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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April Tax-Cast Now Available

The Tax Justice Network's Tax-Cast has just been released, with stories on US states fighting against tax havens, an interview with TJN's John Christensen, and a discussion of a new paper by Paris School of Economics professor Gabriel Zucman's (yes, he's a student of Piketty's) estimating the amount of financial wealth held in tax havens ($5.9 trillion in 2008, on the low end of most estimates, but still quite substantial). You can hear it at the link above or just click here to go directly to YouTube.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About Tax Freedom Day®

Today, April 21, is 2014 Tax Freedom Day®, according to the Tax Foundation. The Tax Foundation is not exactly known for unbiased research, and its promotion of Tax Freedom Day® is no exception.

The Foundation claims that Tax Freedom Day® is "a vivid, calendar-based illustration of the cost of government." In other words, instead of saying that its analysts expect total taxes in the United States (including social insurance) to reach 30.2% of net national income (NNI) in 2014, they say that Tax Freedom Day® arrives three days later than last year. Precise, huh?

Of course, the word "freedom" tips us off to the fact that the Tax Foundation is actually trying to create an emotional response. Something along the lines of, "Oh boy, after today I'm working for myself rather than the greedy government!" The implication further is that the later Tax Freedom Day® occurs, the worse it is for the country. The thing is, neither of these insinuations is true.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out every year, that emotional response, frequently picked up directly by the media, is not true for the vast majority of Americans. As CBPP's Figure 1 below shows, for the federal portion of taxes, more than 80% of Americans are paying less than the 20.1% federal component of Tax Freedom Day® would suggest. (In addition, the burden of some taxes does not fall on individuals at all.) The Tax Foundation responds that it's not trying to mislead anyone, it's just comparing "total U.S. tax collections with total U.S. income." Of course, if that were all it was really trying to do, it could just say that projected tax collections equal x% of NNI. But no, it trumpets Tax Freedom Day®.

Moreover, a relatively late Tax Freedom Day® is usually a sign that incomes are increasing, so taxes are, too. As the Foundation writes this year,
Tax Freedom Day is three days later than last year due mainly to the country’s continued slow economic recovery, which is expected to boost tax revenue especially from the corporate, payroll, and individual income tax.
 Despite the dig "slow," the Foundation is saying that economic recovery boosts tax revenue. Another example should make this clearer. The same document continues, "The latest ever Tax Freedom Day was May 1, 2000, meaning Americans paid 33.0 percent of their total income in taxes." Horrors! Such confiscatory taxation obviously meant that the economy was in the tank in 2000. You know I'm joking: Actually, the economy was booming and the federal government had a budget surplus. Again, higher incomes and profits boosted tax revenue. Indeed, the economy in 2000 created 2,088,000 jobs, way more than during the entire George W. Bush administration (1,282,000). Maybe the Tax Foundation should pay attention.

This brings me to the ultimate point about Tax Freedom Day®. It's all there in the ®. As it indicates, Tax Freedom Day® is a trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If it were a serious concept, there would be no reason to trademark it at all. What the ® tells us is that Tax Freedom Day® is just a marketing gimmick.

Class dismissed.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Reading Piketty

Like everyone else, it seems, I'm reading Thomas Piketty's (many good links there, including the technical appendix) Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I can't remember when I last looked forward to reading a 650-page non-fiction book with such anticipation. I'll report back soon if work doesn't intrude too much.

In the meantime, take a look at Paul Krugman's review of the book here, and the roundup of reactions at Bill Moyers' blog.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Real Wages Rise Slightly but Remain below Peak for 41st Straight Year

Remember the Economic Report of the President? If you've been reading this blog for at least a year, of course you do. It's where we get our annual data on real wages (and apparently some other stuff, too). The 2014 edition was released on March 10. As you may recall, I made my first post on the declining real wage trend through 2011 and was literally the first person to notice 2012's further slight decline.

The good news is that, in what is now Table B-15 rather than B-47, real wages advanced somewhat in 2013, from $294.31 per week (in 1982-84 dollars) to $295.51, an increase of 0.4%. Woo hoo!

The bad news, of course, is that this is still 13.5% off the peak real weekly wage of $341.73, achieved in 1972. One swallow doesn't make a spring, and all that.

Interestingly, last week Paul Krugman felt compelled to argue that real wages aren't going up all that fast, but so what if they did? He said that basically, this was something primarily only visible in the real hourly (my emphasis) wages of production and non-supervisory workers, which happens to be one of the components of Table B-15. However, he was reporting based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly reporting of this stat.

As he puts it, the folks he is criticizing are saying that "a dangerous acceleration in the pace of wage increases is already underway. Time to raise interest rates!" His response to them is fine as far as it goes, but he misses that even on the terrain of the supposedly most rapidly increasing measure, there is no there there.

Table A-2. Current and real (constant 1982-1984 dollars) earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls, seasonally adjusted(1)

Real average hourly earnings(2)
$8.73 $8.81 $8.83 $8.86
Real average weekly earnings(2)
$294.96 $295.22 $295.69 $295.08
Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers
229.180 230.919 231.233 231.344
Average hourly earnings
$20.00 $20.35 $20.41 $20.50
Average weekly hours
33.8 33.5 33.5 33.3
Average weekly earnings
$676.00 $681.73 $683.74 $682.65
Real average hourly earnings(2)
-0.3 -0.1 0.2 0.3
Real average weekly earnings(2)
0.2 -0.6 0.2 -0.2
Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers
0.6 0.3 0.1 0.0
Average hourly earnings
0.3 0.2 0.3 0.4
Average weekly hours
0.6 -0.6 0.0 -0.6
Average weekly earnings
0.8 -0.3 0.3 -0.2
Real average hourly earnings(2)
0.1 0.8 0.8 1.5
Real average weekly earnings(2)
0.4 0.2 0.4 0.0
Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers
1.9 1.5 1.6 0.9
Average hourly earnings
2.0 2.3 2.3 2.5
Average weekly hours
0.3 -0.6 -0.3 -1.5
Average weekly earnings
2.3 1.7 2.0 1.0
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (link above), footnotes omitted

First of all, we should remember that a couple months' trend is not really equal to a 41-year trend. That kind of error we'll leave to Reinhart and Rogoff.

Second, we can see the "scary" number: nominal hourly earnings increased from $20.00 in February 2013 to $20.50 in February 2014, or 2.5%.

Third, we know that we actually want to adjust that for inflation; hence we find that real hourly earnings went from $8.73 in February 2013 (1982-84 dollars) to $8.86 in February 2014, or just 1.5%,

Fourth, what Krugman appears to miss is that average weekly hours have fallen substantially since 1972. In fact, as the BLS table shows, they fell by half an hour, from 33.8 to 33.3 hours, from February 2013 to February 2014, or 1.5%.

You can see where this is going now: Real weekly earnings went up by 0. More precisely, 0.04%. And you'll note that the February 2014 figure is lower than the full-year 2013 level. So there is actually no increase to explain in the production/non-supervisory workers series.

But Krugman does hit the nail on the head: "What's so bad about rising wages?" And the answer, of course, is "Absolutely nothing." ("Say it again!")

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

RIP BartCop

I'm a little late on this, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the recent death of Terry Coppage, aka BartCop. Bart died March 5th at the age of 60, from complications of the flu, pneumonia, and leukemia.

Bart was one of the pioneers of the liberal blogosphere, starting out in February 1996 with an email newsletter that was converted to web pages by Marc Perkel. He gave much support to new bloggers, including luminaries like Digby and Atrios. Though I never knew him, I am in his debt as well. The affiliated site, Marty Pflugrath's BartCop Entertainment, was the first to permanently and prominently link to me.

In his final column, Bart requested financial help for his wife to help pay for his medical bills. You can send a PayPal payment to If you still use checks, you could send a contribution to, PO Box 54466, Tulsa, OK 74155.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hawaii Cuts Uninsured Population in Half

In case you haven't seen Charles Gaba's great website, you really need to see it. It is the best source available for tracking Obamacare enrollments, covering all categories of signups, including Medicaid, the federal and state exchanges, off-exchange signups, and estimated under-26ers.

One of the most notable achievements of Obamacare is in the President's birthplace, Hawaii, where the number of uninsured people has already fallen by more than half, despite having a horrible website for the state-run exchange. The biggest chunk of this is through Medicaid enrollments, both people newly eligible and those previously eligible who had not signed up ("woodworkers," people who've come out of the woodwork). Here are the totals:

Uninsured: 102,000
Medicaid: 48,000
Exchange: 4,661
Off-exchange: 4,000

Total newly insured: 56,661, or 55.6%.

Moreover, approximately 10,000 Hawaii residents are ineligible for Medicaid or ACA subsidies due to their immigration status, so the state is doing very well indeed.

For those of you who haven't seen it, below is Gaba's pride and joy, "The Graph." It's the best visual interpretation we have of how signups have proceeded since the rollout of Obamacare October 1. Note that we can expect a big last-minute rush over the final weeks of open enrollment, so we will see soon just how well the first year's signups have gone.

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.


The Graph

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Surprise! Most Subsidies Go to Big Business

A new Good Jobs First study confirms what many of us have long suspected: Most subsidies go to big companies. For the first time, though, we have an estimate of just how much of this government largesse goes to the biggest firms: 75%. $110 billion, to put it in dollar terms. The Fortune 500 alone have received $63 billion of that.

This report is based on recently completed work on the Subsidy Tracker database, connecting data for parent and subsidiary companies. This revealed that 965 parent firms received that $110 billion, some 3/4 of the total amounts disclosed in the database. It also turns out that some firms you might not associate with a lot of subsidies actually receive them through subsidiaries with completely different names.

One example of this is Berkshire Hathaway, which in 310 separate subsidy deals has received over $1.06 billion. The subsidiaries receiving incentive packages, include the following: "Geico, NetJets, Nebraska Furniture Mart, General Re Corporation, Lubrizol Advanced Materials, and Webb Wheel Products."

16 other firms, led of course by Boeing, have also received more than $1 billion in total. Boeing's $13 billion total is followed by Alcoa at $5.6 billion, Intel with $3.9 billion, General Motors receiving $3.5 billion, and Ford totaling $2.5 billion(all figures in nominal dollars). An amazing 182 companies have received cumulative subsidies of over $100 million.

The 965 parent companies have, on average, 26 deals and a cumulative subsidy average of $102 million.

David Cay Johnston points out that Alcoa's subsidies account for 189 years' worth of profits based on the company's results for the last four years.This reinforces something I argued in Investment Incentives and the Global Competition for Capital, that while subsidies may only represent a small portion of a company's costs, they can make up a large portion of its profits (my example was Advanced Micro Devices, now Global Foundries).

Johnston concludes appropriately:
Taxpayers who want to understand the full dimension of their burdens should demand that Congress require and pay for detailed annual statistical reports showing every federal, state and local subsidy received by corporations, including the value of indirect subsidies like those perpetual rights of way to pipelines and other legal monopolies.
 Transparency remains the name of the game. As citizens become more aware of the huge costs that subsidies impose on us, the bigger a political issue it will become. This new report is another feather in the cap for Good Jobs First's promotion of transparency.