Monday, September 01, 2008

A Labor Day meditation

What can I do? Got to comment on things while they are hot! And this is for today, Labor Day 2008.
Who's best for workers?
A Labor Day analysis of the two [presidential] candidates' positions

It's from today's Rocky Mountain News.

I'm amazed. It's actually a relatively substantive analysis.

Before I get into the analysis itself, I'd like to note something the author mentions early on:
The very concept of "working people" is fairly slippery. . . . Politicians who use the term clearly mean to exclude some Americans who do in fact work long hours but who earn too much money, in politicians' eyes, to qualify for consideration.

I thought I'd mention that because, suddenly, it makes one of Obama's acceptance speech promises: about how he was going to cut income taxes for 95% of all working families in America. When I heard him say it, I wondered how he was going to achieve such a goal. With that little bit of explanation, however, I think I understand. As long as you leave your terms undefined, there's a lot of wiggle room!

In the article below, the author said he (or she; the article is unattributed) "working people" means "those whose household income is at or below $75,000 (the median household income, reported last week by the Census Bureau, is $50,233 a year)."

So now the commentary and analysis: a comparison of the two candidates' positions.
. . . * Income taxes. Both candidates promise tax cuts, with Obama claiming Thursday that his would benefit 95 percent of "all working families." Moreover, McCain would make the Bush tax cuts permanent and double the dependent child credit from $3,500 to $7,000.

Obama has not been clear about whether he would let all the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 - if so, marginal rates would rise for everyone who files a 1040. He would, however, give a $500- per-worker tax credit for every household earning less than $150,000 and provide families a $4,000 credit for each college student.

Advantage: Obama for unmarried heads of household and (slightly) families with kids in college; McCain for everyone else - and a big edge to McCain should Obama let all the Bush tax cuts expire.

* Energy. Both candidates back a cap-and-trade proposal on greenhouse gases that would amount to a massive tax increase on fossil fuels, particularly coal. Consumers will pay higher energy bills.

Obama has promised a one-time, $1,000 energy "rebate" per household "for working families" that would be paid for with a windfall profits tax on oil companies. If the experience of the early 1980s is any guide, the tax would depress domestic energy production, boosting prices to everyone long after the rebate checks had been spent.

In McCain's favor, he opposes ethanol subsidies and mandates, which have caused corn prices to rise. Obama backs them.

Advantage: McCain.

Looking at what the United States' Ethan all policy has done to world food prices, I am astonished that Obama would back continued subsidies. I don't think McCain has a great energy policy. And I hate that both candidates have bought into the "man-made global warming crisis" mentality. (Thrilled that Palin has been forthright about her skepticism concerning the idea that global warming is man-made. But Palin is, most definitely, the junior partner in the relationship, so I'm not sure her perspective will count for much.)


Back to the analysis and commentary.
* Health care. Obama would build on the current mix of employment-based health insurance and government programs. He would cover more of the uninsured by forcing big employers to insure all workers and expanding government subsidies.

In the view of some prominent health-care economists, this plan could push companies to lay off low-wage workers, or at least not hire as many. That's no bargain. Whether it would save money for workers who are already insured is another matter. Obama is predicting a large reduction in annual premiums, but that seems extremely unlikely.

McCain, by contrast, would end the tax benefits for employer-provided health insurance and give individuals income-tax credits to buy coverage. He would also let people shop nationwide for insurance and let non-employer membership groups like AARP and unions sell group policies. McCain's plan would end a major tax distortion that has boosted medical costs. But we need a lot more details.

Advantage: Unsure. Perhaps Obama, if he is correct about a reduction in premiums--a very big if. The more likely advantage is to McCain.

* Jobs. For most workers, the basic questions are: If you have a job, can you keep it? If you're looking for work, can you find it?

McCain's proposals would encourage growth and job creation; Obama's might in some cases - he said Thursday night, for example, that he'd eliminate the capital gains tax on startup companies, however he defines them. But some of his other proposals reduce incentives for capital formation and investment. For example, he favors a higher capital gains tax in most cases as well as higher taxes on dividends - meaning higher taxes on investment at a time when entrepreneurs (who provide jobs) need a boost.

The Democratic candidate repeatedly says he would create 5 million "green collar" jobs--but he means through subsidies. [I.e., therefore, t]hose would not be 5 million net new jobs.

McCain would cut the U.S. corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, which is closer to the international norm. He also backs cuts in taxes on capital gains and dividends.

Advantage: McCain (clearly).

In my opinion, the analysis seems fair . . . as far as it goes. My problem: the government is already bankrupt, so where will the money come from for either one of these candidate' "new ideas"?

I think the commentator's final paragraph is priceless, but I continue to wish someone would address the problem of the country's overwhelming debt:
No president operates in a policy vacuum. Congress always has the prerogative to adopt, amend or reject a president's agenda.

Some would argue . . . that Obama's promise to "end tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas" would . . . help working families, but it's unclear how he intends to do this. Moreover, companies that invest abroad often end up expanding their operations here, contrary to the popular stereotype. In addition, . . .

. . . and here is where I find the coup de grace . . .
. . . one reason that U.S. companies invest abroad is because of the lower corporate tax rates they often find there. If Obama wants to keep more jobs in America he should follow McCain's lead and endorse a lower domestic rate, too.

--Especially if the commentator is correct about the international norm for corporate income taxes. Add high taxes to generally higher wage rates, and you've got a competitive disadvantage. I think American workers are willing to fight for their high wages, and employers are willing to invest in the capital necessary to make their workers efficient, but why should they have to fight the government as well?
blog comments powered by Disqus