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.
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 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.
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.
Don’t expect Hillary Clinton to stay above the fray in the general election—her campaign plans “sustained and brutal attacks” on Donald Trump.
As they look ahead to the general election, some commentators envision a campaign in which Donald Trump attacks viciously and Hillary Clinton makes a virtue of her refusal to stoop to his level. “I think Trump’s method will be to turn on the insult comedy against Hillary Clinton,” declared GOP consultant Mike Murphy earlier this week. “Her big judo move is playing the victim.” Vox’s Ezra Klein speculated earlier this year that “Trump sets up Clinton for a much softer and unifying message than she’d be able to get away with against a candidate like [Marco] Rubio.”
I doubt it will play out that way. Rope-a-dope isn’t Clinton’s style. When facing political threats, her pattern has been to strike first—and with great force.
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?
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.
Is it a coup or isn’t it? Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff claims the impeachment proceedings against her, which have now progressed from the lower house of Congress to the upper house, have “no legal foundation” and “all the features of a coup.” Vice President Michel Temer, who would succeed Rousseff if the Senate votes to remove her from office, says the process is constitutional and not a coup at all.
“I’m very worried about the president’s intention to say that Brazil is some minor republic where coups are carried out,” Temer recently toldThe New York Times. Crying coup has consequences when you’re leading one of the largest economies and democracies in the world.
But these days, straight-up coups are rarely carried out in any republic, minor or major. According to data gathered from 1950 through 2015 by the political scientists Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne, there have been no more than three successful coups per year in the 21st century. In the 1960s, that number got as high as 12.
Even as the militant group loses ground in Iraq, many Sunnis say they have no hope for peace. One family’s story shows why.
Falah Sabar heard a knock at the door. It was just before midnight in western Baghdad last April and Falah was already in bed, so he sent his son Wissam to answer. Standing in the doorway was a tall young man in jeans who neither shook Wissam’s hand nor offered a greeting. “We don’t want you here,” he said. “Your family should be gone by noon tomorrow.” For weeks, Wissam, who was 23, had been expecting something like this, as he’d noticed a dark mood taking hold of the neighborhood. He went to get his father, but when they returned, the stranger was gone.
Falah is tall and broad-shouldered, with salt-and-pepper hair. At 48, he was the patriarch of a brood of sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. He sat down with Wissam to talk things through. They had been in Baghdad for just three months, but that was long enough for the abiding principle of refugee life to imprint itself on Falah’s psyche: Avoid trouble. When Wissam had managed to find a job at a construction firm, Falah had told him to be courteous, not to mix with strangers, and not to ask too many questions. If providence had granted them a new life in this unfamiliar city, it could snatch that life away just as easily.