Monthly Archives: February 2018

No, ‘Obamasclerosis’ wasn’t a real problem for the economy

By Lawrence H. Summers

President Barack Obama looks at reporters as he returns from a birthday visit at Camp David in 2012. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip, reviewing the Trump administration’s first Council of Economic Advisers report, finds credible its claims that President Barack Obama’s policies, particularly in his second term, materially slowed economic growth, even though Ip acknowledges that the CEA’s assertions regarding magnitudes are likely exaggerated.

The CEA’s thesis is that a wave of tax and regulatory policies reduced both workers’ incentives to work and businesses’ incentives to invest, leading to slower economic growth than would otherwise have been achievable.

I am sympathetic to arguments of this type, having often observed that “business confidence is the cheapest form of stimulus.” And I would be the last to argue that every regulatory intervention of the late Obama years was salutary. I would also note that much of what the Obama administration proposed (for example, more infrastructure spending and responsible tax reform) would have triggered even greater economic growth but never came to pass, largely due to congressional roadblocks. There was certainly more that could have been done.

But at least three broad features of the economic landscape make the CEA’s view an unlikely explanation for disappointing economic growth.

First, the dominant reason for slow growth has been what economists label slow “total factor productivity” (TFP) growth. That is, the problem has not primarily been a shortage of capital and labor inputs into production, but rather slow growth in output, given inputs. After growing at about 1 ¾ percent per year between 1996 and 2004, the TFP growth rate has dropped by half since 2005.

While TFP has fallen off rapidly, there is no basis for supposing that levels of labor input or capital are less than one would expect given the magnitude of the …read more

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The two assault weapons bans before Congress are co-sponsored by 195 Democrats and 0 Republicans

By Christopher Ingraham

A Rock River Arms AR-15 rifle (Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This week Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) introduced an assault weapons ban in the U.S. House. The bill boasts a mass of co-sponsors: 167 so far, not counting Cicilline himself.

Cicilline’s bill joins a similar piece of legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last year. Feinstein’s bill has 26 co-sponsors (Congress.gov counts 27, but one of those is former Minnesota Democratic senator Al Franken, who resigned earlier this year), including three Democrats who have signed on since the school shooting this month in Parkland, Fla.

Both measures would ban sales of semiautomatic rifles with certain military-style features, such as pistol grips and flash suppressors. The measures would also outlaw the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Neither bill would require current gun owners to give up any of their weapons.

All told, the two assault weapons bans before Congress are sponsored or co-sponsored by 195 lawmakers. But none of those lawmakers is Republican. Despite a recent shift in the national conversation around mass shootings, and tentative signals of support for an assault weapons ban from several Republican lawmakers, no GOP lawmakers have yet offered a full-throated endorsement of a specific piece of legislation on assault weapons.

Many Democrats have only just recently embraced these proposals. The Cicilline bill introduced this week has the highest number of co-sponsors of any assault weapons ban legislation introduced since Congress let the previous ban lapse in 2004. The 167 co-sponsors are more than double the number of House Democrats who signed on to a similar measure in 2013, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which led to the deaths of 20 children and six educators.

<img src="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/files/2018/02/demsdems.jpg" …read more

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For the first time since Columbine, most Americans believe mass shootings can be stopped

By Christopher Ingraham

A CNN poll released this week shows striking evidence of a shift in American attitudes toward mass shootings: Nearly two-thirds of adults now believe that mass shootings can be prevented, the first time since Columbine that a majority of Americans have felt that way.

The survey suggests the Parkland, Fla., shooting is changing the public attitudes about gun violence in a way that other recent killings haven’t.

As recently as the summer of 2015, when nine black parishioners were shot to death by a white supremacist in a Charleston church, less than 40 percent of Americans said that government or society could do anything to stop the shootings.

Four months ago, when 58 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a shooting in Las Vegas, a plurality of respondents told pollsters that government and society were essentially powerless to stop these incidents.

Today, however, 64 percent of Americans say that “government and society can take action that will be effective in preventing shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida from happening again.” Just 32 percent say shootings like Parkland “will happen again regardless of what action is taken by government and society.”

The question has referenced different shootings each time it’s been asked, so some of the variation in responses to it likely reflects the differences between those shootings: venue, victims, shooters and other individual circumstances.

But the numbers nonetheless reflect the contours of a political routine with which we’ve all become familiar: a national tragedy, followed by outrage, prayer and calls for action. Ultimately, however, federal firearm policy remains unchanged, an outcome driven in large part by congressional Republicans’ vehement opposition to substantive regulations on gun ownership. In the past, some red-state Democratic senators, such as North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, have also been instrumental in voting …read more

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