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Archive for November 21st, 2010

On my recent trip to Colorado, I had dinner with Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder. He’s not exactly a small-government conservative, but he understands the importance of low marginal tax rates, free trade, and other important economic principles (whether he votes the right way is a separate question, of course, so I’m curious to see what he decides to do about Obama’s plan to increase tax rates on investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners).

One of the topics we discussed was his proposal to create a special visa for entrepreneurs. I won’t pretend to be an immigration expert or legislative lawyer, so I reserve the right to quibble about the legislation if there are details I don’t like, but the concept is a no-brainer. America gets to bring in the best and brightest from around the world. We give a green light to people who will be creating jobs rather than people who might want to mooch off taxpayers. And we make it easier to retain job-creating foreigners who already are in the United States. What’s not to like? Am I missing something?

The Wall Street Journal has given this idea favorable coverage here and here, and here are some excerpts from an article at Businessweek.com.

A change to immigration policy could help create jobs and rev up economic growth. It’s a change that wouldn’t be hard to bring about. I’m talking about the establishment of a Startup Founders Visa program. The program would make it easier for those with great ideas and the desire to start a company to live and work in the U.S. The idea is simple, yet powerful. By letting in company founders, the U.S. would bring in risk-takers who want to create jobs and potentially build the next Google, Cisco Systems, or Microsoft. At the same time, a founder visa program could stem the tide of talented, tech-savvy foreigners who are leaving the U.S. to seek fortunes in their home countries, primarily China and India. …U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-Colo.), himself a former entrepreneur, is developing legislation to make it easier for foreign founders of investor-backed startups to secure visas to remain in the U.S. On the other end of the political spectrum, even Newt Gingrich, the Republican former Speaker of the House, has blogged about the need to make the country “more accessible to skilled immigrants.” He wrote this after witnessing “the dynamic entrepreneurial and high-tech business culture in Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul”—countries with which we are competing for top talent. Representatives of both ends of the political spectrum can agree on this issue. As things stand, we’re losing the battle to retain the immigrants who fueled the recent tech boom. We’re experiencing the first brain drain in American history.Other countries in Europe and South America are realizing the potential of attracting skilled immigrants and are putting together programs to snap them up.

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I haven’t commented much on earmarks, but an oped in today’s Washington Post was has goaded me into action. A former Reagan Administration appointee (the Gipper must be spinning in his grave), who now makes a living by selling our money to the highest bidder, made several ridiculous assertions, including:

…earmarks are largely irrelevant to balancing the budget. The $16.5 billion Congress spent on earmarks in fiscal year 2009 sounds like a lot, but leaves a minuscule footprint – about 1 percent of 2009’s $1.4 trillion deficit. Those seriously concerned about deficits should look elsewhere for meaningful spending reductions. …On Capitol Hill, party leaders must appeal to lawmakers’ interests as well as their principles to get the votes they need. The leaders must be able to offer incentives – such as earmarks – to win votes on difficult issues. Earmarks are not the only possible incentives, nor do they need to be the most compelling ones. But they are a tool for taking care of members who might otherwise stray.

The author is right that earmarks technically are not a big share of the budget. But he conveniently forgets to address the real issue, which is the degree to which earmarks are the proverbial apple in the congressional Garden of Eden. Members who otherwise might want to defend taxpayers are lured into becoming part of the problem. This is how I described the process in a recent PolitiFact article.

Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute, …adds that the existence of earmarks increases the upward pressure on federal spending indirectly, since lawmakers “know they need to support the relevant powers on the spending committees in order to have their earmarks approved.” Mitchell calls earmarks a “gateway drug” that “seduces members into treating the federal budget as a good thing that can be milked for home-state/district projects.”

Since the author of the Washington Post column is trying, at least in part, to appeal to advocates of smaller government, I’m also puzzled that he says earmarks are good because they help grease the wheels so that more legislation can be passed. Does he really think reminding us about the “Cornhusker Kickback” and “Louisiana Purchase” will make us more sympathetic to his argument? Yes, it’s theoretically possible that congressional leaders will use earmarks to help pass legislation shrinking the burden of government. It’s also possible that I’ll play centerfield next year for the Yankees. But I’m not holding my breath for either of these things to happen.

Last but not least, earmarks are utterly corrupt. The fact that they are legal does not change the fact that they finance a racket featuring big payoffs to special interests, who give big fees to lobbyists (often former staffers and Members), who give big contributions to  politicians. Everyone wins…except taxpayers.

This is one of the many reasons why I did this video a couple of years ago with the simple message that big government means big corruption.

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