Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Winners and Losers from the Mortgage Deduction in Latest GOP Tax Plans

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “Time to Repeal the Mortgage Deduction.” One of the big arguments against the deduction is that, far from being a break for the middle class, households earning $125,000 a year and higher get 87 percent of the benefits. Now, according to an analysis by Laura Kusisto of the Wall Street Journal, Congress is floating a tax reform plan that would keep the deduction but make it even more lopsidedly favorable to the rich.

The latest proposal would preserve the mortgage deduction, at least on paper, but narrow the appeal of itemizing by doubling the standard deduction. According to data from Zillow, cited by Kusisto, it now pays to itemize, on average, only for homeowners with houses worth more than $305,000, or 30 percent homes. If the standard deduction were doubled, the breakeven point would rise to $801,000, or about 5 percent of homes.

Who would be the winners and losers from these changes? To answer, we need to consider the effect on home prices as well as the effect on taxes. Kusisto cites a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers that says average home prices would fall by 10 percent without the mortgage deduction, with most of the effect felt by lower-priced homes. In that case, the effects would break out as follows:
  • Middle-class homeowners who stay in their current homes would not be greatly affected. What they lost from the mortgage deduction they would gain back from the higher standard deduction.
  • Middle-class first-time home buyers would be winners. They would gain both from the higher standard deduction and from lower prices on starter homes.
  • Middle-class families who sell their homes without buying another (for example, to move to assisted living) would be the biggest losers. Loss of the mortgage deduction would erode gains from the higher standard deduction, while the sales value of their homes would drop.
  • High-earners with expensive homes and enough deductibles to itemize would be little affected one way or the other.
  • Realtors and mortgage lenders who earn a percentage on the price of each new home would be losers.
Reposted from NiskanenCenter.org

It's Time to Deregulate Adult Autism Care


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) since 2000. As the following chart shows, the identified prevalence of ASD among American children especially boys has been rising steadily. No one seems to know how much of the increase is due to greater prevalence of the disorder itself, or greater awareness and better diagnosis. It probably is a little of both. In any case, the number of people who were diagnosed with ASD in childhood and who now are entering adulthood is rising and will continue to increase.


Unfortunately, too many of those now entering adulthood with ASD are running into regulatory barriers that prevent them from getting the kind of care they need. This post explains the nature of those barriers and outlines changes that would help ensure appropriate care for all adults with ASD. 

Origins: Deinstitutionalization

The widespread deinstitutionalization of people with mental illnesses has been one of the most dramatic changes in social policy in the United States since World War II. According to  Dominic Sisti, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medical ethics and human policy at the University of Pennsylvania, the number of patients in state psychiatric facilities decreased from 560,000 in 1955 to just 45,000 in 2014, a 95 percent decrease in the per-capita institutionalization rate. (The linked article by Sisti and colleagues is behind a paywall, but a summary is available here.)

The deinstitutionalization movement was driven, in part, by new therapies that could be delivered outside an institutional setting and also by well-publicized abuse in mental institutions. There is no doubt that many people benefited, but for others, deinstitutionalization brought unintended consequences. For some, it resulted in “transinstitutionalization” to prisons, homeless shelters, and emergency rooms. For others, it has meant living on the street.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Help Save SlideShare! Bring Back Reupload

SideShare, the popular slideshow hosting service, has 38 million registered users and gets 70 million unique visitors a month. If you are one of those users or visitors, you can help save SlideShare from itself by bringing back REUPLOAD, an essential feature that has recently been removed.

What is Reupload and Why is It So Important?

Reupload is (or was) a feature that allowed users to repost a revised version of a slideshow without changing its URL. Now that it is gone, the only way to revise a slideshow is to delete the original version and repost a new version with an new URL. Why does that matter?
  1. Short-term error correction: We are all human. (Well, at least I am). We make mistakes. After you have posted your slideshow, you, or one of your readers, notices a typo, a wrong number in a calculation, or a broken link. You want to fix it, but meanwhile, you or your readers have bookmarked the original version, or Tweeted the link, or posted it on Facebook. When anyone follows those links or bookmarks, they will be taken to the original version with the error, not your corrected version. If you deleted the original when you made the correction, they won't find anything.
  2. Long-term revisions: Sometimes I publish a slideshow on a topic of lasting interest, say, the economics of a soda tax. I posted this version of my soda tax slideshow in 2010. Last year, soda taxes were back in the news, so I posted this revised version. At the same time, I added the little yellow box on the front page of the original so that anyone who had the old link could find the new version. This week, I wanted to update it again to include the news of the failure of Chicago's soda tax, but with reupload gone, I can no longer steer anyone who finds one of the old versions to the newest version.
  3. Classroom use: College professors and high school teachers use slideshows in their classrooms all the time. They include links to the slideshows in the printed or on-line curriculum materials they give to their students. What if the creator of the slideshow fixes an error or makes an update? Doesn't the teacher want them to find the latest version, not the old one? Without reupload, this won't happen.
What you can do

When I first contacted SlideShare about reupload, I got this non-responsive response:
Hi Ed,
Thank you for your email and I am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused. We're always looking for ways to improve the SlideShare experience for our members. This sometimes means removing features that aren’t heavily used to invest in others that offer greater value.  Please know we continuously evaluate how features and products are used, and make adjustments accordingly to focus our resources on providing the most value to our members. As a result, we have removed the ability to re-upload documents to SlideShare.
As a workaround, you can upload a new file to SlideShare and delete the current one. Please be aware that this means we will not be able to transfer any views/likes/URL's to the new presentation.   Again, I apologize for the inconvenience and we greatly appreciate your feedback. We have documented the issue in order to track additional reports of the problem and for consideration to be addressed in a future release.
If there's anything else I can help you with, please don't hesitate to let me know. All the best,
Allison LCS Support Specialist - Mobile
This was a boilerplate response that other users have also gotten. It has been posted and reposted several times on discussion boards. I reopened the case and pointed out to "Allison" that it is nonsense. Reupload is not a feature that is "not heavily used." It is an essential feature that people use all the time. It offers great value.

"Allison" sent back this new reply that gave me a tiny bit of hope:

Thanks for your feedback about removing the re-upload feature and I wish I was personally able to do something myself however, please know I've sent your concern to our product team for consideration. Taking member feedback into account, we're always looking for ways to improve the SlideShare experience. When many of our members ask for the same improvement, we try our best to get it done. Though immediate action may not be possible, your feedback will be incorporated into our ongoing discussions about the direction of our design and development.
 
Again I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. If you need anything else, please let me know and I will gladly assist. 
So, if one of us complains, nothing happens, but if a lot of us complain, something might happen. Let's see if "Allison" is right. Let's send lots of requests to bring back reupload and see if they bring it back.

How to send a request to bring back reupload

SlideShare makes it pretty easy to ask for help. Here is how you do it:
  1.  Go to the SlideShare home page: https://www.slideshare.net/
  2. Scroll down to the very bottom and click on "Support" 
  3. Type "Reupload" in the search box at the top of the main support page
  4. Next, you will get a page that says, "Sorry, we couldn't find any information about 'Reupload' (unless, by the time you do this, they have added some information).
  5. Go to the bottom of that page and click on the "Contact us" link
  6. That will take you to a page where you can send a message to SlideShare help. Ask them to bring back reupload, and tell them why you care.
Thanks! If we all work together, we can save SlideShare from self-destruction!





Who are the Biggest Obamacare Losers?

In a post on Kaiser Health News, Julie Rovner discusses the plight of a forgotten slice of the population who are the biggest losers from the ACA. These are people who buy insurance in the individual market but earn too much to qualify for premium subsidies.

And no, these are not all millionaire lawyers in private practice and billionaire day-traders who work from laptops in their beach-side condos. The upper income limit for ACA subsidies is 400 percent of the poverty line, which comes to just $64,000 for a family of two. That hits ordinary working couples who would like to take early retirement, people working part-time who have outside income, and self-employed professionals. Even Uber drivers can make $64,000 a year if they work hard enough.

Rovner’s post highlights the case of a married couple from Raleigh, N.C., both in their late 50s, who work as private consultants to the energy industry. When their premiums reached $1,600 a month, with $7,500 deductible for each of them, they decided to forego insurance altogether.

Rovner calculates that there are about 7.5 million such people. That is less than 3 percent of the population, but they constitute 43 percent of those who buy insurance in the individual market.

These same 43 million who are the big losers from the ACA would be among the big winners from Universal Catastrophic Coverage. UCC, as I have explained elsewhere, has potential appeal to both conservatives and liberals. As premiums rise ever higher for unsubsidized shoppers in the individual market, the constituency for UCC can only grow.

Reposted from NiskanenCenter.com

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

National Flood Insurance: Yet Another Program in Need of Market-Based Reform




Looking for yet another costly federal program in need of market-based reform? Put the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) near the top of your list. It is a mess, and time is running out to fix it. As sea levels rise and extreme weather events trigger inland flooding, NFIP offers property owners insurance against flood damage at rates that do not come close to reflecting the true risk of losses. It compounds the problem by insisting that money it pays out in claims can be used only to rebuild in the same flood-prone locations—not for moving to higher ground.

There are lots of ideas for a makeover of NFIP. One obvious one would be to charge property owners full risk-based premiums. However, owners resist that measure because it would crash the value of their properties. Another reform would let owners use claims to rebuild in other, safer, areas. However, local governments where the flood-prone properties are located resist that idea because they would lose part of their tax base. Still another idea is to buy out whole communities at fair, pre-flood prices and rebuild them elsewhere. However, powerful realtor and builder lobbies resist all these reforms.

Congressional committees have been working on promising fixes. Reform proposals have been worked up to the point of being ready for a vote. But—did I mention?—Congress has less than two weeks to do something. NFIP expires at the end of September. The pressure to reauthorize it without substantive changes will be overwhelming. 

Here is some background reading if you want to pursue the cause of building a market-based National Flood Insurance Program:

  • SmarterSafer.org is a coalition that promotes risk-based insurance and risk mitigation efforts. Its website is a trove of information and links.
  • The National Resources Defense Council has a great, short backgrounder on the need for flood insurance reform.
  • An excellent article in The Atlantic by Michelle Cottle outlines the politics of flood insurance reform.
 Reposted from NiskanenCenter.org
  •  

If you Like Sanders' Healthcare Plan, Please Stop Calling it “Single Payer”




The latest version of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan (MFA) has a lot to like. Sanders is right, America needs a healthcare system more like those of other wealthy countries. But, if you like Medicare for all, please stop calling it “single payer.” The single-payer label distracts attention from the main goal of healthcare reform, it energizes the opposition, and it is not an accurate description of the Sanders plan.

The goal is universal access

Single-payer is not the goal of healthcare reform. The goal is universal access to health care. No, not “access” in the sense some Republicans use it, that is, as the opportunity to buy into the system if you can afford it. True universal access would mean a system in which anyone who needs health care can go to the doctor’s office, the hospital, or the pharmacy and get what they need with the certainty that they can afford it, no matter how modest their means.

Single-payer is better understood as one way of getting to the goal of universal access. Under a true single-payer system, when you went to get care of any kind, you would just show your healthcare ID card and the government would directly reimburse the provider in full. That would be nice. The problem is, no such system exists anywhere. Not even in the universal access systems we admire most—Sweden, the UK, New Zealand, or whichever is your favorite. In all of those countries, the government pays some of the healthcare bills and private sources pay some. As the chart shows, the government contribution is greater than it is in the United States almost everywhere, but it is not 100 percent anywhere.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Can Angola's New President Overcome the Curse of Riches?


The people of Angola did something recently that they had not done for a long time: They elected a new president. The winning candidate, João Lourenço, will take over from President José Eduardo dos Santos, who came into office in 1979. Lourenço, who is from the same party as dos Santos, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, received two thirds of the vote. That result is expected to stand, despite doubts about the count voiced by his opponents.

During the first two decades of dos Santos’ rule, Angola struggled with a deadly, on-again, off-again civil war. After the MPLA prevailed in 2002, Angola embarked on a peace-and-oil expansion, with GDP growing by an astonishing 22 percent in 2007 alone. The global financial crisis brought the Angolan economy back to earth, however. The following chart, from the latest FocusEconomics Consensus Forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa, details the slowdown. Not only has the growth of GDP slowed, but so have analysts’ estimates of future growth. Low oil prices, and the expectation that they will remain low for the foreseeable future, are a major factor behind the growth pessimism.