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.
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
The past is beautiful until you’re reminded it’s ugly.
Taylor Swift’s music video for “Wildest Dreams” isn’t about the world as it exists; it’s about the world as seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment. In the song, Swift sings that she wants to live on in an ex’s memory as an idealized image of glamour—“standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset.” In the video, her character, an actress, falls in love with her already-coupled costar, for whom she’ll live on as an idealized image of glamour—standing in a nice dress, staring at a giant fan that’s making the fabric swirl in the wind.
The setting for the most part is Africa, but, again, the video isn’t about Africa as it exists, but as it’s seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment—a very particular nostalgia and kind of entertainment. Though set in 1950, the video is in the literary and cinematic tradition of white savannah romances, the most important recent incarnation of which might be the 1985 Meryl Streep film Out of Africa, whose story begins in 1913. Its familiarity is part of its appeal, and also part of why it’s now drawing flack for being insensitive. As James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa write at NPR:
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.
A Brooklyn-based group is arguing that the displacement of longtime residents meets a definition conceived by the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II.
No one will be surprised to learn that the campaign to build a national movement against gentrification is being waged out of an office in Brooklyn, New York.
For years, the borough’s name has been virtually synonymous with gentrification, and on no street in Brooklyn are its effects more evident than on Atlantic Avenue, where, earlier this summer, a local bodega protesting its impending departure in the face of a rent hike, put up sarcastic window signs advertising “Bushwick baked vegan cat food” and “artisanal roach bombs.”
Just down the block from that bodega are the headquarters of Right to the City, a national alliance of community-based organizations that since 2007 has made it its mission to fight “gentrification and the displacement of low-income people of color.” For too long, organizers with the alliance say, people who otherwise profess concern for the poor have tended to view gentrification as a mere annoyance, as though its harmful effects extended no further than the hassles of putting up with pretentious baristas and overpriced lattes. Changing this perception is the first order of business for Right to the City: Gentrification, as these organizers see it, is a human-rights violation.
But letting customers buy their own would force cable companies to improve their equipment.
One of the least glamorous realities of the American cable industry is a relic invented in 1948: the cable box. The box has become a fixture in the American household, not least because it is surprisingly profitable. Earlier this year, a U.S. Senate study found that American households pay $231 a year on average renting cable boxes. Further, the report estimated that 99 percent of cable customers rented their equipment, and, across the country, that added up to a $19.5 billion industry just renting cable boxes.
The senators who commissioned the study, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, noted that this dependable rental revenue gave the industry little incentive to innovate and make better cable boxes. Which begs a really good question: Why aren’t more people purchasing their cable boxes?
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
Though it wasn’t pretty, Minaj was really teaching a lesson in civility.
Nicki Minaj didn’t, in the end, say much to Miley Cyrus at all. If you only read the comments that lit up the Internet at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, you might think she was kidding, or got cut off, when she “called out” the former Disney star who was hosting: “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”
To summarize: When Minaj’s “Anaconda” won the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, she took to the stage in a slow shuffle, shook her booty with presenter Rebel Wilson, and then gave an acceptance speech in which she switched vocal personas as amusingly as she does in her best raps—street-preacher-like when telling women “don’t you be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys”; sweetness and light when thanking her fans and pastor. Then a wave of nausea seemed to come over her, and she turned her gaze toward Cyrus. To me, the look on her face, not the words that she said, was the news of the night:
Why haven’t more challengers entered the race to defeat the Iraq War hawk, Patriot Act supporter, and close friend of big finance?
As Hillary Clinton loses ground to Bernie Sanders in Iowa, where her lead shrinks by the day, it’s worth noticing that she has never made particular sense as the Democratic Party’s nominee. She may be more electable than her social-democratic rival from Vermont, but plenty of Democrats are better positioned to represent the center-left coalition. Why have they let the former secretary of state keep them out of the race? If Clinton makes it to the general election, I understand why most Democrats will support her. She shares their views on issues as varied as preserving Obamacare, abortion rights, extending legal status to undocumented workers, strengthening labor unions, and imposing a carbon tax to slow climate change.
How the Islamic State uses economic persecution as a recruitment tactic
Before Islamic State militants overran her hometown of Mosul in June 2014, Fahima Omar ran a hairdressing salon. But ISIS gunmen made Omar close her business—and lose her only source of income. Salons like hers encouraged “debauchery,” the militants said.
Omar is one of many business owners—male and female—who say ISIS has forced them to shut up shop and lose their livelihoods in the process. The extremist group has also prevented those who refuse to join it from finding jobs, and has imposed heavy taxes on civilians.
“ISIS controls every detail of the economy,” says Abu Mujahed, who fled with his family from ISIS-controlled Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. “Only their people or those who swear allegiance to them have a good life.” When they took over Deir al-Zor, ISIS gunmen systematically took control of the local economy, looting factories and confiscating properties, says Mujahed. Then they moved in, taking over local business networks.