October 1, 2014

Posts on economy

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 3:12 PM

To start out the new year, I want to call attention to a recent Washington Post Op-Ed by Neil Howe and Richard Jackson, the editors of the Concord Coalition's Facing Facts Quarterly.

The editorial highlights one of the fundamental problems the Concord Coalition was formed to call attention to--the aging of the population. Population aging is a function of longer life expectancy and lower birthrates. It is a phenomenon that tends to occur in countries throughout history as the economy in that country gets wealthier and more developed. The problem is that it is also correlated with declining economic growth as workforce participation eventually declines. There is even a suggestion in some research that this phenomenon is the number one explanatory factor when looking at the success of economic systems throughout history.

The Concord Coalition's primary concern with the aging of the population is that its resulting lower economic growth in the future will occur at the same time that the nation's entitlement programs, which are designed to provide benefits to retirees, will swell in size--increasing the burden on working age citizens. Furthermore, irresponsible...

Monday, December 15, 2008 - 3:15 PM

Although the report doesn’t speculate on the size of the potential cost savings that could be obtained from some of the reform proposals (most of which are not terribly comprehensive or economically “bold”–although elimination of the employer-provided health care tax exclusion would surely be politically “bold”), I found the discussion on pages 118-119 of the health care chapter most interesting:

Spending a rising share of income on health, as has occurred in the United States and other developed countries and is likely to continue occurring, makes economic sense as rising incomes increase the relative benefits of investing in health-care consumption to extend life…[H]ealth care consumption is a superior good…The large and growing size of health spending underscores the importance of ensuring that the sector functions efficiently and equitably.

Today I spoke at an event on Capitol Hill where the OECD’s Economic Survey of the United States was released.  (The policy brief, a condensed summary, is here.)  I was a discussant on the survey’s chapter on health care reform, which explains that the U.S. health...

Thursday, December 4, 2008 - 1:42 PM

Executive Director Bob Bixby has a timely (in light of today's Congressional hearings) Op-Ed in this morning's Washington Post that analogizes congressional pressure on the big three automakers to come up with a sustainable, long-term business model, to the pressure that should be put on Congress to come up with a similarly forward-looking plan for the federal budget.

Here are some excerpts:

After hearings last month to consider the plight of the Big Three automakers, Congress's warning was clear: no plan, no bailout. It was a tough-love message, but it rang a bit hollow coming from lawmakers who have no plan of their own to avoid a fiscal debacle that could be many times more serious than anything the automakers face...

In these circumstances, it is worth asking what might be demanded of Congress by a special guardian appointed to safeguard the interests of today's youth. A good place to start is the letter written to the automakers by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid...

Pelosi and Reid...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - 4:28 PM

Congress has been developing a stimulus plan in recent weeks which it hopes will provide a much needed boost to the ailing economy. There has been a tendency to pin those supporting a large stimulus plan against those individuals deemed to be “deficits hawks.”

There are two points to make about this discussion. First, such a characterization assumes there are currently “deficit hawks” who are standing in the way of economic stimulus because of their concern for the short-term deficit--an assumption I consider dubious and at the very least is not an accurate description that people could make of The Concord Coalition based on our recent media interviews or policy briefs.

The second point is that setting up positions in this “debate” implies that short-term stimulus and long-term fiscal responsibility are contradictory goals. They are not, and we have attempted to make that clear.

In our most recent issue brief, we highlighted the important roles of short-term stimulus aimed at increasing aggregate demand in the interim and budgeting rules (like PAYGO) aimed at improving our longer-term future. These two problems should not be treated the same:

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - 2:24 PM

Even though my job as Policy Director means I spend a fair amount of time sitting at my desk and staring at my computer, I also get to play "in the field" giving chart talks or running budget exercises. Earlier this month, I conducted a "Principles and Priorities" exercise at American University, and had a a wonderful "teaching moment" where I was able to link the hypothetical budget simulation to perhaps the primary fiscal policy debate that will surround President-Elect Obama as his administration sets their priorities.

In the exercise, students divide into groups and act like special congressional committees designated with making budget choices. They pick choices in four areas: domestic discretionary spending, defense and national security spending, taxes and revenues, and entitlements. Groups can either cut programs or increase taxes to reduce the deficit, or spend more on programs they consider important, or cut taxes to increase the deficit. At the beginning of the exercise they are supposed to develop a target goal for the deficit and by the end they add up their choices to see how they did. Because we are an organization that stresses fiscal responsibility, the students tend to think the more they can do to lower the...

Monday, November 10, 2008 - 11:33 AM

In the movie I.O.U.S.A., Warren Buffett affectionately labeled China “Thriftsville” in his parable about the dangers of the United States over-consuming and relying on foreign production and lending. The movie also introduced us to a young Chinese couple, who met each other while working in a light bulb factory. This couple boasts that "saving money is a Chinese tradition," and they save half of the $20-a-day they earn.

The problem is, in an economic downturn, increased saving can harm short-term economic activity. So, from the front page of the print edition of today’s Washington Post, we learn that China is apparently now pursuing more than half a trillion dollars in fiscal stimulus (emphasis added):

China on Sunday night announced an aggressive $586 billion economic stimulus package, the largest in the country’s history, at a time when it is struggling with increasing social unrest due to factory closings and rising unemployment.

In a wide-ranging plan that economists are comparing to the New Deal, the government said it would ease credit restrictions, expand social welfare services and launch an...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 - 12:45 PM

Today, the Concord Coalition released our second issue brief during the general election. In this one, called “Fiscal Policy Beyond Election Day: Nine Challenges for ’09," we discuss how the reality of the nation’s current economic and fiscal transformation will affect the plans the presidential candidates have developed. Additionally, we propose that recent events, and the unrealsitic nature of the plans even before the financial crisis required massive government intervention, will require whoever becomes president to re-prioritize to fit current circumstances and to improve the well-being of future generations.

Our first issue brief looked more closely at the specifics of the candidate's taxing and spending plans and how by accepting currently policy trends as the baseline by which their plans should be judged, they were setting lower expectations for themselves than they should, and certainly lower expectations than the American public should...

Monday, October 20, 2008 - 6:01 PM

Our Executive Director, Bob Bixby, recently participated in an online discussion on the "National Journal's Expert Blogs" focused on whether there is room for fiscal stimulus in the budget, given the extraordinary change in the fiscal position of the government due to the economic downturn and the government's already unprecedented response. Here is his post:

"Yes, there is room for fiscal stimulus -- so long as it sticks to the principles of being timely, targeted and temporary. What we don’t have room for are permanent new policies, either on the spending or tax side, that aren’t paid for. While the very real threat of a serious and lengthy recession justifies deficit-financed stimulus in the near-term, we need to keep in mind that our underlying fiscal policy is already on an unsustainable track. Treating the short-term problem should do as little harm as possible to the long-term outlook. Economically speaking, we need to walk and chew gum at the same time.

The goal of additional fiscal stimulus is to boost consumption and avoid a deep recession. Since...