Blog postings by CEPR staff and updates on the latest briefings and activities at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

This is the second part in a series of posts. You can read the first post here.

Writing in the New York Times, family sociologist Christina Cross notes that “America has a long and troubled history of viewing racial inequality primarily through the lens of family structure.” She cites her own and others’ research in concluding that “what deserves policy attention is not black families’ deviation from the two-parent family model but rather structural barriers such as housing segregation and employment discrimination that produce and maintain racialized inequalities in family life.”

In a Mother Jones commentary posted shortly after Cross’ piece was published, Kevin Drum goes on the attack by 1) asserting that single-parent families are a “big deal” (by which he means a big problem); 2) accusing Cross of “special pleading” and “desperately try[ing] to make a case that really can’t be made;” and, 3) implying that “we liberals” are hypocrites who are afraid to “say anything that even remotely sounds like a criticism of black family lives.” 

This is quite the tirade for a senior blogger at a liberal publication to so quickly throw down in response to an op-ed by an up-and-coming scholar. (Cross is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University and starting as an Assistant Professor there next year.) So one might assume Drum is well-informed about the state of research on family structure, takes care to cite evidence, and is not just echoing social-conservative talking points and Twitter posts

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To: Judy Woodruff, Tim Alberta, Amna Nawaz, Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour, Politico, and the organizers of the December 19th Democratic debate

We, the undersigned organizations, urgently request that you ask each Democratic presidential candidate about how they would wield powers specific to the executive branch at the next debate on December 19th. In particular, we request that you ask about what qualifications each candidate will prioritize in making key nominations and appointments to the various departments and independent agencies that will fall under the next president’s purview. 

In prior debates, the presidential candidates have enjoyed the opportunity to propose their ideal legislative fixes for several issues. However, while presidents often help guide their party’s legislative efforts, it is their ultimate duty to veto or sign the laws that Congress passes, and then to execute the laws of the land.

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This is the first part in a series of posts. You can read the second post here.

In a recent New York Times’ column, Thomas Edsall defends progressives against Attorney General William Barr and other social conservatives who charge them with wanton destruction of the family. Edsall is right to call out Barr and others for “marketing apocalyptic hogwash” to get Trump reelected, but his argument concedes too much to social conservatives. 

According to Edsall, “liberals are as deeply disturbed by familial dysfunction as conservatives...” This isn’t saying much because liberals and conservatives don’t agree on what is and isn’t dysfunctional when it comes to families. Social conservatives are particularly disturbed by cohabitation, divorce, same-sex relationships, children being raised by unmarried parents, and women who have children without a male spouse or partner. In other words, they are mostly concerned about the structure of family living arrangements and their legal status (who lives with who, what genitals they have, and whether or not they’re married).

Liberals are much more concerned about the quality of family relationships. The familial dysfunctions they are most deeply disturbed by include violence, ill-treatment, and various forms of inequality within the family, as well as unfair public and private discrimination against certain types of families based on their structure. Unlike conservatives, relatively few liberals today view cohabitation, divorce, same-sex relationships, or unmarried women who have children as immoral or dysfunctional. 

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As we have previously highlighted, the federal government’s forty independent federal agencies receive too little attention relative to their importance to our collective safety and prosperity. The Revolving Door Project has worked through multiple channels to shed light on these overlooked agencies and the threats that they face. We hope public education will generate pressure to safeguard the independence of these agencies and ensure that they are staffed with advocates for the public interest rather than corporate insiders. 

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Lawmakers sold opportunity zones as a solution for this country’s poorest communities but, two years into the program, that claim does not seem to be holding up. Rather than infusing poor communities with much-needed cash, it seems that many zones are padding the already bursting pockets of some of the country’s wealthiest individuals. No story has better embodied the mismatch between the program’s intent and actual outcome than ProPublica’s report, out last week, detailing how a luxury apartment development in a superyacht marina came to qualify for the tax break. 

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To: Moderators Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker, Ashley Parker, MSNBC, and The Washington Post


We, the undersigned organizations, urgently request that you ask each Democratic presidential candidate about how they would wield powers specific to the executive branch at the next debate on November 20th. In particular, we request that you ask about what qualifications each candidate will prioritize in making key nominations and appointments to the various departments and independent agencies that will fall under the next president’s purview. 

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TO: INTERESTED PARTIES

FROM: Revolving Door Project & Demand Progress Education Fund

RE: Dems Must Confront GOP Attacks on Dem Seats at the Independent Agencies 

Date: 11/13/19

 

Trump & McConnell’s Stealth Nuclear Attack on Independent Agencies

It is no secret that President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will abandon the basic norms that govern our democracy whenever it serves their interests. However, one important breach has gone largely undetected. 

Quietly, Trump and McConnell have undermined statutorily-mandated political balance on many independent agency boards by refusing to nominate Democrats, and slow-walking or blocking them in the Senate. 

By effectively undermining statutory guarantees of partisan diversity across many disparate agencies, Trump and McConnell have ruined an important avenue by which the party not in the White House exerts influence over a president’s administration. Having trampled a pillar of bipartisanship, McConnell should be made to feel the consequences now and in the future. 

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Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced legislation last week to require the CEOs of the country’s largest banks to testify before Congress at least once per year. While this might seem a perfectly run-of-the-mill measure from an outside vantage point, it is a marked departure from this Congress’ aversion to most oversight (especially of corporations). Indeed, most members of Congress have shown no appetite for the type of populist, corporate oversight for which we at the Revolving Door Project have advocated. Pressley, along with a handful of other freshman Democrats (and Rep. Maxine Waters) are notable exceptions. It is long past time that their approach became more mainstream. 

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For over half a century, the United States has measured income poverty by comparing a family’s income to a standardized dollar amount (a “poverty line”) that varies by family size. For a family of four, this poverty line was initially set at $3,104 in 1963. The current official poverty line — $25,701 for a family of four in 2018 — is simply the base-1963 poverty line adjusted for nothing but inflation over the last 55 years. Today the United States is the only country in the world that measures present-day poverty by using a poverty line set over half a century ago and since then only adjusted for inflation. 

Our idiosyncratic approach to measuring poverty is deeply flawed for at least two reasons. First, poverty lines are social standards, not merely technical or mathematical ones. A poverty line set over half a century ago will reflect a very different set of assumptions, social conventions, political considerations, and body of social-science research than a poverty line first set in 2019. The initial 1963 poverty line was based on food expenditure data from 1955 and a set of assumptions that haven’t aged well, including that family meals are all prepared at home by a “frugal housewife.” (See more on this here.)

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One of the tasks that are keeping economists employed these days is explaining the drop in labor’s share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is supposed to be a major cause of concern since the vast majority of people get most or all of their income from working. 

A wide variety of theories have been put forward to explain the decline. However, there is a big problem these theories; it is not clear that there has been much of a drop in the labor share. 

Much of the decline in shares, before recent revisions, was simply due to an increase in the share of depreciation in GDP. Depreciation is the portion of output that is needed to replace worn-out capital. This is output that is neither profit nor wages; but the greater the depreciation share, other things being equal, the lower will be the labor share.

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As we have previously highlighted, the federal government’s forty independent federal agencies receive too little attention relative to their importance to our collective safety and prosperity. The Revolving Door Project has worked through multiple channels to shed light on these overlooked agencies and the threats that they face. We hope public education will generate pressure to safeguard the independence of these agencies and ensure that they are staffed with advocates for the public interest rather than corporate insiders. 

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Let’s unpack the E&Y study.


Employment 

E&Y touts that the private equity industry supports 8.8 million jobs. You could mistakenly think this means that PE created 8.8 million jobs or that PE increased employment at the companies it took over. That may be the industry’s intention, and E&Y seems happy to create this misimpression, but it’s not true. 

A careful study of “The Economic Effects of Private Equity” by economists at Harvard and the University of Chicago looked at what happens to jobs when a PE firm buys out a Main Street company with offices, stores, warehouses, supermarkets, or other establishments and takes it over. The study found that, overall, when private equity takes over companies, employment in the establishments of those companies goes down by 4.4 percent in the first two years following the buyout. When private equity buys out big companies with lots of employees that trade on a stock market, the job loss is even more dramatic – 13 percent in the first two years. 

If you are a worker at a company that has been acquired by a private equity firm, these are the numbers that matter to you – these numbers reflect the probability that you or some of your colleagues will lose their jobs.

So, what is E&Y talking about? 

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With each passing day, President Trump’s criminal syndicate looks weaker. Until recently, hoping for defections on the scale we’re seeing now might have seemed like a pipe dream, but it turns out that several of Trump’s former associates do have limits on what they will tolerate (even if it is sometimes puzzling where exactly they draw the line). Unfortunately, while several of these figures have been able to provide valuable testimony, none have had the power to hold Trump accountable directly. And conveniently, Trump has incapacitated those corners of the administration, like the Federal Election Commission (FEC) — which currently lacks a quorum and therefore cannot function — that are outside of his direct influence and therefore would have the power to hold him to account in the event of partisan defections. 

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The research team that brought you a study that compared employment dynamics in companies taken over by private equity with similar companies not acquired by PE (“Private Equity, Jobs, and Productivity,” American Economic Review 2004) is out with a new paper. The news for workers, already troubling in their earlier report, is even worse this time around.

In the earlier study of employment effects of private equity buyouts (Davis, Haltiwanger, Handley, Jarmin, Lerner, and Miranda 2014), the researchers looked at what happened to employment following the private equity buyout in establishments owned by the target company at the time the buyout occurred   as well as what happened to employment in the target firm. The new study examines only what happens to employment in the target firm.

This is an important difference, and raises the question of why the employment effects in establishments is not part of the analysis in the just released paper.

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Today, the Revolving Door Project joined civil society partners to call on President Trump to rescind his Executive Order on Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees. This recent Trump executive order calls for the elimination of one-third of existing Federal Advisory Committees (FAC) that are not statutorily mandated. The Order claims to offer a remedy for a problem — bloat in the FAC system — that does not exist. It does identify an actual problem for corporate America, though -- more input from civil society can indeed dilute corporate influence in the workings of the executive branch. The order is, therefore, nothing more than the latest in this administration’s string of attacks on independent expertise and the public interest.  

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When Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry of Trump last Tuesday, CEPR’s Revolving Door Project (RDP) was already ahead of the news. RDP’s director, Jeff Hauser answered when reporters asked if Democrats would seek impeachment after the whistleblower allegations. Last year, he warned of then-Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh’s proven willingness to rule “that the president is unreachable by the law while in office.”

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As we have previously highlighted, the federal government’s forty independent federal agencies receive too little attention relative to their importance to our collective safety and prosperity. The Revolving Door Project has worked through multiple channels to shed light on these overlooked agencies and the threats that they face. We hope public education will generate pressure to safeguard the independence of these agencies and ensure that they are staffed with advocates for the public interest rather than corporate insiders. 

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Impeachment proceedings are officially underway, meaning that the tedious debate over whether or not to open an inquiry is (at least, hypothetically) behind us. Following revelations last week that President Trump has taken Congress’ refusal to impeach as a blank check, it is even becoming plausible that the days of Nancy Pelosi’s ridiculous ongoing opposition to impeachment are numbered. This is not to say that the impeachment fight is over; questions about the substance and style of the inquiry remain. Democrats, however, have crossed a major milestone. With the majority of the caucus no longer tied up by whether to even open an  impeachment inquiry, it is time they turn their attention to the other, related oversight they have neglected. Only then will they begin to resemble the opposition party voters thought they were propelling to power last fall.

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before the House Education and Labor Committee five months ago. She sat down, cleared her throat, and proceded to dodge basic yes-or-no questions about everything from transgender rights to literacy programs to arming teachers for several hours. Through her evasiveness, and the many issues Democrats wanted to bring up, there was barely any discussion of the trillion dollar student loan crisis, a calamity chaining down a whole generation’s opportunity, and which is now larger than both credit card and auto loan debt. Over $1.4 trillion of the $1.5 trillion debt is part of the federal government’s student loan portfolio, which the Education Department oversees.

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Washington is awash with proposals for a new regulatory agency centered on Silicon Valley. Often lost in that important conversation is the fact that the executive branch already has some positions with a direct focus on the technology sector, though they are limited in scope and scattered across the alphabet-soup of agencies. Perhaps no tech-focused bureaucrat has the president’s ear quite like the Chief Technology Officer. The CTO is the White House’s top advisor on anything to do with technology and innovation, tasked with explaining the latest developments and guiding the thinking of the most powerful politician on earth.

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The FTC’s pittance of a settlement with Google over serious violations of children’s privacy laws came and went through the news cycle with little more than a shrug from the public last month. That’s understandable; folks following Silicon Valley’s relationship with Washington right now are singularly focused on the concurrent state and federal-level antitrust inquiries into the biggest four tech companies, Google included. Moreover, as I wrote in the American Prospect yesterday, Google shields itself particularly well from prying progressive eyes, thanks to a combination of think tank donations, overtures to Democratic elites, and just offering highly functional products whose creepy surveillance downsides are little understood by consumers.

But this is the Revolving Door Project, so we couldn’t let a corporate giveaway go by without looking at the personnel behind it. And as the aphorism, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, goes: “history never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” 

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