Daily Digest - November 7: Remember The Last Time Wall Street Invested in Housing?

Nov 7, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Best City for the Next Generation of Artists Just Might Be Jackson (Atlantic Cities)

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The Best City for the Next Generation of Artists Just Might Be Jackson (Atlantic Cities)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz continues her series on cities where Millennials can succeed. She reports on the art scene in Jackson, MI, where young creatives are taking advantage of cheap available space to try new projects.

Wall Street Slumlords’ Outrageous New Scheme: How They Could Wreck the Economy Again (Salon)

David Dayen reports on Wall Street's newest housing-based investment vehicle, which are backed by rental payments. Ratings agencies have given these securities triple-A ratings, but mortgage-backed securities had the same rating.

The One Mortgage Fix Washington Isn’t Talking About (ProPublica)

Jesse Eisenger considers the pros and cons of keeping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in government, even though policymakers are ignoring that option. He thinks it might be the simplest and most effective choice - but it's the direct opposite of current policy trends.

A Booster Shot for Social Security (In These Times)

Sarah Jaffe explains the plan some progressive Democrats are presenting to expand Social Security. They call chained CPI a tax on life itself for seniors, because it assumes people will substitute cheaper goods when possible - but health care has no substitutes.

Ten States Have Banned Cities And Counties From Passing Paid Sick Days (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert looks at the states that passed preemptive laws banning municipalities from enacting paid sick leave. These states apparently know better than their cities, which may want to eliminate the lost productivity that comes with sick workers on the job.

Unemployment Benefits Set To Expire For 1.3 Million At End Of Year (HuffPo)

Arthur Delaney says that Congressional patterns of cutting close to the deadline for extending federal unemployment benefits should be cause for concern again this year. With Congress's disinterest in preventing SNAP cuts, he wonders if the same could happen here.

A Hunger Expert Explains What Happens Now That Food Stamps Are Cut (WaPo)

Dylan Matthews speaks to Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger about how SNAP cuts will affect food-insecure Americans, and how he would structure policy around hunger. Berg thinks that benefits weren't enough before the cuts.

New Student Loan Rules Add Protections for Borrowers (NYT)

Ann Carrns explains new rules from the Department of Education meant to helped borrowers get out of default. Income-based rehabilitative payments and increased ease in requesting forbearance should make a big difference for struggling graduates.

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Daily Digest - November 6: Underdog Cities and Underfunded Agencies

Nov 6, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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San Antonio's Simple Appeal to Millennials: Diversity, Decent Jobs, and Cheap Living (Atlantic Cities)

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San Antonio's Simple Appeal to Millennials: Diversity, Decent Jobs, and Cheap Living (Atlantic Cities)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz continues her series on cities "Where Millennials Can Make It Now." San Antonio, she says, is a bit of an underdog compared to other Texas cities that attract Millennials, but many residents relish that status.

  • Roosevelt Take: Nona speaks about how Millennials' views on love and relationships have been affected by the Great Recession in the newest video in the Roosevelt Institute's explainer series, "What's the Deal."

How Washington Is Wrecking the Future, in 2 Charts (The Atlantic)

Matthew O'Brien looks at the severe cuts to non-defense discretionary spending in the past few years with charts from the Financial Times. He argues that at these spending levels, government is only barely fulfilling its basic responsibilities.

Liberal Push to Expand Social Security Gains Steam (WaPo)

Greg Sargent speaks to Senator Sherrod Brown about why now is the time for Democrats to shift the conversation and go on the offensive for entitlement programs. The discussion should be about whether to make cuts to Social Security, not how much.

Shortchanging a Wall Street Watchdog (U.S. News & World Report)

Pat Garofalo argues that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's budget is eternally short because of intentional Republican strategy. An underfunded enforcement agency can't enforce much of anything, let alone new Dodd-Frank regulations.

Will ENDA Be the Next Casualty of the GOP’s Internal Crisis? (The Nation)

Zoë Carpenter considers why the popularly supported Employment Non-Discrimination Act is unlikely to even get a vote in the House. Boehner claims it's to protect business owners - but business owners aren't speaking up against ENDA.

Higher Wage Is Approved in New Jersey (NYT)

Patrick McGeehan reports on the results of the NJ constitutional amendment, which not only raises the minimum wage starting on January 1, but also indexes it to inflation. That annual adjustment is key, because without it low-wage workers essentially get wage cuts each year.

Bulldozing Homes and Civil Rights (MSNBC)

Adam Serwer reports on the upcoming Supreme Court case Mount Holly Citizens in Action vs Township of Mount Holly, which he says could give the Court's right wing an opportunity to collapse the Fair Housing Act, a pillar of civil rights law.

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Federal Court Decision Doesn't Just Limit Abortion: It Creates a Crisis for Women's Health Care in Texas

Nov 1, 2013Andrea Flynn

Yesterday's decision, which will close about one third of the clinics that provide abortion care in Texas, will change the landscape of women's health care infrastructure in the state, maybe permanently.

Yesterday's decision, which will close about one third of the clinics that provide abortion care in Texas, will change the landscape of women's health care infrastructure in the state, maybe permanently.

We used to think change couldn’t happen overnight. That’s certainly not the case in Texas, where in the last 24 hours the landscape of abortion access has changed drastically.  Many women who went to bed anticipating an abortion appointment today woke up to find their clinic closed thanks to yesterday’s U.S. Court of Appeals decision that the state’s draconian abortion regulations do not constitute an undue burden on women.  

That decision immediately shuttered clinics whose abortion providers do not have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles the clinic. We don’t know yet know the exact number of closures, but information from the Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund and the Lilith Fund – important organizations that enable low-income women seeking abortion care to access it by helping to pay for the procedures – put that number at between 13 and 15 out of a total of 36 clinics across the state. Some parts of the state, such as the Lower Rio Grande Valley – home to two of the nation’s poorest counties – are left with no provider at all.

Of the clinics that remain open, many have some physicians on staff who have not obtained admitting privileges and as of today cannot perform abortions. Those clinics will be forced to serve fewer patients at the very time more and more women from across the state will rely on them for care.

The most recent decision is the latest in the never-ending onslaught on women’s rights in the state of Texas. It comes only three days after a federal judge blocked the law because he believed it would be deemed unconstitutional and found it to be “without a rational basis and place[ing] a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.” But, as The New York Times reported, the appeals panel came to the opposite conclusion, saying the admitting privileges rule is in fact constitutional because it serves a “legitimate state interest” by regulating doctors and does not impose an undue burden on the right to abortion.

Women seeking abortions just before the 16-week mark are especially in trouble today. There are currently only two facilities in Texas that perform abortions between 16 and 20 weeks. But the closure of so many clinics today and in the coming weeks will force women seeking abortions to traverse the state to access care, which will likely increase the number of procedures that have to happen in this window. This travel requires time and resources that many women simply do not have.

As part of the sweeping anti-abortion legislation passed this summer, Texas lawmakers today also implemented a ban on abortion after 20 weeks and a law that providers must adhere to out-of-date regulations for medication abortion.

For women needing an abortion at or after 20 weeks in Texas there are few options. Abortion at this stage of pregnancy is outlawed in neighboring Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Women could travel to Albuquerque, NM, but the city will soon hold a special election for a ban on abortion past twenty weeks, so that could be off the table too.

Abortions occurring after this gestational limit represent a small fraction of the total. Conservatives demonize women seeking later term abortions as being lazy, careless or irresponsible. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that the majority of women who seek an abortion this late in pregnancy do so because they learn of a fetal abnormality or are unable to afford one sooner; for those whose economic circumstances preclude them from accessing care when they first need it, traveling across or out of the state is just not possible.

The requirement that physicians use an outdated protocol on medication abortion is a blatant attempt to throw one more obstacle at women seeking the procedure. The original FDA guidelines require a higher dosage of medication than is necessary, carry higher risks of complications, require four visits to a clinic, and restrict the procedure to seven weeks. The more current protocol followed by nearly all providers in the U.S. and around the world calls for a lower dose and enables women to access it up to nine weeks of pregnancy. So on the one hand, anti-choice lawmakers chastise women for not seeking abortions early in pregnancy, and on the other they make it nearly impossible and less safe for women to access the procedure as soon as possible.

In Texas, conservative politicians and anti-choice activists have been maniacally focused on decimating the health infrastructure that serves as a point of primary care for hundreds of thousands of low-income women.  Since 2011, 76 family planning clinics have closed. Now at least a third of the state’s abortion providers – the majority of which also provide a full range of women’s health services – are closed. This is nothing short of a crisis situation.  

Lindsay Rodriguez of the Lilith Fund said, “All of these regulations disproportionately fall on low-income, rural women, and women of color. When lawmakers say a lot of women still have access, it’s not the people who need it most.”

Conservative lawmakers insist that all of the restrictions and regulations are in fact in the best interest of women. Nothing is more disingenuous. As my colleague Susan Holmberg and I wrote in August, restrictions on family planning and abortion do nothing but create more unintended pregnancies, more abortions, more sexually transmitted diseases, and push abortions into later stages of pregnancy.

Women’s health advocates are sure to appeal yesterday’s ruling. But in the meantime clinics are closed. Lights are shut off, staffs are let go, buildings are sold and women are just stuck. Conservatives have left their mark on the health of Texas women for the foreseeable future. You can tear down an infrastructure overnight, but building it back up will take far longer. Even if yesterday’s decision is overturned, women in Texas will be left without the care they need for years to come.  

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

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Daily Digest - November 1: Going Further Than Dodd-Frank

Nov 1, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Four Intriguing Ideas for How to Fix the Banks (Bloomberg Businessweek)

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Four Intriguing Ideas for How to Fix the Banks (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Peter Coy speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal about the upcoming report from the Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform, "An Unfinished Mission: Making Wall Street Work for Us." He previews four of the papers from the report, including Mike's.

  • Roosevelt Institute Event: This report with be presented at a conference in Washington, DC on November 12, featuring a keynote from Senator Elizabeth Warren. For more information, click here.

Southwest Takes the Legal Battlefront on Abortion (Women's eNews)

Reshmi Kaur Oberoi looks at the current fights over abortion access in the southwestern United States. She references Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn's recent white paper on Title X in discussing access to reproductive care for Hispanic women in Texas.

  • Roosevelt Take: Andrea's white paper, "The Title X Factor: Why the Health of America's Women Depends on More Funding for Family Planning," argues that increasing funding for Title X will strengthen the Affordable Care Act, especially in the earlier phases of implementation.

How States Taken Over by the GOP in 2010 Have Been Quietly Screwing Over the American Worker (The Nation)

Zoë Carpenter looks at an Economic Policy Institute report on state-level attacks on labor. This coordinated campaign of cookie-cutter style legislation is hurting workers of all sorts - unionized and nonunionized, public and private.

Newt’s Revenge: Child Labor Makes a Comeback (Salon)

Josh Eidelson points out that the attack on labor has included rollbacks of child labor laws in four states. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which coordinates much of this legislation, apparently thinks attacking adult workers' rights isn't enough.

A War on the Poor (NYT)

Paul Krugman asks why the Republican party has shifted so far away from supporting programs that help the needy. He blames a combination of market ideology, an awareness of the changing racial dynamics of this country, and libertarian fantasy.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss this topic back in 2011.

War Brews on Spending Cuts (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm reports on the coalition working to protect "non-defense" discretionary spending. The budget negotiations are primarily over this category of spending, which includes everything from mental health care to Census data collection to Head Start.

New on Next New Deal

Show Your Invisible Hand: Why the SEC Should Make Corporations Disclose Political Contributions

Roosevelt Institute Director of Research Susan Holmberg argues that requiring corporations to disclose their political contributions is good for investors and for the companies, which risk executives using political contributions for their own good.

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Daily Digest - October 31: Low Taxes Carry Heavy Burdens

Oct 31, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Great American Ripoff: The High Cost of Low Taxes (Bill Moyers)

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The Great American Ripoff: The High Cost of Low Taxes (Bill Moyers)

Joshua Holland argues that low taxes in the United States translate to hugely disproportionate out-of-pocket costs for things that would be covered by the social safety net in other countries. That also means there's nothing to catch people in crisis.

End Corporate Welfare for McDonald's. Better Yet, Raise the Minimum Wage (The Guardian)

Sadhbh Walshe looks at the latest story about McDonald's workers seeking public assistance, which revolves around a phone call to its McResource line. She argues that if McDonald's needs to refer their workers to Medicaid and SNAP, they should be paying better wages.

Another Temporary Funding Bill? (MSNBC)

Jane C. Timm reports that a grand bargain is pretty much out of the question, and at least one Senator thinks that a continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year is likely. That would bring us to a month before the 2014 elections, which would be rough timing for a budget fight.

C.F.T.C. Approves Tighter Commodity Trading Rules (NYT)

Alexandra Stevenson reports on new rules from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, designed to protect client money from brokerage firms going bust. After a 2011 case that left customers $1.6 billion short, the need for these rules is pretty clear.

Paypal to Government: Be More Like Us (WaPo)

Lydia DePillis examines a report from Paypal that suggests how government should handle the mobile payment industry. The company calls on regulators to throw out their old methodology, which she thinks is hugely unlikely.

The New Futurism (The New Yorker)

James Surowiecki looks at human-capital contracts, which allow people to raise funds for businesses or education in exchange for a percentage of future earnings over a number of years. The principle is similar to income-based repayment on student loans.

New on Next New Deal

Maine's Lobster Industry is Dying, But Government Can Help Save It

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network student John Tranfaglia calls for government intervention in Maine's lobster industry. Instead of criticizing the Canadian government for subsidizing lobster processing, Governor LePage should figure out ways to attract lobster processors to Maine.

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Daily Digest - October 29: Remember When the GOP Supported Family Planning?

Oct 29, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Richard Nixon Knew Family Planning Saves Taxpayer Dollars, But Today’s GOP Doesn’t Care (Next New Deal)

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Richard Nixon Knew Family Planning Saves Taxpayer Dollars, But Today’s GOP Doesn’t Care (Next New Deal)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn argues that Title X funding needs to be increased, because demand for family planning services will go up as more people get health insurance. Unfortunately, the GOP has forgotten that this program is fiscally effective.

  • Roosevelt Take: Read Andrea's new white paper, "The Title X Factor: Why the Health of America's Women Depends on More Funding for Family Planning," here.

Here’s how GOP Obamacare Hypocrisy Backfires (Salon)

Michael Lind draws on a recent piece by Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal to discuss the right's plans for the social safety net. If means testing and privatization become part of Social Security and Medicare too, he thinks we're in for some ineffective changes.

  • Roosevelt Take: Mike's piece argues that the struggles of Healthcare.Gov are proof that old-school New Deal-style liberal programs eliminate many potential administrative problems.

Ohio Governor Defies G.O.P. With Defense of Social Safety Net (NYT)

Trip Gabriel reports on Gov. John R. Kaisch's critique of his own party's "war on the poor." The governor worked around the GOP-led legislature to accept the Medicaid expansion, because he knows it will help his neediest citizens.

Food Stamps Will Get Cut by $5 billion This Week — and More Cuts Could Follow (WaPo)

Brad Plumer reports that an automatic cut is going to hit SNAP funding on November 1 with the end of a 2009 stimulus bill boost. Between that cut and current negotiations over SNAP, some Americans will be struggling with how to buy groceries and feed their families.

How Sequestration Gets Even Worse Next Year (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert reminds us that the automatic cuts of sequestration get even larger in 2014. With a lot of the accounting tricks that were used to soften the blow this year gone, sequestration part two will hit hard, and it won't be good for the economy.

Why Do Women Do Market Work? (TAP)

Matt Bruenig responds to a recent rant from Gavin McInnes of Vice against working women, bringing up the data that proves why women work. It turns out that in husband-wife families where both work, 54 percent would be in or near poverty without her income.

Yes, There’s a Budget Deal in the Works. Here’s What It Will Look Like (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait says that a small budget deal is in the works, which will replace sequestration cuts with something more livable for everyone. He thinks there will still be some revenue increases, but they won't be tax rate increases.

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Richard Nixon Knew Family Planning Saves Taxpayer Dollars, But Today’s GOP Doesn’t Care

Oct 28, 2013Andrea Flynn

As the Affordable Care Act helps more Americans get health insurance, it's time to increase funding for Title X, because the need for family planning services is only going up.

As the Affordable Care Act helps more Americans get health insurance, it's time to increase funding for Title X, because the need for family planning services is only going up.

For more than 40 years, Title X has provided family planning and reproductive health services to millions of American women. More recently, conservative lawmakers have targeted Title X as part of their obsession with shrinking the social safety net and restricting access to women’s health care. Those same opponents are now likely to argue that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) focus on women’s health renders Title X unnecessary.  But as I argue in my new paper published by the Roosevelt Institute, that is simply not the case. In reality, the success of the ACA and the health of women across the country are dependent on even greater support for existing family planning programs.

Title X is the nation’s only program solely dedicated to family planning. It was passed into law in 1970 with overwhelming bipartisan support and can in fact be credited to two Republican presidents: Richard Nixon, who signed the bill into law, and then-Congressman George H.W. Bush, who led the legislative effort. It provides critical medical care to low-income, immigrant, and young women and enables clinics to pay for and maintain facilities, train and hire staff, and purchase equipment and supplies.

Despite being perennially underfunded, the program delivers incredible health results. Last year it served 4.76 million women, preventing an estimated 996,000 unintended pregnancies, 200,000 of which were among teens. Research has shown that services provided at Title X clinics save federal and state governments more than $3 billion every year.

As millions of Americans gain health coverage for the first time thanks to the ACA, clinics funded by Title X will become an even more critical building block of our nation's health system. Even when individuals obtain coverage, many will continue to choose publicly funded clinics as their main source of care. In the four years following the implementation of Massachusetts’ health care reform, which served as the model for the ACA, publicly funded health centers experienced a 31 percent increase in patients, even though the number of uninsured visiting those facilities fell by more than 15 percent.

Even women who are already fully insured will continue to rely on Title X clinics for family planning because they can do so in complete confidence. Issues like intimate partner violence and religious beliefs of employers, family, and partners, cause many women to circumvent their insurance plans when accessing family planning services and instead rely on public providers.

The fact is, despite the GOP’s relentless strategic misinformation campaigns and the technology problems that bedeviled the rollout this month, the ACA is good for women. It mandates that insurance plans fully cover all methods of contraception, prohibits gender discrimination and denial of care based on pre-existing conditions, and enables young people to stay on their parent’s plans until they are 26. It requires plans to cover pap tests, STD screening, preconception and prenatal care visits, postpartum counseling and breastfeeding support, and one well visit a year. Make no mistake: this is groundbreaking.

Despite these historic advancements, many women will remain uninsured in the years to come. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is the refusal of many states to accept federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid.  

The ACA was intended to be a path to health care for all Americans, and a major pillar of the law was the expansion of Medicaid to all individuals who fall below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,415 for an individual or $26,344 for a family of three), with subsidies for individuals above that level to buy insurance in the marketplaces. But last year the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not constitutionally require states to expand Medicaid, and conservative lawmakers pounced on the opportunity to block a major component of the ACA.

Today, 22 states refuse to expand Medicaid even though the federal government will foot 100 percent of the bill for the first three years and cover at least 90 percent of the cost after that. These states are denying care to more than 3.5 million low-income women who badly need it. The New York Times reported that as a result, two-thirds of poor black and single mothers and more than half of uninsured, low-wage workers will remain without coverage.

Basically, women who fall into the coverage gap are not considered poor enough for Medicaid by their states, but because the ACA originally intended for them to be covered by the expansion, they also don't qualify for subsidies. And even if they did, the cost of subsidized insurance would likely still be prohibitive given their income level. These individuals will have no choice but to rely on the social safety net – in this case, Title X-funded clinics – for care.

The very critics who have staked their political careers on sinking the ACA and preventing scores of women from accessing family planning services – and who shut down the government in an attempt to do so – would love nothing more than to do away with Title X. They have tried unsuccessfully in recent years, and the program will certainly be in their crosshairs as they continue to chip away at the host of social programs on which low-income women rely.

The ACA, while an enormous advancement for women’s health, does not eliminate the need for the Title X program. Rather, Title X will maximize the impact and reach of the ACA and ensure quality care for those who will remain uninsured.

In the forthcoming budget battles, women’s health advocates will have to fight tooth and nail to maintain Title X’s current funding level, which has already been diminished by sequestration. The program is as critical today as it was when it was created. Today’s very different breed of GOP lawmakers could use a reminder that it was their own party four decades ago that realized investing in family planning was a critical way to improve the health of women, communities, and the entire nation. Who ever thought we’d be longing for Nixon? 

Read Andrea's paper, "The Title X Factor: Why the Health of America's Women Depends on More Funding for Family Planning," here.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.


Woman with pregnancy test banner image via Shutterstock.com

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Daily Digest - October 25: Imagining A Tech-Friendly Government

Oct 25, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The U.S. Needs a Tech-Smart Government (Bloomberg View)

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The U.S. Needs a Tech-Smart Government (Bloomberg View)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford argues that the embarrassing rollout of HealthCare.gov is proof that it's time for government to take a new approach to technology. The trouble is that tech innovation and government function in such disparate ways.

Addicted to the Apocalypse (NYT)

Paul Krugman suggests that the people who are constantly crying that the deficit will ruin our economy need to take a second look. After years of fear mongering, there's been no debt-apocalypse, and he doesn't think it's coming.

The Cost of the Financial Crisis Hits Americans Harder Than Banks (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore argues that even though the dollar costs of the mortgage crisis are greater for the banks than the average homeowner, the settlements are almost meaningless. JP Morgan Chase seems unapologetic, while people lost their homes to foreclosure.

The Goldilocks Curse: How America's Job Creation Story Got So Boring (The Atlantic)

Derek Thompson says that because job growth has been basically flat for two years, the news story is no longer interesting. He also wonders if things would have been so stagnant if the U.S. wasn't always shifting from one fiscal crisis to the next.

CHARTS: The Hidden Benefits of Food Stamps (MoJo)

Christopher D. Cook looks at some of the benefits of food stamps, like generating farm jobs and economic activity, and reducing children's risk of obesity and diabetes. That's all beyond fulfilling the basic purpose of feeding people who are hungry.

Detroit Pensioners Await Bankruptcy Ruling (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff reports on pensioner reactions to the beginning of the federal trial to determine whether or not Detroit can file for bankruptcy. The people he spoke to say that the "haircut" being suggested for the pensions would chop off a lot more then that.

How Congress is Aiming to Defang Patent Trolls (Quartz)

Tim Fernholz looks at new legislation introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that would protect businesses from patent trolls, who buy up patents in order to make money off infringement suits and licensing fees.


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Larry Klein's Lesson for the Single-Minded Economists Who Rejected Keynes

Oct 23, 2013Jeff Madrick

The late Nobel laureate knew that fiscal and monetary policy worked best together, and that low inflation alone would not sustain a strong economy.

The late Nobel laureate knew that fiscal and monetary policy worked best together, and that low inflation alone would not sustain a strong economy.

Larry Klein, a 1980 Nobel Prize winner in economics, died on Sunday. I interviewed him often when I was an economics reporter, and one of his most vehement beliefs had long stuck in my mind. He was an early Keynesian and built models to simulate the economy that could have predictive power. Because, like Keynes, he believed in the power of aggregate demand to drive the economy, he forecast that there would be no post-World War II Depression because of pent-up demand and the buying power of returning soldiers.

What stuck in my mind was Klein’s anger about evolving government policy. Even Keynesian economists had come to believe that monetary policy was more effective than Keynes’s fiscal policies. Klein argued to me that these stimulus policies only worked well in tandem. You need both monetary loosening, meaning mostly lower interest rates, and fiscal stimulus, meaning government spending or tax cuts, to restore strong economic growth.

The economic consensus did not take this lesson seriously. Most economists were pretty certain across much of the political spectrum that they had already learned how to manage the economy, and it wasn’t Klein’s way. Both Robert Lucas, the rational expectationist, and Olivier Blanchard, who leaned a bit towards Keynes, said with no small trace of hubris that macroeconomists had pretty much solved the big problem. Ben Bernanke also expressed confidence that the profession had at last learned the job.

There were some disagreements between the Lucas school of thought and economists like Blanchard. What they agreed on was that fiscal policies a la Keynes were not needed. Consumers and business would expect a rise in taxes if the federal government ran deficits, and so would save rather than spend, countering any stimulus. This phenomenon is known as Ricardian equivalence. At best, fiscal policy was politically clumsy, requiring Congressional approval for spending and all that.

In a 2010 publication called Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy, written with colleagues for the International Monetary Fund, where he is still chief economist, Blanchard admitted economists had been wrong. It took the housing and financial crash of 2007-2008 and the Great Recession to bring some sense to the profession. Blanchard and his co-authors wrote that what economists thought they knew was wrong. Economists had believed there was a single policy objective for controlling the economy, which was stable inflation, and there was also only a single tool, the interest rate. The 2010 piece was a mea culpa.

What lulled economists into complacency was what many now call the Great Moderation, an economy that was not too hot and not too cold. The way to get to this ideal state was merely to use monetary policies to stabilize inflation, preferably at low levels. It was the justification for what came to be called inflation targeting, either the hard kind with a precise target or the soft kind that was discretionary. Economists noted that the result of these policies since the early 1980s was both less volatile inflation and less volatile output (basically, GDP).

That was it. The major assumption was that stable GDP would push the economy to its optimal rate of growth, or in Blanchard’s more technical terms, “So long as inflation was stable, the output gap was likely to be small and stable and monetary policy did its job.”

But fiscal policy was decidedly secondary. And there is no mention of maximizing employment at all in the Blanchard piece; it wasn’t a thought in a mainstream economist’s mind, apparently. It was believed that the economy operated so efficiently with low, stable inflation that unemployment would automatically settle at its lowest, non-inflationary rate. Moreover, there was no serious discussion of growth, even though economic growth in the U.S. was not especially fast in these years. Here, then, was the general equilibrium model, a central assumption in economics and policymaking, simply taken for granted as true.

One other sentence in Blanchard is worth quoting: “[W]e thought of financial regulation as mostly outside the macroeconomic policy framework.”

Speculative bubbles, these economists believed, should not be deflated by regulators. The mess could easily be cleaned up later.

Macroeconomists were wrong not only about regulations and bubbles, admit Blanchard and his colleagues, but also about placing fiscal stimulus in the back seat. 

It’s by no means clear that macroeconomists have cleaned up their act. They still think low inflation will get us to maximum employment, for example. But at least they are now entertaining more objectives than one.

Their bad theory led us to sequestration today. There is too much water under the bridge for economists who correctly recommend fiscal stimulus to easily win the day when so many argued for so long that Keynesianism did not work. This is why Larry Klein was deeply frustrated.

America’s version of austerity economics is still winning the day, despite recantations like Blanchard’s. In coming months an agreement to cut the deficit over the next 10 years will be discussed, or apparently reckless Republicans will close the government down again. Medicare and Social Security cuts will be on the table. There is absolutely no economic need for this. The deficit is under control, and so is federal debt.

But the misleading macroeconomics practiced by America’s most prestigious university professors has left a long and damaging shadow. Klein would have shed some light.

Jeff Madrick is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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Block a Grand Bargain with Bold Progressive Solutions to Social Security and Medicare

Oct 21, 2013Richard Kirsch

Going into the post-shutdown budget discussions, progressives should take the offensive with proposals that would fix problems with Social Security and Medicare without any cuts.

Going into the post-shutdown budget discussions, progressives should take the offensive with proposals that would fix problems with Social Security and Medicare without any cuts.

Republicans may not have succeeded in defunding the nations’ newest social insurance program, ObamaCare, but they now are aiming at the foundational programs, Social Security and Medicare. And this time, they’ll have the President on their side. It would be a mistake for progressives to assume that a grand budget bargain will fall apart once again, even if that remains likely. Instead, we need to turn the debate from cutting social insurance to strengthening both the finances and benefits of both big retiree programs. The best way to do that is by championing simple, bold solutions.

In his post shutdown press conference, President Obama repeated his call for changes in Social Security and Medicare. His 2014 budget included cuts to benefits for both.  That aligns him with House Speaker John Boehner, who called for savings in Social Security and Medicare during the shutdown battle. Senators from both parties have shown their willingness to support benefit cuts as part of a big budget deal.

Yes, it is likely that the next attempt to reach an overall budget deal will also collapse, as the last ones have, particularly in the beginning of an election year. The biggest barrier to a bad deal up to now has been Democratic insistence, repeated on the same day as the President’s press conference by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that tax hikes – with revenue coming from big corporations and the wealthy –be part of the deal. But if Republicans were willing to close some corporate tax loopholes – which some of their tea party members see correctly as examples of crony capitalism – Democrats would be under tremendous pressure from the President and others in their party to go along.

Progressives must rely on more than saying “hands off Social Security and Medicare,” although that should remain central to our message. We need a strong offense, to go with that potent defense. By putting forward simple, broadly popular, progressive proposals that actually enhance benefits and add money to Social Security and Medicare, we enable Democratic allies in Congress to set the agenda and counter claims that they are not taking action to address the real solvency problems. And we also help set the agenda for the inevitable future deal to address both programs’ financing.

Here are two simple, popular, powerful proposals. On Social Security, make the richest 5% people pay into Social Security on all their earnings, just like 95% of workers now do. Use the new revenue to both boost Social Security benefits – which are too low – and extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust fund. On Medicare, slash the cost of prescription drug prices just like the Veterans Administration and all our global competitors do, saving hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade.

The Social Security proposal has been introduced in both houses of Congress, with legislation by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (S.567) and Rep. Linda Sanchez of California (H.R.3118), which would boost benefits in two ways: changing the way benefits are calculated (designed to particularly help low-and-moderate income seniors) and changing the inflation adjuster Social Security uses to the CPI-E, which more accurately captures what seniors pay. This is exactly the opposite of the chained CPI proposed by President Obama, which undercounts what seniors typically purchase. The legislation raises the money to pay for the benefits and extends the Trust Fund by gradually removing the cap on earnings taxed by Social Security, which is $113,700 in 2013. Doing so would extend the period during which the Trust Fund has enough money to pay all benefits from 2033 to 2049.

Progressives have long talked about Medicare using its enormous purchasing power to get the same kind of low drug prices paid by the Veterans Administration or every other country on the globe. While estimates of the savings vary, they clearly would be substantial, tens of billions each year, much more than the cuts to Medicare included in the President’s budget. There are two bills in Congress that aim to do this, one sponsored by Vermont Rep. Peter Welch and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and the other introduced by Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Senator Dick Durbin. While neither is designed to get the maximum savings – a combination of the approaches taken in each is needed – either would work to make the point that we can strengthen Medicare by stopping the drug companies from ripping off the country.

But having legislation is really window dressing to the strategy here: offering bold, popular solutions that deal with both sides of the problems facing Social Security and Medicare: benefits that are too small for the retirement security of seniors and the shortfalls in financing of both programs. While elites want to focus on the “entitlement crisis,” the public is well aware of the financial pressures most seniors now face and the looming retirement crisis, and is adamantly opposed to cuts in both programs.

It is up to progressives, inside and outside of Congress, to seize the moment. It’s a simple message: instead of making painful cuts to Social Security and Medicare we can boost benefits for seniors and make sure that the programs are there for the long term by having millionaires pay into Social Security like everyone else and stopping drug companies from ripping off Americans. 

Driving this message will turn the grand bargain debate on its head, and will start setting the terms for progressive solutions when Congress does take action on both programs in the next few years. 

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


Social Security cards banner image via Shutterstock.com

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