American Jobs Plan: V2, a compromise

This White House link takes you to the Fact Sheet for the bipartisan compromise of the American Jobs Plan. There you will see that this plan is still enormous, still containing two-thirds of the original resources dedicated to the “clean transportation infrastructure, clean water infrastructure, universal broadband infrastructure, clean power infrastructure, remediation of legacy pollution, and resilience to the changing climate”.

The framework lists 10 areas of concentration:

  • modernize and expand transit and rail networks across the country; the largest public investment in railroads since the creation of Amtrak;
  • repair and rebuild roads and bridges; the largest public investment in bridges since the construction of the interstate highway system;
  • creation of a national network of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations with a goal of 500,000;
  • electrification of thousands of school and transit buses;
  • replacement of thousands of miles of lead service and water supply lines;
  • connection of every American household to reliable high-speed internet; a scope not seen since the Rural Electrification Project 100 years ago;
  • upgrading the American power infrastructure by creating a Grid Authority bringing renewable energy sources online and creating new efficiencies in power transmission;
  • creating an Infrastructure Finance Authority leveraging billions of dollars for investment in clean energy projects;
  • addressing legacy pollution by investing billions of dollars in cleanup efforts that will, in turn employ millions in high-pay union jobs;
  • preparation of much of our infrastructure for the effects of climate change, extreme weather and protection from cyber attacks.

The V2 Plan details the spending in two categories; Transportation and Other Infrastructure. Transportation budgets $579B in 10 areas; Other budgets $266B in 6 areas. Financing the ambitious plan comes from 13 areas beginning with “reducing the IRS tax gap” and ending with “macro-economic impact of infrastructure spending”. There is also public-private partnerships, private activity bonds, a repurposing of unused unemployment compensation of the Rescue Plan, and many others. Noteworthy absent from the revenue sources is the increase in the corporate tax rate that was in V1. The macro-economic impact revenue source is interesting in that it is indirect but of significant possibility. This refers to the efficiencies of commerce that is created with new infrastructure. It anticipates an increase in the Gross National Product; i.e. the value of all goods and services sold in the country. Production of enormous additional goods and services adds wealth to the nation that, in part become government revenue It is to the Biden Administration’s credit that this compromise was created. It is now up to the Republican leadership in Congress to see it through.

Jackson Hole Showdown

Jackson Hole Summit
Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi at the Economic Policy Meeting, Jackson Hole, WY, USA. Photo by John Locher, AP

This editorial from the New York Times takes the side of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen against the “inflation hawks” in the aftermath of the Jackson Hole annual meeting of central bankers.  The NYT’s editors challenge the wisdom of raising interest rates citing the Federal Reserves own prediction of a 2.3% rate of economic growth in the US for 2014. I call it a “showdown” because Yellen had to prevail against such as Dr. David Kelly, Managing Director, and Chief Global Strategist for JP Morgan Chase who in this: JPMorganChase3Q14 market update argues for increasing interest rates for fear of inflation and higher wages.

Another source of support for Yellen’s position comes from Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in his weekly “Beat the Press” blog; my original source for the Times’ editorial. Baker’s post is decidedly in the camp of lowered unemployment and higher growth. Unlike the inflation hawks he remembers a similar instance. In 1997 there was clamor among economists for increasing interest rates to head off inflation. Federal Reserve Board member Janet Yellen was among those. Perhaps she remembers that the Chairman, Alan Greenspan ignored these cries, kept the rates low and saw unemployment fall to 5% in 1998 and to 4% by the year 2000. Yellen might also recall that the growing economy led to Federal budget surpluses for the last three years of the Clinton presidency. I might also add that contrary to Kelly’s claim that higher employment leads to lower stock prices due to lowered earnings per share (corporate profits); 1990-2000 was the biggest and longest running bull market in history; especially in each of the last three years which saw gains of more 25%.

Baker’s column goes further to cite a study by one of his colleagues that indicates that for every 1% drop in unemployment there is a nearly 10% increase in wages for the lowest quintile of wage earners. For a worker earning $20,000 a year this means another $2000 in earnings; a significant sum. This is the “tight labor market” effect that has Dr. Kelly of JP Morgan so worried.

It is astounding that rarely is the connection made between higher wages and increased consumer demand. Higher wages are almost consistently cited by such “global strategists” as Dr. Kelly to be inflationary. However, it takes a significant increase in consumer demand over a significant period to cause price increases, especially in an environment where productive capacity is still under-utilized by almost 20% as is the case in the USA today. The reason for this is that if corporations can produce more goods or provide more services without the need to expand plant and equipment, costs per unit do not increase significantly. Since almost 90% of our economy is driven by consumer demand, let’s hope that Yellen, our first Fed chairwoman can hold her ground, keep rates low and allow this tepid recovery to grow into a strong economy with more and better jobs and a higher standard of living first and foremost for those on the lower rungs of our society. All of us will be ahead.