Daily Digest - February 27: We're Missing the Mark on Monetary Policy, and a Goodbye

Feb 27, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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The Roosevelt Institute has produced the Daily Digest five days a week since 2009, but its time has now come to an end. Today will be the final Daily Digest; however, we hope you'll subscribe to our weekly e-mail updates to stay in the loop with all the exciting work we're doing here at the Roosevelt Institute. You can also stay in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for reading!

Corporate Borrowing Now Flows To Shareholders, Not Productive Investment: Study (IB Times)

Owen Davis reports on J.W. Mason's new white paper, "Disgorge the Cash," explaining how the paper fits into a growing body of research that suggests flaws in our basic understanding of economics.

Students Question Own Role in Participatory Budgeting (Columbia Spectator)

Sasha Zeints reports on a Campus Network event discussing students' role in participatory budgeting. Chapter president Brit Byrd says students are well-suited to participate as volunteers.

The Federal Reserve Speaks in Mumbo Jumbo. Here's How to Fix That. (The Week)

Referencing Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal, Jeff Sprots argues that the opacity of Federal Reserve statements could be solved by mandating a numerical target for the Fed.

The Real Meaning of $9 an Hour (Time)

Rana Foroohar says that Walmart's wage hike might not make a dramatic impact on the real economy, but it shows that workers can still get the largest companies in the world to change.

What Is ‘Middle-Class Economics’? (NYT)

Josh Barro points out that government policies that help the middle class are only able to produce small shifts. He says the best option might be to step back and hope positive trends continue.

The FCC Approves Strong Net Neutrality Rules (WaPo)

Cecilia Kang and Brian Fung report on the Federal Communications Commission's vote yesterday, which classified the Internet as a public utility to protect access for all.

New on Next New Deal

Make the Stop Overdose Stat Act a Priority for 2015

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care Emily Cerciello explains why this bill targeting opioid overdose prevention should be on both parties' agendas this year.

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Daily Digest - February 26: Where Is All the Corporate Cash Going?

Feb 26, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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

Why Companies are Rewarding Shareholders Instead of Investing in the Real Economy (WaPo)

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

Why Companies are Rewarding Shareholders Instead of Investing in the Real Economy (WaPo)

Lydia DePillis looks at Roosevelt Institute Fellow J.W. Mason's new white paper on how the shift towards increased shareholder payouts since the 1980s has decreased corporate investment.

  • Roosevelt Take: Read J.W. Mason's paper, "Disgorge the Cash: The Disconnect Between Corporate Borrowing and Investment," here.

Hewlett-Packard Shows How to Fatten Shareholders While Firing Workers (LA Times)

Referencing J.W. Mason's paper for context on the impact of shareholder payouts on the larger economy, Michael Hiltzik explains how H-P has managed to fire workers and increase payouts at once.

Don't Wait Until 2016 to Make Political Change (HuffPo)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Director Joelle Gamble argues for the need for young people to participate in governance, not just elections.

The Push for Net Neutrality Arose From Lack of Choice (NYT)

Steve Lohr speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford, who agrees that the current approach to net neutrality makes sense while cable is most people's only option for high-speed Internet.

The Lawyer Who Went from Fighting for Guantánamo Bay Inmates to Going After Shady Banks (Vice)

David Dayen profiles Josh Denbeaux, a lawyer who is fighting back against foreclosure abuse in the courts and trying to develop class-action suits for homeowners facing illegal foreclosures.

New on Next New Deal

Launching Our Financialization Project with "Disgorge the Cash"

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal introduces our Financialization Project, which aims to define and explain the topic, as well as J.W. Mason's paper. Learn more about the project here.

Millennials Want More Than Obama’s Keystone Veto

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment Torre Lavelle says the veto isn't good enough, because Millennials are seeking a real commitment to transforming energy usage.

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Daily Digest - February 25: The Big Banks Had a Bad Year

Feb 25, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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

Annual Bank Profit Falls for First Time in Five Years (WSJ)

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

Annual Bank Profit Falls for First Time in Five Years (WSJ)

Victoria McGrane says the trend is primarily because seven of the 10 largest banks posted lower earnings, while other parts of the banking sector, like community banks, are thriving.

The White House Has No Back-Up Plan if SCOTUS Rules Against Obamacare (Vox)

Sarah Kliff reports on the announcement that the Department of Health and Human Services has been unable to find an administrative fix in case they lose in King v. Burwell.

State Orders Minimum Wage Increase for Tipped Workers (Capital New York)

The New York State Labor Department has ordered an increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers from $5.00 to $7.50 per hour, writes Jimmy Vielkind.

Labor Takes Final Stand as Wisconsin Prepares Way for Anti-Union Law (AJAM)

Ned Resnikoff says Wisconson labor leaders see the governor's new support for right-to-work legislation as proof that he's already focused on appealing to donors for a 2016 presidential run.

Obama Proposal Recognizes How Retirement Saving Has Changed (NYT)

Neil Irwin argues that by requiring those who manage retirement savings to put their clients' best interests first, Obama is bringing back some of the protections of old-school pensions.

One Sign Americans Won't See Big Raises Anytime Soon (Bloomberg Business)

An increasing share of hires are workers who are just entering or re-entering the workforce, writes Jeanna Smialek, which is good for labor force participation but keeps salaries down.

New on Next New Deal

Guns on Campus: Not an Agenda for Women's Safety

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn breaks down the data that proves allowing guns on campus will only increase the safety risks women face, not reduce sexual assault.

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Daily Digest - February 24: How to Recreate a Strong Middle Class

Feb 24, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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

Free the Middle Class (USA Today)

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings argue that bringing back a strong middle class requires government intervention.

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

Free the Middle Class (USA Today)

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings argue that bringing back a strong middle class requires government intervention.

Even Better Than a Tax Cut (NYT)

Continually cutting taxes won't be possible if the government is going to function, argues Lawrence Mishel, which makes policies that push wage growth far more important right now.

NJ Judge Overturns Christie's Pension Cuts (AJAM)

Yesterday's ruling says that Christie could not choose to shortchange pensions in his 2014 budget, and he is now expected to make up the pension deficit by the end of the fiscal year in June.

A Student-Debt Revolt Begins (New Yorker)

Vauhini Vara speaks to one of 15 students from a now-closed for-profit college who are going on a "debt strike" because they argue the school's false promises make their loans invalid.

Retail Workers Are Quitting Their Jobs Like It’s 2007 (Buzzfeed)

Sapna Maheshwari ties the retail quits rate to recent moves by large retail employers to raise their wages. If workers are quitting because they can get better jobs, employers have to catch up.

Why Reform Conservatives Should Join the Democratic Party (The Week)

Jeff Spross argues that so-called reformicons would have much better luck with their policy priorities if they worked with Democrats, who actually support programs that help the poor.

Obama's Newest Plan Might Drive Investment Advisers Out of Business. Good. (Vox)

Matt Yglesias argues that it's for the best if financial advisors for the middle class are driven out of business, because they are only pushing products that make them money.

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Daily Digest - February 23: The Republican Health Plan is Less Coverage, More Costs

Feb 23, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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GOP Health Plan Would Leave Many Low-Income Families Behind (The Hill)

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

GOP Health Plan Would Leave Many Low-Income Families Behind (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn explains how the Republican substitute for the Affordable Care Act would leave people with higher costs, worse coverage, and fewer protections.

Walmart Sends Wage Signal to U.S. Business (Financial Times)

David Crow and Sam Fleming speak to Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Damon Silvers about Walmart's wage hike, which he says will create pressure on other low-wage businesses.

U.S. West Coast Port Employees Agree to Deal (Bloomberg Business)

James Nash and Alison Vekshin report on the deal brokered by Labor Secretary Tom Perez, which will end the slowdowns at West Coast ports but won't immediately fix the cargo backlog.

A Friendly Office Debate Over Wages (NYT)

David Leonhardt and Neil Irwin agree that whether wage growth will accelerate is the biggest economic question of the year, but disagree on the likelihood of a positive answer.

The Rise of the Non-Compete Agreement, from Tech Workers to Sandwich Makers (WaPo)

Lydia DePillis looks at new research on non-compete agreements, which are surprisingly widespread in industries where they don't really seem necessary.

New on Next New Deal

The One Where Larry Summers Demolished the Robots and Skills Arguments

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal praises Summers and others for a recent panel in which they argued that unemployment and lack of wage growth can't be blamed on technology.

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The One Where Larry Summers Demolished the Robots and Skills Arguments

Feb 20, 2015Mike Konczal
Everyone should take it easy on the robot stuff for a while.
 
There's been a small, but influential, hysteria surrounding the idea is that a huge wave of automation, technology and skills have lead to a massive structural change in the economy since 2010. The implicit argument here is that robots and machines have both made traditional demand-side policies irrelevant or naïve, and been a major driver of wage stagnation and inequality. Though not the most pernicious story that gained prominence as the recovery remained sluggish in 2010 to 2011, it gained an important foothold among elite discussion.
 
That is over. They say Washington DC has had a huge crime decline, but I just saw one of the most vicious muggings I’m likely to see, one where David Autor and Larry Summers just tore this idea that a Machine Age is responsible for our economic plight apart on a panel yesterday at the Hamilton Project for the launch of a new Machine Age report. Summers, in particular, took an aggressive tone that is likely to be where liberal and Democratic Party mainstream economic thinking is in advance of 2016. It is a very, very good place.
 
As Larry Mishel noted in an American Prospect piece on the eve of the event, the robots and skills story has many problems. But I was genuinely surprised at how poorly those pushing the argument - Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of the influential The Second Machine Age, were there - could address the pretty obvious counterarguments that were brought up. You can see the event at CSPAN here. This piece will mostly be blockquotes, because the quotes are too good to try and summarize. (Any transcribing errors are my own.)
 
First up, economist David Autor of MIT demolished the core claims in about a minute of speaking. For those with ears to hear it, this is him also moderating and walking back portions of his “job polarization” arguments from 2010. Autor:

I think there's reason for some skepticism about how fast things are actually moving. There’s a lot of aggregate data that don't support the idea the labor market is changing or the economy is changing as rapidly as this very dramatic story. The premium to higher education has plateaued over the last 10 years. We see evidence highly skilled workers have less rapid career trajectories and are moving into less skill occupation if anything. Productivity is not growing very rapidly, and a lot of the employment growth we’ve seen in the past 15 years has been in relatively low education, in-person service occupations.

The second point I want to make, when we think about how technology interacts with labor market we think of substitution of labor with machinery. [...] What is neglected is that it complements us as well. Many activities require a mixture of things. it requires a mixture of information process and creativity, motor power and dexterity. if those things need to be done together if you make one cheaper and more productive, you increase the value of the other.

It got worse for the robots. Here's Larry Summers:
On the one hand we have enormous anecdotal evidence and visual evidence that points to technology having huge and pervasive effects. Whether it is complementing workers and making them much more productive in a happy way, or whether it is substituting for them and leaving them unemployed can be debated. In either of those scenarios you would expect it to be producing a renaissance of higher productivity.
 
So, on the one hand are convinced of the far greater pervasiveness of technology in the last few years, and, on the other hand, the productivity statistics on the last dozen years are dismal. Any fully satisfactory view has to reconcile those two observations and I have not heard it satisfactorily reconciled.
Summers also pointed out something that's fairly obvious once you think about it: if this robot argument is true, doesn't it mean a short-term job boom? (JW Mason once pointed out this is how Schumpeter thought of these types of “recalculation” business cycles.) Summers:
If you believe technology happens with a big lag and it's only going to happen in the future, that's fine. But then you can't believe it's already caused a large amount of inequality and disruption of employment today. [...] Let's take retailing. You can imagine you can have all kinds of spiffy technology so you no longer have to have people behind cash registers. The problem is you wouldn't expect the people behind the cash registers would get fired before the people working the systems got the new systems working. […] I understand why it might take years for it all to have an effect. What I have a harder time understanding is how there can be substantial disemployment ahead of the effect of the productivity.
 
That is, if you thought that it just was impossible to put in these systems and so forth, then you might think that in the short run it would be a big employment boom. You have to keep your old legacy system going and you have to have a million guys running around figuring out how to put the new computer system in. 
The panel goes into a thing about how education will save us. Moar education! This is where Summers went harder than I had expected:
I think the [education] policies that Aneesh is talking about are largely whistling past the graveyard. The core problem is that there aren't enough jobs. If you help some people, you could help them get the jobs, but then someone else won't get the jobs. Unless you're doing things that have things that are effecting the demand for jobs, you're helping people win a race to get a finite number of jobs. […]
 
Folks, wage inflation in the united states is 2%. It has not gone up in five years. There are not 3% of the economy where there's any evidence of hyper wage inflation of a kind that would go with worker shortages. The idea that you can just have better training and then there are all these jobs, all these places where there are shortages and we just need the train people is fundamentally an evasion. [...]
 
I am concerned that if we allow the idea to take hold, that all we need to do is there are all these jobs with skills and if we can just train people a bit, then they'll be able to get into them and the whole problem will go away. I think that is fundamentally an evasion of a profound social challenge.
But, but, but, if we don’t just educate people more, what can we even do? Summers:
What we need is more demand and that goes to short run cyclical policy, more generally to how we operate macroeconomic policy, and the enormous importance of having tighter labor markets, so that firms have an incentive to reach for worker, rather than workers having to reach for firms. [...]
 
I think that the broad empowerment of labor in a world where an increasing part of the economy is generating income that has a kind of rent aspect to it, the question of who's going to share in it becomes very large. One of the puzzles of our economy today is that on the one hand, we have record low real interest rates, that are expected to be record low for 30 years if you look at the index bond market. And on the other hand, we have record high profits. And you tend to think record high profits would mean record high returns to capital, would also mean really high interest rates. And what we actually have is really low real interest rates. The way to think about that is there's a lot of rents in what we're calling profits that don't really represent a return to investment, but represent a rent.
 
The question then is who's going to get those rents? Which goes to the minimum wage, goes to the power of union, goes through the presence of profit sharing, goes to the length of patents and a variety of other government policies that confer rents and then when those are received, goes to the question of how progressive the tax and transfer system is. That has got to be a very, very large part of the picture.
Two bonus quotes. First, someone immediately followed up that instead of the minimum wage, why don’t we just expand the earned income tax credit? Summers:
If we had the income distribution in the United States that we did in 1979, the top 1% would have $1 trillion less today, and the bottom 80% would have $1 trillion more. That works out to about $700,000 a family for the top 1%, and about $11,000 a year for a family in the bottom 80%.
 
That's a trillion dollars. I don't know what the number is, but my guess is that the total cost of the Earned Income Tax Credit is $50 billion. Nobody's got on the policy agenda doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit. The big, aggressive agendas are probably to increase it by a third or a half. So, I'm all for it, but we are talking about 2.5% of the redistribution that has taken place. So, you have to be looking for things and there's no one thing that is going to do it. My reading of the evidence, it's a fairly general evidence, is that while there may be some elasticity, the elasticity around the current level of the minimum wage is very low.
Nice. And from his introductory remarks, Robert Rubin casually mentions collective bargaining might be a solution to inequality, but also probably redistribution and a cultural and policy shift towards more free time and more leisure. Ya know, no biggie. Rubin:
We may need an increase in the income tax credit, not only for those who receive it at the present time but perhaps much further up the income scale. Measures that facilitate collective bargaining can result in a broader participation in the benefits of productivity and growth [...] If we have ever rapid technological development and it is labor displacing, at some point in the future -- as I say, that may be some distant point in the future -- should that lead to some basic change in our lifestyles with less work, more lecture and a richer, more robust use of that leisure? [...] In addition to everything that needs to be done to enhance growth, tighten labor markets and to improve the position of middle and lower income workers, should there be increased redistribution to accomplish the broad objectives of our society?
(I looked at the left-liberals I knew active in policy circles in the 1990s who were in the room, wondering how they kept their heads from exploding at that moment.)
 
Perhaps this turn is just reflecting this very specific historical moment, and it could change again just as quickly. But the problems are real, and terrifying stories about robots taking all the jobs can no longer have the double function as a form of relief that we have no responsibility to try and address these problems. And it's great to see prominent liberal economists doing that, especially in advance of the 2016 election.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

Everyone should take it easy on the robot stuff for a while.
 
There's been a small, but influential, hysteria surrounding the idea is that a huge wave of automation, technology and skills have lead to a massive structural change in the economy since 2010. The implicit argument here is that robots and machines have both made traditional demand-side policies irrelevant or naïve, and been a major driver of wage stagnation and inequality. Though not the most pernicious story that gained prominence as the recovery remained sluggish in 2010 to 2011, it gained an important foothold among elite discussion.
 
That is over. They say Washington DC has had a huge crime decline, but I just saw one of the most vicious muggings I’m likely to see, one where David Autor and Larry Summers just tore this idea that a Machine Age is responsible for our economic plight apart on a panel yesterday at the Hamilton Project for the launch of a new Machine Age report. Summers, in particular, took an aggressive tone that is likely to be where liberal and Democratic Party mainstream economic thinking is in advance of 2016. It is a very, very good place.
 
As Larry Mishel noted in an American Prospect piece on the eve of the event, the robots and skills story has many problems. But I was genuinely surprised at how poorly those pushing the argument - Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of the influential The Second Machine Age, were there - could address the pretty obvious counterarguments that were brought up. You can see the event at CSPAN here. This piece will mostly be blockquotes, because the quotes are too good to try and summarize. (Any transcribing errors are my own.)
 
First up, economist David Autor of MIT demolished the core claims in about a minute of speaking. For those with ears to hear it, this is him also moderating and walking back portions of his “job polarization” arguments from 2010. Autor:

I think there's reason for some skepticism about how fast things are actually moving. There’s a lot of aggregate data that don't support the idea the labor market is changing or the economy is changing as rapidly as this very dramatic story. The premium to higher education has plateaued over the last 10 years. We see evidence highly skilled workers have less rapid career trajectories and are moving into less skill occupation if anything. Productivity is not growing very rapidly, and a lot of the employment growth we’ve seen in the past 15 years has been in relatively low education, in-person service occupations.

The second point I want to make, when we think about how technology interacts with labor market we think of substitution of labor with machinery. [...] What is neglected is that it complements us as well. Many activities require a mixture of things. it requires a mixture of information process and creativity, motor power and dexterity. if those things need to be done together if you make one cheaper and more productive, you increase the value of the other.

It got worse for the robots. Here's Larry Summers:
On the one hand we have enormous anecdotal evidence and visual evidence that points to technology having huge and pervasive effects. Whether it is complementing workers and making them much more productive in a happy way, or whether it is substituting for them and leaving them unemployed can be debated. In either of those scenarios you would expect it to be producing a renaissance of higher productivity.
 
So, on the one hand are convinced of the far greater pervasiveness of technology in the last few years, and, on the other hand, the productivity statistics on the last dozen years are dismal. Any fully satisfactory view has to reconcile those two observations and I have not heard it satisfactorily reconciled.
Summers also pointed out something that's fairly obvious once you think about it: if this robot argument is true, doesn't it mean a short-term job boom? (JW Mason once pointed out this is how Schumpeter thought of these types of “recalculation” business cycles.) Summers:
If you believe technology happens with a big lag and it's only going to happen in the future, that's fine. But then you can't believe it's already caused a large amount of inequality and disruption of employment today. [...] Let's take retailing. You can imagine you can have all kinds of spiffy technology so you no longer have to have people behind cash registers. The problem is you wouldn't expect the people behind the cash registers would get fired before the people working the systems got the new systems working. […] I understand why it might take years for it all to have an effect. What I have a harder time understanding is how there can be substantial disemployment ahead of the effect of the productivity.
 
That is, if you thought that it just was impossible to put in these systems and so forth, then you might think that in the short run it would be a big employment boom. You have to keep your old legacy system going and you have to have a million guys running around figuring out how to put the new computer system in. 
The panel goes into a thing about how education will save us. Moar education! This is where Summers went harder than I had expected:
I think the [education] policies that Aneesh is talking about are largely whistling past the graveyard. The core problem is that there aren't enough jobs. If you help some people, you could help them get the jobs, but then someone else won't get the jobs. Unless you're doing things that have things that are effecting the demand for jobs, you're helping people win a race to get a finite number of jobs. […]
 
Folks, wage inflation in the united states is 2%. It has not gone up in five years. There are not 3% of the economy where there's any evidence of hyper wage inflation of a kind that would go with worker shortages. The idea that you can just have better training and then there are all these jobs, all these places where there are shortages and we just need the train people is fundamentally an evasion. [...]
 
I am concerned that if we allow the idea to take hold, that all we need to do is there are all these jobs with skills and if we can just train people a bit, then they'll be able to get into them and the whole problem will go away. I think that is fundamentally an evasion of a profound social challenge.
But, but, but, if we don’t just educate people more, what can we even do? Summers:
What we need is more demand and that goes to short run cyclical policy, more generally to how we operate macroeconomic policy, and the enormous importance of having tighter labor markets, so that firms have an incentive to reach for worker, rather than workers having to reach for firms. [...]
 
I think that the broad empowerment of labor in a world where an increasing part of the economy is generating income that has a kind of rent aspect to it, the question of who's going to share in it becomes very large. One of the puzzles of our economy today is that on the one hand, we have record low real interest rates, that are expected to be record low for 30 years if you look at the index bond market. And on the other hand, we have record high profits. And you tend to think record high profits would mean record high returns to capital, would also mean really high interest rates. And what we actually have is really low real interest rates. The way to think about that is there's a lot of rents in what we're calling profits that don't really represent a return to investment, but represent a rent.
 
The question then is who's going to get those rents? Which goes to the minimum wage, goes to the power of union, goes through the presence of profit sharing, goes to the length of patents and a variety of other government policies that confer rents and then when those are received, goes to the question of how progressive the tax and transfer system is. That has got to be a very, very large part of the picture.
Two bonus quotes. First, someone immediately followed up that instead of the minimum wage, why don’t we just expand the earned income tax credit? Summers:
If we had the income distribution in the United States that we did in 1979, the top 1% would have $1 trillion less today, and the bottom 80% would have $1 trillion more. That works out to about $700,000 a family for the top 1%, and about $11,000 a year for a family in the bottom 80%.
 
That's a trillion dollars. I don't know what the number is, but my guess is that the total cost of the Earned Income Tax Credit is $50 billion. Nobody's got on the policy agenda doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit. The big, aggressive agendas are probably to increase it by a third or a half. So, I'm all for it, but we are talking about 2.5% of the redistribution that has taken place. So, you have to be looking for things and there's no one thing that is going to do it. My reading of the evidence, it's a fairly general evidence, is that while there may be some elasticity, the elasticity around the current level of the minimum wage is very low.
Nice. And from his introductory remarks, Robert Rubin casually mentions collective bargaining might be a solution to inequality, but also probably redistribution and a cultural and policy shift towards more free time and more leisure. Ya know, no biggie. Rubin:
We may need an increase in the income tax credit, not only for those who receive it at the present time but perhaps much further up the income scale. Measures that facilitate collective bargaining can result in a broader participation in the benefits of productivity and growth [...] If we have ever rapid technological development and it is labor displacing, at some point in the future -- as I say, that may be some distant point in the future -- should that lead to some basic change in our lifestyles with less work, more lecture and a richer, more robust use of that leisure? [...] In addition to everything that needs to be done to enhance growth, tighten labor markets and to improve the position of middle and lower income workers, should there be increased redistribution to accomplish the broad objectives of our society?
(I looked at the left-liberals I knew active in policy circles in the 1990s who were in the room, wondering how they kept their heads from exploding at that moment.)
 
Perhaps this turn is just reflecting this very specific historical moment, and it could change again just as quickly. But the problems are real, and terrifying stories about robots taking all the jobs can no longer have the double function as a form of relief that we have no responsibility to try and address these problems. And it's great to see prominent liberal economists doing that, especially in advance of the 2016 election.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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Daily Digest - February 20: Teach Civic Engagement, Not Just Citizenship

Feb 20, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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

College as a Catalyst for Civic Engagement (Medium)

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

College as a Catalyst for Civic Engagement (Medium)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member Zach Lipp builds on a recent column by Frank Bruni, arguing that liberal education should develop the skills of civic engagement, not just citizenship.

Walmart Is Giving Raises. Walmart Is Feeling the Pressure. (Gawker)

Walmart hasn't decided to raise its wages to be nice, says Hamilton Nolan. Rather, it's a sign that Walmart is giving in to the ongoing campaigns by low-wage workers, who will win.

The Gig Economy Won't Last Because It's Being Sued to Death (Fast Company)

Sarah Kessler looks at these lawsuits, which center around the question of defining workers as independent contractors or employees, and how that question is changing the gig economy already.

Why Counting America’s Homeless is Both Imperative and Imperfect (Fusion)

Susie Cagle illustrates and writes about the 2015 homeless count in San Francisco, explaining how the homeless count works, why it's done, and what she encountered.

Hospital To Nurses: Your Injuries Are Not Our Problem (NPR)

Daniel Zwerdling looks at one hospital in North Carolina that has a history of dismissing nurses' cases for medical bills and workers' compensation when they are injured on the job.

A Whistleblower's Horror Story (Rolling Stone)

Speaking to the whistleblower from Countrywide Financial, Matt Taibbi says the lack of punishment beyond fines for companies could disincline future whistleblowers from coming forward.

New on Next New Deal

Four Ways to Prune a Rose: Why the NYT Missed the Mark on the Inequality Debate

Eric Bernstein, a program associate at the Roosevelt Institute, explains why a study that claims inequality isn't rising was framed and conducted incorrectly and should be dismissed.

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Four Ways to Prune a Rose: Why the NYT Missed the Mark on the Inequality Debate

Feb 19, 2015Eric Bernstein

On Tuesday, the New York Times' data-minded blog The Upshot posted an article reporting on an inequality study performed by Georgetown University's Stephen J. Rose. The article's title boldly stated that "Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis."

On Tuesday, the New York Times' data-minded blog The Upshot posted an article reporting on an inequality study performed by Georgetown University's Stephen J. Rose. The article's title boldly stated that "Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis."

Although the study's analysis is mathematically correct, the study is framed and conducted in a way that makes its findings irrelevant to the larger discussion of inequality in America. Here's why:

1.    Rose's study examines income and ignores wealth, which is actually the most stark indicator of inequality in America today; the top 10 percent owns 93 percent of all stocks and 61.9 percent of all wealth. This is equivalent to judging someone's wealth by looking at their paychecks without considering the value and appreciation of the businesses, houses, cars, and bank accounts that are also in their name.

2.    Rose's analysis ends in 2011, so he does not consider the ongoing recovery, the majority benefits of which are once again going to the very wealthy.

3.    The current inequality dialogue, championed by Capital author Thomas Piketty and Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, specifies that wealth is the primary driver of inequality, so singling out income makes the Rose study irrelevant to the important public discourse going on today.

4.    Even if we were to accept the income-only study as valid, there are many facts that call Rose's findings into question:

  • The income group he describes fell from a record historical high to a slightly lower historical high.
  • Higher incomes have continued to recover since the study's statistical conclusion.
  • The primary reason lower incomes didn't fall further is that they were bolstered by government transfers (see chart and caption below).

Rose examines post-tax-and-transfer figures rather than pre-tax-and-transfer figures and argues that this supports his thesis of declining inequality. In fact, the difference is largely due to the rising number of individuals who paid less taxes and qualified for more government benefits due to their loss of income. A greater number of people dependent on government assistance would not fit most definitions of a reduction in inequality.

Eric Bernstein is a Program Associate at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Daily Digest - February 19: Can Housing Reform Turn Back the Clock?

Feb 19, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Set the Wayback Machine for Housing Finance Reform, But to When? (CLS Blue Sky Blog)

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

Set the Wayback Machine for Housing Finance Reform, But to When? (CLS Blue Sky Blog)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Brad Miller lays out the history of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to argue for a stronger government role in creating a safe and affordable mortgage market.

A Labor Dispute Slowed America’s Ports to a Halt. But There’s an Even Bigger Problem. (WaPo)

Lydia DePillis looks at the problems facing West Coast ports that go beyond current labor disputes. Increased traffic through the ports has also slowed everything down.

Fed Officials Sound Cautious Note on Raising Interest Rates (NYT)

Binyamin Appelbaum reports on the notes released from the Federal Reserve's January meeting, which acknowledge concerns about the fragility of economic growth.

Bernie Sanders, Mulling Presidential Run, Adopts Novel Stance on Deficit (AJAM)

Ned Resnikoff says that Senator Sanders's discussion of the deficit as an issue that includes unemployment and inequality draws on a less commonly accepted school of economic thought.

The Wrong Way to Revitalize a City (In These Times)

Rachel M. Cohen argues that ALEC's push against community benefit agreements, which create requirements for publicly-subsidized developers, is the opposite of community-building.

Why Do Americans Feel Entitled to Tell Poor People What to Eat? (The Nation)

Unlike other government programs that people benefit from, like student loans and mortgage deductions, EBT cards are highly visible, creating opportunities for judgment, writes Bryce Covert.

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Daily Digest - February 18: Comcast Doesn't Want You to Know What You're Missing

Feb 18, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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The Big Lock-In (Medium)

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

The Big Lock-In (Medium)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how Comcast is trying to dominate online video to the point where consumers wouldn't even see that other alternatives exist.

Aid to Needy Often Excludes the Poorest in America (NYT)

Patricia Cohen says that in recent decades, assistance to the poorest – generally, those who are not working – has decreased, while government aid for those near the poverty line has increased.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Double Standard: Only the Working Poor Must Comply With the Tax Code (WaPo)

Jared Bernstein calls out Rep. Ryan for allowing business tax breaks without compensating for the cost or strengthening enforcement, while any break for poor families must be offset elsewhere.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner: Organized Labor's Public Enemy No 1? (The Guardian)

The ferocity of Governor Rauner's attacks on labor, particularly public-sector unions, has surprised many, writes Steven Greenhouse, including labor leaders who need to negotiate new contracts.

Is Welfare Reform Causing Earlier Deaths? (The Nation)

Michelle Chen looks at a new study that shows how the shift from open-ended aid to our current welfare system, tied to employment, shortened lives and harmed children's cognitive growth.

American Companies Are Getting Older, Not Better (AJAM)

Aging businesses are creating fewer jobs than new companies, writes David Cay Johnston, and they also pay workers less and push for policies that slow economic growth as a whole.

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