The rumored grand bargain would cost the economy about half a million jobs in 2013
Are you ready for a grand bargain? A deficit hawk party! Yes? No? Maybe? (Is this John Boehner?).
With the deadline for the fiscal cliff -- which is really more of a slope -- looming, President Obama and House Republicans have reportedly come close on an agreement that would kick most of the fiscal can. Well, they did for a few hours at least. It didn't take long for Boehner to walk back his support for the plan, but that hardly means it's dead. If there is a grand-ish bargain to be had, it will probably look something like this latest iteration of a deal.
As Ezra Klein reported, the deal comes in three parts: revenue, cuts, and stimulus. Let's break it down, and then break down what it means for jobs in the coming year.
REVENUE. Let the Bush tax cuts expire for households with adjusted gross incomes of $400,000 or more, and limit the value of itemized deductions to 28 percent. In other words, set tax rates for the top 1 percent back to where they were under President Clinton, and stop richer households from taking bigger deductions than middle-class households. All told, it raises a little more than $1 trillion in revenue over the next decade relative to a world where all of the Bush tax cuts continue. As Paul Krugman points out, it's unclear whether this includes the higher taxes on capital gains and dividends scheduled to kick in on January 1, 2013 -- on top of the 3.8 percent Obamacare surtax on capital gains.
Taxes would also go up from switching to chained CPI. As my colleague Derek Thompson explained, chained CPI is an alternative (and perhaps more accurate) measure of inflation that assumes consumers substitute to similar, lower-priced goods when other prices rise. In other words, it says inflation is lower. Tax brackets are indexed to inflation, so a lower measure of inflation means they will rise less -- and more people will creep into these higher brackets. It adds up to about $60-90 billion over ten years.
CUTS. Say hello to chained CPI again. It's not just a tax hike. It's a Social Security cut too. Remember, Social Security benefits are indexed to inflation as well, so the logic of a lower measure of inflation kicks in here too -- benefits will rise slower than they otherwise would have, with the compounded effect hitting older retirees the worst. It's about a $100-200 billion cut over a ten-year window. Congress is supposed to negotiate on another $1 trillion or so of cuts, and if they cannot agree on them there will be -- wait for it! -- a new sequester in the future. Because the last one worked so well.
STIMULUS. Extend unemployment insurance and the refundable tax credits from the stimulus, but not the payroll tax cut. There's also some new, albeit unspecified, infrastructure spending thrown in.
There are a lot of moving parts here, but only three of these moving parts will matter in 2013: the end of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, the end of the payroll tax cut, and new infrastructure spending. In other words, it's unlikely any of the cuts will hit the economy next year. The can known as the sequester would get kicked for another year or so -- unless, haha, Congress can agree to other, immediate cuts -- and chained CPI will be the same as CPI-W in 2013. That leaves the three aforementioned changes -- changes that add up to about a half million less jobs in 2013 than if there was no fiscal cliff at all, as you can see in the chart below. The payroll tax cut is a political orphan in need of a champion.
The Cliff Notes version of why this deal would cost us 500,000 jobs next year is it sucks more money out of the economy than it puts back in. Let's look at it piece-by-piece.
Bush tax cuts for the rich expire. Less money for the rich means less money for the rich to spend. But the rich are different from you and me -- they tend to have money left over after they buy the things they want. In other words, they spend less of their incomes, so a tax hike on them doesn't hurt demand as much as a tax hike on the middle-class would (as we shall see). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) figures higher taxes on higher earners would subtract about 200,000 jobs next year.
Payroll tax cut ends. Less money for everybody means less money for everybody to spend. That's what the payroll tax, which, remember, hits the middle-class harder than it does the rich, does. But it gets worse. A higher payroll tax means a higher cost of hiring and that means less hiring. A lot less hiring. Working backwards from thesetwo CBO reports shows it means about half a million less jobs in 2013. As the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) points out, it's almost twice as stimulative as the Bush tax cuts for the rich, at similar costs. Spending the $115 billion to extend it another year would be money well spent.
Infrastructure. This is where things get admittedly speculative. We don't even know how much infrastructure spending both sides have talked about, let alone what kind of projects, but we can make some informed guesses. President Obama has asked for $50 billion of new infrastructure spending before, which he probably wouldn't get, but we'll use here as a best-case. If we take former Vice Presidential economic adviser and current CBPP fellow Jared Bernstein's rule of thumb that every $1 billion of construction or repair spending adds roughly 9,000-10,000 jobs, and then assume that this new spending would come in over two years, that gives us about 250,000 new jobs in 2013. Again, this is a pretty generous estimate.
As far as can-kicking goes, this ain't too shabby. The CBO figures that the fiscal cliff will cost us 3.4 million jobs next year if Congress does nothing; suddenly, half a million less sounds okay. But Washington can do better. It just needs to go over the fiscal cliff first.
Right now, Obama is offering lower revenues than he originally asked for and entitlement cuts for more stimulus -- and he's not even getting all of the stimulus! It's all because of the baseline illusion. As long as the Bush tax cuts are around, Boehner can claim he's the one offering concessions on revenues by saying he'll raise them at all. It's a silly argument, but it's a silly argument that goes away after January 1, when tax rates automatically go up. Then, Democrats can push a bill that cuts middle-class taxes and cuts deductions for the rich -- the $1.6 trillion from Obama's first offer -- and tell Republicans they have a choice. They can either get less revenue or less entitlement spending, but not both, and in return they have to sign off on all of the stimulus -- extended unemployment insurance, the payroll tax cut, and infrastructure spending. They could even set up a commission -- or a supercommittee, if they're feeling bold -- to cut spending in a year's time, with a new sequester to incentivize them to find cuts.
It's a deal that would bring our medium-term budget closer to balance, without costing the economy in the short-term. Now that would be grand.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The drug modafinil was recently found to enhance cognition in healthy people. Should you take it to get a raise?
If you could take a pill that will make you better at your job, with few or no negative consequences, would you do it?
In a meta-analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School concluded that a drug called modafinil, which is typically used to treat sleep disorders, is a cognitive enhancer. Essentially, it can help normal people think better.
Out of all cognitive processes, modafinil was found to improve decision-making and planning the most in the 24 studies the authors reviewed. Some of the studies also showed gains in flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty. The drug didn’t seem to influence creativity either way.
All of the downsides of being a subordinate, combined with all of the downsides of having to tell people to do things they don't want to do.
When researchers try to determine the types of workers who are most prone to depression, the focus is usually on the misery of those at the bottomof a company’s hierarchy—the presumed stressors being the menial duties they're tasked with and their lack of say in defining the scope of their jobs.
But it turns out that middle managers have it worse. In a new study from researchers at Columbia University, of nearly 22,000 full-time workers (from a dataset from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions), they saw that 18 percent of supervisors and managers reported symptoms of depression. For blue-collar workers, that figure was 12 percent, and for owners and executives, it was only 11 percent.
Four and a half years of violent conflict have destroyed entire regions of Syria. Caught in the middle of all this horror are the children of Syria, relying on parents who have lost control of their own lives and are now being forced to make difficult choices in desperate circumstances.
Four and a half years of violent conflict have destroyed entire regions of Syria. Neighborhoods have been smashed by shelling and government barrel bombs, and towns have been seized by rebels and ISIS militants, then retaken by government troops, killing hundreds of thousands and injuring even more. The United Nations now estimates that more than 4 million Syrians have become refugees, forced to flee to neighboring countries or Europe. Caught in the middle of all this horror are the children of Syria, relying on parents who have lost control of their own lives and are now being forced to make difficult choices in desperate circumstances. Though many families remain in Syria’s war zones, thousands of others are taking dangerous measures to escape, evading militias, government forces, border guards, predatory traffickers, and more, as they struggle to reach safety far from home.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
A new study shows that the field suffers from a reproducibility problem, but the extent of the issue is still hard to nail down.
No one is entirely clear on how Brian Nosek pulled it off, including Nosek himself. Over the last three years, the psychologist from the University of Virginia persuaded some 270 of his peers to channel their free time into repeating 100 published psychological experiments to see if they could get the same results a second time around. There would be no glory, no empirical eurekas, no breaking of fresh ground. Instead, this initiative—the Reproducibility Project—would be the first big systematic attempt to answer questions that have been vexing psychologists for years, if not decades. What proportion of results in their field are reliable?
It is not too late to strengthen the Iran deal, a prominent critic says.
It appears likely, as of this writing, that Barack Obama will be victorious in his fight to implement the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his secretary of state, John Kerry. Republicans in Congress don’t appear to have the votes necessary to void the agreement, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to subvert Obama may be remembered as one of the more counterproductive and shortsighted acts of an Israeli prime minister since the rebirth of the Jewish state 67 years ago.
Things could change, of course, and the Iranian regime, which is populated in good part by extremists, fundamentalist theocrats, and supporters of terrorism, could do something monumentally stupid in the coming weeks that could force on-the-fence Democrats to side with their Republican adversaries (remember the Café Milano fiasco, anyone?). But, generally speaking, the Obama administration, and its European allies, seem to have a clearer path to implementation than they had at the beginning of the month.
But no tale of posthumous success is quite as spectacular as that of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the “cosmic horror” writer who died in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1937 at the age of 46. The circumstances of Lovecraft’s final years were as bleak as anyone’s. He ate expired canned food and wrote to a friend, “I was never closer to the bread-line.” He never saw his stories collectively published in book form, and, before succumbing to intestinal cancer, he wrote, “I have no illusions concerning the precarious status of my tales, and do not expect to become a serious competitor of my favorite weird authors.” Among the last words the author uttered were, “Sometimes the pain is unbearable.” His obituary in the Providence Evening Bulletin was “full of errors large and small,” according to his biographer.
Yanis Varoufakis on Grexit, the media, and economics
When Yanis Varoufakis was elected to parliament and then named as Greek finance minister in January, he embarked on an extraordinary seven months of negotiations with the country’s creditors and its European partners.
On July 6, Greek voters backed his hardline stance in a referendum, with a resounding 62 percent voting No to the European Union’s ultimatum. On that night, he resigned, after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, fearful of an ugly exit from the euro zone, decided to go against the popular verdict. Since then, the governing party, Syriza, has splintered and a snap election has been called. Varoufakis remains a member of parliament and a prominent voice in Greek and European politics.
In the United States and Israel, a heated debate about whether to accept the nuclear deal with Iran continues. In the rest of the world, Iran’s reintegration is already underway.
The survival of the Iran deal seems more likely by the day; for past assessments of what that might mean for the Middle East, the United States, and beyond, please see the items grouped here.
Two weeks ago, as part of a collection of notes from readers in Israel, I quoted Samuel J. Cohen, who is originally American but has lived and worked in Israel since the 1970s, on the possibility that “Obama and Netanyahu are both right.” That is: President Obama is right that ending Iran’s pariah status will overall be good for the United States, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is right that the same change may be overall bad for Israel, even if Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. Thus the interests of the two nations genuinely diverge.