Think Economically


Maximum understanding, minimum average total cost.

Good news or bad? Unemployment rate drops despite weak jobs numbers

So on first glance, these jobs numbers are nothing but bad. 96,000 new jobs with downward revisions on the two previous months. So as far as description is concerned, it looks like weak growth continues to carry the day. So “what does it mean?” Well, it means we aren’t suddenly in a booming economy; things continue to peter along.

“What does it mean” has another interpretation, though: what will happen as a result? The upshot as far as I can tell?

  • Undecided voters will mostly hear 8.1% unemployment and think these are good numbers.
  • QE3 is gonna happen.
  • The fire under the Republicans to ensure the “fiscal cliff” doesn’t occur will continue to burn hotter, meaning Obama might be able to make some headway on either stimulus or deficit reduction or both in a second term.

Certainly Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight has stressed that the jobs numbers will have significant consequences for the election: good numbers and Obama’s sure to win; bad enough numbers and he’s out. The Bernanke  is relying on these BLS numbers, among others, to try to decide what to do. So I was trying to think about what to think about the actual consequences of the numbers. I’m just freewheeling here, but I think there might be some interesting and counter-intuitive results.

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Brief: rich people make more of the money, labor pays more of the taxes

So, via my friend (and rich person supporter extraordinaire) Bob Buschman, Ari Fleischer bloviates nonsensically about the rich being unfairly taxed. Buried in there is the following:

The top 20% in 1979 made 44.9% of the nation’s income and paid 55.3% of all federal taxes. Thirty years later, the top 20% made 50.8% of the nation’s income and their share of federal taxes paid had jumped to 67.9%.

And the top 1%? In 1979, this group earned 8.9% of the nation’s income and paid 14.2% of all federal taxes. In 2009, they earned 13.4% of the nation’s income but their share of the federal tax burden rose to 22.3%.

So the top 20% went from making 44.9% of income to making 50.8% of income, and the top 1%? From 8.9% of income to 13.4% of income. Fleischer’s upset that their share of the tax burden rose faster, but guess what–if they (and by they, I mean we, of course) made 100% of income, they’d pay 100% of the taxes.

Arm und Reich (flämisch 17 Jh)
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Economists and crises: my take on Krugman’s take on economists’ take on The Big One.

Krugman gave a speech on receiving an honorary degree in Lisbon; he reprints the full text here:

Krugman’s general story: the field of macroeconomics was better, descriptively and predictively, back in the 1970s, but at the cost of being coherent and complete. In the intervening years, a number of economists sacrificed completeness and consistency for external validity, and that blinded us (well, them; I’m not a macroeconomist) to the causes and cures of the recent financial crisis. He pitches it as a saltwater v. freshwater battle, which maybe it is.

Then again, maybe it’s a matter of getting high off your own supply. Read the rest of this entry »

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Read up: Tax expenditures cost $1 trillion a year, or almost the entire deficit.

Tax expenditures are huge. What are they? Government spending disguised in tax language. They make government look smaller than it is.

Income tax expenditures added up to about 75% of the tax actually collected (Burman et al 2007), but have gone up to about 94%. I’m just doing this math in my head, but that means income tax rates are almost twice as high as they would have to be without these loopholes. Not only that, but these deductions cause a regressive shift in the tax structure.

The politics governing them are pretty straightforward: provide a tax loophole to a favored constituency and from below, your profile looks like that of a small-government conservative, axe in hand, taking apart the beast blow by blow. Meanwhile, from above, lobbyists and special interests get the bird’s-eye-view of someone well aware of who, precisely, is circling overhead, waiting to pluck that axe from the hand right before pecking out the liver.

So what to do? There’s been some political chatter, but bilateral disarmament here…well, I’m skeptical.

Read up and then write somebody, maybe:

Wikipedia has a surprisingly terse overview–someone should maybe get on this–here:, with a little more here:

The tax policy center has a briefing book here:

Burman, Geissler, and Toder have a 2007 paper in the AER proceedings that does the accounting and analysis:

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Price controls in the market for gasoline. Could Gingrich push gas prices lower? Should we actively make gas more expensive?

Gingrich says gas should cost two dollars and fifty cents. When markets and politicians disagree, the market usually wins. Still, every time gas prices creep higher, there’s political hay in claiming you can fix it.

Thomas Friedman has a whole different idea on how to handle the price of gas: push it up and let it stay there. Ivan Eland calls it mercantilism.

Some crazy guy still thinks we should peg the dollar to gold. I say crazy because that’s crazy.

What would happen to the market for gas with price controls? Check the video:

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Ezra Klein: Romneycare is working. The jury is still out on Obamacare, but the outlook is good.

Ezra Klein has an excellent summary of economists’ analyses of Obamacare and Romneycare. Healthcare coverage certainly seems like a natural monopoly, and it looks like costs are declining with increases in scale.

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