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Archive for April 3rd, 2012

Actually, Bill Clinton must be something even worse than a social Darwinist. That’s because the title of this post is wrong. Obama said that Paul Ryan’s plan (which allows spending to grow by an average of 3.1 percent per year over the next decade) is a form of “social Darwinism.”

Proponent of social Darwinism?

But the proposal from the House Budget Committee Chairman only reduces the burden of federal spending to 20.25 percent of GDP by the year 2023.

Yet when Bill Clinton left office in 2001, following several years of spending restraint, the federal government was consuming 18.2 percent of economic output.

And by the President’s reasoning, this must make Clinton something worse than a Darwinist. Perhaps Marquis de Sade or Hannibal Lecter.

Here’s a blurb from the New York Times on Obama’s speech.

Mr. Obama’s attack, in a speech during a lunch with editors and reporters from The Associated Press, was part of a broader indictment of the Republican economic blueprint for the nation. The Republican budget, and the philosophy it represents, he said in remarks prepared for delivery, is “antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who’s willing to work for it.” …“Disguised as a deficit reduction plan, it’s really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It’s nothing but thinly veiled social Darwinism,” Mr. Obama said. “By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training, research and development — it’s a prescription for decline.”

I’m particularly amused by the President’s demagoguery that Ryan’s plan is “antithetical to our entire history” and “a radical vision.”

Is he really unaware that a small and constrained central government is part of America’s history and vision? Doesn’t he know that the federal government, for two-thirds of our nation’s history, consumed less than 5 percent of GDP?

Of course, that was back in the dark ages when people in Washington actually believed that the Constitution’s list of enumerated powers in Article 1, Section 8, actually enumerated the powers of the federal government. How quaint.

No wonder this Ramirez cartoon is so effectively amusing. It certainly seems to capture the President’s view of America’s founding principles.

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Why is big government bad for an economy? The easy answer is that big government usually means high tax rates, and this penalizes work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. And perhaps some of the spending is financed by borrowing, and this diverts money from private investment.

That’s a correct answer, but it’s only part of the story. In most cases, there is added damage because politicians spend money in ways that further undermine incentives to produce.

For instance, let’s assume a government spends $1 billion on some sort of redistribution program. Extracting that money from the productive sector of the economy obviously will cause some damage, but it’s also important to estimate how the supposed beneficiaries of the money will react. What if they decide to earn less income in order to be eligible for the handouts, as even the statists at the OECD have recognized?

In other words, it hurts the economy when government collects money, and it often hurts the economy when government spends money. Sort of a perverse 2-for-1 special (though “Rahn Curve” analysis does show that some types of spending – on core public goods – is correlated with better economic performance)

Let’s look at an example from Greece, showing how handouts distort behavior and corrupt people. Here are some remarkable tidbits from a Wall Street Journal story.

The Greek health ministry is investigating on Zakynthos after local officials flagged records showing what they said is an implausibly high number of disability claims for blindness. About 1.8% of the island’s population of 39,000 claimed the benefit last year, according to the health ministry. That is around nine times the prevalence of blindness estimated for many European countries in a 2004 study published in a World Health Organization journal. Among those who put in for the blindness benefit on Zakynthos, a local official said, were a taxi driver and a bird hunter. …But the island is hardly alone, according to health ministry officials, who say fraudulent disability claims are a problem across the nation… Zakynthos Mayor Stelios Bozikis on a Greek television talk show said residents angry about the benefits crackdown and other financial overhauls pelted him with yogurt at a recent event.

Before sneering at the Greeks, keep in mind that “disability” claims also are rising in the United States, which is rather remarkable since jobs have become less arduous over time. Heck, the Social Security Administration decided to give disability payments to a grown man who gets his jollies by wearing diapers.

I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than the Greek government deciding to reward pedophiles with disability payments, but taxpayers are getting screwed in both examples.

Let’s go back to the story and look at a rough estimate of how much fraud exists.

In an attempt to root out fraud, the Greek health ministry recently required disability claimants nationwide to register in a centralized database, appearing in person or sending a representative. The registration resulted in 36,000 fewer disability claims than in 2011, the health ministry said. The ministry alleges these dropped claims were fraudulent, in many cases reflecting multiple claims for the same disability or payments in the name of dead beneficiaries. It also alleges that some doctors accepted money for false diagnoses and some local politicians signed off on the benefits to win support, and said it is giving public prosecutors information about areas where it suspects a high level of fraud. Only 190 of the nearly 700 people it says had been collecting the blindness benefit on Zakynthos participated in the registration, the ministry said.

I have no idea if Zakynthos is representative, but that’s an incredibly high fraud rate. And this is just a glimpse at the workings of one government program. Now multiply that by some large number and you’ll begin to understand the damage caused by government.

And America is not immune. When politicians make it easier to ride in the wagon than to pull the wagon (as this cartoon illustrates), society sooner or later gets in trouble.

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