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Archive for February, 2012

With banks and non-financial companies sitting on trillions of  dollars because of the negative economic environment created in part by his policies, this new poster is both funny and troubling.

However, I think this cartoon does the best job of capturing the destructive impact of big government on economic performance.

Sort of makes you wonder what Obama will do for an encore if he has another four years.

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This interview with the IRS Commissioner is really irritating. He wants us to believe that all the problems exist because of bad laws enacted by Congress.

I certainly agree that the crowd in Washington is venal, corrupt, and duplicitous. But the IRS takes a bad situation and makes it worse, whether we’re looking at gross abuses of the regulatory process or absurd proposals to squander money on a P.R. campaign to make the agency more cuddly.

So I’m less than overwhelmed by this performance.

Commissioner Shulman also makes reference to a distasteful IRS proposal to regulate the tax preparation industry, which is really a scheme to enrich the big firms like H&R Block at the expense of smaller competitors.

So that’s another black mark against the bureaucracy.

But the most noxious part of the interview is when he admits he has to pay someone to file his tax return and then dodges a question on what could be done to make the system better.

But that’s not surprising. Mr. Shulman oversees a bureaucracy with about 100,000 employees (bigger than the FBI, CIA, and DEA combined), and they obviously wouldn’t want the type of reform that would force them to get jobs in the real world.

But I don’t have any problem with telling the truth. America should have a simple and fair flat tax.

Actually, that’s just an interim step. What we really need is to restore a limited central government, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. That way we wouldn’t need any broad-based tax to finance Washington.

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I rarely comment on Vice President Biden because he is not a serious person in the world of policy. The only attention he gets on this blog is jabs from the late-night talk show hosts, and I also posted the Joe Biden caption contest and this Joe Biden joke.

Perhaps I would have given Biden some attention if I had started this blog in 2008 instead of 2009, because the then-Delaware Senator made a very silly statement during that year’s campaign.

Joe Biden said Thursday that paying more in taxes is the patriotic thing to do for wealthier Americans. …Biden said: “It’s time to be patriotic … time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut.”

I’m not sure how America’s Founding Fathers would have reacted to that statement, but I suspect that Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Mason, and Paine would have had a different perspective.

But I’m not surprised that the Socialist candidate for President in France has the same mentality (and I’m referring to the official candidate of the Socialist Party, not the socialist currently running the country). Here’s a blurb from the BBC.

The Socialist favourite in France’s presidential election, Francois Hollande, has said top earners should pay 75% of their income in tax. …Mr Hollande himself renewed his call on Tuesday, saying the 75% rate on people earning more than one million euros a year was “a patriotic act”. …”It is patriotic to agree to pay a supplementary tax to get the country back on its feet.”

Isn’t this wonderful that politicians of different nationalities and from different continents can be united in the idea that it is “patriotic” to give the world’s least competent people more money?

Maybe Biden and Hollande can also take a trip to Greece together so they can learn how to use the additional money to subsidize pedophiles and collect stool samples as a condition of getting a business license to set up an online company.

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Supporters of individual liberty and national sovereignty have been skeptical of the United Nations, and with good reason. With the support of statists such as George Soros, the U.N. pushes for crazy ideas such as global taxation and global currency.

But there’s another international bureaucracy, also funded by American tax dollars, that is even more pernicious. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has the same leftist ideology as the U.N., but it actually has some ability to change policy.

As you can imagine, this always means bigger government and more statism. Here are some examples.

With this dismal track record, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the Paris-based bureaucracy has a new propaganda initiative that seeks to bolster a left-wing redistribution agenda. And as part of this new scheme, it has put together numbers that supposedly show that there is more poverty is the United States than there is in bankrupt and backwards nations such as Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and Turkey.

This isn’t April 1, and I’m not joking. Here’s a chart, produced from the data at this OECD website, which you get to by clicking the “Poverty: Country comparisons” link on this OECD webpage.

You may be wondering whether the bureaucrats at the OECD who put together these numbers are smoking crack or high on crystal meth. Well, they certainly can afford lots of drugs since they get tax-free salaries (just like their counterparts at other international bureaucracies), but these numbers are the not the result of some ketamine-fueled binge.

Instead, the OECD is lying. The website refers to “poverty rate” and “poverty threshold” and “poverty measure,” but the OECD is not measuring poverty. Instead, they have concocted a new – and deliberately misleading – set of data that instead measures the distribution of income.

And if you’re wondering where they got this crazy idea, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that this is a scheme developed by the Obama Administration and it is designed so that “poverty” is only reduced if incomes become more equal, not if poor people become better off.

Even moderates such as Robert Samuelson recognize this is absurd, and here is some of what he wrote.

…the new definition has strange consequences. Suppose that all Americans doubled their incomes tomorrow, and suppose that their spending on food, clothing, housing and utilities also doubled. That would seem to signify less poverty — but not by the new poverty measure. It wouldn’t decline, because the poverty threshold would go up as spending went up. Many Americans would find this weird: People get richer but “poverty” stays stuck.

The most amazing thing about this crazy approach is that it makes it seem as if America has more poverty than nations such as Bangladesh, even though the average “poor” American has much higher living standards than all but the wealthiest people in the developing world.

And it also generates the laughable numbers in the OECD dataset, showing that Turkey and Portugal have less poverty than the United States.

The main thing to understand, though, is that this new approach is part of an ideological campaign to promote bigger government and more redistribution. Which is very much consistent with the OECD’s overall agenda, as this video explains.

The real outrage is that American taxpayers finance the lion’s share of the OECD budget, even though it is a hard-left organization that pushes policies that are contrary to U.S. interests.

And this is why I wrote that defunding the OECD is a minimal test of fiscal seriousness for lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

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Since starting this blog, I’ve periodically shared polling data that gives me hope. Highlights include:

o More than two-to-one support for personal retirement accounts.

o Recognition that big government is the greatest danger to America’s future.

o An increasingly negative view of the federal government.

o More than eight-to-one support for less spending rather than higher taxes.

o Strong support for bureaucrat layoffs and/or entitlement reforms instead of higher taxes.

o And my favorite poll results are the ones showing that voters understand that the goal is less spending, not lower deficits.

Now there’s some new research that is both encouraging and educational. Here’s part of the report from The Hill.

Three-quarters of likely voters believe the nation’s top earners should pay lower, not higher, tax rates, according to a new poll for The Hill. The big majority opted for a lower tax bill when asked to choose specific rates; precisely 75 percent said the right level for top earners was 30 percent or below. The current rate for top earners is 35 percent. Only 4 percent thought it was appropriate to take 40 percent, which is approximately the level that President Obama is seeking from January 2013 onward. The Hill Poll also found that 73 percent of likely voters believe corporations should pay a lower rate than the current 35 percent… Republicans were more likely than Democrats to support lower tax rates for the wealthy, but voters in both parties solidly supported lower rates compared to current law. Eighty-one percent of Republicans favored tax rates below current levels, compared to 70 percent of Democrats. The Hill Poll, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research of 1,000 likely voters, also found broad support for lower rates across income groups. The group most supportive of lowering tax rates on the wealthy below current rates made between $20,000 and $40,000 a year; 81 percent supported tax rates of 30 percent or lower.

This data is important because it shows the value of framing an issue. Instead of defensively responding to Obama’s class warfare, proponents of good tax policy should be making a philosophical/economic point that “nobody in America, no matter how rich or how poor, should have to pay more than one-fourth of their income to government.”

And proponents of class warfare should be put on the spot and asked “what do you think is the maximum tax rate anyone should pay?”

Last but not least, friends of liberty should make the key point that higher tax rates on the so-called rich are merely precursors for higher tax rates on everyone else – as even the New York Times recently admitted.

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I speculated last year that the political elite finally might be realizing that higher tax rates are not the solution to Greece’s fiscal situation.

Simply stated, you can only squeeze so much blood out of a stone, and pushing tax rates higher cripples growth and drives more people into the underground economy.

Well, it turns out that even the International Monetary Fund agrees with me. Here’s what the IMF said in its latest analysis about the Greek fiscal situation.

…further progress in reducing the deficit is going to be hard without underlying structural fiscal reforms. The fiscal deficit is now expected to be 9 percent this year, against the program target of 7½ percent. “One of the things we have seen in 2011 is that we have reached the limit of what can be achieved through increasing taxes,” Thomsen said. “Any further measures, if needed, should be on the expenditure side.

This is a remarkable admission. The IMF, for all intents and purposes, is acknowledging the Laffer Curve. At some point, tax rates become so punitive that the government collects less revenue.

This is a simple and common-sense observation, as explained in this video.

Unfortunately, even though the IMF now recognizes reality, the same can’t be said about the Obama Administration.

The President has proposed higher tax rates in his recent budget and it seems he can’t make a speech without making a class-warfare argument for penalizing producers, investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

Yet if you compare American tax rates and Greek tax rates, it seems that the IMF’s lesson also applies in the United States.

The top tax in Greece is 45 percent, which is higher than the 35 percent top rate in America. But this doesn’t count the impact of state income taxes, which add an average of about five percentage points to the burden. Or the Medicare payroll tax, which boosts the rate by another 2.9 percentage points.

So Obama’s proposed 4.6 percentage point hike in the top tax rate almost certainly would mean a higher tax burden in the United States.

Even more worrisome, the U.S. tax rates on dividends and capital gains already are higher than the equivalent rates in Greece. Yet Obama wants to boost double taxation on these forms of retained earnings and distributed earnings.

But there are important cultural differences between the United States and Greece, so there’s no reason to think that the revenue-maximizing tax rates in both nations are the same (by the way, policy makers should strive for growth-maximizing tax rates, not the rates that generate the most money).

That’s why I wrote about the U.S.-specific evidence from the 1980s, which shows that rich people paid much more to the IRS when tax rates were slashed from 70 percent to 28 percent.

But all this analysis may miss the point. Why is the President willing to raise tax rates even if the economy suffers enough damage that the Treasury doesn’t collect any revenue? And if you’re wondering why I might ask such a crazy question, watch this video – especially beginning about the 4:30 mark.

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I realize the title of this post sounds like the beginning of a joke, along the lines of “A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar…”, but this is a serious topic.

A big problem in fiscal debates is that people can’t even agree on what they mean by certain words. For instance, what’s the definition of austerity? Is it budget cuts, higher taxes, or both? Why are people saying the United Kingdom is practicing austerity, when the burden of government spending is going up?

Or how do we define responsible fiscal policy? Should politicians try to balance budgets, or should they shrink the burden of government? Is it reasonable for some people to call Obama a conservative because he wants higher taxes and claims the money would be used to reduce red ink?

I grapple with some of these questions in this appearance on Fox Business News.

But I’m not happy with my performance, largely because there needs to be a simple way of categorizing the various approaches to fiscal policy. So that’s what I’ve done in this Table. This is a first draft, so I welcome suggestions.

I’m serious about looking for input, For instance, I would like to come up with some way to describe Bushonomics without sullying the name of supply-side economics.

But perhaps I am just sensitive to that issue because supply-side economists tend to be serious and sober people who favor smaller government, but some of the politicians associated with supply-side economics – such as Jack Kemp – have been unapologetic big spenders.

I’m also unhappy with the division between IMFers and Keynesians, which is strange because it seems like half of my time is devoted to battling statists who argue for more government spending and the other half is consumed by fights against proponents of higher taxes.

What makes this so frustrating, though, is that Keynesians and IMFers are usually the same people, even though the philosophies are supposedly inconsistent.

I suspect that all they really want is bigger government, and they use any sign of weakness to argue for more spending, and then they quickly pivot and ask for higher taxes because of red ink. The biased analysis of the Congressional Budget Office is a good example.

The right approach, needless to say, is libertarianism. Small government and low tax rates are the pro-growth, pro-freedom recipe. That’s the one part of the Table that’s right on the mark.

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