03/26/2010 - For more than a year, the major ongoing story all over America has been the persistently discouraging economic news. Even with some promising signs of recovery, many individuals and households continue to face economic insecurity.
The nation as a whole is in a comparable situation: It now faces its worst fiscal outlook in memory. The challenges facing the domestic—indeed, the global—economy have prompted a host of high-stakes discussions about appropriate policy responses.
Throughout our country’s history, particularly during times of economic uncertainty, there has been a pressing need for unbiased data and facts. Sound public policy in our democracy demands accurate, data-driven information so that citizens can weigh in on the debates, and so that policy makers can render their best judgment in creating laws that respond to issues of national importance.
Joseph N. Pew Jr. summarized this process in the simplest of terms: “Tell the truth and trust the people.” Ever since the Pew Economic Policy Group was created in 2008, we have steadily gathered compelling data, informed policy debates and developed broad bipartisan consensus on key economic issues.
Pew’s Subsidyscope project embodies the principle articulated by Mr. Pew. Its mission is simple: to raise public awareness about the role of federal subsidies in the economy. The project intentionally avoids taking positions on the role or impact of particular subsidies and, instead, provides data that will inform decision makers and taxpayers alike.
In its first year of existence, Subsidyscope has become an authoritative source for the often-hidden subsidy programs that permeate the federal budget. For example, the mortgage interest deduction on owner-occupied homes costs the government more than $100 billion annually. And the federal government accounts for nearly half of the total spending in the health sector. These facts are likely to be news to many Americans, who previously did not have easy access to such information.
Subsidyscope has been a truth-teller in these and many other cases. After launching timely analyses of the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, Subsidyscope began building the most comprehensive data source of subsidy statistics available across major sectors of the economy.
During a time of increasingly scarce fiscal resources, Subsidyscope provides information about subsidies so that the public, the press, policy makers and advocates across the ideological spectrum can make more informed decisions about government-spending policies and priorities. The project’s research has been widely cited in newspaper articles, on television and radio networks and in congressional reports, and has sparked energetic discussions in the blogosphere.
Other projects in the Pew Economic Policy Group’s portfolio also exemplify telling the truth and trusting the people. Building on nearly three years of rigorous research and analysis, our Economic Mobility Project has compiled a comprehensive, wide-ranging look at the facts, figures and trends related to the health and status of the American Dream—that is, the ability to move up the economic ladder. The project has also identified significant pockets of economic immobility in the country.
The research culminated last year in the report “Renewing the American Dream: A Road Map to Enhancing Economic Mobility in America.” The recommendations developed by its bipartisan principals group, some of the leading mobility scholars in the country, offer ideas for policy actions to enhance mobility, including promoting education and encouraging savings for education, home ownership and retirement.
To confront the looming fiscal crisis facing the nation, the Pew Economic Policy Group supports projects that seek to elevate fiscal responsibility as a primary element of federal executive and legislative leadership. One of these is a high-profile and respected partnership between Pew and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform comprises a bipartisan group of recognized fiscal experts, including former heads of the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office, the congressional budget committees and the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, and is making specific recommendations to reduce the national debt and reform the nation’s budget process.
The commission’s first report urged Congress and the Obama administration to commit immediately to stabilizing the debt at 60 percent of the gross domestic product by 2018 and argued that both tax increases and spending cuts must be on the table. Columnist David Broder called the suggestions “stiff medicine, but the message of this report is that temporizing on this issue poses such perils to the nation’s future that the risk is unacceptable.”
Ultimately, policy makers—informed by the will of the American people—will establish the path ahead for the U.S economy, making decisions that will also be affected by market dynamics and global economic factors. However, they can have full confidence in proposed solutions only if they possess verifiable facts and unvarnished analyses. Throughout this unsettling time in our nation’s economic history, the Pew Economic Policy Group will continue producing nonpartisan, high-quality data and rigorous analysis to help inform many of the nation’s most challenging policy debates.
John E. Morton
Managing Director, Pew Economic Policy Group
Read more about Pew’s work in Pew Prospectus 2010 (PDF).
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, visit the main Pew Financial Reform page.