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Archive for April, 2012

This isn’t quite as good as my all-time favorite anti-gun control poster, but it is a powerful reminder that the Second Amendment is ultimately a check on government.

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I’ve periodically put up other gun control posters that have been very popular, and you can peruse them here, here, here, here, and here. I’ve also posted amusing images of t-shirts and bumper stickers on gun control, which can be seen here, here, and here.

A good joke can be found here, and I also recommend this Chuck Asay cartoon, as well as this example of the kind of gun Obama prefers. And some funny videos on gun control can be viewed here and here.

And if you’re looking for something more serious on the Second Amendment, you can watch some great videos here, here, and here.

If you’re in the mood for some inspiration, check out this powerpoint presentation.

Last but not least, this rumored letter-to-the-editor is worth reading, and I like to think my interview on NRA-TV is a good way to spend a few minues.

(h/t: Michelle Ray)

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There’s an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. This certainly is a good description of Keynesians, who relentlessly push more government spending as some sort of magic potion for the economy – notwithstanding a record of failure.

The latest example if Larry Summers, the former economist for the Obama White House, who says Europeans need to make government bigger.

Here is some of what he writes for today’s Washington Post.

European efforts to contain crisis have fallen short. …Much of what is being urged on and in Europe is likely to be not just ineffective but counterproductive to maintaining the monetary union, restoring normal financial conditions and government access to markets, and reestablishing economic growth. The premise of European policymaking is that countries are overindebted and so unable to access markets on reasonable terms, and that the high interest rates associated with excessive debt hurt the financial system and inhibit growth. The strategy is to provide financing while insisting on austerity, in hopes that countries can rein in their excessive spending enough to restore credibility, bring down interest rates and restart economic growth.

The good news is that Summers recognizes that there has been “excessive spending.” The bad news is that he uses the wrong definition of austerity.

Many European nations seem to think higher taxes are a sign of fiscal conservatism (see this post by Veronique de Rugy for a good discussion of this confusion). Summers accepts that approach, and says that policy makers should choose a Keynesian policy instead.

Unfortunately, Europe has misdiagnosed its problems in important respects and set the wrong strategic course. …Europe’s problem countries are in trouble because the financial crisis underway since 2008 has damaged their financial systems and led to a collapse in growth. High deficits are much more a symptom than a cause of their problems. And treating symptoms rather than underlying causes is usually a good way to make a patient worse. …The right focus for Europe is on growth; in this dimension, increased austerity is a step in the wrong direction.

There’s more good news. Summers is right in stating that Europe suffers from low growth. And I agree with him that the European version of austerity – higher taxes – is not a solution.

But, as always, there is a catch. Summers has the wrong approach on how to encourage growth. He wants Keynesian spending, and here is his defense.

 Skeptics will rightly wonder how a prescription for more spending by countries that already have trouble borrowing can be correct. The answer lies in the difference between borrowing by individuals and countries. Normally, an individual helps his creditors by borrowing less; but a person who stops borrowing to finance commuting to his job does his creditors no favor. A country’s income is determined by spending, so a country that pursues austerity to the point where its economy is driven into a downward spiral does its creditors no favor.

Sounds semi-reasonable. After all, everyone understands that it is important to get to their place of employment. Sometimes you spend money to make money.

But here’s the problem. Can anyone name anything in so-called stimulus schemes that actually increase a nation’s productive capacity? As we saw with Obama’s failed stimulus, lots of money gets distributed, but the main purpose seems to be buying votes and creating dependency.

What about jobs? A miserable failure.

Adding insult to injury, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that American taxpayers are supposed to pick up the lion’s share of the tab for the new spending in Europe since Summers wants the IMF to be the sugar daddy.

Going forward, the IMF and international community should condition further support not merely on individual countries’ actions but on a common European commitment to growth.

This approach is illogical, as explained in this video.

And let’s consider the historical record. Nations that have tried this type of “stimulus” have not fared well. Big spending increase under Hoover and Roosevelt failed in the 1930s. Japan tried several Keynesian packages and failed in the 1990s. Bush failed in 2008 and Obama failed in 2009.

Germany did not go with a big program of government spending, and they did better than the United States. The same is true about Canada. But the real success story is the Baltic nations. They imposed real spending restraint, not the fake austerity found in places such as the United Kingdom.

And even though it caused some short-term pain since there’s a short-term cost when labor and capital get redeployed to more productive uses, the Baltic nations are now in much better shape that the European nations that have floundered because they limited themselves to the no-win choice of Keynesianism and tax hikes.

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Haiti may be the poorest nation in the Americas. Cuba may have the dictator with the longest lifespan. But Venezuela arguably has the worst government.

Not the clownish dictator, Hugo Chavez, is trying to repeal the laws of economics. How’s that working out for him?

Well, here’s some of what the New York Times wrote.

By 6:30 a.m., a full hour and a half before the store would open, about two dozen people were already in line. They waited patiently, not for the latest iPhone, but for something far more basic: groceries. …Venezuela is one of the world’s top oil producers at a time of soaring energy prices, yet shortages of staples like milk, meat and toilet paper are a chronic part of life here, often turning grocery shopping into a hit or miss proposition. Some residents arrange their calendars around the once-a-week deliveries made to government-subsidized stores like this one, lining up before dawn to buy a single frozen chicken before the stock runs out. Or a couple of bags of flour. Or a bottle of cooking oil. The shortages affect both the poor and the well-off, in surprising ways. A supermarket in the upscale La Castellana neighborhood recently had plenty of chicken and cheese — even quail eggs — but not a single roll of toilet paper. Only a few bags of coffee remained on a bottom shelf. Asked where a shopper could get milk on a day when that, too, was out of stock, a manager said with sarcasm, “At Chávez’s house.” At the heart of the debate is President Hugo Chávez’s socialist-inspired government, which imposes strict price controls that are intended to make a range of foods and other goods more affordable for the poor. They are often the very products that are the hardest to find. …many economists call it a classic case of a government causing a problem rather than solving it. Prices are set so low, they say, that companies and producers cannot make a profit. So farmers grow less food, manufacturers cut back production and retailers stock less inventory. Moreover, some of the shortages are in industries, like dairy and coffee, where the government has seized private companies and is now running them, saying it is in the national interest.

Here’s a chart that I’ve used before, using international data to compare living standards in Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile since 1980. One nation (take a wild guess) has tried statism, one nation has tried a mix of statism and capitalism, and the other has tried capitalism.

And just in case you need one more reason to despise Chavez’s despotic government, the regime is copying Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and other murderous tyrants in imposing gun control.

(h/t: Greg Mankiw)

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I’m in Slovakia, where I just returned from some meetings at the annual conference of the Freedom and Solidarity Party. Unlike Republicans in the United States, these people practice what they preach about free markets and individual liberty.

Indeed, the SAS Party (which I gather must be Slovak initials for Freedom and Solidarity) is so committed to principles that it refused to join with other coalition members to support the European bailout fund.

The same cannot be said about the other supposedly right-leaning parties that were part of the government. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s party wound up supporting the bailout (even though she initially was opposed). Amazingly, these other parties thought the bailouts were such a good idea that they were willing to lose a “no-confidence” vote – paving the way for the Social Democrats to win the most recent election!

I guess the analogy is Bush and the other GOP statists supporting corrupt policies such as TARP, which helped pave the way for Obama to get elected.

In this analogy, the SAS Party is akin to the tea party, representing honest conservatives and libertarians.

By the way, there are a small handful of genuinely good political parties in the world. If we limit ourselves to ones that have legislative seats, SAS is on the list, of course, but I would also include the Reform Party in Estonia, which leads that nation’s coalition government. It’s worth noting that Estonia responded to the recent economic crisis by imposing genuine spending cuts, which helps explain why that nation’s economy has bounced back while other nations are languishing.

New Zealand’s ACT Party also deserves a mention, though they’re down to just one seat in that nation’s Parliament. Hopefully they’ll bounce back.

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I’ve occasionally commented on foolish public policy in the United Kingdom, including analysis on how the welfare state destroys lives and turns people into despicable moochers.

But if you really want to understand the horrifying absurdity of the welfare state, check out these passages from  a report in the Daily Mail.

Carl Cooper thought he was doing a public service by offering seven benefits claimants the chance to work for him. But the company boss was flabbergasted when none of them turned up on the first day. Astonishingly, not a single one even had the courtesy to tell the marketing firm boss they would not be coming in. Mr Cooper and other staff members called the new employees to ask them where they were. Initially, some refused to answer their phones  when they recognised the number calling them. When the staff finally got through, five said they would be better off staying on state benefits rather than doing the commission-based work. Four of the seven also claimed  torrential rain had put them off.

Wow. Five out of seven admitted that mooching off the taxpayers was a better way to live. What does that tell us about the over-generosity of handouts?

Let’s continue.

Mr Cooper, who runs Car Smart, a marketing firm for independent car dealers in Canterbury, Kent, criticised the benefits system and said it rewarded people for doing nothing. He added: ‘I was left stunned when none of the new recruits turned up for work. They are a bunch of workshy layabouts. ‘These are people who are so morally twisted that they would rather stay on the dole than work. ‘People keep saying there are not enough jobs in the UK but the real problem is that there are not enough determined or ambitious people. ‘The benefit system is too generous and encourages the unemployed to stay unemployed and just breeds more laziness.’

But it’s even worse than Mr. Cooper realizes. He’ll still be paying these people, but in the form of taxes that then get redistributed to subsidize idleness.

You might think the moochers would lose their benefits because they chose laziness over work, but you would be wrong.

Mr Cooper said all his employees received a basic retainer of £100 a week initially and are enrolled on to the company’s commission structure, which could see earnings rise to up to £400 a week. The jobseekers who failed to turn up will not lose their benefits because the basic pay is under the minimum wage.

I found the above story via Kyle Smith, who also cites a story from the Times about a crazy proposal to have bureaucrats scrub floors and serve as human alarm clocks for the welfare class.

Town hall officials have been told to get down on their hands and knees and “clean the floors” of the homes they visit under David Cameron’s Troubled Families programme. They have also been urged to turn up at family homes at 7am if necessary to get parents out of bed and children ready for school on time. The orders were issued by the programme head, Louise Casey… “I want to see people rolling up their sleeves and getting down and cleaning the floors if that is what needs to be done. If a family needs to be shown how to heat up a pizza, show them how to do it. If it takes going round three times a week at 7am to get Mum up, then do it.”

I would have included a link to the underlying story, but the Times has the most incompetently designed website I’ve ever encountered (presumably because they want to charge, but they don’t even give you a chance to click on the story and then pay).

Anyhow, I have three quick reactions to this bit of foolishness.

1. I’d like to see the head bureaucrat, Ms. Casey, spend a month scrubbing floors and waking people up at 7:00 a.m. She strikes me as the typical leftist clown, sitting in an office enjoying a cushy and overpaid job while dreaming up absurd ideas on how to waste taxpayer money. Maybe if she gets her hands dirty by “rolling up [her] sleeves,” she’ll learn the difference between blackboard theorizing and the real world.

2. My gut reaction is that the government should cut the handouts to these dysfunctional households. For every day the welfare bums aren’t up on time to get their kids to school, they lose 10 percent of their loot. If their floors are dirty, that’s another 10 percent. If you want to change their behavior, start cutting into the budget for cigarettes and booze.

3. More realistically, we’re dealing with a problem of people who have little if any self-respect, and they pass horrible habits to their children. Kicking them off the dole might wake up some of them, but I suspect more than a few of them are past the point of no return. Society would probably be better off if their kids were put in foster homes, but I’m sure government would screw that up as well.

Stories like this leave me increasingly convinced that the only good approach is radical decentralization. Get these programs out of capital cities like Washington and London. The U.S. welfare reform was a decent start, but get responsibility to the local level. And in cities, put neighborhoods in charge. Have those small communities in charge of raising the money and spending the money.

That approach is far more likely to generate good ideas and good solutions, though I confess I’m pessimistic about anything working.

But we should figure out ways to stop inter-generational poverty and welfare. I gather it’s considered bad form to suggest mandatory birth control for welfare recipients, so has anyone proposed a different approach that might work?

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My Foreign Bathroom Adventures

I like to think I’m not particularly stupid. Indeed, a left-wing writer recently said I was “relatively intelligent.”

And even though I have a Ph.D., I also like to think I have a decent level of common sense.

But I am constantly humbled by foreign bathrooms. My most recent challenge occurred this morning in Bratislava, when I took a shower. Here’s a picture of the shower controls. Maybe it’s obvious to you how they work, but it took me a couple of minutes of random turning and twisting before I got the shower running at an appropriate temperature.

That was just the beginning of my adventure. I then realized, when my shower was finished, that I didn’t know how to turn everything off. So I spent another couple of minutes randomly fiddling with the two knobs (alternatively pelting myself with freezing or scalding water) before it stopped running.

I had a similar episode last week in Zürich. I was in my room and had to use the bathroom to recycle some diet soda. As I was standing there, doing my business, I noticed that the toilet had a couple of strange devices inside the bowl. I then noticed that the inside of the toilet lid had a couple of pictures showing how the devices would wash and then dry one’s nether regions. I didn’t think to snap a picture, but I perused the Internet and it was something like this, but had a drying nozzle as well.

It occurred to me, after I was done, that it might be dangerous to flush because water might come shooting up at me. And even if I stood to the side while flushing, I didn’t want to risk getting water all over the bathroom.

There were no written instructions, not even in German. So, after pondering the matter for a while, I realized that the safest option would be to sit down and then flush.

So with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation, I did just that. You can imagine the anti-climatic feeling I got when nothing happened. No whirring, no buzzing, no jets of water, no dryer. The toilet flushed, and that was it.

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. I’m one of those people who has to touch when I see a “Wet Paint” sign, so I was curious to experience this high-tech device.

So I spent several minutes trying to figure out how the damn thing operated. European toilets often have two flush controls, one being for light jobs and the other for heavy jobs (I’m trying to be delicate). But it didn’t matter which one I flushed.

I thought that perhaps the controls only worked if some sort of sensor could tell you were sitting down (and using the heavy-duty flush control at the same time). But that didn’t work.

So I failed in my mission. Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t ask the hotel how it worked, but I couldn’t think of a non-embarrassing way of saying, “hey, I want to try your fancy wash-and-dry toilet, so can someone come up and show me how it works?”

But I still have stops in Vienna and Kiev before returning to the United States, so perhaps I’ll get another opportunity to demonstrate by bathroom naiveté.

P.S. If you’re missing the public policy commentary you normally find on my blog, one of my goals in Slovakia is to convince the new socialist government not get to rid of the flat tax. Sadly, I think it’s a lost cause, just like in the Czech Republic (where taxpayers are getting betrayed by a supposedly right-of-center government).

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Since we recently learned Social Security is even more financially decrepit than previously estimated, let’s cheer ourselves up with a couple of cartoons.

This first one is a pretty good assessment of what’s going to happen in a few years if we don’t see reform. Think about what’s happening in Europe, if you don’t have a good imagination.

This cartoon covers the same topic, but looks at how an aging population is going to create unsustainable fiscal demands.

There are solutions, of course, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to be implemented.

Incidentally, you may recognize the artistic style in the second cartoon. It’s by Ramirez. Here are links to some of his other cartoons that I found especially worthwhile: Here, hereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

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