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Posts Tagged ‘Economics’

I’ve shared some interested rankings on tax policy, including a map from the Tax Foundation showing which states have the earliest and latest Tax Freedom Days.

There’s also a depressing table showing that the United States “earns” a lowly 94th place in a ranking of business-friendly tax system.

Heck, there’s even a map showing the states with the highest wine taxes, as well as a map showing which states have the lightest and heaviest tax burdens compared to income.

So I was very interested to see this table from the Tax Foundation revealing which countries have the most punitive regimes for penalizing success.

Portugal has the dubious honor of having the most progressive (i.e., discriminatory) tax system in the developed world.

I don’t think anyone is surprised to see France in second place, though I confess that I was not expecting to see pro-reform success stories such as Chile and Canada in the top five.

And I’m totally embarrassed that the United States is #8, worse than such garden spots as Greece, Mexico, and Belgium.

Though it’s important to understand that the Tax Foundation is relying on a narrow definition of progressivity.

One way to measure and compare the progressivity of income tax codes across countries is to express the level of income at which each country’s top tax bracket applies as a multiple of that country’s average income.

That’s a useful bit of information and it shows one aspect of progressivity, but it’s also a bit misleading since it implies that the Swedish tax system (with a top tax rate of 56.7 percent) is less progressive than the Slovakian tax system (with a top tax rate of 21.7 percent).

You won’t be surprised that I think a ranking that purports to show the burden of “progressive” taxation should include the top tax rate.

Speaking of which, this is why I like the Tax Foundation’s measure of progressivity on the state level.

The…table also shows the gap between the top marginal tax rate and the marginal tax rate on $25,000 of taxable income. …Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have progressive rate structures that rise after $25,000. California, New Jersey, and Vermont have the most progressive rate structures by a wide margin.

Who could have guessed that California would be the worst state, though I’m not surprised to see New Jersey (the worst place to die) and Vermont (worst place for self reliance) have such poor ratings as well.

And is anyone even remotely shocked to see that states with no income taxes manage to avoid any problems with ‘so-called” progressivity? Not surprisingly, they also grow faster and create more jobs.

The moral of the story, at the very least, is that America needs a simple and fair flat tax.

And not the Obama or Hollande version.

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We know the welfare state is good news for people inside government. Lots of bureaucrats are required, after all, to oversee a plethora of redistribution programs.

Walter Williams refers to these paper pushers as poverty pimps, and there’s even a ranking showing which states have the greatest number of these folks who profit by creating dependency.

But does anybody else benefit from welfare programs?

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation explains in the Washington Times that the War on Poverty certainly hasn’t been a success for taxpayers or poor people. Instead, it’s created a costly web of dependency.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty. …Since then, the taxpayers have spent $22 trillion on Johnson’s war. Adjusted for inflation, that’s three times the cost of all military wars since the American Revolution. Last year, government spent $943 billion providing cash, food, housing and medical care to poor and low-income Americans. …More than 100 million people, or one third of Americans, received some type of welfare aid, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient.

Here are some of the unpleasant details.

The U.S. Census Bureau has just released its annual poverty report. The report claims that in 2013, 14.5 percent of Americans were poor. Remarkably, that’s almost the same poverty rate as in 1967, three years after the War on Poverty started. How can that be? …When Johnson launched the War on Poverty, he wanted to give the poor a “hand up, not a hand out.” He stated that his war would shrink welfare rolls and turn the poor from “tax-eaters” into “taxpayers.” Johnson’s aim was to make poor families self-sufficient — able to rise above poverty through their own earnings without dependence on welfare. The exact opposite happened. For a decade-and-a-half before the War on Poverty began, self-sufficiency in America improved dramatically. For the past 45 years, though, there has been no improvement at all.

The final two sentences of that excerpt are the most important words in Robert’s column.

We were making lots of progress in the fight against poverty in the 1950s. That’s because we relied on the private economy and self sufficiency, as seen on the right side of this Chuck Asay cartoon..

But once politicians decided government was responsible for fighting poverty, progress ceased.

Why did progress stop? Because, as Robert explains, the welfare state creates a dependency trap and enables self-destructive behavior.

The culprit is, in part, the welfare system itself, which discourages work and penalizes marriage. …The welfare state is self-perpetuating. By undermining the social norms necessary for self-reliance, welfare creates a need for even greater assistance in the future. President Obama plans to spend $13 trillion over the next decade on welfare programs that will discourage work, penalize marriage and undermine self-sufficiency.

By the way, being “poor” in America rarely means material deprivation.

Most Americans who live in “poverty” have much higher living standards that people elsewhere in the world.

The actual living conditions of households labeled as poor by Census are surprising to most people. According to the government’s own surveys, 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning; nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television; half have a personal computer; 40 percent have a wide-screen HDTV. Three-quarters own a car or truck; nearly a third has two or more vehicles. Ninety-six percent of poor parents state that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food. …As a group, poor children are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children, and in most cases is well above recommended norms. …the average poor American has more living space than the typical nonpoor individual living in Sweden, France, Germany or the United Kingdom.

By the way, don’t be surprised by the final sentence in that excerpt. Most people have no idea that Americans have far higher living standards than their cousins in Europe.

For more information on how best to help the poor, watch this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

Bono actually agrees that capitalism is the best approach to fighting poverty. Too bad the Pope lacks the same insight.

P.S. Here’s a map showing which states have the biggest welfare benefits.

P.P.S. If you want to see an utterly dishonest approach to public policy, read how the OECD tried to exaggerate poverty in the United States, so much so that it even tried to imply that there was more poverty in America than Greece.

P.P.P.S. Thomas Sowell has wise thoughts on how the welfare state hurts the less fortunate.

P.P.P.P.S. Some libertarians have suggested a “basic income” to replace the dozens of inefficient and failed welfare programs in Washington. For what it’s worth, I think there’s a better alternative.

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People sometimes think I’m strange for being so focused on the economic harm that results from third-party payer. But bear with me and we’ll see why it’s a very important issue.

If you’re not already familiar with the term, third-party payer exists when someone other than the consumer is paying for something. And it’s a problem because people aren’t careful shoppers when they have (proverbially) someone else’s credit card.

Moreover, sellers have ample incentive to jack up prices, waste resources on featherbedding, and engage in inefficient practices when they know consumers are insensitive to price.

I’ve specifically addressed the problem of third-party payer in both the health-care sector and the higher education market.

But I’ve wondered whether my analysis was compelling. Is the damage of third-party payer sufficiently obvious when you see a chart showing that prices for cosmetic surgery, which generally is paid for directly by consumers, rise slower than the CPI, while other health care expenses, which generally are financed by government or insurance companies, rise faster than inflation?

Or is it clear that third-party payer leads to bad results when you watch a video exposing how subsidies for higher education simply make it possible for colleges and universities to increase tuition and fees at a very rapid clip?

That should be plenty of evidence, but I ran across a chart that may be even more convincing. It shows how prices have increased in various sectors over the past decade.

So what make this chart compelling and important?

Time for some background. The reason I saw the chart is because David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner shared it on his Twitter feed.

I don’t know if he added the commentary below, or simply passed it along, but I’m very grateful because it’s an excellent opportunity to show that sectors of our economy that are subsidized (mostly by third-party payer) are the ones plagued by rising prices.

It’s amazing to see that TVs, phones, and PCs have dropped dramatically in price at the same time that they’ve become far more advanced.

Yet higher education and health care, both of which are plagued by third-party payer, have become more expensive.

So think about your family budget and think about the quality of PCs, TVs, and phones you had 10 years ago, and the prices you paid, compared with today. You presumably are happy with the results.

Now think about what you’re getting from health care and higher education, particularly compared to the costs.

That’s the high price of third-party payer.

P.S. This video from Reason TV is a great illustration of how market-based prices make the health care sector far more rational.

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I’ve complained over and over again that America’s tax code is a nightmare that undermines competitiveness and retards growth.

Our aggregate fiscal burden may not be as high as it is for many of our foreign competitors, but high tax rates and poor design mean the system is very punitive on a per-dollar-raised basis.

For more information, the Tax Foundation has put together an excellent report measuring international tax competitiveness.

Here’s the methodology.

The Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index (ITCI) measures the degree to which the 34 OECD countries’ tax systems promote competitiveness through low tax burdens on business investment and neutrality through a well-structured tax code. …No longer can a country tax business investment and activity at a high rate without adversely affecting its economic performance. In recent years, many countries have recognized this fact and have moved to reform their tax codes to be more competitive. However, others have failed to do so and are falling behind the global movement. …The competitiveness of a tax code is determined by several factors. The structure and rate of corporate taxes, property taxes, income taxes, cost recovery of business investment, and whether a country has a territorial system are some of the factors that determine whether a country’s tax code is competitive.

And here’s how the United States ranks.

The United States provides a good example of an uncompetitive tax code. …the United States now has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world. …The United States places 32nd out of the 34 OECD countries on the ITCI. There are three main drivers behind the U.S.’s low score. First, it has the highest corporate income tax rate in the OECD at 39.1 percent. Second, it is one of the only countries in the OECD that does not have a territorial tax system, which would exempt foreign profits earned by domestic corporations from domestic taxation. Finally, the United States loses points for having a relatively high, progressive individual income tax (combined top rate of 46.3 percent) that taxes both dividends and capital gains, albeit at a reduced rate.

Here are the rankings, including scores for the various components.

You have to scroll to the bottom to find the United States. It’s embarrassing that we’re below even Spain and Italy, though I guess it’s good that we managed to edge out Portugal and France.

Looking at the component data, all I can say is that we should be very thankful that politicians haven’t yet figured out how to impose a value-added tax.

I’m also wondering whether it’s better to be ranked 32 out of 34 nations or ranked 94 out of 100 nations?

But rather than focus too much on America’s bad score, let’s look at what some nations are doing right.

Estonia – I’m not surprised that this Baltic nations scores well. Any country that rejects Paul Krugman must be doing something right.

New Zealand – The Kiwis can maintain a decent tax system because they control government spending and limit government coercion.

Switzerland – Fiscal decentralization and sensible citizens are key factors in restraining bad tax policy in Switzerland.

Sweden – The individual income tax is onerous, but Sweden’s penchant for pro-market reform has helped generate good scores in other categories.

Australia – I’m worried the Aussies are drifting in the wrong direction, but any nations that abolishes its death tax deserves a high score.

To close, here’s some of what the editors at the Wall Street Journal opined this morning.

…the inaugural ranking puts the U.S. at 32nd out of 34 industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). With the developed world’s highest corporate tax rate at over 39% including state levies, plus a rare demand that money earned overseas should be taxed as if it were earned domestically, the U.S. is almost in a class by itself. It ranks just behind Spain and Italy, of all economic humiliations. America did beat Portugal and France, which is currently run by an avowed socialist. …the U.S. would do even worse if it were measured against the world’s roughly 190 countries. The accounting firm KPMG maintains a corporate tax table that includes more than 130 countries and only one has a higher overall corporate tax rate than the U.S. The United Arab Emirates’ 55% rate is an exception, however, because it usually applies only to foreign oil companies.

The WSJ adds a very important point about the liberalizing impact of tax competition.

Liberals argue that U.S. tax rates don’t need to come down because they are already well below the level when Ronald Reagan came into office. But unlike the U.S., the world hasn’t stood still. Reagan’s tax-cutting example ignited a worldwide revolution that has seen waves of corporate tax-rate reductions. The U.S. last reduced the top marginal corporate income tax rate in 1986. But the Tax Foundation reports that other countries have reduced “the OECD average corporate tax rate from 47.5 percent in the early 1980s to around 25 percent today.”

This final excerpt should help explain why I spend a lot of time defending and promoting tax competition.

As bad as the tax system is now, just imagine how bad it would be if politicians didn’t have to worry about jobs and investment escaping.

P.S. If there was a way of measuring tax policies for foreign investors, I suspect the United States would jump a few spots in the rankings.

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America’s health care system is a mess, and we can assign almost all the blame on government. Simply stated, we don’t have functioning and efficient markets because Medicaid, Medicare, tax-code distortions, and other forms of regulation and intervention have created a system that is crippled by a third-party payer crisis.

There’s no logical reason to expect consumers to be smart shoppers, after all, when they’re only responsible for directly paying just 11 cents for every $1 of health care they consume. And providers have little reason to be efficient when they know that consumers are largely insensitive to price.

Let’s now apply these insights to the political controversy over birth control. Except, as I explained in July, there is no fight over birth control. As far as I’m aware, nobody is trying to ban birth control.

The real fight is whether the government should mandate that health insurance plans include coverage for birth control (and certain abortifacients).

Writing for Bloomberg, Megan McArdle explains that Obamacare’s birth control mandate is silly because a modest and routine expense shouldn’t be covered by insurance at all.

I am not very patient with the political fights over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. …Generic birth-control pills are a cheap, regular expense used by many millions of people, exactly the sort of thing that insurance is not designed for. All this does is spread the cost around a bit while adding administrative overhead for your policy.

Moreover, the better policy is to allow birth control to be purchased without a prescription.

In other words, address the issue by reducing government regulation rather than imposing a mandate!

…make birth-control pills available over-the-counter rather than a prescription item. This is an excellent idea. It was an excellent idea before Obamacare passed, and it will remain a fine policy even if Obamacare somehow vanishes into dust. Physicians assess the danger of giving you birth control by asking simple questions you can ask yourself: Are you over 35, a smoker or troubled by a family history of early stroke?

Seems like a good idea, right? Particularly since it should appeal to Republicans that want less regulation and also appeal to Democrats that want easier access to birth control.

The Republicans are on board, as Byron York reports.

…the GOP has a new policy response… The idea is to make the birth control pill available over the counter, to all, 24/7, without a prescription. It’s becoming a trend among Republican candidates in Senate races around the country. In North Carolina, GOP candidate Thom Tillis recently embraced it. So has Ed Gillespie in Virginia. Mike McFadden in Minnesota. Gardner in Colorado. And one of the leading proponents of the move is a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. …Gardner first rolled out the proposal in a Denver Post op-ed in June. The birth control pill has safely been in use since it was first approved 44 years ago, Gardner argued. “When other drugs have that kind of track record, we approve them for purchase without a prescription,” he wrote. “Name-brand drugs like Advil, Pepcid, Claritin, Prilosec and many others were once sold by prescription only, but moved to over-the-counter sale once they’d been proven safe and unlikely to be abused.”

But some Democrats are hostile.

Indeed, a columnist for the Denver Post is very upset that some GOPers are supporting over-the-counter access to birth-control pills.

Following the lead of Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner, a handful of Republicans in midterm races across the country are now embracing over-the-counter sales of birth control pills without a prescription. Don’t be fooled. It’s a disingenuous move that could actually make the pill more expensive for women… But women already pay for those pills as part of the health care coverage they purchase through employers. Why would we want to pay for them twice? …What happens, however, if birth control pills are sold over the counter? Insurance companies will likely stop covering them. That means women will keep paying health insurance premiums, plus an additional out-of-pocket fee for pills. …And free doctor visits to discuss birth-control risks could also be replaced with fee-based pharmacy consults to determine whether women have risk factors like smoking, hypertension or migraines that prevent safe use of the pill, reports the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That’s hardly a “cheaper and easier” alternative — which is why Politifact rates Gardner’s claim as “mostly false.”

I strongly suspect that the author simply wanted to make a partisan attack on the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado. After all, more substantive and serious people on the left, including those at both Vox and Think Progress, favor over-the-counter access to birth control.

But let’s assume she really believes what she wrote. In which case she would get an F from any economics professors because health insurance companies obviously include predicted costs when pricing their policies. So if the mandate disappears and birth control is available without a prescription, then insurance companies will be able to lower the cost of the policies they sell.

In other words, women wouldn’t be paying twice. Indeed, they’ll pay less, though that will only be obvious to those who understand that employer-provided health plans are part of overall employee compensation.

There is another reason, other than partisanship, for some on the left to oppose Republican proposals to allow birth control to be sold over the counter. And you won’t be surprised to learn that self interest is playing a role.

Writing for The Federalist, Ben Domenech notes that Planned Parenthood wants to retain the current prescription-only approach.

You may think Ben made a big mistake, or that I misinterpreted. After all, isn’t that contrary to the organization’s ostensible mission of reducing unwanted pregnancies?

Well, Ben points out that Planned Parenthood may be more interested in maximizing handouts than it is in reducing pregnancies.

…interestingly enough, Planned Parenthood is pushing back on over-the-counter contraception. Why is this? Why would Planned Parenthood want to decrease the availability of contraception, and require women to see a doctor in order to get it? That seems awfully paternalistic of them. …birth control is a major lead generator for Planned Parenthood, to the degree that they can’t afford to lose their existing purpose as a source of prescribed contraception without it hurting their status as an institution. …Now you can understand why they wouldn’t want potential customers to be free to go to CVS or Walgreens or Rite Aid instead of heading to Planned Parenthood – providing those and other services is worth a lot of taxpayer money, $540 million in FY 2012 alone. And if you don’t provide those services, you can’t bill the taxpayers for them. …That’s why they want to keep the government’s ban on over-the-counter birth control intact.

Here’s a chart from Ben’s article that shows “what percentage of Planned Parenthood’s “services” are related to contraception.” As he notes, “it’s over a third of their activity.”

So I guess it makes sense – at least from an amoral perspective – that the organization wants to limit access to over-the-counter birth control.

By the way, the GOP plan for easier access to birth control is not a move to uncharted territory.

Here’s a map from a pro-reform left wing group that shows that over-the-counter birth control pills are easily available to most of the world’s women.

Let’s close by sharing one final – and very persuasive – piece of information from the experts at Reason.

Women already have over-the-counter access to Plan B, which involves larger doses of the hormones that are present in birth control pills.

…the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been considering making oral contraceptives available over-the-counter (OTC) for more than twenty years. “Plan B,” an emergency contraceptive, became available OTC last year. That one-step pill is simply a more potent dose of the same hormones that make up regular birth control pills. There’s no good medical justification for the differentiation. Yet in America, regular birth control pills remain stubbornly behind the pharmacy counter and behind the times.

In other words, the usual pro-regulation argument is that prescriptions are necessary because consumers can’t be trusted to make their own decisions with strong doses of medicine.

But the government already has made Plan B available over the counter while blocking similar access to birth control pills. Go figure.

P.S. Planned Parenthood is not the only interest group that has behaved in a disreputable and dishonorable fashion.

P.P.S. If you want to know what happens to healthcare in the absence of pervasive third-party payer, check out this remarkable chart.

P.P.P.S. Since today’s topic was birth control, let’s use this opportunity to revisit our collection of Sandra Fluke humor. Just in case you don’t remember, she was the 30-year old college student who got her 15 minuted of fame by demanding that other people pay for her expenses. Anyhow, if you want to laugh, check out this great Reason video, this funny cartoon, and four more jokes here.

P.P.P.P.S. On a separate topic, I added my two cents late last year to a debate inside libertarian circles over whether America’s plethora of welfare programs should be replaced by a single “basic income” grant that would be given to all Americans. Sort of a guaranteed minimum income.

I acknowledged that the current system is a mess, but I suggested that decentralization was a better approach.

…it seems that nothing could be worse than the current system. …But what about the idea of trashing what we have today and instead offering everyone some sort of basic income? …I agree, but only sort of. I like the idea of radical reform, but I think there’s a better road to Rome. It’s called federalism.

But what if someone held a gun to my head and said federalism wasn’t an option and demanded that I choose between the “basic income” and the status quo?

There’s not an obvious right answer, but I suspect I would prefer the devil I know because of fears that we might get more redistribution and even bigger government.

And I’m not the only one to have that opinion. Here’s what a proponent of more redistribution wrote about the concept.

Basic Income, unlike the programs we have now, will be politically easy to raise once it’s in place. …if you have one big, high-profile redistribution program, you can get enough popular support to overcome the concentrated opposition of the rich people footing the bill. …by endorsing Basic Income, libertarians are walking right into a trap. Anti-redistributionists’ great fear has always been that the masses will use the power of majority rule to simply vote themselves more money. As things stand, the fragmentation of our redistribution programs makes it easier for the anti-redistributionists to punch holes in the safety net. If the fragmented system were replaced with one universal, high-profile program, the result would be a huge political gift to redistributionists.

But maybe I’m just a pessimist. Tyler Cowen has a different perspective.

…let’s say a historical accident swept Basic Income proponents into power for a term and they passed that legislation.  Over time those income transfers would prove larger, more visible, and they would at least appear superficially more anti-work than the public stomach for them.  I predict they would be restricted along a number of possible dimensions, starting with (partial) work requirements for the able-bodied. Under most plausible assumptions about the Basic Income level, most people would not be recipients, nor would they expect to be potential net gainers from the program. …So I think the “why send money to people who aren’t working?” intuition will crowd out the “I want to think of myself as someone who helps other people” feeling.

I guess it depends on how the “basic income” is designed. If the government sends checks to everybody (as some are proposing), then Tyler’s “plausible assumption” about recipients would be wrong.

Which reinforces in my mind that my original idea was right. Let’s go with federalism and get Washington out of the business of redistribution.

The decentralized approach has been very successful in Switzerland and its also the system that’s consistent with the Constitution.

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Why is President Obama so fixated on a class-warfare agenda of higher taxes on the rich and government dependency for the poor?

Is it because a tax-the-rich agenda is good politics, as determined by clever pollsters who have tapped into the collective mind of American voters (and as demonstrated by this cartoon)?

Or is the President ideologically committed to a redistributionist mindset, meaning that he will pursue class-warfare policies even if they rub voters the wrong way?

Since I can’t read the President’s mind, I’m not sure of the answer. I suspect he’s a genuine ideologue, but your guess is as good as mine.

But I can say with more confidence that his pursuit of class-warfare doesn’t resonate with voters.

Or, to be more specific, the American people aren’t susceptible to the politics of hate and envy so long as they’re offered a better alternative.

Let’s look at some new polling data on this topic.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, William Galston explains that anemic growth is making it harder and harder for households to increase their living standards.

Over the next decade, there is one overriding challenge—recreating an economy in which growth works for everyone, not just a favored few.  …Recent reports underscore the extent of the challenge. …long-term trends continued to point in the wrong direction. The employment-to-population ratio is lower than it was at the official end of the Great Recession in mid-2009. The labor-force participation rate dropped to 62.8%, the lowest since the late 1970s. …from 2010 to 2013 median family income corrected for inflation declined by 5%, even as average family income rose by 4%. Only families at the very top of the income distribution saw gains during this period. Family incomes between the 40th and 90th percentiles stagnated, while families at the bottom experienced substantial declines.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the American people understand that class warfare and redistribution is not a route to a better life.

They are much more supportive of policies that increase the size of the economic pie.

Americans have strong views about the economic course policy makers should pursue. Surveys of 3,000 Americans conducted between January and March of 2014 by the Global Strategy Group found that fully 78% thought that it was important for Congress to promote an agenda of economic growth that would benefit all Americans. …Strategies to spread wealth more evenly and reduce income inequality received the least support; 53% believe that fostering economic growth is “extremely important,” compared with only 30% who take that view about narrowing income inequality. …These views have political consequences. By 59% to 37%, Global Strategy Group found that Americans prefer a candidate who focuses on economic growth to one who emphasizes economic fairness. By a remarkable margin of 64 percentage points (80% to 16%), they opt for a candidate who focuses on more economic growth to one who emphasizes less income inequality.

What makes these results especially notable, as pointed out by another WSJ columnist, is that the Global Strategy Group is a Democrat-connected polling firm.

Here’s some of what James Freeman wrote.

Now here’s something you don’t see every day. A prominent Democratic polling firm has found that voters don’t view reducing income inequality as a top priority. Instead, they want economic growth. …The results were released in April but until now have received almost no attention in the press. No doubt the findings would have rudely interrupted the months-long media celebration of Thomas Piketty and his error-filled and widely unread book on income inequality. And the survey data suggest that the core message of President Obama and his political outfit Organizing for Action is off target.the Obama economic message is all about redistributing wealth, not creating it. But as the liberals at Global Strategy Group felt compelled to observe, “Growth-focused candidates appeal to many more voters.”

I’m very encouraged by these numbers.

For decades, I’ve been telling folks in Washington that growth trumps fairness. And I’ve made that argument based on policy and politics.

The policy part is easy. All you have to do is compare, say, France to Hong Kong if you want evidence that pro-growth policy is how you help the less fortunate.

But since I worry that America’s social capital is eroding, I’m also concerned that people might be more sympathetic to redistribution. In other words, maybe a growth message no longer is effective when trying to get votes.

According the Global Strategy Group data, though, voters still understand that it’s better for politicians to focus on growing the pie.

In this same spirit, here’s an interview I did earlier in the week for Blaze TV. The early part of the discussion is about a new Harvard report on the economy. But since the report didn’t say anything, skip to the relevant part of the interview, which starts at about 3:15. I explain that economic growth is the only viable way of boosting the well being of lower-income Americans.

And if you want more information on why growth is better for the poor than redistribution, click here.

P.S. For a humorous explanation of why the dependency agenda is so destructive, here’s the politically correct version of the fable of the Little Red Hen.

And the socialism-in-the-classroom example, which may or may not be an urban legend, makes a similar point.

But I think this pizza analogy may be the best way of showing that redistribution doesn’t help the poor.

P.P.S. I still think Margaret Thatcher has the best explanation of why the left is wrong on inequality. And if you want to see a truly disturbing video of a politicians with a different perspective, click here.

P.P.P.S. We have yet another update (updating yesterday’s update, which updated previous stories) on horrific IRS abuse.

Take a look at this video, which features the big Democratic donor who was made head of the IRS by Obama, and get a load of his cavalier attitude about the IRS obeying the law.

If you watch the entire exchange, I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Koskinen wasn’t saying that the IRS shouldn’t obey the law. But his flippant response, combined with the Obama Administration’s repeated decisions to arbitrarily ignore and/or change existing law, certainly shows that the ruling class isn’t very serious about the rule of law.

And that’s not a good sign for America’s future.

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When asked about the most worrisome statistic for a nation, I don’t say it’s the top marginal tax rate, even though I think class-warfare taxation is very poisonous for long-run economic performance.

Nor do I say it’s the burden of government spending relative to private economic output, even though the size of the public sector gives us a good idea of the degree to which labor and capital are being poorly allocated.

I don’t even say that a nation’s score in the Economic Freedom of the World index is the most important number, even though that’s the best and most comprehensive measure of the quality of a country’s economic policy.

My answer, for what it’s worth, is that a nation is doomed when a majority of its people decide that it is morally and economically okay to live off the labor of others and want to use the coercive power of government to make it happen.

For lack of a better term, we can call this a country’s Dependency Ratio, and it’s a measure of eroding social capital. To what degree, in other words, has the entitlement mentality replaced the work ethic and the spirit of self reliance?

But before continuing further, I want to provide two important caveats.

1) The Dependency Ratio is not the percentage of households that get money from the government. That’s an important number, to be sure, but it includes people who get money but don’t have an entitlement mentality. A good example is that Social Security recipients in America get checks from Uncle Sam, but only because they had no choice but to pay into the system and did not have the freedom to use that money instead for a personal retirement account. In many if not most cases, they don’t see themselves as part of a “takers” coalition.

2) From a practical perspective, the Dependency Ratio is a good concept, but I’m not aware of a methodologically sound way to calculate a nation’s entitlement mentality. And there’s definitely not good data for purposes of doing international comparisons (though this polling data suggests that the problem is much more severe in nations such as France than it is in the United States). So you have to rely on imperfect proxy measures, such as the share of households getting payments, the size and cost of the bureaucracy, and overall social welfare spending.

I’ve shared all these thoughts because they give the necessary background for today’s main topic, which is South Africa’s dismal economic future.

Take a look at this very depressing chart that appeared in my Twitter feed. It shows what has happened over the past five years in South Africa’s labor market.

This isn’t good news. The number of bureaucrats has risen dramatically while there’s been no growth in the number of people working in the economy’s productive sector.

If this trend continues, it’s only a matter of time before South Africa suffers economic collapse. You can’t have an ever-growing class of people living off a non-growing pool of taxpayers.

However, I realize that the chart only shows five years of data, so it could present a misleading view of trends in the country, particularly if there are policy reforms in other areas that might offset the damage of expanding bureaucracy.

So let’s look at other economic sources to confirm whether South Africa is moving in the wrong direction.

I mentioned above that the Economic Freedom of the World has the best data on the quality of a nation’s economic policy. Here’s South Africa’s performance.

The good news is that South Africa enjoyed a big jump in economic freedom between 1990 and 2000, which isn’t too surprising since the morally abominable Apartheid regime relied on heavy levels of government intervention. Ending that system was a key step in economic liberalization.

But the bad news is that there’s been no improvement since that time. Indeed, South Africa’s score has declined. The fall in the absolute score is minor, but bigger problem is that the nation’s relative score has suffered a big drop. If you look at the blue bars on the bottom, you can see that South Africa had the world’s 36th-freest economy in 2003, but it’s now down to having the world’s 88th-freest economy.

In other words, other nations have moved policy in the right direction while South Africa has been stagnant.

Since I’m a fiscal policy economist, I also looked at what’s been happening to the burden of government spending in South Africa.

As you can see, this chart (based on IMF data) shows that government outlays (left axis) have jumped significantly since the turn of the century.

And since government grew faster than the private sector (violating the Golden Rule), the overall burden of government spending increased (right axis) even when measured as a share of economic output.

I don’t know if the additional spending has been used to pay for additional bureaucrats, social welfare programs, infrastructure, education, or the military.

I suspect all of the above, which helps to explain why South Africa’s fiscal policy score from Economic Freedom of the World has dropped from 6.45 to 5.45 (on a 1-10 scale) since 2000.

More important, I also suspect that the net result is to have lured lots of additional people into government dependency.

That doesn’t bode well for South Africa’s future.

P.S. On a different topic, we have a couple of updates on the politicized and corrupt behavior at the IRS.

First, we have another case of misplaced email messages. Here’s an excerpt from an AP report.

On Friday, the IRS issued a report to Congress saying the agency also lost emails from five other employees related to the probe, including two agents who worked in a Cincinnati office processing applications for tax-exempt status. …The IRS blamed computer crashes for all the lost emails.

Gee, how convenient.

I wonder if the IRS will allow me to claim lost data next time I have a tax dispute?

Second, it’s understandable that the IRS is anxious to hide its internal communication because what does get released shows a partisan and malevolent bureaucracy.

The day that former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner publicly apologized for using “inappropriate criteria” to delay tax exemptions for Tea Party groups, she told her colleagues that they were being “beaten up by the press for all the wrong reasons.” …The documents show Lerner’s efforts to persuade Treasury auditors that there was no institutional bias at the IRS, the agency’s attempts to head off a damaging investigation with a pre-emptive apology, and Lerner’s pep talk to her staff after the apology. …The idea for a public apology to head off the audit came at least a month before. Lerner was set to give a speech at Georgetown University and was “begging” for some newsworthy information, IRS chief of staff Nikole Flax said in an e-mail. “We may want to use it to burst a bubble,” said then-acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller in response. He later joked that Lerner could use the speech to “apologize for undermanaging.”

Amazing. The bureaucrats laughed about their efforts to terrorize people and distort the political process.

The only real solution is sweeping tax reform so the IRS loses almost all its power.

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