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Is the 1% a static set of people?

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April 22, 2014

The New York Times had a fascinating article on the widely discussed 1%.  In it, they show through research dating back to the 1970s that any person in the United States has a 12% chance of spending at least one year in the top 1% of income distribution.

The article itself is interesting, but what really has caused some discussion are the responses, especially from two different economic camps.  Greg Mankiw, professor of Economics at Harvard, agrees completely.  Paul Krugman, professor of Economics at Princeton, disagrees completely.  Although many of us that know that Mankiw leans a little right and Krugman a little left, it is a great opportunity for students to read up on and research opposite sides of the political-economic spectrum to determine from evidence who is “right” in their opinion.

To boost data on either side, there is more news regarding income inequality in the last week.  For example, French economist Thomas Piketty has released a book stating that what is usually stated as fact (that income inequality is a known and accepted by-product of capitalism), is instead falsehood.  Looking at data from the last hundred years, Piketty claims that our US economy will fall under income inequality issues.  Worse, he says it will happen soon – that the statistics from current numbers reflect the same income inequality as seen in the United States just before the Great Depression.

And just today, the New York Times has released a report showing that the US middle class is no longer the richest middle class in the world.  Canada has taken that title, and the article has a great chart showing the gaps between the US middle class and other countries’.

A new Forbes article outlines how income inequality is being used for political gain, with very little effort to actually do anything about it.  At the same time, Bloomberg has an article showing that the gap between the richest and poorest Americans is smaller.

I bring all of these articles to light in order to allow students to read multiple points of view to determine what is right for them.  Political beliefs are very personal, and it can be very difficult to determine what is “truth” and what is political posturing.  Have students read through the articles and determine who has the strongest case.  Tie information to the UFR lesson on Rhetoric, and ask students to use information from their research to take a stand on whether the stories they see constitute truth or rhetoric.

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Infographics from the Congressional Budget Office

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April 22, 2014

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a series of infographics regarding federal spending.  I love using infographics in the classroom – artists who do them correctly have a gift for getting a LOT of information into a very small space, and students tend to love them.  It can be a great way for students to “get” a really difficult subject.

The Federal Budget in 2013 has a variety of information regarding federal spending last year.  Students could analyze spending versus revenue from the graphic rather than the long text of the actual federal budget document.  They could conduct independent research on what “other” is in both areas – after all, $467 billion dollars was spent on “other” last year!  Students could make their own infographics from information they find, or could make an infographic regarding “what is $467 billion?”.  This infographic also shows the federal deficits and debt since 1974, and gives concise definitions of terms.

A second infographic takes a closer look at 2013 revenues.  It outlines dollar amounts, but also shows revenue trends since the early 1990′s, as well as a great view of where revenues come from.

The third infographic zooms in on mandatory spending.   Each of the graphics has a bar graph in the top right corner that emphasizes what the specific infographic is about.  It could help students understand how much of the federal budget is mandatory spending and exactly what that means.  This one shows what money was spent on in the 2013 budget, and compares it to 1993  numbers.

Finally, there’s an infographic on discretionary spending.  It looks at trends over time but focuses primarily on defense spending.  What’s really helpful for the classroom with this one is that it breaks down defense spending, so the student who says “just cut defense” as a proposal to balance the budget can see exactly what would need to be cut.

 

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Tagged: , . | Category: Blog

April 15, 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.

Political cartoons regarding Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed federal budget have started popping up.  Below are a few of them that caught my eye.  Have students compare them to the information about the budget and the media responses from last week.  What story do they tell?  How do they add to the “whole picture”?  In general, whose “side” is the cartoonist on?  How can you tell?

146957 600 Tree For The Forest cartoons

Christopher Weyent, 2014, The New Yorker

146961 600 The Ryan Plan cartoons

Taylor Jones, 2014

146904 600 the grim ryan cartoons

Bill Schorr, 2014

 

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House passes Ryan’s budget

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April 11, 2014

Representative Paul Ryan’s proposed federal budget passed the House with a narrow margin of 215 to 209, after a week of attempted Democratic alternatives.

A question has arisen, though, of whether the passing of Ryan’s proposed budget is even necessary.  Many in Congress say that the Murray-Ryan bill passed last year supercedes a new budget plan, and stays in place for another year.  Many are seeing Ryan’s budget as more of a political stance, declaring Republican ideals, rather than a plan for a national budget.

Some coverage by the National Journal, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal (blog) and The Washington Post (blog) can help give students background information and an all-important look at how different media outlets report news.

On the House website, Ryan outlines his “Path to Prosperity” budget and uses the following graph to make his point in support of a balanced budget:  thumbnail

I found this graph to be a great tie to the UFR Lesson 5.4 on Numeracy and graphical representations.  You could take students through the numeracy lesson, but tie in the above graph and information found in current news outlets to give students a “big picture” view of Ryan’s proposed budget.  What does he want to happen, and how does he see it happening?

A great focusing question for students to consider is:  Is this economics, or is this politics?  There’s no right or wrong answer – have students look at the media information from multiple sources and analyze the data for information to support their argument.  Add in information from UFR Lesson 2.2 on Political Beliefs and the Federal Budget to help students understand where partisan politics falls – and has fallen in the past – into discussions on the national budget.  Or, you could pull the class discussion around to UFR Lesson 2.5 on Political Rhetoric.

 

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Chairman Paul Ryan and the Federal Budget Process

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April 8, 2014

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan released his proposal for the 2015 federal budget on April 1.  The budget would cut $5 trillion out of the budget over the next 10 years, balancing it by 2024.  However, his suggested route to balancing the budget would severely offset the Affordable Care Act of 2010.  It would also increase defense spending and cut domestic programs dramatically.

What does all of this mean?  There are multiple ways that this could be incorporated into the UFR curriculum.  The biggest link is to Lesson 1.5 on Balancing the Budget, but it could also be tied to others:  Lesson 1.1 is about Social Security and the National Debt, while Lesson 1.2 is about Medicare and the National Debt (as Ryan’s budget shows significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare).

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has also released their analysis of Ryan’s budget.  Their major point is that for Ryan’s budget to work, there would be significant changes in current law, especially regarding the Affordable Care Act.

More information is bound to be forthcoming in the next few weeks!

 

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McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission (2014)

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April 8, 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.

 

One of the biggest cases coming out of the Supreme Court this session is McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission.  The 5-4 decision of the Court struck down a law that limited individual donations to elections – the “cap”.  This almost guarantees an increase in the role that money will pay in elections in the United States.  The New York Times compares the decision to Citizens United, a 2010 decision on donation caps on corporations and unions.

What’s been coming out in political cartoons could be very interesting to bring up in the classroom.  Use a comparison between the text of the actual decision of the Court and the political cartoons below.  What can students learn from them?  (The Washington Post has a nice outline of the case if you’re in need of more background information).

Daryl Cagle, 2014.  What is covering some justices?  Why are others in black?  What is this cartoon saying?

Chan Lowe, 2014

Brad Bannon, 2014

Mike Luckovich, 2014

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NYT: “Obama Claims Victory in Push for Insurance”

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The Obama administration had a goal of signing 7 million people up on the government portal for the Affordable Care Act by March 31, 2014, and on Tuesday, President Obama announced that there were officially 7.1 million sign-ups.  The New York Times stated that “the announcement did little to deflect immediate criticism from its Republican opponents.”  Time Magazine quotes the president and states “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”  CNN reported on the way the public is viewing the law – 46% viewed it unfavorably (down 4 points), while 38% said they viewed it favorably (up 4 points), while Fox News questioned how many people actually paid their premiums.

One thing is clear:  just because the White House met their goal of 7 million people signing up by March 31, the controversy over the ACA is not over.

Have students look back over previous posts on the ACA, and compare what they see now in the media.  Just last week there was a question of a grace period to allow more people to sign up, especially if they had experienced website delays.  At the end of February there was a suggestion to an alternative to the ACA, on which the Congressional Budget Office commented.

One reason to focus on this ongoing discussion about the ACA in different media is that it fits in so many different places int he curriculum.  In addition to questions of budget priorities and political rhetoric, the issue of taxes also keeps coming up in the media, alongside the question of how the ACA will be funded overall.  It’s also a great discussion about media bias and sourcing.

For a moment, though, consider UFR Lesson 2.4 in the Civics/Government portion of the curriculum.  This focuses in on political beliefs and the federal budget.  The ACA seems to cut to the heart of political polarization:  is it the responsibility of the government to provide health insurance?  Students could take resources from both sides of the political aisle, from all types of media responses, and analyze information to determine where they stand on this issue.

 

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Affordable Care Act Delayed?

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March 28, 2014

 

On Wednesday, March 26, a “grace period” extension for the enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care Act was announced.  Reactions across the country differed.  The Washington Post offered a blog on “the long history of hitting the pause button on Obamacare“, while Reuters hardly mentions this delay, leaving it to one short paragraph at the end that outlines a grace period because of technical difficulties.  Politico outlines John Boehner’s position on the topic, and an op/ed piece at Forbes uses sarcasm to make their point.

It’s a fascinating look at partisan politics, which really trumps the news of a potential delay in the long life of the Affordable Care Act.  I’d take the UFR Lesson 2.5 in the Civics portion and use the information this week to look at political rhetoric.  Is it fact or rhetoric that guides people’s belief about the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare?  How does even changing the name reflect rhetoric?

Another option could be using the lesson on rhetoric to return to previous posts on the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare to look at a longer track record of what the media has been saying about the law.  On February 26, I outlined the Save American Workers Act as a suggested alternative to the ACA, and in early February, I posted a blog that looks at Obamacare as a negative income tax.  How do we teach students to move beyond the rhetoric to find “truth” – and of course, what is “truth” in politics, media, and history?

 

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Who pays as America greys?

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March 28, 2014

The Economist’s Daily Chart in mid-March was about the changes in federal spending since the 1960′s.  It’s a great, short video (only about a minute and a half) very suitable for classroom use.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2014/03/daily-chart-5?fsrc=rss

Great discussions around the changes over time could help students understand the current issues we fall into as we look for where cuts could potentially be made.  What does it mean for our country that defense spending has decreased by half since 1960, yet entitlements have doubled over?

There are so many potential ties to the UFR curriculum with this data:  obviously it ties to Lesson 1.1 (Social Security and the National Debt) and Lesson 1.4 (Taxation and the National Debt), but my favorite tie is to Lesson 1.3, The Economics of National Security.  Conducting the Data Dive mentioned in the lesson, and encouraging students to explore what questions actually come out of the data, and then watching the video, is a powerful look at a very real current issue:  the decrease in federal spending on defense.  Whether students approve of that or not, it is happening, and what does it mean?

Additional resources and visuals for this topic could include:

 

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Should Congress Limit the Mortgage Interest Deduction?

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March 28, 2014

So sorry I’ve been away – a combination of a horrible cold and airplane travel has had me in recovery mode!  So, a few posts today to make up for time away.

I ran across a blog post at The Big Picture with a visual from the Wall Street Journal entitled “Mortgages and the American Homeowner“.  Now, while I would normally link directly only to the visual rather than a blog that is posting the visual, I wanted the opportunity to show how blog post comments could be used in the classroom to increase critical thinking.

 

Using visuals in the classroom can help many students understand a topic more deeply.  Someone who perhaps cannot (or will not) read a newspaper article can grasp many nuances of a visual.  In this case, the difference between the percentages of tax filers taking the mortgage deduction linked to the average deduction can provide an interesting perspective on who the mortgage interest deduction is helping.  The suggestion from the visual is that the government could limit the home mortgage interest deduction in order to increase revenue.

First, comparing states provides valuable information.  Take a state such as California, a state hit hard by the pop of the housing bubble in 2008 as well as a state with traditionally inflated home values.  According to the information provided, between 26-31% of tax filers in CA take the mortgage interest deduction, and the average value of that deduction is $4,000 or higher.  That’s a huge amount of potential government revenue.  On the other hand, a state such as South Dakota, not hit that hard in 2008, seems to have recovered quickly, and has comparably lower home prices, sees only 20-25% of their filers taking the deduction for an average of under $2,000.  What information can be drawn from this?  Perhaps more importantly, what questions does it raise?

Overall, what other questions could students tackle or come up with from the visual?  I could see potential in a variety of places:  What does it mean that 74% of the debt owed by US families is residential property?  What does it mean that there is almost a dead heat 50-50 in answering the question “should the government limit the home mortgage interest deduction to increase revenue?”  If 60% of the income groups in the US would see an increase in taxes if the mortgage interest deduction was eliminated, what does that say about the seeming 50-50 support for the measure?

The blog comments on the original post add another aspect of discovery for the classroom.  Many responses look at other ways to increase federal revenue.  Why did people take that angle?  What justifications are made?  What evidence is provided?  Why are taxes such a controversial issue?

Using UFR Lesson 1.4 (Taxation), have student answer the question regarding the efficiency and equity of the mortgage interest deduction.  Is it fair?  Is it efficient?

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