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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cliché Time: Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics

If I had more time, I'd examine this June 25 Courier-Journal op-ed by John David Dyche in more detail. Dyche fills his paragraphs with "facts," implying that this means it is not biased or distorted in any way.


Here's a sample of the mediocy:
The Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimates that 46 percent of households will not pay federal income tax for 2011. The Heritage Foundation asserts that in 1984 only 14.8 percent of the population paid no federal income tax.
Obviously, Dyche is trying to imply that the U.S. has so expanded the social welfare state that few Americans now pay income taxes. Compared to 1984, that is obviously untrue. Rather, the problem is that since 1984, the wealthiest Americans have acquired a far greater share of the country's wealth and capture a very large portion of annual income. Just between 2002 and 2007, the wealthiest captured two-thirds of all income growth. The data over the last 30 years is particularly depressing. And since 2008, the Great Recession has further concentrated wealth and massively increased poverty at the bottom.

Moreover, the Earned Income Tax Credit explains some of the change as well.

Dyche also ignores the payroll tax.

This set of "facts" from the op-ed is also misleading:

NPR, using inflation-adjusted dollars, reports that, “In 1962, federal spending was $707 billion and accounted for 18 percent of U.S. GDP. In 2011, federal spending was $3.1 trillion and accounted for 24 percent of GDP.” As recently as 2008, total federal spending was about $2.5 trillion, and the long term, historical average of federal spending is 20 percent of GDP.
Why pick 1962 as the baseline? That was before Johnson's Great Society, so it ignores Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Does Dyche mean to suggest that America was a better place when those social welfare protections were not in place? The "long term, historical average" is fairly ridiculous since the U.S. had fairly limited federal spending until the Great Depression. The social safety net that is in place helps protect against the wild economic swings capitalism periodically suffers.

One fact Dyche did not note: federal revenues (thanks to tax cuts, as well as the recession) are now lower than they have been as a portion of GDP in over 60 years. Obviously, deficits would be much lower if taxes on the wealthy had not been repeatedly reduced. What was the top rate in 1962? Answer: over 90%!!

Incidentally, a significant portion of current spending is debt service, meaning that higher revenues over the past 30 years would have meant a lot less government spending now.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

ACA Today

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Surprisingly, Chief Justice John Roberts voted in the majority and was thus the swing vote. Many court observers expected he would vote to uphold the act only if Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote. But Kennedy dissented. Roberts got to assign himself the task of writing the majority opinion, but few expected this to occur in favor of ACA unless the vote was 6-3.

Did Roberts abandon his fellow conservatives altogether? No. Roberts, in fact, did not agree with the four more liberal justices that the ACA could be justified by the Commerce Clause of the constitution. Readers might recall the back-and-forth about whether consumers might be required to purchase a product like broccoli under the interpretation of the Commerce Clause offered by the President's lawyers in the courtroom. Incidentally, while Roberts may have been quite concerned about forced broccoli purchases, Justice Ruth Ginsberg destroyed that argument in her concurring opinion.

In any event, Justice Roberts ruled with the liberal justices that Congress had the authority to implement an individual mandate via its power (from Article I and in the Sixteenth Amendment) to tax individuals. After all, both the House and Senate versions of the ACA enforced the individual mandate using the Internal Revenue Service to impose a modest fine -- or tax: 
Since the ACA’s fine for failure to carry insurance is very low (and statutorily calibrated to the price of insurance so that no one will ever pay more for refusing insurance than for buying insurance), since the fine applies regardless of whether the individual knew she was uninsured, and since the fine is assessed and collected exclusively by the IRS, the Court held that it is a tax rather than a penalty under the long-standing constitutional test.

Many conservatives are hotly claiming that the mandate was NOT explicitly sold as tax policy. Some even point to this video of Barack Obama vehemently denying that ACA is a tax. However, if you watch the video, Obama denies that the law is a tax increase, he doesn't say it is not a tax. His argument is that people who don't pay for health insurance effectively force taxpayers to expend their resources when the uninsured seek medical care for emergency care that they cannot otherwise afford.

Certainly by mid-July 2010, as this New York Times story demonstrates, the Obama White House was arguing that the law was constitutional as a tax even in the face of Tea Party opposition to higher taxes and more spending. Incidentally, that Times story also claims that Obama argued ACA was not a tax, but it then quotes from the same ABC-TV interview where he says it is not a tax increase. The newspaper cut short an exchange and make it appears as if the President directly challenges the idea.

"ObamaCare" will likely become a major issue in the presidential election, though Democrats have some powerful arguments to counter the likely Republican attacks. After all, as Ezra Klein and others have demonstrated, the Obama health care law was grounded in ideas borrowed from Republican think tanks over the past two decades. In the Heritage Foundation Lectures, Dr. Stuart Butler argued in  1989 for the government to simply "Mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance." Back in 2010, left-leaning critics of ACA who favored the "public option" charged that this was a boondoggle for the private insurance companies as they would be getting millions of new customers thanks to this policy change.

In any case, conservative critics are also in trouble because Mitt Romney supported and helped pass a very similar bill in Massachusetts ("RomneyCare") during his tenure as governor. The Massachusetts individual mandate is enforced via the tax code. Thus, how can he, in particular, argue effectively against the ACA? I guess we will all find out in time.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

That’s a clown question, bro’

Rookie Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals is a very talented young (age 19!) baseball player. And now, he has his own catchphrase. Watch and enjoy:

The Washington Post helpfully provides the text of the exchange:
As you can see, one zealous Toronto media member in the postgame scrum asked Harper if he’ll be enjoying a “celebratory Canadian beer” after his monstrous home run. Nats PR quickly shut down the question, but not before Harper uttered the phrase that is sure to end up on a T-shirt by noon.

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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Global Film

Last night, I watched "Outsourced," a 2006 film that was the original source material for a short-lived television situation comedy of the same name. I never watched the TV program, but the film was well-reviewed, so I gave it a try.

"Outsourced" turned out to be an entertaining film about a young man working in phone sales (his shop fills orders) who must travel to India to train workers to replace displaced American workers. As a double ironic twist, the company sells mostly "patriotic knick-knack" that is made in China. It might make a good double feature with "The Coca-Cola Kid," a movie I last saw in the 1980s.

While I am unlikely to screen this movie in my "Global Politics Through Film" class, I will certainly add it to the list of acceptable films for students to review. The movie hints at the economic forces behind outsourcing, reveals interesting cultural aspects of globalization, and specifically addresses the notion that "globalization is Americanization" (or perhaps westernization).

Perhaps most importantly, the film reminded me of this chart I saw last month in the Atlantic Monthly:

In 2010, the U.S. had less than a one-third share of the world film market. A half dozen or so wealthy (and mostly western) states accounted for roughly another one-third of that market and the BRIC states were just under one-sixth (14.6%). 

The globalization of the film industry will undoubtedly continue to have a large effect on the content of movies -- influencing character development, narrative storyline, etc.

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