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Posts Tagged ‘Big business’

The Export-Import Bank is noxiously corrupt example of crony capitalism.

It never should have been created. But that’s something we could say about most government programs.

So the real question is how to reverse the damage.

If we reform a big program such as Medicare, you can’t end it overnight. You have to deal with the reality that millions of people have made plans based on government policies. And even if those policies are wrong, you can’t pull the rug out from folks who did nothing wrong.

So it’s important to put in place appropriate and fair transitions when reforming a major program.

But that’s not an issue with the Export-Import Bank. It provides undeserved subsidies to big companies. Those big companies will be just fine without having their snouts in the public trough. The right thing to do, from both a moral and economic perspective, is to shut it down immediately.

Indeed, this should be a test as to whether supposedly pro-taxpayer politicians in Washington understand the critical difference between being pro-business and being pro-market.

But what about the argument that the Export-Import Bank is somehow a win-win for the American economy? I tend to automatically dismiss such claims for the simple reason that all sorts of companies in the private sector would do what the Ex-Im Bank is doing if it really was a money maker.

But with the issue heating up, it would be a good idea to examine this claim more closely. Fortunately, Matt Mitchell (no relation) of the Mercatus Center does an excellent job of explaining the dodgy economics of the Ex-Im Bank is this short video.

In some sense, Matt is channeling Frederic Bastiat, the great French thinker who said that a good economist looks at both direct and indirect consequences of policies (the “seen” and the “unseen”).

Matt shows that the negative indirect impact of the Ex-Im Bank is far larger than any putative benefits generated by handouts to politically well-connected firms.

Just like bailouts, s0-called stimulus, and green-energy programs all look bad when you examine all the costs and benefits.

For more information, I also recommend this superb video on why cronyism is so corrosive.

And if you want a humorous analysis, scroll to the bottom of this post and see what the Kronies have to say about the Ex-Im Bank.

Or just enjoy this Glenn Foden cartoon.

P.S. I shared six jaw-dropping examples of left-wing hypocrisy last month.

But maybe it’s time to create a special Hypocrisy Hall of Fame, because the Wall Street Journal reveals that we another member who would be a shoo-in for the award.

It seems that Warren Buffett was not being terribly sincere or honest when he said people like him should be paying higher taxes.

Now this is awkward for President Obama and Senate Democrats. …Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is expected to help finance Burger King’s  pending acquisition of Canadian doughnut-chain Tim Hortons. The deal will allow Miami-based Burger King to claim Canada as its new legal home for tax purposes. Beltway Democrats had been hoping to use a recent wave of such corporate inversions as a campaign tool. The idea was to propose new taxes on the companies that move. Step two was to beat up Republicans who don’t agree to make the free world’s most punitive corporate tax system even more punitive. But now that Democratic tax hero Mr. Buffett has been spotted surfing on top of this wave, the political challenge has become more difficult.

Sort of makes you wonder whether Buffett endorses higher taxes for the self-interested reason that the political class will then give him a free pass on issues such as the Burger King inversion?

Shocking, just shocking, to think that rich leftists are hypocrites.

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Let’s start 2014 with a depressing story about the reprehensible way in which big companies get in bed with big government.

If asked to list the example of cronyism that I find most nauseating, the Export-Import Bank would be at the top of my list.

The Obamacare handouts for Big Insurance and Big Pharma obviously belong on the list as well.

But don’t forget the corrupt TARP giveaways to Wall Street, the handouts for GM (though at least we got some good parody from that farce), the corrupt H&R Block collusion with the IRS, and the sleazy ethanol handouts to agribusinesses.

We could list more examples, but let’s look at something from today’s newspapers. We normally think of the light-bulb ban as silly environmentalism, but the invaluable Tim Carney writes in the Washington Examiner that the real impetus was from corrupt companies.

Say goodbye to the regular light bulb this New Year. …Starting Jan. 1, the famous bulb is illegal to manufacture in the U.S., and it has become a fitting symbol for the collusion of big business and big government.

Tim explains how companies worked the political system.

People often assume green regulations like this represent the triumph of environmental activists trying to save the plant. That’s rarely the case, and it wasn’t here. Light bulb manufacturers whole-heartedly supported the efficiency standards. General Electric, Sylvania and Philips — the three companies that dominated the bulb industry — all backed the 2007 rule… The lighting industry was the main reason the legislation was moving. …“Philips formed a coalition with environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council to push for higher standards.”

Equally important, Tim explains why the companies thought cronyism was an effective way to line their pockets with undeserved wealth.

Competitive markets with low costs of entry have a characteristic that consumers love and businesses lament: very low profit margins. GE, Philips and Sylvania dominated the U.S. market in incandescents, but they couldn’t convert that dominance into price hikes. Because of light bulb’s low material and manufacturing costs, any big climb in prices would have invited new competitors to undercut the giants — and that new competitor would probably have won a distribution deal with Wal-Mart. So, simply the threat of competition kept profit margins low on the traditional light bulb. …the bulb-makers turned to government. Philips teamed up with NRDC. GE leaned on its huge lobbying army — the largest in the nation — and soon they were able to ban the low-profit-margin bulbs.

The better alternative, needless to say, is freedom.

There is a middle ground between everyone using traditional bulbs and traditional bulbs being illegal. It’s called free choice: Let people choose if they want more efficient and expensive bulbs. Maybe they’ll chose LEDs for some purposes and cheap bulbs for others. But consumer choice is no good either for nanny-staters or companies seeking high profit margins.

Reading Tim’s piece, it makes me wonder what sleaze was involved in the rules forcing us to use inferior washing machines.

P.S. Here are my 10 most-viewed posts of 2013.

*Last January, I shared some gun control humor and readers must like mocking the gun grabbers because that post easily got the most views.

*And in October, Libertarian Jesus racked up the second-highest number of views.

*Interestingly, the third most-viewed post was one from 2012. I guess you won’t be surprised to learn it was another example of gun control humor.

*We also go into the archives – back to 2011 – for the post with the fourth-highest number of views. It’s the classic set of cartoons about the rise and fall of the welfare state.

*Another oldie came in fifth place with this 2012 post featuring – you guessed it – gun control humor.

*In sixth place, we get some 2012 lessons on how a story about beer can be used to explain the failures of class warfare tax policy.

*We finally see another 2013 post with our revelation about the most free-market “state” in North America.

*But then we return to 2011 because lots of people waited until 2013 before reading the classroom experiment with socialism.

*In ninth place, you can read a libertarian fantasy from last April.

*Rounding out the top 10 is a celebration of Obama’s biggest fiscal defeat.

My favorite post of the year, for what it’s worth, reveals my fiscal wonkiness.

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Remember Sandra Fluke, the 30-year old student who got her 15 minutes of fame last year by becoming the poster child for subsidized birth control?

Fluke Birth ControlShe’s fortunately faded away, but the issue is still with us because the courts are being asked to decide whether government has the right to coerce people into decisions that violate their religious values.

But you won’t be surprised that this feature of Obamacare also has important economic and policy lessons.

Statists have tried to scare young people that there’s a fight over whether people have the right to access birth control. They’ll privately admit that this is just empty rhetoric (after all, there were no barriers to birth control in the pre-Obamacare era), but they nonetheless still argue that the mandate is needed for affordability reasons.

But this is utter bunk, as Megan McArdle explains in her Bloomberg column.

Regular, predictable expenses such as birth-control pills cannot be defrayed by insurance; they can only be prepaid, with a markup for the insurer’s administrative costs. The extra cost is passed on by the insurers to your employer, and from your employer to you and your fellow workers, either by raising your contribution or lowering the wage they are willing to offer.

I would take this one step farther. Costs will rise not only because of administrative costs, but also because we’ll have more third-party payer and that will make it much easier for the providers of birth control pills to raise prices.

And that is a perfect segue into the meat of today’s post, which is about the sleazy and corrupt interaction of big business and big government. And the Obamacare birth control mandate is a perfect example.

Tim Carney exposes this issue in his Washington Examiner column. He starts with a hypothesis that corporate cronyism is the real story.

Look at the contraception mandate from almost any angle, and you see the corporatism. Sometimes it’s on the surface, and sometimes it’s implicit in the arguments. The contraception mandate is nakedly a huge subsidy to the industry that most firmly supported Obamacare: the drugmakers. The drug industry has spent more on lobbying under Obama than any other industry.

Tim provides some of the sordid details.

Top Obama bundler Sally Susman oversees the lobbying shop at drug giant Pfizer, which sells $7.6 million a year in name-brand birth control pills, while also selling contraceptive injections and generic drugs. Pfizer’s CEO during the Obamacare debate was Obama donor Jeffrey Kindler. In a corporate filing, the company justified his salary increase by pointing to his Obamacare lobbying. …Merck, which also makes birth control pills, deployed top lobbyist, former Democratic congressional staffer and major Democratic donor Mark Raabe to Capitol Hill and the White House to lobby on “efforts to gain coverage of preventive services,” according to company lobbying filings. The administration uses the “preventive services” provision of Obamacare to justify the contraception mandate. Merck sells implants and other contraceptives — if “sells” is the right word for products that many customers now get for “free,” sticking colleagues and taxpayers with the bill. Conceptus, a company that sells a sterilization procedure, lobbied Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services on “implementation of the preventive services provisions of the Affordable Care Act,” according to lobbying filings. The mandate covers this patented procedure.

Needless to say, drug companies have spent all this money on lobbying and campaign contributions in the expectation that they can artificially increase their revenue as a result of government favoritism.

Obama’s contraception mandate requires all employer-sponsored health care plans to cover 100 percent of the cost of all FDA-approved contraception. That gives customers incentives to choose…name-brand pills, because the entire cost is passed onto employers and thus onto customers and colleagues.

It’s a different topic, but Tim also has some wise words about the Obama Administration’s arguments against the First Amendment.

…liberals argue that the owners of the privately held store Hobby Lobby are not protected by the First Amendment from intrusions of the “free exercise” of religion — and so it must cover the morning-after pill, which can cause a very early-term miscarriage. …It’s not a novel claim, but it’s still a scary one: A person gives up his First Amendment rights when he is acting as a businessman.

And his summary paragraph hits the nail on the head.

Sometimes people think politics is about the collective versus the individual. Most of the time, though, it’s about the state versus civil society. It’s coercion versus voluntary association.

By the way, the drug companies are just the tip of the iceberg. Companies like General Motors and General Electric also are experts at using government to tilt the playing field.

And don’t forget that companies like Boeing and Exxon Mobil use the Export-Import Bank to line their pockets at our expense.

Or what about H&R Block, which lobbies to protect its ability to profit from a corruption-riddled tax system.

The entire ethanol industry, meanwhile, is dependent on favors from Washington, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created by the government!

And Pizza Hut, joined by other fast food joints, lobbies for food stamps.

The TARP bailout was the epitome of Washington sleaze, which may help explain the revolving door between Wall Street in Washington.

We should also be upset that big corporations sometimes support higher tax rates on their competitors from the small business sector.

Gee, it’s almost enough to make one think Washington is a rat’s nest of corruption. Speaking of which, here’s my video on the link between big government and big corruption. I think you’ll agree that I understated the case.

P.S. Since we started this post by mentioning Sandra Fluke, we may as well close with some jokes at her expense. You can enjoy some laughs with this great Reason video, this funny cartoon, and four more jokes here.

P.P.S. But Sandra Fluke may have the last laugh since the clowns at the United Nations have declared that birth control (almost surely financed by taxpayers) is a human right.

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I’m a big fan of lower corporate tax rates.

I also want to eliminate worldwide taxation so American companies can be on a level playing field when competing for market share around the world.

And I want to get rid of the double taxation of dividends and capital gains in part because these reforms will boost business investment.

Given this track record, I don’t think anybody could accuse me of being an anti-big-business activist.

But I do get very irritated when politically connected corporations use cronyism to guard their interests at the expense of other taxpayers and the overall economy.

That’s why, in this interview with Larry Kudlow on CNBC, I spend most of the time advocating for pro-growth policies, but near the end I slam corporate CEOs from the Business Roundtable for endorsing higher tax rates for small businesses.

For those who don’t follow the intricacies of business taxation, most small companies – such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S-corps – are taxed through the personal income tax.

So it’s a bit outrageous when corporate CEOs endorse higher personal income tax rates, knowing that their smaller competitors will get reamed.

I don’t think they’re doing it just for that purpose. As I say in the interview, it’s more a case of feeding somebody else to the sharks out of a narrow, short-term sense of self preservation.

But this also explains why I am such a strong believer in the no-tax-hike pledge. Once “revenue enhancement” is part of the discussion, taxpayers lose their sense of unity and begin to throw each other overboard.

And this isn’t just something that happens among Washington insiders. I’ve previously explained that ordinary Americans get very tempted to support class-warfare tax hikes once they realize someone is going to be raped and pillaged by Washington.

This is why, to discourage talk of tax hikes (especially by crony capitalists), I am willing to make a special exception and support an excise tax on CEO salaries. Anybody who endorses higher taxes should be first in line for the guillotine.

P.S. I apologize for the poor quality of the video. The guy at Cato who does these things is out for the holidays, and you see the suboptimal results when I dabble in technical things. And since I’m acknowledging my shortcomings, I should have said “obediently” instead of “appropriately” at the 3:44 mark.

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I’m guilty of usually seeing the world through a rigid prism of right vs wrong. But I think that’s understandable since I’m often writing about clear-cut issues such as the corrupting nature of big government or the foolishness of class-warfare tax policy.

But I periodically come across topics where I’m not sure about the right answer. So I throw these topics out there to see what other people think.

Previous editions of “you be the judge” include: Putting politicians on trial, vigilante justice, brutal tax collection tactics, child molestation, sharia law, healthcare, incest, speed traps, jury nullification, and vigilante justice (again).

Now I’ve come across another example. Over in France, the socialist government says it wants to impose pay caps on corporate executives. That seems like a very bad idea, but there’s a catch. The proposal applies to government-owned companies.

Here’s a description from the Financial Times.

France’s new socialist government has launched a crackdown on excessive corporate pay by promising to slash the wages of chief executives at companies in which it owns a controlling stake, including EDF, the nuclear power group. …According to Jean-Marc Ayrault, prime minister, the measure would be imposed on chief executives at groups such as EDF’s Henri Proglio and Luc Oursel at Areva, the nuclear engineering group. Their pay would fall about 70 per cent and 50 per cent respectively… The government also wants to pressure other companies in which it owns a stake to follow its lead, even though it has no legal power to force such a change. France is unusual in that it still owns large stakes in many of its biggest global companies, ranging from GDF Suez, the gas utility; to Renault, the carmaker; and EADS, parent group of passenger jet maker Airbus. Mr Ayrault said he “believed in the patriotism” of company leaders and their willingness to share the country’s economic pain.

The analogy that pops into my mind is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those government-created entities (before the crash) were used as piggy banks by members of the political elite, who would take a break from climbing the ladder in Washington and spend a couple of years raking in millions of dollars by overseeing subsidized mortgages.

Or what about Government Motors? Or companies like Solyndra that are part of the green energy scam?

So even though I’m completely opposed to salary controls on the private sector, I don’t view government-owned and government-subsidized companies as being part of the free market.

But I also worry a lot about slippery slopes, so here’s my thought process.

  1. I fully support pay caps for government-owned entities, such as the Postal Service. Indeed, I assume those already exist.
  2. And I like the idea of pay caps for government-subsidized entities, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I don’t know if there is a limit now, but if one exists, it’s way too generous if this story is any indication.
  3. But I get nervous about subsidies being an excuse for government regulation of executive pay, even when I’m disgusted when big business gets in bed with big government. This is why I was so conflicted in this interview about pay caps for banks getting TARP bailouts.
  4. Moreover, I’m instinctively opposed to pay caps on companies that have contracts with government, though obviously my views are affected by whether a contract deals with a legitimate function of government (buying a tank) or whether it’s a festering waste of money (paying a politically connected PR firm to boost the image of the IRS).
  5. Last but not least, I get very scared that politicians inevitably will take a good idea and turn it into a bad idea. In other words, if we give them the power to do something reasonable, like regulate pay at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they’ll probably get intoxicated by power and decide they should be able to control compensation levels at genuinely private companies.

So what’s the right answer? If we’re allowed to fantasize, the obvious decision is to shrink government to its legitimate size so there aren’t any government-owned or government-subsidized companies.

But if we’re forced to deal with the world as it is today, then the choice is much more difficult. If we oppose pay caps, then political insiders can use cronyism to get undeserved payouts. But if we endorse pay caps, then we’re giving politicians power that almost surely will be abused.

If you put a gun to my head, I guess I would oppose pay caps. But I hate saying that since few things are as outrageous as rich people using the coercive power of government to take money from those with less.

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One of my first posts on this blog featured this video showing how big government breeds corruption.

I’ve periodically provided examples of how this process works, citing Alaska, Chicago, Wall Street, and Washington.

Here’s another example, explicitly showing how big business and big government get in bed together to rape and pillage taxpayers. The sleazy details have been reported by Bloomberg.

Exxon Mobil Corp. and its partners in a $15 billion Papua New Guinea gas project last year paid the travel expenses for employees of the U.S. Export-Import Bank as it considered whether to help fund the venture. The four workers ran up $97,367 in bills traveling to London, Tokyo and the South Pacific, according to data compiled by the bank. They flew business class, viewed the project’s route by chartered aircraft and were entertained by costumed villagers. Eleven months later, the bank approved $3 billion in financing for the liquefied natural gas facility, the biggest transaction in the agency’s 75 years.

I posted last month about why it’s important to shut down the corrupt subsidies at the Export-Import bank. This story is a good example of why handouts for big companies are a carousel of sleaze.

Pay close attention to this issue. When the votes happen, you’ll be able to tell which Republicans understand the difference between free markets and cronyism – much as a pair of votes last year showed which Republicans believed in free markets instead of government subsidies for well-heeled housing interests.

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I’ve already commented on some of the sleazy behavior that infects Chicago politics.

Now we have a jaw-dropping example of what’s wrong with the state of Illinois, as explained by Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal.

Soon the Illinois state legislature will meet in special session to consider the Chicago machine’s latest favor: legislation designed to deliver tax relief to three of the state’s largest companies. These tax breaks for the lucky few come just 10 months after the Illinois legislature approved what has been described as the largest tax increase in the state’s history. …In so doing, Chicago is giving America a window into the logic of crony capitalism: Raise taxes on everyone—and then cut side deals with those big enough to lobby for special relief. The legislature is considering this limited tax relief because three corporate mainstays of greater Chicago have threatened to leave without it. One is the CME Group, operator of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the world’s largest futures exchange by volume. Another is the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), the world’s largest options exchange. The last is Sears, one of America’s oldest and most famous retailing giants.

My initial instinct is to have some sympathy for the companies. After all, America’s corporate tax system is brutally anti-competitive. Heck, government gets a greater share of corporate profit than shareholders!

But the column goes on to explain that at least one of the firms gave lots of money to the very same political predators that created the unfriendly tax system.

CME and the other beneficiaries of this special tax bill would have a far better case, however, if instead of pushing for special treatment for themselves, they used their clout to argue for a more market-friendly environment overall. After all, if the state’s tax treatment is making it hard for Sears and CME, the family restaurant or mom-and-pop shop down the corner is probably feeling the pinch too. Alas, equal treatment is not the Chicago way. Maybe that’s why we heard little from corporate Chicago when Mr. Quinn was campaigning for his tax hikes. To the contrary, back in June the Chicago News Cooperative reported that CME donated $50,000 to Mr. Quinn in the general election and $40,000 in the primary, $200,000 to Rahm Emanuel (a former CME board member) during his run for mayor of Chicago, and $150,000 to the man who really runs Illinois, House Speaker Mike Madigan.

I’ve made fun of the OccupyWallStreet protesters on many occasions (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), but this column shows that big business oftentimes does engage in corrupt deals with the political class. This is something that should deeply offend all decent people.

I also think it should offend the judiciary. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I’m guessing that state constitutions (like the U.S. Constitution) have clauses providing for equal protection under the law. So why, then, do they allow these corrupt forms of favoritism?

But I’m probably being naive in thinking that Illinois courts would actually care about justice. As such, don’t be surprised to see more stories like this in coming years.

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