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Archive for December 8th, 2012

A regular feature on this blog is the government-stupidity contest between bureaucrats and politicians from the United States and the United Kingdom.

You can click here to peruse some of the most outrageous examples, including a couple of contestants from the private sector.

This has been a nip-and-tuck race for a long time, but the United Kingdom recently jumped into the lead with two jaw-dropping examples of moronic government behavior.

First, British bureaucrats took some kids away from their foster family because the parents didn’t believe in unlimited immigration, and, second, the U.K. government created a subsidy program that was so convoluted that not one single household in the entire country signed up for the goodies.

You know you’ve reached a special level of incompetence when a government is so bloody stupid that it can’t even give away money.

I was beginning to think the United States was doomed to also-ran status in this race.

But I should have known better. When it comes to finding creative ways to piss away other people’s money and make bone-headed choices, American politicians and bureaucrats are ready to meet the challenge.

This isn’t empty patriotism on my part. For proof, check out this Washington Examiner story about the federal government sending bureaucrats to a posh, $1,000-per-person conference, where they learned…I’m not making this up…how to respond to zombie attacks.

“Give…me…your…wallet”

When zombies attack, the Department of Homeland Security will be prepared. …money from the DHS’s Urban Areas Security Initiative went to buy snow cone machines in Michigan. Places like Fargo, N.D., and Keene, N.H., now have armored vehicles at their disposal, as do many other small towns. Keene said the vehicle was needed to protect its annual Pumpkin Festival. Arizona used $90,000 in DHS funding to install a video monitoring system at the Peoria Sports Complex, because apparently it is in the taxpayers’ interest to monitor the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres during spring training. …But if you think that’s waste, you need to know about the extraordinary training that the DHS was able to provide to first responders this year. They made attendance at the HALO Corp.’s 2012 Counter-Terrorism Summit an allowable expense for federal grant money. Yes, the California-based security company’s five-day event was held at a posh island resort and spa just outside of San Diego and cost $1,000 per person to attend, but that’s not even the best part. The showpiece event of the summit made was a live war game of a zombie apocalypse, complete with 40 actors in full zombie makeup as well as “state-of-the-art structure, pyrotechnic battlefield effects, medical special effects, vehicles and blank-firing weapons” according to a promotional video by HALO President Brad Barker. This enabled first responders to participate in a real-life “Dawn of the Dead” scenario and to know precisely what to do when their neighbors start trying to eat their human flesh.

As the Boy Scouts say, it’s best to “be prepared.” And thanks to federal tax dollars, the Department of Homeland Security is ready to defend us from a zombie attack.

I’m basically at a loss for words. Is anybody minding the store back in DC?

“Must…waste…more…money”

Why did this federal contractor think this was a good idea? Why did the Department of Homeland Security think it should be an allowable expense? Why did bureaucrats think it was a worthwhile way of spending their time?

There are no good answers – other than the fact that folks are far more likely to be frivolous and wasteful when they’re spending other people’s money. And that applies to the other examples cited in the excerpt above.

An armored vehicle to protect a pumpkin festival?!? If the taxpayers of Keene, NH, actually think the Canadians are about to sneak over the border and swipe some pumpkins, they should kick in a few bucks and hire an extra cop.

But so long as the kleptomaniacs in Washington are giving away our money, local governments have every reason to dream up ridiculous wish-lists.

No wonder the burden of government spending has reached record levels.

P.S. Don’t forget that the Department of Homeland Security was created during the Bush years. Another black mark on that statist period.

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I’ve been very critical of Obama’s class-warfare ideology because it leads to bad fiscal policy. But perhaps it is time to give some attention to other arguments against high tax rates.

Robert Samuelson, a columnist for the Washington Post, has a very important insight about tax rates and sleaze in Washington.

His column is mostly about Obama’s anti-tax reform agenda, but it includes this very important passage.

…many politicians support tax breaks for favored groups (the elderly, the poor, small business) and causes (homeownership, attending college, “green” industries). This enhances their power. The man who really pronounced the death sentence for the Tax Reform Act of 1986 was Bill Clinton, who increased the top rate to 39.6 percent rather than broadening the base. As the top rate rose, so did the value of generating new tax breaks. Ironically, many of the people who complain the loudest about Washington influence-peddling and lobbying are the same people who support higher tax rates, which stimulate more influence-peddling and lobbying.

The last sentence is key. Higher tax rates are good news for the politicians, interest groups, bureaucrats, and lobbyists that dominate Washington.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s pretend we have a modest tax rate of 20 percent. Now imagine you are part of an industry with $200 million in profits and you want a special tax break. How much are you willing to pay to get that loophole?

Well, with a 20 percent tax, the most you can save (assuming the loophole is huge and you wipe out all your tax liability) is $40 million.

So how much would you spend on lobbyists, campaign contributions, etc, in order to get that loophole? That’s hard to answer, because it would require some estimate of the probability of success. But one thing we can safely assume is that the industry would never spend more than $40 million.

But let’s now assume you live in a world with 50 percent tax rates. Does that change the incentive for influence peddling in Washington? Of course it does. The industry’s tax bill is now $100 million, so it now has an incentive to spend up to that amount to get special treatment.

So now let’s consider a couple of additional hypothetical questions.

  • First, imagine you’re a lobbyist. Do you think you will get more business if tax rates are high, or if tax rates are low?
  • Second, imagine you are a politician. Do you think you will get more campaign contributions if tax rates are high, or if tax rates are low?

The answers are obvious, and so are the implications. Yes, higher tax rates are bad for growth and competitiveness. And, yes, they are unfair and discriminatory.

But they also foment and encourage sleaze in D.C., and that’s something that honest leftists should hate as much as the rest of us.

For more information, here’s my video on the link between big government and corruption, including a section on how a loophole-ridden tax system benefits Washington insiders.

And here’s the video on the flat tax, which explains why low tax rates are good for economic performance.

Both videos have good information (at least I like to think), but kudos to Samuelson for drawing an important link between high tax rates and corruption.

P.S. Robert Samuelson is hard to pin down on the philosophical spectrum. He’s written very good columns denouncing Obama’s manipulation of welfare statistics and criticizing the President’s flirtation with the value-added tax. But he’s also had a couple of columns where he identifies a very real problem, but fails to reach the right conclusion, including this piece that should have been an argument for Austrian economics and this piece on health care inefficiency that should have pinned the blame on third-party payer.

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