James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

WH econ adviser: Job market is really bad

Oct 20, 2009 17:57 UTC

Listened to an interesting talk today by Jared Bernstein, chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, at a New America think-tank conference on job creation. A few observations:

1) If Bernstein’s talk was any indication, don’t look for much public celebration by the White House if we get some good 3Q and 4Q GDP numbers. As he put it, “Absent robust job growth, it is not a true economic recovery.” He stressed this point several times. I don’t even think you will hear an administration official use the word “recovery” in 2009.

2)  Bernstein trotted out several interesting slides — which I am hoping to get hold of — that displayed the severity of the job market’s woes. It really seems like the big problem is not so much layoffs as it is a lack of hiring. Thus the high numbers of long-term unemployed.

3)  He didn’t hint at much appetite for the grander second stimulus ideas like a job investment tax credit. (CBO would probably score such a plan as costing $75 billion a year or so, according to an earlier speaker.)


Nice. The American citizen is the engine that drives our economy and they put all of the gas in the trunk. None of the money is where it should be. No corporation ever needed a bail out. It was the citizen that should have been guarded from financial danger, not the corporations or the banks.

But the leaders we elected to serve the INTERESTS OF THE CITIZEN instead chose to serve the interest of the business sector. And this they do under flimsy excuse that it would be “good for the people” to save the sector that has been bleeding the people dry.

They care for profit and interest. They care nothing for your families and loved ones. They care nothing for your future. They only care about money.

Washington is a joke.

America’s banana republic economy

Oct 20, 2009 13:57 UTC

Is the decline in the dollar merely a “return to normalcy” story, as many bulls contend, and not a harbinger of a coming currency crisis?

Short version: The 2008 financial crisis and ensuing collapse in confidence drove investors to dollars and dollar-based instruments. And as the crisis has ebbed, investors are rebalancing back toward riskier assets.

Thus the falling dollar should rightly be interpreted as a sign of “new economic optimism,” argues JPMorgan Chase economist Jim Glassman.

Then again, perhaps future economic historians will look back at this stage of the dollar’s decline as the currency calm before the storm. Because at some point, investors may suddenly realize that America’s already somewhat devalued currency should not be trusted.

As Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican and noted budget hawk, said recently, “We’re basically on the path to a banana-republic type of financial situation in this country … You can’t keep throwing debt on top of debt.”

Indeed, the evidence points to a nation fairly far along that path. Healthcare reform is supposed to be deficit neutral — everything paid for via spending cuts or tax increases — while also helping bring government’s overall long-term budget into balance.

But to keep the 10-year price tag under $900 billion, Democrats have quietly shunted $247 billion in spending for Medicare physician payments into a separate bill. And no effort is being made to pay for it.

Just as egregious, though less expensive, is the Obama administration’s $14 billion plan to send a $250 “stimulus” check to 57 million American Social Security recipients in lieu of an annual cost-of-living increase.

See, a 5.8 percent COLA increase was paid last January to compensate for a 5.8 percent jump in consumer inflation driven by surging oil prices in 2008. Then oil prices and inflation collapsed.

“In effect, a COLA was paid on inflation that no longer existed,” notes Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute.

So even though none of this makes seniors essentially any worse off, Uncle Sucker is still going to cut them a check.

Two examples — one ridiculously expensive, one just ridiculous. But both reveal a nation completely unwilling to deal with current trillion-dollar deficits or long-term shortfalls many multiples of that number.

What confidence should dollar investors have that America will really cut entitlement spending? Very little. Instead, we are more likely to see huge tax increases that could cripple productivity, or further dollar neglect, or a central bank that turns dovish on inflation. Or perhaps all three.

If Washington doesn’t care to support the dollar, why should investors?


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Stealing from Social Security to pay for healthcare reform

Oct 20, 2009 13:53 UTC

Does BaucusCare raid Social Security to pay for healthcare reform? Sure seems like, according to Andrew Biggs of AEI:

Baucus’s plan purportedly would improve the budget balance by $81 billion from 2010 through 2019, and in 2019 itself would cut the deficit by $12 billion. … CBO breaks down the Baucus plan’s budgetary effects into those occurring “on budget” (where the substantive policy changes are) and those “off budget” (meaning through the Social Security program). The Baucus plan’s on-budget provisions would reduce the ten-year budget deficit by a tiny $1 billion and in 2019 would increase borrowing by $6 billion. …

Meanwhile, the Baucus plan’s fiscal skullduggery takes place off-budget. Social Security revenues would increase by $80 billion over ten years, with an $18 billon increase in 2019 alone. Around 3 million individuals would leave employer-sponsored health coverage — which is exempt from taxes — to purchase insurance through a subsidized “exchange.” Leaving employer-sponsored coverage would raise workers’ taxable wages and thereby boost Social Security revenues. Millions more would trade a portion of their insurance benefits for higher wages to avoid a new tax on high-cost policies. By skimming the new Social Security taxes, the Baucus plan appears to significantly cut the deficit when, in truth, it balances only by the skin of its teeth.

This is perhaps the clearest example of “raiding the trust fund” on record.  …  The plan does not simply rely on existing Social Security surpluses but creates new ones to offset higher spending on health coverage. Without new Social Security revenues the plan would not balance and, if the president is to be believed, would face a presidential veto. It’s that simple: no new Social Security taxes, no new spending.

Healthcare math doesn’t work

Oct 20, 2009 13:36 UTC

Ed Yardeni runs the numbers:

Nominal GDP rose at a compounded rate of 4.2% from 1999-2009. It isn’t likely to grow any faster over the next 10-20 years. However, extrapolating the same growth rate of per capita retirement spending (5.1%) and adding the higher projected growth of the senior population (3.0%) suggests that social welfare outlays might grow by 8%. That’s significantly higher than the likely growth of nominal GDP (say 5%). Since the tax base can’t grow faster than nominal GDP on a sustainable basis, something has to give on the per capita spending side.

I’m not sure how we are going to pay for the welfare needs of all the Baby Boom seniors. The only logical solution is to continue to extend the retirement age for beneficiaries. Bismarck invented social security and picked 65 as the retirement age figuring that few Prussians would live that long. Retirement is a rather modern concept. In the not too distant past, people worked until they couldn’t, and then passed away soon after. Now we are living into our 70s, 80s, and even 90s.

US Chamber of Commerce and climate change

Oct 20, 2009 13:33 UTC

OK, here is the USCOC’s basic position on climate change from recent congressional testimony:

The Chamber supports the goals of the Committee to lower concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, become more energy efficient, and incentivize “green” energy technologies. The Chamber does not categorically support or oppose approaches such as cap and trade or carbon tax, but rather measures all climate legislation on a bill-by-bill basis against five core principles: any legislation or regulation introduced must (1) preserve American jobs and competitiveness of U.S. industry; (2) provide an international solution that includes developing nations; (3) promote accelerated development and deployment of greenhouse gas reduction technology; (4) reduce barriers to the development of climate-friendly energy sources; and (5) promote energy conservation and efficiency.

Me: One reason so many news organizations got suckered by yesterday’s phony press release is that it seemed pretty plausible that the Chamber would come out in favor of a carbon tax.  Plenty of pro-market folks have come out in favor of such a plan, especially if it was revenue neutral, perhaps offsetting payroll taxes.