David Callahan

David Callahan is a senior fellow at Demos and editor of PolicyShop, the Demos blog.

Recent Articles

Why Did the Government Pay Edward Snowden $122,000?

Is the National Security Agency wasting tax dollars by paying Booz Allen to handle routine intelligence tasks, such as the systems administration work that 29-year old Edward Snowden was doing for $122,000 a year? It sure seems that way. A stack of studies has documented the apparent high cost of using private contractors compared to federal employees. In September 2011, the Project on Government Oversight—a Beltway watchdog group—released a reported entitled Bad Business: Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted on Hiring Contractors . POGO analyzed compensation paid to federal and private sector workers and billing rates for contractor employees across 35 occupations covering more than 550 service areas.The study found: the government pays billions of dollars more annually to hire contractors than it would cost to hire federal employees to perform comparable services. Specifically, the federal government approves service contract billing rates—deemed fair and reasonable...

The Shame of Pension-Advance Loans

The financial services industry is second to none in dreaming up ways to rip off Americans. Show me a a financial product—credit cards, mortgages, checking accounts, 401(k)s, annuities—and I'll show you a stack of consumer complaints documenting how banks and other firms have sought to bleed dry the American public. The latest alarming example are "pension-advance loans." Never heard of these nifty loans? Well, I hadn't either until The New York Times ran a shocking expose Saturday about firms that offer workers and retirees a chance to "convert tomorrow’s pension checks into today’s hard cash"—but with annual interest rates that have "ranged from 27 percent to 106 percent—information not disclosed in the ads or in the contracts themselves." The story focused on loans against defined benefit pensions, the kind you get if you serve in the military or civil service. Unlike 401(k)s, which are a failed retirement vehicle in part because so many people...

What Do Wealthy Super Citizens Want from Government?

It's no secret that wealthy people have a lot more clout when it comes to politics and civic life. They are more likely to vote, contact their representatives, belong to advocacy organizations, and—of course—contribute to politicians, parties, and PACs. Compared to ordinary folks, many of the wealthy are "super citizens." More controversial, though, is whether these disparaties pervert our democracy—or whether it's no big deal to have super citizens wielding what Demos has called " million dollar megaphones ." One way to examine whether disproportionate influence matters is to take a close look at what the wealthy actually want from government. Political inequality might not be such a big deal if there was no difference between the preferences of affluent Americans and the rest of the nation. It is a very big deal if the affluent have their own separate agenda, and the clout to pursue it. Several political scientists, including Larry Bartels and Martin Gilens, have...

The Right Way to Create Jobs

With over twenty million Americans still unable to find full-time work, Washington shouldn't take its eye off job creation for a minute. That's certainly the feeling of voters, who overwhelmingly told exit pollsters on Election Day last November that fixing the economy should be Congress's number one priority—far more than said reducing the deficit. Frankly, though, official Washington seems better at destroying jobs these days than creating them: Exhibit A are the sequestration cuts, which are eliminating jobs as I write this. Exhibit B is the rollback of the payroll tax holiday on January 1, which ensured that nearly every working American has been living with a pay cut for the past ten weeks. But there's an even deeper problem with how most politicians approach job creation, which is that many of their ideas depend on secondary stimulus effects—i.e., creating jobs by giving consumers more money to spend which presumably leads to more demand for goods and services and...

All Wall Street Regulators Should be Self-Funded

Systemic RIsk Council.org
When a crew that calls themselves the "Systemic Risk Council" speaks, it's a good idea to pay attention. After all, the last time people pooh-poohed deep-seated problems within the financial system, trillions of dollars vanished into thin air and millions of people were thrown out of work. Since its creation last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts and CFA Institute, the Systemic Risk Council —which is chaired by former FDIC head Sheila Bair and advised by Paul Volcker—has sought to keep up the pressure for financial reform. That's important because a) many of the rules mandated by Dodd-Frank haven't actually been written yet; b) Wall Street is working every day to weaken that law; and c) additional reforms, beyond Dodd-Frank, are still needed. Yet unfortunately, as Thomas Hedges wrote recently here in Policyshop, sequestration cuts are going to set back the entire process of financial regulation. The SEC and CFTC were already struggling to find the staff capacity to write...