Map of the day

So many awesome maps in this twisted sifter compilation. I found these two together to be interesting because of the Nordic outliers:




Something about coffee, northern climes, and sexual precocity?


Forget higher taxes, how about more fees

After a long digression about the pointlessness of promise rings (not that I’m criticizing, I’m a fan of starting blog posts with a digression) Yglesias does a nice little analysis of the latest Republican position on “fees” versus “taxes,” that is quite similar to my thoughts earlier today.

Democrats used to say they would insist on tax increases doing a fair share of the work of deficit reduction. Republicans hate tax increases, so we used to get no deals of any kind. But this deal works because both sides have agreed to exploit a little semantic ambiguity around what exactly constitutes a tax increase. Officially, the deal has no tax increases. Instead it hikes “user fees” of various kinds. So, for example, the “fee” assessed to air passengers to pay for aviation security will be increased. But no taxes will be raised.

Get it?

I hope you do. I sure don’t. I’m flying to San Antonio with my wife in January, and I just checked the receipt for our airfare. It contains a line item for “taxes, fees, and surcharges” which are listed separately from “airfare.” The the conceptual separation between airfare (the price of tickets the airline chooses to charge) and not-airfare (stuff the government makes you pay) is clear. The conceptual distinctions between the different kinds of stuff the government makes you pay are not clear at all…

But what’s the difference? I think it’s pretty obvious that there isn’t one. The fee is a kind of tax, just one that’s called a fee. But what if I started calling my beloved gasoline tax a gasoline fee? Could we roll it into the deal then? …

But if it makes sense for Republicans to do a deal that raises “fees” in exchange for spending cuts, then on what planet does it not make sense to do a deal that raises taxes in exchange for spending cuts? Who exactly are they trying to fool here? Their donors? Rush Limbaugh? Backbenchers? Writers of bogus trend pieces?

The budget deal in context

Again, to me the big win here is that it keeps Republicans at bay from acting totally crazy for a while.  Given history, that’s not small thing.  But still, I like Neil Irwin’s take at Wonkblog:

What matters is that under the deal, fiscal policy still be a drag. It just will be less of a drag than it would be otherwise. Economists at Barclays, for example, now think that tighter federal spending will reduce the overall growth rate in 2014 by 0.25 percent, not the 0.5 percent they estimated previously.

In other words, at a time of high unemployment, falling deficits and low interest rates, budget-cutting is still making the economy worse than it otherwise would be. But with this deal, Washington policy will be less counterproductive than it otherwise would be.

Exactly.  But at this point “less counterproductive than it otherwise would be” is sadly what counts as a good thing.  Also, as Drum points out, the extremity of the GOP has really paid off in overall policy victory:

Still, he’s basically right: Democrats originally believed the sequester would never happen. Either the supercommittee would replace it, or else Republicans would eventually cave in because they couldn’t tolerate the defense cuts. But that turned out not to be true. They aren’t happy with the defense cuts, but in the end, to the surprise of Democrats, they’ve decided they can live with them.

The ultimate result, as Levin says correctly, is a budget that’s below even the pipe-dream Ryan budget of 2011. I’d make a bit less of this than Levin, since Ryan’s budgets have always backloaded their cuts, but it’s still pretty remarkable. Two years ago, Ryan’s budget was basically at the outer limit of mainstream conservative wish lists. Today it looks tame.

Quibbles aside, Levin is right: Republicans have massively changed the spending conversation since 2010. Austerity has won.

Photo of the day

Well, I know I’ve got a number of fans of surfing photos here, so I’m going with this from Part II of In Focus’ year’s best photos:

Surfers Garrett McNamara (left) and Mark Healey of the U.S. compete during a free session of surf tow in, in the southern Pacific ocean island of Tahiti, French Polynesia, on June 1, 2013 in Teahupoo. (Gregory Boissy/AFP/Getty Images)

The budget deal

It’s kind of sad that we’ve reached the point where the bar for a successful budget deal that pretty much anything better than “Republicans try to destroy the economy” is a victory, but alas, there, in fact, we are.  That said, I’ll take this victory.  Given recent context, “Republicans don’t try to destroy economy is a good thing.”  Of course, this tells us how far they have successfully moved the goalposts on budget matters (out of the stadium?).  Which, I think Ezra hits in one of his many good points in response:

8.  Democrats flatly got beat on sequestration. Republicans are keeping — and increasing — the deficit reduction without ever giving up a dime in taxes. And many Republicans don’t want to alter sequestration at all. Ryan entered the negotiations with a much stronger hand than Murray.

That said, I also think it is interesting that Republicans have shown a willingness to increase government revenue through “fees.”  Now, it’s ridiculous that the budget “fee increases” should be borne disproportionately on the air-travelling public, but it is an important principle that Republicans are allowing more revenue as long as it’s not a tax.  Now, this is a really inefficient way to make policy, but maybe Democrats need to start renaming more things as “fees.”

I was also intrigued by the pervasive media bias I encountered in coverage of this story.  Seems that all the reporters thought anything short of a big deal was a failure.  But that, to me, simply ignores the political reality.  I thought both Ryan and Murray fairly eloquently explained why a big deal just wan’t going to happen (there’s just no way with the current composition of our government).  Sure, it’s a low bar, but it’s good to see that Democrats and the non-insane Republicans can agree on some small thinks without the threat of an economy-wrecking deadline.

Maternity leave

I graded papers for my Gender & Politics course this weekend and far too many of them wrote about maternity leave.  That said, there were some particularly good papers on the issue that really make the case how preposterous it is that we are the only country in the advanced world (maybe that phrase shouldn’t apply to the US) that does not offer any paid maternity leave to new mothers.  Here’s a pretty cool infographic from HuffPo:

Sadly, opponents of maternity leave seem to only focus on the obvious costs– the fact that you are paying somebody money while they are not working at their job– and tend to completely ignore the obvious benefits– it’s good for the mom, good for the baby, and can be good for the employer in terms of lower employee turnover, increased employee morale, etc.  The problem with current approaches in the US is that we expect the employer to bear the full cost.  In more rational societies, they realize that everybody should bear the cost of perpetuating the society in a healthy manner and maternity benefits are paid for through payroll or social security taxes.  Obviously, that’s a non-starter in the US.  But lots of really good policy ideas are non-starters in the US.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem there’s the prospect for any meaningful change anytime soon.  Maybe we need a woman president…

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