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.
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.
Two scholars discuss the ups and downs of life as a right-leaning professor.
“I don’t think I can say it too strongly, but literally it just changed my life,” said a scholar, about reading the work of Ayn Rand. “It was like this awakening for me.”
Different versions of this comment appear throughout Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr.’s book on conservative professors, Passing on the Right, usually about people like Milton Friedman and John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Hayek. The scholars they interviewed speak in a dreamy way about these nerdy celebrities, perhaps imagining an alternate academic universe—one where social scientists can be freely conservative.
The assumption that most college campuses lean left is so widespread in American culture that it has almost become a caricature: intellectuals in thick-rimmed glasses preaching Marxism on idyllic grassy quads; students protesting minor infractions against political correctness; raging professors trying to prove that God is, in fact, dead. Studies about professors’ political beliefs and voting behavior suggest this assumption is at least somewhat correct. But Shields and Dunn set out to investigate a more nuanced question: For the minority of professors who are cultural and political conservatives, what’s life actually like?
The president’s unique approach to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will surely be missed.
No U.S. President has been a better comedian than Barack Obama. It’s really that simple.
Now that doesn’t mean that some modern-day presidents couldn’t tell a joke. John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton excelled at it. But Obama has transformed the way presidents use comedy—not just engaging in self-deprecation or playfully teasing his rivals, but turning his barbed wit on his opponents.
He puts that approach on display every year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This annual tradition, which began in 1921 when 50 journalists (all men) gathered in Washington D.C., has become a showcase for each president’s comedy chops. Some presidents have been bad, some have been good. Obama has been the best. He’s truly the killer comedian in chief.
After the successful Allied invasions of western France, Germany gathered reserve forces and launched a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes, which collapsed by January. At the same time, Soviet forces were closing in from the east, invading Poland and East Prussia. By March, Western Allied forces were crossing the Rhine River, capturing hundreds of thousands of troops from Germany's Army Group B. The Red Army had meanwhile entered Austria, and both fronts quickly approached Berlin. Strategic bombing campaigns by Allied aircraft were pounding German territory, sometimes destroying entire cities in a night. In the first several months of 1945, Germany put up a fierce defense, but rapidly lost territory, ran out of supplies, and exhausted its options. In April, Allied forces pushed through the German defensive line in Italy. East met West on the River Elbe on April 25, 1945, when Soviet and American troops met near Torgau, Germany. Then came the end of the Third Reich, as the Soviets took Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, and Germany surrendered unconditionally on all fronts on May 8 (May 7 on the Western Front). Hitler's planned "Thousand-Year Reich" lasted only 12 incredibly destructive years. (This entry is Part 17 of a weekly
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?
“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.
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.
Why thyroid diseases are so common—and still so mysterious
When I first suspected I was suffering from hypothyroidism, I did what any anxious, Internet-connected person would do and Googled "dysfunctional thyroid symptoms," and, in another tab, "hypothyroid thinning hair??" for good measure.
What came up sounded like someone describing me for an intimately detailed police sketch:
heightened sensitivity to cold
unexplained weight gain
a pale, puffy face ("Finally, a medical explanation for this," I thought.)
This, combined with the fact that a close family member had recently been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, sent me scurrying to the nearest endocrinologist's office. They took a blood test, and two weeks later the results came back. Sure enough, the doctor said solemnly, I had hypothyroidism, which meant my thyroid was under-active. She would be starting me on thyroid medication. She couldn't know for sure, but I might have to take drugs for the rest of my life.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.
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.