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

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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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Launching Our Financialization Project with "Disgorge the Cash"

Feb 25, 2015Mike Konczal

So excited to be launching our new Financialization Project. Check out the website here. Part of the goal of the project is to define financialization, and we've focused on the changes to savings, power, wealth, and society that have occured over the past 35 years. We'll have more there soon, but for now check out the general idea here.

We're also releasing our first paper, "Disgorge the Cash: The Disconnect Between Corporate Borrowing and Investment," by Roosevelt fellow J.W. Mason. There's a great writeup of the paper by Lydia DePillis – "Why companies are rewarding shareholders instead of investing in the real economy" – at the Washington Post.

There's a ton in there, from the key intellectual, ideological, legal, and institutional changes that brought about the shareholder revolution, to reasons to doubt a credit crunch has played any kind of role in the Great Recession. But the core of it is told in these two graphs, dug out from detailed Compustat data:

The first figure shows that a firm borrowing $1 would correlate with an additional 40 cents of investment before the 1980s. Since the 1980s that has collapsed. Today, there is a strong correlation between shareholder payouts and borrowing that did not exist before the mid-1980s. Since the 1980s, shareholder payouts have nearly doubled; in the second half of 2007, aggregate payouts actually exceeded aggregate investment.

This next figure, a little harder to follow, uses flow-of-funds data to make the same point more dramatically.

These graphs plot corporate investment and shareholder payouts against cash flow from operations and net borrowing, respectively. Here the series are broken into three periods: 1952–1984; 1985 to the business-cycle trough in 2001; and 2002–2013. As the paper notes, the upper two panels show a strong relationship between corporate sources of funds and investment in the 1950s through the early 1980s: the points of the scatterplots fall clearly along an upward-sloping diagonal, indicating that periods of high corporate earnings and high corporate borrowing were consistently also periods of high corporate investment. The relationship between investment and the two sources of funds is still present, though weaker, in the 1985–2001 period.
 
But in the most recent business cycle and recovery, the correlations appear to have vanished entirely. The rise, fall, and recovery of corporate cash flow over the past dozen years is not associated with any similar shifts in corporate investment, which seems stuck at a low level of 1–2 percent of total assets. Similarly, the very large swings in credit flows to the corporate sector do not correspond to any similar shifts in aggregate investment. Turning to the lower two panels of Figure 6, which show shareholder payouts, we see at most a weak relationship with the two sources of funds in the earlier period. In the earlier period, it is payments to shareholders that are stable at 1–2 percent of corporate assets. In the most recent period, by contrast, payouts to shareholders vary much more, and appear more strongly associated with variation in cash flow and borrowing. The transitional period of 1985–2001 is intermediate between the two.
 
I hope you check out the full paper. Here's the executive summary:
 
This paper provides evidence that the strong empirical relationship of corporate cash flow and borrowing to productive corporate investment has disappeared in the last 30 years and has been replaced with corporate funds and shareholder payouts. Whereas firms once borrowed to invest and improve their long-term performance, they now borrow to enrich their investors in the short-run. This is the result of legal, managerial, and structural changes that resulted from the shareholder revolution of the 1980s. Under the older, managerial, model, more money coming into a firm – from sales or from borrowing – typically meant more money spent on fixed investment. In the new rentier-dominated model, more money coming in means more money flowing out to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks.
 
These results have important implications for macroeconomic policy. The shareholder revolution – and its implications for corporate financing decisions – may help explain why higher corporate profits in recent business cycles have generally failed to lead to high levels of investment. And under this new system, cheaper money from lower interest rates will fail to stimulate investment, growth, and wages because, as we show here, additional funds are funneled to shareholders through buybacks and dividends.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

So excited to be launching our new Financialization Project. Check out the website here. Part of the goal of the project is to define financialization, and we've focused on the changes to savings, power, wealth, and society that have occured over the past 35 years. We'll have more there soon, but for now check out the general idea here.

We're also releasing our first paper, "Disgorge the Cash: The Disconnect Between Corporate Borrowing and Investment," by Roosevelt fellow J.W. Mason. There's a great writeup of the paper by Lydia DePillis – "Why companies are rewarding shareholders instead of investing in the real economy" – at the Washington Post.

There's a ton in there, from the key intellectual, ideological, legal, and institutional changes that brought about the shareholder revolution, to reasons to doubt a credit crunch has played any kind of role in the Great Recession. But the core of it is told in these two graphs, dug out from detailed Compustat data:

The first figure shows that a firm borrowing $1 would correlate with an additional 40 cents of investment before the 1980s. Since the 1980s that has collapsed. Today, there is a strong correlation between shareholder payouts and borrowing that did not exist before the mid-1980s. Since the 1980s, shareholder payouts have nearly doubled; in the second half of 2007, aggregate payouts actually exceeded aggregate investment.

This next figure, a little harder to follow, uses flow-of-funds data to make the same point more dramatically.

These graphs plot corporate investment and shareholder payouts against cash flow from operations and net borrowing, respectively. Here the series are broken into three periods: 1952–1984; 1985 to the business-cycle trough in 2001; and 2002–2013. As the paper notes, the upper two panels show a strong relationship between corporate sources of funds and investment in the 1950s through the early 1980s: the points of the scatterplots fall clearly along an upward-sloping diagonal, indicating that periods of high corporate earnings and high corporate borrowing were consistently also periods of high corporate investment. The relationship between investment and the two sources of funds is still present, though weaker, in the 1985–2001 period.
 
But in the most recent business cycle and recovery, the correlations appear to have vanished entirely. The rise, fall, and recovery of corporate cash flow over the past dozen years is not associated with any similar shifts in corporate investment, which seems stuck at a low level of 1–2 percent of total assets. Similarly, the very large swings in credit flows to the corporate sector do not correspond to any similar shifts in aggregate investment. Turning to the lower two panels of Figure 6, which show shareholder payouts, we see at most a weak relationship with the two sources of funds in the earlier period. In the earlier period, it is payments to shareholders that are stable at 1–2 percent of corporate assets. In the most recent period, by contrast, payouts to shareholders vary much more, and appear more strongly associated with variation in cash flow and borrowing. The transitional period of 1985–2001 is intermediate between the two.
 
I hope you check out the full paper. Here's the executive summary:
 
This paper provides evidence that the strong empirical relationship of corporate cash flow and borrowing to productive corporate investment has disappeared in the last 30 years and has been replaced with corporate funds and shareholder payouts. Whereas firms once borrowed to invest and improve their long-term performance, they now borrow to enrich their investors in the short-run. This is the result of legal, managerial, and structural changes that resulted from the shareholder revolution of the 1980s. Under the older, managerial, model, more money coming into a firm – from sales or from borrowing – typically meant more money spent on fixed investment. In the new rentier-dominated model, more money coming in means more money flowing out to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks.
 
These results have important implications for macroeconomic policy. The shareholder revolution – and its implications for corporate financing decisions – may help explain why higher corporate profits in recent business cycles have generally failed to lead to high levels of investment. And under this new system, cheaper money from lower interest rates will fail to stimulate investment, growth, and wages because, as we show here, additional funds are funneled to shareholders through buybacks and dividends.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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

Feb 25, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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

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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 - January 30: Where Did the Manufacturing Jobs Go?

Jan 30, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Wal-Mart’s Manufacturing Recovery? (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Damon Silvers says that Wal-Mart's manufacturing initiative is really just an attempt to make people forget the company's influence on offshoring jobs.

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

Wal-Mart’s Manufacturing Recovery? (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Damon Silvers says that Wal-Mart's manufacturing initiative is really just an attempt to make people forget the company's influence on offshoring jobs.

Bernie Sanders Wants to Spend $1 Trillion on Infrastruture (WaPo)

Senator Sanders' proposal calls for investment in a full range of infrastructure projects, and he says it would put 13 million people to work, writes Ashley Halsey.

What the Sharing Economy Takes (The Nation)

Doug Henwood dives deep into the so-called sharing economy, pointing out how the utopian ideals of the companies involved fail to play out in the real economy.

Obama Has a Modest Plan to Tackle One of the Most Underrated Economic Problems in America (Vox)

Timothy B. Lee praises a proposed study of state occupational licensing. There's little evidence that licensing massage therapists and funeral attendants improves quality.

Rent to Own: Wall Street’s Latest Housing Trick (ProPublica)

Jesse Eisinger says rent-to-own housing schemes, which seem to take advantage of consumers' lack of knowledge, make a case for a stronger government role in overseeing the housing market.

Stop Trying to Make Financial Literacy Happen (Slate)

Helaine Olen argues that the financial services industry pushes financial literacy because it's a way around true consumer protection models with legal backing.

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The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help the Real Economy

Jan 20, 2015Mike Konczal

President Obama is going big on capital taxation in the State of the Union tonight, including a proposal to raise dividend taxes on the rich to 28 percent. The President is probably not going to frame this as a move away from the George W. Bush economy, but Bush’s radical cuts to capital taxes are part of his legacy that we are still living with. And it’s a part that the latest evidence tells us did a lot to help the rich without helping the overall economy at all.

In the response to Obama’s proposal, you are going to hear a lot about how lower dividend rates increase investment and help the real economy. Indeed, lowering capital tax rates has been a consistent goal of conservatives. As a result, one of the biggest capital taxation changes in history happened in 2003, when George W. Bush reduced the dividend tax rate from 38.6 percent to 15 percent as part of his rapid and expansive tax cut agenda.

There’s been a lot of research about the effect of this massive dividend tax cut on payouts to shareholders (kicked off by an important 2005 Chetty-Saez paper), but very little on its effect on the real economy. Did slashing the dividend tax rate boost corporate investments, perhaps because it made funding projects easier? We don’t know, and it’s not because economists aren’t interested; it’s because it’s very difficult to construct a control group with which to compare the results. Investments increased after 2003, but they likely would have to some degree independent of the dividend tax cut, as we were coming out of a recession. So did the tax cut make a difference?

This is where UC Berkeley economist Danny Yagan’s fantastic new paper, “Capital Tax Reform and the Real Economy: The Effects of the 2003 Dividend Tax Cut,” (pdf, slides) comes in. He uses a large amount of IRS data on corporate tax returns to compare S-corporations with C-corporations. Without getting deep into tax law, C-corporations are publicly-traded firms, while S-corporations are closely held ones without institutional investors. But they are largely comparable in the range Yagan looks at (between $1 million and $1 billion dollars in size), as they are competing in the same industries and locations.

Crucially, though, S-corporations don’t pay a dividend tax and thus didn’t benefit from the big 2003 dividend tax cut, while C-corporations do pay them and did benefit. So that allows Yagan to set up S-corporations as a control group and see what the effect of the massive dividend tax cut on C-corporations has been. Here’s what he finds:

The blue line is the C-corporations, which should diverge from the red-line if the dividend tax cut caused a real change. But there’s no statistical difference between the two paths at all. (Note how their paths are the same before the cut, so it’s a real trend in the business cycle.) There’s no difference in either investment or adjusted net investment. There’s also no difference when it comes to employee compensation. The firms that got a massive capital tax cut did not make any different choices about things that boost the real economy. This is true across a crazy-robust number of controls, measures, and coding of outliers.

The one thing that does increase for C-corporations, of course, is the disgorgement of cash to shareholders. Cutting dividend taxes leads to an increase in dividends and share buybacks. This shows that these corporations are in fact making decisions in response to the tax cut; they just happen to be decisions that benefit, well, probably not you. If right now you are worried that too much cash is leaving firms to benefit a handful of investors while the real economy stagnates, suddenly Clinton-era levels of dividend taxation don’t look so bad.

This is interesting for people interested more specifically in corporate finance theory. Because this is evidence against the theory that firms use the stock market to raise funding, and toward a “pecking order” theory that internal funds and riskless debt are far above equity in a hierarchy of corporate funding choices. In models like the latter, taxation of dividends does very little to impact the cost of capital for firms, because equity isn’t the binding constraint on marginal investment options.

President Obama will likely focus his pitch for the dividend tax increase on the future, when, in his argument, globalization and technology will cause compensation to stagnate while investor payouts skyrocket and the economy becomes more focused on the top 1 percent. But it’s worth noting that while capital taxes are a solution to that problem, the radical slashing conservatives have brought to them are also partly responsible for our current malaise.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

President Obama is going big on capital taxation in the State of the Union tonight, including a proposal to raise dividend taxes on the rich to 28 percent. The President is probably not going to frame this as a move away from the George W. Bush economy, but Bush’s radical cuts to capital taxes are part of his legacy that we are still living with. And it’s a part that the latest evidence tells us did a lot to help the rich without helping the overall economy at all.

In the response to Obama’s proposal, you are going to hear a lot about how lower dividend rates increase investment and help the real economy. Indeed, lowering capital tax rates has been a consistent goal of conservatives. As a result, one of the biggest capital taxation changes in history happened in 2003, when George W. Bush reduced the dividend tax rate from 38.6 percent to 15 percent as part of his rapid and expansive tax cut agenda.

There’s been a lot of research about the effect of this massive dividend tax cut on payouts to shareholders (kicked off by an important 2005 Chetty-Saez paper), but very little on its effect on the real economy. Did slashing the dividend tax rate boost corporate investments, perhaps because it made funding projects easier? We don’t know, and it’s not because economists aren’t interested; it’s because it’s very difficult to construct a control group with which to compare the results. Investments increased after 2003, but they likely would have to some degree independent of the dividend tax cut, as we were coming out of a recession. So did the tax cut make a difference?

This is where UC Berkeley economist Danny Yagan’s fantastic new paper, “Capital Tax Reform and the Real Economy: The Effects of the 2003 Dividend Tax Cut,” (pdf, slides) comes in. He uses a large amount of IRS data on corporate tax returns to compare S-corporations with C-corporations. Without getting deep into tax law, C-corporations are publicly-traded firms, while S-corporations are closely held ones without institutional investors. But they are largely comparable in the range Yagan looks at (between $1 million and $1 billion dollars in size), as they are competing in the same industries and locations.

Crucially, though, S-corporations don’t pay a dividend tax and thus didn’t benefit from the big 2003 dividend tax cut, while C-corporations do pay them and did benefit. So that allows Yagan to set up S-corporations as a control group and see what the effect of the massive dividend tax cut on C-corporations has been. Here’s what he finds:

The blue line is the C-corporations, which should diverge from the red-line if the dividend tax cut caused a real change. But there’s no statistical difference between the two paths at all. (Note how their paths are the same before the cut, so it’s a real trend in the business cycle.) There’s no difference in either investment or adjusted net investment. There’s also no difference when it comes to employee compensation. The firms that got a massive capital tax cut did not make any different choices about things that boost the real economy. This is true across a crazy-robust number of controls, measures, and coding of outliers.

The one thing that does increase for C-corporations, of course, is the disgorgement of cash to shareholders. Cutting dividend taxes leads to an increase in dividends and share buybacks. This shows that these corporations are in fact making decisions in response to the tax cut; they just happen to be decisions that benefit, well, probably not you. If right now you are worried that too much cash is leaving firms to benefit a handful of investors while the real economy stagnates, suddenly Clinton-era levels of dividend taxation don’t look so bad.

This is interesting for people interested more specifically in corporate finance theory. Because this is evidence against the theory that firms use the stock market to raise funding, and toward a “pecking order” theory that internal funds and riskless debt are far above equity in a hierarchy of corporate funding choices. In models like the latter, taxation of dividends does very little to impact the cost of capital for firms, because equity isn’t the binding constraint on marginal investment options.

President Obama will likely focus his pitch for the dividend tax increase on the future, when, in his argument, globalization and technology will cause compensation to stagnate while investor payouts skyrocket and the economy becomes more focused on the top 1 percent. But it’s worth noting that while capital taxes are a solution to that problem, the radical slashing conservatives have brought to them are also partly responsible for our current malaise.

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Daily Digest - January 16: Internet Access is the Next Tennessee Valley Authority

Jan 16, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

There will be no new Daily Digest on Monday, January 19 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The Daily Digest will return on Tuesday, January 20.

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

Barack Obama: The FDR of Internet Access? (Moyers & Company)

There will be no new Daily Digest on Monday, January 19 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The Daily Digest will return on Tuesday, January 20.

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

Barack Obama: The FDR of Internet Access? (Moyers & Company)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford compares the president's recent push for fiber-optic Internet access to FDR's work on electricity during the New Deal.

Obama Tells Agencies to Advance Sick Leave For Feds’ New Children (WaPo)

Joe Davidson reports that the sick leave would be paired with paid administrative leave, so that federal employees with a new child could have parental leave as well as sick time to follow.

Trying to Solve the Great Wage Slowdown (NYT)

David Leonhardt looks at a new report that considers what could get wages rising again. It focuses in particular on Canada and Australia, countries similar to the U.S. that have seen wage growth.

How Elizabeth Warren Is Yanking Hillary Clinton to the Left (TIME)

Rana Foroohar says that Senator Warren is already shifting the conversation on economics, citing a new report on wages and the middle class from relatively centrist Larry Summers as proof.

Home Care Workers Denied the Right to Make Minimum Wage and Overtime (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert reports on a ruling that has overturned a 2013 Department of Labor rule change on the "companionship exception," which allows home care workers to be paid sub-minimum wages.

New on Next New Deal

A Battle Map for the Republican War Against Dodd-Frank

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal looks at the three fronts in this surprisingly sophisticated GOP war: guerilla deregulation, administrative siege, and reactionary rhetoric.

The Van Hollen Plan Takes on Soaring CEO Pay: A Debate We Need to Have

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg points out that Rep. Van Hollen's plan has great political messaging around CEO pay, though it doesn't fully close the performance pay loophole.

For Now, Excitement of Free Community College Program Raises Lots of Questions

David Bevevino, a Campus Network alumnus who now researches community college best practices, poses questions about how schools will implement this program, and what extraneous costs it might have.

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A Battle Map for the Republican War Against Dodd-Frank

Jan 15, 2015Mike Konczal

The Republicans have declared war against Dodd-Frank. But what kind of war is it, and on what fronts are they waging this war? I think there are at least three campaigns, each with its own strategic goals and tactics. Distinguishing these campaigns from each other will help us understand what Republicans are trying to do and how to keep them in check.

First, to understand the Republican campaigns, it’s useful go over what Dodd-Frank does. Dodd-Frank can be analogized to the way we regulate driving. First, there are simple rules of the road, like speed limits and stop signs, designed as outright prevention against accidents. Then there are efforts to help with stabilization if the driver gets in trouble, such as anti-lock brakes or road design. And then there are regulations for the resolution of accidents that do occur, like seat belts and airbags, designed to avoids worst-case scenarios.

These three goals map onto Dodd-Frank pretty well. Dodd-Frank also puts rules upfront to prevent certain actions, requires additional regulations to create stability within large financial firms, and lays out plans to allow for a successful resolution of a firm once it fails. Let’s graph that out:

Prevention: Dodd-Frank created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), reforming consumer protection from being an “orphan mission” spread across 11 agencies by establishing one dedicated agency for it. The act also requires that derivatives trade with clearinghouses and through exchanges or else face additional capital requirements, which brought price transparency and additional capital to the market that brought down AIG. Another piece is the Volcker Rule, which separates the proprietary trading that can cause rapid losses from our commercial banking and payment systems.

Stabilization: Dodd-Frank also provides for the expansion of capital requirements across the financial sector, including higher requirements for the biggest firms relative to smaller ones, as well as higher requirements for those who use short-term funding in the “shadow” banking sector relative to traditional banks. These firms are designed by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC).

Resolution:  The firms FSOC designates as systemically risky have to prepare themselves for a rapid resolution for when they do fail. They have to prove that they can survive bankruptcy without bringing down the entire system (an effort currently being fought). The FDIC has prepared a second line of defense, a special “resolution authority” (OLA) to use if bankruptcy isn’t a viable option in a crisis.

These elements of the law all flow naturally from the financial crisis of 2008. It would have been very helpful in the crisis for there to be more clarity in the derivatives market, more capital in shadow banks, and a process to resolve Lehman Brothers. Maybe these are great ways to approach the problem or maybe they aren’t, but to suggest they have no basis in the crisis, as the American Enterprise Institute comically does, is pure ideology.

But ignore the more ridiculous arguments. The actual war against Dodd-Frank is much more sophisticated, and it’s being waged on numerous fronts. Let’s make a map of the battlefield:

There are three distinct campaigns being waged:

Guerrilla Deregulation. The goal here is to undermine as much of the efforts of derivatives regulation, the Volcker Rule, and the CFPB as possible through quick, surprise attacks. This, in turn, has a chilling effect across regulators and throws the regulatory process into chaos.

The main tactic, as in any good guerrilla campaign, is to do hit-and-run ambushes of key, important targets vulnerable to raids. David Dayen had a helpful list of some key bills that must pass in 2015, bills likely to be perfect targets for a good guerrilla raid. The guerrilla campaign had a major victory in weakening the Section 716 “push-out” rule in the Cromnibus bill. And that will probably be a model going forward for these tactics, replicated in the recent attacks we’ve seen, down to counting the small handful of Democrats signing on as some sort of concession of bipartisanship.

Another guerrilla element will be the focus on victory through attrition. It’s not like the House Republicans have their own theory of how to regulate the derivatives market, or that they are making the full case against the Volcker Rule or the CFPB, or even proposing their own anything. They are winning simply through weakening both the rules and the resolve of reformers.

Administrative Siege: Aside from the guerrilla war of deregulation, the GOP is also waging war on another front, through a long-term siege of the regulatory agencies. This includes blockading them from resources like funding and personnel, consistent harassment, discrediting them in the eyes of the broader public, and weakening their power to act. This is a long-term battle, going back to the beginning of Dodd-Frank, and their terms are unconditional surrender.

The seriousness of this campaign became clear when the GOP first refused to appoint any director of the CFPB unless there was a complete overhaul to weaken it. This campaign has continued against the CFTC, and now extends to the FSOC trying to designate firms as systemically risky. The recent House bill to extend cost-benefit analysis to financial regulations, where it has little history, unclear analytical benefit, and could easily lead to worse rules, is also part of this siege.

One key argument the GOP is pushing is that the regulators are historically too powerful and out of control. As House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling said to the Wall Street Journal, the CFPB is “the single most unaccountable agency in the history of America.” This is just silly agitprop. The structure -- independent budgets and a single director -- looks exactly like their counterparts in the OCC. It’s not only subject to the same rule-making process as other regulators, but other regulators can in fact veto the CFPB, making it significantly more accountable compared to any other agency.

The same is being said about FSOC. Note that there’s always room for improvement; Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) have some ways to improve the transparency of FSOC here. But as AFR’s Marcus Stanley notes, the House’s recent FSOC bill “appears better calculated to hinder FSOC operations than to improve its transparency.” Indeed, as Better Markets notes, this FSOC battle is in large part over the regulation of money market funds, a crucial reform in fixing shadow banking. But making government work better isn’t the goal of the siege; this campaign’s goal is to break these agencies and their ability to regulate the financial system.

Reactionary Rhetoric: The goal of this ideological programming campaign is to push the argument that Dodd-Frank simply reinforces the worst part of the bailouts and does nothing productive toward reform. Instead of a series of methods to check and reduce Too Big To Fail, this campaign argues that Dodd-Frank does worse than fail. Following the rhetoric of reaction, reform simply makes the problem far worse. The point here is to remove the FDIC’s ability to put systemically risky firms into a receivership while also preparing the ground for a full repeal.

Advancing the argument that Dodd-Frank has made the bailouts of 2008-2009 permanent and serves only to benefit the biggest financial firms has become a marching order for the movement right. It was basically the entire GOP argument against Dodd-Frank in 2012 (Mitt Romney calling the act "the biggest kiss" to Wall Street), and it still dominates their talking points. If this were the case, the largest banks would receive a large Too Big To Fail subsidy, and we’d subsequently see a reduction in their borrowing costs.

Major studies tells us that the opposite is the case; since 2010 Too Big To Fail subsidies have fallen instead of stabilized or increased. This doesn’t mean the work is done - we could still see a major failure cause systemic risk, and just “avoiding catastrophic collapses” isn’t really a headline goal for a functioning financial system. There’s also little evidence that Dodd-Frank enriches the biggest banks; firms go out of their way to avoid a SIFI designation, which they wouldn’t if there were a benefit to them, and Wall Street analysts take it for granted that capital requirements and other regulations are more binding for the largest firms.

There could be a productive discussion here about finding a way to reform the bankruptcy code to help combat Too Big To Fail while keeping resolution authority as a backup option. That backup option is key though. Unlike OLA, bankruptcy is slow and deliberate, isn't designed to preserve ongoing firm business, doesn't have guaranteed funding available, can’t prevent runs from short-term creditors, and has trouble internationally. But again, the point for Republicans isn’t to try to come up with the best regime; it’s to discredit the effort at reform entirely so the other campaigns, and the overall campaign for repeal, can be that much easier.

Why do Republicans want all this? The answer you will normally hear is that they are in the pocket of Wall Street or in the thrall of free-market fundamentalism. And there’s truth to that. But they’ve also created a whole institutionally enforced counter-narrative where there was no real crisis and Wall Street committed no bad behavior except for when ACORN made them. This narrative is, bluntly, dumb. But it is the narrative their movement has chosen, and movements have a way of forcing well-meaning people who’d otherwise want to find good solutions to fall in line.

2015 will require reformers to wage their own campaigns to push additional reform (here’s a start), push for stronger action from regulators, and make the public understand the progress that has been made. But first we need to understand that while conservatives may look like they are running a smash-and-grab operation when it comes to Dodd-Frank, it’s actually a quite sophisticated series of campaigns, and they are already winning battles.

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The Republicans have declared war against Dodd-Frank. But what kind of war is it, and on what fronts are they waging this war? I think there are at least three campaigns, each with its own strategic goals and tactics. Distinguishing these campaigns from each other will help us understand what Republicans are trying to do and how to keep them in check.

First, to understand the Republican campaigns, it’s useful go over what Dodd-Frank does. Dodd-Frank can be analogized to the way we regulate driving. First, there are simple rules of the road, like speed limits and stop signs, designed as outright prevention against accidents. Then there are efforts to help with stabilization if the driver gets in trouble, such as anti-lock brakes or road design. And then there are regulations for the resolution of accidents that do occur, like seat belts and airbags, designed to avoids worst-case scenarios.

These three goals map onto Dodd-Frank pretty well. Dodd-Frank also puts rules upfront to prevent certain actions, requires additional regulations to create stability within large financial firms, and lays out plans to allow for a successful resolution of a firm once it fails. Let’s graph that out:

Prevention: Dodd-Frank created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), reforming consumer protection from being an “orphan mission” spread across 11 agencies by establishing one dedicated agency for it. The act also requires that derivatives trade with clearinghouses and through exchanges or else face additional capital requirements, which brought price transparency and additional capital to the market that brought down AIG. Another piece is the Volcker Rule, which separates the proprietary trading that can cause rapid losses from our commercial banking and payment systems.

Stabilization: Dodd-Frank also provides for the expansion of capital requirements across the financial sector, including higher requirements for the biggest firms relative to smaller ones, as well as higher requirements for those who use short-term funding in the “shadow” banking sector relative to traditional banks. These firms are designed by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC).

Resolution:  The firms FSOC designates as systemically risky have to prepare themselves for a rapid resolution for when they do fail. They have to prove that they can survive bankruptcy without bringing down the entire system (an effort currently being fought). The FDIC has prepared a second line of defense, a special “resolution authority” (OLA) to use if bankruptcy isn’t a viable option in a crisis.

These elements of the law all flow naturally from the financial crisis of 2008. It would have been very helpful in the crisis for there to be more clarity in the derivatives market, more capital in shadow banks, and a process to resolve Lehman Brothers. Maybe these are great ways to approach the problem or maybe they aren’t, but to suggest they have no basis in the crisis, as the American Enterprise Institute comically does, is pure ideology.

But ignore the more ridiculous arguments. The actual war against Dodd-Frank is much more sophisticated, and it’s being waged on numerous fronts. Let’s make a map of the battlefield:

There are three distinct campaigns being waged:

Guerrilla Deregulation. The goal here is to undermine as much of the efforts of derivatives regulation, the Volcker Rule, and the CFPB as possible through quick, surprise attacks. This, in turn, has a chilling effect across regulators and throws the regulatory process into chaos.

The main tactic, as in any good guerrilla campaign, is to do hit-and-run ambushes of key, important targets vulnerable to raids. David Dayen had a helpful list of some key bills that must pass in 2015, bills likely to be perfect targets for a good guerrilla raid. The guerrilla campaign had a major victory in weakening the Section 716 “push-out” rule in the Cromnibus bill. And that will probably be a model going forward for these tactics, replicated in the recent attacks we’ve seen, down to counting the small handful of Democrats signing on as some sort of concession of bipartisanship.

Another guerrilla element will be the focus on victory through attrition. It’s not like the House Republicans have their own theory of how to regulate the derivatives market, or that they are making the full case against the Volcker Rule or the CFPB, or even proposing their own anything. They are winning simply through weakening both the rules and the resolve of reformers.

Administrative Siege: Aside from the guerrilla war of deregulation, the GOP is also waging war on another front, through a long-term siege of the regulatory agencies. This includes blockading them from resources like funding and personnel, consistent harassment, discrediting them in the eyes of the broader public, and weakening their power to act. This is a long-term battle, going back to the beginning of Dodd-Frank, and their terms are unconditional surrender.

The seriousness of this campaign became clear when the GOP first refused to appoint any director of the CFPB unless there was a complete overhaul to weaken it. This campaign has continued against the CFTC, and now extends to the FSOC trying to designate firms as systemically risky. The recent House bill to extend cost-benefit analysis to financial regulations, where it has little history, unclear analytical benefit, and could easily lead to worse rules, is also part of this siege.

One key argument the GOP is pushing is that the regulators are historically too powerful and out of control. As House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling said to the Wall Street Journal, the CFPB is “the single most unaccountable agency in the history of America.” This is just silly agitprop. The structure -- independent budgets and a single director -- looks exactly like their counterparts in the OCC. It’s not only subject to the same rule-making process as other regulators, but other regulators can in fact veto the CFPB, making it significantly more accountable compared to any other agency.

The same is being said about FSOC. Note that there’s always room for improvement; Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) have some ways to improve the transparency of FSOC here. But as AFR’s Marcus Stanley notes, the House’s recent FSOC bill “appears better calculated to hinder FSOC operations than to improve its transparency.” Indeed, as Better Markets notes, this FSOC battle is in large part over the regulation of money market funds, a crucial reform in fixing shadow banking. But making government work better isn’t the goal of the siege; this campaign’s goal is to break these agencies and their ability to regulate the financial system.

Reactionary Rhetoric: The goal of this ideological programming campaign is to push the argument that Dodd-Frank simply reinforces the worst part of the bailouts and does nothing productive toward reform. Instead of a series of methods to check and reduce Too Big To Fail, this campaign argues that Dodd-Frank does worse than fail. Following the rhetoric of reaction, reform simply makes the problem far worse. The point here is to remove the FDIC’s ability to put systemically risky firms into a receivership while also preparing the ground for a full repeal.

Advancing the argument that Dodd-Frank has made the bailouts of 2008-2009 permanent and serves only to benefit the biggest financial firms has become a marching order for the movement right. It was basically the entire GOP argument against Dodd-Frank in 2012 (Mitt Romney calling the act "the biggest kiss" to Wall Street), and it still dominates their talking points. If this were the case, the largest banks would receive a large Too Big To Fail subsidy, and we’d subsequently see a reduction in their borrowing costs.

Major studies tells us that the opposite is the case; since 2010 Too Big To Fail subsidies have fallen instead of stabilized or increased. This doesn’t mean the work is done - we could still see a major failure cause systemic risk, and just “avoiding catastrophic collapses” isn’t really a headline goal for a functioning financial system. There’s also little evidence that Dodd-Frank enriches the biggest banks; firms go out of their way to avoid a SIFI designation, which they wouldn’t if there were a benefit to them, and Wall Street analysts take it for granted that capital requirements and other regulations are more binding for the largest firms.

There could be a productive discussion here about finding a way to reform the bankruptcy code to help combat Too Big To Fail while keeping resolution authority as a backup option. That backup option is key though. Unlike OLA, bankruptcy is slow and deliberate, isn't designed to preserve ongoing firm business, doesn't have guaranteed funding available, can’t prevent runs from short-term creditors, and has trouble internationally. But again, the point for Republicans isn’t to try to come up with the best regime; it’s to discredit the effort at reform entirely so the other campaigns, and the overall campaign for repeal, can be that much easier.

Why do Republicans want all this? The answer you will normally hear is that they are in the pocket of Wall Street or in the thrall of free-market fundamentalism. And there’s truth to that. But they’ve also created a whole institutionally enforced counter-narrative where there was no real crisis and Wall Street committed no bad behavior except for when ACORN made them. This narrative is, bluntly, dumb. But it is the narrative their movement has chosen, and movements have a way of forcing well-meaning people who’d otherwise want to find good solutions to fall in line.

2015 will require reformers to wage their own campaigns to push additional reform (here’s a start), push for stronger action from regulators, and make the public understand the progress that has been made. But first we need to understand that while conservatives may look like they are running a smash-and-grab operation when it comes to Dodd-Frank, it’s actually a quite sophisticated series of campaigns, and they are already winning battles.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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Daily Digest - January 15: Free Community College Is "A Better Way" For Financial Aid

Jan 15, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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

The Daily Report (AM950 Radio)

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

The Daily Report (AM950 Radio)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal discusses his recent article about the benefits of the president's free community college plan. Mike's segment begins at 28:00.

How Congress is Crippling Our Tax Collection System, in Charts (WaPo)

Catherine Rampell breaks down a report explaining how cuts to the IRS budget are impacting its ability to actually collect the taxes that are owed, with fewer staff to investigate tax evasion.

Republicans Use 'Death by a Thousand Cuts' Strategy to Deregulate Wall Street (The Guardian)

Republicans in the House have passed their first bill to weaken Dodd-Frank, and David Dayen says there are more to come as the GOP attaches deregulation to all kinds of unrelated must-pass bills.

Obama Stands At Crossroads On Financial Reform (ProPublica)

Jesse Eisinger says that with Republicans in control of Congress, it's time for the Obama administration to go big to protect the modest reforms created by Dodd-Frank.

As Profits Fall, JPMorgan Rejects Calls To Break Up The Megabank (Buzzfeed)

Matthew Zeitlin reports on recent suggestions that JPMorgan could be more profitable if it were split up. CEO Jamie Dimon instead blames regulators for drops in profits.

We Don’t Just Need ‘More Jobs’—We Need Higher Wages (In These Times)

Leo Gerard, President of United Steelworkers, says that the new jobs showing up on the jobs report aren't enough without higher wages for workers whose wages have been nearly stagnant for 35 years.

New on Next New Deal

Is Inequality Killing U.S. Mothers?

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn ties the United States' embarrassingly high maternal mortality rates to economic inequality's broader impact on health and mortality.

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

Jan 13, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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)

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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