California Lawmakers Unanimously Approve the State’s First Basic Income Program

Link: https://reason.com/2021/07/16/california-lawmakers-unanimously-approve-the-states-first-basic-income-program/

Excerpt:

On Thursday, the California legislature unanimously passed a budget trailer bill that will create the state’s first guaranteed income pilot program.

Under the lawmakers’ plan, the state’s Department of Social Services (DSS) will get $35 million to dole out in grants to cities and counties that will then set up local basic income schemes. Grants will be prioritized for programs focusing on “pregnant individuals” and young adults 21 or older who’ve aged out of extended foster care programs.

State Sen. Dave Cortese (D–San Jose) said in a press release Thursday that participants of these pilot programs could end up receiving monthly payments of as much as $1,000 each.

Author(s): CHRISTIAN BRITSCHGI

Publication Date: 16 July 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Public Pension Plans Need to Put a Year of Good Investment Returns In Perspective

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Excerpt:

For the last 20 years, state and local pension plans’ assumed rates of return have been far too optimistic. The distributions of average (geometric mean) assumed investment returns and actual returns from 2001 to 2020 demonstrate this. The figure below shows the distribution of the average assumed investment return rate versus actual investment returns for 200 of the largest state and local pension plans in the United States. The median assumed rate of return over the last 20 years was 7.7 percent per year, the median actual rate of investment return for these public pension plans was 5.7 percent.

This two percent difference helps to explain the nearly 30 percent drop in the average pension plan funded ratio over the same period. In recent years, many pension plans lowered their assumed rates of return.

Author(s): Truong Bui, Jordan Campbell

Publication Date: 30 June 2021

Publication Site: Reason Foundation

These States Lead the Way on Pension Reform

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/these-states-lead-the-way-on-pension-reform-11624038916

Excerpt:

Arizona and Michigan have enacted more than a dozen substantive pension reform bills over the past five years. Credit-rating agencies and national retirement experts have cited Arizona’s public-safety pension reforms. Moody’s Investors Service gave Michigan’s teacher retirement reform a “credit positive” review because the state and participating local governments “will no longer carry the entire burden of investment performance risk for new employee pensions.”

Pension reform need not be partisan. After gaining input and buy-in from unions for police officers, firefighters and other public employees, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, overhauled her state’s public-employee pension plan for workers who aren’t teachers. “We must make changes now—the alternative is to saddle New Mexicans with unacceptable risk,” Ms. Grisham said, urging fellow Democrats to pass reforms. In 2018, Colorado legislators bridged their differences in a divided government to pass comprehensive reforms that increased employee and employer contributions, reduced cost-of-living adjustments, raised the retirement age, and expanded the use of defined-contribution plans for future employees to address the chronic structural underfunding of the state’s main public pension system.

Author(s): Leonard Gilroy, Steven Gassenberger

Publication Date: 18 June 2021

Publication Site: WSJ

A New Study Confirms That Reopening Texas ‘100 Percent’ Had No Discernible Impact on COVID-19 Cases or Deaths

Excerpt:

More than two months later, the public health disaster predicted by Abbott’s critics has not materialized. A new analysis by three economists confirms that his decision had no discernible impact on COVID-19 cases or deaths in Texas.

“We find no evidence that the Texas reopening led to substantial changes in social mobility, including foot traffic at a wide set of business establishments in Texas,” Bentley University economist Dhaval Dave and his two co-authors report in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. “We find no evidence that the Texas reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases during the five weeks following the reopening.” They say their findings “underscore the limits of late-pandemic era COVID-19 reopening policies to alter private behavior.”

Dave, San Diego State University economist Joseph Sabia, and SDSU graduate research fellow Samuel Safford looked at smartphone mobility data from SafeGraph and COVID-19 data collected by The New York Times. They compared trends in Texas before and after Abbott’s order took effect on March 10 to trends in a composite of data from other states that retained their COVID-19 restrictions but were otherwise similar.

Author(s): Jacob Sullum

Publication Date: 21 May 2021

Publication Site: Reason

The Gender Gap in Pandemic Job Losses Has Been Wildly Exaggerated

Excerpt:


“Labor force participation—defined as all civilians working full or part time, as well as those who are unemployed but looking for work—fell dramatically for both genders between March and April 2020,” noted Gallup. In April 2020, men’s labor force participation was at 97.8 percent of its February 2020 level and women’s labor force participation was 96.9 percent of its February 2020 level—a gender gap of just 0.9* percentage points.

By February 2021, labor force participation for both sexes had ticked back up somewhat. And while women were still seeing a less full recovery, the gap was again less than one percentage point. Compared to February 2020, men’s February 2021 labor force participation was 2.2 percent smaller and women’s was 3.1 percent smaller.

That’s not nothing—“the gap in labor force changes amounts to roughly 493,000 more women than men being absent from the labor force since the pandemic began,” Gallup pointed out in early March. But it’s also not evidence that women have been uniquely devastated by pandemic-related job losses, especially when—contra previous economic downturns—many of the circumstances that initially created the job losses will remedy quickly as life returns to a more normal pace.

Author(s): Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Publication Date: 11 May 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Bernie Sanders Is (Mostly) Right About the SALT Deduction

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Excerpt:

“I want to tell you this: If I become majority leader, one of the first things I will do is we will eliminate it forever,” Schumer said during a July 14 press conference on Long Island. “It will be dead, gone, and buried.”

“It” in this case was the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which was imposed as part of the 2017 federal tax reform bill passed by Republicans and signed by President Donald Trump. As a result of that law, Americans are allowed to deduct a maximum of $10,000 in state and local tax payments from their federally taxable income; previously the deduction was uncapped, and it overwhelmingly benefitted the richest households while shifting their federal tax burden to everyone else.

…..

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) is correct to point out, as he did in an interview with Axios this week, that the SALT cap creates a serious optics problem for Democrats. Sanders says he will oppose Schumer’s effort to attach the SALT cap repeal to the transportation bill because “it sends a terrible, terrible message when you have Republicans telling us that this is a tax break for the rich.”

Author(s): Eric Boehm

Publication Date: 11 May 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Private Equity Returns Stumbled in 2020, Hurting Public Pension Plans

Excerpt:

Private equity investments underperformed broad US stock indexes for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020.  Importantly for taxpayers and governments, this underperformance of private equity weighed down public pension system asset returns during a particularly difficult year for investments.

These investment results may mark the beginning of the end of superior private equity returns that have characterized early 21st century institutional investing. If private equity returns have now fallen “back to earth,” many public pension systems can expect heightened scrutiny over their allocations to this asset class and the high investment costs that go with it.

Author(s): Marc Joffe

Publication Date: 27 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason

The COVID-19 Disaster That Did Not Happen in Texas

Excerpt:

Most businesses in Texas had been allowed to operate at 75 percent of capacity since mid-October, when Abbott also allowed bars to reopen. It was implausible that removing the cap would have much of an impact on virus transmission, even in businesses that were frequently hitting the 75 percent limit.

While Abbott said Texans would no longer be legally required to cover their faces in public, he urged them to keep doing so, and many businesses continued to require masks. At the stores I visit in Dallas, there has been no noticeable change in policy or in customer compliance.

Conversely, face mask mandates and occupancy limits did not prevent COVID-19 surges in states such as Michigan, where the seven-day average of newly confirmed infections has risen more than fivefold since March 1; Maine, which has seen a nearly threefold increase; and Minnesota, where that number has more than doubled. Cases also rose during that period, although less dramatically, in other states with relatively strict COVID-19 rules, including DelawareMarylandMassachusettsNew JerseyPennsylvania, and Washington.

Florida, a state often criticized as lax, also has seen a significant increase in daily new cases: 34 percent since mid-March. But Florida, despite its relatively old population, still has a per capita COVID-19 death rate only a bit higher than California’s, even though the latter state’s restrictions have been much more sweeping and prolonged.

Author(s): Jacob Sullum

Publication Date: 21 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason

California Has Seen a Staggering Amount of Unemployment Fraud During the Pandemic

Excerpt:

After sifting through news myriad stories about California’s ongoing scandal at the Employment Development Department, however, I’m left wondering: Where is Ed Anger when you need him? I’m “pig-biting mad” about the ongoing unemployment mess, as an angry Anger might write. Yet California’s elected officials and a weary public are treating it like any garden-variety bureaucratic failure.

This is one of the most infuriating scandals ever to plague our state. The department, which is responsible for paying out unemployment insurance claims, has been incapable of paying legitimate claims even as it has paid as much as $31 billion in fraudulent ones, often to inmates. Think about those staggering losses. They would be enough to make a dent in any number of the state’s infrastructure, budgetary, and debt-related problems.

The stories are as unbelievable as the Weekly World News‘ latest Elvis sighting. Here’s a desk-pounder from CBS Los Angeles: “A Fresno girl who just celebrated her first birthday is collecting $167 per week in unemployment benefits after a claim was filed on her behalf stating that she was an unemployed actor.”

Author(s): Steven Greenhut

Publication Date: 23 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Is the Great Stagnation Over?

Excerpt:

Cowen cautioned that many technological advances would doubtlessly improve human welfare but still might not show up in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and productivity statistics. For example, the new plug-and-play vaccine platforms may well result in highly effective vaccines for malaria and HIV, and that would be a huge boon for millions of people living in poor countries, but those benefits would be unlikely to show up U.S. GDP per capita statistics. He also pointed out that the recent significant advances in green energy production are occurring chiefly as a way to avoid the possible catastrophe of man-made climate change. Because climate change is a hidden counterfactual, replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind, and batteries would not necessarily lead people to feel as though their standard of living had risen.

Strain countered that the toll that infectious disease takes on the stunting of talents and skills in poor countries would be greatly ameliorated by rolling out cheap effective vaccines now made possible by messenger RNA technology. Over a longer time horizon, the U.S. and the rest of the world would significantly benefit from efflorescence of invention and entrepreneurship arising in regions whose development is held back by prevalent plagues.

Author(s): Ronald Bailey

Publication Date: 7 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Biden Said His Tax Hikes Would Only Affect the Rich. He Can’t Keep That Promise.

Excerpt:

It’s time for the Democrats who elect presidents that promise not to jack up taxes on anybody but the rich to come to terms with something: These politicians can’t continue to spend that much money without raising taxes on nearly everyone, and that includes some regressive taxes. I don’t like it, since I’d prefer the size and scope of government to be significantly smaller—but this reality is not optional.

Here’s another reason why Biden was never going to be able to keep his promise: He already announced his intention to increase the corporate income tax from the current 21 percent to 28 percent. The reality here is that the corporations that he says are going to send bigger checks to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after the tax hike aren’t the ones who actually shoulder this heavier tax burden.

Author(s): Veronique de Rugy

Publication Date: 1 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason

After $1.9 Trillion Spending Hike, Biden Is Planning $3 Trillion in New Spending

Excerpt:

The numbers here are simply staggering. Consider the fact that in 2019, the last full budget year before the pandemic, the federal government spent a grand total of $4.4 trillion. Combined with the bill that already passed in March, this plan represents nearly $5 trillion in new spending.

Though the specifics of the proposal are in flux, it seems to bear some similarities to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) that Biden signed into law earlier this month. That bill was ostensibly a COVID-19 relief measure, but only a small percentage of the money was actually directed toward dealing with the pandemic. The upcoming $3 trillion package will be called an infrastructure bill, but the Times says only about $1 trillion would be directed toward such traditional infrastructure items as roads, bridges, ports, and improvements to the electric grid.

Author(s): Eric Boehm

Publication Date: 22 March 2021

Publication Site: Reason