February 28, 2015

The (Tab)ulation

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Monday, November 10, 2008 - 10:33 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, November 5, 2008 - 12:30 PM

The Concord Coalition congratulates Barack Obama on his victory in the presidential election. As we detailed in a recent issue brief, the challenges he faces are formidable. Let's hope that after a campaign lasting nearly two years, politicians, the public and the media will now turn to the crucial business of governing. On fiscal policy, it will help to suspend partisan preconceptions and focus instead on practical problem solving. Inevitably, there will be differences on the appropriate level of spending, taxes, and debt. However, these differences should be engaged in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect with a healthy dose of fact-based analysis.

Three issues stand out: the economic downturn, the financial sector crisis and the federal budget's long-term unsustainability. While there are linkages among these issues--most specifically the debt increase all three portend--they represent different ailments and should thus be treated with different remedies. The Obama Administration will need to calibrate fiscal policy to accommodate these differences. Short-term stimulus need not and should not increase the long-term structural deficit, just as reducing the long-term...

Friday, October 31, 2008 - 2:17 PM

As the children get ready to trick or treat and those of us who are of-age get ready for a night (or weekend) of partying with friends, many Americans will keep to the tradition of telling haunting Halloween stories in the spirit of the holiday. While you may have planned to get a scary movie delivered to you by mail, or have fired up the computer and directed it to your streaming web-video service of choice, I suggest an alternative. 

For a truly terrifying tale, head to theaters to see the documentary I.O.U.S.A.. After showing at a series of film festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival, I.O.U.S.A. was released nationally on its first theater run on August 22nd, 2008. This initial run was so successful that theaters have asked to have it back, and tonight is the first night of a whole new batch of screenings!

At Sundance, one of the main genres highlighted this year was horror films. Yet, the L.A. Times dubbed I.O.U.S.A. the "most unexpectedly frightening movie in the festival." An...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 - 11:47 AM

On Thursday, October 23rd, I spent the day at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado (elevation 6,872 feet). The college is located about 25 miles north of the New Mexico and Colorado border and it is really one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

My day was packed! I had an 8:00 a.m. presentation, a radio interview on KDUR, lunch and dinner discussions with students (who were all exceptionally bright), an afternoon presentation, and finally a screening of I.O.U.S.A.. My guides at the "Fort" were Professors Jennifer Stollman and John Gadbois.

The theme for the day was fiscal literacy. Both Professors Stollman and Gadbois are concerned that students are not being exposed to the implications of the long-term challenges our nation faces and that younger people are not being given the skills to be literate about fiscal issues. The professors had already traveled to Washington, D.C. for a presentation by Concord Chief Economist Diane Lim Rogersand the Heritage Foundation's Stuart Butler, and have been encouraged to focus on fiscal education by Acting President and Provostfor Fort Lewis College, Steve Roderick. I was thrilled that Provost Roderick joined us at most of the day's events.

During my morning presentation, I discussed the basics of the federal budget, the long-term challenges...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 - 11:41 AM

There is a good article in the New York Times today, as part of their "If Elected..." series, that tries valiantly to add up the candidates' taxing and spending promises with an emphasis on their deficit implications. As a budget policy analyst, I know how tough such a task is during an election campaign, and empathize with any reporter who attempts to do so.

What I try to keep remembering to tell members of the media as I go through the numbers with them, is that the numbers are certain to change, and the candidates and their advisors know that, but what really matters is the commitment to fiscal responsibility once in office and what flexibility they have left themselves with, after the campaign ends, to alter their plans. 

Sometimes plans change because campaigns are two-year long processes, and the plans a candidate designed at the beginning, might no longer be what can be written into legislation and enacted once the campaign ends. I think that has clearly happened in the last couple months with the crisis in the financial markets.

Unfortunately, more often than...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 - 10:37 AM

Many of our reports from the field over the next few weeks will be about screenings we are doing all over the country for I.O.U.S.A.. The primary idea behind the screenings is to reach colleges who weren't in session when the film was originally released and other locations where the movie hasn't been able to show.

Sunday night's screening of I.O.U.S.A. at Columbia University is a great example of why I love my job. The Conservative Forum packed almost 75 people into a basement to watch the movie on a pull-down projector screen. The audience was hooked, and I had to laugh as they stood up and swayed in their seats to read a subtitle or name at the bottom of the screen (we weren't able to swing stadium seating rental in the basement).

At the end of the film people got ready to leave, but when we announced that the director, Patrick Creadon, was there to answer questions, most stayed. After a good Q&A session, Patrick sat down with a pen and a stack of I.O.U.S.A. posters. About 20 people lined up to get his autograph and gush about the film. I even had a number of people come up and ask how they can set up more screenings A.S.A.P.!  

As if the night wasn't already a huge success, I had arranged to meet with a group of dedicated New York City Concord Coalition volunteers after the...

Sunday, October 26, 2008 - 7:20 PM

Greetings from Atlanta! On Thursday (October 23) Executive Director Bob Bixby came to Georgia for a screening of I.O.U.S.A. on the campus of Emory University and a media interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Many senior faculty and staff attended along with a great crowd of concerned students. Dr. Kenneth Thorpe was on hand and complimented the educational work of Concord and the movie. Dr. Thorpe is a well-known expert on health care policy and has gone back and forth working in academia and the federal government for years in several high-ranking positions.

For those of you who have seen the movie, you know the old soft drink Tab plays a bit role. So Bob, along with his beloved can of Tab, took questions from the audience (you can only imagine how many times we've heard jokes about "picking up the Tab" in relation to the national debt.. I've been as guilty as anyone). Since Atlanta is the home of Coca Cola (the creator of Tab), we have a surplus of the diet drink here!

Questions ranged from the serious and thoughtful to downright funny. One student asked if he and others who had foreign language skills should just uproot and move to another country!  Bob responded that we needed him to stay here because otherwise it would be one less...

Friday, October 24, 2008 - 1:08 PM

One way the Concord Coalition has attempted to highlight the importance of fiscal responsibility and the choices involved in being fiscally responsible is by establishing a series of educational exercises. These exercises allow citizens at the grassroots level, whether as part of town hall meetings with their members of Congress or as students in the classroom, to learn in a group setting that takes advantage of the interactions with people of different generations or different ideological or political backgrounds.

We rely on an experienced network of field staff around the country who lead these exercises in person and help teachers learn how to facilitate the exercises themselves.

The most popular exercise from this collection is "Principles and Priorities" which is designed to help high school, college, and graduate students learn about the competing pressures facing members of Congress in budgeting over the next 10 years. The students gain exposure to current policy options that Congress often debates, while getting a sense of the political and time pressures that arise legislative sessions.

A new exercise called "...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 - 11:45 AM

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 - 9:29 PM

Executive Director Bob Bixby is quoted in a good article on Time Magazine's web site about the growing budget deficit, where he argues that the rising deficit, and some of the most recent policy actions that have contributed to it, are "necessary evils" to keep the economy afloat as long as the actions are targeted and temporary.

What also stuck out, was the nice picture of the National Debt Clock in Times Square (probably the most famous "tabulation" related to Concord's mission). You can see more about the debt clock, and the family behind it, in the movie I.O.U.S.A.. The picture however, shows something you won't see in the movie. Since filming, the national debt has moved from $8.6 trillion to over $10 trillion, meaning they had to paint a dollar sign onto the clock to make room for the 14th digit. There is always hope though, this debt clock does have the capability to go backwards (the one in use in the 1980's and 1990's did not). Let's hope we can test that ability out someday.

--Josh Gordon