Photo of the day

This Telegraph gallery of Dubai skyscrapers shrouded in fog is pretty amazing:

Photographer Daniel Cheong photographs Dubai's skyscrapers emerging through fog including the Burj Khalifa

A photographer has managed to capture the sight of Dubai’s skyscrapers emerging through the early morning fog that occasionally engulfs the city. Daniel Cheong’s shots appear to show some of the world’s tallest towers floating in the sky.

Picture: Daniel Cheong/Caters

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Republican Economists for redistribution

I got a kick out of Glenn Hubbard (former economic adviser to GWB and Columbia Economics professor) complaining about Obama’s proposed new policies.  He correctly notes they will go nowhere with the current Congress, but also give us this:

But the president’s proposals do invite a case for a comprehensive tax and entitlement reform, one based not on redistribution but on growth, work and opportunity.  [all emphases mine]

Okay, we “know” redistribution is bad.  Obviously, rich people owe nothing more to the society that made their wealth possible and should keep every possible dollar they earn.  So, without redistribution, what does Hubbard propose?

The second step is to use the individual income tax to better reward work. The top tax rate for most Americans would be the same as the business income tax rate. To maintain progressivity, a surtax on wages would be collected on very high earners. To make work more attractive, low-income workers, including single workers, would receive an expanded earned-income tax credit and a tax credit to buy health insurance (as opposed to the more complex subsidies that exist under the Affordable Care Act). The earned-income tax credit would be phased out gradually.

A surtax on high earners and tax cuts and credits for lower income workers?  Sure sounds like redistribution to me.

The third step focuses on education and training. Like investment in technology and machines, investment in human capital should be deductible from income. Out-of-pocket educational expenses for bona fide schooling and vocational training could be tax deductible for all but affluent households.

Hmmmm, smells like redistribution.  And

The fourth step is to strengthen retirement security, while acknowledging the need for fiscal consolidation in entitlement spending. Minimum benefits for Social Security and Medicare could be strengthened to ensure that people with low lifetime incomes avoid poverty in old age. To reduce future deficits in these programs and to free up funds to support work and opportunity for younger workers in the future, Social Security benefit growth would be slowed for more affluent individuals.

You know, on the whole, I don’t have a lot off argument with Hubbard’s suggestions.  But I bet the overwhelming amount of Republican politicians do.  Because when you get down to it, the most economically sensible policies inherently do involve redistribution, whether Hubbard wants to call it that or not.  The truth is that the marginal impact of earnings and wealth will make more difference for lower and middle income individuals and that at reasonable levels, this is going to lead to an overall societal benefit.  $10,000 means little to a millionaire, but for somebody working poor, it could be the difference between an associate’s degree that leads to a better life or not.   So, they may not want to admit it,  but insofar as they are honest about policy, even Republican economists support redistribution.

Politics as narrative

I’ve been a bad blogger, my apologies.  No real excuses.  I did read and think a lot about the SOTU and I really like John Dickerson’s in Slate.  I’m a big fan of Dickerson, but it is in his journalistic nature to be even-handed to a fault, so when you get clear praise from him, it means something.  He argues that a key to Obama’s successful speech was telling a meaningful story about his policy proposals, rather than just a to-do list:

What helped Obama rhetorically was that he’d outlined his proposals in the previous two weeks. He didn’t have to cram everything in the speech again, which allowed him to tell a story. But he wrapped his message in the narrative of the American people, returning to the storytelling style that was a part of his 2008 campaign. At the center of the speech was the Erler family of Minnesota who had struggled but come back during the economic downturn. Their story was America’s story, said the president…

The president pitched a series of policies aimed at the Erler family and all American families like it. The Erler Plan consisted of relief for their daily struggles—help with child care, relief for two-earner households, and paid sick leave. Those policies are popular, but they are also an appeal to show that he understands what people are going through. They are an opening statement in a debate in which he and his fellow Democrats are claiming to be on the side of regular people. He was also trying to put Republicans in a box by forcing them to answer the question Who are you for?

It remains how effective this approach will be (short term: not at all, it’s just a speech and we’ve got a Republican Congressional majority), but in a larger sense, Democrats do need to tell a good story for how their policies are better for the average American.

Meanwhile, also in Slate, Jamelle Bouie makes the case that Democrats have basically doubled-down on winning over women (especially white ones), by speaking directly to policy concerns that affect them most:

President Obama gavean assertive defense of Democratic Party liberalism and announced the party’s agenda for the post-recession era. “Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. … Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home,” he said, continuing on to a call for equal pay. “[T]his Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.”

It’s not that Obama is lifting from Clinton as much as they’re both reading from the same playbook. The “war on women” of the 2012 and 2014 election cycles has morphed into an anti-inequality pitch centered on the economic concerns of women and families. And Tuesday night, President Obama brought the language to the national stage, elevating women’s economic issues as a core priority of both Democrats and his administration.

So, we know that this doesn’t really get us anywhere in the short term, but it will be very interesting to see how a sharper focus and readily-accessible narrative for policy will be able to shape the political debate going into the next presidential election.

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