Bernie Sanders and His $27 Average Campaign Donation

Sanders $27 Money

Bernie Sanders is certainly to be commended for leading a modern US political campaign funded almost in its entirety by campaign contributions from individuals.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Sanders campaign (through June 30) raised $226 million in individual contributions, with this accounting for 99% of the total money raised by or for the campaign (including outside groups).  This is impressive, and hopefully will serve as a model for future political campaigns.

Famously, the Sanders campaign touted that the average contribution came out to just $27, thus highlighting the grass roots nature of his support.  And this has been widely quoted.  Even President Obama got in on this.  In his remarks at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he noted:

“What an election season.  For example, we’ve got the bright new face of the Democratic Party here tonight  –-  Mr. Bernie Sanders!   There he is  —  Bernie! Bernie, you look like a million bucks.  Or to put it in terms you’ll understand, you look like 37,000 donations of 27 dollars each!”

But listening to Sanders’ speech to the Democratic Convention on Monday, a point bothered me.  And being a numbers person, I had to look it up.  Sanders noted right at the beginning of his remarks that he wanted to:

“thank the 2 1/2 million Americans who helped fund our campaign with an unprecedented 8 million individual campaign contributions – averaging $27 a piece.”

This was the first time I realized that the $27 individual contribution may not be referring to what an average person contributed, but rather to what the average donation was, where they are counting separately each donation from an individual contributor making multiple donations.

And it does appear that this is the case.  The $226 million figure noted above for total contributions divided by 8 million individual campaign contributions comes to a bit over $28 per contribution – close enough to the $27 number; it is within round-off.  But per individual, it comes to over $90 per person over the 2 1/2 million individuals who contributed to the Sanders campaign.  On average, each donor contributed 3.2 times.

This is a quibble, to be sure.  But an average contribution of $90 (per donor) does not sound as democratic as $27 (per donation).

The New Public Restroom Laws: Just How Do They Plan to Enforce Them?

Public Restroom Sign.001

There have been a spate of recent legislative proposals that aim to ban transgender Americans from using the public restrooms consistent with the gender they identify with. North Carolina, after careful consideration that lasted all of one day (the bill was introduced at 10:00 am, debated, voted on, approved, and then signed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory that same evening) has gone the furthest so far.  This emergency bill not only explicitly restricts the bathrooms to be used by transgender men and women but also specifically bans any local North Carolina jurisdictions from passing ordinances that would protect gays, lesbians, and transgender persons from discrimination.

The new laws in North Carolina as well as in several other states go well beyond the bathroom issues, to provide legislated approval to explicit, open, and blatant discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgender men and women, as long as the claim is made that this is being done in the name of religious beliefs.  This is a serious concern, and it is sad but telling that leaders of the main organized religions in the US have not spoken out against such measures.  Most Americans are not bigots.  But this blog post will be limited to the narrow issue of bathroom use, and specifically to the question of how, precisely, do they plan on enforcing the new statute?

The new North Carolina law specifies that each person will only be allowed to use a public restroom in conformity with what they call their “biological sex”.  They define “biological sex” as the sex (male or female) stated on the person’s birth certificate.  To enforce this and protect the public from someone of a different “biological sex” making use of a facility, it would appear that North Carolina would need to post a policeman (or policewoman) at the entrance to each public restroom in the state (including in schools).  I do not see how that is possible.

But assuming that police were so posted, would they then challenge each male entering a men’s restroom and each female entering a women’s restroom to show their birth certificate to prove they were identified as male or female, respectively, to enter said restroom?  Most of us do not carry our birth certificates with us.  Furthermore, at least in my case one could barely read what is on it (as the ink, from an old style photocopier of more than a half century ago, is now basically a large smudge).

In the absence of a birth certificate, would they then insist on a physical inspection of anyone seeking to enter the facility to ensure they were of the “correct” sex?  And precisely what would be covered by said inspection?

But let’s assume that the policeman (or woman) successfully blocked in the name of safety a transgender man or woman from access to a restroom from which they are now forbidden by law.  Or that the transgender man or woman, being a law abiding citizen, followed the new law and sought to take care of their business in the women’s restroom for the transgender man or men’s restroom for the transgender woman.  The women in the women’s restroom would see a person entering who might well look, in terms of external appearance, like a man. He would dress like a man, have the hair style of a man, and might even be sporting a beard.  And similarly the transgender woman entering the men’s restroom might well have the external appearance of a woman.

This, I suspect, might be disconcerting for those present.  Indeed, I suspect that more than a few would immediately shout for the police.  And I am not sure that a statement that they are just seeking to abide by the new law of the State of North Carolina would immediately reassure them.

In any case, the new law would provide excellent cover to a criminal who was in fact seeking to enter a restroom to assault someone there of the opposite sex.

A few seconds thought by the legislators who passed this law, or by the governor who signed it, would have led them to see this.  But this assumes their intent was in fact to keep transgender men and women from using the facility consistent with the sex they identify with (as they certainly have, peacefully and quietly, ever since public restrooms came into existence).  Such intent was probably not the case, and certainly not for any who thought about it, as they knew there would be no way to enforce such a measure. Rather, the aim was to harass and belittle those who are transgender, as well as gays and lesbians in the law as a whole, treating them as not being the equal in terms of their rights to what others enjoy as American citizens.

The Tax Plans of the Republican Presidential Candidates Are Not Even Close to Serious

TPC Evaluations of Tax Losses in the Republican Tax Plans, 2016

A.  Introduction

There is a good deal in the current campaign of candidates seeking the Republican presidential campaign that is worrying.  When one of the main remaining candidates (Marco Rubio) tries to belittle one of the other candidates (Donald Trump) on national television by alluding to the size of his penis, one has to wonder.  This would be considered juvenile even in a campaign for a high school class president.  Yet one of these candidates will almost certainly receive the nomination of the Republican Party to be the President of the United States.

This blog seeks, however, to focus on economic issues.  And a key economic issue in modern day political campaigns is what the candidate would seek to do, if elected to office, about tax policy.  Major candidates have therefore set out detailed proposals while campaigning, with these proposals developed by teams of trusted advisors who are specialists in the area, and then put out by the candidate as what he (or she) would try to enact if elected.

The major Republican candidates have done this, and four of these (the proposals of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush) have been analyzed in depth by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center (a joint center sponsored by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution).  (The Tax Policy Center has also just recently issued similar analyses of the tax plans of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.)

Among the issues examined by the Tax Policy Center was what the impact would be on revenues collected of the Republican plans.  This blog post will look at those estimates, and calculate what they imply for government expenditure cuts if, as each of the candidates insist, they would not allow deficits to rise.  And what they imply is that these plans, like much else in this campaign, simply are not serious.

B.  The Revenue Losses from the Republican Plans

The chart at the top of this post shows what the Tax Policy Center calculates the government revenue losses would be if the tax plans of the major Republican candidates were implemented.  Ten year totals (for fiscal years 2017 to 2026) are shown rather than year by year numbers to keep things simple, even though the plans would still be ramping up in 2017 with the full impact not seen until 2018.  The total revenue losses would range from $6.8 trillion for Bush as well as Rubio, to $8.6 trillion for Cruz, to $9.5 trillion for Trump.

To put this in perspective, the chart includes (on the right) the projected total government discretionary budget expenditures for all purposes other than defense over this same ten year period.  The figures are from the most recent (January 2016) ten year budget forecasts of the Congressional Budget Office, and will exclude defense as well expenditures for mandatory programs (two-thirds of which are for Social Security and Medicare) and for interest on public debt.

Forecast non-defense discretionary expenditures total $6.5 trillion over this ten year period.  This is less than what the revenue losses would be under any of the Republican plans.  That is, even with the total elimination of government discretionary spending on everything other than defense, the deficit would increase.  Yet these Republicans insist that their plans would not increase the deficit.

Cutting non-defense discretionary expenditures to zero is of course absurd.  For those concerned with security, one should note there would be no more federal prisons, no more prosecutors, no FBI, no more border control.  There would be no more federal disease control, no more federally funded medical research, no more federal support for infrastructure building or maintenance, no more NASA or supported science research, and so on.  Everything would be eliminated, not just cut.

Taking this a step further, one can look at how much defense spending would need to be cut, on top of the elimination of all non-defense expenditure, to make up for the lost revenues:

Implied Defense Reductions, FY2017 to 2026, TPC

The necessary cuts in the defense budget would range from 5% of forecast ten-year defense expenditures for Bush and Rubio, to 32% for Cruz, to 47% (!) for Trump.  Yet Cruz, Rubio and Bush have all also called for sharp increases in defense spending.  Ted Cruz has laid out an ambitious plan for a bigger military that an analyst at the conservative Cato Institute would cost an extra $2.6 trillion over eight years, an increase in defense spending of over 50%.  Bush and Kasich have each proposed increases in defense spending of $1 trillion over ten years, an increase of over 15%.  Rubio is also arguing for big (but unspecified) increases in defense spending.  Things are perhaps less clear for Donald Trump, who has asserted he is “gonna build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now”, but “for a lot less”.  How he would do this he does not say, and it is doubtful he would get a “much stronger” military if its budget is to be cut by close to half.

C.  Conclusion

The Republican candidates assert their tax cut plans would not, however, lead to deficit increases, nor that they would cut defense spending (at least other than Trump).  Rather, they would cut non-defense spending.  However, as seen above, even if non-defense spending were cut to zero, budget deficits would increase unless there were also sharp cuts in mandatory programs (which are mostly Social Security and Medicare).

How do they believe they can do this?  Because they assert their tax plans would lead to big, indeed miraculous, leaps in growth.  Yet there is no evidence that such tax plans would do this.  Indeed, they are so large that the disruption in finances would almost certainly have large negative consequences for growth.

Economic theory does suggest that tax systems can affect growth.  The Tax Policy Center evaluations of the Republican tax plans, cited above, each have a balanced discussion of what they might be.  But as they point out, one would expect from economic theory that there would be both positive and negative effects, offsetting each other to at least some degree, and that in any case the overall impact in either direction is likely to be small. What the net impact will be, and in what direction, is then an empirical question, and careful studies of historical examples of tax reforms suggests that the overall impact on growth is, indeed, small.

One also does not find any evidence in the US historical data that tax cuts lead to more rapid growth.  As an earlier post on this blog found, federal taxes as a share of GDP were substantially lower in the decade following the Bush tax cuts of 2001 than for any decade in the previous half century, but this was not associated with higher GDP or jobs growth. Rather, it was associated with the lowest growth of GDP or jobs of any decade since at least the 1960s.  Furthermore, one cannot find any indication that a reduction of the highest marginal income tax rate (a focus of the Republican tax plans) led to higher growth.  The highest marginal federal income tax rate was 91 or 92% in the 1950s under Eisenhower, and always 70% or higher during the 1960s, but growth in GDP and in jobs during those periods were reasonably good, especially in comparison to what they have been since the Bush tax cuts of 2001.  High marginal income tax rates in the 1950s and 1960s did not kill growth.

One should not then expect miracles.  The Republican tax plans simply cannot be taken seriously.  But perhaps I am being silly to expect that in this campaign for the presidency.

The Leading Republican Presidential Candidates on Muslims and Syrian War Refugees

Republican Candidates photos.001The lead article on the front page of today’s Washington Post reported on what several of the Republican presidential candidates have said they would do in the face of refugees fleeing the war in Syria, and on Muslims (including US citizens) already resident in the US. David Farenthold and Jose DelReal were the authors.  While I do not normally put up posts on this blog that simply summarize other news reports, this article was especially telling. Those who did not see the article should find it of interest.

The first three paragraphs (where I have inserted the name of the candidate being referred to in parentheses; the article identifies them later) are:

One of the front-runners in the Republican presidential race [Donald Trump] said Thursday he would “absolutely” want a database of Muslims in the country and wouldn’t rule out giving them special ID cards that noted their religion.

Another top candidate [Ben Carson] likened Syrian refugees — who are largely Muslim — to dogs. Some of them might be rabid, he said, which was reason to keep them all out.

And a third [Ted Cruz] stood up in the Senate on Thursday and called for banning refugees from five Middle Eastern countries. He was explicit that the point was to keep Muslim refugees out while letting Christians from the same places in.

Expanding on Trump’s stated views, the article later noted:

Donald Trump, who has suggested closing down mosques and increasing surveillance of Muslims, said in an interview with Yahoo News published online Thursday that “we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

When pressed on whether such measures might include tracking Muslim Americans in a database or noting their religious affiliations on identification cards, Trump said: “We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

Later Thursday, Trump told NBC News that he would “certainly” and “absolutely” create a database of Muslims in the United States, although it was unclear whether this system would track only newcomers to the country or all Muslims living in the country.

“There should be a lot of systems beyond databases,” Trump said. “I mean, we should have a lot of systems.”

Later in the article:

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said the attacks were part of a “clash of civilizations” — essentially casting the Paris attackers as products of Muslim society rather than a radical group apart from it.

And finally Jeb Bush (along with Ted Cruz again):

Two other candidates — Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush — suggested this week that the United States should accept Christian refugees from Syria but not some or all of the Muslim refugees.

According to today’s (November 20) Pollster results on the preferences of Republican voters (Pollster averages out the results from recent individual polls), these five candidates together account for 75% of Republican voter presidential preferences.  Trump is first by a substantial margin, followed by Carson, Rubio, Cruz, and Bush, in that order.  No other candidate seeking the nomination receives more than 3.3% of Republican voter preferences.  It is likely that one of these five candidates will receive the Republican nomination.

This is scary.  Perhaps the statements were not fully thought through.  We will see whether and to what extent the candidates seek to “walk back” the statements in the coming days. But these gut reactions (if that is indeed what they are) to the tragedy in Paris, on the treatment of those whose religion is Islam, and how they see refugees from the Syrian war, should at a minimum make us wonder how they would respond if they were faced by a major crisis as president.

Facts vs. Polemics on Unauthorized Immigration of Mexicans to the US

Stock of Mexican Unauthorized Immigrants in the US, 1995 to 2014, #2

Annual Net Flow of Mexican Unauthorized Immigrants to US, 1996 to 2014

In the heated rhetoric of the current Republican presidential campaign, one would think that the US is being flooded by illegal immigrants from Mexico, slipping through a porous border with President Obama unwilling to do anything about it.  Calls are being made for a bigger, taller, and longer wall, more aggressive policing of the border, and the forced deportation of those who are already living here.  These calls have been a centerpiece of Donald Trump’s campaign from the day he announced his candidacy (when he asserted Mexico is “sending” criminals, drug pushers, and rapists to the US).  More recently, in the November 10 Republican presidential debate and in more detail in the days after, Trump called for the creation of a new special police force, a “massive deportation force”, which would aggressively pursue and deport those in the US who were believed to be illegal. Yet Trump has for some time now been at the top of polls of Republicans as their choice for president.

But what are the facts?  The US is actually not being flooded by illegal immigrants from Mexico. Nor has the supposed “problem” become far worse under President Obama.  The Pew Research Center released on November 19 a report with careful estimates of the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico residing in the US.  The report brings up to date figures the Pew Center had released previously for earlier years.

The chart at the top of this post is a replication of the chart presented as Figure 5 in Chapter 1 of their report, with figures on the estimated total number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants resident in the US by year.  The second chart is then simply the net annual flows as calculated from the numbers on the totals in the first chart (the change from one year to the next).  It should be noted that Pew Center presented estimates only for 1995, 2000, and 2005, before going to annual figures.  Hence the figures on net flows for 1996 to 2000 and 2001 to 2005 assume equal annual changes.

The Pew Center estimates that the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants resident in the US reached a peak in 2007, and has since fallen substantially.  The falls in 2008 and 2009 can probably be attributed mostly to the severe downturn in the US in those years, when jobs were scarce and more Mexicans immigrants chose to return to Mexico than come to the US.  However, it is significant that as the US labor market has strengthened since 2009, with the unemployment rate hitting just 5.0% recently, the net outflow of Mexican immigrants continued.  In each and every year of the Obama administration there has either been a net outflow, or no net change, in the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants in the US.

There are many reasons for this, including stepped up and more effective border enforcement as well as more deportations.  The Pew Report provides a good review of the factors, and I will not go into them all.  But one fact to note is that in FY2013, with Obama as president, the number of deportations reached a record high of 315,000, an increase of 86% from the level in 2005.

One may debate what the appropriate policy should be.  In my view, while immigration has been controversial throughout US history, the US has always also always benefited from it. Recall the discrimination against Catholic immigrants from Ireland in the early and mid-1800s, and yet how such immigration developed into an important part of what made the US what it is now.  There is little reason to believe that this time is different.

But regardless of whatever one’s policy views are, one should start with the facts.  And it is clear that the Republican candidates for president do not have these straight.