Selling a Home? The D.C. Down Payment Assistance Program Will Give You Up to $202,000.

“the mayor urged residents to take advantage of the city’s newly expanded Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP). Starting October 1, the program will provide residents with up to $202,000 in interest-free loans to help cover the costs of a first-time home purchase, plus an additional $4,000 to help cover closing costs.
The decades-old program previously provided home purchasers with $80,000 in interest-free loans. The increase is justified, officials argue, by today’s hot housing market.

“We knew we had to do something to make the program more viable for potential home buyers,” Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio told The Washington Post last week. “We wanted our residents to be the most prepared as they go into this hot housing market.”

D.C. is certainly an expensive place to buy a home.

The real estate listing company Zillow says the typical D.C. home is worth $707,747—roughly twice the typical home cost nationally. Prices have increased 9 percent so far this year, according to the Case-Shiller home price index. That’s slightly more than the national increase in prices but far less than the 20-plus percent increases in such cities as Atlanta and Tampa.

These interest-free loans will probably increase those prices further. Indeed, the value of that subsidy is more likely to be captured by home sellers than by homebuyers.

The whole purpose of down payment assistance is to get more people to buy homes. That’s another way of saying that it is increasing the demand for home purchases. Economics 101 tells you that increasing demand, all else being equal, will increase prices. Homebuyers with more money can be less price-sensitive, and home sellers can be choosier about purchasers. All that encourages those sellers to increase prices.”

“In a normal market, you’d expect price increases to induce a supply effect. More demand encourages suppliers to enter a market, which helps moderate price increases.

But don’t expect to see much of that in D.C.’s housing market. For starters, the city has only so many vacant or redevelopable plots of land where new housing could go. Redeveloping existing housing into more units is constrained by the city’s zoning laws and historic preservation rules. Meanwhile, rising inflation and persistent supply-chain issues have caused new home construction to plummet, as high material costs make builders less willing to take on new projects.”

The Inflation Reduction Act, explained

“The policies overall aim to push American consumers and industry away from reliance on fossil fuels. The biggest share of the funding goes to tax credits and rebates for a host of renewable technologies — solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles. It includes incentives for companies to manufacture more of that technology in the United States. The law will also put funding into energy efficiency at industrial sites that can help lower the sector’s hefty carbon footprint, while dedicating some funds to forest and coastal restoration.
The IRA also breaks new ground on other problematic areas of the climate crisis. It sets the first methane fee that penalizes fossil fuel companies for excess emissions of the especially powerful climate pollutant. Another substantial part of the funding helps disadvantaged communities with monitoring and cleaning up pollution, and builds their resilience to climate impacts.

Beyond cutting climate pollution, the clean energy investments could also make a dent in inflation. According to Robbie Orvis, senior director at Energy Innovation, rising energy prices have driven roughly a third of the 9 percent rise in the overall Consumer Price Index this past year. By helping Americans become less reliant on fossil fuels, the spending helps ease the global oil crunch and cut consumer bills.”

“The agreement also includes a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations with profits over $1 billion. Senate Democrats note that while the current corporate tax rate is 21 percent, dozens of major companies, including AT&T, Amazon, and ExxonMobil, pay much less than that. Originally, the provision was expected to raise $313 billion, though new carveouts were added to win Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-AZ) vote, which give manufacturers and private equity firms more leeway when it comes to the new minimum tax rate. Those changes are likely to reduce the revenue this measure will bring in.

There is also a 1 percent excise tax on corporations’ stock buybacks, which are currently not subject to any taxes at all. That excise tax is estimated to raise roughly $73 billion in revenue.”

Europe’s Energy Wounds Are Self-Inflicted

“”In 2000, Germany launched a deliberately targeted program to decarbonize its primary energy supply, a plan more ambitious than anything seen anywhere else,” Vaclav Smil wrote in 2020 for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ IEEE Spectrum. “The policy, called the Energiewende, is rooted in Germany’s naturalistic and romantic tradition, reflected in the rise of the Green Party and, more recently, in public opposition to nuclear electricity generation.”
The problem, as Smil noted, is that government-favored and subsidized solar and wind are intermittent. Wind doesn’t generate electricity when the air is still, and solar is of little use at night and on cloudy days. That means old-school generating capacity has to be maintained in parallel to the new systems.

“It costs Germany a great deal to maintain such an excess of installed power,” Smil added. “The average cost of electricity for German households has doubled since 2000. By 2019, households had to pay 34 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 22 cents per kilowatt-hour in France and 13 cents in the United States.”

The German news magazine Der Spiegel came to a similar conclusion in 2019.

“The state has redistributed gigantic sums of money, with the [Renewable Energy Sources Act] directing more than 25 billion euros each year to the operators of renewable energy facilities,” the authors observed. “But without the subsidies, operating wind turbines and solar parks will hardly be worth it anymore. As is so often the case with such subsidies: They trigger an artificial boom that burns fast and leaves nothing but scorched earth in their wake.”

Making the matter worse is the extent to which Europe has sourced its fossil fuels from Russia. That’s a dependency partly based on easy accessibility by land to Russia’s resources. It’s also an artifact of economic diplomacy from the Cold War era intended to build trade ties to reduce the risk of conflict. But what was supposed to give the West leverage over the old Soviet Union has instead handed modern Russia enormous clout.

Comparatively clean nuclear energy might have made the difference, but the 2011 Fukushima disaster spooked Germans more, perhaps, than people anywhere else, and the country resolved to abandon nuclear power, leaving it dependent on unreliable solar and wind and, especially, imported fossil fuels. Only now, with Russia throttling the supply of natural gas to 20 percent of capacity, is the governing coalition considering extending the life of the last two nuclear power plants past the end of the year.”

Mitt Romney’s Family Plan Isn’t Great, but It May Be Better Than the Alternatives

“According to Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah), America’s current welfare policies have two major flaws: They penalize recipients who get married by reducing the benefits they’re eligible for, and they don’t do enough to help couples afford to have more kids.

“There’s a growing gap between the number of children people say they want to have and the number they actually decide to have,” he said during an event yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C. “Just to be clear here, I don’t think the goal of policy should be to try to create incentives to have people have more children than they want, but instead should find a way to bridge the gap between what people would like to add to their family and what they’re able to afford.”

Attempting to address these issues, Romney in June released the Family Security Act 2.0, a proposal to send parents monthly checks of between $250 and $700 per child, beginning midway through a pregnancy. A household would need to have earned at least $10,000 the previous year to be eligible for the full benefit, a provision meant to keep families from dropping out of the work force entirely. The program would be “paid for” by reducing or eliminating various existing income tax breaks.

It’s hard to fault efforts to resolve distortions introduced by previous federal policy, including the whoopsie-daisy of incentivizing low-income couples to remain unmarried. The idea that it’s the government’s job to help people have more kids rests on a more debatable assumption—namely, that parents should not have to shoulder the full cost of raising future members of society.

Regardless of whether you buy that “positive externalities” argument, the federal government does spend billions each year on family programs. Given that these efforts are not likely to go away (however much libertarian purists might wish otherwise), it’s worth considering whether Romney’s proposal represents at least an incremental improvement over the status quo.”

Biden Expands Dubious Subsidies for Manufacturers

“For nearly 90 years, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has subsidized foreign purchases of goods produced by politically connected American businesses. Now it will start loaning money to U.S. companies that do little or no business overseas.

In April, the Ex-Im Bank’s board of directors voted unanimously to launch a new “Make More in America” initiative aimed at subsidizing American manufacturers instead of their foreign customers. Rather than unwinding and abolishing the Ex-Im Bank, as some fiscal conservatives have been trying to do for years, this new program is likely to further entrench the bank’s role in federal industrial policy.

“This is worse than mission creep,” says Sen. Pat Toomey (R–Pa.), the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee and a longtime skeptic of the Ex-Im Bank. “There is no reason that taxpayers should have to back domestic financing when we live in a highly developed market economy in which promising businesses have access to capital on competitive terms.”

Toomey submitted a series of questions to Ex-Im Bank President Reta Jo Lewis about the new program. The answers he received are telling.

In response to Toomey’s request for evidence that a new domestic loan program is needed, Lewis wrote that “it is difficult” to identify a financing shortage, noting that “U.S. capital markets are deep and liquid.” Where there are “gaps,” she said, they exist among “non-investment grade or unrated borrowers.”

Applicants for the new loans, Lewis said, “will need to demonstrate that the required financing is not otherwise available from the private sector.” In other words, these loans will go to projects that private capital markets have deemed too risky to finance.

The Ex-Im Bank’s low-interest loans to overseas buyers of American goods have long benefited companies like Boeing, which can undercut foreign competition with the U.S. government’s help. But there is little evidence that the Ex-Im Bank has actually boosted American exports.

From 2014 to 2018, the bank was effectively shut down when conservatives in Congress temporarily suspended its lending authority. American exports nevertheless grew from $2.3 trillion to a then-record $2.5 trillion during that period.

Former President Donald Trump signed a bill reauthorizing the bank in 2018. President Joe Biden now plans to expand its mandate. Having failed to prove its worth in the global marketplace, the Ex-Im Bank will waste taxpayer money here at home.”

Behind Biden’s plan to bump up farm subsidies

“As part of a $33 billion funding request for Ukraine, the Biden administration last week proposed sending $500 million to American farmers with a goal of boosting production of wheat, soybeans, rice and other commodities, in order to make up for some of Ukraine’s food exports that have dried up since the Russian invasion.

But some agricultural economists say they’re unsure why the administration would move to boost subsidies for crops that are already fetching high prices, our Meredith Lee reports.

“I don’t think that this sort of intervention from the government makes any sense, other than to read it in a pure political sense, that this is something they feel like they need to do,” said Joe Glauber, former chief economist at USDA during Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s previous tenure during the Obama administration.

The funding request includes food aid programs that buy U.S. commodities and send them to countries in need, including many in Africa and the Middle East that relied on Ukraine and Russia for staples like wheat and sunflower oil and are now reeling from shortages and price spikes.

By the numbers: Under the Biden administration’s proposal, $100 million would go toward providing a $10-per-acre payment to farmers who plant a soybean crop after a winter wheat crop in 2023. Another $400 million would fund a two-year increase in loan rates for U.S. producers to encourage them to grow more select food commodities, including wheat, rice and oilseeds like soybeans, sunflowers and canola.

The Agriculture Department claims the proposal would help stabilize rising U.S. food prices and provide food for foreign countries in need, by helping American farmers grow 50 percent of the wheat normally exported by Ukraine, among other things. That plan, however, would probably also require the U.S. to step up funding for federal aid programs that buy and ship U.S. commodities abroad. Otherwise, wealthier countries like China would likely buy up the extra supply on the open market.

Biden’s proposal comes despite prior statements by key White House and USDA officials that high commodity prices alone would encourage U.S. farmers to increase their crop production and help meet global demand in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The president on Thursday described the plan as “good for rural America, good for the American consumer and good for the world.””

The Build Back Better Bill Will Give You $12,000 for Buying an Electric Car. Unless It’s a Tesla.

“As part of Biden’s plan to rein in carbon emissions, the bill contains a provision which would provide a $7,500 tax rebate to any consumer who purchases an electric vehicle (EV), including both all-electric and plug-in hybrids. However, that amount increases by $4,500 if the car was manufactured in a unionized U.S. factory, as well as by an additional $500 if the vehicle contains a U.S.-made battery.

Ostensibly, this provision is part of Biden’s “Buy American” policy of incentivizing or mandating purchases to be made domestically. In practice, the order has simply carried over the protectionism of the Trump trade policy and increased costs to taxpayers. The EV credit proposal, though, is much more egregious, in that it not only incentivizes a particular type of product, but incentivizes particular brands, as well.

If enacted as written, the bonus $4,500 in EV credits could only apply to cars made by Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler). In other words, a driver who wants to purchase a hybrid Toyota Camry, which U.S. News & World Report ranks as having “Great” reliability, does not qualify for the extra money, even though the car is manufactured in Kentucky. But if that same shopper elects to purchase a Chevrolet Bolt, which recently halted production because the batteries were catching fire, they would receive the extra rebate. As a matter of fact, out of more than 50 EVs currently on the market, the only vehicles which currently qualify for the extra money are two variations of the Bolt.

This is what is most pernicious about this policy: Rather than simply a blanket advantage for American companies (which would be bad enough), it is a clear giveaway to the United Auto Workers (UAW).”

India’s farmers confronted Modi and won. What happens now?

“In a surprise reversal after more than a year of nonstop protests, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed to repeal three controversial laws affecting the country’s agricultural industry.
The laws, which sparked a massive protest movement after they were passed in September 2020, were designed to modernize India’s agriculture industry — but India’s farmers and other critics said they would advantage corporations at farmers’ expense.

Modi’s decision to back down is a key victory for farmers, whose protests have centered on the Indian capital of New Delhi, and a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the increasingly Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which Modi leads.”

“The laws promised to open the agriculture market to commercial buyers, as opposed to the current system of government markets purchasing farmers’ goods and effectively guaranteeing them a minimum income. But as Vox’s Jariel Arvin explained in December 2020, farmers feared this would subject them to the whims of the market and massive corporations, and make it harder to make a living.”

Biden’s Build Back Better Plan Contains One Potentially Helpful Housing Program

“Homelessness is a major issue in the U.S., and is inherently intertwined with the cost of housing. In fact, in a recent poll, respondents from the 20 metro areas that experienced the largest population growth between 2010–2019 listed both the cost of housing and homelessness as their top two concerns, and by almost identical margins (86 and 87 percent, respectively). The average cost of rent has increased nearly 20 percent within the last year alone, and since 2001, in nearly every state, rents have risen at a faster rate than incomes.

But simply offering rental assistance without a simultaneous increase in the supply of housing would only serve to exacerbate the cost problem, as a larger amount of money would chase after the exact same amount of inventory. In fact, the U.S. is currently as many as 5 million houses short of meeting estimated demand.

Of the roughly $150 billion which the Build Back Better Act appropriates toward housing, more than half is put toward dubious use, via rental assistance programs. About a third of that portion, though, is specifically tailored toward the construction or rehabilitation of more affordable housing units to increase the overall supply, which could help drive down costs.”

“The Build Back Better Act does fund the establishment of a “competitive grant program,” the Unlocking Possibilities Program, to incentivize “streamlining regulatory requirements and shorten[ing] processes, [and] reform[ing] zoning codes.” As with any grant program, its efficacy will be dictated by its implementation, but with more than $4.26 billion appropriated, there is plenty of breathing room to potentially make a difference.

In an ideal scenario, of course, there would be as few zoning restrictions as possible, allowing developers to simply respond to the needs of the community without requiring the government’s stamp of approval. While public funding to incentivize a reduction or simplification of red tape is better than the status quo, it is still not a perfect solution.”

It’s Time To Kill the Mandatory Beef Tax That Underwrites “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner”

“”Today, when you buy a Big Mac or a T-bone, a portion of the cost is a tax on beef, the proceeds from which the government hands over to a private trade group called the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA),” Washington Monthly reported in 2014. “The NCBA in turn uses this public money to buy ads encouraging you to eat more beef.””