Twelve questions for Bruce Bartlett, economic historian and former Reagan adviser

March 8, 2016 at 9:56 am

Bruce Bartlett is a historian and former Reagan adviser who describes himself as a lifelong conservative that believes the current GOP panders to fools. He’s written for the Economix blog at the New York Times and has authored several books including The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform – Why We Need It and What It Will Take. I’m a longtime fan of Bruce’s work and when he contacted me about a post, I asked him if I could pick his brain about economics and economic myths.

Bruce Bartlett in a 2012 interview with Bill Moyers. Bruce Bartlett in a 2012 interview with Bill Moyers.[/caption]

No amount of hard work is going to pull people up if they don’t get paid for working hard

February 29, 2016 at 11:06 am

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One of the things corporate special interest group marketing takes advantage of is differences between the generations and their understanding of the economy.

You’ve seen the memes. The most famous example was Mitt Romney characterizing 47 percent of Americans as lazy.

Typically, I see posts like this on the Internet:

A Baby Boomer friend of mine explaining how hard he’s worked. A Baby Boomer friend of mine explaining how hard he’s worked.

Implicit in my friend’s post is the idea that anyone can pull themselves up if they just work hard.

The problem is that things today are very different. There are no more paper boys. Or pensions. Hell, newspapers may not even be around much longer.

What my Baby Boomer friend experienced was very different than today’s reality. Because of these life experiences, it’s often difficult for Baby Boomers to understand just how different today’s economy is from the economy of the 1950s and 1960s.

How can you help people like this (especially in your own family) understand the realities of today’s economy?

No room for failure: How student debt impacts results

February 22, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Johns Hopkins commencement ceremony in 2010 (by Sakeeb Sabakka/CC-BY-2.0)

I was lucky: I managed to get through college with only a small amount of debt.

I was able to do this because I was fortunate enough to have middle-class parents, I attended a state school, I received scholarship help, and I got into a co-op program that helped me cover some of the costs.

At the time, I didn’t realize what this would allow me to do. I didn’t realize that it would allow me to take some risks I would never have been able to otherwise.

It allowed me to fail. Not just once, but numerous times. And failure, believe it or not, is critical to success.

This is why I want to talk about how student debt levels today are not only hurting students and recent graduates, but are hurting our businesses—and our country.

How to really make America great again: Get rid of ‘the dumbest idea in the world’

February 1, 2016 at 11:02 pm

One of the best questions you can ask people in organizations that are struggling is:

If you could get rid of one thing, what would it be?

It’s a great question (and also one that should be asked in confidentiality) because:

  1. It’s hard to think about changing everything.
  2. It’s easier to think about one thing to eliminate.
  3. People often have a really good idea about what that one thing is in an organization. Often it’s the elephant in the room that people can’t talk about publicly for fear of retribution. Sometimes, it’s a person.

One thing clearly stands head and shoulders above the rest when you talk to many people in corporate America. It’s an idea that completely removes responsibility from many corporations in our society. It’s an idea that threatens not only our constitutional democracy, but also every value Christians hold dear and every value we hold dear from modernity and post-modernity.

It’s an idea so bad that Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, called it “the dumbest idea in the world.”

The idea, called shareholder value theory, is that the sole purpose of publicly-held corporations is to return profit to shareholders.

Customers be damned. Society be damned. Families be damned. Results be damned. America be damned.

Where did this idea come from?

New York Stock Exchange, August 2010. (by Elbie Ancona (CC-BY_SA 3.0))

Alexander Hamilton and the principle of infant industries

December 31, 2015 at 11:08 am

Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill.

Recently, Republican utility regulators in Nevada rolled back incentives for solar energy. One of the big arguments put forward is that these subsidies “distort markets.”

In 2013, fossil fuels accounted for 115x the amount of production from solar energy. Source: Forbes In 2013, fossil fuels accounted for 115x the amount of production from solar energy. Source: Forbes[/caption]

Solar power accounts for roughly 0.7 quadrillion Btus of annual power generation compared to 81 quadrillion Btus of annual power generation from fossil fuels.

In other words, the energy market is already “distorted.” If you think about it, we all know the problem with these distortions. It’s hard to break into a market already dominated by big existing players. Even if something better exists.

Here’s a little bit more about how markets work.

7 things it’s no longer possible to believe after Donald Trump

December 18, 2015 at 11:35 am

With the rise of Donald Trump, there’s certain things that have become almost laughable to believe. Here’s seven.

Donald Trump at CPAC. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore. Donald Trump at CPAC. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

Why regulations increase when you privatize government

November 15, 2015 at 11:17 pm

Every now and then some politician pulls a stunt where they print out a list of regulations from some agency or other to try to make the point about the “burden” of regulation.

Mitch McConnell speaking at the CPAC 2011 conference. Photo CC 2.0 courtesy of Gage Skidmore. Mitch McConnell speaking at the CPAC 2011 conference. Photo CC 2.0 courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

What they don’t talk about is that privatization creates more regulations.

Why?

Robert Reich’s “Saving Capitalism” or how to have better conversations about the economy

November 6, 2015 at 7:19 pm

A few weeks back, I saw Robert Reich speak at Joseph-Beth Booksellers here in Cincinnati. He is an outstanding speaker and if you ever have the chance, go see him talk. Brilliant. Funny. Experienced. Gregarious. He is just as good in person as his writing.

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He started out by joking that his new book alienated everyone. He said, half the people I spoke with said, what needs saving? And the other half said, why save it? First of all, I could tell he spoke with a lot of people on both sides because he spoke about the elephant in the room – how the conversation is so often framed. And second of all, he used this as a great segue to how to get out of this trap we so often face, that the conversation comes down to some kind of less government/more government argument. The beauty of Reich’s book isn’t necessarily economic. The beauty of it is that Reich understands how to have better conversations with people about the economy. This ability to have better conversations about the economy is important because almost every discussion relates back in some way to our views about the economy. Every one. So today, I’m going to set aside self-publishing and talk about a few of the things Reich said, because this is a conversation I have with people all the time, and his new book, Saving Capitalism.

Two charts that explain the difference between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and unions

September 14, 2015 at 1:51 pm

We often hear that unions are somehow on a par with corporate special interest groups when it comes to lobbying.

From 2008-2015, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Institute for Legal Reform spent $792,420,000 (#1 and #3 in the graphic). This is roughly 3x what second place lobbying organization the National Association of Realtors spent.

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By comparison during the same time period, the first union to appear on the list at #182, the AFL-CIO, spent $22,300,000. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent roughly 35x the AFL-CIO on lobbying over this eight year period.

Distribute it right to begin with

June 26, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Corporate special interest groups have hit upon a very powerful framing of the economy and government that involves something they call “redistribution”.

It has been played over and over in the media more than any annoying pop ballad I can remember. So much so in fact that I bet you could describe the framing w/o me saying a word.

It looks like this:

You earn your money. It is yours. Then the government takes it away in the form of taxes (often referred to as theft) and gives it to someone who hasn’t earned it (redistribution).

When people you know say “socialism,” it is this process of taking from the “deserving” to give to the “undeserving” they are talking about.

I state this argument as strongly as possible here because this is what we’re up against. Professional, audience-tested propaganda.

If we, when you are talking to people, fall into arguing the side that wants to “redistribute,” you will be seen as someone who wants to use government to take away and give to the “lazy” or “undeserving”.

There is an easy way to flip this framing and talk about the actual situation with people you never thought you could reach.

All you have to do is talk about distributing it right to begin with.

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