Folbre UMass Economics

Folbre calculates tax payback year in NY Times Economix Blog

photo by Alan Cleaver

In a recent NY Times Economix blog, Nancy Folbre, UMass Amherst economics professor, calculates tax payback year.  This calculation is “the number of years beyond age 21 that it takes average taxpayers to fully repay the government (and their fellow taxpayers) for the public funds expended on them in their first 21 years.”  She argues that although some dislike paying taxes, it is important to understand that the government pays for us.  Paying taxes after the age of 21 is, in a sense, paying back the money that the government invested in us while we were young.  The benefits we receive from the government, for much of our lifecycle, far exceed the taxes we pay.

April 5, 2010
Tax Payback Year
By:  Nancy Folbre

It takes more than 17 years for average taxpayers simply to repay what older taxpayers invested in them.

You don’t have to take my word for it. If you’re willing to do some fairly detailed research and plug it into a spreadsheet, you can look back and estimate what the government has spent, to date, on you.

Then you can look forward and estimate what you expect to get from the government in health insurance, retirement and other benefits.

Then you can estimate your net taxes in each year — the difference between what you pay and what you get — and see how it varies over time.

Whether or not you like what you see, it will look very different than a picture based on taxes alone.

The Tax Foundation complains that Americans will pay more in taxes in 2010 than they will spend on food, clothing and shelter combined.

But young Americans and old Americans, in particular, will get more in benefits than they pay in taxes.

Let’s remember that we were all once young and hope eventually to grow old.

Ash Boyce PERI UMass Economics

Ash and Boyce comment on release of Toxic 100 Air Polluters

The latest list of corporate polluters provides data about who is most at risk. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

 UMass Amherst economics professors and co-directors of PERI’s CTIP (Corporate Toxics Information Project), Michael Ash and James Boyce, discuss the release of  Toxic 100 Air Polluters, which includes the names of the biggest corporate air polluters in the U.S.  This list provides various details on the quantity and toxicity of the chemicals released.  It also includes the percentage of minority and low income people that are being exposed to the toxins.  “People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed. Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents,” Boyce said in a press release.  Ash agrees noting that by “making this information available, we are building on the achievements of the right-to-know movement… Our goal is to engender public participation in environmental decision making, and to help residents translate the right to know into the right to clean air.” (The Epoch Times, 4/9/2010)

Boyce PERI UMass Economics

PERI researchers release The Toxic 100 Air Polluters

James Boyce, Professor & Co-Director of PERI's Corporate Toxics Information Project

Researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI)at UMass Amherst have released the Toxic 100 Air Polluters, an updated list of the top corporate air polluters in the United States. The list informs consumers and shareholders which large corporations release the most toxic pollutants into our air, said UMass Amherst economics Professor James Boyce, co-director of PERI’s Corporate Toxics Information Project.

Amherst, MA – Researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today released the Toxic 100 Air Polluters, an updated list of the top corporate air polluters in the United States.

“The Toxic 100 Air Polluters informs consumers and shareholders which large corporations release the most toxic pollutants into our air,” said Professor James Boyce, co-director of PERI’s Corporate Toxics Information Project. “We assess not just how many pounds of pollutants are released, but which are the most toxic and how many people are at risk. People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed. Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents.”

Read the full press release

Katzner UMass Economics

Katzner’s book to be published by Oxford University Press

Don Katzner, UMass Amherst Economics Professor

Oxford University Press will publish Don Katzner’s, To the Edge of Camelot: A History of the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1965-1981.  The book is expected to appear towards the end of 2011.

The book covers the period of time in which the Economics Department first rose from obscurity to become, for a brief moment, a significant, traditionally oriented department with a future Nobel Laureate and a future President of the University of Chicago.

But, very quickly, this highly visible faculty dissolved and was replaced, also very quickly, by an even more visible group of radical political economists. Contrary to what one might have expected, the latter replacement took place at a public university during the height of the Cold War when the fear of communism and the Soviet Union was palpable throughout the country. It also added to the tensions that had been present in the department since the years of traditional orientation. These tensions were subsequently overcome, however, and the atmosphere in the Economics Department evolved into an exciting, stimulating and interesting intellectual environment.

Folbre UMass Economics

Folbre analyzes value of producing future taxpayers

Nancy Folbre, economics

In a March blog entry, Nancy Folbre, UMass Amherst economics professor and NY Times Economix blog contributor, analyzes taxes paid and benefits received between parents and non-parents.  Overall, non-parents pay more in net taxes than parents, until you calculate the future tax contributions on their children.

March 29, 2010
The Present Value of Producing Future Taxpayers

Let’s put this in more personal terms.

Prof. Douglas Wolf of Syracuse University, the first author of this paper, is a parent. I am not. Over my lifetime I am likely to pay more in taxes relative to the benefits I receive than he does.

But since he has devoted substantial resources to raising children, he has indirectly generated the net taxes they will pay in the future.

He has doubtless derived considerable satisfaction from his commitment to his children, which was not influenced by his calculation of possible “fiscal externalities” or benefits to other taxpayers.

But his commitment benefits me, because his children — whom I’ve never met — will help pay for the public transfers and services I anticipate receiving in my old age.

Ash UMass Economics

Ash and Page call for changes in state taxation

Michael Ash, economics professor, wrote a column with Max Page, professor of architecture and history, in The Daily Hampshire Gazette, calling for changes in the state taxation system to provide an adequate level of funding for public enterprises such as schools and public services. 

A new tack in taxing times
April 1, 2010

AMHERST – Last week, Amherst voted to pass an override, its third in 30 years of Proposition 2½.

What are we feeling now?

First, gratitude.

Gratitude to the people of Amherst for coming together as a community to confront these hard times not of our making with a show of support and generosity for each other. Gratitude to Clare Bertrand, Andy Churchill, Baer Tierkel and the hundreds of community members who worked tirelessly and brilliantly to mobilize the community on behalf of the community.

Second, anger.

Anger at our fellow townspeople who opposed the override? Not in the least!

Disagreement and debate are the lifeblood of democracy. This year the debate was overwhelmingly reasoned, reasonable and informative. Proponents and opponents avoided scare tactics and stuck to facts. In a season of hardship, many people honestly agonized over strained household budgets.

Rather, our anger is directed at the current system of public revenue and expenditure in which the presumption – the default – is grossly inadequate funding of schools and town services. The outcome, after thousands of hours of political work by the townspeople of Amherst, is modestly inadequate funding of schools and town services. Adequate funding for schools and towns, paid for fairly, is not yet on the Massachusetts ballot.

And while many of us in the Vote Yes for Amherst movement feel great about the weekend afternoons and weekday evenings dedicated to the campaign, we can’t help feeling a sense of regret that our effort helped only to keep our heads above water, if barely. Given Proposition 2½ reliance on local taxation, and given inadequate, shrinking, and regressive state financing, there was probably no more community-minded way to spend the winter and spring of 2010 than campaigning for the override. The thousands of hours – which could have been poured into gardens, art, music, sports, family time – simply had to be spent on the life preserver.

We are exhausted. But part of that exhaustion comes from knowing that all this hard work only slows the decline of our town. We can’t mobilize to save Amherst every year in the current fiscal environment. But we can reshape the landscape. We can change the “givens.”

Which leads us to what we feel most today, and hope you will feel: resolve.

Resolve to turn immediately from fighting for survival, to fighting for a tax system that meets our common needs, and fair enough for a just democracy. Let’s turn the corner and find new energy in fighting for a progressive tax system that gives us the Commonwealth we want.

Here’s a program that is gaining traction among progressive groups across the state. Reshaping the way we pay for our commonwealth can support the towns and schools we want and our children deserve.

Let’s return the income tax on earned income to 5.95 percent, where it stood a decade ago. In 2001, as we were battered by the first recession of the new century, a referendum appealing to easy anti-tax sentiments brought the state income tax rate down to 5.3 percent. We have tried 5.3 for a decade, and it doesn’t work. Every public institution in the state – every school, college, university, hospital, community center, town hall, police station, firehouse – is in chronic crisis. We can protect lower-income households by raising the personal exemption.  Without raising taxes on families earning less than $65,000, these reforms can generate $800 million a year.

Let’s tax dividends at 12 percent, as they were taxed until a decade ago.

This pure and simple wealth tax is the kind of property tax that we can all support. It’s based overwhelmingly on ability to pay, and it taxes the enormous concentration of wealth at the very top. It can generate $500 million a year.

With a just and adequate tax system for the state, we can reduce reliance on local taxation. Local taxation is not fair between towns, and its upkeep is demanding, even in towns that can afford it.

Thankful? Angry? Resolved? What do you do if you are attracted by this program?

A coalition of organizations is forming to push this fair set of revenue changes. is gathering together organizations Friday in Boston to plot out a strategy for the near and longer-term.

We need citizens and their organizations – unions, parent-teacher organizations, citizens’ groups like Sustainable Amherst – to sign on. If you voted against the override, this is the moment to recognize that we wouldn’t need overrides if state finances were fair and efficient. If you worked or voted for the override, this is the moment to connect the dots between our struggle on behalf of town and schools and the broken state tax system.

It’s time to act on the audacious presumption that our public, shared goods, services, and space need adequate care and upkeep.

Max Page is professor of architecture and history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and former president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors. Michael Ash is associate professor of economics and public policy at UMass Amherst and a member of Amherst Town Meeting. They can be reached at [1] and