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Archive for June 24th, 2011

As a general rule, the bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund are not awful people or fire-breathing leftists. But they are voices for the establishment. And, at the upper levels, IMF staff seem overly solicitous of the views of the big nations, which means that they are indirectly attentive to interest groups (such as big banks) that have political power in those big nations.

This helps explain why the IMF is so intent on providing bailouts to Greece when it would be far better in the long run to cut the country loose and force the Greek people to realize that there is not a never-ending supply of subsidies to support statism.

But it’s not just in Greece where the IMF peddles bad policy. I wrote back in 2009 about the IMF’s efforts to repeal the flat tax in Latvia. And I’ve posted about the IMF’s support for anti-tax competition schemes that would enable bigger government.

I guess we need to give the bureaucrats credit for being consistent. The IMF is now pushing Albania to increase its flat tax rate. Here’s an excerpt from the Albanianeconomy.com website.

“The flat tax can be raised to 12-15 per cent, [from the current 10 per cent] as a way to cut the deficit and the stock of public debt,” IMF representative Gerwin Bell said on Thursday in a joint press conference with Albania’s Minister of Finance Ridvan Bode and the Governor of Albania’s Central Bank, Ardian Fullani.

To reiterate my earlier point, however, the IMF produces muddled advice, not bad advice. The bureaucrats also are recommending some budgetary restraint for Albania. The problem, of course, is that politicians often accept the suggestions for higher taxes and never bother with fiscal restraint. Indeed, IMF bailout funds for places such as Greece are substitutes for fiscal restraint.

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I have a confession to make: I have a hard time making up my mind. At times, I am overcome by indecision. To be more specific, I can’t figure out which department of the federal government should be shut down first.

In the past, I’ve written about the squalid waste and corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and argued that HUD should be shuttered.

But I’ve also written about the grotesque inefficiency and bloat at the Department of Transportation and urged that the building be razed to the ground.

Today, I can’t resist turning my attention to the Department of Agriculture. This is another part of the federal behemoth that specializes in taking money from productive taxpayers and dispensing it to well-connected agri-businesses to maintain a system of subsidies and central planning so Byzantine that it would probably make a North Korean Commissar shake his head with bemusement.

If you want to share my anger, read this column by Victor David Hanson. Here’s an excerpt to get your blood boiling.

The Department of Agriculture…is a vast, self-perpetuating postmodern bureaucracy with an amorphous budget of some $130 billion — a sum far greater than the nation’s net farm income this year. …This year it will give a record $20 billion in various crop “supports” to the nation’s wealthiest farmers — with the richest 10 percent receiving over 70 percent of all the redistributive payouts. …Then there is the more than $5 billion in ethanol subsidies that goes to the nation’s corn farmers to divert their acreage to produce transportation fuel. That program has somehow managed to cost the nation billions, to send worldwide corn prices sky-high, and to distort global trade in ethanol at the expense of far cheaper sugarcane. …About every 10 years or so, public outrage forces Congress to promise to curtail the subsidy programs. But when the deadline arrives, our elected officials always find a trendy excuse like “green energy” or “national security” to continue welfare to agribusiness. …In a brilliantly conceived devil’s bargain, the Department of Agriculture gives welfare to the wealthy on the one hand, while on the other sending more than $70 billion to the lower income brackets in food stamps. Originally, the food stamp program focused on the noble aim of supplementing the income of only the very poor and the disabled. But now eligibility is such that some members of the middle class find a way to manipulate such grants. In fact, 2011 could be another sort of record year for the Agriculture Department, as it may achieve an all-time high in subsidizing 47 million Americans on food stamps — nearly one-sixth of the country. …The multilayered Department of Agriculture has no real mission, much less a methodology other than to provide cash to congressional pet constituencies.

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