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September 26, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 16 Sep 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 15 Sep 2015 02:36 PM PDT
This was in links a day or two ago, but it's worth highlighting:
Collecting Taxes Is Government Work, Editorial, NY Times: Buried in the Senate-passed version of the big highway bill is a provision that would require the Treasury secretary to use private debt collectors to collect unpaid back taxes.
The provision, added to the bill by Republican leaders, is ostensibly intended to help pay for highways. But it's a bad idea that should be kept out of the House version of the bill and out of any final compromise version.
Private tax collection was tried in the 1990s and in the 2000s. Both times it lost money. It increases the cost of handling complaints and appeals at the Internal Revenue Service, and it is far less efficient than simply increasing the collection budget of the I.R.S.
Worse, it fosters taxpayer abuse. The debts involved are ones that the I.R.S. has not been able to collect, in part because the taxpayers are too hard-pressed to pay up. A private company is probably not going to have better luck unless it uses abusive tactics.
And yet, private tax collection is an idea that keeps resurfacing. Why? One reason is that it would be a cash cow for the four companies likely to win tax-collection contracts...
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, has argued in the past that using federal money to pay private companies for tax collection would create jobs at those companies. But it would be better to increase the I.R.S. budget to create middle-class public-sector jobs in professional tax collection than to throw money at low-paying private-sector contractors who cannot do the job as well. ...
I've posted this before (in 2006) (I left out his two other examples of the Bush administration trying to take us "back to the 16th century"):
Back to a bad old future:
Tax Farmers, Mercenaries and Viceroys, by Paul Krugman, A Monarchy Commentary, NY Times: Yesterday The New York Times reported that the Internal Revenue Service would outsource collection of unpaid back taxes to private debt collectors, who would receive a share of the proceeds.
It's an awful idea. Privatizing tax collection will cost far more than hiring additional I.R.S. agents, raise less revenue and pose obvious risks of abuse. But what's really amazing is the extent to which this plan is a retreat from modern principles of government. I used to say that conservatives want to take us back to the 1920's, but the Bush administration seemingly wants to go back to the 16th century....
In the bad old days, ...[t]here was no bureaucracy to collect taxes, so the king subcontracted the job to private "tax farmers," who often engaged in extortion. There was no regular army, so the king hired mercenaries, who tended to wander off and pillage the nearest village. There was no regular system of administration, so the king assigned the task to favored courtiers, who tended to be corrupt, incompetent or both.
Modern governments solved these problems by creating a professional revenue department to collect taxes, a professional officer corps to enforce military discipline, and a professional civil service. But President Bush apparently doesn't like these innovations, preferring to govern as if he were King Louis XII.
So the tax farmers are coming back...
Tax farmers, mercenaries and viceroys: why does the Bush administration want to run a modern superpower as if it were a 16th-century monarchy? Maybe people who've spent their political careers denouncing government as the root of all evil can't grasp the idea of governing well. Or maybe it's cynical politics: privatization provides both an opportunity to evade accountability and a vast source of patronage.
But the price is enormous. This administration has thrown away centuries of lessons about how to make government work. No wonder it has failed at everything except fearmongering.
Posted: 15 Sep 2015 11:11 AM PDT
Via Austin Frakt at The Incidental Economist (I shortened the summaries):
Market Power: Recent NBER publications by Laurence Baker, M. Kate Bundorf, and Daniel Kessler:
1) "The Effect of Hospital/Physician Integration on Hospital Choice":
We find that a hospital's ownership of an admitting physician dramatically increases the probability that the physician's patients will choose the owning hospital. We also find that ownership of an admitting physician has large effects on how the hospital's cost and quality affect patients' hospital choice. Patients whose admitting physician is not owned by a hospital are more likely to choose facilities that are low cost and high quality. ... We conclude that hospital/physician integration affects patients' hospital choices in a way that is inconsistent with their best interests.
2) "Does Health Plan Generosity Enhance Hospital Market Power?" :
To what extent does the generosity of health insurance coverage facilitate the exercise of market power by producers of health services?  […]
We find a statistically significant and economically important effect of plan generosity on hospital prices in uncompetitive markets. ...
Posted: 15 Sep 2015 10:51 AM PDT
Paul Krugman:
Keynesianism Explained: Attacks on Keynesians in general, and on me in particular, rely heavily on an army of straw men — on knocking down claims about what people like me have predicted or asserted that have nothing to do with what we've actually said. But maybe we (or at least I) have been remiss, failing to offer a simple explanation of what it's all about. I don't mean the models; I mean the policy implications.
So here's an attempt at a quick summary, followed by a sampling of typical bogus claims.
I would summarize the Keynesian view in terms of four points:
1. Economies sometimes produce much less than they could, and employ many fewer workers than they should, because there just isn't enough spending. Such episodes can happen for a variety of reasons; the question is how to respond.
2. There are normally forces that tend to push the economy back toward full employment. But they work slowly; a hands-off policy toward depressed economies means accepting a long, unnecessary period of pain.
3. It is often possible to drastically shorten this period of pain and greatly reduce the human and financial losses by "printing money", using the central bank's power of currency creation to push interest rates down.
4. Sometimes, however, monetary policy loses its effectiveness, especially when rates are close to zero. In that case temporary deficit spending can provide a useful boost. And conversely, fiscal austerity in a depressed economy imposes large economic losses.
Is this a complicated, convoluted doctrine? ...
But strange things happen in the minds of critics. Again and again we see the following bogus claims about what Keynesians believe:
B1: Any economic recovery, no matter how slow and how delayed, proves Keynesian economics wrong. See [2] above for why that's illiterate.
B2: Keynesians believe that printing money solves all problems. See [3]: printing money can solve one specific problem, an economy operating far below capacity. Nobody said that it can conjure up higher productivity, or cure the common cold.
B3: Keynesians always favor deficit spending, under all conditions. See [4]: The case for fiscal stimulus is quite restrictive, requiring both a depressed economy and severe limits to monetary policy. That just happens to be the world we've been living in lately.
I have no illusions that saying this obvious stuff will stop the usual suspects from engaging in the usual bogosity. But maybe this will help others respond when they do.
I would add:
5. Keynesian are not opposed to supply-side, growth enhancing policy. They types of taxes that are imposed matters, entrepreneurial activity should be encouraged, and so on. But these arguments should not be used as cover for redistribution of income to the wealthy through tax cuts and other means, or as a means of arguing for cuts to important social service programs. Not should they be used only to support tax cuts. Infrastructure spending is important for growth, an educated, healthy workforce is more productive, etc., etc. Economic growth is about much more than tax cuts for wealthy political donors.
On the other side, I would have added a point to B3:
B3a: Keynesians do not favor large government. They believe that deficits should be used to stimulate the economy in severe recessions (when monetary policy alone is not enough), but they also believe that the deficits should be paid for during good times (shave the peaks to fill the troughs and stabilize the path of GDP and employment). We haven't been very good at the pay for it during good times part, but Democrats can hardly be blamed for that (see tax cuts for the wealthy for openers).
Anything else, e.g. perhaps something like "Keynesians do not believe that helping people in need undermines their desire to work"?
Posted: 15 Sep 2015 09:57 AM PDT
Tim Duy at Bloomberg:
Why the Fed Is Likely to Stand Pat This Week: What a week it might have been?
Speeches and interviews have made it fairly clear that Federal Reserve officials were building a case to begin normalizing interest rate policy as soon as this month, but they are increasingly wary that a misstep could derail the economy at a time when they perceive a lack of tools to address renewed weakness.
From the policy discussion of the June Federal Open Market Committee meeting:
Another concern related to the risk of premature policy tightening was the limited ability of monetary policy to offset downside shocks to inflation and economic activity when the federal funds rate was near its effective lower bound.
This concern will weigh heavily on the policy discussion as the Fed begins what promises to be a tumultuous two-day meeting this week. While the central bank was likely prepared to raise interest rates this month at the conclusion of the last FOMC meeting, deteriorating global economic conditions and market volatility will likely derail those plans.
Nor is the inflation picture particularly supportive at this juncture. ...[continue]...

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