Posts tagged with: Fiscal policy

Growing up, I attended a private, Christian school until 4th grade, when my mother couldn’t afford it any more and my brothers and I switched to a blue collar, suburban public school. Academically, I experienced a clear difference. The worst contrast was in math, where I learned basically nothing for three years. The only subject that was probably better at the public school was science, but I’m not even certain about that. Class sizes were larger too.

None of this is to say that I didn’t have good teachers and experiences and learn a great many things at my public school. I did, and I’m quite thankful for it, in fact. And, of course, private schools are perfectly capable of employing bad teachers and failing to properly educate their students. But this was my experience.

So in high school, for purely anecdotal and self-interested reasons, I supported school vouchers, much to the chagrin of many of my teachers. (There was a state level proposal in the 2000 Michigan election in support of vouchers that I wore a button supporting — I wasn’t old enough to vote at the time. Incidentally, the proposal failed.) After all, I thought, I might not have become such a slacker if I had continued to be challenged in my public school like I was in my private school.

With the recent appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education by president-elect Donald Trump, vouchers may become a national issue. She has championed the cause and supported politicians who do for years.

Able now to take a less self-interested look at the issue (or so I tell myself), I’m actually a bit confused by the politics of vouchers — why isn’t there more skepticism on the right and support on the left? (more…)

grouchomarxThe Obama Administration seems to think that moving money from one place to another constitutes economic stimulus. A Washington Times editorial points this out. First, the administration is pushing food stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), as a way to get the economy moving.

“I should point out,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on MSNBC two years ago, “when you talk about the SNAP program or the food-stamp program, you have to recognize that it’s also an economic stimulus … . If people are able to buy a little more in the grocery store, someone has to stock it, package it, shelve it, process it, ship it. All of those are jobs. It’s the most direct stimulus you can get in the economy during these tough times.”

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Remember the “fiscal cliff”? It wasn’t a cliff.

Over at Neighborhood Effects, James Broughel asks the question, “Has the Sequester Hurt the Economy?”

So have the sequester cuts hurt the economy? One possible answer comes from a new paper by Scott Sumner of Bentley University. Sumner argues that cuts to government spending don’t have serious deleterious macroeconomic effects when the Federal Reserve is targeting inflation. This is because the Fed ensures that prices stay stable under an inflation targeting regime, which keeps demand stable even in the face of government spending cuts. Similarly, when the Fed stabilizes the price level it also offsets any beneficial effects that fiscal stimulus might have, which helps explain the lackluster results from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the “stimulus”).

Implicit in Sumner’s theory is that expansionary austerity, or the idea that the economy can grow even in the face of large government spending cuts, is indeed possible. Some of my colleagues at the Mercatus Center have described other ways in which expansionary austerity is possible.

First of all, I would like to be clear that I do not disagree that “expansionary austerity” may be possible. Nor do I disagree that the sequester cuts have not significantly hurt the economy. However, while the sequester included spending cuts and, therefore, technically qualifies as “austerity,” it was not what everyone was making it out to be. (more…)

[Note: This is the second in a three part series. You can read the introductory post here and part three here.]

How Bitcoin Works (The Simplified Version)

In order to use the Bitcoin system, a user installs a “wallet” on their computer or mobile phone. Once installed the wallet generates a Bitcoin address (similar to an email address) that allows the user to send and receive payments. Bitcoins are divisible to 8 decimal places yielding a total of approx. 21×1014 currency units. This allows a person to spend a fraction of a Bitcoin (the current exchange rate as of April 15, 2012 is 1 Bitcoin = $95.36000). Unlike standard e-commerce and money transfer system, Bitcoin transactions are irreversible.

How Bitcoin Works (The More Complicated Version)

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A Bitcoin is merely a chain of digital signatures attached to a transaction log. In the very first transaction of the system, Nakamoto’s computer program (which is open source and distributed across a peer-to-peer network) created 50 Bitcoins. When Nakamoto spent some of the coins, it created a new transaction that subtracted the amount from his account and credited it to the recipient’s. All such transfers entail the owner digitally signing a hash (a numerical value created by an algorithm) of the previous transaction and providing the public key for the encryption to the next owner. Both items are then added to the coin’s transaction log. A payee can verify the signatures to verify the chain of ownership, which prevents double spending of the same coins.

This transaction—and all subsequent exchanges—is distributed to the entire network for verification. Collections of transactions, known as “blocks,” are deemed valid when another computer on the network creates a transaction log for it that matches the previous blocks. To prevent the falsified logs from being accepted, the system must provide a means of verification that is prohibitively costly to any individual user, but relatively cheap for the network as a whole. As explained in The Economist:
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Frank Hanna III, CEO of Hanna Capital, LLC, has made Catholic education a special focus. In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Hanna spoke of the challenges, changes and reasons to champion religious education:

The more I looked into the issues of society, the more I became convinced that a lot of our societal failings happen much sooner; so much of the foundation of our failure was happening in our educational system. And that’s what actually got me thinking about education. I was thinking, “If you are going to do your own part in turning the world around, education is the place to start.”

I started to examine it in the secular world, and the more I began to study education, the more I became convinced that the very process of educating a child is inherently a religious undertaking.

Hanna goes on to say that parochial schools are in need of financial renewal, and spoke of the role of parish subsidies:

I think it is worth exploring whether parents should receive the subsidy from the parish or the diocese, rather than the school. In other words, parents who are tithing or who are parish members would receive something of a voucher that they can use at any Catholic school, thereby putting more control into the hands of the parents. Rather than subsidizing schools, we would instead be giving financial help to those parents who need it, and reconsidering whether parents who actually don’t need financial help should still be paying tuition that is subsidized. This is one example of the kind of financial modeling that we might reform.

Read “The State of Catholic Education” in the National Catholic Register.

Is spartan austerity driving us over the fiscal cliff?

The latest step in the budget dance between House Republicans and the White House has to do with where tax increases (or revenue increases in general, depending on what is called what) fit with a deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” As Napp Nazworth reports, President Obama has apparently delivered an ultimatum: “there would be no agreement to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’ unless tax rates are increased on those making more than $250,000 per year.”

On one level it seems reasonable to talk about addressing a deficit from both directions: cutting spending and raising revenue. But as Ray Nothstine put it so well earlier this week, without some structural (and cultural) changes to the way Congress works, it would be insane to think that giving politicians more money is going to change how they spend it. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Historically “politicians spend the money as fast as it comes in – and a little bit more.” Without some kind of balanced budget agreement, something with real teeth, why should we think things will be any different this time around? (I’ve talked about a more promising “both/and” budget solution before.) As Ray and I have concluded elsewhere, “In the case of the federal spending, the government has proved to be untrustworthy with very much. It’s time to see if the politicians in Washington can learn to be trustworthy with less.”
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Blog author: kspence
Friday, November 11, 2011
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Last week the Acton Institute hosted its third annual Chicago Open Mic Night downtown at the University Club. Three panelists answered questions about — you guessed it — economics and a virtuous society from the audience.

Acton executive director Kris Alan Mauren emceed the event, and our president Rev. Robert A. Sirico was the first panelist. Heather Wilhelm, a senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.com, and Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust Advisors and a frequent guest on Fox, CNBC, and Bloomberg TV, rounded out the panel.

The general theme of the night was something like, “how do we get the economy going again?” The panel’s general answer was optimistic: “It already is — just keep government out of the way.”

Mr. Wesbury was back after his popular commentary last year, and he delivered again this year: the last questioner got a friendly-but-stern talking-to after asking how the U.S. economy could possibly keep chugging along after the blows it has been dealt since 2008.

Whether the question was about the role of the Federal Reserve, the desirability of continued stimulus, or presidential candidates’ tax policy, the panelists generally agreed: the parts of the economy that government (particularly the Federal Government) hasn’t tried to help are doing much better than sectors like housing where sophisticated Keynesian policy instruments have been brought to bear.

Wilhelm quoted H.L. Mencken to great effect: “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.”

The task for current generations, Sirico said, is to learn from the failures of the baby boomers and to take up wholeheartedly the task of rejuvenating the culture, and he sees in the Tea Party, in homeschooling movements, and in a return to traditionalism, signs that that moral rejuvenation is happening.

Special thanks to Mr. Jim Healy (center, with guests)

Open mic night as it happened