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PRESS RELEASE: IntComps site changes hands

HAPA ANNOUNCES TRANSFER OF RESEARCH PROJECT TO UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI

Hayward, CA – The Hayward Area Planning Association (HAPA) has transferred the InternationalComparisons.org website to the University of Missouri. Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Cal State University Hayward and President of HAPA, and Dustyn Bindel, Research Associate, developed the website over a period of almost four years. Tevfik Murat Yildirim, a Ph.D. student at the University, will be continuing the development of the site as new research is done on evaluating the performance of the world’s advanced nations. Professor Cooper Drury, Chair of the Department of Political Science, edits the Journal, Foreign Policy Analysis, and is the faculty contact for the site. He said, “Understanding the politics in other states is critically important to understand the foreign policy of others and one’s own state.”The site address is http://www.internationalcomparison.org/

Lewis says, “Work on this site has been rewarding but has become too time consuming, and I need to pass the baton onto some institution with fresh energy to continue the work.” Bindel, who ran the website and a related blog, says that “Laying out the site, technically, was quite challenging, but I think we’ve made it quite transparent for any journalist or academic with an interest in national comparative evaluations.” Tevfik states that he “… was excited when I saw an announcement about this website, and as I looked into it more, I decided it was something important—something I really wanted to work on. I feel challenged and honored for the opportunity to work on this important website.”

Sherman Lewis had the idea for this project for many years before he finally got serious, starting with a compilation of all the treaties that other advanced nations had agreed to, but not the United States. In general, he is critical of both ideological attacks on the United States and of simplistic defenses of the U.S. He believes that the United States is seriously behind on many important goals of society and yet also wants to give credit to the U.S. where its performance is good or excellent. Nevertheless, he believes that the U.S. in general has fallen behind other advanced democracies, and people need objective information about this problem.

Lewis: The “Intcomps” website is unique in that it has more topics of comparison for quality of life than any other website in the world today. On the other hand, it looks only at 12 countries, the U.S. and 11 advanced democratic countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The site combines objectivity with evaluation.

In May 2014, Wikipedia published an article on the general issue of international comparison statistics for 26 policy areas. The article discusses seven databases with this kind of statistical data. Internationalcomparisons.org is the only one that covers every area.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_comparisons

On the website, the categorical pages, each containing several columns of statistics, are as follows:

Agriculture     Child Welfare     Competitiveness     Crime     Economy     Education

Energy     Environment     Gender Equality     General Performance     Greenhouse Gases

Health Care     Health Regulation      Health Status     Housing

Income Distribution     International Aid     Lifestyle Risks     Military     Population

Rule of Law     Sexual Health     Social Justice     Technology     Teen Pregnancy

Transportation     Treaties     Voting     Work and Leisure

To learn more about the website or HAPA, please contact Sherman Lewis at sherman@csuhayward.us.

 

US joins 90 other Arms Trade Treaty signatories

Making news last week directly affecting research on internationalcomparisons.org, the U.S. became the 91st signatory of the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which regulates illicit arms trade–everything from helicopters and tanks to small and light arms–among countries in order to prevent weapons being sold to countries involved in human rights violations. Secretary of State John Kerry signed the treaty on President Barak Obama’s behalf much to the chagrin of the National Rifle Association and U.S. conservatives. Kerry has assured that “… we would never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of Americans, the rights of American citizens, to be able to exercise their guaranteed rights under our Constitution.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms already regulates that which is required by the ATT and no supplemental enforcement or legislation is required to support it. Kerry further guaranteed that the treaty still allows “the ability of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legit purposes,” and that their 2nd Amendment rights had no reason for concern.

As extensively reviewed on internationalcomparisons.org, the U.S. has left many forefront international treaties unsigned (official endorsement from the head of state) and still more unratified (official endorsement from the legislature). Many of the snubs are absolutely confounding. Organizations like Amnesty International, who have pushed for such an agreement for the past 20+ years, are rightfully celebrating this achievement as potential progress on cracking down on international arms trade. Since the U.S. signing, 21 more nation states have signed the treaty and ratifications have almost doubled from 4 to 7.

The two-edged sword of universal health care

As Dr. Philip Caper has revealed, there’s more at stake concerning health care than whether the U.S. should have free health care for all.

He evaluates the costs offered for medicare services in the U.S. compared to the prices for the same procedures (be it a hip replacement, pregnancycolonoscopy, angiogram, or an M.R.I.) in other advanced democracies. When a surgery would cost someone $100,000 in the States in comparison to $13,660 to have it done in Belgium (airfare included), flaws in the more expensive system become glaring.

Furthermore, concerns are drawn in the United States health care system given the discrepancy among prices for the same medicare procedures when compared within the U.S. For example, procedures to treat heart failure and shock in Modesto, CA average a bill of over $92,000. The exact same category averages $3,334 in Danville, Arkansas. Geographical differences only explain so much. Systemic flaws must be at the root of the 2,700% difference.

Credit: Huck/Konopacki Cartoons

The issue in the U.S. is two-fold; therefore, universal healthcare as a solution is also double-edged. Universal health care would make health care an affordable reality for all. One study reveals that 1 out of every 4 elderly people goes bankrupt as a result of health care expenses. The United States has a broken system in which its government spends more per capita (except for Norway) and more as a percent of GDP than any other advanced democracy studied at internationalcomparisons.org.

A U.S. universal health care system would also eliminate pricing discrepancies, as reviewed above, not only in international comparisons, but interstate as well. No longer would people need to shop international hospitals for a colonoscopy or worry why Medicare has no reasonable explanation for price differences in Danville, Arkansas.

It’s a shame and a quandary: not only the systemic debacles, but also the lack of public outcry.

Health Regulation page goes live!

The Health Regulation page is relevant to internationalcomparisons.org for several reasons. Let’s highlight a couple of the most critical:

This is pretty straight forward. A great example is the link between child advertising and child obesity. U.S. advertisers spend $15-17 billion annually on advertisements targeting children. As a direct result, 35% of U.S. children are obese. Only Italy and the UK have rates over 25% in the EU which restricts advertisement to children by the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive which mandates that child advertisement:

a. shall not directly exhort minors to buy a product or a service by exploiting their inexperience or credulity;
b. shall not directly encourage minors to persuade their parents or others to purchase the goods or services being advertised;
c. shall not exploit the special trust minors place in parents, teachers or other persons;
d. shall not unreasonably show minors in dangerous situations;
e. Children’s programs may only be interrupted if the scheduled duration is longer than 30 minutes;
f. Product placement is not allowed in children’s programs;
g. The Member States and the Commission should encourage audiovisual media service providers to develop codes of conduct regarding the advertising of certain foods in children’s programs.

  • The U.S. is the most reluctant advanced democracy to apply the precautionary principle.

In spite of pumping out nearly 20 new chemicals per day (according to Craig Collins’ Toxic Loopholes), the U.S. somehow still doesn’t find it necessary to have tighter policy to regulate the safety of those chemicals. The precautionary principle can be described as a method of policy making by which all chemicals are considered dangerous until proven harmless. Instead, U.S. chemical policy treats the unpredictable agents as innocent until proven guilty. Even once harm is associated with the chemical, certain systemic pitfalls have made it almost impossible to get such chemicals banned. The EU has banned over 1,000 chemicals; the U.S., in spite of the prolific rates at which new chemicals are produced, has banned a laughable total of nine chemicals. Wider application of the precautionary principle could have saved us the multifaceted and widespread hazards from PCBs. Without such tests required, who knows what we’re risking with GMOs and U.S. backed Monsanto initiatives.

Tackling taxes and misconceptions concerning US recovery

US deficits are a result of massive tax cuts, huge increases in military spending, the new Medicare drug benefit, and a serious recession caused by poor use of tax cut funds, crazy mortgages, and a massive housing and financial derivatives bubble. First: taxes. American politics is awash with the idea that lower taxes will help the economy; however, higher taxes properly spent will, in fact, help the economy. Advanced democracies (such as many of the subjects on internationalcomparisons.org) all have significantly higher tax rates than the US while maintaining a higher standard of living. In modern US economic history, higher tax rates are usually associated with higher growth rates. The last tax reform in 1986 increased taxes on business and was followed by years of increased investment. When taxes were lowered during a boom in 2001, it was followed by the biggest bust since the Depression. The danger is posed not by taxes, but by debt, speculation, and excessive money growth.

Under-taxation causes deficit spending, which increases borrowing. Money in Treasury bonds may or may not be invested in growth. The borrowing can be redeemed if the spending it supports is productive, that is, longer term and causes more growth than the burden of debt. Otherwise, taxes that are designed to pay interest on debt become a dead weight on economic growth. Unfortunately, in recent years most of the deficit has not been invested in growth. At the end of the Clinton years, the US budget moved into the black, a rare event, followed by the biggest tax-cut deficits in US history under Republican G. W. Bush. Tax cuts have gone to increase upper incomes with devastating results for the deficit, jobs, and growth. Job growth, in fact, slowed down and the economy went into the worst crisis since the Great Depression. On top of tax cuts, doubling down on bad policy, for the first time in American history, the elite decided to fight wars without paying for them, ballooning debt even more. Over comparable six year periods, Clinton’s tax increase was followed by a 16.2 percent jobs growth; Bush’s tax cuts were followed by a 4.8 percent job growth. For GDP growth, the score was Clinton, 26 percent; Bush,16 percent. For median income, Clinton, up 14.7 percent; Bush, up 1.6 percent. Bush claimed his policies would decrease national debt by $3 trillion; the debt went up by $1.7 trillion over the six years. Continuing the cuts raised the debt by $2.5 trillion over 10 years.

I have been unable to find any audit of where the tax cut money actually went. I only found: “Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi estimates that making the Bush income tax cuts permanent would currently generate only 35 cents in economic activity for every dollar in forgone revenue.” A lot seems to have gone to personal consumption by the wealthy. One corporate mogul bought a bigger boat in Italy, for example. A lot must have gone into purchases of assets without increasing their productivity, that is, into houses, collectibles, and housing speculation. Unqualified buyers bought homes they could not afford and gullible investors trusted corrupt bankers, insurance companies, and bond rating agencies who pushed the Ponzi bubble higher and higher. Some of the money that went abroad came back from Asian exporters into US treasuries, an unproductive investment. Some of the money probably went into US growth and jobs. (If you know of a good quantitative analysis, let me know.)

The underlying reality is that, within some limits, taxes usually create more jobs and growth than does private spending, so long as the taxes are progressive and the money is wisely spent. Government does a better job because the private sector has a higher cost per job than government. Taxes shift money from high-cost jobs to a larger number of low-cost jobs, creating more jobs for the same amount of money. Consumer demand shifts from serving high income consumers, who spend less and save more as a percent of income, to average incomes who spend more of their income.

Keynes was right: slack economies can recover very slowly or government can prime the pump of demand for growth. Adequate taxes and anti-cyclical spending combined solve the problem. The late W. Bush and early Obama bailouts to the bankers and AEG who caused the problem, the stimulus, and the rescue of GM prevented a deeper recession. Recent Fed policy, however, seems misguided: lower interest rates do little good when businesses won’t borrow because consumers can’t buy because of unemployment.

The value of taxes for the economy is very well understood by the banks themselves who received government funds to maintain liquidity during the recession. The banks also forecast that lack of federal spending and its spillover into lower state and local spending will be a drag on the economy through 2021. California alone gets $79 billion per year, 40 percent of the General Fund, from the federal government.

So, more specifically, how should the money be spent and how should the taxes be increased? First, how to spend: Non-ideological economists agree that using the money for infrastructure, aid to states, temporary payroll tax reductions, and unemployment benefits would have been more productive for short-term demand and long term productivity. The tax cuts, by contrast, were like a quick blood transfusion from the weak to the healthy that in the end reduced the ability of the weak to buy much, undermining the long-term health of the wealthy, themselves. I am not, however, happy with payroll and unemployment ideas. I like what the CCC and WPA did and I’d like to adapt it to current needs. There is a lot of work not being done, and low to middle level skills are still needed. There are a lot of people willing to work for what they used to make or less, which has a low cost per job, is not inflationary and is not enough to keep them when better jobs come along with recovery. It’s a triple play: it gets work done, helps aggregate demand, and provides a social benefit totally superior to giving the affluent even more money.

Another issue is how taxes should be reformed, with five choices:

  • reduce taxes by raising fees,
  • raise rates above historic levels (tax rate increase),
  • restore rates to previously prevailing levels (tax rate restoration),
  • close tax loopholes, and
  • shift taxes from “goods” to “bads.”

Fees replace taxes: If a state lowers tax support for its colleges and raises tuition, is it a tax increase on students? For a social good like education, the fee approach is regressive. However, for private goods it requires beneficiaries to pay, which makes sense.

Concerning rate increases or restorations, the US is fortunate to not have to raise rates; it only needs to restore rates that prevailed during a better economy.

Concerning loopholes, they need to be understood as a budget expenditure, a tax budget
expenditure, no different from an outlay budget expenditure. Is closing a loophole a tax
increase or a budget cut? It’s both, but it is not a tax rate increase. Closing loopholes has four benefits: it reduces deficits, improves vertical equity, improves horizontal equity, and improves economic fair play. Vertical equity improves because more taxes come from some upper incomes, increasing the amount from all upper incomes. Horizontal equity improves because people with similar incomes are taxed in a similar way. Fair play improves by creating a level economic playing field by not using the tax code to promote market winners.

The tax code does hundreds of favors to vested interests reducing their taxes relative to other high incomes. The Joint Committee on Taxation and Treasury Department disclose the tax expenditure budget but only list the loopholes without adding them up. In 2011 Citizens for Tax Justice estimated $365 billion in subsidies for business and investment.

Tax expenditure budget spending is out of control, perpetuating itself, unlike the outlay budget, without annual review by Congress. Upper income people who do pay their share—and many pay much higher taxes than other high income people—should be more concerned about the unfairness to them and the distortion of markets, undermining market-based growth. Many giant corporations pay little or no tax. Corporate tax incidence is difficult to figure out, but assuming half falls on owners and half on consumers, the result is the same for individuals: corporate tax avoidance equals personal income tax avoidance. In June 2011 the Center for Tax Justice reported that 12 big corporations with profits of $57 billion per year paid taxes of minus $833 million. That is to say, they did not pay takes; on average, they received checks from the IRS.

We should shift taxes from “goods” to bads”: A simple carbon tax, increased gradually, is a tax on “bads” that can easily allow reduction of taxes on “goods” like earned income. This policy will not harm the economy, but, instead, shifts prices at the margin to create an incentive for real growth, improve US competitiveness, and reduce the cost of buying foreign fossil fuels. It will be difficult to catch up with Denmark and Germany; they are decarbonizing and growing sustainably.

“Our addiction to foreign oil is hampering our economic recovery and we desperately need investments in clean energy. We can address these pressing problems, while reducing our budget deficit and pollution, by enacting a simple carbon tax.” –Congressman Pete Stark, Sept. 2011.

Do you know of any other Representative stating the obvious?

Government can promote jobs and growth in the several ways outlined above, but does much more if it does what it is supposed to do. Both private and government investment help economic productivity, but in different ways. Government consumer protection creates consumer confidence, reducing the cost of selling. Government investor protection creates investor confidence, increasing the availability of capital. Government spending on natural resources and reducing pollution provides quality of life services and nature services of great economic value that the private sector is unable to provide. Government spending on health reduces what private business would spend or, absent business spending, increases worker health directly, promoting economic growth either way. Government spending on education has a pay-off in human capital essential for long term growth. Government spending on research provides technological capital used by business for growth. Under-funding government spending on social programs leads to high costs of criminality, jails, and prisons. The US prison population is so big it ,reduces the labor force, increasing the cost. The Advanced Democracies, as reviewed at internationalcomparisons.org, with a fraction of the US crime rate and a fraction of the costs, show how effective education and social programs can be.

Country Profile page additions

After a lot of hard work, Internationalcomparison.org is very excited to announce its first Country Profile page addition. These Country Profiles may be accessed via the Internationalcomparison.org’s home screen. The name of each individual country listed under the column “Country’s covered” on the home page will be linked to the appropriate Country Profile page. The Country Profile pages are designed to briefly yet effectively summarize what specifically makes that country competitive in offering a higher quality of life in comparison to the United States while also addressing major ways in which the country’s aspirations for acquiring a higher quality of life might be misinterpreted or misrepresented by the American media.

 

Japan

As previously posted in January 2011, Steve Hill has written an insightful article on Japan which provides an ideal resource for Japan’s Country Profile. Japan’s Country Profile has become the first to be published at Internationalcomparison.org. We look forward to publishing additional Country Profiles as we come across the research that meets the aforementioned objectives. If you know of relevant research that you think might be of help to us, please leave a comment or leave us an email.

New links posted

A new article from Citizens for Tax Justice entitled “United States Remains One of the Least Taxed Industrial Countries” has been linked on the Income Distribution page. The article indicates that of the 27 OECD countries, the U.S. ranks 25th in federal, state, and local tax totals.

Another article link has also been added to the Crime page. Families Against Mandatory Minimums contend in “What America Can’t Afford” that the U.S. prison is too costly to maintain and its incarceration numbers are incomparable to any other country in the world.

If you have any thoughts on either article or have other relevant articles presenting other insights, we’re very glad to hear them! Just drop a comment.