Posts from February 2013

Sequestration Was Never About Fiscal Responsibility

Blog Post by: Andrew Fieldhouse , on February 28, 2013

As a follow-up to my earlier blog post on the responsibility for and consequences of sequestration, I want to underscore that the entirety of the Budget Control Act (the resolution to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, which created the sequester) was about shrinking government, not fiscal responsibility. As I previously noted, sequestration will harm the economy, and perversely increase the debt-to-GDP ratio to 76.3 percent by the end of fiscal 2013, from 76.1 percent without sequestration. And by defunding public investment (a key driver of long-run economic growth) and delaying economic recovery, thereby incurring more long-run economic scarring, sequestration will leave a poorer country to service larger relative debts.

But even ignoring the macroeconomic damage wrought by sequestration, this across-the-board meat cleaver approach to cutting spending is often fiscally imprudent even on a programmatic level.

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Workers & Economic Inequality

GOP Economic Sabotage Strikes Again with Sequestration

Blog Post by: Andrew Fieldhouse , on February 28, 2013

As “sequestration” spending cuts seem increasingly likely to take effect tomorrow, and the blame game escalates over responsibility for the fallout, some incorrect revisionist history as well as (silly) pox-on-both-houses punditry merit comment.

If sequestration takes effect, it will be because congressional Republicans put draconian spending cuts in play, and have subsequently refused to replace those cuts with more sensible deficit reduction. And should sequestration take effect, this would not be an isolated case of economic policy malpractice: Congressional Republicans have consistently hamstrung efforts that economists overwhelmingly agree would have meaningfully helped lower the unemployment rate and instead advanced policies projected to decelerate near-term growth.

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Why We Can Have More Cleveland Clinics

Blog Post by: Greg Anrig , on February 27, 2013

Megan McArdle‘s informative Daily Beast piece about the Cleveland Clinic, widely recognized as a model health care provider in the United States, questions whether the cultural forces central to its success can be more broadly emulated in other medical settings. Because fundamentally transforming how any institution’s workers interact with each other is an inherently complex and uncertain endeavor, her skepticism is legitimate and no doubt widely shared. The Affordable Care Act includes a variety of provisions that are intended to induce health care providers to function more like Cleveland Clinics, but it very much remains an open question whether they will have that desired effect. 

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Additional Focus

Is Obama Too Deferential to the Military?

Blog Post by: Stephen Schlesinger , on February 27, 2013

The Holbrooke/Obama controversy is heating up again. As Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2009 until his death in 2010, Richard Holbrooke, the renowned hard-charging American diplomat, stirred up considerable controversy in the administration by strongly pressing for negotiations with the Taliban over the objections of Obama's White House staff and the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. As recounted in an excerpt in the March-April issue of Foreign Policy magazine, from an about-to-be published book, The Dispensable Nation, by one of Holbrooke's closest advisors, Vali Nasr, currently Dean of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, Nasr claims that Holbrooke tried to convince President Obama that the best solution to the Afghan conflict was to seek a diplomatic solution even while waging war.

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The Enduring Myth of the “Free” Internet

Blog Post by: Peter Osnos , on February 27, 2013

The mantra of a “free” Internet has shaped the prevailing view of how we access information and entertainment in the digital age. This enduring myth is actually a misnomer. It continues to obscure a serious problem faced by significant sectors of society unable to take full advantage of the Internet or meet the high price of cable and cellular phone systems that are at the core of today’s personal technology.

Yes, it is certainly the case that the devices that connect us to search engines, countless websites, social media, and e-mail bring us vast amounts of content for which we do not pay separately. But access to this “free” information on the Internet, as everyone acknowledges as soon as it is pointed out, is not gratis. Monthly charges for broadband Internet service, plus cable television fees and smartphone bills that together comprise the range of household pleasures and obligations as well as work-related communication that are so embedded in our lives amount to hefty sums. I have been asking friends and colleagues what it costs to maintain all these facets of their activities. Here is a typical response from a young woman in my office:

“I spend $100 a month on my cell phone service including data package and [her boyfriend]  and I split a $150 cable bill for phone, television, and Internet. Internet access will become more ‘free’ as there are more free WiFi hotspots around the city in parks, etcetera, although you still have to purchase the device in the first place. In that sense, I spent $800 on a laptop, $300 on an iPad mini, and I got my smartphone free with a two-year contract with my phone company.”

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Workers & Economic Inequality

Graph: How the Financial Sector Consumed America’s Economic Growth

Post by: Benjamin Landy , on February 25, 2013

Last Tuesday, The Century Foundation was honored to host Alan Blinder, renowned economist and recent editor (alongside Andrew Lo and Robert Solow) of Rethinking the Financial Crisis; a compilation of new research challenging the conventional wisdom on Wall Street about the efficiency of financial markets and the rationality of the investors who speculate in them.

The story Professor Blinder told was a familiar one: Decades of “financialization”—a term economists use to describe the growing scale, profitability and deregulation of the financial sector relative to the “real economy”—allowed banks to become too big, too speculative, and too opaque in the years leading up to the financial crisis. Even with the passage of the Dodd-Frank regulatory reforms, financial institutions like Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase remain “too big to fail.”

The growth of the financial industry has been a boon for its highly-paid managers. According to New York University economist Thomas Philippon, who contributes one of the most striking chapters in Rethinking the Financial Crisis, "total compensation of financial intermediaries (profits, wages, salary and bonuses) as a fraction of GDP is at an all-time high, around 9% of GDP."

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Russia on the Line for Syrian Settlement

Blog Post by: , on February 22, 2013

Though February is definitely low season for travel to Moscow, there's a notable uptick in Syrian travelers there now. Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Mouallem is due this weekend, and Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, president of the opposition umbrella group Syrian National Coalition, is expected there later in the week.

At a time when the prospects for ending Syria's dramatic downward spiral into total war have never seemed bleaker, the Russians -- and United Nations officials -- seem to see a few hopeful signs. The U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who was said to be ready to quit his post two months ago, has agreed to stay through the end of this year, a hint that he sees movement under the surface.

Much depends on what direction the United States now chooses to take right, too. U.N. officials hope that with a new secretary of state, the way may be cleared for a stronger U.S.-Russian partnership to shut the war down. Conversely, they fear derailment of a turn toward negotiations by the intensifying calls in Washington for U.S. arms shipments to rebels.

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Additional Focus

The Century Foundation Adds New Senior Fellow and Key Communication Staff

Blog Post by: The Century Foundation , on February 22, 2013

Senior Fellow Michael Likosky Will Focus on Infrastructure Investment and Public Finance, Joe Miller Will Direct Digital Communications

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Workers & Economic Inequality

Fear the Spending Cuts Mantra

Blog Post by: , on February 22, 2013

Over the last few years, Washington political types have become increasingly concerned about large deficits and the subsequent increase in government debt. The rhetoric of those pushing for deficit reduction—the so-called deficit hawks—has grown more apocalyptic, with some prophesying that the United States was on the verge of collapse due to its debt burden and calling for sweeping action.

These warnings are wrong, and the suggestion that we undertake massive spending cuts is dangerous and misguided.

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The Century Foundation Audit

Blog Post by: The Century Foundation , on February 20, 2013

The Century Foundation makes every effort to conduct its operations as transparently as possible. As part of that process, we regularly post the results of our audits and our IRS 990 forms. Those are attached below.

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