Remembering what’s at stake in 2016

Lost in the arguments about who is sane, and who has the right temperament for the presidency, is the practical impact of the election. People have wondered aloud: how can men of conscience like Paul Ryan endorse and support someone like Donald Trump? They ascribe a level of moral consciousness that is not deserved according to Ryan’s actions and plans. And they furthermore ignore the entire premise and goal of most of the elected GOP members: to slash taxes on the rich and gut the safety net.

It has been apparent for a long time now that this is what Paul Ryan intends to do: it was clear in 2012 when he was picked as Romney’s vice president. The GOP will in all likelihood control the house regardless of the presidential outcome due to the extreme gerrymandering done at the state level since the 2010 census and district redrawing, and there is a desperate fight for control of the Senate right now, where the tie-breaking vote could be the vice president’s (a role which Cheney played several times). If Trump wins the presidency, it’s likely that Republicans will also control the Senate, and at least have the tie-breaking vote.

What is Paul Ryan’s plan in the event of a Trump presidency and Republican control of the Congress? Here is the lede of a Politico story:

If Donald Trump is elected president and Republicans hold onto Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan is bluntly promising to ram a partisan agenda through Capitol Hill next year, with Obamacare repeal and trillion-dollar tax cuts likely at the top of the list. And Democrats would be utterly defenseless to stop them.

He would do this through the use of budget reconciliation: this is what was used to pass the Bush tax cuts in the early 2000s, and it was used to finally get Obamacare passed (to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, the latter which required a super-majority to pass). There would be no president to veto: in fact, Paul Ryan is counting on Donald Trump’s support to pass the plan, which explains Ryan’s quiet endorsement despite personal objections to Trump’s style, instability and blatant racism.

Apparently, Americans want Congress to “get things done” as opposed to gridlock, while awarding the party causing the gridlock with a massive and radical legislative victory. They will award this to Republicans through a series of protest votes for third-party candidates and a core failure to understand the actual stakes of the election. They are content with either saying “single-payer or nothing” while ignoring the 20 million + who have receive health insurance under Obamacare, and ready to punish a center-left agenda they see as corrupt by giving massive tax cuts for the wealthy (ignoring that the center-left Obama successfully drove up taxes for the wealthy).

Here is a line in the article that summarizes what is at stake:

By the end of the decade, the richest 1 percent would have accumulated 99.6 percent of the benefits of the House GOP plan, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

New York Magazine’s Ed Kilgore also covered Ryan’s agenda, in an article titled “Paul Ryan Is Planning a Revolution, and It Starts in January”

[T]he illusion that the filibuster would give Senate Democrats a veto over anything egregious, the Republicans-in-disarray meme has lulled a lot of Democrats, and the media, into a drowsy inability to understand how close we are to a right-wing legislative revolution if Donald Trump becomes president and Republicans hang on to Congress.

This was the plan in 2012 as well if Romney were to win. People claimed nothing much would change back then, or that it wouldn’t be much of a disaster. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. They ascribe a fundamentally undeserved level of moderateness in policy substance to politicians based on speaking style and handsome looks alone.

I am unsure of the Clinton strategy: they want to win over independents and moderate Republicans by appealing to their sense of patriotism and the fact that Trump is clearly unstable and bigoted. But the campaign has done precious little to demonstrate the radical nature of the GOP plan that would go into effect with high likelihood in the event of a Trump presidency.

And I am unsure of the voters “unhappy” with the two candidates and what they will ultimately due in roughly a month’s time. There are real stakes to the results of the election; voting for someone you don’t personally respect or like seems to be a small price to pay for saving the hard fought gains of the last 8 years and salvaging any hope of withstanding a radical set back to the progressive agenda for years to come.

Ed Kilgore concludes:

[I]t should be a warning to Democrats as well, and something that with imagination and persistence they can convey to those critical progressives who are meh about voting for Hillary Clinton and don’t think the identity of the president much matters. Even if you think Clinton is a centrist sellout or a Wall Street puppet, she’s not going to sign legislation throwing tens of millions of people out of their health coverage, abolishing inheritance taxes and giving top earners still more tax benefits, shredding the safety net, killing Planned Parenthood funding, and so on through Ryan’s whole abominable list of reactionary delights. If Democrats think a scenario so complicated that it’s lulled the press to sleep cannot be explained to regular voters, maybe they should break out the hand puppets. There is no more urgent and galvanizing message available to them.”


Some writing about Trump on the internet

Last summer, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy to a bunch of paid extras in a mall food court and subsequently rose to the top of the polls, I think I made a mistake many others made. I thought that this was just another one of those candidacies, not unlike that of Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, or Michele Bachmann in 2012. In other words, 2016 would just be a repeat of 2012. At the time, my chief worry was not that Trump would win his party’s nomination, but that Trump would make the other candidates (and their ideas) on the debate stage seem less crazy than they actually were.

Why was I wrong? I wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying, or who he was appealing to. And he was appealing to the struggling working and poor whites who blame globalization and immigration for much of the nation’s woes and who feel that neither party has represented their interests. Late last year, a report came out that said poorly educated middle-aged whites were the only demographic in America that had experienced life expectancy declines. And a recent interview of Theda Skocpol, political scientist at Harvard, demonstrated to me that what most Republican voters care about (immigration) is not what the large Republican donors and elder statesmen care about (deregulation and tax cuts for the rich). The latter has pandered to the former in primary after primary, but it seems these voters are finally realizing that the establishment doesn’t actually care. Hence, Donald Trump.

Fast forward to today, with roughly half the primaries completed. Trump remains at the top of the national polls, and he leads in delegates. Meanwhile, the media in recent weeks has remained focused on his celebrity, televising every victory speech or rally and subsequently condemning him. And so, I was completely wrong about Trump’s chances for success in the primaries, but I wasn’t wrong about the media focusing on words (and how they are delivered) rather than on more substantive issues, and in the process making others on the stage (and their ideas) look more palatable. On tax policy, Trump, Cruz (the “crazy” pick), Rubio (the “establishment” pick) and Kasich (the “moderate” pick) all propose large tax cuts that will primarily help the wealthy and create huge deficits that could only be paid by cutting the safety net drastically. On immigration, despite all the focus on Trump, all have adopted similarly harsh stances. On trade policy, Trump is the same as Romney in 2012, where he lambasted Obama for not going hard at China for currency manipulation. Trump also favors more protectionist policies, which is at odds with big business and the Republican establishment (and agrees with some of Bernie Sanders’s own rhetoric). By fighting a battle on language instead of a battle on ideas, the media essentially gives up on the latter.

I consider all of the major Republican candidates to be basically terrible and unacceptable: Ohio Governor John Kasich is considered the moderate in the race because he will not say mean things in debates. Rubio is considered the most electable because he’s young, speaks positively and can be manipulated by the big donors and establishment forces in the party. And then there’s Cruz: I have been of the view that Cruz would be the worst possibility of all because he’s an extremely skilled and smart politician, and worse, a real believer in his causes. He has demonstrated an ideological purity that would be more damaging than any kind of political incorrectness. He single-handedly shut down the government over an attempt to repeal Obamacare. . .while Obama was still in office and had veto power. The pointlessness of that crusade was not lost on his own colleagues.

Since the early 1980s, the Republican party, driven by rich donors with a specific agenda, has gone further and further right. The “sensible” Republicans, who used racism and immigration issues subtly (and not so subtly) for years to drive their victories, now wonder how the party could be so broken in this election.


The billionaire’s dangerous ego

Below, I’ll list 4 political positions. Maybe you can give me the person behind the positions:

  • Pro-choice
  • Believes in man-made climate change
  • Supports gun control
  • Supports path to citizenship for law-abiding illegal immigrants

“Hey,” you’re thinking. “That sounds a lot like Obama. Or Hillary Clinton. Or Bernie Sanders.” You’d be right. It also sounds a lot like former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. But this is admittedly an incomplete list.

Suppose you’re a voter who agrees with those 4 positions. But somehow, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton just aren’t cutting it as candidates on all the issues. In particular, you wish that they’d take it easier on Wall Street banks and that they’d try to cut Social Security benefits.

Oh? Such a voter doesn’t exist? Are you sure? Because I just read that Michael Bloomberg is considering a White House run.

The billionaire former mayor believes that he is the answer to the country’s problems, “sensing an opening.” Despite largely having liberal positions and thus making himself unpalatable to any conservative voter, he believes that he, through his “pragmatic” and “results-oriented” approach (terms to be investigated later), is the right man for the job. The few areas of disagreement with liberals, like the regulation of Wall Street and the future of Social Security, show him as out of touch and beholden to bad ideas endorsed by Washington insiders.

Speaking at a financial industry trade group conference in 2014, Bloomberg claimed that the harsh regulations on Wall Street were detrimental to Main Street. He noted, however, that: “But they keep creating new products and you know the earnings of these big banks…they’re still making a lot of money.” Typical of Bloomberg, he did not actually debate the necessity of Dodd-Frank, but he argued that that it should have been drafted by “experts” rather than allow Congress to write it. He applied the same logic to Obamacare. It seems he is free to live in a world where a president introduces a piece of legislation and gets it passed without any substantial changes, when virtually every Republican was opposed to both Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act. Furthermore, Obamacare and Dodd-Frank did incorporate ideas of experts. For any healthcare legislation to expand insurance without changing the system to single-payer, it requires exactly what Obamacare put into law: a requirement that people purchase insurance, a subsidy so that they may purchase the insurance, and denying insurance companies the right to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It was based on another model, which again was designed by experts in healthcare: see Jonathan Gruber and Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

It’s also not clear what Bloomberg would change with Dodd-Frank. There is no doubt that it is an imperfect bill, but like Obamacare, it is a product of realistic constraints: no Republican (save for Scott Brown for Dodd-Frank, helping the bill pass 60-39 after watering it down) would support it, and even many moderate Democrats were intent on watering down the bill.

Bloomberg’s criticisms are short on substance, but implicit in them is the dangerous idea he has fully bought into: I could do it better, because I’m me. There’s ignorance of constraints and a willingness to believe that if he just was able to talk to Congress unlike that dastardly Obama, he would get things done.

This is similar to the “Obama should play golf with Boehner more in order to pass legislation despite serious ideological differences” theory espoused by many “centrists”: in Bloomberg’s mind, there’s no serious disagreement on the big issues of the day, but instead the polarization is just a result of leaders not being “pragmatic” and “results-oriented”. This could not be further from the truth.

Michael Bloomberg’s entire third term is a testament to his belief in himself and no one else. Amidst the financial crisis and the economic downturn, he did not feel the city could be governed by anyone else, and he used the extraordinary circumstances to push the New York City Council to change its term limits without a public referendum.

For whatever reason, some people buy into the “centrist” line of thinking. Krugman writes in his recent blog post, How To Make Donald Trump President:

Step 2: Michael Bloomberg decides to save the country by entering the race as a supposed alternative to the two extremes [. . .] Step 3: Some Democrats defect to Bloomberg, because they actually listen to those centrist pundits. Hardly any Republicans do

In other words, a presidential run would not be enough to get anywhere close to winning, but it would be enough to deprive the Democratic candidate of a victory, thus giving Trump or Cruz (or whoever) the presidency.

The party system may have its flaws, but it does give voters the chance to debate for over a year the merits of individual candidates before nominating them and then voting for them in the general election. The problem with a rich independent candidate is he has none of those constraints: he runs much later than everyone else, because he can afford to. Credit to Trump: he went through the process, whereas Bloomberg seems intent on skipping it.

There are many reasons to dislike Bloomberg and oppose his idea of a White House run based purely on his mayoral record: his response to Occupy Wall Street, his catering to big banks, and his catering to rich foreigners buying up empty properties in NYC as essentially money-laundering schemes (quote: “If we could get every billionaire around the world to move here, it would be a godsend.”). There’s his company, Bloomberg  L.P., which pulled negative stories on China’s government in order to continue selling profitable terminal subscriptions there (recently, there were rumors that the Financial Times would not be sold to Bloomberg for fear of losing editorial independence).

There’s also the fact that the same guy thinking about running for president in the United States was also thinking about running for mayor of London just last year. And, in floating the idea of a presidential bid, he doesn’t even have the courage to do it himself. He’s letting his aides and insiders test the waters instead. He probably thought the response would be positive.

But more than anything, the reason to dislike Bloomberg and oppose his potential bid is his ego, which is fundamentally similar to Trump’s. Trump is a self-proclaimed dealmaker (synonyms: “results-oriented”, “pragmatic”). Details aren’t so important, but he’ll get it done, whatever “it” is. The issues are almost of a secondary order. Bloomberg doesn’t even realize his run would hand the White House to another billionaire with opposing views on many of the issues he claims to care about, like gun control.

The lack of self-awareness amongst billionaires like Bloomberg is scary. I imagine one begins to think he has a magic touch, and there are few in the inner circle willing to contradict this belief. Hopefully the negative response to Bloomberg’s possible run pierces his bubble.

Low-hanging fruit from CNN

The target of this criticism is an easy and frequent target but I wanted to write it down anyways. Today CNN spent a large proportion of its airtime on the manhunt for the surviving member of a pair of escaped convicted killers in New York. Actually, there was “breaking news” for a large chunk of the day (diminishing the impact of the words “breaking news” for me but an excellent exercise in scary large fonts covering the bottom of the screen); the surviving escapee had been wounded and caught by police, and the remainder of the coverage seemed to be talking to members of the small surrounding community, police, political leaders, and even the escapee’s mother (she detailed his bad deeds as a young child). It’s unclear how this event really affected anyone’s life, aside from some scattered communities in New York state and the police mobilized in the manhunt who were surely well informed about what was going on.

Meanwhile, Greece may be on the verge of financial collapse. I mean, more on the verge than usual. Banks have been closed, and it seems that Greece is more likely than not to leave the Euro and default on many billions of euros of debt owed to institutions across the globe. This will have far-ranging repercussions in Europe and the rest of the world. I have not seen very much coverage of this on CNN today. Actually, it’s unclear what value CNN has added in its persistent coverage of the escaped prisoners. Much value could be added in explaining and investigating the potential impact of financial collapse, as it may ultimately impact economic life in the United States. These issues are not well understood by the general public (nor by me, truth be told). It’s also worth remembering that this event could give further rise to extremist groups in Europe. Europe sometimes has had a problem with this in the past.

What’s the point of being a news organization primarily driven by ratings if at the end you are effectively no longer a news organization? I would like to believe that covering current events that matter would solve CNN’s woes. I’m not so naive. So I’ll refrain from diagnosing the root of CNN’s viewership issues and prescribing a cure. Instead I will limit my criticism to their deviation from any sound principles of proportionality in covering current events. Note that I am picking on CNN because that’s what I have seen on the TV; almost surely the other news organizations have performed similarly or worse, but I have fortunately not had an opportunity to view them. Feel free to replace “CNN” with “TV News”.

Breaking News: Puerto Rico unable to pay $72bn in debts.

Tax Avoidance Disappearance

Are the important stories of the world being reported on? According to the Pew Research Center’s recent report on The State of the News Media 2013, the number of newsroom staff in the United States is at its lowest number since 1978. What’s more, the coverage that viewers and readers find is less likely to be investigative reporting. For local news, think weather, traffic and sports. For cable news, think of lots of commentary and debates on the same hot-button issues. Think of all of the foreign and domestic issues that need to be covered by good journalists, and how little of this we are actually seeing. No, many of the important stories are not being told.

I can think of no better critique of mainstream news and journalism than Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News, originally published in the United Kingdom in 2008. Davies is perhaps best known as the journalist who broke the phone-hacking scandal that rocked the United Kingdom in the summer of 2011. In addition to highlighting newsroom cuts and stories that were severely distorted or mishandled by the media, like the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Davies writes about major global events that are simply not covered by the media. Non-stories. One of these non-stories is the massive problem of tax evasion and the use of offshore accounts. He writes:

[In 2003], bankers estimated that a third of the gross domestic product of the entire planet was being channelled through offshore accounts, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated that 60% of world trade consisted of transfers made within multinationals, passing their profits to anonymous subsidiaries in tax-free jurisdictions, while some three million corporations were avoiding tax simply because they had no identifiable owner. (emphasis mine).

Since the book was published in 2008, however, a dramatic change has taken place in the coverage of tax avoidance. This week may have been particularly important and dramatic in marking these ongoing changes. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) have announced what is “the largest cross border journalism collaboration in history.”

The initial results of this investigation of 200gb of files have been stunning. Part of the process will be naming and shaming people who take advantage of tax havens. The Guardian, in cooperation with the ICIJ, identifies several:

In France, Jean-Jacques Augier, President François Hollande’s campaign co-treasurer and close friend, has been forced to publicly identify his Chinese business partner. It emerges as Hollande is mired in financial scandal because his former budget minister concealed a Swiss bank account for 20 years and repeatedly lied about it.

In Mongolia, the country’s former finance minister and deputy speaker of its parliament says he may have to resign from politics as a result of this investigation.

Five or six years ago, we weren’t talking about tax evasion so much. Now, we’re talking about it daily and in the context of a broader discussion about tax policy as well as social and economic injustice, and it is worth pointing out what has happened and why.

In 2008, the IRS dealt a major blow to U.S. tax evaders due to its revamped whistle-blower program, having received a UBS client list of Americans who parked their money in Switzerland and illegally avoided taxes. The worldwide financial crisis that followed made a fact plainly visible to everyone: the rich and the powerful play by a different set of rules. Many countries were forced to implement heavy cuts to basic services, safety nets and public sector employment. This seemed kind of incredible, as the economics problems were caused by large-scale political and financial malfeasance, while everyone else paid the price. Why should that be? A timid thought began to creep up. Shouldn’t the rich pay more?

And it is impossible to talk about tax policy and getting the rich to pay more without also having a serious look at tax avoidance. Interest in tax avoidance initially centered around Greece, where the problem was widespread. We looked to Greece and saw a completely dysfunctional system where no one paid what they owed, and no one had faith that their neighbor would pay. And somehow, they were about to take down the entire Eurozone.

But the conversation didn’t end there. For instance, in Britain, Gordon Brown’s government instituted a 50 percent top tax rate. This seemed reasonable to do. What was the reaction? Countless stories of high profile (but anonymous, of course) British citizens threatening to go elsewhere to avoid paying higher taxes. This was a legal and low-tech threat of tax avoidance, but it highlighted a deep schism in society that had arisen out of three decades of rising inequality in virtually every developed country. The subjects of these articles just couldn’t understand. Of course, these turned out to be empty threats. The same thing has happened in France (only one confirmed departure, by the way).

From an American perspective, there is one and only one person who was able to elevate tax havens and offshore accounts to a topic of national discourse. Mitt Romney. Despite massive budget deficits, high unemployment and slow growth, large corporations and rich individuals were doing fine and paying very little in taxes. It was in this context that the 2012 Presidential Campaign took place.

Enter Mitt Romney, who supposedly had a net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And then came his (lack of) tax returns, releasing only his 2010 returns, which turned out to be incomplete. Even in its incomplete form, the hundreds of pages show Swiss bank accounts, partnerships in the Cayman Islands, and blind trusts. The blind trusts turned out to be elaborate (but legal) schemes at tax avoidance, as reported by Bloomberg. And remember the IRS whistle-blower case that involved Americans with Swiss bank accounts? The IRS instituted an amnesty program soon after, where people with accounts in UBS could come forward, pay a fine, and retain anonymity. There’s speculation about whether Romney was one of these individuals. Throughout the presidential campaign, Romney’s taxes and tax fairness remained an issue, and probably played some role in his losing the election.

Romney is no longer in the picture, but this issue is not going anywhere. Just this past month, Cyprus’s role as an offshore tax haven to Russian oligarchs played prominently into bailout talks. With talks of huge losses being imposed on foreign depositors, this entire offshore banking system that makes up much of the economy in Cyprus is likely gone for good.

It is good to see multiple newspapers and the ICIJ devote considerable efforts in the fight against tax avoidance, tax havens and secrecy that allow the rich and the powerful to unfairly maintain their status at the expensive of everyone else.

Expiring Tax Cuts and Angry People

Towards the end of 2010, President Obama and the outgoing Congress passed several key pieces of legislation, and among them was a temporary payroll tax cut. This applies to the Social Security (FICA) tax, and since it is an immediately visible tax decrease on every paycheck for everyone (rather than a lump sump amount received at tax filing time), the argument was that this was a strong and visible stimulative measure. Due to its popularity, it was extended for another year. Finally, in January 2013, payroll taxes reverted to what they used to be.

This whole exercise has been interesting to me. Talking to people, they unambiguously think of this as a tax rise, and they have been complaining that their paychecks have gotten smaller. They don’t seem very mindful of the fact that the rate is simply going back to what it was for the longest time, and that the tax cut was always there solely as a temporary measure. Rather than think of the 2 years in which they paid lower taxes as a net gain for their personal finances, they seem mostly pissed off that this didn’t continue forever. Moreover, I can’t help but feel that if this tax cut had never occurred, then in January 2013, from a psychological standpoint, they would feel much better than they do under the current circumstances of having seen a tax cut expire. This behavior is pretty irrational from a traditional economics perspective. After all, in one scenario, they were able to keep about 2% more of their paychecks for 2 entire years. In the other scenario, they would not have had that. And yet they probably wouldn’t have been pissed off as they are now.

This is more than just an intuition I have. I have been reading Daniel Kahneman’s excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a psychologist by training but throughout his career he has ventured into behavioral economics with great success, and he won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002. Part of his work focuses on prospect theory, an alternative way of thinking about decision-making in contrast to the rational system at the core of much of traditional economics.

In the traditional model, you compare two wealth states to assess utility. Preferences are symmetric, in the sense that moving from $30,000 to $20,000 is the same as the negative of moving from $30,000 to $40,000. But this symmetric feature clearly has its failures.

Another feature in the traditional theory relates to expected value calculations in decision-making. So if you had the choice of taking $800 for certain, or if you had a 90% chance of making $1000 (and 10% of making 0), most people actually go for the certainty of $800 even though the expected value of the other trade is $900.

With gambles, people exhibit loss aversion. So if someone had a 50% chance of losing $100 and a 50% chance of winning $110, most people would not take the gamble, because the disutility of losing money is far greater than the utility from gaining, even if the amount to be gained is greater than the potential loss. This defies traditional economic logic where people are perfectly rational and weight events by their probability.

Finally, where people are right now, in the present, matters for any kind of calculation of gain or loss.

To quote Kahneman: “Evaluation is relative to a neutral reference point. [. . .] For financial outcomes, the usual reference point is the status quo. [. . .] Outcomes that are better than the reference points are gains. Below the reference point they are losses. [. . .] When directly compared or weighted against each other, losses loom larger than gains.” (Kahneman 282).

And so Kahneman’s thesis has two main channels, (1) people dislike losses more than they like gains, and (2) the reference point, that is someone’s current status, is really important in assessing the value of a change.

So when people think about their payroll taxes going up in January 2013, their reference point is December 2012, not December 2010, even though they knew the taxes would go up eventually. Furthermore, people always pay more attention to losses than to gains.

Republican Positions

I could spend a great many posts focusing on the immense hypocrisy of the present Republican Party platform as it relates to budgets, taxation and entitlements.

Identifying flip-flops and hypocrisy is important as it can tell us something about the true motivations of our elected representatives.

I will ignore all of this, however, and simply try to point out the awfulness of their current position.

What is the current Republican position? Let’s lay it out.

1. We have major debt problem, we have to do something about it right now.

2.  We will not raise tax rates on the top 2%.

3. We will not extend tax cuts solely for the middle class. Present tax rates for the top 2% must also be included.

4. We will only raise revenue by limiting or eliminating tax deductions we shall not name.

5. We will not identify tax deductions, but we will not touch the preferential tax treatment of capital gains and the carried interest loophole.

6. We should cut entitlements, like Social Security and Medicare. Probably by raising the age of eligibility for both programs. Though we have not come out and said what we should cut in entitlements. But we insist we should cut entitlements.

7. We do not support the extension of unemployment benefits, or, if we did it would be a major concession in any deal.

8. We will not raise the debt ceiling until we can agree on something.

9. Obamacare should be on the table too. We don’t like it.

I will try to respond to each of these.

1. We have a long-term debt problem that must eventually be dealt with. We do not have to deal with it now. Interest rates on Treasuries are at historically low levels. If you have faith in the market, then you must admit that the market is not at all worried about our debt. In contrast, we have a jobs crisis. As seen by the still-elevated unemployment rate.

2 and 3. Those at the top of the income distribution are paying historically low effective tax rates. They are also performing extremely well relative to the rest of the population. They are the class of people who have fully recovered from the great recession. Asking these individuals to pay the same tax rate on income over $200,000/$250,000 as they paid in the 1990s is not socialist or the end of the world. According to the CBO, allowing the lower tax rates to expire for higher-income would generate $824 billion. This is not an insignificant amount of revenue.

3. This is foolish and needs no comment, but I will say that the President campaigned on this issue in 2008 and 2012 and won both times, as did a Democratic senate. Democrats won more votes in the House than Republicans did, but you know, gerrymandering and redistricting of congressional districts.

4. I will quote the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:

To even come close to replacing the revenues from letting the high-end tax cuts expire with a cap on itemized deductions that targets high-income taxpayers and does not affect middle-class families, policymakers would have to virtually eliminate all itemized deductions for households with incomes over $250,000.  Moreover, to avoid a massive increase in effective tax rates, policymakers would have to phase the cap in over an extended income range above the $250,000 level, reducing the revenue it would generate.

5. Preferential treatment of capital gains primarily benefits high-income individuals. See Warren Buffet’s tax returns. Also, Mitt Romney’s tax returns in 2010 and 2011.

6. Social Security is not in crisis. Medicare will eventually be quite costly for the government. However, for all of their demands for entitlement cuts, most Americans don’t want to see cuts. Also see my response to point 3. Also see Salon.

7. The current problem is a lack of jobs and not the amount of debt, so this seems like a strange reordering of priorities that would have a detrimental effect on the economy.

8. This could have a negative effect on the economy.

9. Obamacare passed Congress in 2010. Obamacare largely survived the Supreme Court’s scrutiny in 2012. Obama won re-election in 2012. For some reason all I can think of is Dumb and Dumber. Only the question asked is “what are the chances we can repeal Obamacare?”

Taken together, we have a series of awful positions that, if they came to pass, would negatively affect the low and middle-income individuals and families in this country. It would hurt, not help the present jobs situation. It would push our society to one of even greater inequality. It would disadvantage the most vulnerable. It would help the most fortunate. This seems like a strange platform to run on in 2012.