Friday, December 12, 2014

Program participants sometimes OVERestimate disincentives; good new book

I commonly hear it claimed that health insurance assistance does not discourage work because the rules are too complicated for people to understand that work does not pay. This claim is full of errors of logic and fact (see here and scroll to Q8). But let's look at one: why should we assume that people underestimate work disincentives rather than overestimate them?

Here's one story in which one man, Dave Campbell, decided to reduce his work hours in order to reduce his income in order to qualify for Medicaid, when it now appears that he probably would have qualified without reducing income.

... when Dave returned to work a few months after the accident, he pared his hours down to meet the $2,100 [monthly] level: why work more when it would all go to Medi-Cal [California's Medicaid program]...

Dave had been getting advice from a social worker and Medi-Cal expert, as well as his very smart Harvard/MIT professor/social-policy expert sister. Nevertheless, it appears that he/they overestimated the program's disincentives (as the disincentives applied to him).

I have not yet read Professor Campbell's new book that contains the full story. I expect that it is very good, because I did read her earlier book and found it to be excellent!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Prof. Gruber "No one has ever questioned the quality" of GMSIM

That's a quote from today's hearing (about the 46 minute mark), referring to the Gruber MicroSImulation Model.  It's reminiscent of this quote:

Both claims are contradicted here, especially Chapter 7.

The testimony also said that he was happy to "answer questions about the model and how it works" but I received no reply to the inquiry I sent Professor Gruber by email June 10, almost 3 months before my book would be published containing criticisms of GMSIM.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Real PCE per person

Real PCE per person was less in October than in August.  Year-over-year, it has grown 1.4 percent.

Real GDP per capita has grown 1.7 percent year-over-year.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Reasons to continue the Elmendorf era

Very briefly,
  1. We are fortunate to have their shoulders to stand on.  I find vast amounts of Elmendorf-era CBO research results to be interesting and rock-solid reliable.  The plain fact is that my books and my University of Chicago lectures highlight such CBO material.  I would be handicapped without it.
  2. Elmendorf-era CBO updates as research progresses, without being gullible.  Is there any other DC institution in that category?
Later when I have more time I will elaborate and document these points, and explain why the detractors are confusing the forest with the trees.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Professor Krugman continues to misinform readers about Romneycare

Get the economics of Obamacare and Romneycare from Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform.  Especially Chapter 10, entitled "Romneycare times Eleven":

Overall, the ACA erodes nationwide average work incentives about eleven times more than Romneycare did in the state of Massachusetts . Table 10.1 is a good summary of why the differences are so dramatic: the amounts involved and the fraction of the potential workforce presented with a new income or employment tax as a consequence of health reform.
The primary difference between Romneycare and ACA employer penalties is the nominal amount: $ 295 versus $ 2,000 (plus health cost inflation), respectively. Also significant are the facts that the ACA penalty is not business-tax-deductible and that Massachusetts employers are especially likely to offer health insurance even without a penalty.
The subsidized coverage in Massachusetts has barriers to participation that are absent from the ACA and thereby make Romneycare’s implicit [full-time employment tax] less significant. Romneycare came after other permanent forms of assistance for Massachusetts workers leaving [jobs with health coverage], whereas, before the ACA, the federal government had no significant and permanent program for assisting nonelderly nonpoor adults with health insurance while they are not working. Accounting for the prevalence of various taxes, I find that the ACA’s implicit income tax (not shown in Table 10.1) is about eleven times greater than Romneycare’s.

I give the CBO a lot of credit on this. Unlike Professor Krugman, the CBO never fell into the trap of saying that Romneycare= Obamacare, therefore Obamacare has no noticeable effect on the labor market (CBO 2012).

Updated. I answer commenter Veritas with the excerpt below from Chapter 10 of Side Effects.

[The] federal government helped pay for much of Romneycare, whereas the ACA does not turn to any higher power for funding. ...Romneycare encouraged employers in the state to help employees use pre-tax dollars to pay for health insurance, which means that the U.S. Treasury would be passively assisting employees in the form of reduced personal income and payroll tax receipts from Massachusetts. The state also had federal money that was attached to a Medicaid waiver from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (Powell 2012). Thus one should not assume that Romneycare would be elevating Massachusetts labor income tax rates to [the] levels [needed when federal governments expand coverage],

I believe that Professor Gruber videos refer to the Medicaid waiver but, as my excerpt notes, Romneycare had even more federal funding than that.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

CSPAN covers economic impact

At the 4:58 mark, Dr. Aaron acknowledges that "there is a tradeoff." That was a big surprise to me, because Dr. Aaron was the lead signatory on the economists' letter to Congress saying that there is no tradeoff: the ACA both helps people and grows the economy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Private and Public Comments on Health Cost Growth

Once upon a time, it was acknowledged in academic circles that the ACA did little to cut the growth rate of health care costs. See, for example, 24:05 and following in this video:

But then in this economists' letter to Congress and the American public, the same parties are claiming that the effect of the ACA on health care cost growth is so tremendous (in the direction of less cost) that it would create up to 400,000 jobs EVERY YEAR!

Another (unrelated and) excessively truthful part of this video starts just before the 24:00 mark "The American public doesn't actually care that much about the uninsured.  ...A lot of the uninsured don't care about the uninsured."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leveraging a Lack of Economic Understanding

Anticipated here (italics added): 
A job, Mr. Mulligan explains, "is a transaction between buyers and sellers. When a transaction doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. We know that it doesn't matter on which side of the market you put the disincentives, the results are the same. . . . In this case you're putting an implicit tax on work for households, and employers aren't willing to compensate the households enough so they'll still work." Jobs can be destroyed by sellers (workers) as much as buyers (businesses). Mr. Mulligan reserves particular scorn for the economists making this "eliminated from the drudgery of labor market" argument, which he views as a form of trahison des clercs. "I don't know what their intentions are," he says, choosing his words carefully, "but it looks like they're trying to leverage the lack of economic education in their audience by making these sorts of points."
update: The University of Rhode Island says that it does not have permission to show the entire video. The relevant clip is here (somewhat longer clip here):

More video about ACA design fooling the voters

This is NOT the video from UPenn. This was is from Wash U, and I believe that Fox News uncovered it.

Jump to 30:11 for the discussion of how to undo the tax subsidy for health insurance. And watch for 90 seconds.

#Grubergate : anticipated on the last page of "Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform"

Long before the Gruber video went viral, I had heard the general sentiment. It is NOT a universal sentiment in my field, but prevalent enough that I knew that it had to be addressed in a prominent location. From the last page of my ebook, completed in May 2014:

The book was also written to show that economics did not, and does not, have to be ignored or superficially considered at the policymaking stage.
...Political pragmatists may claim that it is sometimes necessary to ignore economic consequences to support a worthy effort. Even without its pessimistic assessment of the ability of voters to receive information, this argument has been contradicted many times in history when unintended consequences overwhelmed promised benefits.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New uncompensated care estimate

Providers in 2014 save about $550 per person who gets insured because of the ACA, only small part of that $550 is an efficiency gain (the rest is a transfer to hospitals). Meanwhile, I estimate that the labor market efficiency losses are at least an order of magnitude greater, not to mention that the efficiency losses really are losses.

Monday, November 10, 2014

UPenn takes the high road

Upenn briefly removed its suddenly-viral video of the 2013 health conference plenary session. Thanks for putting it back!

Bad Economics for a Good Cause

Update: I had the benefit of watching the entire video (51:19 from a plenary session on "The Role of Economics in Shaping the ACA and How Economics Can Inform Inevitable Mid-Course Corrections"), but UPenn decided to remove it so all you can see is this clip from the 20:30 mark in the full video (another update: UPenn put the full video back -- see above): 
Omitted highlights include:
  • Prof. Pauly calls himself "The father of the individual mandate (although not this mandate)"
  • Prof. Pauly prefers the "Rambo" alternative the ACA's individual mandate.  Rambo would put all of the uninsured on a bronze plan without their permission and send them a tax bill for bronze premiums. 
  • Prof. Gruber claims that the Cadillac tax is excessive (effectively over 100 percent due to corporate income tax interactions with the Cadillac tax)
  • Prof. Gruber claims that the individual mandate penalty should be much larger.
  • Both Professors discuss the Oregon study and it's failure to show a statistically significant effect of health insurance on health.  Among other things, Prof. Gruber said that the study results widened his priors without changing their mean.
  • Prof. Gruber wants to expand the subsidies: expand premium subsidies for everybody and cost-sharing subsidies for people under 300% FPL.  He is optimistic that the opportunity for such expansions will come as (if?) healthcare gets more expensive.
  • Prof. Gruber would not oppose eliminating the employer mandate.  The revenue loss would be nontrivial (but not huge), he says, but the mandate is primarily affecting the composition of insurance (employer vs Obamacare) and who really cares about that. [remark: I agree that the employer mandate affects the composition of insurance, which is why the deficit effects of the employer mandate are huge]
  • Neither professor acknowledges the law's work disincentives or its large productivity costs.
  • Both professors are clear that they consider the pre-ACA status quo as the relevant alternative for evaluating the law.  That's good news for me: my book does the same thing.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Flashback: Deep down, Republicans know that Obamacare is awesome

"'s not that Obamacare will fail. After all, if the law will just be a debacle, Republicans should let it take effect, ride the catastrophe to overwhelming victory in the 2014 midterms, and then use their massive congressional majorities to repeal it."
Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas, 14 months ago.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Good bye to one of my favorites

Gordon Tullock died yesterday.  He did a lot of innovative work and was highly deserving of a Nobel prize.  I especially liked this book.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Will Voters Reward the Authors of the ACA for its "unexpected success"?

May 26 2013: "the real Obamacare shock will be one of unexpected success"
Nov 05 2014: ???

Normally U.S. Senators seeking reelection win 80% of the time. Thus, to help confirm or deny whether voters agree with the prediction above, on Wednesday we might check whether 9 or more of the 12 Obamacare authors are awarded with another term.

It will also be interesting to count how many campaign rallies feature signs saying "Don’t let the government get its hands on Obamacare!"

High-tech fuel for voter fantasies

Part of the fun of voting is imagining that the vote makes a difference. To assist in this effort, the Cook County Clerk now emails absentee voters that their ballot has been received. Wisely, the Clerk does not include a tally of how many elections are uncontested.

Subject: Your ballot has been received
Date: Fri, Oct 31, 2014 12:16 pm


We have received your voted ballot for the November 4, 2014 Gubernatorial General Election. However, no ballots are counted until election day when all other ballot types are tallied.

Thank you for participating in our democracy. If you wish to vote by mail in a future election, please apply at

Cook County Clerk’s Office
Mail Ballot Team

Friday, October 31, 2014

PCE growth

Personal consumption expenditure per capita has grown only 1.1 percent over the past 12 months

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How Obamacare Begets Gender Inequality

How Obamacare Begets Gender Inequality

By Casey Mulligan
In the past four decades, millions of American women have entered the workforce, sought out new occupations, and embarked on professional careers. In fact, by 2013, just 18 percent of working women worked only part time. This marks a sharp reversal of conditions in 1975, when men did the vast majority of full-time work, while women were less likely to be employed at all and nearly a quarter worked 20-hours per week or less.

These gains in gender equality are threatened by two provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ironically advertised as benefitting American workers. Taken together, these policies could drive the percentage of women working only part time back to what it was 40 years ago.

The first provision is the ACA's penalty on large employers who do not offer health insurance to their full-time employees, beginning next year and going into full effect in 2016. The second relates to the eligibility rules for the law's new health insurance assistance that began this year. The ACA imposes a penalty on large employers (generally those with 50 or more workers) who fail to provide health insurance for each of their full-time employees-defined by the ACA as those working 30 hours a week or more. Because part-time employees do not count toward the penalty, the provision induces employers to reduce more of their workers to 29 hours a week or less-a group now being referred to as the "29ers."

Compounding this effect is a disincentive on the employees themselves. The penalty does not apply to businesses that offer coverage to their full-time employees. But their full-time employees are finding that they are not eligible for the ACA's new assistance with insurance premiums and deductibles because the law requires them to join their employer's plan (or a plan offered by a family member's employer).

Part-time employees are not restricted in this way, except in the increasingly rare instances that they too are offered coverage by their employer. As a result of its exclusive access to the law's new health insurance assistance, part-time employment becomes comparatively more desirable to workers, or at least less undesirable, than it was in the past.

Both of these employment disincentives are worth thousands of dollars per year and, in some cases, more than a thousand dollars per month. Both will lead to less full-time work, and even less productivity per hour of work that is performed. This is because some positions are vastly more efficient when worked full-time, and the new employment disincentives will not be enough to change that.

Nevertheless, a number of positions have traditionally been 30-to-39-hour jobs, and those who occupy these jobs typically will have less trouble adapting to a 29-hour schedule that avoids the employer penalty or allows the worker to get the ACA's new assistance. Women are at least twice as likely as men to be in those positions, which means they are twice as likely to be 29ers once the new health law goes into full effect.

Some defenders of the ACA may contend these factors will relieve many workers of the "job lock" previously associated with employer-provided health coverage, or the need to tolerate the drudgery of long hours just to keep their insurance. They may claim women are "voluntarily" leaving full-time positions to spend more time with their families, or even to pursue art, music, and other hobbies.

Their theory would make some sense if workers who left full-time employment were paying the entire cost of their decisions, but what's really happening is that taxpayers are bribing them to work less. Both female and male 29ers will be making the best of a bad situation created by public policies that take away much of the financial reward from working full time. To make matters worse, the new 29ers will be creating additional burdens for other taxpayers as the 29ers receive more non-ACA subsidies and pay less in taxes than they would as full-time workers.

These new ACA employment disincentives are just two among many factors determining the kinds of work schedules that employers offer and employees accept. Regrettably, they are likely to have the unintended consequence of turning back the clock on decades of progress women have made in the American labor market.

Casey B. Mulligan is an economics professor at the University of Chicago and author of a new working paper published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University on "The Affordable Care Act and the New Economics of Part-Time Work." He is also the author of "Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform."

Friday, October 3, 2014

Labor Market Jumps in September

The labor market really jumped in September. Part of this is rounding error on weekly hours, which went to 34.6 after six consecutive months at 34.5 (the jump from 34.4 to 34.5 can be seen by comparing January and March of this year. In Jan of this year average weekly hours jumped from 34.3 to 34.4). But it is still surprising because the jump is more than twice the amount created by rounding error.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Real PCE in August

Real personal consumption expenditures per capita grew a lot from July to August (0.5 percent in one month; annualized that's 5.7 percent). The year-over-year growth is 1.9 percent; about a quarter of that growth occurred in one month. Over the prior three years, real PCE per capita had been growing 1.3 percent per year.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Myth of Obamacare's Affordability

Whether the Affordable Care Act lives up to its name depends on how, or whether, you consider its consequences for the wider economy.

Millions of people pay a significant portion of their income for health insurance so they and their families can get good health care when they need it. The magnitude of their sacrifices demonstrates the importance that people ascribe to health care.

The Affordable Care Act attempts to help low- and middle-income families avoid some of the tough sacrifices that would be necessary to purchase health insurance without assistance. But no program can change the fundamental reality that society itself has to make sacrifices in order to deliver health care to more people. Workers and therefore production have to be taken away from other industries to beef up health care, or the workforce itself has to get bigger, or somehow people have to work more productively.

Although the ACA helps specific populations by giving them a bigger slice of the economic pie, the law diminishes the pie itself. It reduces the amount that Americans work, and it makes their work less productive. This slows growth in both personal income and gross domestic product.

In further expanding the frontiers of redistribution, the ACA reduces the benefits of employment for both employers and employees. Employers that don't provide health insurance are either subject to large penalties based on the number and types of employees that they have, or are threatened with enormous penalties when they get the opportunity to expand their business. About a quarter of the nation's employees, more than 35 million men and women, currently work for employers that don't offer health insurance. These tend to be small and midsize businesses with employees who already make less than the average American worker. The result of penalizing businesses for hiring and expanding is going to be less hiring and expanding.

Another sixth of the nation's employees—almost 25 million people—are in a full-time position that makes them ineligible for the law's new and generous assistance with health-insurance premiums and cost sharing. They are ineligible for subsidies simply because they are working full time and thereby eligible for their employers' coverage. Because the only ways for them to get the new assistance is to move to part-time status, find an employer that doesn't offer coverage, or stop working, we can expect millions of workers to make one or more of those adjustments.

Most people wouldn't give up working merely to qualify for a few thousand dollars in assistance. But it is a mistake to assume that nobody is affected by subsidies, because there are people who aren't particularly happy with working, planning to leave their job anyway, or otherwise on the fence between working and not working. A new subsidy is enough to push them over the edge or to get them to stop working sooner than they would have otherwise.

The law has effects that extend well beyond the employment rate and the average length of the workweek. People, businesses and entire sectors will jockey to reduce their new tax burdens or enhance their subsidies. Their adjustments to the new incentives will make our economy less productive and stifle wage growth, even among workers who have no direct contact with the law's penalties and subsidies.

The "29er" phenomenon is a good example of how the law harms productivity. Because ACA's "employer mandate" requires firms with 50 or more full-time workers to offer health plans to employees who work more than 30 hours a week, many employers and employees have adopted 29-hour work schedules. This is not the most productive way to arrange the workplace, but it allows employers to avoid the mandate and its penalties and helps the employees qualify for individual assistance.

All of this, and much more, exacerbates the societal problem that the economy cannot expand its health sector without giving up something else of value. A complex law like the ACA has a few provisions that encourage work, such as counting unemployment income against eligibility for health assistance. But the bulk of the law overwhelms them. The ACA as a whole will have the nation working fewer hours, and working those hours less productively.

I estimate that the ACA's long-term impact will include about 3% less weekly employment, 3% fewer aggregate work hours, 2% less GDP and 2% less labor income. These effects will be visible and obvious by 2017, if not before. The employment and hours estimates are based on the combined amount of the law's new taxes and disincentives and on historical research on the aggregate effects of each dollar of taxation. The GDP and income estimates reflect lower amounts of labor as well as the law's effects on the productivity of each hour of labor.

By the end of this decade, nearly 20 million additional Americans will have health insurance as a consequence of the law. But the ultimate economywide cost of their enrollments will be at least double what it would have been if these people had enrolled without government carrots and sticks; that is, if they had decided it was worth spending their own money on health insurance. In effect, people who aren't receiving assistance through the ACA are paying twice for the law: once as the total economic pie gets smaller and again as they receive a smaller piece.

The Affordable Care Act is weakening the economy. And for the large number of families and individuals who continue to pay for their own health care, health care is now less affordable.

Mr. Mulligan is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the author of the new e-book "Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform" (JMJ Economics, 2014).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Some fallacies never die

Posted over a year ago as Modern Wage Economics: Too Subtle for the Blogosphere?, but some fallacies never die:

Our economy uses a lot less labor than it did 10 years ago, and for good reason people are interested in the relative importance of supply and demand factors for explaining what happened to the quantity of labor.

Naturally, a supply-demand decomposition exercise is enhanced by looking at both the quantity and price of labor, also known as the wage rate. That's why my book on the recession starts off with various indicators of wage rates and their dynamics (see chapter 2 beginning on page 9).

Three or four decades of labor economics research are of great assistance in this exercise. That research tells us that the price of labor from an employer's point of view is often significantly different than cash earnings per hour, and that a reduction in labor supply could be associated with reduced cash earnings even while it was increasing employer costs:

  1. A reduction in labor supply could reduce the quality of labor, with workers putting in less effort, or doing less to maintain their skills, or become less attached to the labor market.  This tends to reduce cash earnings per hour because each hour is less productive.  These have been major factors in the analysis of women's wages, where most economist believe that women's hourly earnings increased as a consequence of supplying more (see Becker 1985, Goldin and Katz 2002, Mulligan and Rubinstein 2008, and many others). See also some of the literature on unemployment insurance such as Ljungqvist and Sargent's paper on European unemployment.
  2. A reduction in labor supply or demand could increase the average quality of labor through a composition bias.  See p. 17ff of my book and the references cited therein.
  3. Because of fringe benefits, cash hourly earnings are not the same as employer cost.  As employer health insurance expenditure has been growing over time, the growth of cash hourly earnings has substantially under-estimated the growth of employer cost.

The Incidence of Supply and Demand Impulses.

Labor economists have also long studied the incidence of supply and demand impulses: that is, the effects of supply and demand factors on both wage rates and the quantity of labor. The consensus is that: (a) labor demand is more wage elastic than labor supply and (b) labor demand is even more wage elastic in the long run than it is in the short run.

Suppose that the reduction in the quantity of labor were 50% due to demand factors and 50% due to supply factors, and that we had overcome all of the measurement issues cited above. Result (a) means that wages would fall in the short run, because supply shifts translate more into labor quantity than into wage rates while, in comparison, demand shifts translate more into wage rates than labor quantity. In this example, it would be wrong to conclude from reduced wage rates than supply is less important than demand for explaining the change in the quantity of labor.

To put it another way, if we found that wage rates (properly measured) were constant, but didn't know the relative contribution of demand and supply factors to the quantity change, result (a) tells us that the majority of the labor quantity change was due to supply factors. With a labor supply elasticity of 0.5 and labor demand elasticity of -3 (reasonably conservative short run estimates), the constant wage rate result means that 86 percent of the quantity change was due to supply factors and only 14 percent due to demand factors. In the long run, labor demand is even more wage elastic, and the share attributable to labor supply is even closer to 100%.

To put it yet another way, if it were true that labor demand explained the majority of the change in labor quantity, then employer costs (properly measured) would have fallen dramatically.

Despite all of these lessons from labor economics, blogosphere economists attempt to dissect the hourly cash earnings data to perhaps find a small and probably ill-timed reduction and jump to the conclusion that labor supply shifts have made a trivial contribution to the change in labor quantity.

Don't forget agricultural employment

The payroll report shows +142k (change from July to Aug), which seems low, but note that it excludes self-employed and agricultural workers. If you add those, it's +299k primarily because (seasonally adjusted) agricultural employment increased so much.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Real consumption

per person, it was less in July than each of the prior 4 months.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My one cent

Apple refused to list my book for $3.00 -- they listed it at $2.99.
Amazon went with the $3.00 price for about a week, and then cut it to $2.99.
BN is still charging $3.00.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The best way to read illustrated ebooks?

For multi-device users, amazon's free kindle app is nice. You can buy a book once and view the same book (including your personal bookmarks and notes) on PC, Mac, ios, android, and more. My only complaint here is that, unlike kindle for tablets and phones, kindle on PC or Mac does not let you double click one of the book's illustrations in order to enlarge it.

Apple's free ibooks app solves this problem with consistent image viewing in IOS and Mac: double tap or double click. In addition, the ibook store delivers to ipads an ipad-optimized version. For purchased books, ibooks synchronizes notes and bookmarks across all of your devices that have ibooks installed. I don't think ibooks will run on a PC, although in principle the itunes app will allow you to read an ibook that you purchased.

My work around for PC- or Mac-based kindle illustration views is to switch to (or stay in) full-screen single-column reading when I want a close look at an illustration. On a PC, the two buttons are next to each other on the kindle app bar (see the upper left in this screen shot):

On a Mac, the single-column button is the same and the full-screen button is Shift-Comm-F on the keyboard.

Fortunately, Side Effects is so cheap that you might as well buy it twice: one from amazon and another from apple ibooks!

Another approach is to closely examine my charts and data using the excel webapp on your PC or Mac.

Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform

Spending on health care has grown faster than the economy itself, even while the share of the population without health insurance was increasing. The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., Obamacare) intends to reverse these trends, but in doing so has economic side effects. Businesses are complaining about the ACA's new tax and regulatory burdens, whereas supporters say that it is a long-overdue "shot in the arm" that will promote entrepreneurship and a "more rapid economic recovery."

Positive and negative tax effects of the ACA are carefully documented. The book offers a comprehensive market analysis of the law that arrives at conclusions as to effects on work hours, productivity, and national income. It shows what the ACA means for economic performance in the years ahead, and explains why forecasters have yet to acknowledge many of the economic forces that have been put in motion.

The book contains numerous facts and economic insights that have been unnoticed by both supporters and opponents. Anyone interested in economic performance over the next several years has to understand the contents of the Affordable Care Act from a labor market perspective and this book is so far the only comprehensive and user-friendly introduction to the topic.

Browse or buy the book now! Check in early September for numerous extras and bonus features.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Available now!

Spending on health care has grown faster than the economy itself, even while the share of the population without health insurance was increasing. The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., Obamacare) intends to reverse these trends, but in doing so has economic side effects. Businesses are complaining about the ACA's new tax and regulatory burdens, whereas supporters say that it is a long-overdue "shot in the arm" that will promote entrepreneurship and a "more rapid economic recovery."

Positive and negative tax effects of the ACA are carefully documented. The book offers a comprehensive market analysis of the law that arrives at conclusions as to effects on work hours, productivity, and national income. It shows what the ACA means for economic performance in the years ahead, and explains why forecasters have yet to acknowledge many of the economic forces that have been put in motion.

The book contains numerous facts and economic insights that have been unnoticed by both supporters and opponents. Anyone interested in economic performance over the next several years has to understand the contents of the Affordable Care Act from a labor market perspective and this book is so far the only comprehensive and user-friendly introduction to the topic.

Browse or buy the book now! Check in early September for numerous extras and bonus features.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recent economic growth

Average annualized growth of real GDP per capita (FRED series A939RX0Q048SBEA)

3.2% last quarter
0.2% last two quarters (i.e., 2013-Q4 through 2014-Q2)
1.1% last three quarters
1.7% last four quarters

Note that the 0.2% does not use any data from the "bad winter" (2014-Q1): it is just the annualized percentage difference between 2013-Q4 and 2014-Q2.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Massive Tax Increase Hidden Inside Obamacare

The Massive Tax Increase Hidden Inside Obamacare

By Casey Mulligan

With this week's federal announcement that millions of middle- and low-income people are getting a surprisingly large number of taxpayer dollars attached to their participation in the Obamacare health plans, can we begin to take seriously the idea that the fiscal policies and regulations hidden in the Affordable Care Act are shrinking our economy?
Real GDP fell last quarter, but the conventional wisdom says that cold weather gets all of the blame. If we add the self-employed to payroll employment, we would see that nationwide employment fell last month for the first time in more than a year, but we are collectively ignoring that as a statistical aberration too.
At first glance it might appear that the Affordable Care Act helps people get access to health care and disproportionately benefits low-income households without many new taxes. By one estimate, the ACA's tax increases are less than 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, and less than several other hardly memorable tax increases of the postwar period. The White House suggested that health reform would largely pay for itself, without mentioning taxes that, individually or in combination, would have more than a "little effect" on the labor market.
Politicians and journalists use the term tax more narrowly than economists do, but the economic definition is needed to understand the economic effects of the ACA. Suppose, hypothetically, that the government provided a "universal" $2,000 health benefit to every person and paid for it with a tax, in the narrow sense of the word, of $4,000 per employee. Employees are half the population, so the employee taxes average $2,000 per person and are enough to pay for the universal benefit.
Now consider an alternative "targeted" approach that pays the $2,000 health benefit only to people who do not work, and gets the revenue from a $2,000 tax per employee. By excluding workers from the benefit, the targeted approach appears to spend and tax less: only $1,000 per person. But the economic result is the same because, in both systems, employees pay $2,000 more than they receive. In both systems, people who are not employed receive more than employed people do: in the universal system their lack of employment exempts them from a large tax whereas in the targeted system it exempts them from a smaller tax but also gives them access to a benefit that is withheld from workers.
Withholding benefits from people who work or earn is hardly different than telling them to pay a tax. For this reason, economists refer to benefits withheld as "implicit taxes." What really matters for labor market performance is the reward to working inclusive of implicit taxes, and not the amount of revenue delivered to the government treasury according to economically arbitrary distinctions between implicit taxes and other taxes. The targeted system gives the same economic results, including the economic harms from taxes, as the universal benefit system does but without the (politically ugly) appearance of bringing significant revenues to the government treasury.
The ACA resembles the targeted approach because it is full of implicit taxes. Many of them have remained hidden in the "fog of controversy" surrounding the law and their effects excluded from economic analyses of it. The chart below puts the ACA's new taxes in perspective of federal tax increases over the past seventy years. The taxes include federal personal income taxes (Form 1040, shown in pink), social insurance payroll taxes (gray), and various employment and implicit taxes (red).

The chart does not show revenue for the U.S. Treasury-that statistic is vulnerable to some of the arbitrary distinctions noted above-but instead shows the effect of various tax laws on the incentives for workers to earn more labor income rather than less as measured by a marginal labor income tax rate (by marginal labor income tax I mean the extra taxes paid, and subsidies forgone, as the result of working). During a period that included more than a dozen tax increases, the ACA is arguably the largest as a single piece of legislation, adding about six percentage points to the marginal tax rate faced, on average, by workers in the economy. The only way to cite larger marginal tax increases would be to combine multiple coincident laws, such as the Revenue Acts of 1950 and 1951 and the new payroll tax rate that went into effect in 1950. Even with these adjustments, the ACA is still the third largest marginal tax rate hike during the seventy years.
Another feature of the ACA that distinguishes it from other large marginal tax rate rises is that the former is, by law, entirely permanent whereas essentially the only other permanent ones shown in Figure 1.1 are the payroll tax rate changes.
Let's not be surprised that, as we implement a new law that taxes jobs and incomes, we are ending up with fewer jobs and less income.

Casey B. Mulligan is the author of The Redistribution Recession (2012) along with the forthcoming ebook Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform. Mulligan is also the recipient of the Manhattan Institute's 2014 Hayek Prize.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Employment just went down

Please don't forget that the establishment survey excludes agricultural workers and many of the self-employed. The establishment survey has a lot going for it, but only for the part of the economy it covers. For anyone interested in the national economy, I recommend using the establishment survey plus unincorporated self-employed (from the household survey, seasonally adjusted) plus agricultural workers (also from the household survey, seasonally adjusted). See also the BLS on this matter.

One of the critiques of the household survey is that it is noisy month-to-month -- I agree. But my proposed augmentation of the establishment survey is not particularly noisy because the vast majority of its employment is from the establishment survey.

Changes from April 2014 to May 2014 (100s of workers):

+217 establishment survey
-213 unincorporated self-employed
-109 agricultural workers (excluding self-employed)
-105 National employment change

[The average monthly change since December 2013 has been +152: just keeping up with population growth. The avg monthly change in 2013 was +171. This employment measure has increased 36 out of the past 40 months (going back to 2010, not counting this month). This month's change is 1.9 standard deviations below the average change since 2010.]
[2010 was the labor-market's low point by most employment measures. But unincorp self-employment has fallen another 567,000 since then. If you use the establishment survey, you miss that.]

Monday, March 24, 2014

Individual mandate penalties beginning to be paid (includes IRS link)

Matt Drudge famously said he's paying his.

Here are the IRS instructions, where self-employed taxpayers are told to consider including their 2014 individual mandate penalty with their estimated tax payments beginning April 15, 2014.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sell your copy of the Redistribution Recession!

sell your hard copy of the Redistribution Recession! There is a severe shortage and as far as I can tell used copies are going for $100.

When the publisher starts shipping again next month (they promised me that they will never charge more than $40), I recommend buying multiple copies so that you get more revenue during the next shortage.

If you don't already have a copy: what were you thinking?!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The ACA and wages

The ACA reduces hourly employer cost in at least 3 ways:

(1) employer penalty. I doubt the national accountants will count this as employee comp, so it will lower measured employer cost even if it raises marg prod of labor
(2) productivity. the aca changes the allocation of factors to sectors and the allocation of spending to sectors. my best estimate is that it lowers productivity one percent
(3) for large segments of the population, quasi-fixed costs of employment are amortized over fewer hours. ie, part-time jobs pay less per hour than full-time jobs do.

Trevor and I have a paper with two of these effects. "wedges, wages and productivity under the ACA"

A paper with the third is almost ready for NBER wp. Trevor also looks at the productivity losses from inducing employers to keep FT employment below 50.

Far more important than any of this is what the ACA does to AFTER-TAX wages: sends them to zero in too many cases. I'd like to see the empirical labor economists try to take the log of that!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cutler and Pollack are not with the White House Economists

Both Cutler and Pollack got the wrong impression that I called them dishonest. I did not write the WSJ article and did not call them dishonest. I told the WSJ interviewer that the 2011 letter authors and signers were unaware of the disincentives in the ACA:

there was "a general lack of awareness" and economists simply didn't realize everything that government was doing to undermine incentives for work. "You have to dig into it and see it,"

Regarding the White House economists and their allies this week (neither Cutler nor Pollack are in that group. Hardly any of the letter signers are either) who now praise the market-contracting/drudgery-avoiding attributes of their policies, I said "it looks like they're trying to leverage the lack of economic education in their audience by making these sorts of points."

To be clear, Cutler and Pollack did not and are not trying to leverage the lack of economic education ... That's Furman, Krugman, etc.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

CBO moves toward my estimate

I have predicted that the ACA would contract the labor market about 3 percent. Maybe more, maybe less, but that was my best guess. I continue to work on it.

Meanwhile, CBO was saying 0.5 percent, and my critics (rather than giving an economic argument), point to the "nonpartisan CBO's" estimate as proof that I am out on the fringes.

Today CBO revised -- tripled -- its estimate to 1.5 percent. They still have a bit of the economics wrong, but it is a major step that they now acknowledge most (but not all) of the incentives that have been identified, and their analysis is vastly closer to mine now.

CBO should be credited for honestly re-assessing perhaps their most cited estimate ever. I imagine that it might have been tempting to stick with the original. But CBO Director Elmendorf was one of my teachers in college, and knowing him I expected that a better estimate would be forthcoming as research increasingly clarified what was missing in the original.

I also give the CBO credit for never falling into the trap that ACA = Romneycare, ergo the ACA's labor market effects are minimal. HHS will be asked to answer the CBO's revision, and I guarantee you that they will tempt the rest of America to fall in the trap.

The real problem for America was not the CBO estimate but that such a sweeping law was passed before the best economists in the nation could digest the incentives and unintended costs that it contained.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Prediction Comes True, Belatedly

A year and a half ago, I predicted "I suspect that ... in less than a year major carriers will have to reduce their monthly cellular charges to be much closer to Straight Talk [the Walmart cell services plan]." (emphasis added)

I'm not sure when T-Mobile cut their prices, but AT&T did not, until now.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

She's a 29er

Copyright, The New York Times Company

Much has been made of the burdens of the Affordable Care Act on healthy young men, but young women are the ones most likely to see the law push them out of full-time work.

A “29er” refers to someone working 29 hours per week, the maximum that an hourly employee can work and still be considered part time by the federal government, as defined under the Affordable Care Act.

Before 2014, when the new federal definition took effect, Census Bureau data suggest that hardly anyone worked exactly 29 hours a week: about one in 1,000. Only six in 1,000 worked 26 to 29 hours a week.

The Affordable Care Act requires that, beginning next January, large employers provide health insurance for their full-time employees (by the federal definition) or pay a penalty per full-time employee on the payroll. The annual penalty is $2,000 and, unlike employee salaries and benefits, is not deductible from business taxes. Small employers do not owe a penalty, unless they cross the 50-employee threshold, in which case the annual penalty is $40,000 for having that 50th employee. Subsequent hires would each carry a $2,000 annual penalty.

Part-time employees do not create a health-insurance requirement or a penalty for their employer, which gives large and small employers an incentive to reduce at least some employees’ hours to 29 hours. A number of employers plan to do exactly this.

But the incentives are not limited to penalty avoidance by employers, and began this month. Employees in families with income of less than 400 percent of the poverty line will lose access to generous federal subsidies if they make themselves eligible for employer health coverage by working full time at an employer that offers coverage to such employees.

In other words, employees may have something to gain, or less to lose than they did before this year, by limiting themselves to a 29-hour work schedule. For full-time salaried workers (as opposed to hourly workers) the federal definition is those who work more than three days a week. (For the purposes of discussion, I will refer to the three-day limit as “29 hours,” although in practice it may be, say, a 26-hour schedule).

As the new law goes into full effect the next couple of years, I expect that more than 2 percent of workers will be 29ers, an increase by more than a factor of 10. Moreover, as the labor market adjusts to avoid penalties and enhance subsidies, the adjustments will tend to be those that are least costly.

One of the least costly ways to move full-time workers to the 29er group would be to focus on those who already work slightly more than 29 hours. It is usually less costly for a 35-hour-per-week worker to cut hours to 29 than for a 55-hour-per-week worker to do so.

I used the Census Bureau’s data to put together a sample of people likely to be 29ers over the next couple of years, based on working 30 to 37 hours per week before this year and not having health insurance available through a spouse (if married). Women outnumber men more than 2 to 1 among likely 29ers. The 29ers are also likely to be less than 30 years old.

Naturally, working fewer hours means less pay. By disproportionately reducing women’s work hours, health reform may have the unintended consequence of increasing the gap between men’s and women’s wages and salaries.

[Note: this does not mean that women are "hurt" by the ACA ... it just means that (on average) they experience the ACA's costs differently than men will]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Just Compensation for Jurors

Copyright, The New York Times Company

“Jury service is a serious, meaningful and important responsibility,” says Cook County Court in Illinois and many other courts in the United States. Yet the courts pay jurors far less than minimum wage. In Cook County, jurors are paid $17.20 a day; working eight hours at the state’s minimum wage would pay almost quadruple that.

Employers are sometimes forced by state law to pay jurors while they serve the court, but that is no help for the self-employed, students and people without jobs.

Jurors are selected randomly from state-compiled lists of residents and forced to participate unless excused by the court for specific circumstances, such as a medical condition that prevents service. People who do not report for duty can be punished at to the court’s discretion, including jail time.

With random selection, low pay, medical excuses and the potential for severe punishment, a jury summons has a lot in common with a Vietnam-era draft notice, although, of course, the skill and activities associated with the service itself is far different for jurors than for Vietnam soldiers.

Many people summoned for jury duty search desperately for excuses. Their efforts increase the burden on the court system, which has to summon and process a large number of people in order to empanel its juries.

The court system might alleviate these problems by following the example of the modern military: recruit people for service by paying them far more than minimum wage. Jurors could still be selected randomly, but with a nice paycheck waiting for them, they would not try as hard (or at all) to be excused by the court.

Critics of a market-oriented recruitment system might say the pool of jurors would not fully represent the population because, among other things, people getting high pay in their normal jobs would be less willing to serve on a jury because of the loss of pay. But let’s not pretend that the conscripted jurors we have today are a random sample of the population.

If jurors were paid at a generous hourly rate, might they deliberate longer? And would that be a good thing or not? If it were desirable to shorten juror deliberation time, jurors could be paid a flat rate for that part of their service.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the taking of private property “for public use, without just compensation.” Did the founding fathers really think that it was much worse to take property without just compensation than to take a citizen’s time?

Taking property and drafting citizens into government service without market compensation have many of the same economic problems: they fail to spread the burden of supporting government activity, they encourage socially wasteful avoidance behaviors, and enforcement runs the risk of special treatment for the politically connected.

The modern military pays soldiers with both appreciation and money. Jurors should be paid that way, too.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Do Economic Ideas Matter? The Case of the All-Volunteer Army

Copyright, The New York Times Company

It is easy to exaggerate the importance of economic ideas in shaping public policy. The United States’ move to an all-volunteer army is a good example.

Public policies change over time, as with the emergence of the income tax early in the 20th century, deregulation of airlines and banking and the recruiting methods of the military. In each instance, economists and other intellectuals offer arguments and research results that help inform the policy change.

But intellectuals often press for policy changes that never happen, and I suspect that a number of interesting and helpful policy proposals are hardly researched or discussed because they are deemed “politically infeasible.” So it’s possible that – for reasons related to new costs, technologies and so on – policies would change even if intellectuals said nothing about their ideas and policy research results. Or that scholars’ ideas are sometimes only a minor force among many that drive public policy changes.

Military conscription is a case in point. Economists were studying the topic in the 1960s. At that time, the United States military had long recruited much of its manpower through conscription, forcing able young men to join or inducing them to “volunteer” to avoid being forced into service.

Economists tended to appreciate an alternative approach: recruiting the entire military through the market mechanism, offering soldiers enough pay and benefits that they willingly give up civilian activities in order to join. But it seemed unlikely that politicians would come around to their thinking, which is why most economists spent their time researching other subjects (the economist Gary Becker wrote an article about how he abandoned his study).

But the late Prof. Walter Oi and a handful of others (some of the work has been collected in “Conscription“) plowed ahead. Professor Oi showed how the Defense Department budget and work-force efficiency would be different if the government eliminated the draft and recruited its personnel on a voluntary basis.

Less than a decade later, the United States did in fact eliminate the draft. It seems, as the economists David Henderson and Steve Landsburg put it, that young men of today should thank Professor Oi and the few other economists whose work helped end military conscription in the United States.

But regardless of what economists were saying, I suspect that the military and the politicians who direct them would have changed the policy anyway, because the costs and benefits of the draft were changing, in large part because of technological progress. By the 21st century, the United States was fighting with more capital intensity and less labor intensity than it ever had.

Both economic theory and evidence on the costs and benefits of conscription suggest that the size of the force is a primary determinant of whether a country uses the draft to recruit any of its military personnel, whatever the state of intellectual debate on the issue.

Compare 1971 (during the Vietnam War), when the armed forces totaled about one-sixth of the male population 15 to 24 years old, with 2003 (a time of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), when armed forces were only one-fifteenth of the male population that age and an even lesser share of the total population (because by then large numbers of women were serving in a wide range of military occupations). Prof. Andrei Shleifer and I found that the change in United States policy between 1971 and 2003 lines up well with international country patterns of military recruitment, suggesting that costs and benefits may have been behind the policy change, rather than economic research.

(This is not to say that conscription ever makes sense, only that its net costs are less when the fraction of men to be recruited are greater.)

Economists may hope that their ideas matter. Perhaps ideas help accelerate policy changes that would eventually occur because of the costs and benefits, or help prevent nations from slipping back into old policy mistakes. (I suspect that another of Professor Oi’s important ideas – that full-time work can be more efficient than part-time work – will be policy-relevant in the coming years as the Affordable Care Act distorts hiring toward part-time positions.)

Nevertheless, economics ironically predicts that actual costs and benefits probably drive more policy changes than economic ideas do.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Policies That Discourage Full-Time Work

Copyright, The New York Times Company

The payroll tax holiday was an important factor helping the workweek recover after the recession, but the holiday is over and new public policies are pushing in the other direction.

Full-time positions pay more than part-time positions, even on an hourly basis.  Part-time positions require less time away from family, schooling, etc., which makes the choice of full-time versus part-time work a trade-off between income received and the amount of the time commitment.

A higher income tax or payroll tax rate tilts the balance toward part-time work because it reduces an important benefit of full-time work: extra income to spend. A lower rate does the opposite.

You might say that work schedules are set by employers, and that workers have no say in the matter.  But that ignores the fact that employers compete for employees, which is why many employers spend resources to offer health coverage, flexible scheduling and other fringe benefits that employees find attractive.

Historically, employers have responded to high income tax rates by creating part-time positions, especially when large numbers of potential employers were facing those rates.

For many years, the Social Security earnings limit reduced the reward to full-time work among elderly people, because a large part of their Social Security benefits were withheld when beneficiaries earned more than the limit.  As a result of the income tax implicit in the Social Security rules, many businesses created part-time positions that were attractive to older workers because their earnings stayed below the limit, and many accepted them.

Between 2007 and 2010, expansions of the food stamp program, known as SNAP, made part-time work increasingly attractive for those who would face the program’s income limit if working full time. About the same time, federal mortgage modification guidelines acted as income-tax increases on homeowners who owed more on their mortgage than their home was worth, because the more the homeowner earned, the less the mortgage balance was reduced. As a result, a few people found part-time work to be a more effective way of cutting their debt.

I have quantified the disincentives for full-time work and their evolution, accounting for the fraction of the population taking part in these and other programs and showing the results in the chart below.  A higher tax rate means less incentive to work full time and more incentive to work part time.

Source: Author's calculations. Source: Author’s calculations.

Between 2007 and 2012, there had been little net change in the tax rate on full-time work because the 2011-12 payroll tax holiday largely offset the increases from SNAP and mortgage modification. I think this is an important reason that weekly work hours recovered from the recession much more quickly than employment has.

But a year ago the payroll tax holiday expired and, more important, beginning this week incomes earned will reduce the subsidies that families might hope to receive as part of the new insurance plans created by the Affordable Care Act.

For these reasons, the recovery of the workweek from the recession cannot be taken for granted.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Shorter Workweeks are Likely in the New Year

Copyright, The New York Times Company

Three economic forces are pushing toward shorter workweeks for employees during the new year.

The red line in the chart below is a monthly index of the employment-to-population ratio, normalized to a value of 100 in December 2007, when the recession began. In this series, each employed person counts the same, regardless of how many hours she or he works.

Average weekly hours of private employees (blue line) have returned to the level last seen before the recession of 2008-9, shown as gray area. But the percentage of Americans with jobs (red line) plummeted in the two years after the recession began and has remained steady since then.Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Average weekly hours of private employees (blue line) have returned to the level last seen before the recession of 2008-9, shown as gray area. But the percentage of Americans with jobs (red line) plummeted in the two years after the recession began and has remained steady since then.

By that measure, there has been hardly any labor market recovery because, as indicated by an index value of 93, employment per capita still remains 7 percent below what it was before the recession began.

Average weekly hours of private-sector employees (the blue line) returned comparatively quickly to near their prerecession level and have maintained that level over the last two years.

I predict that average weekly work hours will decline again over the next year because fiscal policy is now switching from penalizing part-time work to rewarding it.

Since 2008, government benefits for the long-term unemployed have served as a penalty for part-time work, because unemployment benefits are largely – if not entirely – withheld when an unemployed person accepts a part-time position. Moreover, people moving to part-time work from either full-time work or unemployment will find that the move renders them eligible for fewer benefits the next time they are laid off from a job.

Many of the part-time-work penalties disappear this week when the federal government stops paying long-term unemployment benefits (short-term unemployment benefits will continue, and they embody some of the same incentives), although the penalties would reappear should Congress resurrect the program.

Full-time work has traditionally offered health and other benefits that part-time jobs rarely do, and those benefits have kept a number of workers in full-time positions. The Affordable Care Act aims to end that advantage, by giving workers opportunities to obtain insurance outside the workplace.

In addition, in some cases the new insurance opportunities can be so inexpensive compared with employer insurance that people stand to, paradoxically, have more disposable income from working part time than they do from working full time.

The third economic force is that in January 2015 the Affordable Care Act begins to penalize employers that do not offer affordable health insurance, except that part-time employees (working less than 30 hours or four days a week) are exempt for the purposes of determining the penalty. This is another reason that part-time work – especially positions with 29-hour weekly work schedules – would increase at the expense of full-time work, at least if the mandate goes ahead as planned.

All together, it looks like many of the jobs in the new year will involve less work.