Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Bonds

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Agreement is Embarrassing

Remember the Biden administration’s proposal to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure? Traditional infrastructure spending accounted for roughly half of that proposal. It was less than half of what the American Society of Civil Engineers believes we need. According to them, the US faces a $2.59 trillion infrastructure shortfall over the next 10 years. Now a bipartisan deal has been announced which limits new spending to just $579 billion. That’s less than a quarter of what our civil engineers believe we need. To make matters worse, the administration has agreed to fund much of the spending with public/private partnerships. Many essential infrastructure projects can’t generate a profit–they require huge up-front investments and continuous maintenance. The more an infrastructure package depends on private funding, the more limited that package is in the kinds of projects it can fund. How did it come to this? Let’s run through some of the reasons why the infrastructure plan was so completely butchered.

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On the Relationship Between Infrastructure Spending and Corporation Tax

The Biden administration has come out with a $2 trillion infrastructure plan. The United States is very behind on infrastructure spending–according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the US faces a $2.59 trillion infrastructure shortfall over the next 10 years. Biden’s bill isn’t large enough to fill that gap, and a significant percentage of its spending is for other purposes. $400 billion is slated to go to nursing home services, a pressing need in its own right, but not one of the needs which the ASCE tracks in its reports. If you add it up, it looks like roughly half the Biden bill’s spending directly addresses the needs identified by our civil engineers, while the other half funds other projects. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this–it’s very normal for politicians to attach pet programs to popular bills that meet essential needs, and many of Biden’s pet projects have value. But it does mean that this bill’s infrastructure spending is less substantial than it initially appears. It will still leave us with a significant infrastructure shortfall. The more interesting issue–and the one I wish to discuss at some length–is the decision to pair this infrastructure bill with an increase in the marginal corporation tax rate.

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Why Federal Stimulus is Always Too Small

We never seem to learn anything. The global economic crisis of 2008 should have taught us a lot about how governments cope with major economic shocks, but the level of analysis in 2020 has been abysmal. The Great Recession reduced US economic output by 4.2% and destroyed 8.7 million jobs. To counteract the loses, the federal government injected stimulus, first through the Bush administration’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and then through the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Combined, these two programs provided about $1.2 trillion. That’s about $285 billion per percentage of point of GDP. It wasn’t enough. The economy recovered very slowly, too slowly for the Obama administration to maintain public support. The Democrats lost the House decisively in 2010. Obama tried to get an additional $447 billion in 2011, but the Republicans had no interest in it. Instead, they pushed for deficit reduction. Obama tried to play nice with them, signing the Budget Control Act in August and making one last push for more stimulus in the Fall. They took his cookies. The second stimulus never happened. As the years went by, rural America continued to lose jobs, and grew more and more resentful, setting the stage for Donald Trump in 2016.

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Why Italy is in Trouble

Italy finally has a coalition government–consisting largely of Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement, two Euroskeptic populist parties. The new coalition was elected to take Italy in a new direction, but this will prove difficult to do. Italy is a great example of what’s gone wrong in Europe. Let me tell you its story…

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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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