Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Category: Economics

How Brazil Got the Worst Austerity Program in the World

Brazil’s new president, Michel Temer, has introduced austerity via constitutional amendment, freezing Brazil’s state spending at 2016 levels for 20 years, allowing it to increase only at the rate of inflation. This is really dumb–if Brazil’s population grows, or Brazil has an economic crisis, or Brazil has to go to war, it will be trapped within 2016 fiscal parameters. So as its population grows, the same level of spending will be divided across ever larger numbers of people, and if Brazil gets into major trouble it will only be able to pay for emergency measures by lashing social spending. To make matters worse, the amendment disallows its own repeal for a 10 year minimum, so there is nothing anyone in Brazil can constitutionally do about this ridiculous rule until 2027. But you know what makes this even more incredible? Temer was never elected president of Brazil in the first place. What follows is the bizarre story of how Brazil’s broken constitution empowered a man committed to an absurd political agenda.

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François Fillon is a Big, Fat Mistake

France’s center-right Republican Party has chosen to nominate François Fillon for the presidency. This is a big, fat mistake. Fillon is a relic from the 2000’s–he was Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Prime Minister from 2007 to 2012, and he calls for a slate of policies that would cut public services, increase economic disparities, and shred France’s economy. He is a massive risk not just to France but to Europe as a whole, both in the short-term and the long-term. Here’s why.

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The Trump Infrastructure Plan Has Potential

Our new president-elect has a plan that has serious potential that we should all get really excited about–he wants $1 trillion in new spending on infrastructure. This sounds like a lot of money, but our crumbling infrastructure could use even more–the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates we’d need to spend $3.6 trillion to bring our infrastructure up to speed by 2020. Beyond the substantive benefits provided by the new infrastructure, there are tremendous economic advantages. An additional $1 trillion in spending would generate roughly somewhere between 6% and 10% GDP growth over the life of the program, depending on the size of the fiscal multiplier. It would also create piles of new construction jobs in the process. There are however some potential issues with how Trump wants to fund the plan, and we should talk about how to get the maximum benefits from it.

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John Oliver Doesn’t Understand How Stein’s Student Debt Policy Works

Last Week Tonight‘s John Oliver recently ran a segment in which he slated Jill Stein’s proposal to eliminate student debt through quantitative easing:

His criticism seemed to suggest that the Federal Reserve is obviously irrelevant in this policy area:

It’s basically akin to saying, ‘I’ll make us energy independent by ordering the Post Office to invade Canada.’ No, Jill. That’s impractical, it’s a terrible idea, and you don’t seem to understand anything about it.

Oliver, who is usually quite perceptive and well-informed, gets this wrong, and he gets it wrong in no small part because monetary policy is complicated and difficult to understand, both in terms of the economics and in terms of the politics. So let’s talk about how Stein’s idea works.

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Gary Johnson is Worse than Donald Trump

Since Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, I’ve heard a number of Sanders supporters indicate that they’re considering supporting Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee. We need to nip this in the bud right now. Gary Johnson is by far the most reactionary and right wing candidate in the race, especially on economic issues. I didn’t write him a candidate evaluation because in 2012 he received less than 1% of the vote, but a recent poll says 10% of Sanders supporters are now willing to support Johnson. If you are a Johnson supporter or you know someone who is, there’s some important information about Johnson and the Libertarians that everyone needs to know.

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