Posted in Big Government, Competitiveness, Economics, Fiscal Policy, Swedem, tagged Big Government, Competitiveness, Denmark, Economic Freedom, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sweden on January 29, 2011 |
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Johnny Munkhammar is a member of the Swedish Parliament and a committed supporter of economic liberalization. He has a column in the Wall Street Journal Europe that does a great job of explaining how Sweden became rich when it was a small-government, pro-market nation. He then notes that his country veered off track in the 1970s and 1980s, but is now heading back in the right direction. I’ll have more analysis below these excerpts, but it is especially impressive that Sweden is ahead of America on key reforms such as Social Security personal accounts and school choice.
Sweden is not socialist. According to the World Values Survey and other similar studies, Sweden combines one of the highest degrees of individualism in the world, solid trust in well-functioning institutions, and a high degree of social cohesion. Among the 160 countries studied in the Index of Economic Freedom, Sweden ranks 21st, and is one of the few countries that increased its economic freedoms during the financial crisis. …Sweden wasn’t always so free. But Sweden’s socialism lasted only for a couple of decades, roughly during the 1970s and 1980s. And as it happens, these decades mark the only break in the modern Swedish success story. …The Swedish tax burden was lower than the European average throughout these successful 60 years, and lower even than in the U.S. Only in 1950 did Sweden’s tax burden rise to 20% of GDP, though that remained comparatively low. …The 1970s were a decade of radical government intervention in society and in markets, during which Sweden doubled its overall tax burden, socialized a slew of industries, re-regulated its markets, expanded its public systems, and shuttered its borders. In 1970, Sweden had the world’s fourth-highest GDP per capita. By 1990, it had fallen 13 positions. In those 20 years, real wages in Sweden increased by only one percentage point. …By the late 1980s, though, Sweden had started de-regulating its markets once again, decreased its marginal tax rates, and opted for a sound-money, low-inflation policy. In the early 1990s, the pace quickened, and most markets except for labor and housing were liberalized. The state sold its shares in a number of companies, granted independence to its central bank, and introduced school vouchers that improved choice and competition in education. Stockholm slashed public pensions and introduced private retirement schemes, keeping the system demographically sustainable. These decisive economic liberalizations, and not socialism, are what laid the foundations for Sweden’s success over the last 15 years. …Today, the state’s total tax take comes to 45% of GDP, from 56% ten years ago. Meanwhile, unemployment benefits, sick leave and early retirement plans have all been streamlined to encourage work. The number of people receiving such welfare—which soared during the socialist decades—has fallen by 150,000 since 2006, a main reason for Sweden’s remarkably sound public finances.
Sweden still has a public sector that is far too big, but the damage caused by bloated government is at least partially offset by very good policy in other areas. Sweden is actually slightly more free market than the United States on non-fiscal measures in the Economic Freedom of the World index. Here’s a chart comparing Sweden and the United States. But I also included a few other nations for purposes of comparison. You can see Switzerland, the U.S., Sweden, and the United Kingdom all have similar scores for economic freedom if the burden of taxation and government spending is removed from the mix. But things change dramatically when taxes and spending are added to the formula. Switzerland is ranked 4th overall because of a decent fiscal system, ahead of the United States (6th) and United Kingdom (10th). while Sweden falls all the way to 37th place.
Denmark gets very high marks for non-fiscal freedom, so it only drops to 14th in the overall rating because of its bloated welfare state. Hong Kong and Singapore, meanwhile, rank 1st and 2nd in the world because of strong ratings on non-fiscal factors and they also manage to limit the fiscal burden of government.
Last but not least, many of Johnny’s points are included in this Center for Freedom and Prosperity video.
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Posted in Cuba, Economics, Freedom, Government intervention, Government Spending, Swedem, Taxation, tagged Brad DeLong, Castro, Cuba, Denmark, Economic Freedom, Matthew Yglesias, Somalia, Sweden on September 12, 2010 |
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I touched a raw nerve with my post about Fidel Castro admitting that the Cuban model is a failure. Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong both attacked me. DeLong’s post was nothing more than a link to the Yglesias post with a snarky comment about “why can’t we have better think tanks?” Yglesias, to his credit, tried to explain his objections.
This leads Daniel Mitchell to post the following chart which he deems “a good illustration of the human cost of excessive government.”…this mostly illustrates the difficulty of having a rational conversation with Cato Institute employees about economic policy in the developed world. Cuba is poor, but it’s much richer than Somalia. Is Somalia’s poor performance an illustration of the human costs of inadequate taxation? Or maybe we can act like reasonable people and note that these illustrations of the cost of Communist dictatorship and anarchy have little bearing on the optimal location on the Korea-Sweden axis of mixed economies?
I’m actually not sure what argument Yglesias is making, but I think he assumed I was focusing only on fiscal policy when I commented about Cuba’s failure being “a good illustration of the human cost of excessive government.” At least I think this is what he means, because he then tries to use Somalia as an example of limited government, solely because the government there is so dysfunctional that it is unable to maintain a working tax system.
Regardless of what he’s really trying to say, my post was about the consequences of excessive government, not just the consequences of excessive government spending. I’m not a fan of high taxes and wasteful spending, to be sure, but fiscal policy is only one of many policies that influence economic performance. Indeed, according to both Economic Freedom of the World and Index of Economic Freedom, taxes and spending are only 20 percent of a nation’s grade. So nations such as Sweden and Denmark are ranked very high because the adverse impact of their fiscal policies is more than offset by their very laissez-faire policies in just about all other areas. Likewise, many nations in the developing world have modest fiscal burdens, but their overall scores are low because they get poor grades on variables such as monetary policy, regulation, trade, rule of law, and property rights.
So, yes, Cuba is an example of “the human cost of excessive government.” And so is Somalia.
Sweden and Denmark, meanwhile, are both good and bad examples. Optimists can cite them as great examples of the benefits of laissez-faire markets. Pessimists can cite them as unfortunate examples of bloated public sectors.
P.S. Castro has since tried to recant, claiming he was misquoted. He’s finding out, though, that it’s not easy putting toothpaste back in the tube.
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Posted in Bush, Clinton, Economics, Freedom, Liberty, Rankings, Uncategorized, tagged Bush, Clinton, Economic Freedom, Rankings on April 18, 2010 |
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Some of my posts spark debate between Bush supporters and Clinton fans, particularly on my Facebook page. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but Clinton wins that contest hands down. I’m only talking about economic issues, to be sure, so I’m not looking to trigger any discussions about foreign policy or abortion.
Regarding economic issues, perhaps the key thing to understand is that there are many factors which determine economic freedom (which, of course, is related to growth and prosperity). Some people look at a high-profile issue such as taxes, and are tempted to rank Bush higher because he cut taxes in 2001 and 2003, whereas Clinton increased taxes in 1993 (he also cut taxes in 1997, but not as much as he raised them four years earlier).
But while Bush had a better record on taxes, he had a much worse record on spending. And as I wrote in the Washington Examiner a couple of years ago, Bush’s record in other areas was more statist than Clinton’s (and I was writing before the bailouts).
Perhaps the best way of showing the difference between Bush and Clinton is to examine the Economic Freedom of the World annual rankings. Not all the years are available, but the image below clearly shows that economic freedom rose during the Clinton years and fell during the Bush years.
I’m no great fan of Bill Clinton, and I’ll be the first to admit that many of the good things that happened under Clinton were the result of a GOP Congress (in the good old days before they were corrupted by compassionate conservatism). But also keep in mind that Clinton signed into law almost all of the good policies that were enacted during his reign. Likewise, Bush signed into law almost all of the bad policies that were enacted during his reign. If I’m choosing between the economic policies that were implemented by the previous two Presidents, the answer is obvious.
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