Summers on Unemployment Benefits
By David Henderson
On today’s Forbes.com, I have a piece titled, “Has Bush Heard of Bastiat?” Forbes chose the title, but I think it’s a good one. And I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that Bush hasn’t heard of Bastiat. I wouldn’t be surprised if only a handful of people in the Bush administration have heard of him. More’s the pity because Bastiat’s view of the difference between a good economist and a bad economist is crucial.
In my article, I quote from Larry Summers’s article, “Unemployment,” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. In that article, Summers writes:
Consider, for example, an unemployed person who is accustomed to making $15.00 an hour. On unemployment insurance this person receives about 55 percent of normal earnings, or $8.25 per lost work hour. If that person is in a 15 percent federal tax bracket and a 3 percent state tax bracket, he or she pays $1.49 in taxes per hour not worked and nets $6.76 per hour after taxes as compensation for not working. If that person took a job that paid $15.00 per hour, governments would take 18 percent for income taxes and 7.65 percent for Social Security taxes, netting him or her $11.15 per hour of work. Comparing the two payments, this person may decide that an hour of leisure is worth more than the extra $4.39 the job would pay.