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Dear Dr. Krugman: Please Let Me Explain

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What Now?

Today, John Boehner bowed to the inevitable logic of the impending political season and placed a “clean” debt ceiling increase bill on the floor of the House. At this writing, the bill passed with 28 Republican and 193 Democratic votes. Now it moves on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass in time to allow the Treasury to keep issuing debt instruments.

So, now we have had agreement on a budget partially rolling back the sequester, and the Republican leadership appears to have decided not to have another debt ceiling crisis. I wrote a post called “What Happens Now?” just after the Government shutdown ended last October. There I analyzed the political situation and made a number of predictions about the short-term future. Here's how I answered the question: “Growth and Jobs or Shutdowns and Debt Ceiling Crises?” Read more about What Now?

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Does the Debt Ceiling Have to Be Raised?

Lately, the word out of Washington, DC from the plugged in people is that there will be no debt ceiling crisis coming up before the election. Politico says so, and so does the National Journal. MSNBC also agrees.

But not so fast, says the Washington Post, echoing the Wall Street Journal provided the House Republicans can agree on “. . . an extortion demand.” If they can, then we wll have another debt ceiling crisis.

Here's a statement from Dave Johnson at the Center for the American Future (CAF) characterizing the possible crisis from a “progressive” point of view. Read more about Does the Debt Ceiling Have to Be Raised?

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More Tropes of the New Populism

The New Populism, if it exists, and isn't just a creation of Washington villagers wanting to give an attractive name to the new feint of the Administration toward the progressive base of the Democratic Party, can be a turning point for America's domestic economy, but only if it can avoid certain tropes, shibboleths, and myths that people associated with it, such as Bernie Sanders, and various other supposedly “left” members of the Democratic Party in Congress seem to delight in reinforcing. Again, Robert Borosage's little piece on “The New Populism” provides more examples of such tropes:

Much of this debate has been framed around the faltering recovery, as the Congress perversely punted on the opportunity to rebuild America when we could borrow money for virtually nothing, with construction workers idle and eager to work. But in the end, this is a question of making the public investments we need, and paying for it by ending the tax dodges and tax breaks that enable the rich and the multinationals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The Congressional Progressive Caucus budget shows what is possible, while still bringing our long-term debt under control.

Well, Congress did that, and the Treasury certainly could have borrowed “money for virtually nothing,” and spent it on infrastructure and the public commons while creating many millions of new jobs and cutting greatly into our massive unemployment problem. However, why should Borosage and others writing about the new populism assume that such deficit spending has to be accompanied by borrowing money? Read more about More Tropes of the New Populism

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The New Populism Needs to Get This Straight

Let's look again at the new populism through the lens provided by Robert Borosage in his recent attempt to tell us what it is about. He says:

The apostles of the new inequality have unrelenting sought to starve the public sector. President Reagan opened the offensive against domestic investments. Perhaps the hinge moment was in the final years of the Clinton administration when the budget went into surplus, and Clinton, the finest public educator of his time, pushed for paying down the national debt rather than making the case for public investment. He left the field open for George W. Bush to give the projected surpluses away in tax cuts skewed to the top end.

The hinge moment wasn't then. It was when he decided, either early in his first term, or even before he took office, to rely on deficit reduction coupled with low interest rates from Alan Greenspan, on the advice of Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, rather than on deficit spending on human capital investments as advocated by Robert Eisner and Robert Reich. Rubin's victory in the internal debates within the Administration was well-known at the time (1993), and set the deficit reduction course that played along with the Fed's bubbles to create the private sector debt-fueled “goldilocks” prosperity, and surpluses of his second term. By the time Clinton faced the choice Borosage refers to, the die had already been cast. It was very unlikely that Clinton would turn away from further Government austerity policy, and turn instead toward investments in infrastructure, public facilities and “human capital.”

But this is a side point, the real focus of this passage is the notion that the Clinton surpluses were good because they created an opportunity for public investment by using those surpluses. The trouble with this, is that it is a point purely about politics and communications which neglects the economic fact that the surpluses of the Clinton's term, as well as his deficit reduction policies, were bad for the US because they reduced or eliminated private sector surpluses causing a growth in private sector debt in Clinton's “goldilocks” economy. Read more about The New Populism Needs to Get This Straight

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Who Needs a Balanced Trade Policy?

It's easy to recognize that after many years of trade deficits accompanying implementation of trade agreements beginning with NAFTA the US needs to change what it's doing. Many, including Robert Borosage of the Campaign for the American Future (CAF), advocate for balanced trade and they contrast that with the so-called “free trade” policies we have now. The case for balance trade policy is summarized by Borosage this way during his discussion of the policies favored by the New Populism:

Our global trade policies have been defined by and for multinational banks and companies. They have shipped good jobs abroad and driven wages down at home, while racking up unprecedented and unsustainable trade deficits. Those imbalances, as the International Monetary Fund and former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke have noted, contributed directly to blowing up the global economy.

The new populists demand balanced trade policies. . . .

So, we need “a balanced trade policy” meaning one that reduces trade deficits because it will support lower unemployment by keeping “good jobs” here, drive wages up rather than down, be more sustainable, and won't contribute to a collapse of the global economy. But, is that the only or the best way to get these outcomes? Read more about Who Needs a Balanced Trade Policy?

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Professor Krugman's Nervous Tic?

Thread: 

Paul Krugman's recent post makes some good points about the myth of the undeserving poor. But does he have a nervous tic?. When criticizing conservative economic views, doesn't he always seem to genuflect slightly to conservative opinion in order to appear "reasonable"? In this post he says:

"I’ve noted before that conservatives seem fixated on the notion that poverty is basically the result of character problems among the poor. This may once have had a grain of truth to it, but for the past three decades and more the main obstacle facing the poor has been the lack of jobs paying decent wages. But the myth of the undeserving poor persists, and so does a counterpart myth, that of the deserving rich."

What "grain of truth" ever existed in this story? Where is the empirical evidence that the poor were ever more "lazy" than the rich or had other "character defects" (Not K's words) that the rich don't have in abundance, as well? I don't think there is any. What the conservatives believe is pure BS. Some people are certainly "lazier" than others. But there's no evidence that this aspect of character is class-based. It's just prejudice, myth, and conservative fairy tales, which they embrace in place of authentic religion, run rampant. Read more about Professor Krugman's Nervous Tic?

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The TPP: A Dangerous Proposal Whose Time Has Gone

A recent, very good post at Naked Capitalism by Clive, suggests:

. . . Dear readers, you may think that writing to your elected representative, commenting negatively on articles you read in the mainstream media about the TPP and generally kicking up a bit of a fuss, making some noise, is a waste of effort. That is not so. The world does watch what goes on in the US. If popular sentiment is against something, the US government has a much harder job of convincing foreigners that it’s just them being awkward and reactionary and not getting the big, progressive, reform-minded, modernising picture.

I agree that this is a good proposal for one way the American public could register its objections to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with foreign leaders. But, I think that such letters ought also to point out that even if the TPP were railroaded successfully in the next few months, then it is unlikely to stick. After all, it is only a Treaty. Wouldn’t an electoral victory here by a movement dedicated to overturning corporate control of the political system, result in withdrawal from the TPP before any concrete legislation likely to conflict with it was passed by Congress? Read more about The TPP: A Dangerous Proposal Whose Time Has Gone

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Are Deaths Due to Lack of Health Insurance Seriously Underestimated? Update

Lately, I've had the feeling that “progressive” journalists and commentators too often pull their punches in calling attention to social problems, by underestimating the magnitude of problem-related statistics such as the unemployment rate and the number of fatalities due to lack of health insurance in the United States. My theory about this is that “progressives” are being defensive in their approach and bending over backwards to give the right wing the benefit of the doubt by understating numbers out of an abundance of caution. Read more about Are Deaths Due to Lack of Health Insurance Seriously Underestimated? Update

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Are Deaths Due to Lack of Health Insurance Seriously Underestimated?

Lately, I've had the feeling that “progressive” journalists and commentators too often pull their punches in calling attention to social problems, by underestimating the magnitude of problem-related statistics such as the unemployment rate and the number of fatalities due to lack of health insurance in the United States. My theory about this is that “progressives” are being defensive in their approach and bending over backwards to give the right wing the benefit of the doubt by understating numbers out of an abundance of caution.

If this is right, then my reply is that underestimating problem-related numbers is just as bad as over-estimating them, and that what people ought to do is try to provide the best estimates they can and let the critical chips fall where they may. In this post, I want to raise a question about the accuracy of the numerical estimates of US deaths due to lack of health insurance often seen in articles and blogs authored by people, like myself, who favor eliminating insurance coverage shortfalls by passing Medicare for All. Read more about Are Deaths Due to Lack of Health Insurance Seriously Underestimated?

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Bernie Sanders: Self-shackled Champion of the People

I gotta love Bernie Sanders, because he seems so much like people I grew up with and like myself too, and he also seems to have that passion for equality and democracy that is so important for the future of America. Sometimes I think Bernie is one of the few champions of the people left in Congress. But I also think that along with other progressives he has constructed chains for himself that prevent him from being as effective a champion of the people as he otherwise might be.

His chains are the chains of either false beliefs or a decision not to speak the truth about fiscal matters for fear that the “very serious people” in the Washington village will marginalize him even more than they do right now. I can't say which of these is true, but I think whichever reason is operative, his self-shackling reduces his effectiveness. Read more about Bernie Sanders: Self-shackled Champion of the People

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Dick Durbin Insults Everyone Else's Intelligence About Social Security

Yesterday on Fox, Senator Dick Durbin said:

WALLACE: I'm going to talk about ObamaCare on a second, but you're not answering my question. Why does taxes -- why do taxes have to be on the table? Why can't you just make a deal, short-term spending for long-term entitlement reform -- which, Senator, you support and President Obama support. You have supported the idea of some entitlement reform.

DURBIN: That's right. I do, and I'll tell you why -- because Social Security is going to run out of money in 20 years. I want to fix it now, before we reach that cliff.

Medicare may run out of money in 10 years, let's fix it now. And that means addressing the skyrocketing cost of health care. That's what ObamaCare is focused on, and yet, the Republicans want nothing to do with it.

If we don't focus on the health care and dealing with the entitlements, the baby boom generation is going to blow away our future. We don't want to see that happen. We want to make sure that Social Security and Medicare are solid.

The “. . . may run out of money. . . . ” and “. . . dealing with entitlements. . . “ memes, in reply to Chris Wallace's question suggests that a deal trading increased revenues for Social Security and other entitlement cuts is acceptable to him. So, Durbin's argument is that because Social Security Trustee and CBO projections, based on very pessimistic economic growth projections for the whole period, show a shortfall in the Social Security “Trust Fund” in 20 years, it is acceptable to make entitlement cuts now if the Democrats can get increased revenue from higher taxes, as if entitlement “reform” were the only way to meet the perceived Social Security solvency problem. But who would it be acceptable to? Read more about Dick Durbin Insults Everyone Else's Intelligence About Social Security

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What Happens Now?

In the aftermath of the great 2013 government shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, and the kicking of the can down the road while maintaining austerity once more, the subject on many minds is where do negotiations over fiscal policy go from here? Will the new “budget committee” produce more austerity and do a grand bargain including the “chained CPI”? Will Congress finally turn towards economic growth and job creation, or will we continue to have more shutdowns and debt ceiling crises in 2014?

Chained CPI and the “Grand Bargain”

Let's begin with “chained CPI” and possible “Grand Bargains.” The President seems to still want one, but the question is, does anyone else? And, if they don't, can he still get it through?

It's dangerous for anyone running in 2014 to vote for chained CPI. Surveys show that overwhelming majorities of all Americans want no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and also that 40% of tea party respondents are 55 or over, and are not likely to support such cuts, either. Nor do they appear to be anti- “their” Medicare. It's the corporate Republicans who oppose these things. So, I don't think the corporate Republicans would get much love from the tea baggers for supporting entitlement cuts, apart from Medicaid, which I think the tea party views as welfare. Certainly any credit the Congressional Republicans would get from their tea party base for voting for “chained CPI” would not outweigh their having given in on the CR and the rise in the debt ceiling just passed. Read more about What Happens Now?

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Off the Debt Limit Hook for at Least the Next Four Months

Provided that the Senate and House follow through on the scenario now on the table, it looks like the game of chicken worked for the Democrats this time. We're off the hook on default and Government shutdown for now, and Washington village pundits are in full-throated cries of celebration.

Congress is off the hook too. They don't have to offer any solutions to real, rather than manufactured, problems.

The President is also off the hook, he won't, for now, need to exercise any of the options, like minting the coin, using consols, or premium bonds, or asset sales to the Fed, or others available to him to render the debt limit legislation impotent. So, he gets to preserve debt limit threats from the Republicans as a negotiating tool they can use to “force” him into entitlements cuts later on. Read more about Off the Debt Limit Hook for at Least the Next Four Months

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Rationalization and Obligation, Part VI: What He Ought to Do, What He Probably Will Do

By Joe Firestone

This is Part VI of a six part series replying to a claim by the President at his recent White House News Conference. Part I covered the News Conference and the first two (the selective default, and the exploding option) of seven options the President might use to try save the US from defaulting in the face of continued deadlock in the Congress on raising the debt limit or repealing the law enabling it in its entirety. Part II discussed Platinum Coin Seigniorage, invoking the 14th amendment to justify continuing to issue conventional Treasury debt instruments, and consols. Part III discussed premium bonds, and Treasury sales of the Government's material and cultural assets to the Federal Reserve. Part IV, then evaluated all seven options in light of variations among them in likely degree of legal difficulties they might face, and also the likely impact of each on confidence in the bond markets, if used. Part V then summarized my evaluation of the seven options. This part will end the series by saying first, what the President ought to do, and then by saying what I think he is most likely to do. Read more about Rationalization and Obligation, Part VI: What He Ought to Do, What He Probably Will Do

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