The Affordable Care Act (ACA) significantly altered the rules governing health insurance, especially in the individual market. While the law has increased the number of people with health insurance, lower-than-expected enrollment in the new health insurance exchanges and significant insurer losses have resulted in substantial premium increases and insurer withdrawals from state markets. These negative outcomes cast increasing doubt on the ACA and its long-term sustainability.
Since its inception more than a century and a half ago, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has experienced enormous growth in both size and complexity—as has the industry it seeks to serve. Today the USDA is among the largest federal employers and its 2014 budget exceeded $160 billion. Its spectrum of activities span from the protection of rural farm interests to urban food assistance. Consequently, the department is the target of a wide range of interest groups besides farmers, including food assistance advocates and advocacy groups interested in issues such as obesity, animal welfare, food safety, the environment, and more. The disparate agendas of these groups make it difficult for Congress to assemble a unified policy package each time USDA’s programs are due for reauthorization. The latest reauthorization, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed into law two years late in February 2015.
In a new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, economist Jayson L. Lusk documents the changes in American agriculture since the USDA’s inception and the expansion of the department’s mission. Much of the USDA’s regulation is outdated, wasteful, and conflicting.
Medicaid was established in 1965 as a joint state and federal program to provide medical insurance to Americans who are poor and have disabilities, and it has grown from 1 percent to 3 percent of GDP. The source of Medicaid’s growth over the past 50 years must inform efforts to reform the program and slow spending. The literature on the political economy of Medicaid provides strong evidence of interest group and political ideological influence, enabled by the open-ended federal match for state spending.
When Congress passes legislation that mandates prescriptive regulations, legislators are under no obligation to understand the problem they are trying to solve, assess alternative solutions, or understand the benefits and costs of their choices. Passage of the positive train control mandate in response to several high-profile train accidents amply illustrates how haphazardly the legislative branch can authorize regulations. Congressional hearings and committee reports on the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 contain no analysis of the causes and extent of the safety problem, alternative solutions, and the benefits and costs of alternatives to this $12.5 billion mandate. Given that major regulations are often required by statute, the time has come for Congress to subject regulatory legislation to the same kind of analysis that presidents have required regulatory agencies to conduct for more than three decades.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has ignited a debate over inequality that has significantly impacted public perceptions and policy debates in the United States. Piketty uses hundreds of years of income data to make bold predictions about future income inequality and justify aggressive policy reforms—including a global tax on capital—to tackle the issue. But are Piketty’s conclusions and policy prescriptions really grounded in economic theory and solid empirical results?
In a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, economist Mark J. Warshawsky reviews and critiques Piketty’s analysis and proposals. Warshawsky finds several significant flaws in Piketty’s methodology for estimating future inequality and in his suggested reforms to the tax code. Warshawsky’s review also summarizes the criticism of Piketty’s book by other academics and Piketty’s responses to this criticism.
The Regulatory Studies Program of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is dedicated to advancing knowledge about the impact of regulation on society. As part of its mission, the program conducts careful and independent analyses that employ contemporary economic scholarship to assess regulations and their effects on the economic opportunities and the social well-being available to all members of American society.
Visiting Scholar David Beckworth demonstrates that poor monetary policy set by the European Central Bank (ECB) played a key role in the two recessions, sparked the sovereign debt crisis experienced by several Eurozone countries, and exacerbated the impact of the austerity programs.
Concern about income inequality has dramatically shifted public attitudes toward economic and fiscal policy, and the subject of inequality has increasingly dominated the political debate. But the discussion has focused almost exclusively on comparing the earnings of lower- and higher-paid workers, and on promoting redistributive policies aimed at “correcting” this disparity. New research finds, however, that both scholars and politicians have largely overlooked a key contributor to earnings inequality: the role of rapidly increasing healthcare costs.
Near-zero GDP growth. Strong dollar. Weak exports. Factory recession. Fed hesitancy. Low inflation and low interest rates. Solid consumer spending. Accelerating construction. Rising home sales. China turning the corner? These keywords seen frequently in recent news stories pretty well describe the 2016 midyear economy.
As the world’s first decentralized digital currency, Bitcoin has the potential to revolutionize online payment systems and commerce in ways that benefit both consumers and businesses. Individuals can now avoid using an intermediary such as PayPal or submitting credit card information to a third party for verification—both of which often involve transaction fees, restrictions, and security risks—and instead use bitcoins to pay each other directly for goods or services.