Wednesday, February 29, 2012

US income distribution even worse than you thought

A recent study shows just how bad the distribution is.

“It can be argued that households in the upper portion of the income distribution are better positioned, or even favored, to reap the benefits from growth, further widening the income gap between rich and poor,” wrote the author. 
Conversely, the author wrote that even in times of economic prosperity, poorer classes have limited access to resources that would improve their position. For example, while technological advances spur economic growth, they do not benefit all households equally. 
“The data imply that the U.S. economy is not one of mobility and opportunity,” wrote the author. “Richer households are getting richer, the poorer households are staying poor, and those middle-income households continue to move about chasing the elusive American dream.”

Killer Snow Shovels

It's the cold air that makes snow shoveling such a dangerous activity.  I'll need to remember that for next year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Better Charts

How to Find the Right Chart Type for your Numeric Data:

From Washington State's Gay Marriage Hearing

Cheers to Maureen Walsh.

Gecko glue

Really looking forward to getting some for myself.

A Goldilocks Plan, Growth Then Restraint

This what won't get done.  There are just too many Republican demagogues in Congress to take good, constructive action.
The right strategy is to make growth the priority over the next few years while putting in place a credible, clear strategy for deficit reduction in the years after that. That’s entirely in Congress’s power. Lawmakers could pass a single bill that includes a short-term growth component to extend and expand the payroll tax, invest in public works projects and defuse the fiscal bombs, and a longer-term deficit reduction component, perhaps along the lines of theBowles-Simpson plan, that cuts the deficit by more than $4 trillion beginning in 2014. What markets would hear in that case is a commitment to the best of both worlds: a more robust recovery now, deficit-reduction soon. That’s much more reassuring than the message markets are getting now, which is that current U.S. policies are configured to give us the worst of both worlds, and that Congress is too paralyzed to change course.

Basic Economic Stimulation

Most economists acknowledge that the massive government expenditures of WWII are what led us out of the Great Depression and into a long period of growth.  While much of those expenditures went into expanding industrial capacities for war materiel, a fair share of it must have gone into genuine fertilization of the economic soil.  Things like improved domestic transportation infrastructure and the GI Bill really were helpful in making the post-war expansion possible.

In was perhaps a bit of altruism and moral sense that made the GI Bill possible.  It was the idea that a grateful country owed a debt to its veterans that could be partially paid by providing them an educational opportunity that they would not have had otherwise.  There was no reason to think it was an investment in future economic activity.  It just seemed like a right thing to do.  Serendipitiously, it turned out that stimulating higher education across such a broad spectrum did wonders for the economy.  We had pride in that thing known as "American know-how".  The expansion of higher education is from where that know-how came.

Another stimulative effect was the post-war expansion of access to natural resources around the globe.  Those resources included both energy and material commodities.  The availability of cheap energy contributed to the growing economy and the general improvement in quality of life.

I think that there are at least two key areas in which government stimulation could do good and lasting things for the economy.  One is to take the supply of cheaper energy seriously.  Energy goes into everything we do.  Cheap and abundant energy makes everything else much easier.  The other stimulant activity is to, once-again, take a broad shot at stepping up the educational level of the population.

Argument for Single-Payer

The recent furor over the details of medical coverage provided by religious institutions just provides another reason to have single-payer health care.  Equal protection under the constitution means that government-mandated insurance coverage should apply to all workers, even those employed by religious institutions.  Just because someone sweeps the floors in a church for a wage instead of the floors of a bank doesn't mean they should have to give up constitutional protections.  Religions have a right to invite anyone to adhere to their particular rules of sexual behavior, but by virtue of paying someone a wage they should be required to provide the same minimum level of health care coverage that any other employer is required to provide.  If a church objects to its premiums being used to supply birth control, the onus is on them to persuade their work force by moral argument not to use it.  But a church employee should have the at least the same minimumly-mandated health care choices that a factory worker has.

When churches want to opt out of health care options that other employers are required to provide, it makes a case for getting the employers out of the health care business.  If there were a single-payer system that was supported by a universal tax, the churches wouldn't have to worry about having their name on a check to Planned Parenthood for some birth control.