It’s a tough time to be a renter. According to data from the U.S. Census, half of all renters, and 83 percent of renters with incomes under $20,000, paid more than 30 percent of their incomes in rent in 2011. One commonly-proposed policy solution to declining rent affordability is the construction and preservation of low-income housing. But this will only ameliorate the situation temporarily.
David A. Skeel
Detroit filing for bankruptcy had significant implications for people beyond the residents of the city. There were consequences for pension beneficiaries and bondholders that call into question the laws that protect pension and bond creditors during municipality financial distress. The future of municipal governance actually would be brighter if pensions and government obligation bonds can be restructured, at least a little, in bankruptcy.
The Affordable Care Act calls for significant cuts in reimbursements to insurers providing Medicare Advantage (MA) coverage, which has been the most popular alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare. Opponents of these cuts argue that they carry serious negative repercussions for seniors, and have lobbied successfully to force their postponement. But research coming out of the Wharton School suggests that cuts to MA reimbursements actually are unlikely to harm consumer welfare.
Jialan Wang and Benjamin J. Keys
Credit card minimum payments can act as an “anchor” that causes consumers to pay less of their debt than they otherwise would, leading to higher balances and interest costs, lower credit card scores, increased bankruptcy risks, and in the aggregate, suboptimally high levels of debt in the macro-economy. Policy “nudges,” which aim to increase the monthly amount that individuals pay on their credit card debt, have had mixed results.
Christopher S. Yoo
Tom Baker, Jonathan T. Kolstad, Amanda Starc, and Kevin G. Volpp
The success of the new health insurance exchanges will depend greatly on the quality of the enrollment decisions that consumers make. Choosing the wrong insurance product can translate into billions of dollars in wasteful spending at the national level. Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania have contributed to several studies outlining important ways that the exchanges can be made to work better for consumers—and for the larger economy.
Jennifer L. Blouin
As U.S. legislators struggle to balance the fiscal budget, tax reform and business income tax, often emerges at the forefront of the discussion. Not all business income is taxed the same, creating great challenges in the design of new tax policy. The implications arising from the different ways in which corporate and non-corporate entities are taxed needs to be understood in order to anticipate how changes in tax policy could affect businesses and their tax obligations.
Chad P. Brown, Michele de Nevers, and Ann Harrison
The “shale revolution,” spurred by the development of hydraulic fracturing, brings some of the best news to U.S. manufacturing employment in recent years, and gives the U.S. the potential to become a major energy exporter. Current trade restrictions, which promote low energy prices, only discourage the exploration of U.S. natural gas reserves. And the potential of "fracking" to produce negative health and environmental effects is a grave concern. The best policy would be to allow free trade in gas, while using federal regulation to monitor the fracking industry and deploying public policy to tackle the negative externalities of fracking through a production tax or similar measure.
Increasingly, and particularly in response to the recent economic downturn, policy makers have pointed to regulation as a “job killer” and have called for regulatory reform to promote job creation and economic recovery. The empirical research, although limited, reveals a more complex relationship between regulation and jobs, and fails to support the notion that regulation is either a major job killer or a significant job creator. U.S. policy makers should not expect that the nation’s economic woes can be solved by reforming the regulatory process.
Enrollment in the Social Security Disability Insurance program has risen significantly since the late 1980s; consequently, program expenditures have far outpaced revenues and the SSDI trust fund is projected to hit zero in 2016. Moreover, the SSDI program, as currently administered, discourages applicants and recipients of benefits from seeking and returning to work, thereby reducing federal tax revenues at a time when deficit reduction is critical. The SSDI program can and must be reformed. Reconsidering the medical eligibility criteria for benefits, promoting earlier medical interventions, allowing for SSA representation at appeal hearings on benefit decisions, enacting time limits for some benefit awards, and increasing the frequency of continuing disability reviews can help make the program more efficient, encourage individuals to return to work, and enhance economic growth.
The Dodd-Frank Act requires that the Federal Reserve conduct an annual stress test on large bank holding companies (BHCs) to ensure they have sufficient capital to withstand losses from adverse economic conditions. Eighteen BHCs were subjected to a stress test this year. The stress tests operate on the assumption that providing more information will help impose more discipline on financial institutions. However, the policy of disclosure has some significant disadvantages that need to be addressed in order for financial regulation to be effective.
The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) significantly changed tax policy by cutting long-term capital gains tax rates and taxing dividend income at the same rates as long-term capital gains. Following the reduction in the tax disadvantage of dividends, investors gravitated toward dividend-paying investments—especially high-income investors who previously had faced the highest tax rates on dividends.
The behavior of investors before and after the passage of JGTRRA suggests that they divide into “clienteles” based on dividend payouts when the tax disadvantage of dividends varies across investors. Policymakers therefore need to build a proper appreciation of investor behavior, particularly among affluent households, into their thinking about any tax reform proposal affecting capital income. If dividend clientele effects are ignored, estimates of the revenue that can generated by changes in capital tax rates will be off-base.
Howard Kunreuther and Erwann Michel-Kerjan
The United States has entered a new era of catastrophes, of which floods have been the most devastating. Through its 2012 reform (Biggert-Waters Act), the 45-year old federally-run National Flood Insurance Program has an opportunity to highlight the role that risk-based premiums can play in encouraging individuals to undertake loss reduction measures. But the implementation of this reform is now being challenged due to concerns that residents cannot afford risk-based premiums. The authors of this brief propose that this can be overcome by successfully combining risk-based pricing, required insurance, means-tested insurance vouchers, and mitigation loans, so that individuals reduce their flood risk and are financially protected against future disaster losses, thus reducing the need for taxpayer money for disaster relief in the future.
Sarah E. Light
Although the military’s operations are largely exempt from environmental laws and regulations when those laws conflict with its national security mission, the military has important incentives to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and combat climate change. If nurtured properly, the military’s extensive undertaking to improve its sustainable energy use and reduce demand for fossil-fuel-derived energy has the potential to become one important tool in the environmental regulatory toolkit.
Currently, the rules of fuel taxation in the U.S., like the U.S. tax code more generally, is complex and riddled with inconsistencies. The tax rate applied to carbon-based fuels varies widely depending on the type of fuel, purpose of consumption, and identity of the user. These inconsistencies only invite tax evasion and result in fuel tax revenues that fall short of even covering the costs associated with fuel consumption. Not simply for the sake of environmental policy, but as a matter of deficit reduction, the tax reform concept of base broadening can and should be applied to fuel taxation. Taxing carbon-based fuels more consistently will lead to increased revenues without raising the tax rate. The resultant gain in tax revenue could be as high as $28 billion per year at current levels of fuel consumption.
Chris W. Sanchirico
One of the main arguments against raising capital income tax rates is that doing so discourages savings and investment and hinders economic growth. However, academic research on taxes and growth suggests that this argument has no real basis. And the primary alternatives to capital income taxation — labor income taxes and increased government borrowing — carry their own potentially adverse effects on growth. Available for download at http://ssrn.com/author=2205
Kent Smetters and Christopher Pericak
The Dodd-Frank Act does not provide sufficient protection against another major financial crisis. A better regulatory system would promote financial stability by correcting the key market failures that lead to excessive risk taking by Strategically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs). Regulatory policies centered on contingent capital would offer a clearer and purer market signal when a SIFI is performing poorly and trigger steps to mitigate the financial risks.
Wharton PPI publishes Issue Briefs tackling concerns that are varied but share one common thread: they are central to the economic health of the nation and the American people. These are nonpartisan, knowledge-driven documents written by Wharton and Penn faculty in their specific areas of expertise.
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