Sunday Snippets: Three News Stories that Catch the Eye

December 14th, 2014 at 1:59 pm

The Cruz Paradox: Senate hits a level of dysfunction that actually somehow turns back on itself and gets things done.

As far as I can tell, this is a new phenomenon in the space-time continuum of political science: In their negotiations over the CRomnibus spending bill, a couple of conservative senators—Sens. Cruz and Lee—insisted on keeping the Senate in session to take a meaningless vote against the President’s recent immigration action. That enabled Sen. Reid to maneuver around a long-term Republican block and bring a bunch of President Obama’s nominees to the floor for a vote. And remember, these appointments can no longer be filibustered, so they’ll pass in this session with majority D’s (as opposed to the incoming Senate).

I feel certain there’s some advanced algebraic topology that explains how knots of dysfunction unravel in higher dimensions, but I’m not smart enough to write down the equations. Surely there’s a poli-sci dissertation in here somewhere.

The Price of Oil and the Calculus of Tight Oil

There are many interesting dimensions to the dramatic decline in oil prices in recent weeks, and I hope to write more about one in particular in coming weeks, i.e., taking advantage of this moment to put a federal gas tax increase on the table.

But one interesting economic question arising here is why isn’t OPEC acting like a cartel and restricting supply to arrest the price decline? Instead, they’re pumping as much as ever, especially the Saudi’s, OPEC’s largest supplier.

The answer appears to be that they’re sacrificing profits today for market share tomorrow. They believe—correctly, according to conventional analysis—that when oil hits $60-$70 a barrel, which is where it is now, extracting “tight oil”—fracking and tar sands—is no longer profitable. And in fact, there’s some evidence that it’s working already, as tight oil producers respond quite elastically to the new, low price.

The implication, of course, is that once supply adjusts, energy prices will start climbing again. So I’d think twice before picking up that new Hummer.

The Unique Politics and Policy of Balancing Work and Family

The NYT has an extended feature on the decline of women’s employment rates in the US relative to that of women in other advanced economies. Read it yourself, but one theme of the piece is that US policy—really, the absence of such policy—makes it harder for women to balance work and family here relative to Europe. Research cited in the report suggests that these differences explain one-third of the difference in movements of women’s labor force participation. “Had the United States had the same policies [as Europe] women’s labor force participation rate would have been seven percentage points higher by 2010.” Given the typical movements in these numbers, that’s a very large effect.

My strong reaction is this: I’m hard pressed to think of another set of policies that more tightly hits that rare sweet spot of great politics and great policy than this one. If I were a politician considering a run for high office, I’d be all about these work/family balance ideas. They’re pro-growth, pro-family, and as the NYT piece stresses, have to potential to reach a lot of women who struggle for balance in this space.

Which is why I touted them in a recent paper as an important PGEP:

PGEPs in this space include paid sick leave, robust maternal and paternal leave policies, worker-centered scheduling, ensuring parents have ample time and resources to care for children and elderly parents (prevent discrimination against caregivers), and affordable, high quality child care.

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7 comments in reply to "Sunday Snippets: Three News Stories that Catch the Eye"

  1. Larry Signor says:

    Wow. Lots of stuff in a short post. I’ll pass on the Ted Cruz crux, since I am extremely prejudiced towards him. But, any port in a storm. The price of oil is a double edged sword. With a lower price the tendency would be for higher consumption and the consequent climate problems. With a higher price, the carbon foot print of tight oil increases, with the consequent climate problems. A significant increase in the federal gas tax would have a positive effect on both scenarios. On the decline of womens employment rates, your ideas would be spectacular, in a full employment economy. Without eliminating labor slack, I don’t see a way forward for these ideas. We are back to square one. But, you are fighting the good fight.


  2. D. C. Sessions says:

    The one problem with the “work/life balance’ issue is that any such policies would help those people, and the one great law of American politics is that the South would rather undergo mass extinction than support any policy that would help them. That’s the main reason why the poorest States in the country (Mississippi, anyone?) consistently vote for policies that hurt them more than any others.


  3. Larry Signor says:

    Mississippi has a population of 2,991,207 or, 0.946% of the US population. This is not any kind of a national representative opinion. Opportunistic prejudice thrives in a small, enclosed population. But there is Vermont, as a representative outlier.


  4. Smith says:

    Here is my comment, which may seem like a quibble, but I would argue is actually an important major difference in how one views the substance and politics of the progressive agenda.

    Recently a summary was given of that agenda here:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/09/my-version-of-the-progressive-agenda-fits-on-a-little-bag-take-that-complexity/
    http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/bag-it-up-a-progressive-agenda-to-go/

    It was summarized there as follows:
    “1. Full employment!”
    “2. Low-income Households: education opportunity, expand EITC, higher min wage, subsidized jobs (direct job creation).”
    “3. Middle class: affordable higher education, boost manufacturing through lower trade deficit!”
    “4. High end: close wasteful tax loopholes, financial market oversight (fewer bubbles), “financial transaction tax.”

    Separately an argument was made for PGEP (Pro Growth Equalizing Policies) here:
    http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/conf_draft_PGEPs.pdf
    http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/whats-that-you-dont-know-what-pgeps-are-get-with-it-dude/
    This included the paragraphs (the second already cited above):
    “A final example of a PGEP in this space is one wherein “G” takes on a broader meaning: policies designed to help balance work and family life. Such policies may or may not increase growth as conventionally measured —
    though to the extent that they boost worker productivity, they could have such effects — but they are very likely to increase a growth rate that factored in family well-being, including spending quality time together.”
    “PGEPs in this space include paid sick leave, robust maternal and paternal leave policies, worker-centered scheduling, ensuring parents have ample time and resources to care for children and elderly parents (prevent discrimination against caregivers), and affordable, high quality child care.”

    My argument is that the “little bag” agenda should be focused and framed much differently as previously submitted here:
    http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/bag-it-up-a-progressive-agenda-to-go/#comment-2148245
    Here the main four points, very different, though not contradictory, and still very specific

    1. Tax the rich
    2. Infrastructure spending, with Keynesian deficits during a recession.
    3. Free education
    4. Equal pay and free immigrant labor.

    Where points 3 and 4 are expanded into short explanatory paragraphs, they very much encompass “The Unique Politics and Policy of Balancing Work and Family”

    3. Free universal education. This would encompass closing gaps in preschool, after school child care, the summer recess, and college education. It would recognize increased spending is not the answer, but paying teachers less than bankers is non nonsensical, and college is the new high school. It restores what free high school and the GI Bill provided.

    4. There are a host of other measures, especially repealing Taft Hartley and secondary boycott ban, stopping unfair trade agreements, ending most exempt status of workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, but number one should be equal pay and free labor, give women equal pay, (partly by expanding child rearing accommodations) and give immigrant labor equal pay (by making them free, with full labor rights, ending employee sponsorship requirements).

    What I’m arguing about is the emphasis given to the issue, it’s a major component of 2 of my four bullet points outlining the progressive agenda. Even the explanatory paragraphs for 3 and 4, reprinted above, still fit into a brief comment or sound bite.

    It is not an additional pro growth item, or a progressive policy that hits a political sweet spot. It is in fact a major essential component of the progressive agenda. Treating it as anything else but, or as an issue (sic) “have to potential to reach a lot of women” meaning as an issue that mainly resonates with women, is a major blunder, not just politically, but more importantly, economically. In setting the progressive agenda, how can providing equitable working conditions and pay for 47% of the workforce not make the top four?


  5. Ben Ross says:

    Surely a big factor in the oil price calculations of the Saudis and the gulf emirates is a desire to put political pressure on Iran.


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