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Meditations - ta eis heauton

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

I'm a software engineer / partner working for a young company in Austin, Texas, USA. I spend most of my free time hanging out with friends and family, eating out, and partying in the Warehouse District. I should spend more time working on my house....

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Immigration and the Economy

I had a couple of conversations over the weekend about immigration and its effects on the economy. Unfortunately none of US were economists so everything was hearsay. That is why I am so glad the Freakonomics blog pointed me to this blog post from they guys over at Marginal Revolution. The post is basically an open letter about what many economists believe are the effects of immigration. Read the whole thing.

Overall, immigration has been a net gain for existing American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our 13 trillion-dollar economy.

Immigrants do not take American jobs. The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis.

Immigration in recent decades of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to be small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent.

While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses. The effect of all immigration on low-skilled workers is very likely positive as many immigrants bring skills, capital and entrepreneurship to the American economy.

Legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on the poorest Americans should not be addressed by penalizing even poorer immigrants. Instead, we should promote policies, such as improving our education system that enables Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills.

We must not forget that the gains to immigrants from coming to the United States are immense. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid..

America is a generous and open country and these qualities make America a beacon to the world. We should not let exaggerated fears dim that beacon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Republican Craponomics

For over two decades Republican politicians have argued that cutting taxes actually increases government revenues. As stupid as it sounds on its face this argument is based on supply-side economics theory, specifically the Laffer Curve. I call this a theory although, to the best of my knowledge, the evidence to back up the "theory" is so marginal it would more appropriately be called a hypothesis. Regardless, as this Washington Post editorial describes, some research has been done by conservative economists on just how much increase in revenue could be expected from giving a tax cut. The answer, not much:
... N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard, a proponent of tax cuts who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers in the Bush White House. Mankiw is a top-notch economist hired by Bush and Cheney to advise them. And last year he published a paper on how far tax cuts pay for themselves, reporting enthusiastically that this self-financing effect is "surprisingly large."

How large, exactly? Mankiw reckons that over the long run (the long run being generous to his argument), cuts on capital taxes generate enough extra growth to pay for half of the lost revenue. Hello, Mr. President, that means that the other half of the lost revenue translates into bigger deficits. Mankiw also calculates that the comparable figure for cuts in taxes on wages is 17 percent. Yes, Mr. President, that means every $1 trillion in tax cuts is going to add $830 billion to the national debt.

But, wait there is more!

...Douglas Holtz-Eakin, another conservative economist who worked in the Bush White House and who went on to run the Congressional Budget Office.

In a study published under Holtz-Eakin's direction last December, the CBO estimated the extent to which a 10 percent reduction in personal taxes might pay for itself. The conclusions confirm that the free-lunch mantra is just plain wrong. On the most optimistic assumptions it could muster, the CBO found that tax cuts would stimulate enough economic growth to replace 22 percent of lost revenue in the first five years and 32 percent in the second five. On pessimistic assumptions, the growth effects of tax cuts did nothing to offset revenue loss.

So Mankiw isn't with them. Holtz-Eakin isn't with them. Which raises a question: When top Republicans go around claiming that tax cuts pay for themselves, which economic authorities are they relying on? None, is the answer. These people's approach to government is to make economics up.

Hat tip to Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

You are either with us or against us

This is disgusting:

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'


"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."