Brookings Institute: Understanding the Federal Debt

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August 27, 2014

The Brookings Institute released a short video explaining the federal debt in comic format.  David Wessel, the Brookings’ Director of The Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy, outlines the general “the federal debt is okay as long as it stays a small percentage of GDP” argument in three minutes.

The video is very well done and easy to understand, and as soon as I saw it, I thought “Ah ha!  A great tie to UFR and the national debt!”.  What a great video to bring to students to align to the Economics lessons overall.  As I get ready to close my tenure on the UFR blog, I thought it would be interesting for students to look at the bigger picture – what do we want them to walk away from the UFR curriculum knowing and being able to do?  I think a fine example is taking information from current news sources and comparing them to the lessons is a great take away.

But…it would be important to always show the “other side”.  There are those economists that hate the national debt, and those who believe, as Wessel states, that it is necessary to balance the economy.  How can students find information to help them make a decision?

In my final blog post later this week, I’ll share some of the sources I’ve used to bring current policy and news to the UFR curriculum

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National Security and the Federal Budget – ISIS and the New Terrorism

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August 23, 2014

UFR Lesson 2.3 in the Civics portion of the curriculum looks at National Security Goals, the Federal Budget and the National Debt.  I thought it was a great opening to a lesson on the current situation in the Middle East and ISIS.  There are  a TON of political cartoons about ISIS and the beheading of the US journalist, James Foley.  Using political cartoons is a great way to show students differing points of view.

The political cartoons included in this blog are selected as tools to teach about public policy issues. Their inclusion does not in any way constitute an endorsement by Teachers College, Columbia University, of their point of view.

Political cartoons can be a powerful way to teach and talk about public policy issues in the classroom. They engaging, often funny, and they teach very complex ideas in a quick and intuitive way. We are so convinced of the value of political cartoons that, in addition to including them in many of our blogs, we feature posts that are all cartoons.

Using cartoons presents an opportunity to teach students media literacy, including the ability to detect point of view or bias. As a sequence, we strongly encourage students to study the cartoon carefully, analyze the specific context of the cartoon, and determine the cartoonist’s point of view. See the blog post of October 8, 2013 for a guide to using the political cartoons we have selected. The Library of Congress also has a a very useful Cartoon Analysis Guide.

152653 600 ISIS Coexist cartoons

Rick McKee, 2014

152591 600 ISIS Execution cartoons

Nate Beeler, 2014

152643 600 Iraq Lesson Not Learned cartoons

Pat Bagley, 2014

152593 600 World Falling Apart cartoons

Steve Sack, 2014

152620 600 Still cartoons

Mark Streeter, 2014

 

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Veterans Disability Compensation: CBO Analysis

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August 18, 2014

On the heels of the Social Security Trustees Report is a report from the Congressional Budget Office on Veterans Disability Compensation.  Although the report did not make the big splash like the Social Security report, it addresses the same issue:  how do we choose to allocate funds to support public programs?  What decisions need to be made to continue support?  How does this reflect policy priorities in our federal budget process?

This ties well to UFR Lesson 1.5 on Balancing the Federal Budget, but because of some specifics in the report, it may tie even better to UFR Lesson 1.4 on Taxation and the National Debt.  One of the suggestions to keeping VA disability benefits solvent is to begin to tax the benefits.  Have students analyze the issue and take a stance by using research skills and evidence they find.  Should VA benefits be taxed?

 

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Back to School!

Tagged: . | Category: Blog

August 18, 2014

The political cartoons included in this blog are selected as tools to teach about public policy issues. Their inclusion does not in any way constitute an endorsement by Teachers College, Columbia University, of their point of view.

Political cartoons can be a powerful way to teach and talk about public policy issues in the classroom. They engaging, often funny, and they teach very complex ideas in a quick and intuitive way. We are so convinced of the value of political cartoons that, in addition to including them in many of our blogs, we feature posts that are all cartoons.

Using cartoons presents an opportunity to teach students media literacy, including the ability to detect point of view or bias. As a sequence, we strongly encourage students to study the cartoon carefully, analyze the specific context of the cartoon, and determine the cartoonist’s point of view. See the blog post of October 8, 2013 for a guide to using the political cartoons we have selected. The Library of Congress also has a a very useful Cartoon Analysis Guide.

 

152293 600 School Supplies cartoons

Nate Beeler, 2014

 

151732 600 Back to School cartoons

Rick McKee, 2014

 

151693 600 Back to School cartoons

Jeff Koterba, 2014

 

 

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2014 Social Security Trustees Report

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August 16, 2014

The Social Security Administration has released the 2014 Trustees Report, projecting that the funds will be insolvent by 2033 if nothing is changed.   Even more alarming is the statement that the Disability Insurance (DI) program will be out of funds by 2016.  However, even after this time, it seems that payments will not be stopped, but rather cut by about 23% across the board.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggests that policymakers work to “save” DI and overall fix Social Security once and for all.  Reuters points out that as we keep putting bandages on the “wound” of Social Security, it gets harder and harder to do an actual fix.

At the same time, bloggers on USA Today and    are saying that all of this distracts from the real problem – reform.  A blog on Forbes states that Social Security is the Voldemort (He Who Shall Not be Named) of politics – no one will touch it for fear of backlash.

It’s a great time to talk with students and work through UFR Lesson 1.1on Social Security and the National Debt.  The essential question What costs and trade-offs are we willing to accept to ensure the benefits of income security to Social Security recipients? is a great way to encourage students to look at current news issues on the topic and draw their own conclusions based on fact.

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Sue or Impeach?

Tagged: . | Category: Blog

August 7, 2014

The political cartoons included in this blog are selected as tools to teach about public policy issues. Their inclusion does not in any way constitute an endorsement by Teachers College, Columbia University, of their point of view.

Political cartoons can be a powerful way to teach and talk about public policy issues in the classroom. They engaging, often funny, and they teach very complex ideas in a quick and intuitive way. We are so convinced of the value of political cartoons that, in addition to including them in many of our blogs, we feature posts that are all cartoons.

Using cartoons presents an opportunity to teach students media literacy, including the ability to detect point of view or bias. As a sequence, we strongly encourage students to study the cartoon carefully, analyze the specific context of the cartoon, and determine the cartoonist’s point of view. See the blog post of October 8, 2013 for a guide to using the political cartoons we have selected. The Library of Congress also has a a very useful Cartoon Analysis Guide.

 

151641 600 Boehner Blowing Smoke cartoons

Pat Bagley, 2014

 

151498 600 Impending Impeachment cartoons

Monte Wolverton, 2014

 

151700 600 Impeachment vs Lawsuit cartoons

Steve Sack, 2014

 

 

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Adult children living at “home”…what’s going on?

Tagged: . | Category: Blog

August 7, 2014

Although not seemingly about the UFR curriculum or the federal budget at first, this recent blog post from the economics blog “The Big Picture” gives a great real-life illustration not only of effects of the recession, but questions of income inequality, government assistance programs, and the housing market.

I’ll show the information in a series of infographics and leave it to you to go to the blog, but have students use the infographics to consider such things as:

  • Does the federal government have a duty to help those who cannot afford housing?
  • Should the federal government guarantee that people can live on their own?
  • What are potential side effects of such guarantees?
  • Is there “an answer”?  If so, what is it?

 

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Recession recovery…or not?

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August 7, 2014

The Wall Street Journal recently posted a blog regarding recovery from the Great Recession.  Using a survey from the Federal Reserve, they found that how people consider themselves compared to five years ago is almost cut in thirds:  30% says “better,” 34% says “same”, and 34% says “worse.”

Although at first it sounds rather benign, the data actually in concerning.  Comparing 2013 to 2008 means comparing three years post-recession to the very depth of the Great Recession.  If 68% of people say that they are either the same or worse, it shows either the overall malaise of the country in terms of the economy, or it shows the uneven nature of the recovery (which is the Fed’s stance).  

In other data from the report, a full 75% of renters say they’d like to purchase a home, but either cannot afford one or cannot qualify for a mortgage.  One-third of people taking the survey said they had no retirement savings at all, including almost 20% of people nearing retirement age.

This is the first in-depth report showing how the country recovers from a serious downturn in the economy.  As far as I can tell, it doesn’t address the effects of government interventions, but it’s a fascinating article for students to learn about the business cycle.

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Rep. Paul Ryan’s Poverty Plan

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July 29, 2014

Earlier this week, Representative Paul Ryan unveiled his plan to fight poverty in the United States.  This is being seen as a bipartisan effort to decrease the wage gap.  The Washington Post went so far as to assume from the plan that Ryan was not planning to run for president in the next election cycle.

The Economist has an overview of the plan, The Week suggests this could be a resurgence of the Republican Party, New York Magazine wonders if this is a new Paul Ryan, and even his home state is questioning what this all means.

The American Enterprise Institute has a video discussion with Representative Ryan regarding the new plan.

I like linking this to the UFR Civics lesson on Political Beliefs and the Federal Budget.  We’ve heard a lot lately on income distribution and income gaps, and here is a suggestion on how to “solve” some of those issues.  Have students read through the program – it’s not that difficult a read – and compare it to some of the information on how to decrease income gaps.  Would it work?  Do they support it or oppose it, and why?  (The “why”, of course, is the most important part!)

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WWI and Debt

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July 28, 2014

I was really excited (yes, I’m a nerd like that…) to find a chart in The Economist that looks at the debt incurred by WWI.  This was posted on The Economist‘s “Daily Chart” as a reflection of the 100th anniversary of the start of that war.

 

Looking at the changes, especially in Germany (obviously) can show students what has happened in the past when economies tank.  What a GREAT tie to discussions on the inter-war period, especially in Europe, as well as a great way to bring in questions of the effects of hyperinflation.  Take a look at UFR World History lesson 4.3 on Hyperinflation and the Wiemar Republic and allow students the opportunity to practice reading charts, analyze information from the time period, and draw conclusions on what happened in Europe during the interwar period.

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