The economic shock from the shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were unprecedented. Never had state governors imposed stay-at-home orders that cut people off from their lives and livelihoods. Those costly policies were bad enough, but then came historic increases in deficit spending and money creation.
While these may have been well-intentioned policies early on, their repercussions—amplified by misguided macroeconomic policy since January 2021—continue to plague many Americans. The antidote is pro-growth policies.
There was a vibrant economy on the eve of this shock. In fact, about three quarters of the flows of people into employment were Americans returning to the workforce—the highest on record.
For context, 2.3 million prime-age Americans—people between the ages of 25 and 54—returned to the labor force during Trump, after 1.6 million left during the Obama recovery. This happened with a robust private sector providing many opportunities because the Trump administration focused on removing barriers by getting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 through Congress and providing substantial, sensible deregulation.
We often hear that these tax cuts were “trickle-down economics” or “tax cuts for the rich and big business.” But the change in real (inflation-adjusted) wages was positive across the income spectrum. The bottom 10% of the wage distribution rose by 10% while the top 10% rose half as fast. And real wealth for the bottom 50% increased by 28%, while that of the top 1% increased by just 9%.
The results show those tax cuts weren’t designed for the “rich.”
In 2019, the real median household income hit a record high, and the poverty rate reached a record low. Poverty rates fell to the lowest on record for Blacks and Hispanics, and child poverty fell to 14.4%—a nearly 50-year low. Clearly, Americans were doing well across the board, especially those who had historically been left behind.
These stellar results were from reducing barriers by government in people’s lives—a stark contrast to what happened by state governments during the pandemic and exacerbated thereafter by Biden’s big-government policies.
While there were similar spending bills passed into law during both administrations, it’s comparing apples and oranges.
Trump supported congressional efforts in March and April 2020 when huge swaths of the economy were shut down, 22 million Americans were laid off, and 70% of the economy faced collapse. In contrast, Biden substantially increased regulations immediately and passed a nearly $2 trillion spending bill in March 2021—an amount equal to approximately 10% of the U.S. economy, at a moment when the U.S. economy was already 10 months into recovery.
Another difference was that Trump introduced sunsets for emergency pandemic provisions so that they would expire. But Biden continued and expanded many of them, increasing dependency on government.
Through March 2022, employment is back up 20.4 million but remains 1.6 million below the peak in February 2020. While Biden touts the most jobs gained in one year in 2021, more jobs were recovered in just the two months of May and June 2020 than in all 12 months of 2021, and nearly two-thirds of this jobs recovery was during Trump. Moreover, job gains of 6.7 million in 2021 were far less than the glorified projections coming from the White House of around 10 million.
Just think if Biden had practiced the pro-growth policies of Trump.
Instead, inflation is at a 40-year high and looks to continue to soar, fueled by a host of self-imposed costly policies in Washington.
This includes Biden’s over-regulating of the oil and gas sector, massive unnecessary spending bills, and attempts to drastically raise taxes. And the Federal Reserve has more than doubled its balance sheet over the last two years, purchasing a majority of the $6 trillion increased national debt in that period, which is a 25% increase to $30 trillion.
These policies, which simultaneously boost demand while constraining supply, have brought the prospect of stagflation—high inflation and low growth—back for the first time since the late 1970s.
Rather than directly addressing the crisis, Biden has consistently deflected the issue by first doubting the reality of inflation to now falsely blaming it on corporate greed or Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the causes and consequences fall at his feet.
It’s time to return to the proven, pro-growth policies that worked during the Trump administration, along with an essential missing factor then of spending restraint by Congress. Doing so will provide a solid foundation for more opportunities to let people prosper.
This commentary was based on the remarks by Mr. Ginn and Mr. Goodspeed on a panel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2022 Policy Orientation.
Americans have less money than they had last year—though taxes haven’t been raised. So what’s the problem? Inflation, which has increased at a 40-year high annual pace of 7.9%. It acts as a hidden tax because we don’t see it listed on our tax bills, but we sure see less money on our bank accounts.
In fact, inflation-adjusted average hourly earnings for private employees are down 2.8% over the last year. This means a person with $31.58 in earnings per hour is buying 2.8% less of a grocery basket purchased just last February. “For a typical family, the inflation tax means a loss in real income of more than $1,900 per year,” stated Joel Griffin, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
The hidden tax of rapid inflation has been avoided for four decades. But that’s understandable because we haven’t seen these sorts of reckless policies out of Washington since the Carter administration.
The policies from the Biden administration’s excessive government spending and the Federal Reserve’s money printing must correct course now before things get worse.
What’s causing inflation is being debated.
One claim is “Putin’s price hikes” stem from the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine.
While this has contributed to oil and gasoline prices spiking recently, these prices—and general inflation—were already rising rapidly. This was because of the Biden administration’s disastrous war on fossil fuels through increased financial and drilling regulations, cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline, and more.
Specifically, the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil is up about 110% since Biden took office, yet only up 21% since Russia invaded Ukraine. And to think, the U.S. was energy independent in the sense that it was a net exporter of petroleum products in 2019.
Another claim is the supply-chain crisis.
For example, the global chip shortage has contributed to a large shortage and subsequent increase in the average price of new vehicles—to a record high of $47,000, up 12% over the last year. This contributed to buyers switching to used cars, which has pushed the average price up to nearly $28,000, about 40% higher.
These two claims will likely be transitory price increases, though not sufficient to drive down overall inflation to what we’ve experienced for the last year-plus.
Inflation is persistent because of rampant government spending and money printing.
Larry Kudlow, who served as the director of the National Economic Council for President Trump, stated that inflation “is destroying working folks’ pocketbooks and devaluing the wages they earn, and the root cause of the inflation is way too much government spending, too many social programs without workfare, and vastly too much money creation by the Federal Reserve.”
Both political parties share the blame for too much government spending, which has caused the national debt to balloon to $30 trillion. Just over the last two years, the debt has increased by 25% or $6 trillion.
While some of that may have been necessary during the (inappropriate) shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the nearly $7 trillion passed in spending bills was not, especially the trillions by the Biden administration far after the pandemic had slowed and people were returning to work.
Laughably, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recently argued that government spending is helping inflation and President Biden argued that he’s cutting the deficit. Both are false.
Government spending doesn’t change inflation because it just redistributes money around in the economy. And the deficit would only be rising from Biden’s big-government policies but he’s taking advantage of an optical illusion: one-time COVID-19 relief funding drying up and tax revenues rising partially from the effects of inflation.
Ultimately, the driver of inflation is from discretionary monetary policy by the Federal Reserve as it monetizes much of the $6 trillion in added national debt since early 2020.
The Fed did this to keep its federal funds rate target from rising above the range of zero to 0.25% by more than doubling its balance sheet to $9 trillion. More money is fueling the ugly government spending and bubbly asset markets that’s resulting in dire economic consequences.
Instead, we need to learn what Presidents Harding and Coolidge realized a century ago. This would mean a return to sound fiscal policy, monetary policy, and the dollar that built on the principles of America’s founding.
We need binding fiscal and monetary rules to hold politicians and government officials in check of we hope to tame inflation and return to prosperity.
It’s bad enough when politicians enact witless economic policies with huge price tags, but it’s even worse when those policies destroy American lives and livelihoods. New research shows that this will be the pandemic-era legacy of the politicians that forcibly closed businesses, made people stay home, then incentivized millions of out-of-work Americans to give up the opportunity to get their lives back on track.
It’s now clear that half the states kept destructive policies in place even after their devastating effects were known. What should have been a temporary bridge to keep people afloat while America tackled COVID-19 became a nightmare of dependence and depression.
In March of 2020, the federal government began paying weekly “bonuses” known as supplemental insurance to people on unemployment. That meant many people received more money from unemployment insurance than they did while working. It was even expanded to include those who hadn’t paid into the program.
By the fall, the country began emerging from the pandemic, vaccines became available, and business started to open again and look for workers. The speed of American resilience was something to behold. But the government refused to make the transition with the rest of the country and kept paying people to stay home.
Eliminating people’s jobs and paying them to be unemployed was robbing millions of Americans of the dignity that comes with finding purpose and achieving self-sufficiency. It destroyed lives, driving dependency on government, contributing to drug and alcohol addiction, and exacerbating isolation and depression.
These effects of the program were blatantly obvious through the spring of 2021 but that didn’t stop the Biden Administration and Congress from extending the benefits through September. By the summer of 2021, the nation had nearly 11 million unfilled jobs, a spike from just under 7.2 million at the beginning of the year.
That’s why 26 states decided to terminate the unemployment bonuses early instead of letting them expire in September 2021. At the time, some in the media portrayed the move as cruel, ripping critical funds away from those struggling during the pandemic.
But new research from the Texas Public Policy Foundation shows that the states that ended the benefits early had superior job growth, ending the soul-crushing dependency inflicted upon millions by the misguided policy. By the end of 2021, only Texas and three other states that ended the bonuses early had regained all the jobs that they lost during the pandemic.
In the states that continued paying the unemployment bonuses through September 2021, job growth was anemic. Roughly 3 million more people stayed on unemployment in states that maintained the increase in benefits versus the states that ended the program early.
The states that continued this policy deserve particular scorn for going down this fatuous path because they should have known better. The unemployment bonuses were first implemented in 2020 during the depths of the government-imposed restrictions and the disastrous results were known a year later. Yet they pushed forward full throttle irrespective of the harm it was causing to millions of Americans.
There were better solutions.
Early in the pandemic when much wasn’t known, Congress could have eliminated federal payroll taxes. Instead of creating a new disincentive to work, policymakers could have removed an existing disincentive and let workers keep more of what they earned. A July 2020 study found that eliminating payroll taxes would have added 2.7 million jobs in six months.
Later, after we learned more about the pandemic and the costs of shutdowns, the Biden administration should have focused on ending state government-imposed shutdowns. These shutdowns were a failure that did little to nothing to mitigate the pandemic’s effects yet contributed to massive business closures and job losses, along with a host of other problems that will be long-lasting..
The experiment with unemployment “bonuses” should be closed and never opened again. It unnecessarily prolonged the economic devastation brought on the country by the pandemic and slowed the path to recovery for millions of Americans. Job creation proved to be the fastest road to provide help and hope.
Government spending is at the heart of sound public policy. But out-of-control spending for decades has created substantial economic destruction and ongoing threats that must be remedied before things get worse. Fortunately, we have examples of how fiscal rules can solve this problem. We must put these rules into place before our economy gets any worse.
Excessive federal government spending has created mounting budget deficits that have driven the national debt to $30 trillion. This debt has given the Federal Reserve ammunition to use to excessively print money, resulting in the highest inflation in 40 years. And inflation destroys our purchasing power as it is a hidden tax that erodes our livelihood.
Controlling spending takes discipline, and applying fiscal rules can help.
Policymakers should follow the examples a century ago of Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, who demonstrated that controlling spending and cutting the debt is possible.
President Harding assumed office in 1921 when nation was suffering an overlooked severe economic depression. Hampering growth were high income tax rates and a large national debt after WWI. Congress passed the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 to reform the budget process, which also created the Bureau of the Budget (BOB) at the U.S. Treasury Department (which was changed in 1970 to the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President). President Harding’s chief economic policy was to rein in spending, reduce tax rates, and pay down debt. Harding, and later Coolidge, understood that any meaningful cuts in taxes and debt couldn’t happen without reducing spending.
Charles G. Dawes was selected by Harding to serve as the first BOB Director. Dawes shared the Harding and Coolidge view of “economy in government.” In fulfilling Harding’s goal of reducing expenditures, Dawes understood the difficulty in cutting government spending as he described the task as similar to “having a toothpick with which to tunnel Pike’s Peak.”
To meet the objectives of spending relief, the Harding administration held a series of meetings under the Business Organization of the Government (BOG) to make its objectives known.
“The present administration is committed to a period of economy in government…There is not a menace in the world today like that of growing public indebtedness and mounting public expenditures…We want to reverse things,” explained Harding.
Not only was Harding successful in this first endeavor to reduce government expenditures, his efforts resulted in “over $1.5 billion less than actual expenditures for the year 1921.” Dawes stated: “One cannot successfully preach economy without practicing it. Of the appropriation of $225,000, we spent only $120,313.54 in the year’s work. We took our own medicine.”
Overall Harding achieved a significant reduction in spending. “Federal spending was cut from $6.3 billion in 1920 to $5 billion in 1921 and $3.2 billion in 1922,” noted Jim Powell, a Senior Fellow at CATO Institute. Harding and the Republican Party viewed a balanced budget as not only good for the economy, but also as a moral virtue.
Dawes’s successor was Herbert M. Lord, and just as with the Harding Administration, the BOG meetings were still held on a regular basis. President Coolidge and Director Lord met regularly to ensure their goal of cutting spending was achieved.
Coolidge emphasized the need to continue reducing expenditures and tax rates. He regarded “a good budget as among the most noblest monuments of virtue.” Coolidge noted that a purpose of government was “securing greater efficiency in government by the application of the principles of the constructive economy, in order that there may be a reduction of the burden of taxation now borne by the American people. The object sought is not merely a cutting down of public expenditures. That is only the means. Tax reduction is the end.”
“Government extravagance is not only contrary to the whole teaching of our Constitution, but violates the fundamental conceptions and the very genius of American institutions,” stated Coolidge.
When Coolidge assumed office after the death of Harding in August 1923, the federal budget was $3.14 billion and by 1928 when he left, the budget was $2.96 billion.
Altogether, spending and taxes were cut in about half during the 1920s, leading to budget surpluses throughout the decade that helped cut the national debt.
The decade had started in depression and by 1923 the national economy was booming with low unemployment. If this conservative budgeting approach—which was tied with sound monetary policy for most of the period—had been continued, the Great Depression wouldn’t have happened.
Officials at every level of government today should learn from this extraordinary lesson that fiscal restraint supports more economic activity as more money stays in the productive private sector.
With spending out of control at the federal level and in many states and local governments, the time is now for spending restraint and strong fiscal rules to set the stage for more economic prosperity today and for generations to come.
We were promised job growth—after all, that was the main selling point for the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) from President Biden and the congressional Democrats. Promise made—promise broken.
In February 2021, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its economic outlook and projected 6.252 million jobs would be added in 2021 without ARPA. The White House then projected ARPA would add 4 million additional jobs for a total of 10.252 million more jobs in 2021.
ARPA was said to be necessary for the labor market recovery. Without it, job growth would slow, but with it, job growth would blossom. ARPA promised to get Americans back to work, get COVID-19 under control, and return the country to normal.
None of this happened.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the economy added just 6.116 million jobs in 2021, 136,000 fewer jobs than the CBO estimated without ARPA. At a cost of $1.9 trillion, ARPA was expensive from the start as it was added to an already bloated national debt. Now it appears the law added no jobs to the economy, and possibly cost jobs. It was not just expensive, it was also a detriment to the recovery.
The marketing behind ARPA was nothing new; many spending bills have been sold to the American people as stimulus measures. But labeling government spending as “stimulus” is a misnomer. When the government spends money, it usually only stimulates more government, not productive activity in the private sector.
This is partly because the government has no money of its own and it must get resources from the private sector before it can spend or redistribute them. That means any government spending has a cost which is often ignored by political pundits—but must be paid for all the same.
Whether government spending is financed through taxes, borrowing, or inflation, it represents a burden on the private sector. Whatever alleged benefits are to be derived from government spending must be weighed against the cost of first acquiring the resources needed for that spending.
The more government spends, the greater the burden on Americans.
This was evident in the 2008-09 Great Recession and the slow recovery that followed. Despite record spending by the federal government (once again called stimulus), the economy recovered at the slowest pace since the Great Depression of the 1930s. While total output lagged, employment lagged even more when compared to other recessions.
The labor market has now bogged down again.
Despite 10.6 million job openings, the economy is still missing 3.6 million jobs as compared to before the pandemic and there are still 6.3 million people unemployed.
Instead of supercharging the labor market recovery, trillions of borrowed dollars in new spending are hindering it. Because of direct cash payments, welfare expansions, unemployment “bonuses,” and other government transfer payments, many people are rationally choosing not to return to work. And while some of these programs have expired, their costly effects on people and the federal budget persist.
On top of those pressures, exaggerated fears of the omicron variant along with mixed messaging from government health officials have made some people afraid to go back to work. Other people, particularly in the health care industry, have been hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine and have consequently been forced out of their jobs because of ill-advised mandates.
The common factor in these examples is bad policy on the part of the government. Whether it is excessive regulation or spending, these public sector mistakes impact people’s lives in a very real—and negative—way.
ARPA failed to deliver on its promise of growing jobs and instead grew government, especially government debt, which now stands at a mind-boggling nearly $30 trillion, far exceeding the entire U.S. economy.
That debt is like an anchor weighing down future economic growth because it constantly requires interest payments, which sap the nation’s economic growth, meaning fewer jobs and less income. In FY 2021, taxpayers funded the second highest interest payment on the national debt—to the tune of a whopping $562 billion, with no end in sight.
ARPA is just the latest in a long line of massive government spending programs that were billed as stimulus for the economy, but only stimulated more government. That is something to keep in mind the next time Washington promises us more jobs.
Build Back Bankrupt How the Latest U.S. House’s Build Back Better Act Spends Nearly $5 Trillion Americans Can’t Afford
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Build Back Better Act (BBBA) is filled with policies that will burden Americans and benefit special interests. Everything from childcare to gasoline will increase in price, on top of general price inflation. The BBBA will slow the economy, cut jobs, and turn inflation into stagflation.
Americans are being crushed by the highest inflation in 39 years. An entire generation has never seen prices rise this fast and they’re feeling the pain in their wallet. But the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) passed by the U.S. House of Representatives will only compound this pain with new spending, taxes, and debt.
Americans are already being heavily taxed by inflation. Inflation is fundamentally a way to transfer to the federal government without explicitly raising taxes, while robbing people of their purchasing power. It means everything from groceries to housing is more expensive. The most vulnerable among us are hit the hardest by inflation, especially those with fixed and low incomes. Americans need relief.
Instead of relief, the BBBA will make things worse.
Despite the White House’s assertions, the BBBA will not reduce inflation. Rather, this legislation spends records amount of money that we don’t have. Americans simply cannot afford to pay for the elephantine BBBA.
Without the House’s budgetary gimmicks, the Congressional Budget Office’s price tag for the legislation balloons to nearly $5 trillion over the next decade, with $3 trillion added to the deficit. After increased interest costs, the effect on the already bloated $29 trillion in national debt would be even larger. Estimates by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Budget Model and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget both arrived at similar figures.
To put this new reckless spending in perspective, it would load another $24,000 in debt on the back of every American taxpayer, who would then owe a grand total of $111,000 each.
Runaway government spending is crowding out private prosperity and tethering American taxpayers to a cycle of poverty. It is nothing less than a modern-day financial servitude, in which we are all hopelessly indebted to the government, which allegedly spent the money on our behalf, but not to our benefit.
These massive deficits will have to be paid for, one way or another.
Taxes would have to be raised or other spending cut to cover the future costs of this big-government socialist bill. Congress can explicitly raise taxes, or the Federal Reserve can implicitly tax Americans by buying more Treasury bonds that would elevate inflation. Either way, it will compound the pain.
While these are bad, the BBBA is also flawed because of how the money is spent.
Despite its vastness, it’s difficult to find any productive spending in this bill. Instead, there are green energy boondoggles, and other special-interest giveaways. There are also tax breaks for high-income earners in primarily blue states.
These are just a few examples of the bill’s payouts to the political donor class, but there are no benefits for most other Americans.
Instead, Americans will suffer the : lower wages, less return on investment, fewer job opportunities, and even higher prices. To add insult to injury, the bill also provides for a newly hired army of Internal Revenue Service agents who will be monitoring your bank account, so you better keep every receipt.
The bill collects and spends money in such a way that it seems intended to cause economic harm.
Our research has shown that many tax provisions in the legislation will cost millions of jobs and reduce wages. There are also steep penalties on work and new costly entitlement programs, such as paid leave and universal preschool, which will incentivize millions of people to
For those with kids who choose to work, they could see their wallet hit hard from childcare costs more than doubling. And the BBBA would add new marriage penalties to the tax code, compounding the pain of married couples.
Sadly, this progressive agenda functions like an attack on families, individual liberty, and prosperity; it must die in the Senate.
Einstein once called compound interest “the most powerful force in the universe.” But just as gains compound on one another, so do losses. The BBBA will only compound the existing pain inflicted by inflation.
The better choice is monetary and fiscal rules, like the Foundation’s Responsible American Budget, combined with pro-growth polices to support human flourishing.
The two sides of a coin are typically regarded as opposites. In the case of President Biden’s $5 trillion Build Back Better bill, the two sides are actually the same. Both the revenue and expenditure provisions of this agenda will cause substantial decreases in employment. The only difference will be how.
The Build Back Better bill would deliver a double blow to an already disrupted labor market. Most of the explicit tax increases in the agenda directly disincentivize investment, which reduces capital, wealth, wages and employment. Meanwhile, the creation of new (and the expansion of existing) employment-tested and income-tested benefits would increase the implicit tax on working.
The tax increases on both corporate and pass-through business income would reduce wage growth by shifting investment out of the business sector, reducing competition and overall investment, and contributing to lower employment. The tax increases on capital gains, as well as increased corporate taxes on foreign profits, would exacerbate these effects.
The expansion of Affordable Care Act subsidies and paid medical-leave mandates would also reduce employment levels by tying benefits to not working. This and other provisions are gifts to unions, helping them achieve the goal of higher wages through reduced labor supply.
The bill would expand the child tax credit for households that earn no income for a full calendar year. Perhaps the bill’s authors are too young to remember the 1996 welfare-reform law, which demonstrated how sensitive single mothers’ work behaviors are to such disincentives.
Additional subsidies for food, along with medical coverage and housing, decrease as a household earns more income, providing more disincentive for working. The implicit employment and income taxes from a total of 13 such measures would add almost eight percentage points to the marginal tax rate on labor income. Other parts of the bill further reduce the purchasing power of wages by educing competition and raising costs in telecommunications, energy and other products and services, increasing prices in those industries.
After separately estimating the effects of Mr. Biden’s tax hikes, we find large costs to the supply side of the economy. One of us (Mr. Ginn), along with Steve Moore and E.J. Antoni, finds that the explicit tax increases on income, investment and wealth will cost five million jobs over a decade compared to baseline growth. The other (Mr. Mulligan) finds that implicit tax increases on work will cost nine million jobs.
While these two effects may overlap, the Build Back Better agenda is a jobs killer. Pushing these programs further into the budget window may change the headline spending number, but it won’t change the economic damage they will do to the nation.
The president’s plan would be the largest tax-and-spend increase—and disincentive to work—since the introduction of the income tax. It would tax those who produce and subsidize those who don’t. It would encourage dependency on government and punish self-sufficiency. Wealth taxes could exceed 70%, and marriage penalties on small-business owners could exceed $130,000. Families could be hard-pressed to keep farms and businesses after the original owner dies. And the real median household income would fall by $12,000. Meanwhile, lower-income households would see their generous government assistance decline rapidly in the event of even a modest increase in earned income.
Increasing the implicit tax on working has the same effect as a statutory tax increase on income, investment and wealth: decreased employment. With inflation-adjusted private investment having declined for the first two quarters of this year, the nation doesn’t need direct—or indirect—tax increases, especially on investment.
Likewise, with a near-record high 10.4 million job openings in August, the same month there were 8.4 million unemployed, the nation doesn’t need additional disincentives to work. The Build Back Better agenda would hamstring a labor market that remains five million nonfarm jobs below its February 2020 levels and potentially reverse the economic recovery.
Nobel laureate James Tobin was a leading Keynesian economist and key adviser to President Kennedy. He described high-implicit-tax situations as causing “needless waste and demoralization. . . . It is almost as if our present programs of public assistance had been consciously contrived to perpetuate the conditions they are supposed to alleviate.”
The hidden tax of inflation prevents people from getting out of poverty. Inflation isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a huge obstacle to prosperity for the vulnerable and low-income. And even if Congress and the Fed have good intentions, their next steps could make the current bad situation worse.
The latest inflation data from the consumer price index shows an increase of 6.2% over the last year. This means that Washington took this out of your paycheck from no fault of your own or without you sending them a check.
This sleight of hand is caused by the Federal Reserve built on the excessive spending by Congress and it crushes the hopes and dreams of many, especially the poor.
If you received a raise recently, say around 8%, then about three quarters of it is not real—it’s inflation. The purchasing power of goods and services through your raise is cut by higher prices. If your raise was about 6%, normally a healthy increase, then your purchasing power doesn’t change. At this pace, prices are set to double in less than 12 years, but will your paycheck?
People with lower incomes tend to receive smaller raises, and those on fixed incomes receive no raises or raises that just match inflation, such as those on Social Security. For them, inflation is the harshest of taxes and they can’t avoid it. Families with lower incomes have few assets like corporate stocks that can grow as prices rise.
This inflationary blight on low-income earners is the Fed’s doing, but Congress gives the Fed the means to do it and it looks poised to double-down on its bad decisions.
Congress has already authorized $7.2 trillion in spending since the shutdown recession, including much of the waste in the recent $1.2 trillion “infrastructure” bill. Now, the House’s Build Back Better Act would increase spending by $5 trillion, after appropriately excluding budget gimmicks, and increase the bloated national debt by another $3 trillion more than without it over a decade.
This spending would likely be more expensive because the policies would destroy an estimated 7 million jobs by paying people not to work per economist Casey Mulligan’s estimates and reducing entrepreneurs’ investments based on the Tax Foundation’s assessment. And these job losses would most likely be concentrated among those with lower incomes. Increasing unemployment over time would make more people dependent on government, which may be a feature of the bill instead of a bug.
Other proposals, like “green energy” projects and “incentives,” would increase the cost of living for everyone and hurt those with low or fixed incomes most because they’re least able to absorb it. And while the Congressional Budget Office could soon release their cost estimates for the BBBA, we should take them with a grain of salt as they could be too rosy because its static estimates have long been problematic, which is why it should move to more realistic dynamic scoring.
Though Congress’ boondoggle spending doesn’t directly cause inflation, it provides the fuel to the Fed’s fire of printing more money. These progressive policies in Washington are crushing the poor, even as they’re providing tax cuts for the “rich,” and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight—unless this this latest big-government bill appropriately fails.
Impolitic government programs, like those in President Biden’s agenda, incentivize dependency on government and create cycles of poverty. Few things are more harmful than this because it cuts the rungs out of the ladder that many people use to climb out of poverty and better their lives, both financially and otherwise. These rungs of the ladder start with a job. Work is the only way to permanently earn more over time and improve human dignity that comes with financial self-sufficiency, community, and social capital.
If Congress really wants to give people a hand up—and not just a handout—then it should focus on repealing those programs which disincentivize work and remove the tax hikes that disincentivize investment that goes to hire more workers.
Likewise, if the Fed intends to improve the economy, it should focus on reining in inflation which it controls, not lecturing on diversity. These measures would help take the costly pressure off people, especially low-income earners instead of crushing them based on the president’s progressive agenda.
We’d be wise to remember what Milton Friedman correctly said: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”
In March 2020, during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and then the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The “maintenance of effort” (MOE) provisions authorized in the Families First Act and then enhanced by the CARES Act were to provide a 6.2 percentage point increase in the normal share of Medicaid payments provided to states through the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).
These provisions require that those eligible for Medicaid must be kept on the program up to 90 days after the declaration of a public health emergency for COVID-19 ends whether they age out of an eligibility group, have an increase in income, or other reasons noted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (more info at Medicaid.gov). The Health and Human Services declaration, which is set to expire on January 20, 2021, should not be renewed by the secretary as this enhanced MOE could represent an increased cost to taxpayers to fund more people on Medicaid along with an increased dependence on the program for people not meant to be on it.
In May, U.S. Senators Bennet (D-CO) and Young (R-IN) introduced the RESTART Act (S. 3814) to provide increased flexibility to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It also would establish a new lending program for small and medium-sized businesses to cover up to six months of operating expenses for those hit hardest by the economic fallout due to COVID-19 and lockdowns by state and local governments. This bill is bipartisan with 56 cosponsors in the Senate and 163 cosponsors in the House (H.R. 7481) as of Sept. 27.
TPPF proposes adding an amendment to include rehire grants to cover 120% of up to six months of the costs of rehiring employees terminated since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. While the economic damage continues from governments not ending lockdowns, congressional discussions are progressing towards moving the RESTART Act to the floor for a vote. In lieu of other congressional action, TPPF supports the passage of the RESTART Act and recommends adding the rehire grant amendment while reallocating CARES Act unspent dollars to fund it.
Since March, when the lockdowns ordered by state and local governments began due to the novel coronavirus, Congress has passed $3.8 trillion in four COVID-19 response bills. While the economic damage continues from these lockdowns, Congressional discussions about more action is at a stalemate. In lieu of other Congressional action, the Foundation’s proposed Recovery Act would narrowly target resources temporarily to aid businesses operating and workers working.
More here: https://files.texaspolicy.com/uploads/2020/08/25143156/082420-Overview-of-Recovery-Act.pdf
President Donald J. Trump recently signed four executive actions in response to a congressional stalemate on the next round of COVID-19 relief, drawing praise from a Texas economist.
Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) Chief Economist Vance Ginn provided brief overviews on the use of federal Disaster Relief Funds (DRF) to boost state unemployment insurance funds, the payroll tax issue and enhanced unemployment insurance.
“The goal of President Trump’s four executive actions on Aug. 8 is to provide financial assistance at a time when Congress hasn’t acted to help struggling families due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19,” Ginn wrote. “Currently there is uncertainty regarding these actions that could weigh on employer and employee decisions until further clarity is provided.
While these actions may increase uncertainty that hinders economic activity, they can help American families in the short run by providing additional aid until state and local governments, hopefully soon, safely fully reopen society.”
TPPF Chief Economist Vance Gin | Photo courtesy of the TPPF Ginn offers an informed perspective, having recently served more than a year as the associate director for economic policy for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). His role was to advise the OMB’s director on economic and fiscal policy matters, manage a team that sought evidence of good government and modeled the economic assumptions in Trump’s fiscal-year 2021 federal budget, which proposed a record of $4.6 trillion in cuts to the national debt over a decade.
Ginn said the Aug. 8 executive actions do not increase the deficit directly.
“The $44 billion for the federal enhanced unemployment insurance is paid from the funds available in FEMA’s disaster relief fund," he said. "And the deferral of payroll taxes is just a deferral so doesn’t add to the deficit unless Congress forgives those taxes through legislation later. Also, the Social Security Trust Fund won’t take a hit as money will be transferred from the General Fund to it until the payroll taxes are paid or forgiven, which is what happened after the 2010 tax bill under the Obama administration cut the payroll tax by 2 percentage points.
"Regardless, there is a need to get businesses operating and workers working again by reopening society so problems related to the lives and livelihoods of Americans along with our fiscal solvency aren’t put further at risk.”
Ginn said Trump's moves could put more money in taxpayers’ pockets as well as helping people find jobs as state and local governments loosen their lockdowns.
“This could happen by deferring the payroll taxes and employers not withholding it to possibly pay it later and then by the $300 per week in enhanced [unemployment insurance] not being so high that 68% of Americans who make less than the $600 per week previously provided,” he said. “Again, the key is to get businesses operating again and for workers to be connected to a job that will help to increase economic activity on the supply side that is critical for us to have a stable and strong recovery.”
Ginn said that more can — and must — be done to speed economic recovery.
“Families across America are struggling from being unemployed and being uncertain whether they can keep their business open or when they will get a job or be called back,” he said. “In order to help the American people, we need accurate and reliable COVID-19 data that includes timely demographic information to understand more about its contagion and effects so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed and vulnerable populations are assisted with necessary resources as governments reopen society for everyone else. Along with that, there is a need to rightfully provide funding to businesses that were stripped of their resources from governments during lockdowns.”
The TPPF supports a targeted, short program called the Workplace Recovery Act, which covers businesses‘ net operating losses so they can keep workers onboard and rehire others until this lockdown situation is over.
“Fortunately, Congress could reauthorize the available $1.3 trillion from its other already passed legislation for this program and scrap the rest of the measures under consideration that aren’t targeted or timely,” Ginn said. “In addition to state and local governments reopening society and Congress passing the Workplace Recovery Act, there is a need for governments to get their budgets under control by reducing wasteful spending so that this redistribution of incomes through the government sector doesn’t further slow economic activity.
“Another thing is ending unnecessary regulations, particularly those that were suspended during the lockdowns,” he continued. “By following this approach, American families can have some calm from increased certainty about their future during a chaotic time, which is what the president seems to be trying to provide even as Congress does its best to make the situation worse.”
Ginn earned his doctorate in economics at Texas Tech University and has taught at Texas Tech and Sam Houston State. He joined the Texas Public Policy Foundation in 2013 and worked there until joining the Trump administration in 2019. He returned to the foundation in May.
Ginn said his goal at the TPPF is to preserve the state as a place where Texans can build their careers, raise their families and live their lives freely.
On Saturday, August 8, President Donald Trump signed four executive actions in response to a Congressional stalemate on the next round of COVID-19 relief. This brief covers the memorandum allocating federal Disaster Relief Funds (DRF) to enhance state unemployment insurance (UI).
Background on UI:
The federal-state UI system was created in 1935 as a form of social insurance run by—and usually funded by—states from collected business taxes, with the Department of Labor overseeing it.
Most states typically fund UI at half of lost wages for about 26 weeks while workers search for jobs (Texas requires the unemployed to report applying for at least 6 jobs per week).
The federal government can provide extended UI for 13 or 20 weeks longer and split that cost with states. However, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was the first time the federal government covered it all and lasted until 2013 when extended UI was provided for up to 99 weeks.
Congress passed the 2020 CARES Act that included federal funds for enhanced UI of $600 per week until July 31. Separately, the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program extends the UI period for 13 weeks, for a new maximum of 39 weeks.
Economists find that 68% of eligible workers received enhanced UI greater than their lost earnings. Other economists highlight how high unemployment benefits can encourage layoffs, discourage work, and delay productive economic reallocation.
Details of the August 8 memorandum that provides enhanced UI by the federal government:
Directs up to $44 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to fund enhanced UI.
Offered $300 per week in enhanced UI if the state increased their UI by $100 per week. This requirement was then clarified so that an unemployed person could receive the enhanced UI if they already receive at least $100 per week from the state UI.
Enhanced UI terminates for work weeks ending on December 6, 2020 or when funds run out, whichever occurs first. An estimate predicts funds could run out after about five weeks.
Economic effects are minimal until an end to lockdowns & fiscal effects are neutral given DRF:
Fiscally neutral because money is in the DRF but would change if natural disasters occur this year (e.g., hurricanes) requiring more than $25 billion in spending—the amount retained in the DRF.
Federal enhanced UI is now tied to state UI if an eligible person receives more than $100 per week from the state UI. An economist estimated that nearly 1 million unemployed people currently receive below $100 per week so wouldn’t get the extra $300 per week.
Enhanced UI payments won’t start until at least late August, meaning many people who were dependent on the new total UI will receive only the normal state UI. The decline to the historical amount of the state UI could help incentivize people to search for work during or after lockdowns.
There’s evidence that enhanced UI may not have discouraged searching for work because jobs have been limited during lockdowns, so decreasing it may not have much effect until ending lockdowns.
Recommendations to improve the economy and the livelihoods of Americans:
Safely reopen society by ending state and local government-mandated lockdowns.
Get businesses operating and workers working again, such as with TPPF’s Recovery Act.
Eliminate wasteful programs to rein in excessive government and end unnecessary regulations.
Congress should scrap what’s currently being discussed in the next round of COVID-19-related recovery efforts. Instead, it should focus on getting businesses operating and workers working again after governments’ lockdowns severely disrupted the lives and livelihoods of Americans.
This can be done with the Foundation’s proposal of the Rehire America Workplace Recovery Act that includes the essential component of the free enterprise system: private property rights.
The proposal focuses on giving people the dignity of work by compensating businesses for cash losses incurred due to governments’ shutting down of society due to COVID-19. These net operating losses by businesses were realized from government lockdowns (beyond prior voluntary social distancing measures).
This proposal contrasts with much of the approach in Congress today that would prolong any economic weaknesses.
Handing out stimulus checks (some of which are erroneously sent to dead people) doesn’t get people working again. Extending overly generous unemployment benefits that exceed what 68% of Americans were earning disincentivizes work. And saturating profitable businesses with taxpayer dollars while letting too many small businesses go under fails, too.
The result of most of the current programs in Congress will be prolonged unemployment and weak growth. But our proposal would strengthen and shorten the recovery to let people prosper.
The COVID-19 economy has been one of records set in both directions.
The many disruptions during March and April plunged the country into a deep recession. The economy shed 22.2 million jobs, with the unemployment rate jumping from its historic low in February of 3.5% to 14.7% in April.
Though official second quarter GDP figures have yet to be released, analysts are expecting a 30-plus percent annual rate of contraction. By any comparison, the U.S. economy has never experienced such a quick reversal in its economic condition.
Though these numbers paint a bleak picture, there are more recent signs of optimism.
The U.S. labor market in May and June added 2.7 and 4.8 million jobs, respectively. Both figures were record highs. More hiring drove the unemployment rate down to 11.1% in June.
If this momentum continues, one would expect third quarter GDP to rebound from its projected second quarter low. Existing home sales rebounded in June, increasing by a record 20.7% providing additional evidence we’re likely in the beginnings of an economic recovery.
The Recovery Act’s compensation strategy would assist this rebound. It provides funding to help employers keep current employees and to rehire those laid off due to cost-cutting associated with the COVID-19 shutdowns.
It also conveys a core principle of effective programs in that it is self-terminating and temporary. A recipient’s participation in the program automatically ends once it’s no longer suffering cash losses or at the end of the program.
That’s the goal of the Recovery Act — to stabilize business operations to provide confidence for firms to retain and rehire employees. In fact, it places a compensation premium of 20% on rehiring furloughed workers. By compensating businesses for cash losses (including employee costs), this proposal aligns with an improving economy.
One of us estimated the economic and fiscal effects of this proposal depending on the duration from July to either September 2020 or February 2021 above the base case recovery over the next year. It would contribute to an extra $498 billion to $1.4 trillion in GDP, between 1.8 and 5.6 million new jobs, and cost taxpayers from $450 billion to $1.3 trillion.
Though a hefty price tag for the longer duration, the $1.3 trillion cost looks to be within what Congress has authorized but not disbursed yet from prior phases of economic aid so no new spending may be necessary if reallocated. If that’s not an option, the Act’s benefits outweigh the cost and would repay itself under six years. These results seem much better than the major packages considered by Congress.
The spirit of the Recovery Act is in a recent bipartisan bill called the Small Business Recovery Comeback Act so there’s a way to get this done for Americans. It could be improved by including more of the aspects that we’ve outlined above to make it cost-effective and time-constrained.
We need Congress to take a fresh start rather than funding the same flawed programs and principles. The Recovery Act is grounded in a free enterprise system. This is both an economic argument and a moral imperative to recover Americans’ livelihoods.
(The Center Square) – Stimulus checks for Americans at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made sense, but a potential second round could prevent some recipients from working and prolong fiscal recovery, an economist says.
“Ultimately what we’re for is people going back to work,” Vance Ginn, chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), told The Center Square. “We need to find a responsible way to end the shutdowns, and find ways for people to get back to work, instead of having incentives to not go back.”
Another stimulus check for individuals and families has been discussed as part of the next phase of federal coronavirus relief.
“There may have been good reason for stimulus checks during the major part of the pandemic outbreak, but we think that time is over now,” Ginn said. “The stimulus check payment was put in place when many people were forced out of work, but now we’re looking at how to get people back to work and having businesses open.”
There are other ways to help people pay their bills and expenses, said Ginn, who formerly served as associate director for Economic Policy in the Office of Management and Budget at the White House.
The $600 weekly unemployment benefit that Congress included in the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act expires at the end of July, but people can still get state unemployment, which usually pays about 50 percent of what their weekly income was, Ginn said.
As short-term federal programs from the pandemic’s onset wind down, other proposals are under consideration to help businesses.
One is the Workplace Recovery Act, which addresses operational losses incurred during the government shutdowns.
“It would focus on replenishing net operating losses for businesses so they can stay in business,” Ginn said.
A payroll tax cut for employers and employees through the end of the year also would put more money in the pockets of workers, and incentivize businesses to grow because they would have lower costs and do more hiring, Ginn said.
Another key component to economic recovery is quelling fear.
“We need to deal with the pandemic situation in its full context,” Ginn said, “We don’t need to resort to lockdowns and closing society again because it would have a devastating effect on our lives and livelihoods.”
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.