Baum on Money: The Seventh Day

Daily reads on money matters:

Good morning, all. On the seventh day, God rested after doing all that creation stuff on days one through six. Lawmakers are resting, too, on Day 7 of the federal government shutdown. But they didn't accomplish anything during the six previous days. Let's hope they get moving this week because the clock is ticking on the debt ceiling. Now for your daily reads.

Have I got a deal for you!

The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib offers a "way out of this muck" for both parties with a mutually beneficial budget deal. Here's how it would work. Republicans give up on defunding Obamacare and "pivot" -- everybody's pivoting these days -- to holding down government spending, an area where they've had some success. Democrats claim victory for keeping Obamacare intact. Both parties proceed to address the automatic spending cuts, adjust the share allocated to defense and non-defense, close some tax loopholes and implement changes to Medicare that were in the president's budget. Is anybody listening?

About those cost estimates

The Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy looks at the Office of Management and Budget's cost estimates for the 1995-1996 shutdown -- $1.4 billion, or $2.1 billion adjusted for inflation -- and says they're overstated. Two-thirds of the cost was back-pay for furloughed workers, which would have been paid if they had been working. Of course, paying people to do nothing isn't a good return on one's investment. I almost fell off my chair when I read the following admission: "Much of the work they missed could be made up after returning to their jobs, allowing government productivity to catch up, some economists say." What does that say about government productivity if it's that easy to make up for almost a month of missed time?

The young and the healthy

In order for Obamacare to work, the young and the healthy -- known as the "young invincibles" -- have to sign up for health care on state insurance exchanges. Will they? With below-average incomes and above-average health, individuals age 18-35 may opt to pay the penalty rather than the premium. The American Action Forum ran the numbers and found that the monthly premium for the cheapest bronze plan offered by the state exchanges for 2014 would "increase exponentially" from the cheapest plan available in 2013. For a 30-year old single person, we're talking 260 percent. (The interactive map shows the increase for each state.) Add in the time it takes to access the exchanges online or get help on the phone, and you have to wonder if an invincible will bother.

The least-bad law to break

The Brookings Institution's Henry J. Aaron lays out the case for disregarding the debt ceiling. "The Constitution requires the president to spend what Congress has instructed him to spend, to raise only those taxes Congress has authorized him to impose and to borrow no more than Congress authorizes," Aaron writes in the New York Times. "If the debt ceiling is not raised, he will have to violate one of these constitutional imperatives. Which should he choose?" Violating the debt limit would be unconstitutional, perhaps an impeachable offense. But it would be the least-bad option, Aaron argues, especially if one views the debt ceiling as "the fiscal equivalent of the human appendix —- a law with no discoverable purpose." (This op-ed is from last Monday, but with all the shutdown hullaballoo, I bookmarked it to share at a more appropriate time.)

Happy Halloween

For those who adhere to the "sell in May and go away" adage, it's time to start getting back in the stock market, according to Mark Hulbert. Especially if the market takes a dive as a result of Washington shenanigans. This year, U.S. stocks set a new high in September, but over the past 50 years, the S&P 500 has gained an average of 6.6 percent from Oct. 31 to May 1 versus an average gain of 0.8 percent in the May-to-October period. Some finance gurus find the pattern holds in lots of other countries. It seems that dressing up in witches costumes isn't a prerequisite.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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    Caroline Baum

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