Our projects are designed to empower policy makers to create positive change. With a focus on collaboration and outreach, we provide original, standards-based research on key policy issues.
SCEPA joined with the Economic Policy Institute on Capitol Hill to brief congressional staff and policy experts on tax expenditures, or incentives given through the tax code without scrutiny by Congress.
SCEPA economists are working on the prospects for a more progressive economic order to emerge from the shock of the recession. They have published papers and documents that place current events in a longer-term context as well as policy proposals to deal with short-term concerns. They are also documenting the emerging discussion of how the discipline of economics is reacting to the Great Recession and the questioning of conventional economic analysis.
Lance Taylor, a SCEPA Faculty Fellow, presents an overview of his new book, Maynard’s Revenge, in a Google Tech Talk.
The book, published this November by Harvard University Press, is a timely analysis of mainstream macroeconomics, posing the need for a more useful and realistic economic analysis that can provide a better understanding of the ongoing global financial and economic crisis.
The government spends $143 billion through tax breaks in an effort to expand pension coverage and security. Yet, over half of the American workforce does not have a pension. Retirement insecurity hurts business plans, workers’ lives and retiree well-being. Reform is needed.
SCEPA’s Guaranteeing Retirement Income Project, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and in collaboration with Demos and the Economic Policy Institute, has a plan to guarantee safe and secure retirement income for all Americans.
- Published on Sunday, July 13, 2014
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Raphaele Chappe, writes on the policy implications of Thomas Piketty's analysis on inequality.
We are in a post-Piketty world. Since my last blog entry, Thomas Piketty has received nothing short of a rock star treatment upon his U.S. visit. What are the policy debates that we face if Piketty is right?
As the ratio of capital to income (which Piketty terms "beta") increases, Piketty argues there is no natural mechanism that would lead r (the rate of return on capital) to adjust downwards so as to perfectly compensate the impact on the distribution, placing emphasis on policies that might reduce r.
Taxation is one way to reduce r and Piketty's proposal is a progressive world-wide tax on wealth although many agree that this may prove politically unfeasible, especially in the absence of international legal cooperation. Other tax possibilities for fighting inequality include increasing tax rates on capital gains and dividends (which have been getting favorable treatment in the tax code as compared with labor income1), or simply combating tax evasion for the wealthy (see The Price of Offshore Revisited).2 In my own research, I plan to run simulations to test the effectiveness of such tax proposals, and their impact on the wealth distribution.
We could also consider labor-focused policies designed to increase the share of national income going to labor, such as raising the minimum wage, or giving workers direct participation in management and profit through employee ownership or other means. (For the use of national income and product accounts (NIPA) as a framework for studying how inequality will be affected by fiscal and other initiatives such as raising the minimum wage, see SCEPA working paper 2013-1).
In order to advocate for the best policy solutions, we may wish to understand the drivers for high profit rates in recent decades. Piketty's proposed wealth tax solution is compatible with the conventional marginal productivity framework, with r equal to the marginal productivity of capital (itself a technical determination, given the existing technology and the shape of the production function, i.e. the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor). Yet the wealth distribution may be shaped by factors other than the technology. In his recent blog entry, Gregor mentions socioeconomic variables such as the globalization of production, the bargaining power of labor, financialization, and changes in production technology as being responsible for the shift to higher profit shares. To be fair, Piketty acknowledges that r might also be socially and politically determined and that factors of production may not necessarily get paid their marginal product, but he does not elaborate further.
This has led some commentators to highlight that some sectors of the economy (such as the financial sector the pharmaceutical industry) could suffer from large economic rents. Dean Baker suggests that policies designed at eliminating such rents (e.g. with a financial transaction tax or a breakdown of patent monopolies) could lower r while at the same time raise g.
Our policy debates cannot ignore existing structures of economic and political power.
If wealth controls government, existing political economic institutions will not necessarily cooperate. In his latest book "The Price of Inequality," Stiglitz raises the issue of political power exercised by lobbies and moneyed interests over legislative and regulatory processes. In his view, politics has shaped the market in ways that advantage the wealthiest at the expense of the middle-class. But politics can change.
1From 2003 to 2012, qualified dividends have been taxed at the same rate as long-term capital gains (15 percent rate, and as low as 0 percent for individuals in low-income brackets). The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 has recently increased this rate to 20 percent (for both capital gains and dividends) for taxpayers that exceed the thresholds for the highest income tax rate (39.6 percent), extending the 0 and 15 percent tax rates for taxpayers below the thresholds. This regime clearly favors wealthy individuals that derive income from financial investments rather than labor.
2According to a study written for the Tax Justice Network by a former chief economist at the consultancy firm McKinsey, a global super-rich elite has accumulated an astronomical amount of financial investments hidden in tax havens, at least $21 trillion and as much as $32 trillion of private offshore wealth (as of the end of 2010).
- Published on Thursday, July 03, 2014
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Ismael Cid-Martinez, discusses the politics and economics of unemployment insurance.
The debate surrounding unemployment insurance (UI) returns to Capitol Hill. This is not entirely surprising. Amid the good news, today's report confirmed that a large shadow continues to loom over our labor market. Examining monthly changes in each category of unemployment by duration, we observe that long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high when compared to previous recoveries (see graph).
- Published on Tuesday, June 24, 2014
On June 23, 2014, SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci appeared on MSNBC's UP with Steve Kornacki along with Neera Tanden from the Center for American Progress and Paul Sonn with the National Employment Law Project to discuss the bigger economic picture that necessitates raising the minimum wage. The panel discussed the facts that productivity gains have far eclipsed wage gains, that the federal minimum wage has been stagnant since 2009, and that the average hourly pay has declined over the past 12 months. The panel overwhelming agreed the best way to address these structural economic issues is through increased collective bargaining. A recent working paper by Teresa Ghilarducci and Joelle Saad-Lessler find two factors that significantly impact the likelihood of obtaining employer-offered benefits - time spent unemployed and union status. Therefore, attempts to raise wages must address the decline in workers' bargaining power and change the norms relating to benefits and wage provision. The City of Seattle has taken the largest step in addressing the wage gap by elevating their minimum wage to $15 an hour, while Massachusetts offers the highest state level minimum wage at $11 an hour. Teresa Ghilarducci ended the MSNBC panel with a summary of the advantages of unionization for both workers and employers.