Tag Archives: Imported

Right-to-Know: No-Bid Federal Contracts and Other Federal Spending

FedSpending.org is a new website sponsored by effective OMB watchdog organization and Right-to-Know enforcer OMBWatch.org, which keeps an eye on the deregulatory manias of recent administrations. The new FedSpending.org website allows visitors to track Federal grants and contracts using various search criteria, e.g., location of the recipient (how about “Halliburton”), place of performance (try “Iraq”), sponsoring agency (“Defense”), and whether or not the contract was open to competitive bidding.

The Federal government was supposed to produce such a website itself, but Senator T. Stevens (Alaska) put a secret hold on the legislation. Although the hold was eventually withdrawn, the government still has not come up with the promisted user-friendly database.

Here’s the Halliburton search. Notice that you can refine the search by asking for more years and more detail.

Leave comments that describe your searches. Ethanol? Pharmaceuticals?

Econ-Utopia: The Bloodless Revolution, part 2 of 2: a Review of Peter Barnes’ Capitalism 3.0

[See part one]
Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, CPE Staff Economist

It’s worth remembering that commons already exist, lots of them, in various places and parts of the world’s economies. Most often, however, they are informal arrangements—holdovers from before the rise of modern market capitalism. In general, commons are not recognized formally by governments as a type of property arrangement deserving protection, the way conventional private property is legally protected.

It is this lack of protection that enables the famous “tragedy of the commons.” Barnes argues that, contrary to the standard perception, commons aren’t undermined by internal tragedies—they are victims of infringement from the outside. Marx described the enclosure of common land into private land as “the primitive accumulation of capital”; today, Barnes is primarily concerned with the ability of corporations to horn in on remaining commons as they seek new resources to exploit for private gain. A recent example is with the digital TV broadcast spectrum, with an estimated value of $70 billion but which the U.S. government gave away for free in 1996 to media conglomerates, even though the airwaves are supposed to be the shared property of all Americans.
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Generous welfare states are fine for growth

The main finding of Peter Lindert’s intriguing 2003 paper, “Why the welfare state looks like a free lunch” (a warm-up for his 2004 book Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century is that generous social democratic welfare states, with a variety of universalist and means-tested safety net and family support programs, grow just as robustly as stingy laissez-faire states. Here’s the key summary from the abstract:

There is no clear net GDP cost of high tax-based social spending on GDP, despite a tradition of assuming that such costs are large.

The finding should obviously be plastered on bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, and dorm-room walls and played continuously on a loudspeaker outside the Chamber of Commerce, Club for Growth, Council on Competitiveness, etc. The welfare state doesn’t just look like a free lunch, it is a free lunch, at least from the standpoint of national aggregates.

Class conflict may mean that it’s hard for us to order that free lunch in the U.S. anytime soon, but the barrier between us and the free lunch doesn’t come in the obvious way. Read more

US Social Forum well under way

Just a quick note from Atlanta. It’s the end of the second day of the first US Social Forum. Due to travel ‘difficulties’, I was not here yesterday. My spies on the ground tell me the march yesterday morning to kick off the Social Forum was 10 to 20 thousand people strong. Always hard to say, exactly, but a quick examination of the program (with over fifty workshops and panels going on at once for three days) and taking in the attendance at the panels I’ve attended, and just the sheer number of people on the streets of downtown Atlanta with their USSF ID badges, this is clearly the largest such gathering I’ve ever seen in the US. Thousands of people together to discuss and strategize a different US, something so necessary for the world as a whole, and no less so for us US’ers.

And the conversations happening go far beyond simple critiques of today’s neoliberal capitalism (too easy, anyway). They’re talking about concrete alternatives that are working on the ground now, and strategizing about scaling them up going forward. Of course there’s still a long way to go, but this forum represents a most welcome development: the coming together of disparate ‘single-issue’ groups to hammer out common ground and devise strategies to move forward as one. I’m sorry you’re not here!

More specifics later, must sleep….

Apparently, psychology is at play in the housing market!

[Disclosure: I have been trying to sell my own house for ten months]

Kudos to Andrew Leonard at Salon for his insight into many economists’ delusions of perception (see No one wants to buy a home. Whose fault is it?)! He correctly points out that many so-called experts have a skewed view of when human psychology comes into play in their market decisions. So potential homebuyers are now fearful about what the housing market will do in the future (continue to crash, perhaps even burn? Or turn around?). No arguments there, just rueful agreement (in my case; see disclosure, above). But what about when gloom and doom forecasts are not heard far and wide? Well, it turns out people might be just as whacky during the boom as they are during the bust. Feel free to gasp now.

The Inequality and Health Debate: What do we learn from the twentieth-century in the developed world?

An important debate in the social health literature is whether more inequality causes worse health. At some later date I’ll post a bibliography, or maybe commenters can help. In any case the list of publications is long, the contributors illustrious, and the findings varied and at odds with each other. Some of the most important papers representing a range of findings include those by Deaton, Deaton and Lubotsky, Mellor and Milyo, Lynch, et al., Kawachi, Subramanian, et al., Navarro, et al., Wilkinson, et al., and Marmot, et al.

Note that the debate is about the effect of inequality, per se, on health. Everybody knows that being rich reduces mortality and being poor increases it. The relationship between income and health (mortality, infant mortality, life expectancy, morbidity) is so well known in the literature that it is simply known as “the gradient.” It obtains at the macro and micro levels in dozens of studies. For example, let me quote Angus Deaton, who is BTW an inequality-mortality skeptic, “Men in the United States with family incomes in the top 5 percent of the distribution in 1980 had about 25 percent longer to live than did those in the bottom 5 percent. Proportional increases in income are associated with equal proportional decreases in mortality throughout the income distribution” (Angus Deaton “Policy Implications Of The Gradient Of Health And Wealth”). But I digress.

There are three basic channels through which an association between inequality and health could occur. The first two are causal in that social inequality affects individual health.

  1. Direct. Inequality creates stress, which is bad for health.
  2. Indirect. Inequality disrupts the production of health-supporting public goods or causes the production of health-reducing public bads, which is bad for health.
  3. Artifactual. More income improves the health of the poor more than it improves the health of the rich. (The health-income relationship is concave.) A more unequal society will have worse average health than a more equal society with the same mean income because the health gain to the rich from being much richer is not as great as the health loss to the poor from being much poorer. Note that individual income only affects individual health, but the distribution of income affects average health.

A fairly recent entry in the field is Leigh and Jencks, “Inequality and mortality: Long-run evidence from a panel of countries” (Journal of Health Economics 26 (2007) 1-24). Here is a link to a working paper version which is very similar to the published version. In a nutshell, the income share of the richest 10 percent of the population is the measure of inequality, and life expectancy at birth and infant mortality are the two main measures of health outcome. Read more

Socialized Medicine: America’s best health-care organization?

The 14,500 doctors and 58,000 nurses of this health-care organization serve 7.6 million enrollees, delivering care that outperforms both commericial insurance and Medicare–let alone poor, underfunded Medicaid–on a host of indicators of quality of process and outcome. While Medicare costs increased from $5,000 to $6,800 (36 percent) per patient-year between 1996 and 2004, its costs stayed constant at $5,000 per patient-year. And the patients receiving this high-quality, moderate-cost care are disproportionately poor and disabled.

Is it Kaiser Permanente? Is it a new for-profit chain of health clinics? No, it’s the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
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The American Vacation Deficit

As summer rolls around, there’s been a spike in interest in the American vacation deficit.

David Moberg, writing in the excellent progressive bi-weekly In These Times, surveys the field in “What Vacation Days?” Since we’re interested in policy, here’s the punch line,

Why do workers in other rich countries have more paid time off? Mainly because laws demand employers provide it. The European Union requires its members to set a minimum standard of four weeks paid vacation (covering part-time workers as well). Finland and France require six weeks paid vacation, plus additional paid holidays. Most countries require workers to take the time off and employers to give them vacation at convenient times. Some governments even require employers to pay bonuses so workers can afford to do more than sit at home on vacation. On top of that, unions in Europe and other rich industrialized countries—whose contracts cover up to 90 percent of the workforce—typically negotiate additional time off. Meanwhile, the standard workweek is slightly shorter in many European countries, and workers retire earlier with better public pensions.

For the heavy quantitative lifting, Moberg cites a survey of comparative vacation legislation, “No-Vacation Nation” recently published by CEPR (May 2007). The summary is here and the full report is here.

This report reviewed international vacation and holiday laws and found that the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays. As a result, 1 in 4 U.S. workers do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays. The lack of paid vacation and paid holidays in the U.S. is particularly acute for lower-wage and part-time workers, and for employees of small businesses.
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Econ-Utopia: The Bloodless Revolution, part 1 of 2: A review of Peter Barnes’ CAPITALISM 3.0

Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, CPE Staff Economist

A few weeks ago, CPE Staff Economist Jerry Friedman wrote an Econ-Atrocity reviewing Bill McKibben’s new book, Deep Economy. Though he says McKibben “has written a clear attack on much of what ails us,” Friedman nonetheless criticizes McKibben for approaching the environmental and social problems of the day from an individualist perspective. For all that McKibben wants to promote and revive “community,” he has the attitude (says Friedman) of a “personal Salvationist . . . [who thinks that] the enemy [is] ourselves: we use too much, waste too much, want too much; and the only salvation for the environment is to change our preferences, use less, recycle more, and choose to live simply.” What McKibben misunderstands or ignores, Friedman argues, is the power of social institutions to drive behavior, regardless of the desires and seemingly free choices of individuals.

I think that Friedman will find solace in Peter Barnes’ recent book, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons, since Barnes’ approach is definitively institutional. The problem, according to Barnes, is that the structure of the economy and society leave too much power in the hands of corporate capitalism. Even if all the CEOs and boards of directors and politicians were replaced with kind-hearted souls like McKibben, we would still face pretty much the same issues of environmental decay, economic inequality, and other social ills—the logic of capitalism and the legal structure of private property rights force the leaders of corporations to do what they currently do. He learned this from personal experience as co-owner and manager of several business ventures, most famously Working Assets (a telephone and credit card company that donates one percent of gross revenues to progressive charitable organizations). “I’d tested the system for twenty years, pushing it toward multiple bottom lines [that consider social and environmental impacts in addition to profit concerns] as far as I possibly could. I’d dealt with executives and investors who truly cared about nature, employees, and communities. Yet in the end, I’d come to see that all these well-intentioned people, even as their numbers grew, couldn’t shake the larger system loose from its dominant bottom line of profit.” (Ironically, Bill McKibben is quoted on the front cover of Capitalism 3.0 helping to promote Barnes’ book.)
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