- On Capitol Hill
- On Wall Street
- In the Press
- Policy Reform Work
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.
SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci and Christian Weller from the Center for American Progress (CAP) are working to address the retirement crisis by improving the federal government’s system of retirement savings incentives. On October 30th, they published a paper on The Inefficiencies of Existing Retirement Savings Incentives and hosted an event with academic and political experts to discuss the issue in depth. On November 18th, they released a second paper on Laying the Groundwork For More Efficient Retirement Savings Incentives that contains proposals for reform.
Ghilarducci and Weller’s research concludes that the federal government’s current policy to encourage retirement savings through the tax code is both inequitable and inefficient. The wealthy have higher marginal tax rates and therefore benefit more from tax deductions than the poor and middle class. Furthermore, research has shown that wealthy households would save anyways and tax deductions merely encourage them to shift their savings into retirement accounts to lower their tax bill.
The authors suggests five policy reforms to make the federal government’s retirement savings incentives more fair and effective:
- Make the Saver’s Credit fully available to lower-income households
- Establish and expand progressive savings matches
- Simplify retirement savings incentives by streamlining rules
- Limit the automatic increases of tax deductions
- Create simple, low-cost, and low-risk options for people to save for retirement outside of employer plans
What’s the best way to evaluate international differences in living standards? How can we compare the value of 100 dollars to an American with 100 taka to a Bangladeshi?
In the November 17, 2015 seminar hosted by SCEPA and The New School Economics Department, New School Economics Professor Sanjay Reddy presented his research on the most appropriate choice of price index. According to Reddy, the most commonly used price indices are deeply flawed. However, with careful reasoning, informative and honest indices are achievable.
Reddy is critical of the most widely used methods for constructing price indices. While cynics claim that a perfect index number doesn’t exist, so anything goes, Reddy argues that certain indices are most appropriate for certain circumstances. Just as we use scales to measure weights and rulers to record heights, we should use different indices for different purposes as long as they fit the task at hand and are used consistently. For example, you can’t answer the question “who’s taller?” by measuring one person’s height and another’s weight.
The most widely used approach to constructing price indices is a “representative agent” model, where researchers assume that individuals are rational utility-maximizers, and infer budget constraints and utility functions from observed consumption behavior. According to Reddy, this approach is unconvincing. It may not be an accurate description of how people make decisions, and it fails to satisfy the axioms of the consumer choice theory on which it relies.
Instead, Professor Reddy proposes a set of criteria from which a more reliable price index can be constructed. His own project, The Global Consumption Consumption and Income Project (GCIP), aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how a country’s well-being evolves over time and can be compared internationally.
Who is more vulnerable to natural disasters?
At the November 11th economics seminar hosted by SCEPA and The New School’s Economics Department, New School Economics Professor Lopamudra Banerjee argued that a household’s location in the class structure of a social system is a more important indicator of its chance of experiencing physical exposure to an extreme phenomenon in the environmental system, like flood, than the household's geographic location in a region of hazards.
Banerjee draws on extensive data on natural disasters in Bangladesh, Tanzania, Indonesia, and on her own field research, to better understand why only some households experience exposure to disaster events.
At first pass, the data suggest that exposure to natural disasters is a matter of randomness. Taken alone, a household’s level of education, volume of assets, or value of expenditures doesn’t correlate convincingly with its likelihood of experiencing disaster exposure.
Upon closer look, Banerjee finds that risk of exposure is best predicted by the “composition of capital” owned by a household, rather than its volume of capital, per se. And, it is this composition of capital (which takes into account both non-material embodied assets like the level of education of household members, and material physical assets used as means of production) which indicates the most likely class situation of the household in the social structure. The notion of class situation employed here is a particular reading of German sociologist Max Weber’s ( 1978) original concept.
In terms of her empirical analysis of the patterns of disaster exposure in a population, Banerjee's results suggest that the most vulnerable group are what Weber called the “petty bourgeoisie,” property owners with relatively low income, assets, and education. While the more wealthy members of a population can afford to protect their possessions from natural disasters, and the more poor members have little to lose and the flexibility to relocate; the class of petty bourgeoisie might be less nimble to move away from harm's effect when a disaster event occurs in their region of location; and therefore, bear greater risk of exposure in the event of a disaster. They own just enough that they have something to lose and cannot move, but not enough to protect their property from natural disasters.
Banerjee’s research shows that the more wealthy and well-educated are not necessarily immune from natural disasters. Vulnerability is best understood as a function of the complex intersection of characteristics that determine social class.
*Note: Presentation slides reflect research in progress and are not for citation.