Slashing taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor will only widen the already large gap between the have-a-lots and the have-nots
Do you have a microwave? Maybe a cell phone? Or even--gasp!--air conditioning? Congratulations, you're not really poor, at least according to Romney adviser Kevin Hassett. And that's why we shouldn't worry about inequality -- or so the story goes.
The Occupy movement made inequality a political football the past year, but it's been a policy football for at least a few years. The debate between inequality skeptics and worriers has gone something like this. Income inequality hasn't gotten worse. Yes, it has. Well, what really matters is consumption inequality, and it hasn't gotten worse. Yes, it has. Well, what really, really matters is social mobility, and it hasn't gotten worse. Yes, it has. Well, social mobility might be overrated because rich people have better genes. Really.
That sound you hear is the goalposts getting moved again and again. And now it's Kevin Hassett's turn to try moving them. He starts by denying that income inequality is quite as bad as economists Thomas Picketty and Emmanuel Saez have measured, because they didn't include transfer payments. That might be damning, if the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) hadn't corroborated Picketty and Saez's results even after taxes and transfers. According to the CBO, incomes for the top 1 percent increased 275 percent since 1979, while incomes for the middle 60 percent only increased 40 percent.
Next up in the inequality denial two-step is the claim that consumption inequality hasn't increased as much as income inequality -- not that Hassett thinks income inequality has increased! In other words, the rich getting richer hasn't translated into them buying more stuff than middle and low-income households. There were actually a few studies arguing this back in the mid-aughts -- see this Dirk Krueger and Fabrizio Perri paper -- but recent research has challenged this. A 2012 paper by Orazio Attanasio, Erik Hurst and Luigi Pistaferri corrected for measurement problems in the consumption survey economists use, and found that consumption and income inequality have more or less tracked each other, as the charts below show.
Okay, here's the big question -- so what? So what both if consumption and income inequality have shot up the past few decades? What does it matter for Romney's economic agenda? Nothing, except for the fact that Romney's tax plan is a huge tax cut for the rich and Romney's budget is a huge cut for the poor. The latter gets less attention, but Romney would cut Medicaid by about $1.7 trillion, and his spending cap couldn't help but cut programs like food stamps, unemployment insurance and education by roughly 30 percent. In other words, it would pour some gasoline on inequality, and then shoot a rocket at it.
Even if you think inequality isn't an economic problem -- which it very well may be -- it's certainly a political and social one. An even wider chasm between the have-a-lots, the haves, and the have-nots risks a backlash against all sorts of policies, like free trade, that politicians and economists from both sides of the aisle agree on.
Inequality is real, and it has real consequences. Romney's agenda would make inequality bad enough that even he and his advisers could no longer deny it. And that's saying something.
An etiquette update: Brevity is the highest virtue.
I recently cut the amount of time I spent on email by almost half, and I think a lot of people could do the same.
I’m sure my approach has made some people hate me, because I come off curt. But if everyone thought about email in the same way, what I’m suggesting wouldn’t be rude. Here are the basic guidelines that are working for me and, so, I propose for all of the world to adopt immediately:
Best? Cheers? Thanks?
None of the above. You can write your name if it feels too naked or abrupt not to have something down there. But it shouldn’t, and it wouldn’t if it were the norm.
Don’t waste time considering if “Dear,” or “Hey” or “[name]!” is appropriate. Just get right into it. Write the recipient’s name if you must. But most people already know their names. Like they already know your name.
Despite prohibitions on American companies doing business in Cuba, the Trump Organization appears to have made a couple forays onto the island.
The candidate of “law and order” sure seems to play fast and loose with the rules when it concerns himself.
Despite longstanding prohibitions on Americans doing business with Cuba, installed as part of the decades-long embargo on that country, the Trump Organization seems to have been quietly, and according to two reports illegally, conducting business on the island for some time.
In July, BusinessWeek’s Jesse Drucker and Stephen Wicary reported on the Trump Organization’s forays into golf-course planning in Cuba. While travel to Cuba has opened up recently, travel is still restricted to a few categories, of which golf is not one. Drucker and Wicary report:
Trump Organization executives and advisers traveled to Havana in late 2012 or early 2013, according to two people familiar with the discussions that took place in Cuba and who spoke on condition of anonymity. Among the company’s more important visitors to Cuba have been Larry Glick, Trump’s executive vice president for strategic development, who oversees golf, and Edward Russo, Trump’s environmental consultant for golf.
CHICAGO—It was Nordstrom’s anniversary sale, and Marnie couldn’t help herself. She ran to the shoe display, and, with a swooping bear hug, grabbed up an entire row of gemstone-hued Nikes.
Marnie is a self-identified hoarder, and she was here as part of an intervention of sorts. As she compulsively shopped, looking on were a group of other hoarders and psychologists.
Within seconds, Marnie had laced up a navy-blue pair of sneakers. A sales clerk wandered over. “Can I help you?” she asked, suspiciously.
The shopping expedition took place during the annual conference of the International OCD Foundation this July. Hoarding is one of the many manifestations of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a mental illness that forces its sufferers to perform specific rituals or think disturbing thoughts repeatedly. In the case of hoarding, it’s the uncontrollable desire to acquire and keep things.
All the nominee had to do at the first debate was appear polite and reasonable for 90 minutes. He failed.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.—Before this week’s first presidential debate, it was common for Donald Trump’s television surrogates to predict it would echo the sole 1980 encounter between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
It turned out, to borrow from another famous debate moment, Donald Trump was no Ronald Reagan.
On the surface, the analogy appeared reasonable. Like Hillary Clinton today, Carter in 1980 bet most of his chips on personally disqualifying Reagan. Carter painted his opponent as unqualified, ill-informed, extreme, and dangerous—an aging entertainer who might trigger a nuclear war through ignorance and belligerence.
For months, enough voters feared Carter might be right to keep him close in the polls, despite enormous dissatisfaction with his job performance. But when Reagan in the debate presented himself as composed, reasonable, and genial (swatting away even accurate Carter recitations of his most outrageous earlier statements with a jaunty “There you go again”) the doubts softened, Carter’s support crumbled, and the Gipper rolled to a landslide.
After Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, he was asked on Fox News about his views on NATO and other American alliances. He gave his familiar “they’re freeloaders” answer:
The fact is we are protecting so many countries that are not paying for the protection. When a country isn’t paying us and these are countries in some cases in most cases that have the ability to pay, and they are not paying because nobody is asking….
We’re protecting all of these countries. They have an agreement to reimburse us and pay us and they are not doing it and if they are not going to do that. We have to seriously rethink at least those countries. It’s very unfair.
In a unique, home-spun experiment, researchers found that centripetal force could help people pass kidney stones—before they become a serious health-care cost.
East Lansing, Michigan, becomes a ghost town during spring break. Families head south, often to the theme parks in Orlando. A week later, the Midwesterners return sunburned and bereft of disposable income, and, urological surgeon David Wartinger noticed, some also come home with fewer kidney stones.
Wartinger is a professor emeritus at Michigan State, where he has dealt for decades with the scourge of kidney stones, which affect around one in 10 people at some point in life. Most are small, and they pass through us without issue. But many linger in our kidneys and grow, sending hundreds of thousands of people to emergency rooms and costing around $3.8 billion every year in treatment and extraction. The pain of passing a larger stone is often compared to child birth.
They were given the same 120 minutes. But each network presented them its own way.
A presidential debate never really ends. For weeks—until the next matchup—cable news keeps the top clips on rotation, replaying the zingers and goof-ups. (I expect to see Hillary Clinton’s Shaq-like shoulder shimmy about a zillion times before this election concludes.) And what’s wrong with that? A debate is America’s rare chance to compare the candidates head-to-head. Each appearance is worth chewing over.
But if cable-news recaps constitute part of our collective short-term political memory, it’s interesting to see which clips they choose to spotlight—and how their choices vary by network.
For months, the Political TV Ad Archive, a project of the Internet Archive, has faithfully logged when campaign commercials air in key media markets. How they manage to track them is pretty neat: Their software builds an audio fingerprint of each campaign advertisement, then listens for that distinctive waveform on live broadcasts. Using the same technology, the group launched a side project this week, monitoring how clips from Monday’s debate have reappeared on the major news networks.
A new study looks at rates of lethal violence across a thousand species to better understand the evolutionary origins of humanity’s own inhumanity.
Which mammal is most likely to be murdered by its own kind? It’s certainly not humans—not even close. Nor is it a top predator like the grey wolf or lion, although those at least are #11 and #9 in the league table of murdery mammals. No, according to a study led by José María Gómez from the University of Granada, the top spot goes to… the meerkat. These endearing black-masked creatures might be famous for their cooperative ways, but they kill each other at a rate that makes man’s inhumanity to man look meek. Almost one in five meerkats, mostly youngsters, lose their lives at the paws and jaws of their peers.
Gómez’s study is the first thorough survey of violence in the mammal world, collating data on more than a thousand species. It clearly shows that we humans are not alone in our capacity to kill each other. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, have been known to wage brutal war, but even apparently peaceful creatures take each other’s lives. When ranked according to their rates of lethal violence, ground squirrels, wild horses, gazelle, and deer all feature in the top 50. So do long-tailed chinchillas, which kill each other more frequently than tigers and bears do.
America likes the idea of the self-made man, the man who starts his own business, pulls himself out of obscurity, and becomes a success.
Over time, some Americans have started to believe that a self-made man should also be a selfish man. That a millionaire shouldn’t pay taxes because they’ll only be “squandered,” that a smart businessman roots for the economy to collapse so he can buy real estate cheaply, that taxes on business should be lowered so the wealthy can do better. In much of America, that attitude is regarded as an important component of how a self-made man succeeds—applauded, because it’s thought to be a sign of the vigor of America.
But plenty of millionaires feel differently. Some contest the notion of a self-made man altogether, arguing that anyone successful has relied on government spending—infrastructure, an educated workforce, enforceable contracts—to make their mark. Some of them even believe that paying more taxes and investing in public services is the way to more prosperity—for everyone. “What I’m talking about is what policies will not just help me personally, but that I think will be good for our country and my kids' generation,” Morris Pearl, a former managing director at the investment fund BlackRock, told me. He added, “I don’t want to live in a country where a few people do amazingly well and everyone else does poorly, because anyone, including me and my kids, may end up not being one of the winners.”