Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2011

Only the federal government could be this stupid.

We have two very big problems in our nation.

o First, we have a giant, bloated federal government that is spending too much money, putting us at serious risk of a Greek-style fiscal crisis at some point in the future.

o Second, the social capital of our society is eroding because dependency and sloth are slowly but surely replacing independence, self-reliance, and the work ethic.

So what do the morons in Washington do to address these problems?

They find a policy that simultaneously makes both problems worse. More specifically, they implement a policy that gives states more tax dollars as a reward for luring more people into the food stamp program – even though that policy will exacerbate the fiscal crisis and further weaken the nation’s social capital.

This is one of those this-can’t-possibly-be-true moments. But this is not a joke. Here’s an excerpt from a news release from Oregon’s Department of Human Services.

Oregon’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has again ranked among the best in the nation, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this week. The state earned one award for ensuring that people eligible for food benefits receive them and a second recognition for its swift processing of applications. The two awards combined bring a $5 million performance bonus to Oregon.

I actually wrote about something similar early last year, and groused that, “there apparently is a program that gives states ‘bonuses’ for putting more people on the dole.”

Much to my dismay (but not to my surprise), my fears were warranted.

Read Full Post »

Running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, Harvard professor and former Obama appointee Elizabeth Warren got her fellow leftists excited when she said, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody” and added that “…part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.”

She specifically pointed out that successful people depend on government-provided “public goods” such as roads, police, and education.

Given that the government is doing a terrible job with education, spending huge amounts of money for rather mediocre results, that was probably a foolish addition to her list. Regardless, she’s basically making a point that public goods benefit everybody. And she would like us to think that the “rich” benefit more than the rest of us, so they should pay more.

I had a couple of reactions when this story broke.

1. The rich already do pay a lot more, with the top 10 percent shouldering about 70 percent of the income tax burden. At what point would Ms. Warren be satisfied?

2. If you want a system where people pay proportionately more for public goods, isn’t that an argument for a simple and fair flat tax?

3. People get rich by providing value to the rest of us. Is it wise to subject those people to disproportionate tax penalties when that may discourage them from utilizing their talents?

4. If some people get rich illegitimately because of special handouts and subsidies from politicians, isn’t the solution to get rid of the bad programs rather than indiscriminately penalize all high-income households?

But I didn’t do a blog post, at least back when the story broke, because it seemed those points were rather obvious.

But Professor Russ Roberts of George Mason University wrote a column for yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that is so excellent that it must be shared. Here are some key passages from his WSJ column.

There’s much truth in Ms. Warren’s statement. But if government stuck to what it does fairly well—roads, police, fire and the courts; enforcing contracts that help businesses interact with their customers and other businesses—the federal government wouldn’t need to spend over $3.5 trillion a year, as it now does. And of course it’s state and local governments—and not Washington—that primarily fund police, fire and education, so it’s a bit strange to ask the rich to pay their fair share of federal income taxes because they enjoy police protection.

I especially like how Russ identified the federalism angle, noting that core public goods largely are provided by state and local governments, which makes Ms. Warren’s demand for higher tax rates from Washington even more absurd.

Unfortunately, as Russ notes, most federal spending goes for other purposes.

Much government spending supports activities that are ineffective or even harmful to the economy, often helping the politically powerful at the expense of the rest of us. Wouldn’t it be great for the federal government to stop federal export subsidies, propping up financial institutions, meddling in the education system, and trying to engineer the entire health system from the top down?

And a big part of the problem is that big chunks of the federal budget actually are handouts that benefit the rich.

If the feds stopped all that, Ms. Warren would have a stronger point. We could all feel some gratitude for government’s role in helping us live better lives. All of us, rich and poor, would look at government differently. …Ms. Warren is certainly correct that some rich people aren’t carrying their weight—those who live off the rest of us by twisting the rules of the game in their direction: the sugar farmers who benefit from sugar quotas, the corn farmers who benefit from ethanol subsidies and those sugar quotas, and especially the Wall Street executives who have managed to convince both parties that the survival of their firms, even when they make disastrous loans to each other, benefits the rest of us. …The symbiotic relationship between politicians and the super-rich is destructive of democracy and our economy. Let’s not make it worse. To close our deficit, let’s spend less rather than tax anyone more.

What a good idea: “…spend less rather than tax anyone more.” That’s what this fight is really all about.

Read Full Post »

I’ve previously explained that the federal government should have no role in housing and that the Department of Housing and Urban Development should be abolished.

If I haven’t convinced you, then you should watch this powerful video from the folks at Reason TV.

What an outrage.

Politicians create a program, claiming that they will help the less fortunate. But as is so often the case, it’s a scam that winds up hurting poor people and instead lines the pockets of politically connected rich people.

Using the coercive power of government to redistribute from rich to poor is economically misguided. Using the coercive power of government to redistribute from poor to rich is far worse – a combination of bad economic policy and complete moral depravity.

Read Full Post »

One almost feels sorry for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

He’s a punchline in his own country because he oversees the IRS even though he conveniently forgot to declare $80,000 of income (and managed to get away with punishment that wouldn’t even qualify as a slap on the wrist).

Now he’s becoming a a bit of a joke in Europe. Earlier this month, a wide range of European policy makers basically told the Treasury Secretary to take a long walk off a short pier when he tried to offer advice on Europe’s fiscal crisis.

And the latest development is that the German Finance Minister basically said Geithner was “stupid” for a new bailout scheme. Here’s an excerpt from the UK-based Daily Telegraph.

Germany and America were on a collision course on Tuesday night over the handling of Europe’s debt crisis after Berlin savaged plans to boost the EU rescue fund as a “stupid idea” and told the White House to sort out its own mess before giving gratuitous advice to others.German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said it would be a folly to boost the EU’s bail-out machinery (EFSF) beyond its €440bn lending limit by deploying leverage to up to €2 trillion, perhaps by raising funds from the European Central Bank.”I don’t understand how anyone in the European Commission can have such a stupid idea. The result would be to endanger the AAA sovereign debt ratings of other member states. It makes no sense,” he said.

All that’s missing in the story is Geithner channeling his inner Forrest Gump and responding that “Stupid is as stupid does.”

…at birth?

Separated…

This little spat reminds me of the old saying that there is no honor among thieves. Geithner wants to do the wrong thing. The German government wants to do the wrong thing. And every other European government wants to do the wrong thing. They’re merely squabbling over the best way of picking German pockets to subsidize the collapsing welfare states of Southern Europe.

But that’s actually not accurate. German politicians don’t really want to give money to the Greeks and Portuguese.

The real story of the bailouts is that politicians from rich nations are trying to indirectly protect their banks, which – as shown in this chart – are in financial trouble because they foolishly thought lending money to reckless welfare states was a risk-free exercise.

Europe’s political class claims that bailouts are necessary to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, but this is nonsense – much as American politicians were lying (or bamboozled) when they supported TARP.

It is a relatively simple matter for a government to put a bank in receivership, hold all depositors harmless, and then sell off the assets. Or to subsidize the takeover of an insolvent institution. This is what America did during the savings & loan bailouts 20 years ago. Heck, it’s also what happened with IndyMac and WaMu during the recent financial crisis. And it’s what the Swedish government basically did in the early 1990s when that nation had a financial crisis.

But politicians don’t like this “FDIC-resolution” approach because it means wiping out shareholders, bondholders, and senior management of institutions that made bad economic choices. And that would mean reducing moral hazard rather than increasing it. And it would mean stiff-arming campaign contributors and protecting the interests of taxpayers.

Heaven forbid those things happen. After all, as Bastiat told us, “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

Read Full Post »

Earlier this year, President Obama’s IRS proposed a regulation that would force banks in America to report any interest they pay to accounts owned by non-resident aliens (that’s the technical term for foreigners who don’t live in the U.S.).

What made this regulation so bizarre, however, is that Congress specifically has exempted these account from taxation for the rather obvious reason that they want to attract this mobile capital to the American economy. Indeed, Congress repeatedly has ratified this policy ever since it was first implemented 90 years ago.

So why, you may be asking, would the IRS propose such a regulation? After all, why impose a regulatory burden on a weakened banking sector when it has nothing to do with enforcing American tax law?

The answer, if you can believe it, is that they want American banks to help enforce foreign tax law. And the bureaucrats at the IRS want to impose this burden even though the regulation is completely contrary to existing U.S. law.

Not surprisingly, this rogue behavior by the IRS already has generated considerable opposition. Senator Rubio has been a leader on the issue, being the first to condemn the proposed regulation.

Both Senators from Texas also have announced their opposition, and the entire Florida congressional delegation came out against the IRS’s regulatory overreach.

And now we have two more important voices against the IRS’s rogue regulation.

The Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee in charge of the IRS, Congressman Charles Boustany of Louisiana, just sent a very critical letter to Treasury Secretary Geithner, and these are some of his chief concerns.

If the regulation were to take effect, it would not only run counter to the will of the Congress, but would potentially drive foreign investments out of our economy, hurting individuals and small businesses by reducing access to capital.  I write to request that IRS suspend the proposed regulation. …As the Internal Revenue Code imposes no taxation or reporting requirements on this deposit interest, the proposed regulation serves no compelling tax collection purpose.  Instead, it is my understanding that the IRS seeks this new authority to help foreign governments collect their own taxes abroad.  …It is disappointing to see the IRS once again try to impose unnecessary regulations and costs on U.S. banks. To attract investment of foreign dollars into the U.S. economy, the Internal Revenue Code generally exempts these deposits from taxation and reporting requirements.  These foreign investments in turn help to finance a variety of products essential to economic growth, such as small business loans and home mortgages.  Imposing reporting requirements on these deposits through regulatory fiat threatens to drive significant investments out of our economy by undermining the rules Congress has set in place specifically to attract it, and at exactly the time when our economy can least afford it.

But criticism is not limited to Capitol Hill. The Center for Freedom and Prosperity has spearheaded opposition from think tanks, taxpayer organizations, and public policy groups.

And now the business community has become involved. Here’s some of what the Chamber of Commerce recently said, and you can click this PDF file (USCC S1506) to read the entire letter.

Given the fragile state of America’s economic recovery, it is disturbing to see actions by the Treasury that could jeopardize deposits at U.S. banks and credit unions held by nonresident aliens. These deposits, which are not subject to U.S. taxes, are at risk of being abruptly withdrawn and future deposits deterred, which could lead to a reallocation of deposits out of the U.S. banking system and, thus, reduce lending to businesses. Furthermore, complying with the proposed regulation places additional reporting requirements and expenses upon financial firms. Without any real benefit stemming from the collection of this information, imposition of this reporting requirement seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

This may seem like an arcane issue and international tax matters often are not terribly exciting, but a couple of minutes of watching this video will make you realize there are some very important principles at stake.

Only the IRS could manage to combine bad tax policy, bad regulatory policy, bad human rights policy, and bad sovereignty policy into one regulation.

Read Full Post »

During his 1976 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, Ronald Reagan popularized the notion of “welfare queens” who bilked redistribution programs for thousands of dollars.

It has since become non-PC to use such a term, but that’s never stopped me. Here’s a report of a wretched welfare queen who is mooching off taxpayers and should be deeply ashamed of her behavior.

The Queen was paid more than £224,000 in EU subsidies for her Windsor farm estate last year, according to figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday. …The subsidy for the 500-acre dairy and cereal farm, which was founded by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, has increased by almost £40,000 since 2009.  Similar amounts are thought to have been paid to the Monarch to support her estates in Sandringham and Balmoral, but the Government refused to release this information. …A Palace spokesman said the rise was due to an increase in EU subsidy rates.

Keep in mind 224,000 British pounds is about $350,000 – and that’s not even counting the handouts and subsidies that the royal family may be receiving from other estates.

That’s downright disgusting, and should be Example A in the argument to get rid of Europe’s corrupt Common Agricultural Policy – much as the United States Department of Agriculture should be abolished as quickly as possible.

But there’s another point worth making. Government-coerced redistribution is never a good idea, particularly when done by a central government. But there are degrees of wrong. Taking from rich people to give to poor people is wrong. But as I’ve noted before, taking from poor people to line the pockets of rich people is utterly reprehensible.

Read Full Post »

Having grown up during the Cold War, I never though I would write a sentence like the title of this blog post, but there have been lots of firsts during the reign of Obama.

When the head of a major multinational company says the American tax system is worse than the policy of a nation that is nominally still communist, that’s a remarkable – and worrisome – development.

Here’s an excerpt from a story in the UK-based Financial Times.

Coca-Cola now sees the US becoming a less friendly business environment than China, its chief executive has revealed, citing political gridlock and an antiquated tax structure as reasons its home market has become less competitive. Muhtar Kent, Coke’s chief executive, said “in many respects” it was easier doing business in China, which he likened to a well-managed company. “You have a one-stop shop in terms of the Chinese foreign investment agency and local governments are fighting for investment with each other,” he told the Financial Times. Mr Kent also pointed to Brazil as an example of an emerging economy that is making itself attractive to investment in ways that the US once did.

As much as I criticize the U.S. tax system and notwithstanding the passage you just read, I wouldn’t want anyone to conclude that China has better economic policy. The United States may have become more statist in the past decade, dropping from 3rd to 10th in the Economic Freedom of the World rankings, but 10th place is still a heck of a lot better than 92nd place, which is where China currently ranks.

And I also think it’s important to draw a distinction between a nation being “business friendly” and “market friendly.” I strongly prefer the latter. I want small government and laissez-faire markets, not policies that cater to big business. And some of China’s development is based on special deals for large companies.

This is not a big knock on China, which has improved. It used to rank as one of the 10th-worst nations, so gradual economic liberalization is boosting its economy and has lifted hundreds of millions out of absolute poverty (as compared to the relatively benign poverty found in the U.S.).

But even with those caveats, it’s not a good thing that America’s corporate tax system is so unfriendly. And it’s not a good thing that investors, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and others have a perception that it’s better to produce outside of America.

For more information, here are two of my videos. This one (my very first effort, so forgive the lack of polish) discusses the overall issue of corporate taxation.

And here’s a video that looks at the critical issue of international corporate taxation. You won’t be surprised to learn that America probably has the most unfriendly regime in the world.

One last thing worth mentioning is that most European governments have territorial tax systems and the average corporate tax rate in “socialist” Europe is down to 23 percent.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,516 other followers

%d bloggers like this: