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October 7, 2011

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Paul Krugman: Confronting the Malefactors

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 12:24 AM PDT

"How can you not applaud the protesters for finally taking a stand?":

Confronting the Malefactors, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NYTimes: There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people. ... Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point.
What can we say about the protests? First things first: The protesters' indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force, economically and politically, is completely right.
A weary cynicism, a belief that justice will never get served, has taken over much of our political debate... In the process, it has been easy to forget just how outrageous the story of our economic woes really is. So, in case you've forgotten, it was a play in three acts.
In the first act, bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves princely sums), inflating huge bubbles through reckless lending. In the second act, the bubbles burst — but bankers were bailed out by taxpayers, with remarkably few strings attached, even as ordinary workers continued to suffer the consequences of the bankers' sins. And, in the third act, bankers showed their gratitude by turning on the people who had saved them, throwing their support — and the wealth they still possessed thanks to the bailouts — behind politicians who promised to keep their taxes low and dismantle the mild regulations erected in the aftermath of the crisis.
Given this history, how can you not applaud the protesters for finally taking a stand? ... It would probably be helpful if protesters could agree on at least a few main policy changes they would like to see enacted. ... Rich Yeselson, a veteran organizer and historian of social movements, has suggested that debt relief for working Americans become a central plank of the protests. I'll second that, because such relief, in addition to serving economic justice, could do a lot to help the economy recover. I'd suggest that protesters also demand infrastructure investment — not more tax cuts — to help create jobs. Neither proposal is going to become law in the current political climate, but the whole point of the protests is to change that political climate.
And there are real political opportunities here. ... Democrats are being given what amounts to a second chance. The Obama administration squandered a lot of potential good will early on by adopting banker-friendly policies that failed to deliver economic recovery even as bankers repaid the favor by turning on the president. Now, however, Mr. Obama's party has a chance for a do-over. All it has to do is take these protests as seriously as they deserve to be taken.
And if the protests goad some politicians into doing what they should have been doing all along, Occupy Wall Street will have been a smashing success.

links for 2011-10-07

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 12:06 AM PDT

The Mortgage Interest Deduction

Posted: 06 Oct 2011 10:17 AM PDT

Richard Green says it's time to reform the Mortgage Interest Deduction:

My testimony to Senate Finance Committee on Housing and Tax Reform, by Richard Green: I testified today. Here is how the written testimony opens:
...I have long thought that the Mortgage Interest Deduction is a residual of the 1913 tax code, accomplishes little that its supporters claim for it, pushes capital away from plant and equipment toward housing, and benefits high income (although perhaps not very high income) households more than the remainder of the country.
I will divide my remarks into 8 parts; (1) I will argue that the Mortgage Interest Deduction is a residual of the 1913 tax code, and was not created to encourage homeownership; (2) that those on the margin of homeowning get little-to-no benefit from the Mortgage Interest Deduction, and that the policy therefore does little to encourage homeownership; (3) that the Mortgage Interest Deduction does encourage those who would be homeowners anyway to purchase larger houses than they otherwise would; (4) that even in the absence of the Mortgage Interest Deduction, owner-occupants receive a large tax benefit; (5) that phasing out the Mortgage Interest Deduction would encourage households to pay down their mortgages more quickly, and would therefore encourage households to rely less on leverage; (6) household deleveraging would lead to greater market stability, but would also mean that the revenues generated by the elimination of the deduction would be smaller than static estimates suggest; (7) at a time when the housing market remains quite weak, it is important that the Mortgage Interest Deduction be phased out carefully; (8) that if we do wish to encourage homeownership via tax policy, a targeted, refundable credit would be more effective than the current Mortgage Interest Deduction.

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