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Archive for October, 2012

I shared a cartoon last Halloween that made fun of those who support class-warfare tax policy.

Now we have a related cartoon, featuring a stop at the White House.

Republicans will like the ghost’s comments, of course.

The next two cartoons are almost identical. We’ll start with this one from Michael Ramirez.

Ramirez is one of my favorite cartoonists, incidentally, and you can see more of his work here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehereherehereherehere, and here.

Here’s a Gary Varvel cartoon with the exact same message.

Instead of great minds thinking alike, this is a case of great cartoonists thinking alike. Though they probably have great minds as well.

But I don’t want to make too many fawning comments since I would modify both of these cartoons so that the kids were looking at papers that said “Medicare” and “Social Security” instead of “debt.”

It’s always important to focus first and foremost on the disease of spending, after all, and not the symptom of red ink.

Last but not least, I can’t resist linking to this comedian’s video, which includes some very good economic insights about work incentives.

Sort of like this Wizard of Id parody featuring Obama.

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From a rational perspective, the logical choice is not voting. After all, the odds of your vote making a difference are infinitesimally small.

But that’s if you view voting as an “investment” choice – i.e., you taking time and effort to do X in hopes of getting Y in return.

The other view is that voting is a “consumption” choice – i.e., something we do for enjoyment, like eating a hamburger or going to a movie. You recognize your vote almost surely won’t matter, but you do it because it gives you pleasure to vote for someone (or, in my case, it gives you pleasure to vote against someone).

Now let’s consider libertarians, conservatives, and other advocates of small government. Regardless of whether they’re investment voters or consumption voters, what should they do this election?

You could take an online test and see which candidate matches your views.

Mike Godwin of Reason, however, says you should vote for Barack Obama. Though he starts out by suggesting that most of us should vote for the Libertarian candidate.

…if you’re a Libertarian who’s not in a swing state – you live in California, maybe, or Texas – there’s no compelling reason for you to cast your vote for anyone other than Gary Johnson.

But then he argues that voters in battleground states should prefer Obama over Romney.

…you should give some thought to voting for Obama as the lesser of the two big-government, Harvard-educated evils. …Romney seems perfectly capable of adopting a liberal government program when it suits him. While Romney officially opposes Obamacare, it’s scarcely different from the health-care reform Romney presided over in Massachusetts.

I suspect most supporters of limited government won’t disagree with his assertion that Romney is squishy, but then Godwin goes off the reservation.

…there actually is a libertarian argument for Obamacare. …a truly universal system is the best option for maximizing health-care efficiencies. And if we can preserve some aspects of competition among insurers (which Obamacare, mimicking the health-care plan proposed by the GOP to counter Bill Clinton’s efforts at health-care reform, attempts to do), that’s all to the good. But there’s an even stronger libertarian argument for Obamacare. Namely, it frees more Americans to take better jobs without worrying about losing the health care plan they had in their old jobs. Worker mobility is one of the things that reliably fuels free enterprise, and workers will be more mobile under Obamacare than they would be under Romney’s semi-dismantled version of it.

I obviously disagree, but Godwin isn’t being crazy. Indeed, he’s basically echoing the pro-mandate position that was advanced by my former colleagues at the Heritage Foundation.

This is a reasonable position if you start from the premise that there’s no way of unwinding most of the existing government policies that have prevented markets from operating in the healthcare sector. That’s not my view, so I’m merely saying Godwin has a legitimate point, not that he’s right.

Getting back to his pro-Obama argument, he closes with discussion of social issues.

…let me underscore three points where Obama is surely closer to libertarians than Romney is. One of these is abortion rights, self-evidently. …Another is immigration. …A third quasi-libertarian position is Obama’s late-arriving but still-welcome stance on gay marriage.

I don’t find these arguments compelling. Libertarians are not monolithically pro-life or pro-choice. But to the extent there’s unanimity, they agree that Roe v. Wade was a nonsensical decision and that the issue should be decided by state legislatures. Which sort of makes them allies with Republicans, even if they don’t necessarily agree with how states should handle the issue.

I’m also more skeptical of immigration amnesty than the average libertarian, largely because I agree with Milton Friedman about the risks of combining open borders with a welfare state.

And I also think marriage should be a private institution with no role for government, though if you read the details of the article, it appears that Godwin has the same perspective.

“Me, the choice of libertarians?!?”

To summarize, I don’t find Godwin’s arguments convincing. If he really wanted to convince conservatives, libertarians, and other supporters of small government that Obama was the right choice, he should have argued that Romney would be another big-government statist like Bush. That’s a very compelling argument, as you can see from this list of Romney transgressions.

He even could have made the argument that keeping Obama for an additional four years would be the best way of laying the groundwork for a Reagan-style victory in 2016 with a presumably small-government advocate like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or Paul Ryan at the top of the ticket. That would have caught my attention since my first political decision was to favor Carter over Ford in 1976 in hopes of paving the way for Reagan in 1980.

By the way, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong to vote for Romney, Obama, or Johnson. My job is to focus on policy, not politics. But it is the silly season of politics, so I can’t resist making some observations.

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I’ve written before about the underlying differences between conservatives, libertarians, and statists, and I’ve even suggested that libertarians and social conservatives should be natural allies on many issues.

“Redistribute this, punk”

“I want higher taxes”

Little did I realize, though, that biceps may be a determinant of political philosophy. To be sure, some on the left have long said that conservatives are primitive and reactionary brutes, sort of modern-day neanderthals.

Well, it turns out that there’s some scientific evidence for this idea, at least among males. But before leftists get too excited about this new research, they should be forewarned that it also implies that folks on the left are more likely to be sunken-chested, spindly-armed weaklings.

In the grand scheme of things, I’d rather be Arnold Schwarzenegger than Woody Allen. But I’ll just assume that libertarians are a perfect fusion of strength and sensitivity.

Anyhow, enough of my speculation. For those who want to know what the research really says, here are some excerpts from an article in The Economist.

Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer were investigating the idea that a person’s political opinions might be aligned with his physical characteristics. The opinion in question was whether resources should be redistributed from the rich to the poor. The physical characteristic was strength. …For men, …opinion did depend on strength. The two researchers came to this conclusion after looking at 486 Americans, 223 Argentinians and 793 Danes. They collected data on their volunteers’ strength by measuring the circumference of the flexed biceps of an individual’s dominant arm. (Previous work has shown that this is an accurate proxy for strength.) They then measured people’s status with questionnaires about their economic situation. And they determined a person’s support for redistribution by asking the degree to which he or she agreed with statements like: “The wealthy should give more money to those who are worse off”; and “It is not fair that people have to pay taxes to fund welfare programmes.” They also asked about participants’ political ideologies. Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer found that, regardless of country of origin or apparent ideology, strong men argued for their self interest: the poor for redistribution, the rich against it. No surprises there. Weaklings, however, were far less inclined to make the case that self-interest suggested they would.

On a semi-serious note, the research doesn’t say that strong men are against redistribution. It simply says they openly favor whatever happens to be in their self-interest. So a strong but poor male would favor a big welfare state, while a rich and strong male will prefer liberty.

For weaklings and women, from what I can tell, there is no correlation between strength (or lack thereof) and political philosophy.

P.S. Since we started this post by referencing a serious analysis of the difference among conservatives, libertarians, and liberals, let’s close with a humorous look at the difference between conservatives, liberals, and Texans. In the same vein, here’s a joke about the difference between Californians and folks from other states.

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The folks at the Center for Freedom and Prosperity have been on a roll in the past few months, putting out an excellent series of videos on Obama’s economic policies.

Now we have a new addition to the list. Here’s Mattie Duppler of Americans for Tax Reform, narrating a video that eviscerates the President’s tax agenda.

I like the entire video, as you can imagine, but certain insights and observations are particularly appealing.

1. The rich already pay a disproportionate share of the total tax burden – The video explains that the top-20 percent of income earners pay more than 67 percent of all federal taxes even though they earn only about 50 percent of total income. And, as I’ve explained, it would be very difficult to squeeze that much more money from them.

2. There aren’t enough rich people to fund big government – The video explains that stealing every penny from every millionaire would run the federal government for only three months. And it also makes the very wise observation that this would be a one-time bit of pillaging since rich people would quickly learn not to earn and report so much income. We learned in the 1980s that the best way to soak the rich is by putting a stop to confiscatory tax rates.

3. The high cost of the death tax – I don’t like double taxation, but the death tax is usually triple taxation and that makes a bad tax even worse. Especially since the tax causes the liquidation of private capital, thus putting downward pressure on wages. And even though the tax doesn’t collect much revenue, it probably does result in some upward pressure on government spending, thus augmenting the damage.

4. High taxes on the rich are a precursor to higher taxes on everyone else – This is a point I have made on several occasions, including just yesterday. I’m particularly concerned that the politicians in Washington will boost income tax rates for everybody, then decide that even more money is needed and impose a value-added tax.

The video also makes good points about double taxation, class warfare, and the Laffer Curve.

Please share widely.

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I’ve previously shared an amazing chart put together by a Cato colleague showing that massive increases in spending and staff have had no positive impact on educational performance.

Now here’s a chart that is equally remarkable, showing that we spend about $60,000 on various welfare programs for every poor household in America. And what are we getting for that giant expenditure of money? Well, as this other chart shows, our progress in the fight against poverty came to a screeching halt right about the time that the politicians in Washington launched the so-called War on Poverty.

This video contains more analysis, for those who want to learn about the best way of actually reducing poverty. It’s important to remember, after all, that the welfare state has a human cost that is just as important as the fiscal cost.

If you want more powerful pictures and info-graphics, here are some of my favorites.

And I suppose I should share, once again, my favorite poster about government.

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President Obama repeatedly assures us that he only wants higher taxes on the rich as part of his class-warfare agenda.

But I don’t trust him. In part because he’s a politician, but also because there aren’t enough rich people to finance big government (not to mention that the rich easily can alter their financial affairs to avoid higher tax rates).

Honest leftists are beginning to admit that their real target is the middle class. Here are a few examples.

In other words, politicians often say they want to tax the rich, but the real target is the middle class. Indeed, this is the history of tax policy. In a post earlier this year, warning the folks in the Cayman Islands not to impose an income tax, I noted how the U.S. income tax began small and then swallowed up more and more people.

…the U.S. income tax began in 1913 with a top rate of only 7 percent and it affected less than 1 percent of the population. But that supposedly benign tax has since become a monstrous internal revenue code that plagues the nation today.

The same thing is true elsewhere in the world.

Allister Heath explains for London’s City A.M. newspaper.

The introduction of income taxes around the world have tended to follow a very similar pattern over the past couple of centuries. First, we get generally low income tax rates, with most people exempt and with the highest rate only affecting a few people relatively lightly. Eventually, tax rates shoot up for everybody – including to crippling levels for top earners – and millions more are caught by income tax. The next stage is that the ultra-high tax rates for top earners are reduced to manageable levels – but ever more people are brought into the tax system, with the higher brackets also catching vastly more folk.

By the way, you can see that Allister makes a reference to tax rates being reduced for top earners. That’s largely because many politicians learned an important lesson about the Laffer Curve. Sometimes, the best way to “soak the rich” is by lowering their tax rates. Unfortunately, President Obama still needs some remedial education on this topic.

Allister then looks at some specific U.K. data revealing how more and more middle class people are now subject to higher tax rates.

The biggest change in the UK has been the number of people paying what is now the 40p tax rate: up six-fold in thirty years, from 674,000 in 1979-80, 2.5m in 1999-2000 to 4.048m in 2011-12. This number will jump again to around 5m in 2014, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. When Margaret Thatcher came to power, just 2.6 per cent of taxpayers paid the top rate; by the time of the next election, 16.7 per cent will.

If Obama and other statists get their way, we’ll see similar statistic in the United States. Higher income tax rates for the rich will mean higher income tax rates for the rest of us. Though I’m even more worried about a value-added tax, which would be a huge burden on ordinary people and a revenue machine for greedy politicians.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that the American tax code actually is more “progressive” than the tax codes of Europe’s welfare states. This is largely because we don’t screw over poor and middle-class taxpayers with a VAT.

P.S. Since I mentioned the Laffer Curve above, I should emphasize that the goal of good tax policy should be to maximize growth, not to maximize tax revenue.

P.P.S. And don’t forget that poor and middle-income taxpayers also will be hurt because slower growth is an inevitable consequence when tax rates climb and the burden of government spending increases.

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I’ve written before about the heavy costs of regulation, including these rather sobering statistics. Or, to be more accurate, here are some staggering numbers.

But a lot of people don’t focus on the cost of regulation. They are motivated instead by a desire to protect themselves against unknown risks, which they assume are exacerbated by companies that are greedy for short-run profits.

I acknowledged this concern in the November issue of Townhall magazine.

…it is difficult—or even impossible—for the average consumer to gauge safety. Are we flying on a well-maintained plane? Are we eating food that is free of salmonella and botulism? Is our workplace protected against dangerous machinery? Are our children vulnerable to chemical exposure? Since the vast majority of people have no way of answering these questions, we shouldn’t be surprised that many of them want some sort of independent oversight—especially since they suspect that businesses will be tempted to cut corners. After all, less money spent on health and safety means more profit for shareholders.

But I also explained how the free market produces very effective forms of private regulation.

…the desire for profits creates a big incentive for businesses to use good practices while producing safe and effective products. Imagine you’re the CEO of a major airline, and one day all the regulatory agencies disappear. Are you going to stop maintaining your planes? At the risk of stating the obvious, the answer is no. One disaster could be the death knell for an airline, particularly if there were the slightest hint that the company was skimping on upkeep. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that investors would plow money into an airline when share value could disappear overnight because of an accident. And banks presumably would be leery about lending to an airline that faced the risk of quick bankruptcy. Moreover, insurance companies would have a very strong incentive to monitor the safety practices of the airline— and keep in mind no bank would lend money to an airline that lacked insurance. In other words, the competitive marketplace can be viewed as a very effective form of regulation. Instead of rules and red tape from Washington, the profit motive creates mutually reinforcing oversight.

This “mutually reinforcing oversight” does not guarantee that business won’t cut corners and/or make mistakes. But, then again, regulation from politicians and bureaucrats don’t stop that from happening either.

The key question to ask is which approach achieves the best results at the lowest cost.

The answer is the free market, though augmented by government regulations that pass a cost-benefit test, the tort system to discourage bad business behavior such as negligence, and the criminal justice system to fight behaviors such as fraud.

There will be a debate, of course, on where to draw the line. But one thing I can say for sure is that an intelligent system will never produce these examples of bureaucratic idiocy.

Remember, if government is the answer, you’ve asked a very strange question.

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