Curious Trends in the National Debt

As another year comes to an end, it’s time for the annual treasure troves of annual statistics. Here’s one: “Treasury 10-year note yields were poised for the lowest annual average since at least World War II.” The interest rates on treasury bonds have continued falling despite the enormous rise in the national debt.

us-national-debt-2012The national debt has tripled since 2000, but the amount of interest paid per year has definitely not. These things are hard to measure, depending on how you count that Social Security IOU thing and “net interest” and other factors that make my head hurt, but by pretty much any metric, the amount of interest paid per year has barely budged. Here’s some data straight from the Treasury website:

Continue reading Curious Trends in the National Debt

Income Taxes Are Probably Becoming More Progressive

We still don’t know what kind of “fiscal cliff deal” we’re going to get, or when we’ll get it, but I agree with those who think it will probably include an extension of the Bush tax cuts for incomes under some level. Much of the current haggling has to do with whether or not that level is $250,000 or $1 million or somewhere in between.

If this happens, it means the income tax rate will become more progressive than it already is, as higher-income folks see higher tax rates and everyone else’s stay the same. This will be difficult to reverse; can you imagine later trying to sell either a tax hike for everyone except the rich or a tax cut only for the rich?

Such an increase in progressivity would be slightly good for the deficit, and good for my current personal finances, but I’m not sure it’s sustainable policy.

Continue reading Income Taxes Are Probably Becoming More Progressive

Why I Love the Debt Ceiling

Whenever the debt ceiling creeps back into the news, Smart People start talking about how ridiculous the whole thing is and why it should be completely abolished. Congress already approved the legislation that led to increasing the debt, so why should they get a chance to play dangerous political games around actually allowing it to be increased? As Bill Clinton says, “The idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy.”

Continue reading Why I Love the Debt Ceiling

Initial Thoughts on Bob Woodward’s The Price of Politics

I checked out Bob Woodward’s The Price of Politics from my local library this week. Derived from a plethora of interviews, accounts, and documents, the book describes the political negotiations behind the legislations of Obama’s first term. The first 100 pages or so have been about as interesting as I was expecting.

Continue reading Initial Thoughts on Bob Woodward’s The Price of Politics

The Asymmetrical Nature of Good and Bad Guns

In the wake of last week’s tragedy, and the ensuing proliferation of ideological tweets and comments and posts and other ephemeral boastings, I saw multiple arguments of this flavor: “Let’s be real, how often do you hear about some upstanding citizen with a gun saving the day?” Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as Eugene Volokh stated more eloquently:

What examples can one give of civilians armed with guns stopping such shootings? Sometimes, I hear people asking if even one such example can be found, or saying that they haven’t heard even one such example.

Eugene points out that such examples will be inherently rare, “partly because mass shootings are rare, partly because many mass shootings happen in supposedly ‘gun-free’ zones (such as schools, universities, or private property posted with a no-guns sign) in which gun carrying isn’t allowed, and partly for other reasons.”

Some of those “other reasons” may include 1) the difficulty of reporting about any shooting that never even begins to occur because of the possibility that someone may be armed, and 2) the lower level of reporting about any shooting that does begin to occur but is stopped or limited by someone who is armed.

We are talking about a mass shooting that does not happen, and comparing it to a mass shooting that did happen. There is an inherently asymmetrical nature that makes us far more likely to learn about and remember things that did happen – even if they are relatively rare events – compared to things that did not.

Continue reading The Asymmetrical Nature of Good and Bad Guns

Dueling Labor Union Statistics

In the wake of Michigan’s new Right-To-Work law, which was passed in spite of violent Tea Party – I mean unionprotests, the usual suspects have been trotting out statistics that make unions look either very good or very bad. Conservatives and liberals tend to like or dislike unions for respective ideological reasons, but they both like to throw out stats to “prove” that their position also happens to be best for everyone.

Conservatives claim that RTW states have lower unemployment and create more jobs. Liberals claim that workers in RTW states have lower wages and fewer benefits. These claims actually might not be at odds; if it’s true that unions collude to raise their own wages to protect their jobs and price others out of the market, it would make sense that the more pro-union states might have higher-paying jobs, but fewer of them. So are both sides right? Or are they both wrong?

Continue reading Dueling Labor Union Statistics