Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ECONOMIC BITS AND BITES

Tax Reform

The leading Democratic candidates for president have begun to spell out their plans for tax reform. Charles Rangel, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is also at the forefront of tax reform. Since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which reduced marginal rates and simplified the tax code, every tax act has further complicated the system and lengthened the code. For the past twenty years, tax reform has come to mean the exact opposite of the word. It is likely that the next administration will be no different. There will be no flat tax on a postcard or national retail sales tax to replace the current code. There will be no real simplification. At most there will be some small changes in rates, deductions, exemptions, and other features of the tax code. This amounts to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Bread or Gasoline: Take your Pick

The recent emphasis on biofuels has driven up the price of food staples. A bushel of wheat has shot up as high as $9.00. The price of tortillas in Mexico has risen 50 percent and pasta prices in Italy have skyrocketed. Farmers are switching to corn production to profit from the demand for ethanol. Declining wheat production means higher prices for wheat foodstuffs, which most hurts the poor. Cleaner air in the West may come at the expense of a good diet in developing countries.

Feminism

The fastest growing serious disability in the U.S. is autism, which has increased 600 percent in the past few decades. Studies show that a mother’s and father’s risk of delivering a child with autism steadily rises as they get older. Women ages 40 and over show a 30 percent increase compared with moms between the ages of 25 and 29. Men ages 40 and older have up to a 50 percent increased risk compared with their 25 to 29 year-old-peers. Early marriage in the 1950s and 1960s has given way to much later marriage, after women have completed their college education, professional school, and several years experience in the workplace. The feminist movement, coupled with a strong economy, has given this generation of women opportunities that their mothers lacked. But one price of later child bearing is a rise in autism.

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