Baum on Money: Who Crippled

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Happy Friday. That means this is the week's final edition of what I'm reading on the U.S. economy.

Blame the government

If you didn't have a front-row seat at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing yesterday on what went wrong with, the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff provides highlights. Private contractors responsible for the website blamed each other. Then they all blamed CMS. That would be the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which, at the last minute, decided comparison shopping for plans would be a privilege extended only to those who first registered on the site. Yesterday's hearing was packed, according to Kliff. "In three years writing about health care, I've never seen so many cameras at a congressional hearing," she says. How we love our mea culpas! Too bad there were none in evidence today.

Bond bulls live to die another day

Weak economic data achieved what Fedspeak couldn't: It lowered long-term bond yields, on both government and corporate debt, worldwide. Recall that the yield on the Treasury 10-year note rose from 1.6 percent in early May, at the first hints of tapering, to 3 percent in early-September. The Federal Reserve's Sept. 18 decision not to taper helped somewhat, but bonds found new life following the weak employment report for September. The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 2.5 percent. Call it non-verbal communication. The market gets it on its own.

Empowered to quit

The September jobs report was disappointing, but other labor market indicators show some signs of improvement. For example, more people quit their job in August than in any month since the recession ended, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Remember when Alan Greenspan introduced the "quit rate" as a pet indicator during congressional testimony?) The information comes from the Labor Department's last JOLTs report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover), released yesterday. The job openings rate inched higher in August while the hiring rate was pretty much unchanged. The good news was that the new openings were in higher-paying industries, such as manufacturing. We'll take good news wherever we can get it.

Austerity Summit

The Heritage Foundation is hosting a "European Austerity Event" today to examine exactly what was so austere about Europe's post-crisis policies. (I doubt the event is BYOB.) Heritage has bundled the papers into one PDF file. In one paper, Harvard's Alberto Alesina and Mercatus' Veronique de Rugy show that yes, European governments have practiced austerity but, "with some rare exceptions, the form of austerity that was implemented was fairly heavy on the tax-increase side and was far from involving savage spending cuts," the economists write. "Spending-based adjustments are much less costly in terms of output than tax-based ones." That should fuel a lively debate among today's participants, not to mention politicians.

Chart of the day

Take a look at this graphic on everyone's favorite subject: taxes. There was a time when excise, or sales, taxes, were the federal government's largest source of revenue. How things have changed. Today the sources of revenue, in descending order are: income taxes, payroll taxes, corporate income taxes, and excise taxes, which "would hardly fund two weeks' worth of federal spending," according to the Tax Foundation. (No value-added tax just yet!) The revenue-share chart is one of many in the Tax Foundation's chartbook, which includes graphics on things like the progressiveness of the tax code and what households get from the government for every dollar they pay in taxes. It's an easy way to grasp a complicated, and loaded, subject.

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