Economy

GOP vs. Job Creators

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll—that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job creators by proposing to off set the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small businesses...

Schooling Capitalism

T his week, both coasts saw student marches on Monday and big-city police raids on Tuesday. As the chancellors of the University of California met by teleconference, students throughout the U.C. system held demonstrations and teach-ins opposing tuition hikes and police violence. At U.C. Davis, they called a student strike. Meanwhile, their counterparts at the City University of New York marched on their own board of trustees as it voted on five years of tuition hikes. Tuesday, Philadelphia police cleared occupiers out of city hall’s Dilworth plaza to make way for a $50 million renovation project. The raid followed multiple ostensible deadlines, and weeks of controversy within the camp and between occupiers and the city over whether they would relocate to a new space (many have). Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who earlier in his career was attacked for ACLU ties, drew criticism for restricting most journalists to a “First Amendment zone” as police forced out Occupy LA Tuesday...

Game Plan

With a labor agreement tentatively in place, the NBA's next challenge will be bringing the fans back.

AP Photo/Mike Segar
With its labor dispute nearly behind it, the NBA is facing another mammoth problem: winning fans back. In a time when the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high and the economy won’t grow, many basketball fans viewed the NBA strike as an ugly and petty fight of rich players against wealthy owners over a few more million. “It’s the most ridiculous thing I saw in my life,” one longtime fan ranted to the New York Post. “They make so much money. It’s childish.” Childish or not, as the National Basketball Association welcomes back its players after reaching a tentative deal last Saturday, it has to figure out a way to bring back fans who were stung not only by the lockout, but by years of expensive ticket prices, the LeBron James-decision fiasco, and players throwing tantrums. The five-month labor crisis and resulting lockout, which came after the players’ association and NBA owners’ inability to reach an agreement over a variety of issues from players’ salaries to revenue sharing after...

GOP vs. Job Creators

Republican opposition to extending the payroll tax misses the point.

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll – that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job-creators by proposing to offset the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small...

NBA, Final

A league labor agreement includes a surprising caveat to protect owners from ... themselves.

AP Photo/Hans Deryk
After spending almost half the year in a pitched labor dispute that shutdown league operations, the NBA owners and players union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement last weekend. The reformed players union—which had disbanded last month to file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners as a negotiating tactic—and league representatives are set to meet again Friday afternoon to come to official terms on the ten-year contract. As long as the final details (such as drug testing and player age restrictions) are worked out over the next week, a shortened 66-game season will kickoff on Christmas Day. The general consensus on the deal is that the owners came out ahead at the players' expense. The old contract had stipulated that 57 percent of basketball-related income go toward players' salaries, while the new deal reduces that number to 51 percent next season, and possibly even lower in years to come. But the fight wasn't just about the overall divide of money, and for the other...

Justice, Deferred

It may be frustrating when federal watchdogs strike toothless deals with Wall Street, but it reflects regulators' alarming lack of resources.

During the early aughts, the financial sector freely gambled with money implicitly or directly guaranteed by taxpayers, selling securities based on worthless subprime mortgages to their customers. We all know how that turned out. Yet those responsible for the worst recession since the Great Depression have for the most part escaped federal prosecution. Given this context, it is easy to understand why United States District Court Judge Jed Rakoff angrily rejected a proposed deal between the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Citigroup over the company's practice of selling toxic mortgage-backed securities to its customers at the same time it bet against them. His decision to reject the settlement—in which Citigroup would have to pay $285 million but not have to admit any wrongdoing—was praised as a win, at least in spirit, for the Occupy Wall Street crowd, and indeed it may have some positive effects, including letting banks know they can't get off that easy. But it is...

Way Down in the Hole

The big number from today’s labor report is 0.4, the percentage by which unemployment dropped in November. Overall, the economy created 120,000 jobs (compared to 100,000 for the previous month) and the unemployment rate declined to 8.6 percent, a substantial improvement over where the economy was in the previous month. In addition, the employment numbers for September and October were revised upwards by a total of 70,000 jobs, another positive sign. But that’s the extent of the good news in today’s report. Yes, the unemployment rate has fallen to 8.6 percent, but a substantial portion of that was driven by a shrinking labor force—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the civilian labor participation force (the sum of employed and unemployed workers) declined by 0.2 percentage points to 64 percent. In other words, as people give up on finding work, they leave the labor force and place downward pressure on the unemployment measure, despite the fact that they’re still unemployed...

The Cost of Free Trade

Every president asserts that the next trade treaty will turn America into an export powerhouse, but that's just not true.

A ny renaissance of American manufacturing must begin by fundamentally reversing our trade policies—both in general and in particular toward China. Over the past two decades, leading U.S. manufacturers, both the venerable (like General Electric) and the new (like Apple), have offshored millions of jobs—by one recent estimate, 2.9 million—to China to take advantage of the cheap labor, generous state subsidies, and low currency valuation that are linchpins of China’s mercantilist development strategy. Other factors, including increasingly automated production, have also taken a toll on America’s manufacturing workforce, but it’s the mass exodus of American production to China and, more recently, the rise of indigenous, state-subsidized Chinese production that have decimated American industry and reduced the incomes of American workers. The United States government did not have to stand idly by while the nation’s industrial base was disassembled. It could have preserved and promoted key...

Bring Back the Space Race

To remain competitive, the U.S. needs to rebalance its portfolio of talent.

After the Soviets launched Sputnik, the U.S. created NASA and funneled millions of resources into technological and scientific research to shore up U.S. competitiveness. In China today, the government has had the foresight the U.S. once did and has put in place a talent program to support its students in the pursuit of higher education and innovation. Returning to the investment in science education of the Sputnik days and fostering technical talent like the Chinese may at once help reduce U.S. employment and make the country more competitive technologically. As Reuters recently reported, the U.S. has an insufficient supply of qualified skilled workers to fill job vacancies that require technical knowledge—especially in manufacturing, where technicians are in high demand. A manpower survey also reported that 52 percent of U.S. companies had trouble filling essential positions; that study supports statistics from the U.S. Labor Department showing that more three million tech jobs...

Just TELL Me You're Gonna Invade My Privacy

Federal regulators have reached a settlement with Facebook over privacy violations—but it's just a slap on the wrist for an industry that regularly sells user data.

Washington, D.C., and Facebook Inc. took part yesterday in another round of what we might call "working on their relationship." But that we're fixated on specific privacy violations rather than the day-in-day-out use of our personal data lets us know that there's a limit to the conversation in which they're engaged. What happened is this: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with Facebook that requires the company to stop engaging in privacy-violating practices and to participate in regular third-party privacy audits for the next 20 years. The agreement, prompted by a complaint by privacy-advocacy groups, is meant to address several places were Facebook was found to have gone astray in recent years—not truly deleting deleted user accounts, sharing friend lists that had been marked private, and changing privacy settings without really telling anyone. The agreement still needs to be approved by FTC commissioners at the end of December, after a period of public comment...

Good News, Bad News for Europe

The good news? France and Germany seem to be in agreement. The bad news? They agree Europe needs more belt tightening so that bankers can get more relief. The leaders of France and Germany, reportedly, are discussing ways to compel European nations to have a common fiscal policy without resorting to the cumbersome process of amending the EU treaty. This was enough to reassure stock markets for the moment, which are nothing if not subject to herd instincts. But who are we kidding here? More austerity may appease the bankers’ need for their pound of flesh, but it will only make the Great Deflation worse. A common fiscal policy is a good idea, but one biased towards austerity is exactly the wrong medicine Before this crisis is over, the Europeans will need to find their way to a common invest-and-grow strategy, which includes debt relief for struggling countries; as well as Euro-bonds and a real crackdown on banker abuses. And the European Central Bank will have to function as a true...

Life, Monetized

In Deadly Monopolies, Harriet A. Washington asserts that corporations now own life itself.

I n 2010, Rebecca Skloot published The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks , a New York Times bestseller about a poor black woman in the late stages of cancer in 1950s Baltimore whose doctor removed cervical tissue from her without her knowledge. By remaining viable outside of Lacks’s body, the cells became “immortal” and thus quite valuable; scientists using them have been able to pursue research that would have been unimaginable beforehand, leading to achievements such as the polio vaccine and advances against cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Skloot’s book captivated readers by revealing the story of exploitation behind the development of what have become known as “HeLa cells.” Similar episodes of scientific advancement on the backs of vulnerable subjects have been exposed before, from J. Marion Sims’s gruesome mid-19th-century experiments on black slaves that laid the groundwork for the modern field of gynecology to recently uncovered evidence that in the 1940s, U.S. researchers...

For Europe, High Stakes in Greece

Stabilizing one teetering economy won't end the eurozone's dance of death.

T he problems of the euro turned critical when the Greek government nearly defaulted in May 2010 and the International Monetary Fund and European Union agreed to a bailout. In truth, the 17-nation euro area had deep troubles long before that. Its oversized and undercapitalized banks, its common monetary policy but diverse and fragmented fiscal policies, the persistent economic imbalances among nations that use the euro, and a cumbersome decision-making structure all made the euro-area economy vulnerable. The crisis, which still bears the mark of the Greek tragedy that first set it off, has now spread far beyond Greece. The euro was created for normal times, but the EU lacked good mechanisms for crisis management. At every step of the Greek drama, policy-maker responses have remained behind the curve of economic deterioration. Slowly but surely, this erosion of confidence ensnared other countries, such as Ireland and Portugal, then spread to Spain and Italy, both perceived to be...

A More Perfect Union

E mily Dopper and her boyfriend, Willem van Leeuwen, tourists from the Netherlands, were on their way to lunch at the Boathouse restaurant in New York’s Central Park when they encountered the picket line. Clay Skaggs, a striking waiter, intercepted them. “We’re asking you not to eat here,” he said in a tone of polite explanation. “They practice sexual harassment, and they stole $3 million in wages over two years. They also got a C-rating on their health inspection.” Dopper looked dejected and unconvinced. “We came here to Central Park all the way from Europe,” she said. “There are lots of other great places nearby,” Skaggs continued. He handed them a foldout flyer. One side featured a detailed map of the park and its myriad paths and attractions, displaying locations and write-ups of other restaurants and a big red circle with a slash around the Boathouse. On the other side was an explanation of the issues in the strike, with summaries in 19 languages. Adopting his best waiter’s...

Woe Is Europe

A week of credit-rating downgrades and skyrocketing interest rates fuels fears the monetary union is doomed.

(AP Photo/Michael Probst) T hings are now hanging by a thread in Europe. In a disastrous auction of two-year bonds and six-month bills on Friday, Italy was forced to pay interest rates of 7.8 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively—levels far higher than those that sent Greece into the arms of its troika of lenders. Spain, despite the emphatic election a week ago of a new right-wing government committed to austerity, on Tuesday paid an average yield of 5.11 percent on three-month bills and 5.23 percent on six-month bills. The three-month yields were more than double what the country paid a month ago, while the six-month bills had cost it only 3.30 percent in October. Rumors have begun circulating that the new government is planning to ask for some form of outside help to service its debts. Belgium’s credit rating was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s and Portugal was downgraded to junk by Fitch. Even Germany felt the tremors of market turbulence, managing on Thursday to sell only 3.64...

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