Fact-Based Policy

There isn’t any actual crisis in immigration. If that sentence surprises or infuriates, you’re probably paying far too much attention to the news. The situation which has the entire nation worked into a frenzy was entirely made up for political purposes.

It’s not exactly clear why, either. While Trump aid and Politischertacitischerführer Steven Miller thinks that opposing immigration is a huge winner for Trump, surveys show that Americans strongly favor immigration. It’s as if the nation knows in its guts that we are at or near full employment and there is indeed a net labor shortage. This furor might fire up the base and make sure they show up in November, but that is still a long way away

Nevermind all that. We have a crisis on our hands because for one dumb reason or another Trumplandia thought it would suit them. Let’s look at facts and see if there is something more calm and human that can and should be done.

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Moving Beyond the US

The United States is typically a very self-absorbed nation. As the largest economy in the world, and separated by two oceans, US based news and the opinions it shapes have always been centered on domestic concerns projected out into the world. This has only been exacerbated by the a pathologically self-absorbed president.

Because of this problem, the simple fact that the world is fleeing away has escaped many Americans. What has been a growing practical reality as the US share of the world economy slips is becoming a necessity thanks to severe foreign policy mistakes, all of which cater to a domestic audience. “All politics is local” remains true, even though it clearly should not be.

The two biggest foreign policy areas, a trade war with China and sanctions against Iran, appear to be two different situations with the US at the center of both. They are not, and increasingly will become less and less about the US. This simple fact is going right past us, too – making our policies even more ridiculous and harmful to our own interests.

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E-Z Reform

Republicans need to produce tax reform, but can’t agree on much.  Here is a post from two years ago which outlines an easy way to make something happen and claim victory.  It may even be good policy.

Tax reform is on the minds of many Republican candidates, and that’s a good thing. Donald Trump revealed a plan, suggesting he may be a serious candidate after all. This announcement came as his poll numbers were slipping, so we may have a hint what voters think about actual policies. Jeb Bush released his plan earlier this month with the distinction of being called “weird”.

The point is that we are talking about taxes and serious tax reform, which is good. No one should expect one plan to suddenly spring forward and cut through the elaborate mess we have. Then again, once the knife is out, you could carve a better tax code out of a banana. But what really is needed? What is “simplification” or “reform”? Let’s start at the beginning.

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Devouring the Dreams (and Cash)

Big incentives lure a big employer into town. It’s the dream many rural regions coping with high unemployment and a “brain drain” of their best and brightest long for and have often put up big subsidies to make it happen. Sadly, however, the dream doesn’t last long and many small cities which put their futures on the line saw the big employer move on. We’ve seen this happen for decades, and usually call it “corporate welfare”.

Today is no different, except for one thing – business is moving much faster and the net time from groundbreaking to heartbreaking is only a few years. That was the experience in Dubuque Iowa and Columbia Missouri who spent a total of $84M luring IBM to expand in their towns. Six years on, a struggling IBM has let go of half of their staff in those places.

How effective are these subsidies? And why does this keep happening?

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New Boss, Same as Old Boss

Janet Yellen completed her first day of testimony on Capitol Hill as Chair of the Federal Reserve. While the event was historic, it was remarkable mainly for how unremarkable the actual testimony was. There is a great deal of continuity in the Fed from Bernanke to Yellen, who both have very similar approaches to both policy and communication.

What was left unsaid was probably more important, however. We live in a time with a very active Fed which is taking a bigger role in the economy than any central bank in US history. But congress appears to be very comfortable with that role and very willing to let Yellen do what she does best – place a firm hand on the tiller and guide the economy as close to full speed ahead as it can chug along.

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At a Minimum

There is little doubt that income inequality will become the Democratic Party’s big issue for 2014. While there is a good chance the problem will correct itself once there is upward pressure on wages again, it is still an important policy that the Federal Government can and should pursue. It’s very popular, too, with 58% of identified independents supporting some action.

Barataria has outlined a few ideas that will have a longer-term effect, but what can be done in the short term? The answer is something equally popular, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour – a 39% increase. It seems like a longshot, given the Republican House, but if the recent budget deal forged by Sen Murray and Rep Ryan is an indication of the future there may be room for a grand deal. But there is little doubt that the Democratic position will include the minimum wage increase. It’s worth getting to know well.

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Inequality: A Feature of the System

In his inaugural speech, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio returned constantly to the theme of “A Tale of Two Cities”. New York is big enough to be both of them at once – one a poor city where people barely get by and another that is wealthy beyond the imagination of most people. But it isn’t just his city that de Blasio wants to fix. “This inequality problem bedevils the entire country,” he intoned. “But it is not just a moral outrage, it is a horrible constraint on economic growth and on giving people the security they need to tackle problems.”

So starts 2014, the year when inequality is certain to be the big social, political, and economic issue. That is a given because after many years of intellectual stagnation the Democrats have a popular issue that they can run with. Where did it come from? A lot of credit has to go to a short video published in November 2012 that still lights up social media. And the reaction to it shows how far we have to go in order to tackle the problems of inequality.

After all, it’s not a matter of policy – inequality is a feature of the system we have.

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