quantitative easing or that whole "dollar depreciation" thing. That leaves the Romney camp with one final reason why cutting government spending would lead to more spending overall: Ricardian equivalence. It's the idea that the private sector spends less when the public sector borrows more, because households know that eventually the government will have to raise taxes to pay for that borrowing. The empirical evidence on this is mixed -- after all, few households 1) know enough about the deficit to predict what will happen to their taxes, or 2) have enough disposable income or access to borrowing to smooth their lifetime spending. That's not to say that there isn't something to it, but that it's a flimsy hope for the catch-up growth we need.
I don't mean to pick on Glenn Hubbard. He has plenty of good ideas about how to get the economy moving again -- like mass refinancing for mortgages owned by Fannie and Freddie. But repackaging the Bush agenda, just updated with austerity, is not the path to prosperity.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Home,” the second episode of the sixth season.
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz will be discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners are being made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
For some, abandoning expensive urban centers would be a huge financial relief.
Neal Gabler has been a formative writer for me: His Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity was one of the books that led me to think about leaving scholarship behind and write nonfiction instead, and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was the first book I reviewed as a freelance writer. To me, he exemplifies the best mix of intensive archival research and narrative kick.
So reading his recent essay, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans," was a gut punch: First, I learned about a role model of mine whose talent, in my opinion, should preclude him from financial woes. And, then, I was socked by narcissistic outrage: I, too, struggle with money! I, too, am a failing middle-class American! I, too, am a writer of nonfiction who should be better compensated!
The team, which had 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the English Premier League, has pulled off the biggest upset in sports history.
Much to everyone’s disbelief, the Leicester City soccer club was crowned the champion of the English Premier League Monday.
The team’s chances last summer were small, to say the least. Back then, William Hill, a British betting group, put the odds of the Foxes of Leicester City, a fledgling team based two hours north of London, of winning at 5,000-to-1. Essentially, the team had a .0002 percent chance of being the best team in the league of 20. Except for the 25 people who bet a combined total of just $243 on the team through William Hill, no one expected this from Leicester City.
Here’s some perspective: William Hill once put the odds of Elvis being found alive and well at 2,000-to-1 and an acknowledgment by the U.S. government that the first moon landing was faked at 500-to-1.
The newly discovered worlds are now the most promising targets in the search for life among the stars—and the race to take a closer look at them has begun.
The robot telescope settles on its target, a star that sits closer than all but a tiny fraction of the tens of billions of stellar systems that make up the Milky Way. Its mirror grabs light for 55 seconds, again and again. The robot telescope—called TRAPPIST—will observe the star for 245 hours across sixty-two nights, making 12,295 measurements. Eleven times, it will see the star dim, ever so slightly. This dip in luminosity, called a transit, has a straightforward astronomical explanation: It’s a planet passing in front of the star, blocking just a bit of its light. In this case, the transits tell us that 3 planets orbit the star.
“So what?” you might think.
Astronomers have been spotting planets around distant stars for years now, using the transit method, among others. Not a month goes by without a headline, touting the discovery of new “exoplanets.” But these planets are different, and not only because they’re near. Like the Earth these planets could potentially permit liquid water to persist on their surfaces—which is thought to be a key pre-condition for the emergence of life. Today, when their discovery is published in Nature, they will instantly become the most promising planets yet found in the search for life among the stars.
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.