Mitt Romney says his new tax plan adds up. It doesn't. It means higher taxes for the poor, huge tax cuts for the rich, and huge deficits. Call him George W. Romney.
Well, of course Romney's new tax numbers don't add up.
Romney's plan has gone through several iterations, but through it all the the basic contours and basic impracticality have stayed the same. As I have described it before, Romney's plan is a three-legged stool that doesn't stand. He wants to 1) cut tax rates by 20 percent across the board; 2) fully pay for these tax rate cuts by cutting tax expenditures; and 3) cut taxes for the middle class without reducing the tax burden of the rich.
This is all kinds of impossible. For one, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center pointed out there aren't enough tax expenditures for the rich to pay for Romney's tax rate cuts for the rich -- in other words, his plan couldn't help but reduce high-end taxes. Romney would have to either abandon his tax cuts for the rich, raise taxes on the middle class, or explode the deficit. The latter seemed most likely given Romney's refusal to name a single expenditure he would eliminate -- although he had previously hinted at a few -- before he switched tacks. Romney's new plan is to cap household expenditures rather than cut specific expenditures. He's floated several versions of this plan, but at the second debate he said he would limit households to $25,000 of deductions and credits. It's a very clever idea. It would spare Romney from the, ahem, taxing battle with special-interest groups over which expenditures get the ax and which don't. But it's not so clever that it makes Romney's tax plan work. Nothing short of suspending the rules of arithmetic can do that.
Meet the new Romney tax plan, same as the old Romney tax plan. It's a massive tax cut for the rich, a small tax cut for the middle class, and a tax hike for the poor. That adds up to mega-deficits. How mega? Well, the Tax Policy Center calculates Romney's $25,000 cap would raise about $1.3 trillion over a decade -- against almost $5 trillion in tax cuts over that period. And remember, that's a $3.7 trillion hole relative to a world with the Bush tax cuts. It's an almost $8 trillion dollar hole compared to a world with Bill Clinton-level taxes.
Here's what this means for households. Combining this table showing the revenue gains with this table gives us, my apologies, what might be the world's least helpful graph that shows the average tax cut each income group would receive under the Romney plan. If you're far-sighted, it's a $150 hike for the bottom quintile, a $722 cut for the middle quintile, and a $496,115 cut for the top 0.1 percent.
Here's a slightly more useful version of the same chart that excludes the top 10 percent of households.
There are three big stories here. First, Romney's plan actually hurts low-income households, because it lets the tax credits from the stimulus, which were renewed in 2010, expire. These credits, all of which are at least partially refundable, include expansions of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. Second, Romney's across the board 20 percent rate cuts help higher earners more, because their rates are higher to begin with -- in other words, 20 percent of 35 percent is more than 20 percent of 25 percent. And third, capping deductions hits higher earners hardest, but it doesn't hurt them nearly as much as the rate cuts help them. Still, it's worth emphasizing just how progressive capping itemized deductions would be by itself. The chart below looks at what percent of the overall revenue gained from a $25,000 cap would come from each income group. Over half of the $1.3 trillion the cap would raise would come from the top 1 percent, and 81.7 percent of it from the top 10 percent.
This gets at the fundamental contradiction of Romney's tax plan. He can't raise enough revenue without raising taxes on the middle class, which he has promised not to do. Now, his deduction cap should be a shrewd way to make it all work. The cap raises money mostly from higher income households, because those households take more itemized deductions and those deductions are worth more to them due to their higher tax brackets. Romney's problem is his tax cuts are far too deep to make this math -- or any math! -- work. Even if he set the cap at zero -- that is, eliminated itemized deductions altogether -- the numbers would not come close to adding up. The Tax Policy Center calculates zeroing out all deductions would only generate around $2 trillion over a decade under Romney's plan. That would leave Romney with a big, fat $3 trillion hole -- which, remember, is actually a $3.7 trillion hole when we use his actual plan.
And that leaves us with one caveat and one question. The caveat is the Tax Policy Center only looked at deductions, and not credits, for the $25,000 cap. As Bob Williams of the Tax Policy Center explained to me, deductions and credits are apples and oranges -- deductions reduce taxable income according to tax rates and credits reduce taxable income directly. They can't be combined. The question is what Romney would do about his $3.7 trillion revenue gap. Kevin Hassett, one of his economic advisers, suggested Romney might back off his high-end tax rate cuts, but the campaign quickly dismissed this, as did Romney himself when he was asked about it point-blank during the second debate. Now we're down to doors two and three -- either Romney expands his cap to include tax exclusions or he expands the deficit by a cool $3.7 trillion. I'll give you one guess which looks more likely. Romney has already ruled out including the biggest exclusion, employer healthcare, under his cap -- which means forfeiting the $2 trillion in revenue doing so would raise over the next decade. Romney could include the exclusion for pension contributions -- think IRAs and 401(k)s -- or the exclusion of capital gains on death, but doing so would violate his promise to preserve the preferences for savings and investment. We're running out of big exclusions. In other words, Romney's plan to pay for his tax cuts is not to pay for his tax cuts.
In the final analysis, Romney's tax plan means higher taxes for the poor, huge tax cuts for the rich, and huge deficits. Who does that remind you of? It sounds like George W. Bush, only if George W. Bush thought the 47 percent were a bunch of lucky duckies.
Compassionate conservatism is out. Severe conservatism is in.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
By announcing the first detection of gravitational waves, scientists have vindicated Einstein and given humans a new way to look at the universe.
More than a billion years ago, in a galaxy that sits more than a billion light-years away, two black holes spiraled together and collided. We can’t see this collision, but we know it happened because, as Albert Einstein predicted a century ago, gravitational waves rippled out from it and traveled across the universe to an ultra-sensitive detector here on Earth.
This discovery, announced today by researchers with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), marks another triumph for Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And more importantly, it marks the beginning of a new era in the study of the universe: the advent of gravitational-wave astronomy. The universe has just become a much more interesting place.
A maverick investor is buying up water rights. Will he rescue a region, or just end up hurting the poor?
On a brisk, cloudless day last january, Disque Deane Jr. stepped out of his SUV, kicked his cowboy boots in the dirt, and looked around. He had driven two hours from Reno on one of the loneliest stretches of interstate in the United States to visit the Diamond S Ranch, just outside the town of Winnemucca, Nevada. Before him, open fields stretched all the way to the Santa Rosa mountains, 30 miles away. But the land was barren. The fields had been chewed down to the roots by cattle, and the ranch’s equipment had been stripped for parts. A steel trestle bridge lay pitched into the Humboldt River.
Surveying the dilapidated structures and the gopher-riddled soil, Deane saw something few others might: potential. The ranch and an adjoining property, totaling about 11,400 acres—14 times the size of Central Park—were for sale for $10.5 million, and he was thinking about buying them.
The hit new indie release is the opposite of action-packed, yet it’s compelling in its simplicity.
Solitude, it turns out, can be addictive. So I learned playing the new hit indie game Firewatch, where all the action amounts to you, the player, being alone in the woods. You’re a lookout assigned to a summer posting in the Shoshone National Forest of Wyoming in 1989, meaning your job consists of nothing more than wandering around, clearing brush, and calling in any fires you might spot. Most video games equip you with tools and weapons, complex missions, and action sequences. All Firewatch gives you is a map, a compass, and a walkie-talkie—but it’s still one of the most compelling video games I’ve ever played.
It’s the latest in a quiet movement of video games, more psychological products that tap into the atmosphere and wonder of loneliness rather than looking for the simpler thrills the medium usually provides. It’s tempting to trace this trend’s origins back to Minecraft, which launched in 2009 and became a worldwide phenomenon on the back of its extraordinary simplicity. But in Minecraft, you start armed only with your bare hands in a world of monsters, and can eventually upgrade into a city-builder armed with powerful tools. Firewatch is a more intimate affair: a short story, playable over a few hours, that succeeds first and foremost as an emotional experience.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?
Once it was because they weren’t as well educated. What’s holding them back now?
Though headway has been made in bringing women’s wages more in line with men’s in the past several decades, that convergence seems to have stalled in more recent years. To help determine why, Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, the authors of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research parse data on wages and occupations from 1980 to 2010. They find that as more women attended and graduated college and headed into the working world, education and professional experience levels stopped playing a significant role in the the difference between men and women’s wages. Whatever remains of the discrepancy can’t be explained by women not having basic skills and credentials. So what does explain it?
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Why the Syrian war—and the future of Europe—may hinge on one city
This week, the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian-supported militias including Hezbollah, launched a major offensive to encircle rebel strongholds in the northern city of Aleppo, choking off one of the last two secure routes connecting the city to Turkey and closing in on the second. This would cut supplies not only to a core of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but also to the city’s 300,000 remaining civilians, who may soon find themselves besieged like hundreds of thousands of others in the country. In response, 50,000 civilians have fled Aleppo for the Turkish border, where the border crossing is currently closed. An unnamed U.S. defense official toldThe Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef that “the war is essentially over” if Assad manages to seize and hold Aleppo.
If Bernie Sanders is serious about a political transformation in America, he needs a better plan.
If there’s one thing that fires up Bernie Sanders supporters—and makes his detractors roll their eyes—it’s his call for a “political revolution.” To his base, it’s the very point of his anti-establishment, anti-elite candidacy. To his critics, it’s the very embodiment of his campaign’s naïve impracticality and vagueness.
But now that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have spoken, it’s time to take the idea of political revolution more seriously—more seriously, indeed, than Sanders himself appears to have. It’s time to ask: What exactly would it take?
It starts with Congress. And here it’s instructive to compare Sanders and Donald Trump. Both rely on broad, satisfying refrains of “We’re gonna”: We’re gonna break up the big banks. We’re gonna make Mexico build the wall. We’re gonna end the rule of Wall Street billionaires. We’re gonna make China stop ripping us off.