Baseball, Wages, and the American Middle Class

J.W.

The On Deck Circle

As you can clearly see from this graph, the middle class has been trending in the wrong direction, regarding its share of national income, for over 40 years now.  If you are at least over 45 or 50 years old, you may recall a time when a one income household (usually headed by a male breadwinner) could adequately, even comfortably, provide for itself.  My father, for example, was a factory worker his entire life in Bridgeport, CT.  With a sixth-grade education, and a lot of hard work, he was able to support my mom, my younger brother and I until I moved out of the house in the 1980’s and began to support myself.  By that time, (a bit earlier, actually) my mom had gone back to work as well.

My dad worked in a union shop and received a fair wage for hard work, as had his parents’ generation…

View original post 1,650 more words

UPDATE: The Fiscal Cliff

this article comes courtesy of the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Working with Congress against a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama said Monday that a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” was in sight but not yet finalized. The emerging deal would raise tax rates on family income over $450,000 and individual income over $400,000 a year, increase the estate tax rate and extend unemployment benefits for one year.

“There are still issues left to resolve but we’re hopeful Congress can get it done,” Obama said at a campaign-style event at the White House. “But it’s not done.”

caphill

In the building New Year’s Eve drama, the parties still were at an impasse over whether to put off the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect at the beginning of the year and if so, how to pay for that.

One official said talks were focused on a two-month delay in the across-the-board cuts but negotiators had yet to agree on about $24 billion in savings from elsewhere in the budget. Democrats had asked for the cuts to be put off for one year and be offset by unspecified revenue.

The president said that whatever last-minute fixes are necessary, they must come from a blend of tax revenue and constrained spending, not just budget cuts.

Officials emphasized that negotiations were continuing and the emerging deal was not yet final. And a confident Obama, flanked by cheering middle class Americans in a White House auditorium, jabbed Congress, saying lawmakers were prone to last-minute delays.

“One thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there’s even one second left before you have to do what you’re supposed to do, they will use that last second,” he said.

Speaking shortly afterward on the Senate floor, Sen. John McCain said that “at a time of crisis, on New Year’s Eve…you had the president of the United States go over and have a cheerleading, ridiculing-of-Republicans exercise.” The Arizona Republican lost the 2008 presidential race to Obama.

Unless an agreement is reached and approved by Congress at the start of the New Year, more than $500 billion in 2013 tax increases will take effect immediately and $109 billion in cuts will be carved from defense and domestic programs

Though the tax hikes and budget cuts would be felt gradually, economists warn that if allowed to fully take hold, their combined impact – the so-called fiscal cliff – would rekindle a recession.

The current proposal in the works would raise the tax rates on family income over $450,000 and individual income over $400,000 from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, the same level as under former President Bill Clinton. Also, estates would be taxed at 40 percent after the first $5 million for an individual and $10 million for a couple, up from 35 percent to 40 percent.

Unemployment benefits would be extended for one year. Without the extension, 2 million people would lose benefits beginning in early January.

A Republican official familiar with the plans confirmed the details described to The Associated Press.

The officials requested anonymity in order to discuss the internal negotiations.

The president said his hopes for a larger, more sweeping deal have been dashed and said that such an accommodation was not possible “with this Congress at this time.”

But even with this fight not finished, Obama warned Republicans, specifically, about the battles still ahead. He said he would not accept any debt-reduction deals in the new year that rely on slashing spending without raising taxes, too. Cuts alone won’t happen anymore “at least as long as I’m president, and I’m going to be president for the next four years.”

Urgent talks were continuing Monday afternoon between the White House and congressional Republicans, with longtime negotiating partners Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell at the helm. Underscoring the flurry of activity, another GOP aide said the two men had conversations at 12:45 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Monday.

An agreement on the proposed deal would also shield Medicare doctors from a 27 percent cut in fees and extend tax credits for research and development, as well as renewable energy.

300cliff

The deal would also extend for five years a series of tax credits meant to lessen the financial burden on poorer and middle-class families, including one credit that helps people pay for college.

The deal would achieve about $600 billion in new revenue, the officials said.

Despite the progress in negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that time was running out to finalize the deal.

“Americans are still threatened with a tax hike in just a few hours,” said Reid, D-Nev., as the Senate began an unusual New Year’s Eve session.

Liberal Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, took to the Senate floor after Reid to warn Democratic bargainers against lowering levies on large inherited estates and raising the income threshold at which higher tax rates would kick in.

“No deal is better than a bad deal. And this look like a very bad deal the way this is shaping up,” said Harkin.

Letting tax rates rise for couples with incomes of $450,000 a year is a concessions for Obama, who campaigned for re-election on a pledge to set the levels at $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. It also marked a significant concession by Republican leaders who pledged to continue the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all income earners. .

The hope of the White House and lawmakers was to seal an agreement, enact it and send it to Obama for his signature before taxpayers felt the impact of higher income taxes or federal agencies began issuing furloughs or taking other steps required by spending cuts.

Regardless of the fate of the negotiations, it appeared all workers would experience a cut in their take-home pay with the expiration of a two-year cut in payroll taxes.

In a move that was sure to irritate Republicans, Reid was planning – absent a deal – to force a Senate vote Monday on Obama’s campaign-season proposal to continue expiring tax cuts for all but those with income exceeding $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

As the New Year’s Eve deadline rapidly approached, Democrats and Republicans found themselves at odds over a host of issues, including taxing large inherited estates. Republicans wanted the tax left at its current 35 percent, with the first $5.1 million excluded, while Democrats wanted the rate increased to 45 percent with a smaller exclusion.

The two sides were also apart on how to keep the alternative minimum tax from raising the tax bills of nearly 30 million middle-income families and how to extend tax breaks for research by business and other activities.

Republicans were insisting that budget cuts be found to pay for some of the spending proposals Democrats were pushing.

These included proposals to erase scheduled defense and domestic cuts exceeding $200 billion over the next two years and to extend unemployment benefits. Republicans complained that in effect, Democrats would pay for that spending with the tax boosts on the wealthy.

“We can’t use tax increases on anyone to pay for more spending,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Eds: Associated Press writers David Espo, Andrew Taylor, Alan Fram and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

Jackson Williams.

The Fiscal Cliffhanger

this story comes courtesy of the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The end game at hand, the White House and Senate leaders made a final stab at compromise Friday night to prevent middle-class tax increases from taking effect at the turn of the new year and possibly block sweeping spending cuts as well.

“I’m optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time,” President Barack Obama said at the White House after meeting for more than an hour with top lawmakers from both houses.

Surprisingly, after weeks of postelection gridlock, Senate leaders sounded even more bullish.

RELEASE THE HOUNDS! (courtesy of The Omnipotent Poobah)

The Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he was “hopeful and optimistic” of a deal that could be presented to rank-and-file lawmakers as early as Sunday, a little more than 24 hours before the year-end deadline.

Said Majority Leader Harry Reid: “I’m going to do everything I can” to prevent the tax increases and spending cuts that threaten to send the economy into recession. He cautioned, “Whatever we come up with is going to be imperfect.”

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican who has struggled recently with anti-tax rebels inside his own party, said through an aide he would await the results of the talks between the Senate and White House.

Under a timetable sketched by congressional aides, any agreement would first go to the Senate for a vote. The House would then be asked to assent, possibly as late as Jan. 2, the final full day before a new Congress takes office.

Officials said there was a general understanding that any agreement would block scheduled income tax increases for middle class earners while letting rates rise at upper income levels.

Democrats said Obama was sticking to his campaign call for increases above $250,000 in annual income, even though in recent negotiations he said he could accept $400,000.

The two sides also confronted a divide over estate taxes.

Obama favors a higher tax than is currently in effect, but one senior Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, said he’s “totally dead set” against it. Speaking of fellow GOP lawmakers, he said they harbor more opposition to an increase in the estate tax than to letting taxes on income and investments rise at upper levels.

Also likely to be included in the negotiations are taxes on dividends and capital gains, both of which are scheduled to rise with the new year. Also the alternative minimum tax, which, if left unchanged, could hit an estimated 28 million households for the first time with an average increase of more than $3,000.

In addition, Obama and Democrats want to prevent the expiration of unemployment benefits for about 2 million long-term jobless men and women, and there is widespread sentiment in both parties to shelter doctors from a 27 percent cut in Medicare fees.

Glorious.

The White House has shown increased concern about a possible doubling of milk prices if a farm bill is not passed in the next few days, although it is not clear whether that issue, too, might be included in the talks.

One Republican who was briefed on the White House meeting said Boehner made it clear he would leave in place spending cuts scheduled to take effect unless alternative savings were included in any compromise to offset them. If he prevails, that would defer politically difficult decisions on curtailing government benefit programs like Medicare until 2013.

Success was far from guaranteed in an atmosphere of political mistrust – even on a slimmed-down deal that postponed hard decisions about spending cuts into 2013 – in a Capitol where lawmakers grumbled about the likelihood of spending the new year holiday working.

In a brief appearance in the White House briefing room, Obama referred to “dysfunction in Washington,” and said the American public is “not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now.”

If there is no compromise, he said he expects Reid to put legislation on the floor to prevent tax increases on the middle class and extend unemployment benefits – an implicit challenge to Republicans to dare to vote against what polls show is popular.

The president also booked a highly unusual appearance on Meet the Press for Sunday, yet another indication of his determination to retain the political high ground that came with his re-election.

The guest list for the White House meeting included Reid, McConnell, Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The same group last met more than a month ago and emerged expressing optimism they could strike a deal that avoided the fiscal cliff. At that point, Boehner had already said he was willing to let tax revenues rise as part of an agreement, and the president and his Democratic allies said they were ready to accept spending cuts.

Since then, though, talks between Obama and Boehner faltered, the speaker struggled to control his rebellious rank and file, and Reid and McConnell sparred almost daily in speeches on the Senate floor. Through it all, Wall Street has paid close attention, and the meeting was still going on at the White House when stocks closed lower for the fifth day in a row.

The core issue is the same as it has been for more than a year, Obama’s demand for tax rates to rise on upper incomes while remaining at current levels for most Americans. He made the proposal central to his successful campaign for re-election, when he said incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples should rise to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent.

Boehner refused for weeks to accept any rate increases, and simultaneously accused Obama of skimping on the spending cuts he would support as part of a balanced deal to reduce deficits, remove the threat of spending cuts and prevent the across-the-board tax cuts.

Last week, the Ohio Republican pivoted and presented a Plan B measure that would have let rates rise on million-dollar earners. That was well above Obama’s latest offer, which called for a $400,000 threshold, but more than the speaker’s rank and file were willing to accept.

Facing defeat, Boehner scrapped plans for a vote, leaving the economy on track for the cliff that political leaders in both parties had said they could avoid. In the aftermath, Democrats said they doubted any compromise was possible until Boehner has been elected to a second term as speaker when the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.

Further compounding the year-end maneuvering, there are warnings that the price of milk could virtually double beginning next year.

Congressional officials said that under current law, the federal government is obligated to maintain prices so that fluid milk sells for about $20 per hundredweight. If the law lapses, the Department of Agriculture would be required to maintain a price closer to $36 of $38 per hundredweight, they said. It is unclear when price increases might be felt by consumers.

(Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.)

Jackson Williams.

The Debt Bias: Or, how good reforms do bad things to good people

fiscal

J.W.

This is your brain on economics

I’ve been reading a lot of economic commentary and analysis around two things lately: (1) is, naturally, the negotiations surrounding the “fiscal cliff,” and (2) is Prof. Anas Admati’s argument that the best financial reform we could undertake would be to require banks to have a higher equity ratio (that is, to finance more of their assets through stock and less through debt, reducing their leverage). I hope to write at greater length about (2) in the future, but, for now, suffice it to say that both of these things center on the “debt bias” in the U.S. tax-code, a bias which piqued my interest and so which, after a little research, I should like to tell you about.

Let me start out with some econ for poets. Suppose you’re a business and you want to make a big expansion–setting up lots of new stores, opening a new R&D facility…

View original post 1,744 more words

Fiscal Cliff Or Fiscal Slope?

Dear readers: read this before panicking. — J.W.

The Joy of Tax Law

cliffWhile Congress and the media obsess over the “fiscal cliff,” there is a growing dissent amongst some politicians and economists as to how the issue is being labeled.  More appropriate terms, critics of the “fiscal cliff” argue, may include: “fiscal slope,” “gradual fiscal slope,” “fiscal curve,” “taxmageddon,” and “austerity crisis.”  These alternatives attempt to reflect the idea that the fiscal cliff, a series of mandatory budget cuts and tax hikes that kick-in at the end of the year, is not quite the doomsday that falling off a cliff implies.

As Ed Ardeni, president and chief investment strategist for institutional investor advisory Yardeni Research, put it:

“We’re not going to fall off the edge of the earth at the beginning of next year. When you fall off a cliff you die. So it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that’s what we’re facing here.”

Similarly, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), noted that even if the deadline is missed by a month…

View original post 637 more words