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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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I’ve already written about the despicable practice of “civil forfeiture,” which allows governments to confiscate the property of innocent people who have not been convicted of any crime.

And I’ve cited great columns on the issue from George Will and John Stossel., as well a sobering report on the topic from the Wall Street Journal.

Now the Institute for Justice has a video that should outrage any decent person.

It’s examples of government thuggery like this that make me a libertarian. You should be one as well.

If you need more convincing, check out these horror stories of statist abuse.

But let’s end on a happy note, with a few jokes about cops, one sympathetic, one mocking, and one political.

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I don’t believe in respecting politicians because they don’t respect us. They either treat us like fatted calves to be slaughtered with class warfare taxation or as wards of the state that should be permanently trapped in lives of dependency.

So you can understand why I cheer when the evening talk show hosts mock these reprehensible slugs. Here are my favorite one-liners from the past couple of weeks.

Jay Leno

  • President Obama flew to a rally in Las Vegas last night. However, he did not visit any of the casinos. You know why? When you’re $16 trillion in debt, they don’t let you in.
  • Experts say the entire 2012 election could come down to just eight states. The states are: confusion, dismay, depression, apathy, shock, disbelief, despair, and anxiety. Those are the eight states.
  • Did you all watch the debate last night? I have to admit, I was one of those undecideds. I couldn’t decide whether to watch the baseball game or the football game.
  • Last night President Obama finally found a Republican who agreed with him — Mitt Romney.
  • One of President Obama’s winning points last night was about how sanctions against Iran are crippling their economy. And believe me, if anyone knows how to cripple an economy, it’s President Obama.
  • So far for Halloween, sales of Obama masks are 30 percent higher than the sales of Mitt Romney masks. That makes sense. I mean, what’s scarier than four more years of this economy?
  • Tonight was the third and final presidential debate. The good news? Tonight was the third and final presidential debate.
  • Astronomers have discovered a planet that is twice the size of earth and made of diamonds. President Obama says the planet may be inhabited by aliens not paying their fair share.
  • Can you believe it’s only another month until we start arguing about whether the election was stolen or not?

David Letterman

  • Do you know who is endorsing Mitt Romney? Lindsay Lohan. It may seem silly to you but not to the Romney campaign. They’re very excited. They said they have a chance now to get the shoplifter vote.
  • You know the Obama campaign’s in trouble when they’re looking to Joe Biden to turn things around.
  • It’s Nobel Prize season. Earlier today a medical team received the Nobel Prize for reviving the Mitt Romney campaign.
  • Your choice now is pretty clear. You can either vote for the guy who got rid of bin Laden or vote for the guy who wants to get rid of Big Bird.
  • Mitt did a great job. After the debate he celebrated with a bottle of caffeine-free diet soda.

Conan

  • A lot of crazy rumors are starting to surface about the two candidates. A man is claiming that President Obama used and sold cocaine in college. On the bright side, if this is true, it means Obama does have business experience.
  • Tonight President Obama and Mitt Romney hold their final debate in Boca Raton, Florida. The topic of the debate is what is more shocking to see in Boca Raton, a Mormon or a black guy.

Jimmy Kimmel

  • Michelle Obama is with us tonight. She’ll encourage us to vote early. Most Republicans are opposed, because they believe that voting starts at conception.

Jimmy Fallon

  • On Sunday, a documentary about Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal will air exclusively on CNN. Armstrong was like, “Phew — thank God no one’s going to see it.”
  • This week President Obama’s Facebook page received more than a million “Likes” in a single day. All of them from Republicans who watched last week’s debate.
  • In a new interview, first lady Michelle Obama said that she would choose Will Smith or Denzel Washington to play her husband in a movie. Or as Democrats put that, “Any way they can play him in a debate?”

If you like one-liners from the late-night comics, you can see previous editions by clicking hereherehereherehereherehere,hereherehereherehereherehere, and here .

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I used to think I was in favor of every possible step to reduce the burden of government spending.

But I confess I’ve come across a budget-cutting strategy that even I can’t support. And it’s not in the area of national defense or public safety, which even I agree are legitimate functions of government.

Instead, I’m talking about the government-run healthcare system in the United Kingdom, which apparently is bribing hospitals to make greater use of the “Liverpool Care Pathway,” which is the UK version of a death panel. Here are some jaw-dropping excerpts from the Daily Mail.

Hospitals are paid millions to hit targets for the number of patients who die on the Liverpool Care Pathway, the Mail can reveal. The incentives have been paid to hospitals that ensure a set percentage of patients who die on their wards have been put on the controversial regime. In some cases, hospitals have been set targets that between a third and two thirds of all the deaths should be on the LCP, which critics say is a way of hastening the deaths of terminally ill patients. At least £30million in extra money from taxpayers is estimated to have been handed to hospitals over the past three years to achieve these goals. Critics of the method warned last night that financial incentives for hospitals could influence the work of doctors.

Here’s some additional info of how the program works.

The use of CQUIN payments to encourage the spread of the LCP through the wards and to persuade doctors to meet Pathway targets was revealed in answers to Freedom of Information requests. Among trusts that confirmed the use of targets was Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which said that in the financial year which ended in March the percentage of patients who died on the Pathway was ’43 per cent against a target of 35 per cent’. Over the year the Trust received £308,000 for achieving ‘goals involving the Liverpool Care Pathway’. Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust had CQUIN payments connected to the Liverpool Care Pathway almost halved after failing to reach targets.

Somebody should ask Paul Krugman about this horrific story. Even if the occasionally overly sensational British press is exaggerating and the real story is only half as bad as these excerpts, this is a nightmare. And it definitely shows that Krugman was wrong in 2009 when he wrote that, “In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.”

Unless, of course, proponents of bigger government don’t think bribing hospitals to hasten death qualifies as a “scare story.” In that case, I’ll give them credit for being consistent, but only if the political elite has to live (or, in this case, die) by the same set of rules.

For some reason, though, I don’t think the Paul Krugmans, David Camerons, and Gordon Browns or the world will be subjected to the same treatment as the rest of us peasants.

And that’s also an issue with Obamacare. When push comes to shove, I strongly suspect the politically well connected somehow will avoid any of the headaches that are bound to result from that costly legislation.

If rationing is going to happen, I’d rather it be the result of markets rather than connections.

P.S. Other horror stories about the UK health system can be perused here, here, here, herehereherehereherehereherehere, here and here.

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The half-joking response to the question in the title of this post is that policymakers should look at what’s happening in poorly run jurisdictions such as California, France, Illinois, and Greece – and then do just the opposite.

In other words, steer clear of punitive class-warfare tax rates and make sure to control the burden of government spending.

But there’s an even simpler rule that is very correlated with good fiscal policy, at least at the state level. Governments should not impose income taxes.

If you look at this map from the Tax Foundation, you’ll notice that there is a heavy overlap between the 10 states with the lowest overall tax burdens and the 9 states (Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wyoming) that don’t have income taxes.

More specifically, 7 of the non-income tax states are among the 10 states with the lowest tax burdens. Only Florida and Washington are outside the top 10.

It’s also worth noting that some of the states with the most “progressive” income tax systems are well represented on the list of the 10-worst states – including California, New York, New Jersey, Maine, and Rhode Island.

One important implication of this data is that proponents of limited government should never give politicians a new source of revenue, which is why fighting the value-added tax is one of my main priorities (and why advocates of small government should be worried not just about Obama winning re-election, but also worried about Romney winning).

P.S. New Hampshire and Tennessee impose income taxes on certain forms of capital income, so they are only probationary and tenuous members of the no-income-tax club.

P.P.S. Politicians from Illinois will probably complain that they didn’t make the 10-worst list, but they shouldn’t be too worried. The Tax Foundation was looking at 2010 data and Illinois almost surely will be closer to the bottom when the 2011 data gets released and includes the impact of the midnight, end-of-session, post-2010 election tax hike imposed by the state’s kleptocrat politicians.

P.P.P.S. For a humorous – but accurate – perspective on the VAT, take a look at these clever cartoons (here, here, and here).

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I’ve shared BIS and OECD data showing that the United States has a bigger long-run fiscal burden than Europe.

That’s a bit of a strained comparison since “Europe” includes fiscally responsible countries such as Switzerland and Estonia, but also soon-to-be failed states such as Greece and France.

But the one common theme, as I explain in this interview for Fox Business News, is that nations get in trouble because they violate Mitchell’s Golden Rule. In other words, the burden of government spending climbs faster than the private sector’s ability to finance it.

It was almost an afterthought, but I also made a very important point about the risks of using bad monetary policy to finance government spending.

Sort of the same story told more humorously by this special Ben Bernanke toilet paper. Or this video from Bernanke’s childhood.

Which is quite a shame since paper money in the western world was a creation of the private sector and only became a vehicle for bad policy once it was monopolized by the state.

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You have to give President Obama credit for chutzpah. He pushed through a faux stimulus in his first year and Obamacare in his second year, both of which significantly increased the burden of government spending.

In the past two years, he’s basically punted, proposing budgets that are so laughably unserious that they received zero votes in both the House and Senate. Including zero votes from Democrats.

But now he wants us to believe he favors a moderate-sounding deal that supposedly would reduce spending by $2.50 for every $1 of tax hikes.

This is utter fantasy and even leftists admit the President is engaging in gimmickry far beyond the smoke-and-mirrors chicanery that you normally find in Washington. Here’s some of what Reason’s Peter Suderman wrote about the topic.

President Obama described what he thought were the prospects for a big budget deal in the early part of a potential second term. “It will probably be messy,” he said. “It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.” The president went on to suggest that such a deal could help the federal government start digging its way out of the deep debt hole it’s currently in. “And we can easily meet — ‘easily’ is the wrong word — we can credibly meet the target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction…” Here’s the thing. That $4 trillion debt plan he’s offered so far? It doesn’t actually reduce deficits by $4 trillion. That’s because it’s packed with budget savings gimmicks. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) explains: “To reach his $4.3 trillion in savings through 2021, the President’s budget counts $1.6 trillion (excluding interest) of already-enacted savings…” This isn’t a lonely opinion either. As The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler wrote in September, “virtually no serious budget analyst” accepts the president’s $4 trillion deficit reduction figure. …What about the $2 trillion in deficit reduction the plan can claim to put on the scoreboard? It comes almost entirely tax increases. As James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute shows, the plan would result in about $1.735 trillion in tax hikes — and just $230 billion in spending cuts, the vast majority of which are cuts to health care provider reimbursements of dubious long-term value. That’s Obama’s idea of a grand bargain. Not $4 trillion in deficit reduction weighted toward spending cuts, but $2 trillion worth deficit reduction produced almost entirely by tax hikes.

The last part is the key. A $2 trillion package that is almost 87 percent tax hikes.

But I think Peter is being too kind, because even the changes in reimbursement rates for health care providers (which, as Peter notes, almost surely will evaporate in a very short period of time) are simply reductions in increases. In other words, spending will still grow, just not as fast as previously planned. In other words, the spending cuts are only cuts if you accept dishonest Washington terminology.

Something else that’s worth noting is that Obama pretends to embrace the Bowles-Simpson proposal, but we need to do some Clintonian parsing of what he actually said. The President carefully states that he wants to meet the “target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established.” But that simply means a $4 trillion number, not the specifics of the Bowles-Simpson plan.

This is important because the Bowles-Simpson plan is a bad place to start, largely because it dramatically increases the double-tax burden on income that is saved and invested and it fails to include real entitlement reform.

Well, Obama clearly is signally that he wants to move this bad plan even further to the left, most notably with class-warfare increases in top tax rates, which is contrary to one of the few good features in the Bowles-Simpson plan.

If Obama is re-elected, GOPers should not get seduced into a phony budget summit that invariably would produce a bad plan. It’s not simply that I’m against higher taxes. It’s that I don’t want to give the clowns and crooks in Washington even more of our money when we won’t get any reforms that might justify that sacrifice.

It’s better to do nothing than it is to make a bad situation even worse.

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I’m still holding to my prediction of a narrow 271-267 victory for President Obama, but he’s clearly lost momentum.

“Hey Obama, you can’t do it”

Even in Hollywood.

I wrote a few months ago about Jon Lovitz rejecting the President’s class-warfare fiscal policy.Then he got mocked by Clint Eastwood, leading to a series of empty chair jokes (see herehere and here).

Now we see Rob Schneider turning against Obama, even though he is a self-professed liberal. Here are the details from The Blaze.

Actor and comedian Rob Schneider declared that he’s “come around” and will not be voting to give “crappy” President Barack Obama a second term. The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member was on the Atlanta-based “Regular Guys” radio show Friday and said that though he is a liberal and a Democrat, he will not vote for Obama. “If Obama gets back in there, all those people that are already entrenched in that system of bureaucracy are going to be more entrenched, so I’m for kicking them out and starting over,” Schneider said. “I’ve come around to this. As a liberal, as a Democrat, there is no way that I can support Obama for a second term.”

But my Republican friends shouldn’t get too excited. Obama still has overwhelming support from the limousine liberals in Hollywood.

When you’re sufficiently rich, the difference between 1 percent growth and 3 percent doesn’t really have much of an impact on your personal situation. It’s the rest of us peasants who need the growth and prosperity made possible by free markets and limited government.

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About one year ago, I took an online quiz put together by the folks at Reason and discovered that Ron Paul was closest to my views.

Not that I was terribly surprised, though I confess that I don’t remember if Gary Johnson was part of the quiz. And, if so, whether there were any differences between him and Ron Paul.

Speaking of Gary Johnson, I just took a quiz at the ISideWith website and it tells me that Gary Johnson shares 97 percent of my views.

That’s not a big shock, but I was surprised that the poll says I’m more Republican than Libertarian.

Methinks the people who put together the poll must be high on crystal meth. Yes, I’m probably a bit more conservative than the average libertarian on issues like terrorism and immigration, but I’m a far, far stronger advocate of limited government than the average GOPer.

But I gather the poll probably matches your views with the rhetoric of various candidates and parties, not their actual records.

And the gap between Republican rhetoric and Republican performance probably explains why just about every prominent libertarian is ignoring the GOP and voting for Gary Johnson, according to this survey by Reason. Unless, of course, they think voting is a waste of time.

P.S. In the for-what-it’s-worth department, the ISideWith people report that Gary Johnson’s views attract majority or plurality support from voters in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Nevada.

P.P.S. Mitt Romney’s views don’t have majority support in any state.

P.P.P.S. Since the United States is supposed to be a constitutional republic rather than a majoritarian democracy, I don’t like any group of voters having the power to muck up my life.

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I’ve repeatedly expressed my concerns that Romney would be another Bush, expanding the burden of government spending and failing to engage in desperately needed entitlement reform.

I’ve even shared some R-rated anti-Romney humor, so folks know I’m not a knee-jerk Republican.

But I have to confess that this new global poll is the most persuasive pro-Romney information that I’ve seen. Simply stated, if the nation that elected an idiot like Hollande overwhelmingly supports Obama, then maybe the alternative is acceptable.

On the other hand, I’m mystified why the Aussies are so in the tank for Obama. I thought they were rather sensible, based on their good economic reforms.

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I never thought I’d be quoting Chuck Norris about Obama’s tax policy, but he has a nice rant that includes a collection of the President’s more offensive statements.

Sort of akin to the list I put together in this post (which also includes some preposterous statements by Secretary of State Clinton).

Here is the key part of Norris’ recent Townhall column.

Obama claims to support free enterprise, self-reliance and individual initiative, but his actions say otherwise. He has forced on America a federal takeover of health care, increased oppressive regulation of private business and sustained massive government spending, and he has expanded our nation’s welfare rolls by 32 percent. He even attacks corporations while accepting campaign funds from the same ventures he condemns. (Ironically, Obama has accepted nearly $120,000 from Bain Capital executives, is the top recipient of funds from BP, has investments in Chinese companies and through a Cayman Islands trust, and staffed his own Cabinet with wealthy CEOs.) In 2008, Obama famously told Joe the Plumber of his plans to confiscate money from small businesses: “It’s not that I want to punish your success; I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you — that they’ve got a chance at success, too. … I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” In 2010, he arrogantly remarked, “I do think at a certain point, you’ve made enough money.” In July, Obama attacked business again, saying, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” (As I explained in an earlier column, that “somebody” to whom Obama referred was in fact the federal government.) In other acts of class warfare, the president embraced the anarchist Occupy movement, pitted labor unions that heavily fund his campaign against the private sector and blatantly condemned capitalism. Meanwhile, Obama likes to say his tax increases would affect only “millionaires” and “billionaires,” but the actual hikes would hit couples with incomes of $250,000 or higher.

The final point about disingenuous use of the English language seems trivial, but shouldn’t. We’re so used to politicians lying that we give them a pass for medium-level dishonesty.

Anyhow, the Chuck Norris column is a good companion to my video on class warfare.

Last but not least, allow me to call your attention to my effort to give the President a remedial lesson about class warfare and the Laffer Curve.

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I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, for reasons explained in this post.

So I’ve never paid the slightest attention to rumors that Obama didn’t attend Columbia University.

But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying some good humor about the topic, such as this mock transcript of Obama’s college years.

And now we have more tongue-in-cheek proof of his

If you like Eastwoodian empty-chair jokes, you can see more of them here and here.

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Since I’ve been in Washington from more than 25 years, it takes something really remarkable to shock me. But when I read today that federal bureaucrats are supposedly underpaid, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, I thought somebody had sent me an article from the Onion.

But then I saw that the assertion of underpaid bureaucrats was put together by the stooges at the Federal Salary Council, a body controlled by government employee unions.

Here are some excerpts from a Federal News Radio report about their preposterous claim.

The gap in pay between federal employees and private-sector workers has jumped 8 percentage points since last year, according to new data presented at a Federal Salary Council meeting Friday. On average, federal employees earn 34 percent less than their private-sector counterparts, according to the council’s analysis. The pay gap, which is calculated using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on pay in 34 locality pay areas, was 26 percent last year. The council, which is made up of labor representatives and pay experts, makes recommendations on federal pay to the President’s Pay Agent.

But the article was fair in that it cited some contrary data.

A Congressional Budget Office study released in January found, overall, federal employees actually earn about 2 percent more in wages compared to private-sector workers, with wider differences based on education level. But a June 2011 report from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, indicated government pay outstripped private-sector pay by 14 percent.

Though the author of the article should have cited the work of my colleague Chris Edwards, who has revealed that federal bureaucrats get twice the level of compensation as people in the economy’s productive sector when you include the value of fringe benefits.

Here’s my video on the topic, which is filled with factoids.

But if you want the single piece of evidence that completely debunks the silly assertion that bureaucrats are underpaid, just go to Table 4 of this Department of Labor release. You’ll find the voluntary quit rate for different parts of the workforce.

As you can see from the chart, people in the private sector are more than three times more likely to quit their jobs.

Now ask yourself a simple question: Are people more likely to quit jobs when they’re underpaid or overpaid?

But that shouldn’t be the end of the discussion. The more important question is whether most federal bureaucrats should even have jobs. I’m mostly concerned about the fact that we have useless bureaucracies such as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The fact that the bureaucrats are overpaid at these agencies is merely adding insult to injury. It’s the size of government that we should worry about, period.

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I’ve shared some rather amusing jabs at libertarians.

So it’s only fair that I give libertarians a chance to punch back. Here’s a very clever poster put together by the Libertarian Party.

Sort of reminds me of this cartoon mocking American hippies.

Or perhaps we can find a good real-world example in Greece, where the supposedly anti-government riots are actually protests by overpaid bureaucrats demanding more government.

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Since I’ve already semi-admitted to criminal behavior in my youth, it’s time for another confession.

I was recently watching football with a fraternity brother who mentioned that he found some old newspaper clippings about a certain…um…incident from way back in 1979.

Here’s the story from the local newspaper. Since I openly admitted my role in the “attack” and mentioned the danger of government intervention, I like to think that this is evidence that I was genetically libertarian and precociously self-aware.

I realize that there are alternative hypotheses, involving words like “jerk” and “troublemaker,” but surely that couldn’t be the correct explanation.

And here’s what the student newspaper wrote about the episode.

It’s been so long that I don’t remember suffering any repercussions. From reading the articles, I gather the leftists made a complaint to the Interfraternity Council. I’d like to say I prevailed in a knock-down, drag-out fight with the establishment, culminating in an inspirational speech akin to the Otter scene in Animal House.

But back in those days, the complaint was probably placed in the circular file.

Nowadays, I would probably get suspended or expelled – even though all I did was march with a sign for about 100 yards.

Though I didn’t get official permission to participate in the parade from the university bureaucracy. Fortunately, the statute of limitations on that reckless and dangerous offense presumably has expired.

P.S. On the specific issue of the Equal Rights Amendment, the actual language of the proposal wasn’t offensive, but I greatly feared what it would mean once leftist judges decided it gave them carte blanche to start imposing quotas, instituting comparable worth, and otherwise interfering with the right of private contract.

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I showed the winner of the debate the other day.

Now it’s time to show the loser. Or, to be more precise, here’s a couple who would be among the losers if they were willing to be victimized.

Now time for a caveat. if the election somehow results in genuine entitlement reform, I will gladly advise this couple to return.

P.S. The cartoon is humorous, but there is a serious point to be made about the fight-or-flight response to bad government policy. I’m obviously committed to fighting for liberty, but I don’t blame people who move to other nations in search of more freedom.

But Americans have to do more than simply move since the United States has the worst worldwide tax system of all nations. To escape the greedy and grasping claws of the IRS, they have to disengage with the U.S. government, either by legally giving up citizenship or by dropping off the grid.

I’ve met probably more than 100 Americans in about a dozen nations who have felt compelled to exercise one of these options, sometimes known as “going Galt.” Usually they choose the latter, which generally requires them to first move all their assets out of America and to make sure those assets are managed by non-U.S. firms.

P.P.S. There are also statists who sometime seek to leave America when they disapprove of the government. At least that’s the implication of this humorous report about leftists trying to escape after the 2010 elections.

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Obama has repeated once again that he will throw the nation off the fiscal cliff if Republicans don’t capitulate to his demands for class-warfare tax hikes.

This is a serious topic worthy of weighty analysis, but I don’t really have anything to add to what I’ve written before – particularly with regard to the threat of a Bowles-Simpson package of real tax hikes and make-believe spending cuts.

But I did see this new cartoon, which is funny in part because it’s a good follow-up to this great Ramirez cartoon.

Click here, by the way, if you want more serious analysis of this issue (as well as another good fiscal cliff cartoon).

And if you want to know the right approach, that’s simple. Take the sequester and then tell Obama that no tax cuts get extended unless all tax cuts get extended.

Republicans managed to win in 2010 with that position, even though they didn’t control the House and only had 41 seats in the Senate, so surely they can prevail again now that they have much more power.

Assuming, of course, that they actually want to reduce the burden of government spending.

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I’m not a fan of the American healthcare system. It suffers from huge inefficiencies because of problems such as third-party payer, which is caused by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid along with a system of tax code-driven over-insurance in the supposedly private sector.

But regardless of how much I grouse about the damage government causes in the United States, I can say with considerable confidence that the government-run system in the United Kingdom has even larger problems.

Here are some of the shocking details from a report in the UK-based Daily Mail.

Patients having major surgery in NHS hospitals face a much higher risk of dying than those in America, research has revealed. Doctors found that people who have treatment here are four times more likely to die than US citizens undergoing similar operations. The most seriously ill NHS patients were seven times more likely to die than their American counterparts. Experts blame the British fatality figures on a shortage of specialists and lack of intensive care beds for post-operative recovery. They also suggest that long waiting lists mean diseases are more advanced before they are treated. Researchers from University College London and Columbia University, in New York, studied 1,000 surgery patients at the Mount Sinai Hospital, Manhattan, and compared them to nearly 1,100 people who had similar operations at the Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Portsmouth. The results showed that just under ten per cent of British patients died in hospital afterwards compared to 2.5 per cent in America. Among the most seriously ill cases there was a seven-fold difference in the death rates.

Here are some additional findings.

Professor Monty Mythen, head of anaesthesia at University College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “In America, after surgery, everyone would go into a critical care bed in a highly-monitored environment. That doesn’t happen routinely in the UK. …Prof Mythen said waiting lists in the NHS would “put patients at greater risk”. He added: “We would be suspicious that the diseases would be more advanced simply because the waiting lists (in the UK) are longer.”

Since I’m in London right now, I guess the moral of the story is to stay healthy.

On a slightly more serious note, I wish I had this story in front of me when I was guest-hosting Larry Kudow’s show a couple of years ago and my lefty British co-host got all agitated when I said the British system was worse for patients.

I think I saw this guy at the Paddington tube station this morning

And on a completely serious note, the point of this post is not to say the United States has a perfect system. I hope that’s obvious from my opening paragraph. And nor am I asserting that the UK system is universally bad. In my limited understanding, British doctors and nurses do a fairly good job with basic medicine and emergency medicine.

But any system is likely to deteriorate and suffer adverse effects as government takes a larger role. I’ve had fun over the past few years with anecdotal horror stories about government-run healthcare in the United Kingdom. But as you can see from all the links in this post, I sometimes share those just for the enjoyment of mocking Paul Krugman.

The academic study linked above is far more important if you want to assess the damage of giving politicians and bureaucrats even more control over healthcare.

That’s actually a good rule for just about everything. As shown in this poster, if you ever think the answer is more government, you’ve asked the wrong question.

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People in the political world say that President Obama threw Secretary of State Clinton under the bus in an attempt to protect himself from political fallout from Libya.

I don’t follow those issues, so I can’t comment about the veracity of that charge, but I find it very interesting that some conservatives are urging Mitt Romney to throw former President George W. Bush under the bus.

More specifically, they’re urging him to condemn Bush’s statism and to attack Obama for continuing Bush’s failed policies.

Since I’ve attacked Bush for expanding the burden of government spending and reducing economic freedom, this resonates with me.

Phil Kerpen of American Commitment nails the issue in a column for Fox News.

Romney’s biggest missed opportunity in the second debate wasn’t on Libya…he should have connected the dots between Obama and Bush to illustrate the accurate point that on the most significant dimensions of economic policy, Obama has accelerated Bush’s policy errors rather than reversing them. In the crucible of the 2008 financial crisis, President Bush famously remarked that “I chucked aside my free-market principles .” He was referring to TARP, his infamous big bank bailout. Obama supported the bill and voted for it. …On government spending, it’s the same story. Bush racked up one of the most disastrous records of out-of-control spending and debt the country had ever seen. Every aspect of the federal budget jumped under Bush. …Obama came in and continued spending recklessly. Bush’s $152 billion stimulus bill failed and so did Obama’s $821 billion stimulus bill. Bush flushed $25 billion in bailout funds to Chrysler and General Motors, and Obama added another $20 billion before finally recognizing that the companies would inevitably file for bankruptcy. All of the pre-bankruptcy bailout dollars were lost. …On the biggest economic policy questions, the Bush/Geithner/Bernanke approach is almost indistinguishable from the Obama/Geithner/Bernanke approach. It hasn’t worked. Obama’s failed policies of the present are all too similar to Bush’s failed policies of the past.

Amen. Bush was a statist, period.

Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute made similar points in an article for the Weekly Standard.

Obama’s claim that Bush’s policies caused the recession resonates with American voters. Almost four years after George W. Bush left office, polls show the American people continue to blame him—more than Obama—for the recession that created today’s dismal economic conditions. Throughout the fall and in their debates, it’s a sure thing that Obama will continue to argue that Romney is just another George W. Bush. How can Romney respond? …Romney should not deny Bush’s error. Although Clinton began the process of forcing low mortgage underwriting standards, Bush continued and enhanced it. Instead, Romney should point out that the government should never have been in the housing finance business, and that he will eliminate Fannie and Freddie to restore a functioning housing market—something Obama has failed to do in almost four years.

But here’s where I disagree with Kerpen and Wallison, or at least where I would add a big caveat to their analysis. What makes them think that Romney would be any different that Bush or Obama?

This post highlights a few of Romney’s policies that would undermine free markets and expand the public sector.

If all one cares about is whether politicians have an “R” or a “D” after their names, then my concerns don’t matter.

But if you’re actually interested in making America a better place, then policy matters a lot.

I’ll close with a final point. I have no idea whether Romney is a closet statist or a closet Reaganite. All I’m saying is that, if Romney wins, people who value limited government and freedom should begin working on November 7 to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent Romney from becoming another RINO such as Bush or Nixon.

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On rare occasions, when I get really irked, I complain about media bias. Examples include this AP story on poverty, the Brian Ross Tea Party slur, this example of implicit bias by USA Today, and a Reuters report on job creation and so-called stimulus.

On other occasions, though, you stumble upon a news report or column that is ignorant beyond belief and you have to assume that the person has transcended ordinary bias and belongs in a special category.

The Washington Post seems to specialize in this kind of über-mistake. It was a Post reporter, after all, who wrote last year about a GOP plan to “slash” spending when timid GOPers were merely trying to trim 0.15 percent from the growth of federal spending. Not 15 percent. Not 1.5 percent. A mere $6 billion out of a bloated federal budget of $3,800,000,000,000.

And it was the Washington Post that decided to refer to a certain country as fiscally conservative. Was the reporter writing about Hong Kong or Singapore, the two jurisdictions with the smallest government and freest markets? Nope. Was the reporter referring to Switzerland, with its strong human rights policy on financial privacy, or Australia, with its personal retirement accounts? Nope, the reporter wrote about “fiscally conservative Germany.”

I guess the folks at the New York Times were feeling left out, because our latest example comes from that newspaper. Someone named Chrystia Freeland wrote an article about income inequality, making some decent points about cronyism, but also reflexively regurgitating talking points on class-warfare tax policy. What caught my eye, though, was this incredible assertion about government funding of education.

Educational attainment, which created the American middle class, is no longer rising. The super-elite lavishes unlimited resources on its children, while public schools are starved of funding. …elite education is increasingly available only to those already at the top. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama enrolled their daughters in an exclusive private school; I’ve done the same with mine.

So “public schools are starved of funding”? That’s a strong statement. It implies very deep reductions in the amount of money being diverted from taxpayers to the government schools. So where are the numbers?

You won’t be surprised to learn that Ms. Freeland doesn’t offer any evidence. And there’s a good reason for that. As show in this chart, government spending on education has skyrocketed in recent years.

This data isn’t adjusted for inflation or population, but you can peruse this amazing chart put together by one of Cato’s education experts to see that per-pupil spending has skyrocketed even after adjusting for inflation.

In other words, Ms. Freeland has no clue what she’s talking about. Or, to be fair, she made a giant-sized mistake, perhaps because she’s lives in a statist bubble and blindly assumes that left-wing politicians tell the truth.

Though I do want to giver her credit. She acknowledges that Obama and Clinton both decided to save their kids from a failed government-run school system, thus exposing some hypocrisy on the left. So it’s quite possible that she wanted to write a fair piece, but simply had a few major blind spots.

And it goes without saying that none of the editors or (non-existent?) fact checkers at the New York Times knew enough or cared enough to catch a huge blunder.

P.S. You can enjoy some cartoons about media bias here, here, and here, with the last one being my favorite.

P.P.S. Yes, I know Paul Krugman writes at the New York Times and sometimes seems to specialize in big mistakes. But he’s explicitly an opinion writer, so readers are forewarned to expect a certain point of view.

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Last month, I shared some very amusing images and signs mocking the concept of gun-free zones.

A couple of days later, I followed up with two amusing posters about the pro-gun control mindset.

Well, there seems to be a never-ending supply of good material supporting the Second Amendment. Let’s start with this set of dueling signs. You may notice a common theme between the thinking of the guy on the right and the thinking of the guy who owns this vehicle.

What’s the opposite of a gun-free zone? Well, it’s a place that thugs and crazies avoid when deciding to go on a killing spree.

Last but not least, ask yourself what you would prefer if one of your kids was trapped in a building with a nutcase. I’ll take the option on the top of this image.

Very similar to the message in these two signs and the upper image in this post.

To wrap things up, here’s my favorite poster on gun control, and here’s my favorite video on the Second Amendment.

P.S. I was disappointed but not surprised by Obama’s rabid response and Romney’s milquetoast response to the question about “assault weapons” in the last debate. John Lott is the go-to guy on that issue, as you can from this analysis.

P.P.S. People also like this powerpoint presentation on the 2nd Amendment. Feel free to share all this material.

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Part of my job at the Cato Institute is to educate people about free markets and fiscal policy.

In some cases, that means providing information and analysis to those already sympathetic to limited government. There are many people who like the idea of lower tax burdens, for instance, but they may not have given much thought to the interaction of tax rates, taxable income, and tax revenue, so that’s why I put together my Laffer Curve tutorial and why I wrote about this amazing data from the Reagan tax cuts.

The harder part of my job is reaching people with statist instincts. I wrote a post last week mocking an absurd example of Swedish egalitarianism, but I included some serious thoughts about why some people oppose liberty. How do I reach those people, especially when there’s some very interesting evidence showing fundamental differences in how liberals, conservatives, and libertarians see the world?

I don’t have a single answer to that question. Sometimes I use the utilitarian approach and show how capitalist nations outperform statist nations, as you can see in this comparison of North Korea and South Korea, and this post comparing Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela.

In other cases, I try a philosophical approach, one example of which is this video arguing against majoritarianism.

And sometimes I use horrifying anecdotes in hopes that people will realize the risks of unconstrained government.

But perhaps the folks at the Fund for American Studies have discovered a good way of educating statists. Take a look at this clever video.

P.S. Here’s another video from TFAS that uses an unusual tactic to get people to think about the value of capitalism and free markets.

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Partisans for both Obama and Romney are arguing about who won the debate.

But having listened to all the debates so far, I think this guy has been the clear winner.

With the exception of Romney saying he wants to defund Big Bird and the rest of the moochers at PBS, I don’t think either candidate has breathed a word about the need to reduce the burden of government spending.

And because neither candidate seems serious about following Mitchell’s Golden Rule, their assertions about middle-class tax relief almost surely are insincere.

P.S. Though, to give Obama credit, I think he is completely serious about wanting to impose class-warfare tax hikes.

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I’m not talking about secession in the United States, where the issue is linked to the ugliness of slavery (though at least Walter Williams can write about the issue without the risk of being accused of closet racism).

But what about Europe? I have a hard time understanding why nations on the other side of the Atlantic should not be allowed to split up if there are fundamental differences between regions. Who can be against the concept of self-determination?

Heck, tiny Liechtenstein explicitly gives villages the right to secede if two-thirds of voters agree. Shouldn’t people in other nations have the same freedom?

This is not just a hypothetical issue. Secession has become hot in several countries, with Catalonia threatening to leave Spain and Scotland threatening to leave the United Kingdom.

But because of recent election results, Belgium may be the country where an internal divorce is most likely. Here are some excerpts from a report in the UK-based Financial Times.

Flemish nationalists made sweeping gains across northern Belgium in local elections on Sunday, a success that will bolster separatists’ hopes for a break-up of the country. Bart De Wever, leader of the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), is set to become mayor of the northern city of Antwerp, Belgium’s economic heartland, after his party emerged as the largest one, ending about 90 years of socialist rule. …The strong result recorded by the Flemish nationalist is likely to have an impact across Europe, where the sovereign debt crisis, which has seen rich countries bail out poor ones, has revived separatist sentiment throughout the continent. Flanders, which is the most economically prosperous region of Belgium, has long resented financing the ailing economy of French-speaking Wallonia, and Sunday’s victory will strengthen its demand for self-rule. Lieven De Winter, a political scientist at Université Catholique de Louvain, said that Mr De Wever’s victory was a clear step forward for separatists who had long been campaigning for secession from the southern part of the country.

Purely as a matter of political drama, this is an interesting development. We saw the peaceful split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia about 20 years ago. But we also saw a very painful breakup of Yugoslavia shortly thereafter.

Belgium’s divorce, if it happened, would be tranquil. But it would still be remarkable, particularly since it might encourage peaceful separatist movements in other regions of other nations.

I think this would be a welcome development for reasons I wrote about last month. Simply stated, the cause of liberty is best advanced by having a a large number of competing jurisdictions.

I’ve opined about this issue many times, usually from a fiscal policy perspective, explaining that governments are less likely to be oppressive when they know that people (or their money) can cross national borders.

Belgium definitely could use a big dose of economic liberalization. The burden of government spending is enormous, consuming 53.5 percent of economic output – worse than all other European nations besides Denmark, France, and Finland. The top tax rate on personal income is a crippling 53.7 percent, second only the Sweden. And with a 34 percent rate, the corporate tax rate is very uncompetitive, behind only France.

Sadly, there’s little chance of reform under the status quo since the people in Wallonia view high tax rates as a tool for extracting money from their neighbors in Flanders. But if Belgium split up, it’s quite likely that both new nations would adopt better policy as a signal to international investors and entrepreneurs. Or maybe the new nations would implement better policy as part of a friendly rivalry with each other.

So three cheers for peaceful secession and divorce in Belgium. At least we know things can’t get worse.

P.S. Brussels is the capital of Belgium, but it is also the capital of the European Union. Don’t be surprised if it becomes some sort of independent federal city if Flanders and Wallonia become independent. Sort of like Washington, but worse. Why worse? Because even though Washington is akin to a city of parasites feasting off the productive energy of the rest of America, Brussels and the European Union are an even more odious cesspool of harmonization, bureaucratization, and centralization, richly deserving of attacks from right, left, and center.

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