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The 2018 Social Security Trustees Report

June 21, 2018 Leave a comment

The Trustees for the Social Security program recently issued a report on its financial condition (here is a summary of the report), getting substantial media attention. I thought it might be useful here to discuss for readers the report’s statements about the trust fund. Warning: equations lurk below.

An Accounting Constraint

The assets in the Social Security trust fund obey the relationship

End of Period Assets = Assets at the End of Last Period + Interest Earnings + Social Security Payments from Workers – Social Security Payments to the Public

which describes how assets rise or fall over time. So the equation states that assets at the end of, say, 2018 will be assets at the end of 2017 plus interest received on assets plus funds received from workers paying into the Social Security system less any payments made to people by the Social Security system. The last three items are all for 2018. It is true that in the past Read more…

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The Government Budget Constraint

May 3, 2018 1 comment

My last post reported on the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the federal government budget showing unprecedented increases in the ratio of government debt to GDP. That ratio emerges from the government’s budget constraint which is the topic addressed here.

The Government Budget Constraint

The government’s sources and uses of funds are collected together into one expression, known as the Government Budget Constraint, which states that the sources of funds must equal the uses of funds by the government. The table below lists these items.

Uses of Funds Sources of Funds
Spending on Goods and Services Tax Revenue
Interest Payments Government Bond Issue
Net Transfer Payments

The uses of funds include spending on goods and services, interest payments, and net transfer payments to the public. This latter category includes, among other things, the Social Security and Medicare programs. So Net Transfer Payments rise as the entitlements crisis unfolds. If interest rates on government debt rise, interest payments by the government must rise as well.

On the sources side of the ledger, the government gets tax revenue which it uses to pay for its spending and/or it may issue government bonds to pay for spending if its spending exceeds its tax revenue. So the CBO report said that the government will be running deficits increasing in size into the future and thus will have to issue increasing amounts of government debt to finance its spending.

But this table does not include the role of the Federal Reserve which is included in a related concept which we discuss now. Read more…

Population in “Blue” States

March 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Every so often, I see reports in the media about residents fleeing so-called “blue” states. So in these states, controlled by Democrats, it is sometimes claimed that people are fleeing supposedly because of the government policies driving out residents of these states. I wondered where these numbers came from and so I went to the Census Bureau (census.gov) to see if I could verify these media claims. Consider the data that I found.

The U.S. Census is done every decade in the U.S. so the demographers at Census must estimate population in non-census years. California and Illinois are states often mentioned as losing population so I chose these two states in selecting data. The table below has census data from 2010 and the latest estimate for each state in 2017 that I found.

Population
2010 Census 2017 Estimate Change
California 37,253,956 39,536,653 2282697
Illinois 12,830,632 12,802,023 -28609

The numbers reveal that California is estimated to have gained population between 2010 and 2017 while Illinois fits the narrative of population loss. Note there is another aspect of population loss: the population growth rate could decline so it may be that the story can be salvaged by showing a declining population growth rate. But this is clearly not what I have seen in media reports so I did not look for such evidence.

The next census will provide more data about population trends and such new data could possibly salvage the story about migration in the U.S. and the implication of these flows for political parties. Until then, the reader should be skeptical of media claims about population trends between states.

Investment and Tax Reform

March 23, 2018 Leave a comment

The tax reform recently enacted should have an impact upon investment spending by firms. In a previous post, I argued that the ability to expense (deduct from revenue in the computation of taxable income) all of the investment done by firms in a year should cause investment to rise in the U.S. This is crucial because our living standards depend in part on the stock of capital goods in our economy which in turn affects labor productivity.  More capital should enhance or increase the productivity of labor and thus real wages.

For future reference, it is a good idea to get a look at some data so that, in a future post when more data is available, we can see if investment has responded to tax reform. For this reason, consider the following table.

GDP NRFI NRFI/GDP
2017:01 19057.705 2383.409 12.51
2017:02 19250.009 2433.551 12.64
2017:03 19500.602 2468.374 12.66
2017:04 19736.491 2511.182 12.72

In the table for the year 2017, quarterly GDP is given (so we have GDP in the range of $19 Trillion), NRFI is Nonresidential Fixed Investment, a sensible measure of investment spending by firms, and the ratio of NFRI to GDP.  So we see that about 12.5 percent of GDP has been devoted to building additional nonresidential plant and equipment.

An increase in this ratio would be a reasonable measure showing that tax reform is actually raising investment in the U.S. We will see if this is the case when new data for 2018 is available.

Incentives Matter

January 20, 2018 1 comment

I have stated on this blog that if the social science of economics is about anything, it is about the powerful economic effects of incentives. The recent media reports about Apple and other firms building new plants in the U.S., raising money wage rates, and increasing employment, are extraordinary examples of how powerful incentives can be in changing economic behavior. All of these stories stem from the tax reform recently passed.

  1. Real Wages. I stated that reducing the corporate tax rate would increase the demand for labor and cause real wages to rise. We have already had announcements about higher money, and thus real, wages paid by firms.
  2. New Plant and Equipment. Apple announed that it will build new plant in the U.S. as other firms have stated as a result of the tax reform.
  3. Tax Revenue. Much has been written about the fact that firms refused to bring money back to the U.S. to avoid double taxation of their income. Apple will pay $38 Billion in taxes once it returns funds to the U.S. so the federal government gets a one-time windfall of revenue due to the tax reform from Apple.
  4. Employment. Apple and other firms are planning to increase employment, with Apple stating that it will hire 20,000 people.

There are other examples (yes they are anecdotes) that I can give but those above make the point. What is most entertaining is to watch Democratic politicians pretend that these effects are nonexistent when, in fact, they should set off a growth boom of the sort that we have not seen in many years. First quarter GDP numbers should be most interesting when they are released. Stay tuned.

But another lesson from these events is how easy it is for government to reduce economic activity or economic growth when it imposes its policies.

All of this provides a wonderful set of examples of economics in action. This is why I got interested in economics when I was a student because it has so much to offer for understanding the world around us.

The Obama Growth Record

January 4, 2018 Leave a comment

The final aspect of the new tax bill is that it may increase economic growth and so I thought I would post a final bit of data to be used down the road in assessing the impact of the new tax reform. And that data is the growth rate of real output in the economy during the two terms of Barack Obama and the record for President Trump.

The Obama Record

After the eight years that President Obama was in office, we can provide the annualized quarterly growth rates that occurred during those two terms. Using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (www.bea.gov), the average over 2009-2016 is 1.8 percent (some quarterly data was provided in this post). As I pointed out previously, this is below the long-run growth rate of three percent that the U.S. generated over the century ending at the onset of the last recession. It is a bit unfair to use the first quarter or two of a presidency since the new president can hardly be blamed for what he/she inherited but we need a consistent measure so this seems as good as any.

The Trump Record

We have only a few data points regarding the President Trump growth record but here is what is available: 2017Q1 1.2 percent, 2017Q2 3.1 percent, 2017Q3 3.2 percent. This is an average of 2.5 percent which is a substantial improvement over the Obama record. The existing numbers don’t mean all that much since there are so few of them but we will see if this persists. If it does, this will provide some evidence that the tax reform has had the impact anticipated by its designers.

Expensing New Capital Goods

December 28, 2017 Leave a comment

My last post described a simple story about the new tax reform passed by the federal government regarding the effect of the corporate tax rate and labor demand. There is another aspect of that story which involved the capital stock and the tax rate on corporations and I pointed out that the reduced corporate tax rate would stimulate capital investment which would also increase real wages. But another provision of the new tax bill also affects real wages and the capital stock. That aspect of the bill is the expensing of new capital goods. This feature of the tax bill has the effect of reducing the cost of new capital goods. Read more…

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