Daily Digest - January 13: A Tax Plan to Fight Inequality

Jan 13, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Democrats, in a Stark Shift in Messaging, to Make Big Tax-Break Pitch for Middle Class (WaPo)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Democrats, in a Stark Shift in Messaging, to Make Big Tax-Break Pitch for Middle Class (WaPo)

Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane explain Rep. Chris Van Hollen's proposal, which is being pitched as the Democrats' "action plan" for fighting income inequality.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz also promotes tax reform as a way reach broadly shared prosperity in this white paper.

Congress's Financial Plan for 2015: Curb Your Enthusiasm (The Guardian)

Siri Srinivas looks at the legislation that is likely to reach the House floor in 2015, and explains how Republican control of the Senate will impact this year's agenda.

Elizabeth Warren Wins on Antonio Weiss Nomination (Politico)

Ben White reports that Weiss has asked the president not to resubmit his nomination, instead accepting a position in Treasury that doesn't require Senate confirmation and carries less authority.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Brad Miller argued that Weiss's nomination was indicative of a larger anti-democratic approach to economic policy.

The House Is Set to Pass a GOP Bill Wiping Out Wall Street Reforms (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger explains how the legislation, expected to pass this week, would weaken key provisions of Dodd-Frank, including delaying the Volcker Rule and weakening transparency rules.

Labor at a Crossroads: Can Broadened Civil Rights Law Offer Workers a True Right to Organize? (TAP)

Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit explain why individual-focused civil rights law can and should be used on behalf of union organizing to promote the collective welfare of all workers.

Investors Shift Bets on Fed Rate Increase (WSJ)

Min Zeng writes that current market patterns indicate that investors think the Federal Reserve is going to hold off on increasing interest rates for longer than was initially planned.

New on Next New Deal

Van Hollen Tax Proposal An Economic and Political Home Run

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch praises Van Hollen's plan for forcing Republicans to admit that they are supporting Wall Street over working-class families.

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Van Hollen Tax Proposal An Economic and Political Home Run

Jan 12, 2015Richard Kirsch

By forcing Republicans to admit their support for Wall Street over working families, Van Hollen's proposal opens the economic debate the Democrats need.

By forcing Republicans to admit their support for Wall Street over working families, Van Hollen's proposal opens the economic debate the Democrats need.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD) proposal to tax Wall Street speculators and CEO millionaires to put money in the pockets of working families and the middle class, the engines of our economy, is a political and economic home run. It allows Democrats to focus on economic growth and fairness at the same time, sharply defining the debate on the key question voters ask: “Which side are you on?”

Leading politicians from both parties are all expressing sympathy for the stagnant prospects of the middle class. If you need evidence, here is Jeb Bush sounding like Elizabeth Warren: “Millions of our fellow citizens across the broad middle class feel as if the American Dream is now out of their reach … that the playing field is no longer fair or level.”

Where the two parties split – and where the core debate that will define the next two years and the 2016 election lies – is on who is to blame and what to do about it.

Americans believe we need economic growth, but they are more likely to place the blame for stagnant wages on the super-rich and powerful who game the system at their expense. That is why they told pollsters they prefer “an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy” over “growing the economy” by 22 points.

Van Hollen claims both grounds – growth and fairness. As he says, “What our country needs is a growing economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

The heart of the plan is providing a $1,000 tax credit for workers, phased out as income rises, along with an additional $250 tax credit when workers save. He would pay for that by taxing Wall Street speculation (with a tiny financial transactions tax) and closing loopholes that allow millionaires to pay lower taxes than average people.

It’s clear that this is great politics: taxing Wall Street gambling and the super-rich to put more money in the pockets of working families and the middle class.

Republicans tell another story, placing the blame for middle-class woes on government and focusing on lowering taxes and cutting government regulation to grow the economy. In opposing the Van Hollen proposal, they are forced to defend the wealthy and deny tax breaks to the middle-class, as we saw from Speaker John Boehner’s spokesperson's comment opposing the Van Hollen plan.

This is the economic argument Democrats want to have. Republicans say we grow the economy by taking the side of the Wall Street banks that wrecked the economy and the corporate CEOs who cut our wages and shipped our jobs overseas. Democrats say we move the economy forward by putting more money in the pockets of working families and the middle class.

Van Hollen adds another proposal, which is also brilliant politics and sharp economics. He would not allow corporations to get tax breaks for million-dollar executive pay unless they shared the rewards of soaring corporate profits with their workers. Van Hollen accomplishes this by proposing to end corporate tax deductions for executive compensation of over $1 million, unless the corporation’s wages are raised enough to keep up with worker productivity and the cost of living. Another way that corporations could deduct higher executive pay is by providing employees with ownership and profit-sharing opportunities.

With this proposal, Van Hollen puts the focus squarely on the corporate behavior that has driven down wages and crushed middle-class aspirations. His proposal would boost worker income, which drives the economy forward. When Republicans oppose this, the choice will again be clear to Americans: CEO millionaires or working families.

As Van Hollen recognizes, his proposal is not the complete solution to creating an economy of broadly shared, sustainable prosperity. He recognizes the need to raise wages and job standards, which directly turn today’s low-wage, economy busting jobs into economy boosting jobs. He reinforces the necessity of investment in infrastructure, research and education.

It will be important to do all these things. We need to raise wage standards and strengthen the ability of workers to organize, to make sure that every job pays enough to care and support a family in dignity. It is essential that we make huge investments in transportation, clean energy, communications, and research to build a powerful economic foundation for the future. That investment will take revenues, which can be raised from closing corporate loopholes, raising tax rates on the wealthy, or other progressive tax measures. We can also discuss whether some of the revenues Van Hollen raises would be better spent on infrastructure rather than tax breaks for upper-middle income people.

Simplicity is key to political communication. In its simplest terms, Van Hollen is saying that we drive the economy forward by putting money in the pockets of working families and the middle-class, not Wall Street and the super wealthy. And then his proposal invites Americans to ask their elected officials: “which side are you on?”

If Democrats around the country are willing to stand up to their big campaign contributors and ask that question with such a powerful proposal in 2016, they will triumph. And in triumphing, they will move the country toward an America that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - January 12: Free Community College is Simpler Than Financial Aid

Jan 12, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Did Obama Just Introduce a ‘Public Option’ for Higher Education? (The Nation)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Did Obama Just Introduce a ‘Public Option’ for Higher Education? (The Nation)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal says free community college for all would be easier to run and more popular than means-tested financial aid models like Pell Grants.

Why Is the Financial Industry So Afraid of This Man? (Salon)

Sean McElwee and Lenore Palladino say blocking Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz from an advisory panel is just one sign of the financial industry's influence over its regulators.

December Caps Off a Year of Strong Job Growth But Stagnant Wages (Working Economics)

Elise Gould looks at the 2014 data and says that while the numbers are mostly positive, it's concerning that at this rate, we won't reach pre-recession labor market health until August 2017.

There's An Awful Side to the Jobs Report (Business Insider)

Shane Ferro says that while the December jobs report was largely good, the drop in average hourly earnings is a sign of trouble, especially with basically flat wage growth since early 2010.

Kicking Dodd-Frank in the Teeth (NYT)

Gretchen Morgenson breaks down the details of a Republican bill that claims to make "technical corrections" to Dodd-Frank, but would actually seriously weaken financial reform.

As White House Defends Unions, States Go on the Attack (AJAM)

Republican midterm victories at the state level will mean more anti-union "right to work" laws and other policies that weaken the labor movement, writes Ned Resnikoff.

New on Next New Deal

Can Community College Systems and Infrastructure Handle Free Tuition?

Rachel Kanakaole, New Chapters Coordinator for the Western Region of the Campus Network, questions whether community colleges can handle the increased enrollment that will come with free tuition.

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Can Community College Systems and Infrastructure Handle Free Tuition?

Jan 9, 2015Rachel Kanakaole

The President's proposal for free tuition is exciting, but some parts of the plan may need revision if community colleges are going to be able to execute it.

“We don’t expect the country to be transformed overnight, but we do expect this conversation to begin tomorrow.”

The President's proposal for free tuition is exciting, but some parts of the plan may need revision if community colleges are going to be able to execute it.

“We don’t expect the country to be transformed overnight, but we do expect this conversation to begin tomorrow.”

The conversation President Obama’s domestic policy chief, Cecilia Munoz, is referring to is one that we are all familiar with: access to quality education. This extended conversation, which continued today with the president's speech at Pellissippi Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, includes President Obama’s new proposal to make the first two years of community college completely free for students looking to transfer, or to get an associates degree or technical job training.

The president’s proposal, America’s College Promise, is looking to build a shared responsibility between the federal government, states, colleges. and students across the country to reexamine and reinvest in our education systems. Modeled after similar plans currently being adopted by states such as Tennessee, community colleges offering programs that fully transfer, or provide a degree or job training would be eligible for funding from the federal government to help make tuition free for students. The program would apply to half- and full-time students who maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA and make “steady progress” towards their goals. What exactly “steady progress” means remains to be clearly defined, along with many other details, such as where the federal funding will come from. President Obama says he will release those details in his State of the Union address on January 20.

Even without all of the specifics, I can say that as a current community college student, access to and affordability of classes is crucial in determining whether or not I will graduate in a timely manner. However, it is not solely lack of money that hinders us students from being able to complete a program in two years, but a combination of multiple infrastructural issues such as course offerings, classroom space, and most importantly, proper guidance to navigate the complex systems that are the basis of the college itself. America’s College Promise is not only aiming to provide the always-needed financial assistance, but also requiring colleges to adopt “promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes,” such as the successful Accelerated Student in Associates Program (ASAP) at the City University of New York.  Programs such as ASAP provide much needed resources such as guidance, counseling, and schedule planning, which are all crucial components to graduating on time.

The Obama administration believes adopting research-backed programs, like ASAP, nationwide, will provide students with the additional help needed to successfully complete their education in two years. While in theory, the blanket adoption of specific programs such as these would benefit some students in some states, it most likely would not benefit all students in all states. Take my campus, San Bernardino Valley College, which is located in the bankrupt city of San Bernardino in Southern California. What works for the population in Knoxville, Tennessee will not necessarily address the needs of students 2,000 miles across the country that are from very different economic, social, and cultural backgrounds. It could also add extra pressure on already stressed community college systems by forcing college administrators, faculty members, and students to learn and navigate yet another assistance program on campus. It seems redundant to force a community college that already has counseling services, academic advisors, and multiple assistance programs of their own to adopt additional programs, instead of encouraging better technical and skills training for those already employed on their campuses in areas such as counseling, advising, and educational planning. Many schools already provide the pathways for that type of guidance and counseling to occur, they just need to be reexamined and reinvigorated instead of ignored and replaced.

Another major question this proposal brings up is one of capacity. Again, using my community college as an example, with close to 13,000 students enrolled full-time, classroom space is already extremely limited, financially and physically. Schools would be pressured to create additional course offerings to accomodate higher enrollment, which is already an issue colleges across the country have had great difficulty with.

So, can America’s College Promise truly be fulfilled? I believe so, but not until a few critical components are reexamined and rewritten. The intention is there, but thankfully this is not a final proposal and is continuing to undergo development.

Rachel Kanakaole is the Chapter Head of the San Bernardino Valley Community College chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and one of the New Chapters Coordinator for the Western Region.

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On President Obama's Community College Plan and Public Options

Jan 9, 2015Mike Konczal

Looks like a smart plan he announced yesterday. I wrote about it, and public options more generally, here at The Nation. I hope you check it out!

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

Looks like a smart plan he announced yesterday. I wrote about it, and public options more generally, here at The Nation. I hope you check it out!

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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Daily Digest - January 9: Charity and Government Are Not Interchangeable

Jan 9, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Mike Konczal and David Beito Debate Charity vs. Government (Stossel)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal counters right-wing arguments that charity can take the place of government in protecting social welfare.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Mike Konczal and David Beito Debate Charity vs. Government (Stossel)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal counters right-wing arguments that charity can take the place of government in protecting social welfare.

  • Roosevelt Take: Mike explained his argument on the "voluntarism fantasy" in greater depth in Democracy last year.

Europe’s Lapse of Reason (Project Syndicate)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz says that even as Europeans elect new leaders in their countries, their governments continue on a failed path of austerity, which must change.

House Democrats Swiftly Kill a Quiet Republican Plot to Protect Wall Street (The Guardian)

David Dayen says the work to stop this Republican anti-financial reform bill package demonstrates the Democratic strategy of making these economic fights very public.

Obama Plan Would Help Many Go to Community College Free (NYT)

The president's proposal would cover tuition for full- and half-time students who maintain a 2.5 GPA, report Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Tamar Lewin. It's a hard sell with a Republican Congress.

This Boehner/McConnell Obamacare 'Fix' Could Hurt Millions of Americans (LA Times)

Michael Hiltzik says readers shouldn't believe a GOP-authored op-ed's claims about changing the definition of full-time work under Obamacare. It's really a handout to employers.

America’s Workplaces Are Hostile to Families (The Nation)

Michelle Chen explores the ways that American employers make it difficult for workers to have children, as well as policy proposals that could fill the gaps.

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Daily Digest - January 8: A Limited Internet? That's No Internet at All.

Jan 8, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Zero for Conduct (Medium)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says "zero rating," a practice of allowing mobile users to access a limited network of apps without data charges, is monopolistic and anti-innovation.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Zero for Conduct (Medium)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says "zero rating," a practice of allowing mobile users to access a limited network of apps without data charges, is monopolistic and anti-innovation.

Food Stamp Benefit Cut May Force a Million People Into 'Serious Hardship' (AJAM)

As some states end their waiver allowing unemployed childless adults access to food stamps, Ned Resnikoff reports that food banks and other charities don't feel able to fill the gap.

America is Optimistic About Jobs in 2015 Despite Stubbornly Low Wages (The Guardian)

Jana Kasperkevic looks at the wide range of data available about the economy and especially the labor market to explain why Americans should perhaps be more cautious in their optimism.

Why the Republican Congress’s First Act Was to Declare War on Math (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait accuses the GOP of destroying the Congressional Budget Office's greatest power – its ideological neutrality – for the sake of passing tax cuts that won't fix the economy.

Soaring Bond Prices May Sound an Economic Warning (NYT)

Peter Eavis cautions that incredibly low yield rates on U.S. Treasury notes could indicate a coming economic stall or downturn, according to historic patterns.

Workers' Wages Have Barely Grown in Decades. Here's What Obama's Doing About It. (TNR)

Danny Vinik speaks to Lawrence Mishel and Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, who suggest the "Obama wage initiative" package of executive actions are making a difference.

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Guest Post: Will Wall Street Win Again with Antonio Weiss Nomination?

Jan 7, 2015Brad Miller

Mike here. This post is from my colleague Brad Miller over the important debate on the Antonio Weiss nomination. Brad is a former U.S. Representative who recently joined the Roosevelt Institute as a Senior Fellow, so he has firsthand knowledge of the internal negotiations around financial reform. Check it out below.

The opposition to the nomination of another investment banker, Antonio Weiss, to a top position in the U.S. Treasury is not just a demagogic appeal to anti-Wall Street prejudices, as his supporters argue.

Weiss’s actual experience appears to be a poor match for the specific duties of the position in question, and may be less laudable than his supporters claim. Weiss’s principal credential appears to be that he is a product of the same culture that produced our other recent economic policymakers.

And that is the real problem for opponents, who believe that economic policies should be subject to democratic debate and require the consent of the governed.

The response to the financial crisis was the most consequential economic policy in generations. Wall Street and Washington insiders alike argue that those policies, endlessly indulgent of banks and pitiless to homeowners, were technocratic decisions that required the recondite knowledge of Wall Street professionals.

To Weiss’s supporters, disregard for public opinion is a virtue. “Making economic policy isn’t a popularity contest,” David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post, “especially when financial markets are in a panic.” “Our job was to fix it,“ former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, “not make people like us.”

Criticism did not just come from politicians pandering to the great unwashed, however.

Most economists argued that the lesson of past financial crises was to take economic pain quickly, recognize losses on distressed debt, and take insolvent banks through an orderly receivership. The standard playbook” for financial crises since the 1870s was to “shut down insolvent institutions so executives and shareholders in the future do not think they will escape the consequences of the moral hazard they created.” “Zombie” banks, economists argued, only delay recovery.

The Bush and Obama Administrations instead helped too-big-to-fail banks pretend to be solvent and provided subsidies and other dispensations until the banks became profitable, an effort that continues.

Unfortunately, any effective effort to reduce foreclosures required banks to recognize losses on mortgages. Insiders regarded foreclosures as a lesser concern. Geithner said that even if the government used federal funds “to wipe out every dollar of negative equity in the U.S. housing market…it would have increased annual consumption by just 0.1 to 0.2 percent.”

According to Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, two prominent economists, “that is dead wrong.” Household wealth fell by $9 trillion after the housing bubble burst in 2006, which greatly reduced consumer demand. “The evidence,” Amir and Sufi said, “is pretty clear: an aggressive bold attack on household debt would have significantly reduced the horrible impact of the Great Recession on Americans.”

Wall Street’s critics did not lose that debate. There was no debate.

Senator Obama endorsed legislation in his presidential campaign to allow the judicial modification of mortgages in bankruptcy. President Obama never publicly wavered from that position, but Treasury officials privately lobbied against the legislation in the Senate, where the legislation died. The determination by economic policymakers to protect their immaculate policies from tawdry politics may extend to attempts by the President to intrude.

Meddling by Members of Congress was certainly unwelcome. In a private meeting between Administration officials and disgruntled House Democrats, I said that foreclosure relief efforts appeared designed to help banks absorb losses gradually, not to help homeowners. Geithner was offended—indignant—at the suggestion. Neil Barofsky, then the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Recovery Program, later confirmed that was exactly the purpose of the programs—in Geithner’s words, to “foam the runway” for the banks.

The success of policies that are unacknowledged or even denied is difficult to measure. Since the financial crisis, however, the financial sector, from whence our unguarded platonic guardians came and soon will return, has prospered. Others fared less well. Wealth and income inequality widened dramatically.

Weiss has not served in government, so opposition to his nomination may punish him for the sins of others, perhaps unfairly. There is nothing to indicate, however, that Weiss questions the assumption that the North Star of economic policy should be the prosperity of the financial sector, or that policies should be freely debated unless there’s money involved.

The presidential campaign in 2016 will undoubtedly largely be about economic policy. Voters may assume that the election of one candidate or another will result in implementation of that candidate’s economic policies.

If the culture of economic policymakers remains unchanged, the public positions of candidates and the votes of citizens may not matter much.

Brad Miller is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Previously, he served for a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mike here. This post is from my colleague Brad Miller over the important debate on the Antonio Weiss nomination. Brad is a former U.S. Representative who recently joined the Roosevelt Institute as a Senior Fellow, so he has firsthand knowledge of the internal negotiations around financial reform. Check it out below.

The opposition to the nomination of another investment banker, Antonio Weiss, to a top position in the U.S. Treasury is not just a demagogic appeal to anti-Wall Street prejudices, as his supporters argue.

Weiss’s actual experience appears to be a poor match for the specific duties of the position in question, and may be less laudable than his supporters claim. Weiss’s principal credential appears to be that he is a product of the same culture that produced our other recent economic policymakers.

And that is the real problem for opponents, who believe that economic policies should be subject to democratic debate and require the consent of the governed.

The response to the financial crisis was the most consequential economic policy in generations. Wall Street and Washington insiders alike argue that those policies, endlessly indulgent of banks and pitiless to homeowners, were technocratic decisions that required the recondite knowledge of Wall Street professionals.

To Weiss’s supporters, disregard for public opinion is a virtue. “Making economic policy isn’t a popularity contest,” David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post, “especially when financial markets are in a panic.” “Our job was to fix it,“ former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, “not make people like us.”

Criticism did not just come from politicians pandering to the great unwashed, however.

Most economists argued that the lesson of past financial crises was to take economic pain quickly, recognize losses on distressed debt, and take insolvent banks through an orderly receivership. The standard playbook” for financial crises since the 1870s was to “shut down insolvent institutions so executives and shareholders in the future do not think they will escape the consequences of the moral hazard they created.” “Zombie” banks, economists argued, only delay recovery.

The Bush and Obama Administrations instead helped too-big-to-fail banks pretend to be solvent and provided subsidies and other dispensations until the banks became profitable, an effort that continues.

Unfortunately, any effective effort to reduce foreclosures required banks to recognize losses on mortgages. Insiders regarded foreclosures as a lesser concern. Geithner said that even if the government used federal funds “to wipe out every dollar of negative equity in the U.S. housing market…it would have increased annual consumption by just 0.1 to 0.2 percent.”

According to Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, two prominent economists, “that is dead wrong.” Household wealth fell by $9 trillion after the housing bubble burst in 2006, which greatly reduced consumer demand. “The evidence,” Amir and Sufi said, “is pretty clear: an aggressive bold attack on household debt would have significantly reduced the horrible impact of the Great Recession on Americans.”

Wall Street’s critics did not lose that debate. There was no debate.

Senator Obama endorsed legislation in his presidential campaign to allow the judicial modification of mortgages in bankruptcy. President Obama never publicly wavered from that position, but Treasury officials privately lobbied against the legislation in the Senate, where the legislation died. The determination by economic policymakers to protect their immaculate policies from tawdry politics may extend to attempts by the President to intrude.

Meddling by Members of Congress was certainly unwelcome. In a private meeting between Administration officials and disgruntled House Democrats, I said that foreclosure relief efforts appeared designed to help banks absorb losses gradually, not to help homeowners. Geithner was offended—indignant—at the suggestion. Neil Barofsky, then the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Recovery Program, later confirmed that was exactly the purpose of the programs—in Geithner’s words, to “foam the runway” for the banks.

The success of policies that are unacknowledged or even denied is difficult to measure. Since the financial crisis, however, the financial sector, from whence our unguarded platonic guardians came and soon will return, has prospered. Others fared less well. Wealth and income inequality widened dramatically.

Weiss has not served in government, so opposition to his nomination may punish him for the sins of others, perhaps unfairly. There is nothing to indicate, however, that Weiss questions the assumption that the North Star of economic policy should be the prosperity of the financial sector, or that policies should be freely debated unless there’s money involved.

The presidential campaign in 2016 will undoubtedly largely be about economic policy. Voters may assume that the election of one candidate or another will result in implementation of that candidate’s economic policies.

If the culture of economic policymakers remains unchanged, the public positions of candidates and the votes of citizens may not matter much.

Brad Miller is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Previously, he served for a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Daily Digest - January 7: Dynamic Scoring Comes to Washington

Jan 7, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

U.S. House Votes to Adopt Contentious Changes to Cost Estimates (Reuters)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

U.S. House Votes to Adopt Contentious Changes to Cost Estimates (Reuters)

Under new rules passed by the House, cost estimates on fiscal legislation will be measured using dynamic scoring, which could mask the impact of tax cuts, reports David Lawder.

Where Working Women Are Most Common (NYT)

Gregor Aisch, Josh Katz, and David Leonhardt examine data on women's employment rates throughout the country, considering the differing circumstances that lead women to work or not work.

Obama to Pick Former Bank of Hawaii CEO to Be Fed Governor (Bloomberg News)

Cheyenne Hopkins and Jesse Hamilton report that the President will soon announce the nomination of Allan Landon, who has worked at a firm that invests in community banks since 2010.

The Next Big Fight Among Democrats? (WaPo)

Greg Sargent says the next economic fight between populist Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration will be about how much to raise the salary threshold for overtime pay.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch says these fights between populists and the administration are about the soul of the Democratic party.

Why Is Wage Growth So Slow? The San Francisco Fed Has an Answer (WSJ)

Michael S. Derby looks at new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which suggests that since employers fired workers rather than cut wages in the recession, hiring will increase before wages do.

The Mortgage Mistake (New Yorker)

James Surowiecki considers the costs of the American emphasis on homeownership and corresponding tax breaks, noting that homeowners' tax breaks don't really help low-income families.

Fair Value Accounting: The Obscure Rule Change That Could Make Student Loans More Expensive (Vox)

Matthew Yglesias explains how changing the method by which government accounts for federal credit programs could have difficult consequences for those seeking student loans and mortgages.

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Wall Street's Choice: Antonio Weiss Nomination Illustrates What's Wrong With Economic Policy

Jan 6, 2015Brad Miller

Installing another Wall Street insider at the Treasury Department will only reinforce the administration's anti-democratic approach to crafting economic policy.

The opposition to the nomination of another investment banker, Antonio Weiss, to a top position in the U.S. Treasury is not just a demagogic appeal to anti-Wall Street prejudices, as his supporters argue.

Installing another Wall Street insider at the Treasury Department will only reinforce the administration's anti-democratic approach to crafting economic policy.

The opposition to the nomination of another investment banker, Antonio Weiss, to a top position in the U.S. Treasury is not just a demagogic appeal to anti-Wall Street prejudices, as his supporters argue.

Weiss’s actual experience appears to be a poor match for the specific duties of the position in question, and may be less laudable than his supporters claim. Weiss’s principal credential appears to be that he is a product of the same culture that produced our other recent economic policymakers.

And that is the real problem for opponents, who believe that economic policies should be subject to democratic debate and require the consent of the governed.

The response to the financial crisis was the most consequential economic policy in generations. Wall Street and Washington insiders alike argue that those policies, endlessly indulgent of banks and pitiless to homeowners, were technocratic decisions that required the recondite knowledge of Wall Street professionals.

To Weiss’s supporters, disregard for public opinion is a virtue. “Making economic policy isn’t a popularity contest,” David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post, “especially when financial markets are in a panic.” “Our job was to fix it,“ former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, “not make people like us.”

Criticism did not just come from politicians pandering to the great unwashed, however.

Most economists argued that the lesson of past financial crises was to take economic pain quickly, recognize losses on distressed debt, and take insolvent banks through an orderly receivership. The standard playbook” for financial crises since the 1870s was to “shut down insolvent institutions so executives and shareholders in the future do not think they will escape the consequences of the moral hazard they created.” “Zombie” banks, economists argued, only delay recovery.

The Bush and Obama Administrations instead helped too-big-to-fail banks pretend to be solvent and provided subsidies and other dispensations until the banks became profitable, an effort that continues.

Unfortunately, any effective effort to reduce foreclosures required banks to recognize losses on mortgages. Insiders regarded foreclosures as a lesser concern. Geithner said that even if the government used federal funds “to wipe out every dollar of negative equity in the U.S. housing market…it would have increased annual consumption by just 0.1 to 0.2 percent.”

According to Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, two prominent economists, “that is dead wrong.” Household wealth fell by $9 trillion after the housing bubble burst in 2006, which greatly reduced consumer demand. “The evidence,” Amir and Sufi said, “is pretty clear: an aggressive bold attack on household debt would have significantly reduced the horrible impact of the Great Recession on Americans.”

Wall Street’s critics did not lose that debate. There was no debate.

Senator Obama endorsed legislation in his presidential campaign to allow the judicial modification of mortgages in bankruptcy. President Obama never publicly wavered from that position, but Treasury officials privately lobbied against the legislation in the Senate, where the legislation died. The determination by economic policymakers to protect their immaculate policies from tawdry politics may extend to attempts by the President to intrude.

Meddling by Members of Congress was certainly unwelcome. In a private meeting between Administration officials and disgruntled House Democrats, I said that foreclosure relief efforts appeared designed to help banks absorb losses gradually, not to help homeowners. Geithner was offended—indignant—at the suggestion. Neil Barofsky, then the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Recovery Program, later confirmed that was exactly the purpose of the programs—in Geithner’s words, to “foam the runway” for the banks.

The success of policies that are unacknowledged or even denied is difficult to measure. Since the financial crisis, however, the financial sector, from whence our unguarded platonic guardians came and soon will return, has prospered. Others fared less well. Wealth and income inequality widened dramatically.

Weiss has not served in government, so opposition to his nomination may punish him for the sins of others, perhaps unfairly. There is nothing to indicate, however, that Weiss questions the assumption that the North Star of economic policy should be the prosperity of the financial sector, or that policies should be freely debated unless there’s money involved.

The presidential campaign in 2016 will undoubtedly largely be about economic policy. Voters may assume that the election of one candidate or another will result in implementation of that candidate’s economic policies.

If the culture of economic policymakers remains unchanged, the public positions of candidates and the votes of citizens may not matter much.

Brad Miller is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Previously, he served for a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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