While Congress Plays Politics, New York State Must Invest in Young People

Mar 26, 2015Kevin Stump

Last week, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate released budget proposals that include a slew of policy changes that would negatively impact young people’s ability to fully participate in the economy.  

Last week, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate released budget proposals that include a slew of policy changes that would negatively impact young people’s ability to fully participate in the economy.  

The proposals would, among many other bad ideas, freeze funding on Pell Grants for 10 years and eliminate mandatory funding for the program, leaving it vulnerable to the unstable political culture of Washington, D.C. Both budget proposals would charge students interest on all their loans while they’re still in school, costing the average borrower thousands of dollars more. Each budget also eliminates the Pay As You Earn student loan repayment program, which caps monthly payments based on borrower incomes to make payments more affordable for moderate- and low- income debt holders.

It’s concerning that Congress cares so little about an entire generation of young Americans — the very generation that will have to repair what today’s leaders have broken.

While Congress continues to play politics, states need to make investments so this generation isn’t subject to spiraling economic inequality and missed opportunities. As New York approaches its April 1 budget deadline, the governor and the state legislature need to prioritize policies that will help young people to fully realize their potential and participate in the economy.

As outlined in my critique of Governor Cuomo’s student loan program, New York State must: (1) inject resources into public higher education, (2) roll back tuition hikes, (3) reform the Tuition Assistance Program, and (4) require that economic develop initiatives include some type of student loan relief for employees.

But even those measures won’t be enough by themselves. In order for the state to forge ahead and truly invest in youth, it will also need to do the following:  

  1. Increase the minimum wage. With Millennials making up 71 percent of minimum wage workers, raising the wage would give young people a chance to pay down debt, invest in the economy, and start building their economic future. 
  2. Charge the governor’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils with developing a serious comprehensive plan to integrate paid apprenticeship and internship programs into the criteria for doing business with the state. To help combat the double-digit unemployment rate for 16–24-year-olds across the country, New York State should take advantage of its economic development projects, like START UP NY and NY SUNY 2020, to (1) provide young people with income and (2) impart the skills necessary to compete in today’s economy.
  3. Pass the NY DREAM Act to give thousands of New York’s undocumented youth access to state financial aid so they too can fully participate in the economy.
  4. Expand Governor Cuomo’s proposal to double the Urban Youth Jobs Program. This will help reward businesses that hire and train inner-city youth. In addition, this will help give New Yorkers ages 16–24 the opportunity to learn professional skills while also getting paid.

Conservatives and progressives are both trying to shift the political pendulum in their direction as they gear up for the 2016 election, which will consequently shape the fabric of our political system for the next decade. But Republicans in Congress, as evidenced by their budget proposals, continue to forget about young people. It is now up to President Obama to reject these failed principles and for states to get serious about enacting the real policy changes we need to give young people a fighting chance.

As Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Director Joelle Gamble articulates so well, “the young people who are inheriting the effects of the decisions made at all levels of government today… want to see investments made in a more prosperous future.”

Kevin Stump is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Leadership Director.

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What Would You Do Today to Ensure a Good Economy 25 Years From Now?

Mar 24, 2015Laurie Ignacio

In January, the Roosevelt Institute gathered 30 experts and practitioners in technology, education, finance, and economics to discuss the next American economy. We asked them what they would do today to ensure a good economy 25 years from now.

Over the next few weeks, Roosevelt will be highlighting some key suggestions. Check out the experts in attendance and then explore their revolutionary ideas:

In January, the Roosevelt Institute gathered 30 experts and practitioners in technology, education, finance, and economics to discuss the next American economy. We asked them what they would do today to ensure a good economy 25 years from now.

Over the next few weeks, Roosevelt will be highlighting some key suggestions. Check out the experts in attendance and then explore their revolutionary ideas:

First up we have Michelle Miller, co-founder of Coworker.org, a digital platform that provides workers with campaigning tools and other digital organizing support.

Michelle recommends reimagining how we classify employees. As more and more people freelance and rely on alternatives to full-time employment, like selling crafts on Etsy or driving for Uber, Michelle says that we should rethink the current employment classification system in order to expand protections, like health care deductibility, that are currently available only to more traditional employees.

To read more about American workers’ changing roles and new challenges, check out the links below.

"The future of work: There's an app for that," The Economist

"Lawsuits facing Uber, Lyft could alter sharing economy," CNBC

"What Happens To Uber Drivers And Other Sharing Economy Workers Injured On The Job?," Forbes

Michelle Miller is the co-founder of Coworker.org, a digital platform that matches campaigning tools with organizing, media and legal support to help people change their working conditions. Since its founding in 2013, Coworker.org has catalyzed the growth of global, independent employee networks at major companies like Starbucks, Wells Fargo, Olive Garden and US Airways. Miller’s early work developing Coworker.org was supported by a 2012 Practitioner Fellowship at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. She is a 2014 Echoing Green Global Fellow.

Before co-founding Coworker.org, Miller spent a decade at the Service Employees International Union where she pioneered creative projects that advanced union campaigns. She is also a nationally recognized media artist and cultural organizer. Most recently, she directed the participatory media creation process for Hollow, a 2014 Peabody award-winning interactive documentary about her home state of West Virginia.

Learn more about Michelle Miller’s work by visiting coworker.org and her profile at EchoingGreen.org.

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Seven Ways Chicago Can Put Working Families Before Wall Street

Mar 24, 2015Saqib Bhatti

The ReFund America Project released a new report this morning, “Our Kind of Town: A Financial Plan that Puts Chicago’s Communities First.” The report lays out a plan for getting Chicago’s finances back on track without painful austerity measures, which exacerbate economic inequality by forcing working families to shoulder the cost.

The ReFund America Project released a new report this morning, “Our Kind of Town: A Financial Plan that Puts Chicago’s Communities First.” The report lays out a plan for getting Chicago’s finances back on track without painful austerity measures, which exacerbate economic inequality by forcing working families to shoulder the cost.

Over the last month, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the credit ratings of the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to near junk level. Last week, Fitch Ratings followed by cutting CPS’s rating to just one notch above junk. Even though the major credit rating agencies are unreliable institutions, rife with conflicts of interest, a history of missed calls, and a reputation for using their ratings to push political agendas, these downgrades have put the issue of financial management front and center in Chicago's political debate. Questions about how best to manage the city’s money shine a spotlight on the competing interests of Chicago residents and the powerful Wall Street firms that have been profiting from the city’s financial problems.

In the developing world, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank require financially distressed governments to enact painful cuts in order to obtain financing. Moody’s and Fitch are similarly using these downgrades to push an austerity agenda in Chicago. These downgrades will benefit Wall Street firms because the city and CPS will be forced to take out more expensive products like credit enhancements and bond insurance to boost investor confidence in their bonds. Already, the city and CPS are on the hook for a combined $300 million in penalties connected to interest rate swaps as a result of these downgrades. But all of this is wholly unnecessary because none of Chicago’s governmental units are actually in any danger of defaulting on their bonds.

Moreover, this response will come at the expense of community services like education, mental health, and parks programs. Many politicians are already using the downgrades to call for austerity measures that would take a toll on Chicago’s most vulnerable residents and to justify slashing government workers’ pensions, in violation of the Illinois Constitution. State Representative Ron Sandack has even introduced a bill in the Illinois Legislature to allow municipalities to file bankruptcy in order to circumvent the state constitution’s protection of public pension funds.

The current discourse ignores the simple reality that the city is not spending too much on either public services or workers. The real problem with Chicago’s budget is that the city is hemorrhaging money on predatory financial deals with Wall Street banks and not properly taxing its wealthiest corporations and residents. Chicago needs a proactive agenda that puts the needs of communities first. In the short term, this includes measures like:

  • Recovering losses from predatory municipal finance deals. The City of Chicago, its related governmental units, and their pension funds should take all steps to recover taxpayer dollars when banks deal unfairly with them. This includes taking both legal and economic action to try get out of bad deals like interest rate swaps and recoup lost money.
  • Reducing financial fees by 20 percent across the board. The City of Chicago, its related governmental units, and their pension funds should press for negotiations demanding 20 percent reductions on all financial fees to force Wall Street firms to share in the sacrifices that Chicagoans are being forced to make every day.
  • Insourcing pension fund management. The City of Chicago and its related governmental units should bring investment management in-house for a significant portion of their pension funds’ investments, by hiring qualified staff with a proven record of effective management instead of paying Wall Street firms tens of millions of dollars each year to accomplish the same goal.
  • Ending corporate tax subsidies and tax breaks. The City of Chicago should end all corporate tax subsidies and tax breaks to major corporations, and claw back subsidies given to corporations in exchange for job creation if they did not live up to their goals of creating jobs for city residents. This includes tax subsidies from the city’s tax-increment financing (TIF) programs.

In the longer run, Chicago needs structural solutions. This includes:

  • Collective bargaining with Wall Street. The City of Chicago, its related governmental units, and their pension funds should identify financial fees that bear no reasonable relationship to the costs of providing the service and join with other cities in the region and across the country to create a new industry standard for fees and refuse to do business with any bank that does not abide by that standard.
  • Creating a public bank. The City of Chicago should establish a public bank that is owned by taxpayers and can deliver a range of services, including municipal finance, and provide capital for local economic development and affordable housing in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
  • Raising progressive revenue. The City of Chicago should work to raise progressive revenue by instituting measures like a graduated city income tax to force high earners to pay their fair share, a commuter tax on suburban residents who work in the city, and the LaSalle Street Tax on financial transactions at the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. All of these likely require state approval, so the mayor would have to petition the state for authorization. California and Minnesota have both enacted progressive revenue measures in recent years that have helped solve their respective budget crises.

These steps will allow Chicago to reclaim power in its relationship with Wall Street and create a financial regime in the city that will put the interests of Chicago’s communities first.

Saqib Bhatti is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Director of the ReFund America Project.

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The Republican Budget Plan Looks to the Past, Not the Future

Mar 19, 2015Joelle Gamble

The Republican budget plans are causing quite a stir in the D.C. press and in Congress. However, the content of their proposals, if enacted, will ripple beyond the beltway and into states, cities, communities, and college campuses across the country – and the consequences should be of particular concern to young Americans.

The Republican budget plans are causing quite a stir in the D.C. press and in Congress. However, the content of their proposals, if enacted, will ripple beyond the beltway and into states, cities, communities, and college campuses across the country – and the consequences should be of particular concern to young Americans.

Rather than using their new platform in Congress to make investments in the future of this nation, Republicans have chosen to pack in a laundry list of complaints and repeals based in our past. Young organizers have already begun to push back against proposed slash in Pell grant funding.  Other backwards-looking choices, from repealing the Affordable Care Act to failing to invest in new energy technology, would also have a profound impact on young people.

The Campus Network believes in policy that is by and for people, not built at the expense of them. We’ve got a student-generated budget to prove it. As the young people who are inheriting the effects of the decisions made at all levels of government today, we want to see investments made in a more prosperous future. Investments in accessible and affordable education, critical infrastructure, green energy, and good jobs are what is going to help our generation succeed – not the renewal of old policies that have repeatedly proved ineffective.

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

 

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The House GOP Budget Ignores the Evidence That Combating Inequality is Good for Economic Growth

Mar 19, 2015Tim Price

The budget proposal put forth by House Republicans this week has been roundly criticized as yet another attempt to enact massive tax cuts that would redistribute money to the top at the expense of middle- and low-income families. Republicans contend these cuts would pay for themselves by producing rapid economic growth, which would create the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. But this is the GOP’s same old so-called trickle-down economics with a fresh coat of we-care-about-the-middle-class paint.

The budget proposal put forth by House Republicans this week has been roundly criticized as yet another attempt to enact massive tax cuts that would redistribute money to the top at the expense of middle- and low-income families. Republicans contend these cuts would pay for themselves by producing rapid economic growth, which would create the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. But this is the GOP’s same old so-called trickle-down economics with a fresh coat of we-care-about-the-middle-class paint. In reality, nonpartisan experts agree that policies that directly help low and middle-income families and reduce inequality are the real key to growth. Here are the facts:

  • Inequality is holding back economic growth. A Standard & Poor’s report found that extreme inequality in the U.S. is a drag on growth. Due to that rising inequality, S&P revised the 10-year growth forecast for the U.S. down from 2.8 percent to 2.5 percent annually.  
  • We don’t have to choose between equality and prosperity. Recent research thoroughly discredits Okun’s Law, the economic belief that there is a trade-off between equity and efficiency. In a 2014 report that analyzed historical data across multiple economies, the International Monetary Fund actually found that “the combined direct and indirect effects of redistribution – including the growth effects of lower inequality – are on average pro-growth.”  
  • Taxing the rich won’t hurt the economy. Wealthy interests often claim that taxing them will slow growth, but the same IMF report found that “the best available macroeconomic data do not support that conclusion.”

Despite Republicans’ desire to portray themselves as protectors of the free market and the middle class, even these market-oriented organizations recognize that progressive, middle-class-friendly tax policy is better for the overall economy. Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz has released a plan for reforming the tax code to promote equitable economic growth, and there will be more to come through the Roosevelt Institute’s Inequality Project as we continue to seek solutions to America’s growing inequality crisis.

Tim Price is Communications Manager for the Roosevelt Institute. Program Associate Eric Harris Bernstein contributed research to this post.

Click here to read the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's response to the Republican budget.

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Ending New York's Traffic Jam: Campus Network Testimony to NY City Council

Mar 6, 2015Brit Byrd

On March 5, 2015, Campus Network Senior Fellow Brit Byrd testified before the New York City Council on the topic of vehicular traffic congestion and potential policy solutions. His written testimony is reproduced below.

Good afternoon. My name is Brit Byrd. I am the Senior Fellow for Economic Development for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a student at Columbia University.

On March 5, 2015, Campus Network Senior Fellow Brit Byrd testified before the New York City Council on the topic of vehicular traffic congestion and potential policy solutions. His written testimony is reproduced below.

Good afternoon. My name is Brit Byrd. I am the Senior Fellow for Economic Development for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a student at Columbia University.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is the nation’s largest student-driven policy organization, with more than 120 university campuses in 38 states, involving thousands of young people nationwide. In my capacity as a Senior Fellow, I have examined the economics and urban planning implications of New York City’s on-street parking spaces. I appreciate this opportunity to share some of my research and policy suggestions, which I elaborate on in depth in the attached white paper. That paper was also presented to members of the National Economic Policy Council at the White House last December.

Vehicular traffic congestion presents a serious and ongoing challenge in the City of New York. Most recently, the city’s “Vision Zero” program has highlighted the tragic human cost of reckless and haphazard traffic. This is sadly only one facet of a diverse and widespread problem, spanning concerns about public health, environmental emissions, losses in economic productivity, and responsible urbanism. The economic cost alone is staggering. The Partnership for New York City estimated that as much as $1.9 billion is lost annually due to inventory, logistical, and personnel costs of traffic congestion, and up to $4.6 billion is lost as unrealized business revenue.

The city has not been blind to this problem, and has pursued solutions at the state level and to a more limited extent within its own departments. But the city hasn’t fully taken advantage of one of the largest tools at its disposal: the management of on-street parking spaces. De-incentivizing vehicular traffic within the dense, transit-rich parts of our city is a straightforward task in that raising the cost of a car trip results in fewer car trips. Efforts at enacting a congestion pricing plan in 2008 and the current Park SMART NYC program reflect an awareness of this policy tool. But parking policies that use the same mechanisms have been almost entirely overlooked, even though they represent an ideal opportunity for the city to raise the effective cost of driving while operating entirely within its own powers.

City-administered on-street parking spaces are currently highly undervalued. Current rates vary from $1–$5 across the city, while pricing for an hour of parking in a private off-street garage suggests the market rate is closer to $15–$30. As noted in my white paper, there is extensive research showing that parking prices in cities with transit alternatives, such as New York City, respond remarkably well to classic principles of supply and demand: raise the price of parking and demand will decrease. Conversely, lower prices encourage a higher demand. This is especially pertinent when on-street metered parking is so much less expensive than off-street parking. In one study of six different urban sites, roughly one-third of traffic congestion consisted of people avoiding off-street market prices by circling around an area searching for cheap on-street parking.[1]

Parking spaces represent an enormous quantity of public land that is in effect rented out by the city, but the current management scheme heavily subsidizes the use of this space for a relatively small portion of New Yorkers. Only 22.7 percent of New Yorkers commute to work alone in a vehicle, and only 46 percent of households own a vehicle.[2]

Today I am here to urge the City Council to pursue two policies that would help reduce traffic congestion, discontinue subsidizing car ownership, and raise revenue.

  1. Introduce a residential parking permit system for on-street parking spaces on residential side streets.
  2. Devote a small number of on-street parking spaces for the exclusive use of car-sharing vehicles.

Both of these policies would raise additional revenue for the city, which I further advocate should be allocated to capital budgets for City Council districts that employ participatory budgeting.

Proposal #1 -- A Residential Parking Permit (RPP) System

The vast majority of on-street parking in the city is on residential side streets is completely free. In 2013, research found that “free and available on-street parking increased private car ownership by 8.8 percent for households with off-street parking in the New York City region.”[3] Simply put, this free parking represents an indirect subsidy of personal car ownership and induces additional traffic congestion. Moreover, the free use of residential on-street parking represents a complete concession of a valuable public resource to a small portion of citizens.

In place of free parking on these residential side streets, New York City should implement a residential parking permit (RPP) to set a more appropriate price for the public space being rented. This would also eliminate the existing informal subsidy for personal car ownership and reduce traffic congestion and other vehicle-related negative externalities. In contrast to metered parking, an RPP scheme operates by charging residents a monthly or yearly charge to park within a given zone.                                         

An RPP system benefits drivers by making it easier to find a parking spot available close to their front door and simplifying alternate-side parking. Perhaps for these reasons, there is evidence that New York City drivers are already prepared for RPP. Urban planning researchers Zhan Guo and Simon McDonnell found in 2013 that 52 percent of NYC drivers in the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan were already willing to pay for a residential permit, with a median volunteered price of $408 a year.[4]

Proposal #2 -- On-street parking spaces for car-sharing vehicles

Car-sharing services are already known and popular to many New Yorkers. For a relatively small yearly subscription fee and an hourly usage rate, subscribers can rent a car for the occasional trip, such as moving, trips outside of the city, or trips to big box retailers. The service is an ideal complement to an RPP system, since many car owners in New York City use their cars largely for these kinds of trips. Additionally, the service offers an affordable alternative for those not willing to pay the high entry costs of purchasing, insuring, and fueling a car.

As it stands, car-sharing services mostly partner with private garages or other private institutions, limiting their coverage and public knowledge of the service. Devoting public on-street parking space to car-sharing infrastructure both complements the goals of RPP pricing and provides a distinct public service within itself. Research shows that car-sharing programs encourage similar policy goals as increasing parking rates, and can even encourage drivers to forgo personal ownership altogether in favor of car-sharing. Hoboken, New Jersey implemented a “Corner Cars” program, in which on-street parking spaces were rented to car-sharing services; 3,000 participants say they have given up their personal cars due to the sharing program,[5] and each car-sharing car is estimated to have replaced 17 private vehicles.[6]

Directing a Portion of Revenues toward Participatory Budgeting

In addition to helping to reduce congestion, both of these policies would also produce new revenues: RPP through the lease of permits, and car-sharing through yearly leases of individual spaces in responsible public-private contracts. The revenue raised by this rent has a more direct connection to the physical landscape and infrastructure than other municipal revenues, such as property or sales taxes.

As Councilmembers doubtlessly know from their commutes between City Hall and their district offices, transportation is more than just a line item in our budget, but rather a fundamental part of the daily quality of life for all New Yorkers. Smart transportation policy tackling traffic congestion could have a profound, rippling effect upon the way in which New Yorkers work, study, relax, and feel a connection to their communities. Directing a portion of these new revenues to Participatory Budgeting, a process in which citizens deliberate and vote on capital investments, will both strengthen our infrastructure and citizens’ connection to the processes that enable its funding and maintenance.

Introducing residential parking permits, and public car-sharing spaces represents a step toward a better New York City for all of its citizens. But here too there is also a policy byproduct that is greater than the sum of its parts. Connecting the ubiquitous public resource of parking spots with the more arcane and less accessible processes of municipal budgeting makes government less invisible to the citizen on the street.

Thank you and we look forward to working with you.

 


[1] Shoup, Donald C. The High Cost of Free Parking. Chicago: Planners Press, American Planning Association, (2005)

[2] U.S Bureau of the Census. 2008-2012 American Community Survey Estimates. Census Bureau. Available: http:// factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml

[3] Guo, Zhan. "Residential Street Parking and Car Ownership." Journal of the American Planning Association 79, no. 1 (2013): 32-48.

[4] Guo, Zhan, and Simon McDonnell. "Curb Parking Pricing for Local Residents: An Exploration in New York City Based on Willingness to Pay." Transport Policy, (2013), 186-98.

[5] Shoup, Donald. "Informal Parking Markets: Turning Problems into Solutions." In The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks to Day Labor, 277-294. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, (2014).

[6] Osgood, Andrea. "On-Street Parking Spaces for Shared Cars." ACCESS Magazine 1, no. 36 (2010).

 

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New Score: Liberal Nihilism over Wages

Mar 6, 2015Mike Konczal

I have a new Score column up: Why Are Liberals Resigned to Low Wages? It deals with the three key political institutions that are responsible for wages remaining low, both over the past generation and in the Great Recession. It also tries to understand "liberal nihilism", or the weird glee that results when wages aren't seen as also having an institutional component to them, and thus are no longer a political challenge.

I hope you check it out!

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

I have a new Score column up: Why Are Liberals Resigned to Low Wages? It deals with the three key political institutions that are responsible for wages remaining low, both over the past generation and in the Great Recession. It also tries to understand "liberal nihilism", or the weird glee that results when wages aren't seen as also having an institutional component to them, and thus are no longer a political challenge.

I hope you check it out!

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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America's Tax Code Is Broken, But the Rubio-Lee Plan Won't Fix It

Mar 4, 2015Eric Harris Bernstein

"We believe that America’s best days are still ahead. But we also recognize that restoring the shared prosperity that comes from a strong economy requires reforming the most antiquated and dysfunctional government policies, beginning with the federal tax system."

-Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee 

Finally, something we can all agree on. 

"We believe that America’s best days are still ahead. But we also recognize that restoring the shared prosperity that comes from a strong economy requires reforming the most antiquated and dysfunctional government policies, beginning with the federal tax system."

-Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee 

Finally, something we can all agree on. 

In their joint op-ed in this morning's Wall Street Journal, the two Republican senators proposed a new tax plan and argued that our current federal tax structure is broken, its problems "rooted in the same fundamental unfairness and inequity of a government that picks winners and losers."

Again, we here at the Roosevelt Institute welcome this realization. For too long, our tax code has helped the few at the expense of the many. Unfortunately, an analysis of their proposed solutions shows that the senators have come out on the wrong side of this argument. 

First, they propose lowering the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent. This would be a step worth discussing if not for the fact that, with offshore tax havens and a wealth of other tax benefits, America's largest corporations currently pay an effective rate of just 12.6 percent. In the words of Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, it would seem that the problem is not double taxation, but no taxation.

The senators then argue that, in order to incentivize investment, they would make all capital expenditures 100 percent tax-deductible, suggesting that taxes have squeezed corporations out of the investment business. But if this is the case, then how do we explain the $2 trillion currently being held abroad by America's largest corporations? And what about the enormous sums that companies like Apple and Home Depot are spending on buybacks to enrich investors? 

In fact, new research from Roosevelt Institute Fellow J.W. Mason shows us that the link between corporate cash flow and productive investment has been all but severed since the shareholder revolution of the 1980s. Shareholders now pocket an increasingly large portion of corporate earnings and borrowing that would have once gone to capital investments, job creation, or raising workers’ pay. Given these facts, as well as the current level of historically high profts, it is clear that corporate investment is not suffering from lack of funding, and that more spending on corporate welfare is the wrong way to go.

Lee and Rubio suggest that corporate taxes drive American industries abroad. This is absolutely true: Corporations want to benefit from American security, infrastructure, and human capital, but they don't want to pay their share to maintain those invaluable assets, so they shelter themselves in tax havens like Ireland. The problem, from our point of view, is not, as Rubio and Lee suggest, that the tax code taxes corporations (indeed, that is what a tax code exists to do); the problem is that it allows wealthy corporations to avoid those taxes. 

We need policies that will ensure corporations contribute like the rest of us, not ones that will commit more public money to private enterprise. 

The senators state that their plan is guided by the principles of fairness, freedom, and growth. This raises the question: In whose mind is it fair to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on wealthy corporations, while Americans drive on pothole-pocked roads and send their children to overcrowded schools to learn from underpaid teachers?

For the individual income tax, Rubio and Lee propose reducing the number of brackets to two -- one at 15 percent and one at 35 percent. Even though they have been greatly reduced since the 1980s, lowering rates for middle-income earners is worth discussing. The far more significant part of this proposal, however, is the 11 percent tax break for top income earners, which would further reduce the amount of public funds available for things like roads and schools, and which would further tip our economic balance toward the wealthy.

The senators would likely argue that this tax break will stimulate productive spending, but trickle-down economics did not work under Reagan and will not work now.

Toward the end of their op-ed, the authors posit a series of pro-family tax reforms, like tax credits for children and tax breaks for couples filing jointly. These policies are rooted in a belief that families with married parents are more economically stable and productive than single-parent families. Again, this may be a point worth debating, but these miniscule incentives are scarcely more than lip service to the American middle class, which this plan largely forsakes in favor of more tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy. 

More generally, Rubio and Lee frame their entire plan as a benefit to average Americans, but do this while glossing over policies that will only continue our current trend of supporting the wealthy at the expense of the country as a whole. The Stiglitz tax reform plan, on the other hand, offers a blueprint for a tax code that would bolster the middle class while driving growth and opportunity. 

Now that we’ve all agreed on the problem, we should look to solutions that economists tell us actually work.

Eric Harris Bernstein is a Program Associate at the Roosevelt Institute.

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What are the Robots Doing? Rebalancing our Inequality Intellectual Portfolio

Mar 4, 2015Mike Konczal

A blog post responding to a blog post responding to a blog post. Who says the blogosphere is dead?

Recently I wrote about Larry Summers demolishing an argument about robots and our weak recovery on a panel. Jim Tankersley called up Summers to further discuss the topic, and put his interview online as a response meant to correct and expand on my post. But I don’t think we disagree here, and if anything Summers’ interview shows how much the consensus has changed.

Before we continue, I should clarify what we are talking about. When people talk about “the robots,” they are really telling one of three stories:

1. Technology has played an important role in the economic malaise of the past 35 years, broadly defined as a mix of stagnating median wages, increased inequality, and weakening labor-force participation.

2. The Great Recession has led to such a weak and lackluster recovery in large part because of technology. In one version of this story, technology is simply taking all the jobs that would normally be found in a recovery. As the AP put it, “Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle-class jobs have been lost... They're being obliterated by technology.” (President Obama himself often mentioned this story throughout the dark period when unemployment was much higher.)

Another, more popular, version is that workers simply don’t have the skills required for a high-technology labor force. A representative quote from the Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart in 2010: “the skills people have don't match the jobs available. Coming out of this recession there may be a more or less permanent change in the composition of jobs.”

3. We are moving to a post-work economy, one where robots substitute for human labor in massive numbers and fundamentally change society. Here’s an example. We may or may not be seeing the first hints of such a change now, depending on the story.

The story I said Summers (as well as David Autor) demolished is the second. There’s no evidence that we are having a technology renaissance right now, or that technology has contributed in a major way to the weak recovery, or that a skills gap or other educational factor is holding back employment, or that highly skilled workers are having a great time in the labor market. The arguments against this story from the original post are pretty damning, and Summers either reiterates them or doesn’t walk them back in the Washington Post column. (Let’s leave the third story to science fiction speculation for now, noting that the second story getting demolished means it isn't happening now, and that it's hard to imagine robot innovation when labor is so cheap and abundant.)

However, Summers does argue for the first story as well, the one in which technology has played a role in the malaise of the past 30 years. As he tells the Post, “In the 1960s, about 1 in 20 men between the age of 25 and 54 was not working. Today, the number is more like 1 in 6 or 1 in 7. So we have seen some troubling long-term trends, and they appear to be continuing trends.” Summers also notes, “to say that technology is important is not to say that technology is the only important factor, or even that it is the dominant factor.” He mentioned this as the conference as well; Brad DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum noted it in their posts.

Intellectual Portfolio Rebalancing

When we think of the economic malaise of the past 30 years, we should probably think of it as a combination of technology, globalization, sociology, and public policy. Tankersley wants to emphasize technology as a piece of this story, and I agree it should be there.

But here’s what I find interesting. Whenever we have a portfolio of ideas, some ideas get more weight than others. And what strikes me about this conversation is how much technology and skills have been deemphasized relative to other stories since the Great Recession, especially those of public policy.

This is a pretty quick and important change. Almost ten years ago, Greg Mankiw could write, "Policy choices [...] have not been the main causes of increasing inequality. At least that is the consensus, as I understand it, of the professional labor economists who study the issue.” Brad Delong also said in 2006 that he “can't see the mechanism by which changes in government policies bring about such huge swings in pre-tax income distribution.” Skill-biased technical change (SBTC) and technology were assumed to cover the entire inequality story.

That consensus is weaker now than it was then. Certainly the argument for SBTC, while always shaky, has taken a hit. You can see it with Summers himself in the Washington Post, where he notes that “changing patterns of education is unlikely to have much to do with a rising share of the top 1 percent, which is probably the most important inequality phenomenon.”

Meanwhile, more and more inequality research is focused on institutional factors, ranging from marginal tax rates to the minimum wage to the inefficiency and growth of the financial sector to deunionization.  And as the Mankiw quote hints, 10 years ago you’d be less likely to hear, as Summers says at the Washington Post, that a “combination of softer labor markets and the growing importance of economic rents” are an essential part of inequality spoken with the same confidence as you see here. I read that as a major change of the consensus.

This is a major rebalancing of our intellectual portfolio of inequality stories, a change that I think is opening up a much more rich and accurate description of what has happened. I hope the research and conversation continues this way.

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A blog post responding to a blog post responding to a blog post. Who says the blogosphere is dead?

Recently I wrote about Larry Summers demolishing an argument about robots and our weak recovery on a panel. Jim Tankersley called up Summers to further discuss the topic, and put his interview online as a response meant to correct and expand on my post. But I don’t think we disagree here, and if anything Summers’ interview shows how much the consensus has changed.

Before we continue, I should clarify what we are talking about. When people talk about “the robots,” they are really telling one of three stories:

1. Technology has played an important role in the economic malaise of the past 35 years, broadly defined as a mix of stagnating median wages, increased inequality, and weakening labor-force participation.

2. The Great Recession has led to such a weak and lackluster recovery in large part because of technology. In one version of this story, technology is simply taking all the jobs that would normally be found in a recovery. As the AP put it, “Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle-class jobs have been lost... They're being obliterated by technology.” (President Obama himself often mentioned this story throughout the dark period when unemployment was much higher.)

Another, more popular, version is that workers simply don’t have the skills required for a high-technology labor force. A representative quote from the Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart in 2010: “the skills people have don't match the jobs available. Coming out of this recession there may be a more or less permanent change in the composition of jobs.”

3. We are moving to a post-work economy, one where robots substitute for human labor in massive numbers and fundamentally change society. Here’s an example. We may or may not be seeing the first hints of such a change now, depending on the story.

The story I said Summers (as well as David Autor) demolished is the second. There’s no evidence that we are having a technology renaissance right now, or that technology has contributed in a major way to the weak recovery, or that a skills gap or other educational factor is holding back employment, or that highly skilled workers are having a great time in the labor market. The arguments against this story from the original post are pretty damning, and Summers either reiterates them or doesn’t walk them back in the Washington Post column. (Let’s leave the third story to science fiction speculation for now, noting that the second story getting demolished means it isn't happening now, and that it's hard to imagine robot innovation when labor is so cheap and abundant.)

However, Summers does argue for the first story as well, the one in which technology has played a role in the malaise of the past 30 years. As he tells the Post, “In the 1960s, about 1 in 20 men between the age of 25 and 54 was not working. Today, the number is more like 1 in 6 or 1 in 7. So we have seen some troubling long-term trends, and they appear to be continuing trends.” Summers also notes, “to say that technology is important is not to say that technology is the only important factor, or even that it is the dominant factor.” He mentioned this as the conference as well; Brad DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum noted it in their posts.

Intellectual Portfolio Rebalancing

When we think of the economic malaise of the past 30 years, we should probably think of it as a combination of technology, globalization, sociology, and public policy. Tankersley wants to emphasize technology as a piece of this story, and I agree it should be there.

But here’s what I find interesting. Whenever we have a portfolio of ideas, some ideas get more weight than others. And what strikes me about this conversation is how much technology and skills have been deemphasized relative to other stories since the Great Recession, especially those of public policy.

This is a pretty quick and important change. Almost ten years ago, Greg Mankiw could write, "Policy choices [...] have not been the main causes of increasing inequality. At least that is the consensus, as I understand it, of the professional labor economists who study the issue.” Brad Delong also said in 2006 that he “can't see the mechanism by which changes in government policies bring about such huge swings in pre-tax income distribution.” Skill-biased technical change (SBTC) and technology were assumed to cover the entire inequality story.

That consensus is weaker now than it was then. Certainly the argument for SBTC, while always shaky, has taken a hit. You can see it with Summers himself in the Washington Post, where he notes that “changing patterns of education is unlikely to have much to do with a rising share of the top 1 percent, which is probably the most important inequality phenomenon.”

Meanwhile, more and more inequality research is focused on institutional factors, ranging from marginal tax rates to the minimum wage to the inefficiency and growth of the financial sector to deunionization.  And as the Mankiw quote hints, 10 years ago you’d be less likely to hear, as Summers says at the Washington Post, that a “combination of softer labor markets and the growing importance of economic rents” are an essential part of inequality spoken with the same confidence as you see here. I read that as a major change of the consensus.

This is a major rebalancing of our intellectual portfolio of inequality stories, a change that I think is opening up a much more rich and accurate description of what has happened. I hope the research and conversation continues this way.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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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!

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