Why Not Push Back Retirement?

Link:https://www.city-journal.org/article/review-of-work-retire-repeat-by-teresa-ghilarducci

Excerpt:

Before she exited the Republican primary race, Nikki Haley advocated gradually increasing the retirement age to match the growth in life expectancy. Her political rivals swiftly criticized her proposal, but it enjoys widespread support among those looking to rein in soaring entitlement costs. A new book by economist Teresa Ghilarducci, Work, Retire, Repeat, offers reasons to seek an alternative path to reform.

Pay-as-you-go retirement systems such as Social Security or Medicare use taxes on current workers to pay benefits to retirees. Even if individuals on average fully pay for what they later get, such an arrangement will not be sustainable if declining birth rates and rising life expectancy reduce the ratio of workers to retirees. In 1960, there were five workers for each retiree. By 2000, the ratio had fallen to three-to-one. By 2040, there will be only two workers for each retiree. Raising the retirement age would both reduce the cost of benefits and increase payroll tax revenues to pay for them.

But Ghilarducci’s book argues against pushing back retirement. She suggests that, whereas policymaking elites view retirement as boring, low-paid workers typically can’t wait for relief from “heavy lifting, crushing work schedules, arbitrary changes in work duties, and the fear of being laid off.”

Ghilarducci acknowledges that employment can be a valuable source of meaning, personal identity, achievement, social interaction, and structure in people’s lives. But she disputes the claim that the correlation of retirement with declining mental health proves that it is bad for people.

….

By allowing younger workers to opt for a lower payroll tax rate for the remainder of their careers, in return for a uniform safety-net benefit when they reach retirement, Social Security could be made more effective at preventing poverty while also being less of a burden on the young. Such a benefit structure would likely also motivate higher-earning workers to retire later than the poor—the arrangement for which Ghilarducci provides her strongest arguments.

Author(s): Chris Pope

Publication Date: 14 Mar 2020

Publication Site: City Journal

Muni Bond Games and the IRS’ Lurking Arbitrage Vampires

Link: https://www.governing.com/finance/muni-bond-games-and-the-irs-lurking-arbitrage-vampires

Excerpt:

For example, Oakland, Calif., cleverly figured out in 1985 that it could issue tax-exempt bonds to fund its underwater pension plan, the proceeds of which it in turn would invest in normal pension portfolio holdings like taxable stocks and corporate bonds with a higher long-term return. It was a strategy almost certain to make a profit over time, even with the ups and downs in the stock market, but it didn’t take long for the IRS to put an end to that ploy as an abuse of the tax exemption. Thereafter, the IRS ruled, such pension bonds must be taxable.

Likewise, the arbitrage police have played cops-and-robbers with clever public financiers who invest their cash during construction periods at interest rates higher than their tax-exempt cost of money. Using today’s interest rate levels, for example, a tax-exempt 20-year AAA-rated bond can be issued with coupons around three-and-a-half percent and the proceeds reinvested in Treasury bills and notes at 4 to 5 percent. In almost any year like this one, there’s a profit to be gleaned when borrowing tax-exempt and reinvesting at taxable rates.

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There is also a new controversy brewing in a niche sector of the muni bond market, in which issuers of taxable bonds are finding an opportunity to refinance at lower tax-exempt rates. Investors are suing them. It’s premature to guess how this issue will be resolved in the courts, but worth watching.

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As interest rates drift lower in tandem with hoped-for disinflation, muni bond professionals are starting to chat up the idea that soon we’ll see a wave of advance refundings, in which a municipality can refinance its debt at a lower interest rate. In corporate America, the finance team must usually wait until the issue’s maturity or call date before refinancing. In muni-land, however, there is a unique situation that is peculiar to the tax-exempt world: the opportunity to issue new bonds to replace the old ones at a lower interest rate before their scheduled call date — typically within 10 years after issuance — by setting up an escrow fund to pay off the original debt when it is callable.

It doesn’t take a math or market genius to figure out that this advance refunding strategy is susceptible to abuses. In theory and previously in practice, it could be repeated several times over the life of the original bonds: wash, rinse and repeat. So the IRS caught on to this and Congress put a limit — of one — on such deals. To accommodate this unique feature of the muni market, the Treasury Department even created a special class of its own securities, known as the State and Local Government Series (SLGS, or “slugs” in industry jargon), which bear interest rates equal to the new borrowing rate to preclude the arbitrage profit gambit.

The political challenge for municipal officials today is that underwriters and advisers are keen to promote these advance refundings as soon as they become feasible. Some will compete with each other to make the first pitch to win an engagement even if it’s not optimal longer term. The motto of some hucksters is “whoever gets to the decision-makers first, wins.” All they really want is the engagement fees; to them, a dollar earned today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow, so they get lathered up without necessarily showing their clients the potential to save even more if they wait a couple years for even lower rates. This year and next could be just such a time period, depending on when you think the next national recession will occur.

Mostly it will be the muni bonds sold in 2022 and early 2023, when interest rates were peaking (above 4 percent on AAA paper and maybe 5 percent for lower ratings), that the advance-refunding promoters will pitch. Just remember that the IRS rules now prohibit multiple advance refundings: It’s one bite of the apple, and there will be an opportunity cost for jumping the gun ahead of lower long-term interest rates in future years. Although short-term interest rates are expected to decline, it’s not so obvious that the longer end of the Treasury and muni bond yield curves will follow in this business cycle, at least until the next recession. Refundings are almost always timely in recessions, but can be premature in the middle of an interest rate cycle.

Author(s): Girard Miller

Publication Date: 13 Mar 2024

Publication Site: Governing

Can Baby Bonds Fight the Wealth Gap and Racial Inequality? Connecticut Aims to Find Out.

Link: https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/can-baby-bonds-fight-the-wealth-gap-and-propel-racial-equality-connecticut-aims-to-find-out

Excerpt:

Connecticut has made history as the first state to implement a baby bonds program — fully funded for 12 years of babies.

The state will invest $3,200 for each baby covered by HUSKY, the state’s Medicaid program – that’s about 15,000 babies a year and a whopping 36% of the state’s children. Kids are automatically enrolled; no action is required. Upon reaching adulthood (18-30), participants can claim funds for specific wealth-and-opportunity-building purposes like higher education, a home purchase, or starting a business in the state. To receive the funds, they have to be Connecticut residents and need to complete a financial literacy course (hopefully not one funded by self-serving Wall Street firms). The initial $3,200 investment is anticipated to grow to $11,000 – $24,000, depending on when claims are filed.

Turning the idea of baby bonds into reality was a rocky road: the Democratic-led Connecticut General Assembly passed the bill in 2021, championed by former Democratic Treasurer Shawn Wooden. However, Governor Lamont and his team initially opposed the program’s funding, citing concerns over borrowing more than $50 million annually. Internal conflict heated up, as revealed in a January 2023 investigation by the Connecticut Mirror, exposing tensions between Wooden and the governor’s staff. Yet, following the publication, the situation took an unexpected turn. The program became a reality.

The sticking point of funding was solved by a plan to use a $393 million reserve fund established in 2019 during the restructuring of the state’s cash-strapped pension fund for municipal teachers. Originally designed to cover shortfalls in pension fund contributions, this reserve could be repurposed. To safeguard the pension system and meet ratings agencies’ requirements, a $12 million insurance policy was necessary, leaving approximately $381 million available for investment in the baby bonds program.

Author(s): Lynn Parramore

Publication Date: 27 Feb 2024

Publication Site: Institute for New Economic Thinking

How Should the Government Negotiate Medicare Drug Prices? A Guide for the Perplexed

Link:https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/how-should-the-government-negotiate-medicare-drug-prices-a-guide-for-the-perplexed

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Excerpt:

Now, at last, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the federal government will be allowed to negotiate a “maximum fair price” for drugs covered by Medicare Part D. This historical change, taking place in the face of intense industry opposition, incrementally reverses policies that have prohibited the government from engaging in price negotiations since Medicare Part D was first established in 2003. While only ten drugs will be subject to negotiation in the first year of the IRA and 90 over the first five years, negotiations are now ongoing.

….

It has been suggested that the government should negotiate for value-based pricing that would benchmark the Medicare Part D price measures of the health benefit provided to those using these drugs. This would be analogous to the approach currently used by most European countries for drug pricing. We believe this approach is inadequate and fails to provide the public with a return on the massive US government investments in biomedical research related to these drugs that enabled these products to be developed and commercialized in the first place.

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In our new INET working paper, we extend these analyses to the ten drugs selected for Medicare price negotiation in the first year of the IRA. Our analysis reveals that the NIH spent $11.7 billion on basic or applied research related to the drugs selected for Medicare price negotiations, representing a median investment cost of $895.4 million per drug and, by making this research available to industry, saving industry a median of $1,485 million per drug. While data on industry investments in these ten drugs is not publicly available, this level of NIH investment is comparable to reported investment by industry in the drugs approved from 2010 to 2019.

Paper PDF: https://www.ineteconomics.org/uploads/papers/WP_219-Federal-spending-on-drugs-Ledley-et-al-final.pdf

Author(s): Fred Ledley

Publication Date: 4 Mar 2024

Publication Site: Institute for New Economic Thinking

Government Unions Target Fiscal Sanity in Connecticut

Link: https://www.nationalreview.com/2024/02/government-unions-target-fiscal-sanity-in-connecticut/

Excerpt:

Connecticut taxpayers, saddled with a pension system for state workers and teachers marked by decades of underfunding, glimpsed a ray of hope in 2017 when legislators embarked on a path toward accountability and fiscal discipline by enacting “fiscal guardrails.”

Now, state unions under the umbrella of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition are clamoring for the removal of the fiscal guardrails that were constructed to prevent the same unions from driving taxpayers over the cliff. The staggering state debt of more than $80 billion, including unfunded pension debt from the state workers’ and teachers’ pension funds, bonded debt, and health-care liabilities, was the result of years of irresponsibility and political horse-trading with state unions that were all too eager to negotiate benefits without a sustainable funding plan.

…..

Connecticut has long been a high-income per capita state and also imposes one of the country’s most burdensome tax systems. Yet it still managed to accumulate the highest state debt per resident. The 2017 bipartisan fiscal guardrails constituted a recognition that the previous decade’s cycle of budget shortfalls, followed by significant tax increases, was simply unsustainable.

The guardrails were codified in 2023, and the general assembly unanimously voted to extend them for another five years. Their very effectiveness in slowing spending growth has made them susceptible to attack from state unions.

Author(s): Frank Ricci and Bryce Chinault

Publication Date: 13 Feb 2024

Publication Site: National Review Online

The Limits of Taxing the Rich

Link:https://manhattan.institute/article/the-limits-of-taxing-the-rich

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Excerpt:

Sanders’s agenda is not limited to taxes on corporations and wealthy families. The campaign also proposed to partially finance Medicare-for-All through 4.6% of GDP in new tax revenues from broad-based payroll taxes and tax-preference eliminations (within health care). However, even if one uses the inflated revenue figure of 8.6% of GDP (4.0% from the wealthy and 4.6% from broad-based taxes), it still falls far short of financing Sanders’s spending promises. Sanders proposed $23 trillion in new taxes over the 2021–30 period, yet also proposed a $30 trillion Medicare-for-All plan, $30 trillion government job guarantee, $16 trillion climate initiative, and $11 trillion for free public college tuition, full student-loan forgiveness, Social Security expansion, housing, infrastructure, paid family leave, and K–12 education. That is $87 trillion in spending promises, on top of a baseline budget deficit that, at the time, was forecast at $13 trillion over the decade.[104] Even the rosiest revenue estimates of Sanders’s tax policies would cover only a small fraction of his spending promises (see Figure 9).

At the same time, Sanders has obfuscated the funding shortfall by: 1) regularly claiming that his tax policies can cover all his spending promises, even as official scores show otherwise; and 2) proposing most spending increases separately, in order to make each one appear individually affordable within his broader tax agenda.

SummarySome progressives suggest that Bernie Sanders has identified extraordinary potential revenues from taxing the rich. However, his proposed tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals show revenues of 4% of GDP—and that is before accounting for constitutional challenges and unrealistic tax rates that far exceed the consensus of revenue-maximizing rates. Given behavioral and economic responses, the total potential tax revenues are (at most) 2% of GDP, and possibly far less. Indeed, leading progressive tax officials assume plausible tax rates and revenues far below those of Sanders’s proposals. Even assuming Sanders’s full static revenue estimate and including his steep middle-class tax proposals would not come close to paying for his spending agenda. The contention that Sanders has unlocked an enormous tax-the-rich revenue source is false.

Author(s): Brian Riedl

Publication Date: 21 Sept 2023

Publication Site: Manhattan Institute

The Rich Aren’t Rich Enough to Balance the Federal Budget

Link:https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-rich-arent-rich-enough-to-balance-the-federal-budget-with-tax-increases-60969410

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Excerpt:

As budget deficits surge toward the stratosphere, Congress will soon have to get serious about savings proposals. Yet reforming Social Security and Medicare—the leading drivers of long-term deficits—remains a political nonstarter. Neither party is willing to raise middle-class taxes. And cutting defense and social spending would save at most $200 billion annually from deficits that are projected to approach $3 trillion by 2034.

That leaves one option: Tax the rich. It won’t be nearly enough.

There are a few excessive tax loopholes and undertaxed corporations that lawmakers could address. It’s farcical, however, to suggest that the tax-the-rich pot of gold is large enough to rein in our deficits and finance new spending programs. Seizing every dollar of income earned over $500,000 wouldn’t balance the budget. Liquidating every dollar of billionaire wealth would fund the federal government for only nine months.

In a study for the Manhattan Institute, I set upper-income tax rates at their revenue-maximizing level, while paring back tax loopholes and fighting tax evasion. As background, the Congressional Budget Office projects that our budget deficits—which currently exceed 7% of gross domestic project—will surpass 10% of GDP over the next three decades. My research shows that the “tax the rich” model would raise at most 2% of GDP in additional revenue over the long term.

Author(s): Brian Riedl

Publication Date: 22 Jan 2024

Publication Site: WSJ, op-ed

Fixing Medicare Starts With Cracking Down On A Multibillion-Dollar Catheter Scam

Link: https://thefederalist.com/2024/02/20/fixing-medicare-starts-with-cracking-down-on-a-multibillion-dollar-catheter-scam/?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fixing-medicare-starts-with-cracking-down-on-a-multibillion-dollar-catheter-scam

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Excerpt:

The New York Times reported recently about a sharp spike in Medicare spending on catheters, amid numerous signs that scammers have targeted that benefit to bilk the government out of taxpayer funds. With Medicare rapidly approaching insolvency, the problem is twofold: Criminals still consider the program such an easy source of cash — because the feds do such a poor job at finding and catching the crooks. 

Times reporters interviewed several seniors explaining how they had been billed for catheters they never received and do not need or use. It also noted that the number of Medicare beneficiary accounts billed for catheters rose roughly nine-fold last year, from 50,000 to 450,000. 

The pattern of Medicare spending on catheters echoes the increase in beneficiaries billed. Based on this graph from the Times story, it doesn’t take a doctorate in economics to realize that something fishy has happened regarding payments for catheters — and that, assuming most or all of the increase is due to fraud, Medicare has already given the scammers billions of dollars.

Over and above whether and when the feds can catch the scammers, the real question is: How did this happen? Or, given the federal government’s history of permitting fraud in federal health care programs, how does this keep happening?

Author(s): Christopher Jacobs

Publication Date: 16 Feb 2024

Publication Site: The Federalist

Trends in Mandatory Spending

Link:https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R44641

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Excerpt:

In FY2023, mandatory spending accounts for an estimated 63% of total federal spending. Social Security alone accounts for about 21% of federal spending. Medicare and the federal share of Medicaid together account for another 25% of federal spending. Therefore, spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid now makes up almost half of total federal spending.

These figures do not reflect the implicit cost of tax expenditures, which are revenue losses attributable to provisions of the federal tax laws that allow a special exclusion, exemption, or deduction from gross income or provide a special credit, a preferential tax rate, or a deferral of tax liability.8 As with mandatory spending, tax policy is not controlled by annual appropriations acts, but by other types of legislation.

Author(s): Congressional Research Service

Publication Date: last updated 7 Nov 2023

Publication Site: U.S. Congress

What do rising interest rates mean for government debt?

Link: https://lizfarmer.substack.com/p/rising-interest-rates-mean-for-governments?utm_source=post-email-title&publication_id=560793&post_id=135712385&isFreemail=false

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Excerpt:

The higher the interest rates, the more costly the financing of a new project is over the long run, thus increasing pressure on the municipal budget.

The example below compares the cost of a 20-year, $10 million debt issuance at different rates. “Coupons” refer to the interest rate that bondholders get back on their investment. “PV” stands for “present value,” or the face value of the bonds when they’re issued.

Author(s): Martin Feinstein

Publication Date: 18 Aug 2023

Publication Site: Long Story Short, Liz Farmer’s Substack

D.C. to Silicon Valley: Drop Dead

Link: https://www.city-journal.org/article/d-c-to-silicon-valley-drop-dead

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Excerpt:

For venture capitalists and startup entrepreneurs, 2023 was a year dedicated to the destructive phase of Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction. Silicon Valley Bank collapsed in the second-largest bank failure in American history, 400,000 tech jobs were eliminated in what Wired dubbed “The Great Tech Layoffs,” and dozens of high-potential startups transformed from unicorns into “zombies.”

…..

It’s no surprise that the startup industry needed to retrench—that’s been clear to observers for some time. What is surprising, however, is the reaction of policymakers in Washington, D.C., who apparently see this moment of tech-industry weakness as an opportune time to hobble the innovation economy. Take the mess that’s become of Section 174 of the Internal Revenue Code. For decades, this section has allowed companies to expense their research and development costs for software in the current year, which means that salaries paid to software engineers are entirely deductible upfront. That’s a critical calculation for early-stage tech startups, since development costs are high and revenues are low at inception.

But as negotiators were finalizing the 2017 tax reform, they ran into a quandary: they needed to find an accounting gimmick that would add revenue to the bill so that it would be budget-neutral in the ensuing decade and pass muster with Congress’s arcane budget reconciliation process. Among other components, negotiators settled on a poison pill: five years on, starting in 2023, Section 174 accounting benefits would radically shrink, suddenly choking off the cash flow for America’s most innovative companies.

No one considered that the punishing provision would arrive just when startup innovation is shriveling in the face of higher Fed interest rates after the inflation-stoking over-exuberance of the Covid-19 economyIndustry publications and commentators have warned about the impending doom for more than a year. This week, a bipartisan group of legislators offered a path forward, coupling an antidote to the R&D poison pill with an expansion of child tax credits. But with days to go before companies must start calculating their taxes, the prospects are dim that Congress will pass the fix.

Author(s): Danny Crichton

Publication Date: 18 Jan 2024

Publication Site: City Journal

The Fed Is Very Concerned Over Spending and Interest on the National Debt

Link: https://mishtalk.com/economics/the-fed-is-very-concerned-over-spending-and-interest-on-the-national-debt/

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Excerpt:

  • The current setup is nothing like the situation following WWII. Don’t expect another baby boom.
  • Instead, expect a massive wave of boomer retirements (already started) that will pressure Medicare and Social Security.
  • Depending on the kindness of foreigners to increase demand for US treasuries is not exactly a great plan.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) will undoubtedly increase productivity. But that is not going to offset the willingness of Congress to spend more and more money on wars, defense, foreign aid, child tax credits, free education, and other free money handouts, while trying to be the world’s policeman.

Author(s): Mike Shedlock

Publication Date: 12 Feb 2024

Publication Site: Mish Talk