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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Foxconn aims to break the bank

While the head of the illegitimate Trump regime makes multiple headlines telling the New York Times that he is above the law, we have to remember that there are plenty of other issues of concern to the middle class. One of the most striking is the latest huge bidding war for a gigantic Foxconn manufacturing plant (h/t David Haynes), slated to employ a massive 10,000 workers.

The linked article interviews an American consultant based in Beijing, Einar Tangen, who says that Foxconn's standard procedure is to get as much incentives out of state and local governments as possible; indeed, he says, "You can expect Foxconn to get as close to zero cost as they can. They can do it because they bring so many jobs." Yes -- and no.

Yes, 10,000 jobs is a lot of jobs for a single U.S. investment project. But Foxconn has strong motivations to invest in the United States, most importantly the fear of protectionist trade policies that will keep their iPhones and other electronics out of the country. This mirrors the mid-1980s, when exactly the same fear spurred most Japanese automakers to build at least one assembly plant in the United States. If the company has to have a presence in the U.S. market, especially as competitors were doing during the 1980s, the firm does not actually have that strong a bargaining position vis-à-vis the United States.

The problem, just as in the 1980s, is that as long as individual states do not coordinate their bidding (as happens in the European Union), the dynamic of bidding wars will induce them to offer outrageously high location subsidies, sometimes even in excess of 100% of the cost of the investment. Individual states do not take into effect what happens in other states when they do their cost-benefit analyses of economic development projects. The fact that the new investment will directly or indirectly destroy jobs at competing facilities is of no concern to policymakers in, say, Wisconsin, who will not adjust their cost-per-job estimates to reflect this dynamic.

While the United States has a strong bargaining position, individual states bidding against each other do not have a strong bargaining position. Foxconn believes it *has* to come to the United States, but it does not have to locate its new manufacturing plant in Wisconsin. Nor does it have to put it in Michigan, another state apparently in the hunt for this factory. But we can see that there will be a bidding war with at least two states pursuing the facility, and it will drive up the cost of location subsidies spectacularly. Perhaps we'll see a new all-time record.

Oddly enough, even the states have a factor increasing their bargaining power, a low unemployment rate. In May 2017, Wisconsin's unemployment was down to 3.1%, while Michigan's was 4.2%. For Michigan, this represents a decline of 10.7 percentage points (14.9% to 4.2%) since the peak in July 2009. All other things equal, both states should be less desperate to get these jobs than they would have been in 2009.

Call me cynical, but I'll believe it when I see it for the states to refrain from a bidding war.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Republicans help pass Illinois budget over Rauner's veto

For the second time in as many months, legislative Republicans have turned on their Republican governor for his refusal to back tax increases to help balance the budget. Last month, supermajority Kansas Republicans revolted against Sam Brownback's six-year tax-cutting experiment, which brought the state persistent budget problems and two credit downgrades.

Tonight (July 6) enough Republicans joined with the majority House Democrats to override Bruce Rauner's veto of the Illinois budget (the Senate overrode on July 4 with one Republican vote), ending a two-year battle. Like Kansas, Illinois will now have tax increases, in this case on both the personal and corporate income tax, which are expected to raise $5 billion a year.

The budget also contains 5% budget cuts for most state agencies and a 10% cut to college education, according to the Chicago Tribune. Democrats had fought Rauner for two years over cuts and, as the Tribune reports, Rauner had refused to sign an income tax increase unless there was a property tax freeze and/or cuts to workers' compensation. Amazingly, the budget battle led to state universities receiving no state funding since January; colleges and universities are refunded in the new budget.

Like so many Republicans, Rauner simplistically blames all of Illinois' budget problems on Democrats and unions. His extreme policy proposals have been presented as the only way to tackle the budget for his entire term of office, and he refused to negotiate. As a result, key members of his own party abandoned him on absolute opposition to tax increases. We'll have to wait and see whether this mini-trend will spread to more states.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Senate healthcare bill costs 15 million their health insurance next year, 22 million by 2026

One consequence of electing the popular vote loser is that the official winners act as if they have a mandate for the most extreme version of their policies. Thus, we have proposed legislation, the misleadingly titled Better Care Reconciliation Act, that will not only roll back Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, but impose further large cuts on the program in addition. In total, the Medicaid cuts will come to $772 billion through 2026.

As a result primarily of ending the individual mandate, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 15 million fewer people will be insured in 2018 than would be the case with current law. As healthier people remove themselves from the individual market, this will cause increases in insurance premiums and the likelihood of further collapse of the market. As Tierney Sneed points out, there will be some premium reductions in the individual market, but this will be due to the plans being much less generous and having higher out-of-pocket costs. Tellingly, the CBO report judges that low-income people will not buy insurance under these circumstances. As a result, by 2026 there will be 22 million fewer people without insurance.

On the revenue side, of course, the Republican bill cuts taxes on the rich by $541 billion.

It's hard to know where to begin. The chutzpah of such a gigantic transfer from the poor to the rich staggers the imagination. As with everything surrounding Trump, this is completely surreal.

The good news is that it's not a done deal. Three Republican Senators (Collins, Paul, and Heller), one more than McConnell can afford to lose, are currently opposed to the bill in the Senate. Republican governors who have expanded Medicaid (Sandoval of Nevada and Kasich of Ohio), plus Baker of Massachusetts (which expanded Medicaid under former Governor Deval Patrick) have also come out against the bill.

It's no secret, then, what to do. Keep the pressure on your Republican Senators. If there is no vote this week, you'll have the opportunity to see them over the July 4th recess as well. The stakes have never been higher.

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Video series for "Rethinking Investment Incentives"

As regular readers will recall, I contributed to the Columbia Center for Sustainable Investment's book, Rethinking Investment Incentives: Trends and Policy Options (Columbia University Press, 2016). Now, the editors have put together a series of video teasers for most of the individual chapters, all of which can be seen here.

As I wrote before, the book offers the perspectives of numerous experts in the field, and you can get quick overviews of the chapters from the teasers. These include the authors of chapters on theoretical analyses of location incentives; overviews of incentive use in the United States, the European Union, and the rest of the world; and control policies both subnational and supranational. I hope you find them of interest!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Kansas Republicans abandon Brownback; raise taxes over his veto

Remember Kansas's great tax-cutting experiment under Governor Sam Brownback? (Me, sarcastic?) As always in Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore La-La Land, cutting taxes leads to economic nirvana. Except when it doesn't, and it didn't in Kansas.

I recently wrote about the idiocy of Investor Business Daily's criticisms of California, and Paul Krugman carried the ball further, citing me and bringing in a comparison with Kansas (Brownback and Jerry Brown both took office in 2011). As Kansas cut taxes and California raised them, Kansas managed to raise employment by 5% from 2011 to 2017, whereas California's job growth was a rather more impressive 15% over the same period. As it turns out, Kansas's problems weren't limited to poor job growth.

As Alexia Fernandez Campbell points out at vox.com, one major change "eliminated taxes on owner-operated businesses, known as pass-throughs." This created an incentive for people to switch from being employees to being separate businesses providing exactly the same services. Tax avoidance reduced tax revenue by an estimated 1.7%, while the total reduction in tax revenue was 8%. With losses of this magnitude, Kansas ran into persistent budget trouble. For this, it was rewarded by Standard & Poors with credit downgrades in 2014 and 2016. By contrast, California saw its credit upgraded by the rating agencies several times. Both states now have an AA- rating from S&P, which is the fourth-best rating but below average for U.S. states.

By this week, the Republican-supermajority Kansas Legislature had had enough. Overriding Brownback's veto, the legislature passed a repeal of most of Brownback's tax cuts, including the pass-through provision mentioned above. Hopefully the state will now be able to begin repairing its six-year fiscal nightmare.

Do I have to tell you that Laffer and Moore are the main advisers behind Trump's tax plan, too?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Consumer Reports: Obamacare reduced bankruptcy rate

A new article at consumerreports.org suggests that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act* (PPACA) played a substantial role in the decline of annual personal bankruptcies that we have seen since the high of 1.5 million in 2010.

As I showed several years ago, international bankruptcy data support the oft-heard claim that medical bills make up one of the biggest, if not the biggest, causes of personal bankruptcy. That is, if the United States has a bunch of medical bankruptcies and other countries don't, all other things equal you would expect the U.S. to have a higher overall bankruptcy rate than other countries. And the only article I was able to find on this showed that it was true: In 2006, the U.S. had a rate (6000 per million population) that was twice Canada's (3000 per million), which in turn far outstripped #3 Germany (1200 per million). The U.S. and Canadian rates have long been the highest because they had the most debtor-friendly bankruptcy systems, so debtors took advantage of it when they could.

Canada and the U.S. had similar rates in 1982, but thereafter the U.S. rate increased substantially more rapidly than Canada's did. As this period was also marked by U.S. health care costs outstripping those of other OECD countries, this is definitely evidence that medical bills were contributing to the higher U.S. bankruptcy rate.

Now, as suggested by Consumer Reports, the increase in insurance coverage rates and the many consumer protections due to the Affordable Care Act are contributing to a falling bankruptcy rate. Certainly, part of the fall is due to the passing of the worst part of the Great Recession, but the numbers are still striking.


A chart showing how the number of personal bankruptcy cases dropped after the ACA was introduced.

As the article points out and the chart above emphasizes, protections that surely reduced bankruptcy rates were contained in even the initial phase of the ACA. In 2011, the Obama administration rolled out the ban on yearly and lifetime limits, guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, and implemented the rules allowing adult children to remain on their parents' policies until they were 26. By the time all ACA provisions were in effect in 2014, there was already a decline of over 600,000 bankruptcies per year. In the next two years, bankruptcies declined by a further 160,000 per year.

With the possibility that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) could reverse many of those protections, the conclusion is inescapable that medical bankruptcies will once again increase. Just how much, of course, depends on the particulars after (and if) the bill goes through the Senate, but this new study shows us just how much we have gained, and how much we have at risk.

* I use the full name of the law because both the patient protection and affordability aspects of the legislation contributed to this outcome.

Consumer Reports has not responded to my request for permission to use the chart. I will remove it if so requested.

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.

Friday, April 28, 2017

European Union ends relocation subsidies

This isn't actually news, but it's news to me, and it's something you need to know. Greg LeRoy sent me an article by James Meek in London Review of Books (20 April 2017) that he'd been sent by a friend, documenting more EU-permitted job piracy by Poland that preceded the case I discuss at length in my book, Investment Incentives and the Global Competition for Capital. There, I criticized the European Commission's Directorate-General for Competition for approving a 54.5 million euro subsidy for Dell to move from Ireland to Poland in 2009. During my January 2011 book tour, I took a lot of flak from DG Competition when I presented there, with several staff pushing back on my criticism of this decision.

As the LRB article pointed out, there was another case involving Poland, where Cadbury received state aid of about $5 million (14.18 million zloty when the zloty was worth about 0.35 USD) in November 2008 to move from the Somerdale, United Kingdom, to Skarbimierz (the LRB gives a much bigger number, but from unspecified "Polish government figures," so I cannot find a way to compare it with the EU's case report). This case is only listed in the EU's Official Journal, where it is reported as having been notified under the General Block Exemption Regulation. As this regulation is intended for uncontroversial cases, that makes it evidence, though hardly proof, for a relatively smaller rather than larger aid amount. For my purposes, the amount is less important than the fact that we have another documented relocation subsidy.

What's the big "news"? In Meek's article we read, "In 2014, too late for Somerdale, the EU recognised its error and banned the use of national subsidies to entice multinationals to move production from one EU country to another." Just like that.*

Okay, I'm abstracting from the political process. But it's pretty clear what happened. As I reported in Investment Incentives and the Global Competition for Capital, when Dell moved to Poland, all of Ireland was up in arms, including government officials and Members of the European Parliament. The European Parliament made its displeasure known. What the Somerdale case shows us is that there was at least one other country on the wrong end of a relocation subsidy, strengthening further the political pressure for state aid reform.

As I said, Commission staff believed they made the correct decision in the subsequent Dell case, and the rationale would have been exactly the same for Cadbury. The move sent economic activity from somewhere with high per capita income to a place with a far lower per capita income. They saw this as an overall increase of efficiency within the European Union. As I argued, though, even if that were the case, the decision wasn't good for intra-EU solidarity, and it undermined support for policies promoting the growth of the EU's poorer regions ("cohesion" policy in EU-speak). In light of the 2014 policy change, we know that arguments aligned to mine were the ones that carried the day politically.

This shouldn't come as any surprise: People generally don't like job piracy when they know about it. If you've read Chapter 5 of my book Competing for Capital, you know that it's basically not allowed for states to use federal funds (Community Development Block Grants, Small Business Administration, etc.) to engage in job piracy. But in each program's case, the reform happened only after one or more such incidents (many of them reported to me by Greg LeRoy during my research) had taken place, leading to demands for change.

Moreover, individual states know how to prevent job piracy within their own state. As of 2013, 40 states had shown their ability to write anti-piracy rules (p. iii). But they don't hesitate to use relocation subsidies when it comes to raiding other states. They can't seem to help themselves since they all need investment, and nothing stops other states from providing incentives. In fact, all multi-state anti-piracy agreement in the U.S. have failed, and even the most promising recent attempt (Kansas/Missouri) failed to get off the ground.

Only the federal government can stop states from stealing jobs from one another, but don't hold your breath on it happening anytime soon even though the negative-sum nature of inter-state border wars is easy to see. It's heartening to me to see the European Union has finally changed its policy, given that I have written mostly positive things about state aid control over the years. It's great for the glaring exception to be gone.


*For the technically inclined, this is embodied in a ban of relocation subsidies under the General Block Exemption Regulation, and in the Guidelines for Regional Aid 2014-2020, which classifies a relocation aid (paragraph 122) as "a manifest negative effect," "where the negative effects of the aid manifestly outweigh any positive effects, so that the aid cannot be declared compatible with the internal market" (paragraph 118).

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.