October 18, 2011

In Transition

Apologies to regular readers for not posting in recent weeks, but as some of you know, I recently accepted a new job in another part of the country.  So, as my wife and I transition from Saint Louis back to my native stomping grounds of New England over the next couple of months, posts are likely to be few and far between.  Please be assured, however, that I intend to resume regular blogging at the earliest opportunity!

September 5, 2011

The Regressive Legacy of Reaganomics

Over at the New York Times, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has an excellent article on the current state of the middle class.  The points he makes are all worthwhile, but the truly killer element of his column is the accompanying chart.  I've written about this topic a number of times - most recently in Punishing Worker Success Doesn't Count - but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and Mr. Reich's all-encompassing chart starkly illustrate the damage wrought by Reaganomics and its adherents.

Click on chart to view at full size.

August 20, 2011

Taxes, Debt and Welfare Queen States

Last Sunday, billionaire investor Warren Buffet caused a significant stir with an opinion piece he wrote for the New York Times entitled "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich".  In it, he noted that, since his income is generated through capital gains, even though he made nearly $41 million last year, he was taxed at an effective rate of only 17%.  Meanwhile, everyone else in his office - who performed actual labor - was taxed at an average rate of more than twice that much.  Mr. Buffett then went further, directly confronting the long-held, but factually unsupported talking point that somewhat higher taxes will broadly discourage investment:
Tax Burdens in the Developed World
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If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine - most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone - not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 - shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.
Mr. Buffett is completely correct.  Americans not only have one of the smallest tax burdens in the developed world, that burden is lower now than it was in 1965.  In fact, the entire notion that "confidence" about the regulatory and tax landscapes coupled with free cash flow create jobs is utter nonsense.  Demand is what drives the economy and spurs employment; always has been and always will be.  Investor confidence about regulation and taxes can tweak demand, but it can't drive it.

Federal Taxes Minus Spending
(click on image to view at full size)

But with regard to taxation, not only is there great disparity between economic classes, there are significant geographic differences in the flow of public funds.  Twenty-two states effectively support the other 28, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.  Over the two decades from 1990 to 2009, for instance, New York paid nearly a trillion dollars more to the federal coffers than it received back.  Virginia, on the other hand, took in almost $600 billion more than it contributed.

Origins of U.S. Debt
(click on image to view at full size)
Of the 28 states that ran a transfer of tax funds deficit during this period, two thirds of them voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin in the 2008 election.  Assuming those ballots were cast because voters approved of Republican tax-cut policy and deficit spending, and opposed Barack Obama's "socialism", given the orgy of unfunded expenses incurred under President George W. Bush, perhaps there is a simple solution to the "debt crisis" which has become the obsession of both the political and chattering classes.

Maybe we could just take that whole issue off the table by having those states with a declared preference for "self-reliance" and an aversion to "government interference" pay their own way for a change.  That would free up cash flow to use in parts of the country that understand that there is a role for government in the economy - especially during recessions.

And no, this is not a serious policy proposal.

I'm kidding.


On Thursday, in a truly outstanding segment, Jon Stewart ripped into the nonsensical idea that the rich are under siege, and thoroughly exposed the accounting double standards used by those advocating spending cuts and defending the failure to raise taxes on those who can afford it.

August 13, 2011

Things Just Got Dumber

One of these men is the aspiring leader of an increasingly desperate people whose culture is collapsing under the weight
of its own ignorance and short-sightedness.  The other is a character from the movie "Idiocracy".

If you believed the field of Republican president candidates was already about as venal, dumb, hypocritical and incompetent as it could get, you were wrong.  Texas Governor Rick Perry, a man who can best be described as George W. Bush for people who didn't think George W. Bush was George W. Bush-enough, has thrown his hat in the ring.

If the thought of fellow GOP contenders Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum working to restore the American theocracy that never was, but which haunts their fever dreams, scares you, get ready for Mr. Perry, who is not only fresh from an organized prayer vigil for which he used state resources to publicize, but which is apparently his plan for when, you know, actual policy fails.

Unfortunately for the governor, at the same time that 30,000 conservative Christians showed up to all wish together that the historic drought plaguing their state would end and that things would get better, just down the road, more than three times that number of desperate Texans lined up for donations of school supplies, immunizations, fresh produce, and school uniforms.  If there is a better illustration for the leadership of Rick Perry, one would be hard-pressed to find it.

Still, what makes the chief executive of the Lone Star State so dangerous is that voters may be able to ignore his radical religious outlook, his contention that Medicare and Social Security are unconsitutional, or even his statement that perhaps Texas should secede from the United States, if the fairy tale of job creation within the so-called "Texas Miracle" gains any traction.  Texas has, in fact, added jobs even during the current recession, but at a terrible price: massive cuts to education coupled with the layoff of 100,000 teachers; the highest level of airborne carcinogens in the country; and sweeping empowerment of corporations at the expense of individuals.  Oh, and those jobs?  The majority are low-paying, low-skill, hourly positions. 

Today, despite all the hype, Texas is ranked dead last among states in health coverage for children; fourth in teen pregnancies; and again, dead last in the percentage of the population with a high school diploma.  The Texas Miracle is really a Texas Debacle, and a blueprint for winning a race to the bottom.  In a field of terrible candidates, Rick Perry may well be the worst.

August 4, 2011

Contemplating the Culture of Exceptionalism and Victimization

More quick and dirty posting while I remain focused on finding my next job. This is about a week old, but still well worth your time, as Jon Stewart absolutely demolishes the talking points around the right wing culture of exceptionalism and victimization that underpins so much of today's political discourse, and which has been especially abhorrent in the wake of the recent mass murder in Norway.

July 28, 2011

Five and Half Minutes of Truth-Telling

I know I wrote in my last post that I was going to take a break, but the following really is required viewing. On Wednesday, Bruce Bartlett, a former domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan, as well as a Treasury official under President George H.W. Bush, appeared on Hardball for an interview with Chris Matthews.  In a five and a half minute conversation, the two men discussed the chart below, and Mr. Matthews, who is well-known for frequentlty interrupting his guests, sat back for a change, and let Mr. Bartlett speak freely. The result was a very concise explanation of exactly where our current debt problems originate, along with some particularly direct criticism for Republicans. 

July 24, 2011

Break Needed

I'm taking a break this week, and articles at Sensen No Sen may not be posted with their usual regularity in the next few months.  My current job is coming to an end in early August, and I am now in the thick of hunting for new employment.  That, along with some family illness issues, is creating enough stress that I don't have the focus to write constructively.  Hopefully I'll be through this stretch in a relatively short period, and will be able to give this blog the attention it deserves, but until then, stay cool and enjoy your summer!