Obama’s Economic Plan vs. An Alternative


More than 20 months after the financial and economic crisis erupted in August 2007, the U.S. economy continues to slip deeper into financial instability while simultaneously descending into a recession of epic dimensions, the worst by far since 1945.

As millions have been thrown out of work in just the last three months, the Obama administration raised its estimate of the amount of fiscal stimulus—government spending and tax cuts—needed to halt the accelerating economic downturn. First it was $175 billion, then $500 billion, then $775 billion, and then $825 billion. Republicans and conservatives demanded yet more tax cuts for business and the wealthy. Bankers demanded additional bailouts of even more than the remaining $350 billion left in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), despite having received from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve more than $3 trillion in government funds since the crisis began.

In the week following Obama’s inauguration, outlines of his proposed program for the economy began to take initial shape. By mid-February it was clear that the Obama-Congressional provisions would prove to be too little, too late. The Obama initial economic recovery program proposes to create 3-4 million jobs by spending $550 billion, guaranteeing that at least 75 percent of the $550 billion ($366 billion) will be spent during the next 18 months. In addition to the spending, Obama’s plan calls for enacting tax cuts of an additional $275 billion over 10 years. The total package thus comes to $825 billion, stretched out over 1.5 to 10 years.

But 3 million jobs created over the next 18 months barely makes up for the 3 million jobs lost since Obama was elected. And that does not count the additional three million lost jobs from December 2007 to October 2008 or the millions more anticipated from March 2009 through June 2010. In other words, Obama’s plan doesn’t even set out to reduce unemployment to the 7.1 million level that existed when the current recession began. It only proposes to reduce the 13 million more unemployed by 3 million.

A simple calculation shows, moreover, that $550 billion for 3 million jobs breaks down to a cost of more than $183,000 per job created—way too generous a margin for businesses that will likely pay only one-third that (at best) for each worker hired. That high cost per job created is due to Obama’s focus on spending for projects that take too much time to create jobs, on high-cost infrastructure jobs, and on spending that simply does not focus on job creation at all.

The program’s $275 billion in tax cuts—mostly targeting business interests in various ways and distributed over 10 years—will produce even fewer jobs. In the initial stage of a deep business cycle downturn, such as is the case at present, business tax cuts have virtually no effect on job creation or business investment. Businesses hoard the savings, use them to pay down debt, buy back stock, issue dividends, and divert the tax cut to other non-stimulus uses. Tax cuts are more effective in early stages of economic recovery, not in the early phases of decline. Even direct consumer tax cuts are largely dissipated by households, most of whom will choose to save the tax cut, retire household debt, or otherwise not commit the cuts to spending.

Not only is the magnitude of the Obama program insufficient, not only is too large a portion of the program wasted on tax cuts, but even the composition of the spending proposals are not structured to retain or create jobs. And job creation-retention is now the key to recovery—along with measures that will stop the ongoing collapse of housing prices that are in turn serving to continually undermine bank balance sheets, roiling the financial crisis and producing the general credit contraction that has in turn led to the collapse of consumption, business investment, and today’s mass layoffs.

An effective economic recovery and stimulus program must be one that addresses these two primary tasks: jobs creation-retention and housing market stabilization. The recovery proposals that follow require a minimum of $1.5 trillion to fund a comprehensive jobs retention and creation program that will create and retain a minimum of 13 million jobs—i.e., the minimum amount that is needed just to check and contain the economic collapse. The housing program proposals that follow call for an additional $950 billion in spending, necessary to stop the collapse of housing asset prices and to provide a major consumption boost to the economy without reducing taxes and exacerbating budget deficits that will already exceed $1.5 trillion in 2009. The third section includes proposals to finance the $2 trillion program. The fourth section addresses several long-term income restoration elements associated with pensions, health care, and education that are necessary to sustain long-term consumption demand, ensuring the recovery does not falter once again after two years.

In contrast to the Obama economic recovery program, the following alternative plan is suggested. Since Obama’s plan is likely to prove inadequate and will need to be revisited, this alternative economic recovery plan may prove useful for future discussion, especially as the crisis deepens. The plan as described is reformist in nature—closer to the parameters of current debates on the issue than a revolutionary leftist restructuring of the U.S. economic system—though it is more ambitious and much more purposefully directed towards assisting the non-wealthy majority than any proposals receiving mainstream attention.

 


PART I: Housing Market Stabilization & Consumption Restoration

 

Today’s housing asset price collapse is driven by rising housing supply, the largest cause of which has been rising foreclosures and defaults in the initial phase, but now increasingly determined as well by growing trends in negative equity and unemployment. One in ten homeowners is in foreclosure, delinquent, or in default. Housing supply has consistently risen faster than the demand that banks have been willing to stimulate despite the $3 trillion Treasury-Fed liquidity program. Bankers and lenders have been on a veritable “strike” in terms of lending.

An estimated 5-7 million foreclosures will occur over this cycle. Housing prices have fallen approximately 25 percent. The housing market is nowhere near bottom, and prices most likely will continue to fall by at least another 20 percent in 2009.

Treasury-Fed programs have not addressed this root cause of supply-driven housing price collapse, now spreading from subprime to near prime to prime mortgages, to credit and equity lines, as well now to commercial property loans. Treasury-Fed programs have instead focused on a symptom of the crisis—i.e., deteriorating bank balance sheets driven by the housing asset (and other asset) price collapse. Treating the symptom has not resolved the fundamental problem.

The following measures are thus designed to bypass the banks and lenders, which are now refusing all but token efforts at stimulating loan demand. The problem of collapsing housing asset prices is too central, too critical, and too important to recovery to leave to the whim of bankers and lenders more concerned with hoarding cash and loaning only at excessive rates.

First Measure: Reset mortgage rates for all loans originated 2002-2007. All forms of loan financing for the residential mortgage market (30-year fixed, conventional, jumbo, equity lines, ARMS, etc.) should be reset to the Federal Funds Rate plus 1 percent to cover administrative costs. If banks can obtain loans from the Federal Reserve at 1 percent or less, as is the case today, then consumer-homeowners should be allowed to borrow directly from the government at similar rates.

All loans issued between 2002-07 are included in this provision, not just those facing foreclosure or default. The reason for the comprehensive reset is that the provision is designed to serve not only to rescue homeowners facing foreclosure, and thus stem the rising housing supply (and falling price) problem, but to serve as a consumption-stimulus measure in general.

The alternative to stimulating consumption demand in this manner is to introduce new consumption tax cuts. The latter are less desirable and effective than mortgage rate resets for the following reasons. First, tax cuts have a lower multiplier effect and thus less total economic stimulus. Second, most tax cuts have a lag time that the economy at the moment cannot afford. Third, tax cuts will exacerbate the 2009-10 budget deficits already projected to exceed $1 trillion, which will potentially discourage other private investment. Finally, consumption tax cuts will also politically require corresponding business tax cuts, that will have little if any economic stimulus effect, will have even longer lags, and will unnecessarily raise the deficits even further.

Resetting for all loans issued between 2002-07, not just those in default or foreclosure, will further improve the likelihood of wider political support for legislative passage.

The resets should also apply to small business commercial property mortgages, where small business is defined as less than 50 employees and less than $1 million in annual net income.

Second Measure: Reset principle loan balances for all loans originated 2002-07. Principle balances for all loans originated 2002-07 should similarly be reset according to the following formula: the rolling average for the property’s market assessment for the six years prior to date of origination between 2002-07. For example, a property sold in 2006, reflecting the inflated housing prices of 2003-06, would be reduced to the average price for the property from 2000-05. The artificially inflated prices of 2003-07 were not the fault of the homeowner but banking-lending practices and speculation by participants in the CDO-securitization markets.

The rationale for principle resets is the same as for interest rate resets above: i.e., to reduce the flow of supply of housing onto the market driving a housing price decline but, equally importantly, to serve as a general stimulus to consumption demand. Like interest rate resets, resetting mortgage principal will serve to stimulate consumption demand with higher multiplier effects while avoiding a negative impact on the already heavily stressed budget deficits anticipated in 2009-10.

Third Measure: Create federal homeowner-business loan corporation (HSBLC) to provide direct lending to the homeowner-small business property markets. The Federal Reserve’s current strategy of committing funds to the mortgage market through lenders, to provide incentives for them to lower interest rates, is not sufficient to revitalize the residential mortgage markets and prevent continued housing deflation. Nor is a focus on buying assets through Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac for a mere 20 percent of the market. The Fed’s focus on getting foreclosed homes resold to new buyers will not sufficiently stimulate housing demand to offset continued excess housing supply via foreclosures, defaults, and walkaways. In short, the Fed actions will do little to prevent continued housing price deflation which is at the core of the housing crisis, as well as a good part of the general banking system insolvency.

A new federal housing agency, a Home Owners-Small Business Loan Corporation (HSBLC), must be created to provide direct lending to homeowners and small businesses. This is not a Reconstruction Trust Corp recommendation to merely buy up mortgage assets, which cannot succeed so long as housing deflation momentum continues. The proposal for a HSBLC is similar, but extends more aggressively to a Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) concept that was introduced during the 1930s. The initial task of the HSBLC would be to purchase existing mortgages in foreclosure, resetting rates and principal according to the aforementioned formulas. Thereafter, it would extend mortgage financing to all potential home financing, subject to the annual income limits set forth below.

To control initial costs, eligibility cutoffs for loan principle and mortgage rate resets might initially apply only to homeowners with annual incomes of $150,000 or less. That would cover approximately 80 percent of taxpaying households and the vast majority of homeowners facing foreclosure. More wealthy homeowners could continue to access private mortgage markets. So too might homeowners whose lenders agree to voluntarily comply with the HSBLC interest and principal resets, thus providing positive externalities to the program.

Financing for the takeovers would be made available by the immediate transfer of all the remaining $350 billion allocated for the TARP program, which was originally designed to buy up mortgage loans. Another $600 billion recently announced by the Federal Reserve for the mortgage market would also be transferred to the HSBLC. The HSBLC would function as a combined depression era HOLC and the RFC (Reconstruction Finance Corp) of that period, in one unified organization. It would extend, however, beyond residential mortgages to small business property mortgages, defined as companies with fewer than 50 employees and an annual net income limit.

The above initial $950 billion funding levels would enable the HSBLC to buy up all the subprime mortgages issued between 2002-07. Subprimes account for approximately 30 percent of the $4 trillion in mortgages issued over the period, or about $1.2 trillion. A $300 billion initial outlay would leave $650 billion for the remaining loans issued during the period.

Pre-existing mortgage investors with loans taken over by the HSBLC would be paid off through the above funding, at an initial rate of 25¢ on the dollar, and a second 25¢ over a 15 year period from cash flow generated by homeowner mortgage payments to the HSBLC. Additional revenue for the HSBLC’s staged expansion would be generated by packaging bonds and reselling to foreign and domestic investors as a special form of new U.S. Treasury debt.

Fourth Measure: One year moratorium on all foreclosures and default proceedings. A one year moratorium would be necessary to freeze immediately hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of foreclosures and offset negative housing supply trends. It would provide a period of necessary transition, during which resets would take effect and the HSBLC was organized and began operations.

Fifth Measure: Optional homeowners’ 40-year fixed loan extension. All homeowners with mortgages originating before 2002 or after 2007 would be eligible to optionally participate in a monthly mortgage payment reduction by means of extending their mortgages to 40-year terms. All mortgage lenders and their servicing agents by law would be required to reset their mortgages, at no cost to the borrower, to the new 40-year term should the homeowner so request.

Once HSBLC funding levels grow sufficiently, these homeowners would be allowed to refinance their mortgages with the HSBLC as well. Appropriate compensation to lenders would be determined by the HSBLC at the later date.

Sixth Measure: 15 percent homeowners’ investment tax credit. As yet another consumption generating feature of Part I, homeowners in the above group in Measure 5 would be eligible for a 15 percent homeowners’ investment tax credit, itemized on annual tax returns. The credit would cover items and categories such as home repair, upgrades and expansion, and major maintenance and improvements. Also included would be purchases of major home consumer durables, such as solar conversion, AC systems, and major home appliances like refrigerators, ovens, washer-dryers, etc. The purpose of the provision is to allow homeowners not participating in direct resets to participate in alternative consumption opportunities.

Seventh Measure: Restoration of Regulation Q. While not a direct homeowner item, an equally important provision generating consumption demand is the restoration of Regulation Q. Previously a provision, but repealed in the 1970s, Regulation Q in effect established maximum ceilings above which banks and other credit card lenders could not charge monthly interest. This new regulation would be indexed to the annual core inflation rate in the U.S. economy.

 


PART II: $1 Trillion Job Creation and Retention Program

 

The composition of employment generation in any jobs program should be thoroughly and carefully thought out. The quickest way to retain and grow jobs is within existing industries and businesses, not primarily by creating new industries from scratch. The other quick path to jobs is direct hiring by government. A third fast path is promoting hiring in those industries having shown in the past high job growth rates, or potential for high job growth, such as health care and education. A job creation-retention program should also target jobs in the $50-$60k annual range on average, with workers receiving a pay level of $40k and benefits load of $10k and employers a margin or profit per worker no larger than $10k. Proof of job retention or creation should be required in turn for all government spending on jobs. With these caveats in mind, the following job creation and retention program is proposed:

Eighth Measure: $300 billion for infrastructure jobs. $200 billion in the first fiscal year and $50 billion in each of the following years. Projects with long R&D and capital intensive should be initially avoided. Labor intensive projects must be funded first. A limit of no more than $50,000 per job created-retained should be paid by the program.

Ninth Measure: $100 billion for further stimulating growth sector jobs. This measure targets industries like healthcare and related services with past rapid job growth, to ensure continued and induce further expansion of employment. There is no quicker and easier way to grow jobs than to focus on sectors where job growth is already robust. On the other hand, this measure might also include the construction of public hospitals and clinics that have been dismantled over the past three decades. It could further include the construction of new doctor-nursing government training hospitals, to increase the supply of physicians and provide an economical medical services source for the low paid and uninsured. This was once done for agriculture and mining colleges in the 19th and early 20th century. It could just as well be done for healthcare and other essential services industries in the 21st.

Tenth Measure: $100 billion for manufacturing industry job retention and creation. This should take the form of direct government subsidies, not investment tax credits and the like for which no proof of job creation has been required, or claims that are made by employers for job creation offshore. If necessary, the federal government should consider direct purchase and stockpiling of select manufactured goods—such as processed foods—for distribution to the unemployed, school programs, children of low wage workers, and as foreign aid in kind.

Eleventh Measure: $300 billion government sector job creation-retention. Spending by state and local governments in 2009 is expected to drop by $100 billion, with mass layoffs yet to come in this sector. Job retention benefits are thus potentially great, and job creation and hiring can be undertaken relatively quickly, absorbing many of the unemployed relatively easily. The projected funding of $200 billion to states and local governments—to offset the $100 billion decline in spending and provide an additional net $100 billion—would include provisions requiring verifiable direct job retention or job creation. A third $100 billion in job program funding would apply to school districts to reduce class sizes and hire new teachers and restore projected cuts in state and local pension funds. Fund disbursements should occur only once proof of hires is made or proof of layoffs averted. Part of the $200 billion for state and local government might be earmarked to revitalize the municipal bond market, providing bond measures create jobs.

Twelfth Measure: $125 billion for bailout and consolidation of the auto industry. This proposal provides in the first year $50 billion, minus the initial $14 billion provided in the interim bailout of December 2008, to GM-Chrysler. To receive any funding the following preconditions must be met by the auto companies. First, a moratorium on all foreign plant investment and expansion projects. Second, strict compliance with more stringent new vehicle mileage requirements. Third, SEC access to all company offshore accounts and records. Fourth, community and union membership on company boards and local union participation on investment committees at all local plant sites.

In the second year, another $50 billion is made available for the purposes of industry consolidation involving all three U.S. auto companies, major parts suppliers, and major credit subsidiaries, GMAC and Ford Credit. The second $50 billion is targeted for purchase of a 50.1 percent majority share of the consolidated company’s preferred stock by the U.S. government.

An additional $25 billion is dedicated to funding employee assistance for autoworkers displaced by merger and consolidation. This fund would create an auto industry domestic version of the Trade Assistance Act, and would be patterned after similar programs in Germany that provide workers 80 percent of income for two years until employed in equivalent paying work elsewhere, followed by a two year retraining of workers at similar pay if not re-employed within the initial two-year period.

Thirteenth Measure: $125 billion for emergency unemployment insurance and special domestic assistance retraining. Current Congressional Budget Office estimates are for expending $79 billion in unemployment benefits in 2009, compared to $43 billion in 2008, a $36 billion increase. That increase is predicated, however, on the assumption of a 9.2 percent official unemployment rate. At minimum, the official rate for 2009 will be 10.5 percent. That means a further projected need for another $20 billion. Given the massive increase of more than 3 million part time workers mostly converted from full time in 2008 and the expectation many of these will soon be laid off in 2009, it is imperative that unemployment benefits be extended to these part time status workers and their families as well. That will require another $26 billion in unemployment benefits over the next two years. That brings the total unemployment insurance benefit costs to approximately $125 billion (the $43 billion 2008 levels plus an additional $82 billion).

 


PART III: Financing the $1 Trillion Jobs Program

 

While Part I is financed by the transfer of $350 billion from TARP and reassignment of $600 billion from the Federal Reserve, new funding is necessary to finance the $1 trillion associated with measures six through ten above. Deficit spending via borrowing by the U.S. government is a treacherous path, given the massive deficits left by the Bush administration and the additional trillions added to the deficits as a consequence of the bailouts of the banks and other financial institutions to date. A massive jobs creation-retention program of at least $1 trillion is necessary, but the deficit impacts must be avoided if possible. The following set of measures are proposed to fund the $1 trillion without impact on consumption or on deficits.

Fourteenth Measure: Retroactive windfall taxes on oil-energy industry windfall profits, executive compensation, and corporate foreign retained earnings taxes. Oil and energy companies have earned the highest profits for four years running in the history of corporate enterprise. As near monopolies they have manipulated price levels by creating artificial shortages to reap what economists call rents, or excess profits unjustified by normal market conditions. The new financing should reach back retroactively, for three years, to capture the reasonable taxes the oil-energy companies should have paid.

Similarly, the excess compensation accrued to themselves by senior management teams in the Fortune 5000 companies should be taxed retroactively for the last three years, 2005-2007. The excess over the long term average for executive pay should be taxed as windfall compensation.

Thirdly, U.S. multinational companies through various accounting schemes have succeeded in the past seven years in diverting hundreds of billions of dollars in earnings in the U.S. to offshore subsidiaries and have refused to repatriate those earnings to pay corporate income tax rates. A major concession was introduced in the 2004 tax act that lowered their rates from 35 percent to 5.25 percent if they repatriated those earnings, estimated at more than $700 billion by Morgan Stanley at that time. The act required spending of the tax savings on job creation; instead most used the savings to buy back stock and make acquisitions. These companies should now be required to pay proper taxation for the past seven years of earnings diversion to offshore operations. Should they refuse to comply, their imported products to the U.S. could be tariffed at a 50 percent rate until compliance.

Fifteenth Measure: Capital incomes tax rate rollbacks. Rolling back capital incomes taxation to 1981 levels, not to 1993, is necessary to raise sufficient funds to confront the current crisis no matter what the specific form fiscal spending might take in 2009 and beyond. Capital gains, dividends, interest and rent income taxation, and inheritance taxes have been the central causative factor in the extreme gains of the top 1 percent since Reagan.

There are approximately 114 million taxpaying households in the U.S., and the wealthiest 1 percent, or 1.1 million, have increased their share of IRS reported income from 8 percent in 1978 to more than 20 percent today. This more than 20 percent share is approximately equivalent to that which existed for the wealthiest 1 percent in 1928. The severe shift and maldistribution in income in the U.S. since Reagan is heavily responsible for the runaway speculative investment contributing to the current financial crisis, as well as to the collapse of consumer spending so abruptly and deeply in recent months. No long term recovery is therefore possible without a basic re-restructuring of the tax system in the U.S., starting with capital incomes taxation.

Sixteenth Measure: Repatriation of $2 trillion from offshore tax havens. The foregoing massive income shift in the U.S. has directly resulted in the diversion of trillions of dollars by wealthy investors and corporations to the 27 offshore tax havens, mostly island nations, which the IRS refers to as “special jurisdictions.” Conservative bank (Morgan Stanley) estimates in 2005 were the total holdings in offshore shelters had risen from $250 billion in the mid-1980s to $6 trillion by 2005. At least 40 percent of this total represents U.S. investors and corporations. Recently the German government has moved on its wealthy investors diverting income to avoid taxation to the small nation of Lichtenstein. The U.S. government must do the same.

Repatriation of only half, $2 trillion, and redeposit of those funds in U.S. based banks would provide more than what is needed to restore liquidity to the U.S. banking system, instead of attempting to do so at the U.S. taxpayer expense as is presently the case. Noncompliance by U.S. investor-corporations should be penalized at 10 percent. Severe pressure should also be applied to foreign (27 island nation) treasury departments to effect compliance and cooperation. If Germany can do it, so can the U.S.

Seventeenth Measure: 6.25 percent FICA tax on all unearned incomes above $332,000. A FICA tax at half the total rate paid presently by working families earning up to $102,000 should be imposed on the wealthiest 1 percent households (with $332,000 threshold earnings) on all forms of reported income by those households.

 


PART IV: Providing Consumption Stimulus

 

The key to recovery is to stabilize consumption demand, which is now in freefall due to massive job loss, cutback in hours worked, spreading wage and benefits reduction actions by business, collapsing 401k plan values, equity investment decline, multiple negative wealth effects, and general economic uncertainty. Tax cuts for business will have little effect in an environment of cash hoarding and low expected rates of return on investment.

Even consumption tax cuts promise little long term stimulus when personal debt levels have risen and consumers have shifted to saving from consumption.

The preceding $2 trillion program of jobs and housing proposals is designed to turn the system around short term, over the next two years. However, a more fundamental longer term problem exists in the U.S. economy. That problem is the declining consumption demand by the vast majority of the population, as a consequence of policies since the 1980s that have shifted relative income from the bottom 80 percent to the wealthiest households and corporations.

Consequently, new longer term, structural reforms must occur to sustain consumption demand in the U.S. economy. Failing this, even the $2 trillion injection of spending will eventually dissipate over the longer term. Three specific proposals are designed to re-redistribute income, reversing the negative trends of the past three decades, and set the U.S. economy on a longer term growth path. These measures all involve restoring of disposable income to families in the bottom 80 percent income distribution by means of fundamental health care spending reform, by the creation of a national 401k pool financed by matching contributions from a 2 percent business-to-business value added tax, and by de-privatizing the student loan market.

Eighteenth Measure: Establish a national 401k pool. The U.S. retirement system has been crumbling for decades. Since the 1980s, more than 100,000 defined benefit pensions have been dismantled and the remainder are under severe attack since the passage of the 2006 pension act.

The 401k approach to providing retirement income has proved to be a disaster. The average income balance in typical 401k plans today is barely $18,000. For the tens of millions who had their defined plans displaced with 401ks, it is a crisis of immense dimensions, in particular for the 77 million baby boomers about to retire starting in two years. The repeated collapse of equity markets in the past decade has further shown that employer-provided 401ks are a failed model for providing retirement benefits. In the past year alone, the value of employer-provided 401k pensions has fallen by more than $1 trillion.

The U.S. government should therefore nationalize the employer-provided and managed 401k plan system. A single national 401k pool should be created. This pool would function separate and apart from the pay as you go Social Security system. Kept legally separate, the national 401k pool would thus provide a supplemental retirement system to Social Security.

The pool would work as follows: each participant would be able to make individual deposits to the pool and withdraw limited amounts from it annually, just as under present employer-managed 401ks. Each account within the pool would be 100 percent portable and immediately vested. Voluntary deposits by individuals into the pool in their own name would be matched by equivalent government contributions. Government matching contributions to the pool would be funded by means of the introduction of a 2 percent national value added tax on the sale of intermediate goods (i.e., a business-to-business sales tax) that all businesses with annual sales revenues of more than $1 million would be required to make. Government investing of the pooled funds would be restricted to public ownership-public works projects, or government loans to publicly beneficial joint government-business projects such as alternative energy, green technology, and the like. Individuals would thus be able to invest in the growth and public welfare of the nation via deposits into the pool, even identifying projects of their choice.

Returns on the public investments in the pool would result in the growth of individual accounts, above and in addition to individual and government matching contributions funded by the 2 percent business-to-business value added tax. Thus, the individual’s share of the pool could grow from three sources: personal contribution, government matching contribution, and returns on public investment projects by the government. Government provided insurance would guarantee no loss to the individual’s account from public investment. Individuals’ accounts would not fall to less than the value of their combined initial deposits plus matching government contributions funded by the 2 percent tax, and could grow significantly more depending on public investment returns.

The Social Security pay as you go system would continue as an entirely separate system. Without having to make matching contributions to 401ks any longer, employers currently with defined benefit plans would be required to fully fund such plans if under-funded, as is currently the case for thousands of defined benefit pensions.

In addition, to ensure the proper funding of Social Security going forward as well, the projected Social Security Trust Fund surplus of $1.1 trillion from 2008 to 2017 should remain within the Trust Fund and not be diverted to the general U.S. budget, as have surpluses of more than $2 trillion since 1987. Congressional resolutions to open the Social Security trust “lock box” annually and transfer surpluses to the general U.S. budget should be considered a felony.

Nineteenth Measure: De-privatize the student loan market. Originally operated as a grant system, then government loans system, as the student loan market grew it was increasingly privatized. The result was various forms of profit taking that came to dominate a market that should be run as a public good and non-profit. Student loan lenders make money three ways: from charging market rates, from getting additional subsidies from the government, and by repacking and reselling student loans as collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs. The latter is largely responsible for the collapse of the current student loan market. The student loan market should therefore be returned to its original objectives of providing cost-only government financing to students.

Twentieth Measure: Single payer universal health plan. The U.S. pays the highest rates of health care spending in the world for one of the lowest returns in health care quality and coverage. The U.S.’s current $2.3 trillion national tab for health care—double that of other single payer national programs—includes $1.1 trillion in payments to non-health services providers such as health insurance companies and other middle managers in the system. As a first step toward a truly universal single payer system, a single payer system initially for the 91 million households earning less than $160,000 per year should be introduced. Households earning above $160,000 (top 20 percent incomes) would be exempt, but could participate for a fee. In subsequent phases, employer plans would be absorbed into the program, and the income bar would be raised by stages, eventually converting the program to a universal system.

 

Z

 


Jack Rasmus teaches in the Department of Economics & Politics at St. Marys College, Moraga, California. His radio-TV interviews and articles are available at www.kyklosproductions.com.