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Jan 02, 2013


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It should read "if you want nice things, get other people to pay for them" considering the recipients of the "nice things" are unlikely to be among those earning more than $400,000 who just got a tax increase.

But even those people aren't really paying for them because the "nice things" cost way more than those people can produce at any level of taxation. The only way to pay for them is to drastically increase taxes on everyone. That would give true meaning to "if you want nice things, you have to pay for them".

Otherwise, it's time to realize that there isn't enough money to pay for all of the "nice things" and a better motto comes courtesy of the Glimmer Twins: "You can't always get what you want".


77% of households received a tax increase today, not just the 2%.

Andrew Brod

Brian, I think it's closer to 100% if we include (as we should) the end of the payroll-tax holiday. That 2% reduction in workers' FICA withholding was an excellent and effective stimulus measure, and now it's gone even though the economy is still depressed. The only people unaffected by the increase in the payroll tax are those with no earned income, i.e. with investment income only. That's a small minority, even within the top 2%.

This graph also shows that nearly everyone will be hit.


As the population here and elsewhere ages, we'll see a corresponding desire to reduce military spending to fund social needs.(U.S. spending is higher in real terms than in the Reagan years or at the height of the cold war. That's nuts.) The notion that we can all take care of all our own needs all by ourselves will be rejected as the fantasy it has always been. Policy based on that notion just condemns millions of people to miserable lives.We live in cities and suburbs that demand inter-dependence, not on the Rockwell-esque farm-homesteads-that-never-really-were that compelled autonomy.


I'll defer to you Andrew...I was referring to this NY Times article, which I should have included in the original post.


I made the comment elsewhere today, that it would seem more effective (or perhaps just preferable to me) to have the payroll tax cut extended, and then had my income tax rate adjusted accordingly, because, you know, deductions. Of course, eliminating the payroll tax would seem a more reliable flow of revenue to the US Treasury than adjusting the high end tax rate from 35 to 39.6% - even with a cap on itemized deductions for those making 300k or more, but I ain't no finance or economic whiz, so there's that. Little to no political ramifications for the deal that was made, so everyone wins, right?


It should read "if you want nice things, get other people to pay for them" considering the recipients of the "nice things" are unlikely to be among those earning more than $400,000 who just got a tax increase.

Yep, heaven forbid lower income people receive benefits from federal taxes that are out of proportion to the federal taxes they pay. I mean, surely that's not how it is meant to work, right?


If only we were talking about "lower income" people wanting "nice things". Instead we are talking about the "nice things" that everyone receives and that there aren't enough tax dollars available to pay for. Certainly the $60 billion in expected increased revenues because of Obama's tax increase won't come close in a $3.6 trillion budget. This is especially true if even more spending is added on erasing even the miniscule increase in revenues. Tax those "rich" folks at 100% and it still won't come close.

The only way to pay for these "nice things" is a massive tax increase on everyone.

Instead, the borrow and spend goes on despite promises to tackle the deficit. What a lie.

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

Bill Bush

I'm hearing Romney's 47% speech ringing in my ears after reading the above.


No comment until I have received my first 2013 paycheck.

David Boyd

In the last few years, we've discovered we can have nice things without paying for them. What negatives have there been to accumulating debt? Interest rates have remained historically low and, in fact, the persistent argument has been that things would have been worse had we not racked up debt. So why worry with the debt at $16 trillion as opposed to $5 trillion or $25 trillion?


David Boyd: EXACTLY.

There was no conservative clamoring in the least when #43 was cutting taxes and funding two wars - as deficits and debt accumulated. Conservatives discovered after Obama's election in 2008 that they needed a rallying cry. Since at a personal level, the notion of significant debt has ominous overtones, they realized that an easy way to get white, middle-aged males unhappy about Obama's election all fired up was to make an issue of a "calamitous" national debt problem.

There is no national debt problem. It is a figment of politically disenchanted imaginations with no empirical precedent backing up its supposedly dire portents. The intellectual dishonesty (or cluelessness) among Tea Partiers is downright staggering.

Worst person on the internet

I can't believe what I've heard in the last 2 comments, but I'm glad they found each other. Maybe than can start a movement and call it EXACTLY!

Andrew Brod

I also agree with David, though I'm not entirely sure he's not being sarcastic. If not, then I congratulate him for noting the contradiction between debt fears and historically low interest rates. There are a lot of people who forget that the debt-scare-mongering of only a few years ago was centered on the notion that rising debt would sending rates sky-high (which is indeed what would happen in a normal non-depressed economy). Instead of seeing low interest rates and wondering if things really are different in a depression, as the Keynesians have been claiming, these people find excuses for the low rates and warn darkly (though without evidence) that sky-high interest rates are imminent.

As I believe I've said once or twice here, our biggest problem isn't the federal debt, it's unemployment and deficient demand. But we stubbornly refuse to do what's necessary to solve that problem and instead we focus on the debt. It's not that our debt isn't a big problem, just that it isn't a big short-run problem.

Unfortunately, the fiscal-cliff deal didn't rescue us from our dysfunction. It ended the payroll-tax holiday that was a quiet but very effective stimulus all by itself. And while the deal didn't cut federal spending, which is a good thing in a still-depressed economy, it just delayed sequestration for a couple of months.

And the next stupid round of the stupid debt-ceiling stupidity is just around the stupid corner.

Andrew Brod

I also think that a number of the things Spag said about the longer-term disconnect between revenues and spending are on the money. I wasn't thrilled that the fiscal-cliff deal made the Bush tax cuts permanent for incomes below $400K. I was all for temporary extension, but permanent? The biggest two factors in our short-run debt are the Bush tax cuts and the Second Depression. However, the latter is only a short- to medium-run problem. Already it's declining as a component of the federal debt. The Bush tax cuts, in sharp contrast, are also a long-run debt problem, and Congress just locked in part of that problem.

David Boyd

My thinking has evolved. If you can issue debt and that debt retains its value, why not issue as much as you can. It's the ultimate free lunch.

The argument against doing this is that you may not be able to service your debt in the future, but since we can print our own money, that's never going to be an issue. And if the economic apocalypse happens, $16 trillion may as well be $50 trillion.

The key is to not let anyone know we're thinking like this and are actually concerned with our debt levels (hence the usefulness of Congressional Republicans)and to accumulate debt in a slow, methodical manner so everybody stays cool.

Andrew Brod

I might quibble with the "free lunch" characterization, because T-bills aren't grants. We do have to pay back the principal. But the federal government's borrowing terms are as close to a free lunch as it's possible to get. With real interest rates currently negative for maturities as long as 10 years, the U.S. can borrow $X now and pay back less than $X (after correcting for inflation) in the future. So scratch that -- we don't have to pay back the principal. We only have to pay back part of it.

As for servicing the debt, there are obviously two components of that: principal and interest. One of the big arguments made by deficit scolds is to communicate horror regarding the interest burdens of the future. But if that's the concern, we should borrow more. Borrowing at a negative interest rate will actually reduce our future interest burden.


"That 2% reduction in workers' FICA withholding was an excellent and effective stimulus measure"

How so Andrew?

What is the source of said effectiveness?

How was the entire episode not offset by higher gas prices,
caused by the Federal Reserve printing the money
to pay for the tax cuts?
"we've discovered we can have nice things without paying for them." What negatives have there been to accumulating debt? Interest rates have remained historically low and, in fact, the persistent argument has been that things would have been worse had we not racked up debt. So why worry with the debt at $16 trillion as opposed to $5 trillion or $25 trillion?"

David Boyd

We have stolen from the future income of our children David.

Short term, all is well. Long term...?

The more we borrow and the Fed prints to pay for the borrowing
by purchasing Treasuries with made up money
the more things everyone uses will rise in price.

There is no free lunch.

Our lunches have been foisted on our children's future.

Yes Andrew, we continue to betray our children
with this borrow, print and spend free for all,
except for those who eventually get the bill good and hard.

I'm sure by then Ed will erase the past
like our paper of record,
to negate the complicity of his "Keynesian" compatriots.
"There is no national debt problem. It is a figment of politically disenchanted imaginations with no empirical precedent backing up its supposedly dire portents."


The Roman, Ottoman, English, Spanish, Byzantine etc... Empires
said the same thing
before they borrowed, spent and debased their currencies.

What the world's central banks are now simultaneously doing
is no different from what has happened to multiples of other societies.

We will reap what we've sown
when enough stop believing the lies they've been told.

Andrew Brod

"That 2% reduction in workers' FICA withholding was an excellent and effective stimulus measure" How so Andrew? What is the source of said effectiveness? How was the entire episode not offset by higher gas prices, caused by the Federal Reserve printing the money to pay for the tax cuts?

The source of the effectiveness? It's called putting money in people's pockets during a depression.

If you're asking me for my source for this claim, it's hardly a minority view that the payroll-tax holiday was stimulative. Former McCain advisor Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com worked up some estimates a few years ago.

And it was not offset by the Fed. You're forgetting that we're at the zero bound for interest rates. That's why depression economics is so different than the economics of a normal non-depressed economy. So let's not start arguing stimulus again. The stimulus-doesn't-work crowd lost. Their model was repeatedly and consistently wrong during this depression.

Andrew Brod

"We have stolen from the future income of our children"

All evidence to the contrary.

And it's apparently okay to bequeath to our children an economy of diminished employment opportunities, thanks to our refusal to address our real problems in the here and now.

Ed Cone

"I'm sure by then Ed will erase the past
like our paper of record,
to negate the complicity of his "Keynesian" compatriots."

You've got your haiku syllable count wrong, but congrats nonetheless on divining not just my future actions but my future intentions, and also accurately representing the importance of my archives to HISTORY.


"it was not offset by the Fed."

It was absolutely offset by Fed printing Andrew,
and commodity costs rose which negated the efficacy.

Taxation by other means.

Zero bound has worked wonders for Japan.

"Their model was repeatedly and consistently wrong during this depression."

See Iceland.

"accurately representing the importance of my archives to HISTORY."


Andrew Brod

Right. The Fed drove up commodity costs and gasoline prices and made Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey.

"Zero bound has worked wonders for Japan."

The zero bound isn't a policy. It doesn't work or not work. It's a description of reality. Right now the market-clearing nominal interest rate is negative, but nominal rates effectively can't go below zero, hence the zero bound. Not being able to cut interest rates changes the response to fiscal policy, unlike during normal times.

"See Iceland."

Not sure what connection you're making, but Iceland's doing pretty well, especially when compared to countries that are stuck with the euro. Iceland devalued, regained competitiveness, and has had lower rates of unemployment than austerity darlings such as Latvia and Estonia.


Iceland chose to not print but did people who did wrong in Jail.

Iceland chose to close down corrupt institutions
instead of the abominable and morally bankrupt path we and Europe chose.

Our economy is running on the steroids of debt monetization.

It is unsustainable.

It is wrong to do to our kids.

It has historically repeatedly led to the downfall of Empires.

Enjoy the Krugman peak Andrew,
for your children will be worse off for your economic hocus pocus.

Worst person on the internet

If here are no negatives or problems with borrowing or accumulating debt indefinitely, that it is indeed desirable to do so given the claim that we are better off for having done it to this point, and our realization that we don't have to pay for nice things anymore, all of which at least 3 people here agree, and that leaving money in peoples hands during a depression is a good thing, and that unemployment is our biggest problem, then what is the economic argument for raising taxes, or for taxation at all for that matter?

Doesn't that that just impede the goal of accumulating that debt (however insignificantly), take money out of peoples' hands, disencentivize hiring, and reduce the pressure to borrow?

Why not put more of it in their hands by leaving more there in the first place, simulaneously incentivizing job creation while augmenting these desired effects synergistically with borrowing to accumulate even MORE debt?

Seems like that would be the best of all worlds for everyone except maybe middle aged white middle aged males, which certainly doesn't include any of us.

Andrew Brod

How can there be a Krugman peak when virtually no one in Washington agrees with him? All Republicans and most Democrats went along with the fiscal-cliff non-logic, thinking that we had to do something about federal debt now. They share your myopia about debt being bad for the future but driving the economy into the ground is okay. It's all very weird, and it sure doesn't feel like a peak.

The only sense that there's a Krugman peak is that the guy, like anyone who's taken the Keynesian model seriously in this depression, has gotten nearly everything right. Anyone who's taken the neoclassical model seriously in this depression has gotten nearly everything wrong. Maybe the Keynesians will be wrong in the future, but right now they're knocking every pitch out of the park.


"If there are no negatives or problems with borrowing or accumulating debt indefinitely, that it is indeed desirable to do so given the claim that we are better off for having done it to this point..."

The Federal Reserve appears to agree with me.


What happens if the Fed stops printing and demand for our debt falls?

I believe those who think there are no negatives associated with our current monetary and fiscal regime, have sold themselves a bridge to nowhere.

Andrew Brod

David may have quipped about borrowing "indefinitely," but it's not on the table as an actual policy proposal. It's not anything I've advocated. It's not part of Keynesian economics. In the long run, we need budget balance.

What's the economic argument for raising taxes? In terms of our short-term problems, there is none. The only argument for doing it is that our debt mania has forced us to do something about deficits, and the least damaging way of doing something about them is by raising taxes on upper incomes. It's not that doing so will help the economy, just that it won't hurt it much.

I would have been more than willing to let rich people continue to pay their taxes at the low Bush 43 rates if I could get some meaningful stimulus in the bargain. But thanks to our debt myopia, that wasn't the bargain on the table.

Andrew Brod

Here's an article quoting Mark Zandi on the end of the payroll-tax holiday:

"Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, calculates that the higher payroll tax will reduce economic growth by 0.6 percentage points in 2013. The other possible tax increases -- including higher taxes on household incomes above $450,000 a year -- will slice just 0.15 percentage points off annual growth, Zandi said."

He's saying that the anti-stimulative harm from not continuing the payroll-tax holiday will be 4 times bigger than the harm from raising income taxes on upper incomes.

George Hartzman

Notice bond yields went higher after the fed announcement?

if the fed withdraws why should investors buy us paper?

what happens when interest rates rise to frontrun the fed?

who is going to buy our deficits if the stops buying?

what does a meth head do after the meth runs out?

we suck from our kids veins for the meth/printed money and most don't even know it.

soylent green.

some are more equal than others.


"Spain Drains Pension Fund in Borrowing Spree"

"Spain has been quietly tapping the country's richest piggy bank, the Social Security Reserve Fund, as a buyer of last resort for Spanish government bonds, raising questions about the fund's role as guarantor of future pension payouts.

Now the scarcely noticed borrowing spree, carried out amid a prolonged economic crisis, is about to end, because there is little left to take. At least 90% of the €65 billion ($85.7 billion) fund has been invested in increasingly risky Spanish debt"

Spain, Japan, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Ireland, Portugal, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina...

Borrowed time we live on.

There is no way to pay for what our elders have promised themselves.

Just a question of what string snaps next.

We have rigged financial markets built on a house of debt
that cannot be repaid.

Reversion to mean comes this way.

Andrew Brod

None of which has anything to do with us. But whatever.

Andrew Brod

Changing gears slightly, one of the good things in the fiscal-cliff deal was the permanent fix of the Alternative Minimum Tax. No more patches! Congress indexed it to inflation for the first time, which is great. Whether or not one thinks we should have the AMT, it was nuts back in 1969 not to index the threshold to inflation and it's nuts that it took over 40 years to fix the problem. But better is definitely late than never.

Worst person on the internet

Too late for me. I've been bending over and taking it for years. My click of death on Turbo Tax. What sucks is that no one could ever explain it to me except that it was like creeping Kudzu that no one seemed to know how to reign in.


"None of which has anything to do with us."


What did Spain sell to buy Spanish debt?

What will Japan have to sell once their currency implodes
from massive over printing and borrowing?

What currency is oil etc... priced in?

The events in Greece and Egypt didn't have anything to do with us?

Didn't have any affect on us?

What has happened to every reserve currency that has ever existed
after those who controlled those currencies printed more
to offset falling revenues?

Worst person on the internet

I've also always wondered whether if it was meant to stop people like Buffett from paying less tax than his secretary, did it not accomplish that, even as it was reaming me?

Andrew Brod

Yeah, that was the idea: to thwart very rich people from employing CPAs to exploit arcane tax breaks and thereby pay income tax at a very low rate. At first, the AMT hit only 20,000 taxpayers. But with bracket creep, it hit 4 million taxpayers in 2011.

I think the AMT accomplished its goal, at least on the individual side. There are enough corporations paying zero tax to imply that there are more ways to get around the corporate AMT. In any case, the biggest two complaints about the AMT were its complexity (it's essentially a parallel tax system) and the lack of indexing. Maybe with the indexing problem solved now, we'll hear different complaints about the AMT.

Andrew Brod

"I've been bending over and taking it for years."

Like your patients?

Worst person on the internet

I assume that the indexing to inflation is going forward and not from the time of its inception? If so, hard to get excited about this "fix".

Account Deleted

Andrew: So are you saying that Barack Obama's AMT tax policy will help lower AMT for millions of Americans whereas the Bush tax cuts from 2001 added more than 25 million taxpayers to the AMT brackets in what is known as the "take-back effect"?

Andrew Brod

From the time of its inception? No, the IRS isn't going to go back and recalculate everyone's tax bill from 1970 to the present. The indexing applies moving forward.

Jeff, I don't know if the AMT fix will lower taxes relative to 2011. For all I know, it'll be the same, with about 4 million taxpayers again affected by the AMT. It will, however, lower taxes relative to what would have happened in 2012 without a fix, in which case the AMT would have hit over 30 million taxpayers. Of course that could have been accomplished with the same kind of temporary patch that's been used for decades. The really new and good thing coming out of the fiscal-cliff deal is that the AMT fix isn't a patch but a permanent solution to the AMT's bracket-creep problem.

But more broadly, yes, increased income inequality means more people have to pay the AMT, even after correcting for bracket creep. The 1% wasn't as rich (relative to the average taxpayer) in 1969 as it is now. The Bush tax cuts didn't create income inequality, which had been rising significantly since the 1970s, but they did exacerbate the situation.

Andrew Brod

Besides, CP, there was already a kind of informal indexing going on between 1970 and now. It wasn't a formula, as was included in the just-reached fiscal-cliff deal. The indexing was done clumsily each year via a temporary patch. Each year the patch specified an income threshold, i.e. a number rather than a mechanism for indexing that number. But each year's number had the effect of correcting, if imperfectly, for inflation.

Worst person on the internet

Why would it go up so much in 2012? Has there been that much inflation over 1 year? And why has it gone up so much over the 20 years I have had a steady income? Can you refer me to a chart of the appropriate measure of inflation to which it should have been indexed to that explains these rises? I found this one but I'm not sure it is the relevant measure.

Andrew Brod

I'm not a tax expert, but I'll take a swing at this.

It's not just an issue of how much inflation there was between 2011 and 2012 (about 2%, FWIW). It's also about the shape of the income distribution. As you move down the income scale from the rich toward the slightly less rich, you find more people in any given equal-sized income cell. And the increase happens at an increasing rate.

So a little inflation allows the AMT to reach down to another couple of income cells in 2012. But those cells have a lot more taxpayers in them than the ones that were affected in 2011. I don't know that this can explain the woulda-been jump of 26 million, from 4 million to the projected 30 million, but it's got to be a good part of the explanation.

As for the appropriate measure of inflation, I don't know how the bill instructs the IRS to correct for inflation: CPI, GDP price deflator, or something else? I believe the source of your link is the CPI.


"indexing to inflation is going forward and not from the time of its inception? If so, hard to get excited about this "fix"."

If everybody working took it on the chin,
chained cpi will be the cut in entitlement growth.
"inflation there was between 2011 and 2012 (about 2%"

I believe Andrew is referring to "core" inflation
which excludes energy and food costs.

Actual inflation went up by far more than "core"
which is a way the government limited benefit growth last time.

This time it looks like it will be "chained"

a benefit cut under any other name, which needs to happen
or gas is going to be $6 a gallon in short order.

When a society thinks it's borrowing for free,
the prices of the needs of the poorest rise far faster than the rich,
who make money on the asset inflation aimed towards the poor.

Worst person on the internet

If this borrowing-for-profit concept is such a viable solution, then I assume we must be already doing it, right? We've got some smart people in the Treasury Department. I mean who wouldn't? I wonder if anyone knows what fraction of the 16 trillion dollar debt is subject to negative interest rates, and how much more is eligible for them.

Andrew Brod

"I believe Andrew is referring to "core" inflation which excludes energy and food costs."

Nope. I was referring to headline inflation, i.e. for all goods, which I calculated as the change from the 2011 average CPI to the 2012 average (through November). By coincidence, doing the same for core inflation also yielded the same value, 2.1%. In any case, no, I didn't understate inflation.

"Society" doesn't think it can borrow for free. Normal people face positive real interest rates. But the federal government can indeed borrow for free; in fact, for better than free.

Andrew Brod

Treasury doesn't decide how much to borrow. Congress makes that call.

As for who wouldn't borrow on the amazing terms currently available to the federal government, well, we have Hartzman as Exhibit A. I actually wonder if he'd be willing to borrow at a negative interest rate, because debt bad.

Congress, taken as a whole, isn't as extreme as Hartzman, but it clearly believes that we shouldn't borrow more than is implied by current law, once again illustrating that the American people (as represented by Congress) have the right to be wrong.


"In the long run, we need budget balance." When does the "long run" begin and how do you balance the budget when that time comes?

"The Bush tax cuts didn't create income inequality, which had been rising significantly since the 1970s, but they did exacerbate the situation." Isn't income inequality caused by market forces such as demand for a particular skill and how much a person is willing to pay for it, and education such as knowing how to invest, as opposed to how much money the government takes from you?

It seems to me that income inequality is caused by A getting paid X and B getting paid Y based on their relative skills which are most often the result of personal choices. Somebody has to write the checks. Are they paying some people too much, and if so, why should that matter to you? Is the goal to make sure nobody makes "too much" money and is manipulating the tax code the way to do that? If the underlying policy goal is to make income equal, then why not just put in wage controls like the Soviets instead of confiscating income through the tax code? At the end of the day, isn't that really what you consider the problem to be? Are you willing to put aside your investment in your education and the income that comes along with it so that you make the same as someone else whose skills are in less demand and who didn't make the same personal investment?

Certainly you feel that you deserve to earn more than some other people, so why shouldn't some people feel that they deserve to earn more than you? Who should decide what people should earn and what is the criteria?

Back to the debt- If the only reason we shouldn't worry about the debt is because interest rates are currently low, what happens when they start to rise? Doesn't that create a spiraling effect where even more money is needed to pay the debt because of the new interest and the cost of borrowing that money is higher making the cost of paying the debt higher, creating more borrowing, etc? What happens then, and what should we do now to prevent that?

When debt is 100% of GDP, how can you reduce it without a 100% tax rate on everyone?

If the cost of borrowing money is zero, does that mean you still don't have to pay it back? Would you borrow money just because it's free if you didn't have the income to pay it back even at zero percent? What if you were forced to borrow money to pay back money already borrowed?

This sounds an awful lot like the mentality that led to the recession in the first place.

Worst person on the internet

I didn't ask how MUCH to borrow. I'm not interested in Hartzman's radicalism or your familiar "your just wrong" nonanswers.

But regardless of whether it's the Treasury or Congress who's making the call, (the distinction you immediately pounced on to totally dodge my question, in addition to changing it) I ask again: if we could finance our debt at negative interest rates, then why aren't we? Or why is it not even being discussed or proposed (at least as far as I'm aware)? It sounds like such a no-brainer theoretically (do you know of anyone who consciously chooses HIGHER rates than are available?)but if it's not an actionable option for whatever reason, then it's not a legitimate economic argument to solve our debt problem, or nonproblem as you prefer.

And If debt good (snark) anyway, just what are low interest rates a solution for? Same question I asked you about why higher tax rates, for which you said there was no economic benefit. Just another political sell to the dumb masses to make it look like you are actually trying to address the debt?
Or is this just another of your concepts that there are just very few people capable of understanding?

Also, and I'm really trying to be a good student here, isn't changing my question from what interest rates to borrow at to how much to borrow a pretty good example of that straw man phrase you and Roch like to throw around so much?

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