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Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

I thought TARP was the sleaziest-ever example of cronyism and corruption in Washington.

The Wall Street bailout rewarded politically well-connected companies, encouraged moral hazard, and ripped off taxpayers. Heck, it was so bad that it makes the sleaze at the Export-Import Bank seem almost angelic by comparison.

But I may have to reassess my views.

One of the provisions of Obamacare allows the White House to give bailouts to big health insurance companies. You’re probably wondering why these big firms would need bailouts. After all, didn’t Obamacare coerce millions of people into becoming involuntary customers of these companies? That should give them lots of unearned profits, right?

But here’s the catch. The President wasn’t being honest when he repeatedly promised that Obamacare would reduce premiums for health insurance. And since the Democrats don’t want consumers to get angry about rising costs (particularly before the 2014 elections), they want health insurance companies to under-charge.

Avik Roy of Forbes explains in greater detail how the White House is coercing health insurance companies to limit premium increases before the mid-term elections. Here are some excerpts.

Hidden in the midst of a 436 page regulatory update, and written in pure bureaucratese, the Department of Health and Human Services asked that insurance companies limit the looming premium increases for 2015 health plans. But don’t worry, HHS hinted: we’ll bail you out on the taxpayer’s dime if you lose money. …The White House is playing politics with Americans’ health care—and they’re bribing health insurance companies to play along. The administration’s intention is clear: Salvage the 2014 midterm elections. …Technically, the regulations don’t force health insurance companies to tamp down their premium spikes. But the White House isn’t asking nicely. …Under Obamacare, insurers are so heavily regulated that they have to play nice with the bureaucrats who call the shots. …If insurance companies don’t give in, regulators have powerful ways to make life hard for them. A shrewd CEO doesn’t need to look far to see what might happen if his company opts out.

But before you feel sorry for Big Insurance, remember that these corrupt companies supported Obamacare and fully expect to get bailed out by taxpayers. Here are some blurbs from an article last month in the Weekly Standard.

Most Americans don’t think it’s their job to bail out insurance companies who lose money under Obamacare, but that’s exactly what’s poised to happen. Obamacare’s risk-corridor program — which President Obama has been using as a slush fund to placate his insurance allies and keep them quiet about his lawlessness — shifts financial risk from insurers to taxpayers. According to the House Oversight Committee, health insurers expect Obamacare’s risk corridors to net them nearly $1 billion, at taxpayer expense, this year alone. …It was a win-win that would boost Obamacare in its early days — to the benefit of those who’ve gained extraordinary power at the expense of Americans’ liberty, and of those whose product has become mandatory for Americans to purchase.

In other words, we have a stereotypical example of Mitchell’s Law. Government screws up something, and then uses that mess as an excuse to impose more bad policy!

This Lisa Benson cartoon is a perfect summary of what’s happening.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for some dark humor, here’s the federal government’s satirical bailout application form.

P.P.S. Switching to a different topic, it’s time for me to rectify a mistake. When I first created the Moocher Hall of Fame last year, I didn’t include the “Octo-moocher” as a charter member. After all, having 14 kids while living on the dole didn’t seem particularly noteworthy.

But now we’ve discovered that she could afford her kids. She just wanted other people to pick up the tab.

Octomom Nadya Suleman pleaded no contest Monday to a single count of misdemeanor welfare fraud for failing to disclose income she was receiving from videos and personal appearances while collecting more than $26,000 in public assistance funds to care for her 14 children.

This may not be as impressive as the deadbeat who got handouts while living on a $1.2 million yacht, but still worthy of membership.

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We’re going to touch on two topics today.

I realize that not that many readers care about Greek economic policy, but sometimes other nations can teach us very important lessons. For better or worse.

And in the case of Greece, the lesson is that government intervention and bureaucracy is an enemy of entrepreneurship.

Probably the most amazing – and weird – example is that the Greek government wanted stool samples from entrepreneurs seeking to set up an online company (and, just to be clear, I’m not talking about furniture).

We now have another example, but it’s seems more tragic than bizarre. Here are some really sad passages from a column in the New York Times by a woman who tried set up a business in Greece.

I managed to master the perfect macaron. I was ready to sell them. I invested every penny I earned in high-quality photographs, a superbly designed website and tasteful packaging. “Le macaron grec” was born and the little olive green boxes of treats I was selling were, I thought, my chance to regain control of my life. “Le macaron grec” became a huge success, as I was in demand to cater parties and weddings. …I felt like I was on my way.

Until the visible foot of government interfered with the invisible hand of the market.

…as happens so often in Greece, the bureaucrats had other plans. In a country where you are viewed favorably when you spend money but are considered a criminal when you make it, starting a business is a nightmare. The demands are outrageous, and include a requirement that the business pay taxes in advance equal to 50 percent of estimated profit in the first two years. And the taxes are collected even if the business suffers a loss. I needed only 20 square meters for my baking business, but inspectors told me they could not give me permission for less than 150 square meters. I was obliged to have a separate toilet for customers even though I would not have any customers visit. The fire department wanted a security exit in the same place where the municipality demanded a wall be built.

So what happened? Was she able to satisfy the costly requirements of big government?

Alas, we don’t have a happy ending.

I, like thousands of others trying to start businesses, learned that I would be at the mercy of public employees who interpreted the laws so they could profit themselves. And so in the winter of 2013, my business was finished before it had a chance to take off. The website and a couple of empty boxes in the top of my closet are now the only evidence of the inglorious end of a dream.

Stories like this get me angry. Heck, I’m outraged that taxpayers from around the world have bailed out the Greek government so that bad policy can continue.

Having gotten ourselves all agitated, let’s now enjoy some good news.

It appears that the American people have figured out that our statist president is not doing a very good job. Indeed, they actually have decided he’s the worst president of the past 70 years according to new polling data.

Ironically, even though Obama is probably the most ideologically left-wing president since World War II, I wouldn’t put him in last place. I think Nixon actually did more damage, and Bush II definitely was a bigger spender.

But it’s still good that voters have soured on Obama. As he becomes more and more unpopular, that probably increases support for pro-market policies – such as genuine entitlement reform and real tax reform.

Sort of the way Jimmy Carter paved the way for Reaganomics.

And speaking of Reagan, I’m very happy that he is the runaway winner as America’s best post-WWII president.

P.S. So with Obama now considered the worst and Reagan considered the best, I wonder what the results would be if someone updated this Reagan vs. Obama poll.

P.S.S. Returning to the issue of Greece, that nation’s crazy politicians actually give disability payments to pedophiles.

P.S.S.S. Which is yet another reason why I’m incredulous that so many American politicians want us to mimic Greece’s profligacy (as illustrated by this Henry Payne cartoon).

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Obamacare resulted in big increases in the fiscal burden of government (ironically, it would be even worse if Obama hadn’t unilaterally suspended parts of the law).

The legislation increased government spending, mostly for expanded Medicaid and big subsidies for private insurance.

There were also several tax hikes, with targeted levies on medical device makers and tanning beds, as well as some soak-the-rich taxes on upper-income taxpayers.

These various policies are bad news for economic performance, but the damage of Obamacare goes well beyond these provisions.

Writing for Real Clear Markets, Professor Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago explains that Obamacare contains huge implicit tax hikes on work and other forms of productive behavior.

…can we begin to take seriously the idea that the fiscal policies and regulations hidden in the Affordable Care Act are shrinking our economy? …Politicians and journalists use the term tax more narrowly than economists do, but the economic definition is needed to understand the economic effects of the ACA. …Withholding benefits from people who work or earn is hardly different than telling them to pay a tax. For this reason, economists refer to benefits withheld as “implicit taxes.” What really matters for labor market performance is the reward to working inclusive of implicit taxes, and not the amount of revenue delivered to the government treasury… The ACA…is full of implicit taxes. Many of them have remained hidden in the “fog of controversy” surrounding the law and their effects excluded from economic analyses of it.

In other words, his basic message is that the government reduces incentives to be more productive and earn more money when it provides handouts that are based on people earning less money.

Indeed, click here to see a remarkable chart showing how redistribution programs discourage work.

And speaking of charts, here’s one from Professor Mulligan’s article, and it shows the nation’s largest tax hikes based on what happened to the marginal tax rate on working.

Wow. No wonder we’re suffering from a very anemic recovery.

Professor Mulligan elaborates.

During a period that included more than a dozen tax increases, the ACA is arguably the largest as a single piece of legislation, adding about six percentage points to the marginal tax rate faced, on average, by workers in the economy. The only way to cite larger marginal tax increases would be to combine multiple coincident laws, such as the Revenue Acts of 1950 and 1951 and the new payroll tax rate that went into effect in 1950. Even with these adjustments, the ACA is still the third largest marginal tax rate hike during the seventy years. …Let’s not be surprised that, as we implement a new law that taxes jobs and incomes, we are ending up with fewer jobs and less income.

By the way, other academics also have found that Obamacare will lure many people out of the workforce and into government dependency.

The White House actually wants us to believe this is a good thing, as humorously depicted by this Glenn McCoy cartoon.

But rational people understand that our economic output is a function of how much labor and capital are being productively utilized.

In other words, Obamacare is a mess. It’s hurting the economy and should be repealed as the first step in a long journey back to market-based healthcare.

P.S. Mulligan’s chart also re-confirms that unemployment benefits increase unemployment. Heck, that’s such a simple and obvious concept that it’s easily explained in this Wizard-of-Id parody and this Michael Ramirez cartoon.

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One of the many challenges of being libertarian is that people sometimes think you’re naive about foreign policy (sort of like the first entry in this 24-part satirical collage of libertarians).

In large part, I think that’s because they confuse non-interventionism with pacifism.

To elaborate on why they’re wrong, I’ve shared some thoughts from Mark Steyn, George Will, and Steve Chapman on the libertarian mindset on foreign policy. And to augment their analysis, here’s John Stossel’s very good synopsis of the clear-headed libertarian approach.

Most libertarians believe our attempts to create or support democracy around the world have made us new enemies, and done harm as well as good. …Some conservatives respond to that by calling us isolationists, but we’re not. I want to participate in the world; I just don’t want to run it. …it’s realistic to acknowledge that America has dangerous enemies, it’s also realistic to acknowledge that going to war is not always worth the loss of money and lives, and that it makes new enemies. War, like most government plans, tends not to work out as well as planners hoped.

And in a version of Mitchell’s Law, he points out that screwups become the excuse for further mistakes.

Occasionally government acknowledges mistakes in domestic policy — but that doesn’t mean it then becomes more efficient. It usually just spends more to try, and fail, to fix the problem. It’s the nature of government. Politicians don’t face the competitive incentives that force other people to make hard decisions. Candidate Obama garnered support by criticizing Bush for costing money and lives through a protracted stay in Iraq. But that didn’t stop Obama from putting more money and troops into Afghanistan. …Our military should be used for defense, not to police the world.

So where exactly does Obama fit? He’s obviously not a neo-con, but how should he be characterized?

My colleague at Cato, Gene Healy, writes that the President has stumbled upon a good guide for foreign policy.

…there’s something to be said for President Obama’s latest foreign-policy maxim: “don’t do stupid stuff.” …Yet “DDSS” has been greeted with contempt by the D.C. commentariat. “How far we have come from the audacity of hope, yes we can” moans David Rothkopf, publisher of Foreign Policy magazine. “DDSS” just isn’t an “elevating notion,” he complains. (Neither, I suppose, is the Hippocratic Oath.) …The concept of avoiding catastrophic error shouldn’t be hard to grasp.

But having a good guide doesn’t mean anything if you don’t live up to it (just like Bush didn’t live up to his pronouncement that he wanted America to have a “humble” approach to the world).

It’s true that Obama has never lived up to the cautious foreign policy maxim he’s coined: launching a destructive “dumb war” in Libya, doubling down on Afghanistan with precious little to show for it. But “DDSS” is a sound, even noble, foreign policy goal, one that can help us avoid further sacrifice of American blood and treasure — even as we try to extricate ourselves from past stupidities.

I add my two cents to this discussion, pointing out in this interview about Ukraine that Obama sometimes veers in the direction of libertarianism. Or at least non-interventionism.

Unfortunately, I suspect that Obama doesn’t genuinely believe in non-interventionism. Instead, he sometimes winds up doing the right thing because of passivity rather than some underlying and principled desire to avoid foreign entanglements.

Speaking of libertarian foreign policy, this Steve Breen cartoon is a pretty good summary of what we’ve been doing in Afghanistan for the past decade.

This reminds me of being in a coalition meeting last decade and somebody from the Bush Administration was saying the mission  was a success because tax dollars had been used to build a bunch of schools and sewer system in Afghanistan.

Being the disagreeable type, I pointed out that the federal government shouldn’t even build schools and sewers in America, so why on earth were we doing that overseas.

I thought it was a good point, but the silence in the room reminded me that libertarians aren’t always the most persuasive people.

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Last December, we had some amusing humor about Obama’s infamous “selfie” at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

Now we have something far more biting.

Mad magazine has some good satire on the President’s deal with the Taliban.

I’m not competent to discuss the foreign policy angle, or whether Obama’s done the right thing or wrong thing.

But I do appreciate low-blow political humor.

Speaking of which, here’s a Back to the Future parody.

There’s no policy angle, which is what I generally prefer.

But it’s always good to hold politicians of all parties in low esteem.

P.S. If you want more Obama humor, check out this t-shirt, this Pennsylvania joke, this Reagan-Obama comparison, this Wyoming joke, this Bush-Obama comparison, this video satire, and this bumper sticker.

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Two years ago, there was a flurry of excitement because some guy named Rex Nutting crunched annual budget numbers and concluded that Barack Obama was the most fiscally conservative President since at least 1980.

I looked at the data and found a few mistakes, such as a failure to adjust the numbers for inflation, but Nutting’s overall premise was reasonably accurate.

As you can see from the tables I prepared back in 2012, Obama was the third most frugal President based on the growth of total inflation-adjusted spending.

And he was in first place if you looked at primary spending, which is total spending after removing net interest payments (a reasonable step since Presidents can’t really be blamed for interest payments on the debt accrued by their predecessors).

So does this mean Obama is a closet conservative, as my old – but misguided – buddy Bruce Bartlett asserted?

Not exactly. A few days after that post, I did some more calculations and explained that Obama was the undeserved beneficiary of the quirky way that bailouts and related items are measured in the budget.

It turns out that Obama supposed frugality is largely the result of how TARP is measured in the federal budget. To put it simply, TARP pushed spending up in Bush’s final fiscal year (FY2009, which began October 1, 2008) and then repayments from the banks (which count as “negative spending”) artificially reduced spending in subsequent years.

So I removed TARP, deposit insurance, and other bailout-related items, on the assumption that such one-time costs distort the real record of various Administrations.

And that left me with a new set of numbers, based on primary spending minus bailouts. And on this basis, Obama’s record is not exactly praiseworthy.

Instead of being the most frugal President, he suddenly dropped way down in the rankings, beating only Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Which explains why I accused him in 2012 of being a big spender – just like his predecessor.

But the analysis I did two years ago was based on Obama’s record for his first three fiscal years.

So I updated the numbers last year and looked at Obama’s record over his first four years. And it turns out that Obama did much better if you look at the average annual growth of primary spending minus bailouts. Instead of being near the bottom, he was in the middle of the pack.

Did this mean Obama moved to the right?

That’s a judgement call. For what it’s worth, I suspect that Obama’s ideology didn’t change and the better numbers were the result of the Tea Party and sequestration.

But I don’t care who gets credit. I’m just happy that spending didn’t grow as fast.

2014 Spending TotalI’m giving all this background because I’ve finally cranked the most-recent numbers.  And if we look at overall average spending growth for Obama’s first five years and compare that number to average spending growth for other Presidents, he is the most frugal. Adjusted for inflation, the budget hasn’t grown at all. That’s a very admirable outcome.

But what about primary spending? By that measure, we have even better results. 2014 Spending PrimaryThere’s actually been a slight downward trend in the fiscal burden of government during the Obama years.

This doesn’t necessarily mean, to be sure, that Obama deserves credit. Maybe the recent spending restraint in Washington is because of what’s happened in Congress.

I’ve repeatedly argued, for instance, that sequestration was a great victory over the special interests. And Obama vociferously opposed those automatic budget cuts, even to the point of making himself a laughingstock.

But don’t forget that TARP-type expenses can mask important underlying trends. So now let’s look at the numbers that I think are most illuminating. 2014 Spending Primary Minus BailoutsHere’s the data for average inflation-adjusted growth of primary spending minus bailouts.

As you can see, Obama no longer is in first place. But he’s jumped to third place in this category, which is an improvement over prior years and puts him ahead of every Republican other than Reagan. Given that all those other GOPers were statists, that’s not saying much, but it does highlight that party labels don’t necessarily mean much.

My Republican friends are probably getting irritated, so I’ll share one last set of numbers that may make them happy.

I cranked the numbers for average spending growth, but subtracted interest payments, bailouts, and defense outlays. What’s left is domestic spending, and here are the rankings based on those numbers.

2014 Spending Primary - Defense - Bailouts

Reagan easily did the best job of restraining overall domestic discretionary and entitlement outlays. Bill Clinton came in second place, showing that Democrats can preside over reasonably good results. And Richard Nixon came in last place, showing that Republicans can preside over horrible numbers.

Obama, meanwhile, winds up in the middle of the pack. Which is probably very disappointing for the President since he wanted to be a transformational figure who pushed the nation to the left, in the same way that Reagan was a transformational figure who pushed the nation to the right.

Instead, Obama’s only two legacies may turn out to be a failed healthcare plan and a tongue-in-cheek award for being a great recruiter for the cause of libertarianism.

P.S. Historical numbers sometimes change slightly because the government’s data folks massage and re-measure both inflation and spending. Though I confess I’m not sure why the 2013 calculation for Nixon’s primary spending minus bailouts is somewhat different from the 2012 and 2014 numbers. Perhaps I screwed up when copying some of the numbers, which has been known to happen. But since Nixon’s performance isn’t the focus of this post, I’m not going to lose any sleep about the discrepancy.

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If Obamacare is a success, as the White House and establishment media would like us to believe, then why is the Obama Administration so anxious to hide the numbers?

After all, surely we haven’t set the bar so low that the Administration can claim victory simply because it has coerced and/or bribed a few million people into an Obamacare plan?

Here’s some of what the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about a very suspicious change in the way the government measures health insurance coverage.

Out of the blue, the Census Bureau has changed how it counts health insurance—at the precise moment when ObamaCare is roiling the insurance markets. Since 1987, the Current Population Survey, or CPS, has collected information on the health-insurance coverage status of Americans. …But this year the Census revamped the CPS household insurance questions, muddying comparisons between the pre- and post-ObamaCare numbers. …Robert Pear of the New York Times obtained internal Census documents that note that the new CPS system produces lower estimates of the uninsured as an artifact of how the questionnaire is structured. …For changes this substantial, standard procedure would be to ask the new and old questions concurrently. With an overlap, researchers could study changes over time using the long-term historical information without introducing bias, as well as interpret emerging developments with new tools. …this sudden change will undermine public trust in the supposedly nonpartisan institutions of government. Muddying a useful source of information about ObamaCare’s results is definitely unfortunate, but our guess is that it wasn’t coincidental.

Allow me to re-phrase that last sentence. The disingenuous change to the Census data on insurance is about as coincidental as the Administration’s efforts to re-define poverty and about as random as the IRS’s decision to only undermine and attack the political rights of Tea Party groups.

But there’s more to say about Obamacare than merely pointing out dishonest manipulation of government data.

We also have some very bad news for taxpayers.

Here’s what Chuck Blahous wrote for E21, starting with an observation of how the media wants to boost Obama.

Earlier this month there was tremendous press attention to new data indicating that enrollment in the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s health insurance exchanges had surpassed 7 million. …much of the press, desperate to write something positive after months of reporting on website glitches and insurance plan cancellations, characterized the milestone as good political news for ACA supporters.

I’ve already explained that the supposed good news is actually bad news, but Chuck has some very important details on how taxpayers are especially vulnerable.

…what is unfolding before our eyes is a colossal fiscal disaster, poised to haunt legislators and taxpayers for decades to come.It is quite possible that the ACA is shaping up as the greatest act of fiscal irresponsibility ever committed by federal legislators. …the ACA is a commitment to permanently subsidize comprehensive health insurance for millions who could not otherwise afford it, which the federal government has no viable plan to finance. Moreover, experience shows that it is very difficult to scale back such spending once large numbers of Americans have been made dependent.

The article includes a graph that compares the early costs of major entitlement programs.

As you can see, Obamacare’s fiscal burden is second only to Medicare.

Chuck then explains that the costs in the early years for new entitlements are just a drop in the bucket.

…after these initial rollouts, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid costs grew far faster than originally envisioned, sometimes due to subsequent legislation, sometimes due to unanticipated healthcare cost growth. It wouldn’t be surprising for either factor to affect the ACA, which would be even more problematic… We do know that the ACA’s financing mechanisms are already falling apart. The ACA’s much-reported website glitches and enrollment shortfalls had actually suggested an upside; if enrollment continued to fall short of previous projections, it was possible that some of the fiscal damage could be contained. But if enrollment has picked up as the law’s financing mechanisms disintegrate, the fiscal damage will be worse than anticipated.

Needless to say, this is hardly shocking news.

Entitlements inevitably become fiscal swamps and the costs almost always are far higher than the early estimates.

Here’s an oldie-but-goodie video I narrated on the topic of ever-climbing taxpayer burdens for health entitlements.

I’d like to claim that this video proves I have great insight and brilliance, but that would be akin to claiming superior ability for predicting that Chicago is warmer in July than in February.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of government-run healthcare, I recently wrote about Vermont’s plans for a single-payer system.

Except I didn’t really write about the Green Mountain State’s experiment with socialism. Instead, I used the opportunity to discuss third-party payer, which is America’s real government-created healthcare problem.

Now it’s time to say something specifically about what’s happening in Vermont. Though, to be more accurate, all I really need to do is quote Megan McArdle’s column from Bloomberg.

Of the plans that states have hatched for the Affordable Care Act, none has been bolder than that of Vermont, which wants to implement a single-payer health-care system, along the lines of what you might find in Britain or Canada.

Except Vermont politicians haven’t bothered to find a way to pay for this boondoggle.

Vermont needs to find some way to pay for it. Although Act 48 required Vermont to create a single-payer system by 2017, the state hasn’t drafted a bill spelling out how to raise the additional $1.6 billion a year (based on the state’s estimate) the system needs. The state collected only $2.7 billion in tax revenue in fiscal year 2012, so that’s a vexingly large sum to scrape together. …Paying for this program would likely make Vermont the highest-taxed state in the nation, by quite a lot.

Megan thinks the cost would so high that Vermont will abandon the scheme. And she has a very optimistic assessment on what this means nationally.

…this is going to be expensive. So expensive that I doubt Vermont is actually going to go forward with it. This should be instructive for those who hope — or fear — that Obamacare has all been an elaborate preliminary to a nationwide single-payer system. It isn’t. The politics are impossible, and even if they weren’t, the financing would be unthinkable.

I very much hope she’s right, and I’ve actually expressed optimism that Obamacare has changed (in a favorable way) the political dynamics on the healthcare issue.

But I’m still not quite as hopeful as Megan.

Leftists are too clever to make an all-or-nothing push for single-payer on the national level. They know that’s too risky.

But they have been quite adept at incremental changes to expand the role of government and undermine markets.

And if they ever get a new source of revenue, like an energy tax, financial transactions tax, or a value-added tax, then they’ll be able to push for even more statism.

P.P.S. If you want some fun reading about single-payer, check out these horror stories about the system in the United Kingdom.

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President Obama and many other leftist politicians are running around the nation claiming that supposedly greedy employers are deliberately choosing to reduce their profits.

They’re not actually making that specific claim, but that’s what they’re asserting, for all intents and purposes, when they claim that women are not getting equal pay for equal work.

Inaccurate, but nonetheless clever

If genuine and pervasive sexism existed, then non-discriminatory employers could dramatically reduce labor costs – and therefore dramatically increase profits – by getting rid of overpaid male workers and hiring women. Does anyone really think entrepreneurs and business owners are willing to sacrifice big profits simply because of anti-women animus?

That’s what Obama would like us to believe. And he wants the government to have the power to second-guess the decisions of private businesses. Heck, he probably would like to make America like Europe, where there are efforts to impose gender quotas.

And one of his chief economists tried to back up the President’s claims. Here’s some of what Ashe Schow wrote on the issue for the Washington Examiner.

While detailing executive actions President Obama plans to take Tuesday regarding equal pay for women, Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said very defiantly that…women… continue to make less than men. …“They’re stuck at 77 cents on the dollar, and that gender wage gap is seen very persistently across the income distribution, within occupations, across occupations, and we see it when men and women are working side by side doing identical work.” That sounds awfully specific. Stevenson certainly sounds like she’s saying men and women doing the exact same job are earning very different pay.

Ms. Stevenson certainly was trying to be a loyal employee.

But then something very unusual happened. A journalist actually asked a real question.

And Ms. Stevenson, who obviously didn’t want to make herself a laughingstock to her colleagues in the economics profession, was forced to admit that the President is peddling nonsense.

…as soon as Stevenson was actually questioned about the statistic by McClatchy reporter Lindsay Wise, the White House adviser crumbled, admitting her earlier comments were inaccurate. “If I said 77 cents was equal pay for equal work, then I completely misspoke,” Stevenson said. “So let me just apologize and say that I certainly wouldn’t have meant to say that.” …Don’t expect Obama to admit any of this as he travels around the country continuing to claim that women don’t earn as much as men.

So why did Ms. Stevenson quickly back down? Well, perhaps she is familiar with the work of Christina Hoff Sommers, who has explained that men and women do get equal pay when you adjust for career choices, labor supply, and other factors.

There’s lots of evidence that the supposed sexist pay gap is a political weapon rather than economic reality.

Mary Perry and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute just wrote a very thorough debunking of the pay gap myth for the Wall Street Journal. Here are some of the key passages, starting with an explanation that the pay gap largely disappears when you make apples-to-apples comparisons.

…the numbers bandied about to make the claim of widespread discrimination are fundamentally misleading and economically illogical. …Men were almost twice as likely as women to work more than 40 hours a week, and women almost twice as likely to work only 35 to 39 hours per week. Once that is taken into consideration, the pay gap begins to shrink. Women who worked a 40-hour week earned 88% of male earnings. Then there is the issue of marriage and children. The BLS reports that single women who have never married earned 96% of men’s earnings in 2012.

Wow. No wonder Steve Chapman wrote that the left’s pay-gap rhetoric is “a myth resting on a deception.”

But there’s more.

Risk is another factor. Nearly all the most dangerous occupations, such as loggers or iron workers, are majority male and 92% of work-related deaths in 2012 were to men. Dangerous jobs tend to pay higher salaries to attract workers. Also: Males are more likely to pursue occupations where compensation is risky from year to year, such as law and finance. Research shows that average pay in such jobs is higher to compensate for that risk.

Finally, Perry and Biggs seal the argument by pointing out that discrimination doesn’t make sense in a competitive market.

…gender-disparity claims are also economically illogical. If women were paid 77 cents on the dollar, a profit-oriented firm could dramatically cut labor costs by replacing male employees with females. Progressives assume that businesses nickel-and-dime suppliers, customers, consultants, anyone with whom they come into contact—yet ignore a great opportunity to reduce wages costs by 23%. They don’t ignore the opportunity because it doesn’t exist.

By the way, this does not mean that discrimination doesn’t exist.

I’m sure there are still some employers who let sex or race play a role in their decisions. But such people are not only immoral, but also stupid. They are giving up potential profits to indulge their own insecurities.

And other employers will take advantage of their foolishness.

In other words, the free market is the best way to fight discrimination, not government intervention.

P.S. Walter Williams explains that racial and sexual profiling sometimes makes sense.

P.P.S. I explain that anti-discrimination laws can boomerang against intended beneficiaries.

P.P.P.S. There is real evidence that tall people and attractive people are paid more, though I nonetheless argue that government is incapable of addressing this issue.

P.P.P.P.S. For those who are genuinely worried about discrimination, particularly against minorities, the real issues to address are Social Security and government schools.

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I’ve observed, reported, mocked, written, and explained that Obamacare is a cluster-you-know-what.

So I’m rather bemused and frustrated by the latest pro-Obamacare spin that the law is a “success” because there are now 7 million people who have picked a plan.

There are lots of reasons for normal people to have a what-the-expletive-deleted response to this declaration of victory. For instance:

The goal of Obamacare was to insure the uninsured, yet that number has barely budged, so why is the Administration allowed to move the goalposts to something far more modest?

Obamacare also was supposed to lower premiums by $2500 and allow everyone to keep their plans and their preferred providers, so what happened to those goals?

And why should we even believe the White House spin when we have no idea whether people who have picked a plan have actually paid for that plan?

Moreover, what’s so impressive about getting some people to sign up for plans when they can get something that’s subsidized by taxpayers or other consumers?

But here’s an image put together by Senator Cruz’s office that may be the best – and certainly most amusing – look at the Administration’s supposed “achievement.”

Obamacare Broken WIndows

Amen. People are being both coerced and bribed to sign up for Obamacare, in many cases after the law forced the cancellation of plans that they liked.

So why are we supposed to applaud the fact that a small fraction of the population has chosen the only possible option?

That’s the same mentality that allows politicians to brag about our “voluntary” tax system. As if any of us send our hard-earned money to the crooks in Washington for any reason other than the fact that otherwise we would get arrested.

P.S. Since I commented on our acquiescence to the IRS and our “voluntary” tax system, I will admit thatWashington Tax I’m amused and chagrined by this poster. It’s minimized since it uses a sometimes-inappropriate synonym for wimps.

P.P.S. Since this post was about the “broken window” theory of Obamacare, let’s make sure to give ultimate credit to Bastiat, who came up with the original broken windows analogy (as captured by this cartoon mocking Keynesian economics).

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I spoke yesterday to the Memphis Economics Club about America’s looming fiscal crisis, and I did my usual song-and-dance routine about potential Greek-style chaos in the absence of genuine entitlement reform.

But I confess I was stumped when, after the speech, someone from the audience asked me what was going on with Obamacare.

I can pontificate at length about why government intervention has screwed up our healthcare system, and I can wax poetic about the need to restore market forces both with tax reform and with significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

But I was asked to speculate about the Obama Administration’s strategy, and I didn’t know what to say other than they’re in panic mode and they’re arbitrarily changing or ignoring the law based on short-term political imperatives.

To get an idea what I’m talking about, here’s what the Wall Street Journal opined.

Liberals say they believe in a living Constitution, and apparently they think the Affordable Care Act is a living document too. Amid one more last-minute regulatory delay, number 38 at last count, the mandate forcing nuns to sponsor birth control is more or less the only part of ObamaCare that is still intact. On Tuesday evening, the Health and Human Services Department announced that the six-month open enrollment period for ObamaCare insurance that began in October 2013 and was supposed to end on the last day of March would be extended indefinitely. …The expanded enrollment period was slipped into a legal crevice related to “exceptional circumstances” signing up such as natural disasters including “an earthquake, massive flooding, or hurricane.” …By the way, as part of this delay HHS will make no attempt to verify real enrollment problems and will instead rely on what the agency calls “the honor system.” No one will be asked why they need an extension. …This pattern of dishonesty and political improvisation has come to define ObamaCare, which is the law for some people, sometimes, except when it isn’t. Nothing HHS claims can be trusted, and little that the President of the United States promised about his signature law has turned out to be true.

Well, I must confess that I (sort of) agree with part of what the White House is doing. Obamacare has been a natural disaster.

Building on this theme, Abby McCloskey and Tom Miller have a column in the WSJ with a blunt message about the mandate.

The individual mandate has failed. After a last-ditch effort with President Obama himself encouraging “young invincibles” to sign up before the deadline, …the White House announced that people who applied for coverage on the federal health-insurance exchange will have until mid-April to finish the paperwork. …The individual mandate had the least effect on those it was supposed to encourage to gain coverage—the uninsured. … Goldman Sachs analysts estimate that about one million uninsured Americans will sign up for the ObamaCare exchanges before open enrollment ends. For perspective, that’s about 2% of the 48 million uninsured. A larger share of the exchange enrollees is likely coming from people whose previous coverage was canceled (due to other ObamaCare rules) or those who found a somewhat better deal for exchange coverage (due to much more generous low-income subsidies).

Wow, just 2 percent of the uninsured. That’s a high failure rate, even by government standards.

At this stage, the only good response is to laugh.

So let’s enjoy some Obamacare cartoons, starting with this gem from Glenn McCoy.

Reminds me of my quip about Syria and Obamacare, which even got noticed by Rand Paul!

Here’s Chip Bok having some fun with the government’s disgusting enforcement mechanism.

Brings to mind this flying monkeys cartoon.

Here’s McCoy again, this time mocking the left’s claim that we should be happy about the people who have lost their jobs because of Obamacare.

This Michael Ramirez cartoon is a classic. I especially love the eyes (a talent that Ramirez often exploits).

Needless to say, the White House’s disregard of its own law is largely driven by a desire to avoid election-day backlash, which is why this Gary Varvel cartoon is a good way to close today’s collection.

P.S. If you have a strange yearning to watch me predict the collapse of the western world (basically the same topic of my speech in Memphis), here’s a recording of my recent speech to the Center for Political Studies in Denmark.

And if you get bored with more than 60 minutes of my supposed wisdom, you can skip the rest of the video and look at the real highlight of my trip to Copenhagen, the “welfare state party ship.”

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In recent weeks, I’ve pontificated on Obama’s spendthrift budget, Congressman Dave Camp’s timid tax reform plan, and the corrupt cronyism of Washington.

I got to elaborate on all these topics – and more – in this interview with Professor Glenn Reynolds, more widely known as Instapundit.

If there was an overall theme, it’s that President Obama’s statist agenda is not helping the country.

Other than my hair looking strange, I think this was a good interview.

But here’s a point I probably should have included when assessing the President’s performance. If you look at the Census Bureau’s data on median household income (adjusted for inflation), you’ll see that the median American is earning less during the Obama years. And that’s true whether you use 2008 or 2009 as the base year.

Median Household Income

Now let me provide three caveats on this data, two that help Obama and another that is less favorable.

1. First, if you look at the historical data from the Census Bureau, you’ll see that median household income is a lagging indicator. That means that incomes don’t improve in the first year or two of a recovery.

In other words, you can argue, with considerable justification, that Obama inherited bad numbers.

2. Second, median household income is an incomplete measure of living standards. If you peruse the data, you’ll see that median income for 2012 (the latest available year) is lower than it was the year Reagan left office.

I’m a big Reagan fan, so I’m tempted to say the country has lost ground since he left office, but that would be an exaggeration. We obviously have higher living standards today, notwithstanding the Census Bureau numbers.

3. But I’m not making excuses for Obama. My third and final caveat is that the median numbers don’t tell the full story. If you look at the Census Bureau’s numbers for various income groups, you’ll see that the only cohort that has enjoyed higher real income during the Obama years is….drum roll, please…the rich!

You read correctly. The bottom 20 percent have suffer lower incomes. The three middle-income quintiles have lost ground. Even the top 20 percent have lower median incomes. The only group that is ahead is the top 5 percent.

In other words, Obama may use lots of class-warfare rhetoric to pretend he’s on the side of ordinary people.

But his policies (TARPSolyndra, etc) have been enormously beneficial to the cronyists and insiders that have made the Washington metropolitan area so wealthy.

Here’s some of what Senator Portman of Ohio had to say about the topic.

It’s been five years since the experts said the recession was over, but for millions of Americans, it feels like it never ended. We’re living through the weakest economic recovery since World War II, and a lot of folks are struggling to make ends meet. Unemployment remains stubbornly high; the number of long-term unemployed is actually at record levels. But these statistics only tell half the story. Eleven million Americans have become so discouraged that they’ve given up looking for work altogether. Poverty rates have gone up, salaries have gone down, with the average family now bringing home $4,000 less than they did just five years ago.

Just in case you doubt Portman’s remarks, here’s the chart I produced using data from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank.

It shows every recovery since end of World War II. The red line is Obamanomics.

Hmmm….this is almost enough to make one think that maybe we should try free markets and small government instead.

P.S. This Gary Varvel cartoon provides a good synopsis of Obama’s economic policy.

Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

I also like Varvel’s take on Obamacare, and here’s another one of his cartoons on Obamanomics.

Varvel is the best at exposing the spending-cut hoax in DC, as you can see from this sequester cartoon and this deficit reduction cartoon. This cartoon about Bernie Madoff and Social Security, however, is at the top of my list.

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The President’s new budget has been unveiled.

There are lots of provisions that deserve detailed attention, but I always look first at the overall trends. Most specifically, I want to see what’s happening with the burden of government spending.

And you probably won’t be surprised to see that Obama isn’t imposing any fiscal restraint. He wants spending to increase more than twice as fast as needed to keep pace with inflation.

Obama 2015 Budget Growth

What makes these numbers so disappointing is that we learned last month that even a modest bit of spending discipline is all that’s needed to balance the budget.

By the way, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the President also wants a $651 billion tax hike.

That’s in addition to the big fiscal cliff tax hike from early last and the (thankfully smaller) tax increase in the Ryan-Murray budget that was approved late last year.

P.S. Since we’re talking about government spending, I may as well add some more bad news.

I’ve shared some really outrageous examples of government waste, but here’s a new example that has me foaming at the mouth. Government bureaucrats are flying in luxury and sticking taxpayers with big costs. Here are some of the odious details from the Washington Examiner.

What can $4,367 buy? For one NASA employee, it bought a business-class flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Vienna, Austria. Coach-class fare for the same flight was $39. The federal government spent millions of dollars on thousands of upgraded flights for employees in 2012 and 2013, paying many times more for business and first-class seats than the same flights would have cost in coach or the government-contracted rate. …Agencies report their premium travel expenses to the General Services Administration each year. These reports were obtained by the Washington Examiner through Freedom of Information Act requests. …The most common reasons across agencies for such “premium” flights in 2012 and 2013 were medical necessities and flights with more than 14 hours of travel time.

By the way, “medical necessities” is an easily exploited loophole. All too often, bureaucrats get notes from their doctors saying that they have bad backs (or something similarly dodgy) and that they require extra seating space.

Probably the same doctors who participate in the disability scam.

But I’m digressing. It’s sometimes hard to focus when there are so many examples of foolish government policy.

Let’s look at more examples of taxpayers getting reamed.

One such flight was a trip from Washington, D.C., to Brussels, Belgium, which cost $6,612 instead of $863. Similar mission-required upgrades included several flights to Kuwait for $6,911 instead of $1,471, a flight from D.C. to Tokyo for $7,234 instead of $1,081 and a trip from D.C. to Paris for $6,037 instead of $477. …NASA employees also racked up a long list of flights that cost 26, 72 and even 112 times the cost of coach fares, according to Examiner calculations. Several space agency employees flew from Oslo, Norway, to Tromso, Norway — a trip that should have cost $65. Instead, each flew business class for $4,668. Another NASA employee flew from Frankfurt, Germany, to Cologne, Germany, for $6,851 instead of $133, a flight that cost almost 52 times more than the coach fare. …One flight from D.C. to Hanoi, Vietnam, for an informational meeting cost $15,529 instead of $1,649, according to the agency’s 2012 report.

Frankfurt to Cologne for $6851?!? Did the trip include caviar and a masseuse? A domestic flight in Norway for $4668? Was the plane made of gold?

I do enough international travel to know that these prices are absurd, even if you somehow think bureaucrats should get business class travel (and they shouldn’t).

And as you might suspect, much of the travel was for wasteful boondoggles.

Department of the Interior employees, for example, flew to such exotic locations as Costa Rica, Denmark, Japan and South Africa in 2012. …The Department of Labor sent employees to places like Vietnam and the Philippines for “informational meetings,” conferences and site visits.

The one sliver of good news is that taxpayers didn’t get ripped off to the same extent last year as they did the previous year.

The agencies spent $5.7 million in 2012, almost double the $3 million they paid for premium travel in 2013.

The moral of the story is that lowering overall budgets – as happened in 2013 – is the only effective way of reducing waste.

P.P.S. Want to know why the tax reform plan introduced by Congressman Dave Camp was so uninspiring, as I noted last week?

The answer is that he preemptively acquiesced to the left’s demands that class warfare should guide tax policy. Politico has the details.

Republicans had vowed for more than three years to slash the top individual income tax rate to 25 percent as part of a Tax Code overhaul. …last week Camp abandoned plans for a deep cut in the top marginal tax rate. He settled for 35 percent, which is just 4 percentage points lower than the current one. “It was a distribution issue,” Camp said. Getting all the way down to 25 percent “would have reduced taxes for the top 1 percent” and “I said we would be distributionally neutral.”

In other words, this is the tax code version of the Brezhnev Doctrine. Whenever the left is successful is raising the tax burden on the so-called rich (the top 20 percent already bears two-thirds of the burden), that then supposedly becomes a never-to-be-changed benchmark.

Fortunately, Reagan did not accept the left’s distorted rules and we got the Economic Recovery Tax Act in 1981, which helped trigger the 1980s boom.

And even when Reagan agreed to “distributional neutrality,” as happened as part of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, at least he got something big in exchange.

The Camp plan, by contrast, is thin gruel.

A big rate cut is what powered the last major tax overhaul, in 1986, which delivered tax cuts to every income group while slicing the top rate to 28 percent from a whopping 50 percent. …Lawmakers may look at the proposal and think: “I’m having the world coming down on me” and “all this just to get the rate down 4 points?”

That being said, the Camp plan has plenty of good features, including modest rate reductions and repeal of a few bad loopholes. But it’s accompanied by some really bad provisions, such as increased double taxation and higher taxes on business investment.

P.P.P.S. Long-time readers may remember this amusing Reagan-Obama comparison.

For understandable reasons, that’s what crossed my mind when seeing this example of Obama humor.

I should hasten to add, incidentally, that this is not to suggest I want Obama to do anything about the Ukrainian conflict (other than perhaps encourage decentralized power).

Unless one genuinely thinks that Putin has both the capacity and the desire for global imperialism, it’s hard to see how America’s national security is affected.

But I still appreciate good political humor. I like it when Obama is the target, and I like it even when it’s directed at people like me.

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One of my goals is to convince people that even small differences in long-run growth can have a powerful impact on living standards and societal prosperity.

In other words, the economy is not a fixed pie. The right policies, such as free markets and small government, can create a better life for everybody.

And bad policy, needless to say, can have the opposite impact.

Very few people realize, for instance, that Argentina was one of the world’s 10-richest nations at the end of World War II, but interventionist policies have weakened growth and caused the country to plummet in the rankings.

Hong Kong, by contrast, had a relatively poor economy at the end of the war, but now is one of the globe’s most prosperous jurisdictions.

If you want more examples, check out this chart showing how North Korea and South Korea have diverged over time.

Or how about the chart showing how Chile has out-performed other major Latin American economies.

This comparison of living standards in the United States and Europe also is very compelling.

Here’s a simple guide to highlight the difference between weak growth and strong growth. It shows how long it takes a nation to double economic output depending on annual growth.

As you can see, a nation with 1 percent growth (think Italy) will have to wait 70 years before the economic pie doubles in size.

But a nation that grows 4 percent or faster each year (think Singapore) will double GDP in less than 20 years.

Years to Double GDP

So why am I plowing through all this material?

My answer is simple, but depressing. I’m worried that the United States is becoming more like Europe. During the Bush-Obama years, we’ve seen big increases in the size and scope of government, and it’s no surprise that we’re now suffering from anemic economic performance.

That’s the first point I made in this interview with Michelle Fields of PJTV.

Much of the material in the interview will be familiar to regular readers, but a few points deserve some emphasis.

I say that America becoming more like Europe isn’t the end of the world, but I should elaborate. What I meant is that we can survive 2 percent growth instead of 3 percent growth. We could even survive 1 percent growth.

But if we continue on the current path of ever-growing government and combine that with an aging population and poorly designed entitlement programs, then we will see the end of the world. At least in the sense of fiscal crisis and economic collapse.

All the points I make about jobs, employment, labor force participation, unemployment insurance and disability are simply different ways of saying that it’s not good for the economy when politicians continuously make dependency more attractive than work.

If you want to know more about why the so-called stimulus was a failure, my article in The Federalist is a nice place to start.

The libertarian fantasy world of a small central government is a very good goal, but it’s still possible to make significant progress if politicians follow Mitchell’s Golden Rule.

P.S. You may recognize the host because she narrated a very good video for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Michelle explained how the big-government policies of Hoover and Roosevelt deepened and extended the Great Depression.

She also exposed rich leftists as complete hypocrites in this interview.

P.P.S. Since I mentioned above that South Korea has far surpassed North Korea, I should share this powerful nighttime picture of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea v South Korea

Gee, maybe capitalism is better than statism after all.

Unless, of course, you think there’s something really nice about North Korea to offset South Korea’s economic advantages.

Such as malnutrition or enslavement. Or a small carbon footprint, which led some nutjobs to rank Cuba far above America.

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Just like Clark Kent could change into Superman, President Obama has a remarkable ability to change into King Obama.

Tired of that pesky Constitution? Irritated that the Founding Fathers created a system based on separation of powers? Well, there’s a superhero to overcome those obstacles.

Faster than a last-minute Obamacare reg! More powerful than the Tenth Amendment! Able to leap the enumerated powers clause in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s SuperPresident!”)… Yes, it’s SuperPresident … strange visitor from corrupt Chicago, who came to Washington with powers and hubris far beyond those of the Founding Fathers! SuperPresident … who can change the course of the Constitution, bend the Bill of Rights in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Barack Obama, mild-mannered uniter who stops the rise of the oceans and heals the planet, fights a never-ending battle for redistribution, statism, and the French way!

And what has our superhero done lately?

He’s arbitrarily and unilaterally changed the Obamacare law.

Since it’s the 18th time he’s done that, this may not seem very newsworthy. But the latest change is particularly interesting because the President is ordering certain companies to maintain their existing payrolls.

Check out this blurb from a Fox News story.

Obama officials made clear in a press briefing that firms would not be allowed to lay off workers to get into the preferred class of those businesses with 50 to 99 employees. …Firms will be required to certify to the IRS–under penalty of perjury–that ObamaCare was not a motivating factor in their staffing decisions. To avoid ObamaCare costs you must swear that you are not trying to avoid ObamaCare costs.

When this story first came to my attention, thanks to James Taranto, something seemed eerily familiar.

Where had I read about a government ordering companies to freeze in place their employment levels.

I went through all the usual suspects in my mind. Was it Argentina? Was it France? How about California?

And then it struck me that life was imitating fiction. Obama’s policy is so bad that it resembles a scene in an Ayn Rand novel.

In her most famous work, Atlas Shrugged, the political elite try to halt the economy’s decline by imposing Directive 10-289, which seeks to freeze in place all factors of production – including the number of workers at each firm.

All workers, wage earners and employees of any kind whatsoever shall henceforth be attached to their jobs and shall not leave nor be dismissed nor change employment.

Obama’s latest diktat doesn’t go nearly as far as Directive 10-289, thankfully, but it’s more than a bit disturbing that we’ve gotten to the point where a bunch of hacks in Washington think that they have the right to tell private companies how many people they’re allowed to have on the payroll.

But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

This isn’t the first time that the real-world unfolding of Obamacare has resembled a scene from Atlas Shrugged. Back in 2011, I wrote about how the waiver process for escaping the law was almost identical to the corrupt system of unfreezing railroad bonds in the book.

P.S. While searching online to get the details of Directive 10-289, I saw that John Sexton, writing for Breitbart, beat me to the punch.

P.P.S. If you prefer to get anti-statism satire from Superman instead of Atlas Shrugged, you may enjoy this cartoon.

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Very few political cartoons make me laugh out loud.

Even when I look back at the all-time favorites that I included in my political cartoonist contest, most of them are on that list because they make a very effective and clever point about public policy.

Though I do recall being very amused by Glenn McCoy’s cartoon on media bias, Chip Bok’s war-on-women cartoon, and Robert Ariail’s cartoon about Greece and the euro.

But I don’t think any of them made me laugh as much as this gem by Scott Stantis.

Socialist Obama Cartoon

I don’t even know why it struck me as being so funny.

Yes, I have a peculiar interest in international economic policy, so I’m fully aware that President Hollande of France is a disaster, but I’m not sure that’s enough to make a cartoon amusing.

And I’ve commented several times on the debate over whether Obama is a socialist, but that’s hardly a topic that lends itself to humor.

Hollande v ObamaOr perhaps I’m just a narcissist and I appreciated a cartoon that was somewhat similar to one of my homemade jokes about Hollande and Obama.

Beats me.

But kudos to Scott Stantis (who also is the author of the best-ever cartoon on the failure of Keynesian stimulus).

Since we’re looking at funny cartoons, it’s time to give some credit to the other side.

I don’t often find much humor on the left, but this cartoon on income inequality is worth sharing.

It’s from the New Yorker, though I don’t know the author. And I confess that I’m merely assuming a left-wing perspective.

It’s your call whether this cartoon is as good as the other leftist cartoons I’ve shared, but it is a good caricature of the GOP country club types.

P.S. Yesterday I shared some libertarian valentines.

So in the interest of fairness, here’s are some left-wing valentines.

They’re designed to trick people into signing up for Obamacare.

Our first option is from a group called the National Women’s law Center.

And here’s one from a group named the Young Invincibles.

obamacare valentine

I have to say that I’m not overly impressed with either one of these valentines.

Though anything has to be better pro-Obamacare marketing than Pajama Boy or casual sex (because big government can take the fun out of anything).

JeffersonP.P.S. Speaking of Valentine’s Day, the PotL graced me with her presence, making me an inexplicable winner.

Even if some of my erstwhile friends who watch Modern Family have started to refer to us as Jay and Gloria.

P.P.P.S. Let’s close with a comment on a very odd story from Norway.

The nut-job who killed 77 people has made an announcement.

Anders Breivik…wants the world to know that he’s being treated “worse than an animal” in prison and is considering going on a hunger strike until the “torture”-like living conditions improve. Just how bad are things for the admitted and unrepentant killer? Well, for one, he says he’s being forced to play his video games on an out-of-date Playstation 2 instead of a newer model. …Breivik was deemed sane by a Norwegian court in the summer of 2012 and sentenced to 21 years in prison, the most-severe sentence allowed under the Scandinavian country’s laws… Details of Breivik’s current conditions are a bit unclear, although Norwegian news reports from the time of his sentencing suggested that he was going to be kept in a three-room cell complete with an exercise area and a television.

I guess it’s a good thing I’m not the warden at his prison.

Why? Because I not only would turn down his request, but I also would dump him in a 6X8 call. Moreover, I would station a couple of guards outside his cell and have them play the newest and fanciest version of Playstation 24 hours a day.

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We’ve reached the stage where Obamacare is the punchline to a bad joke.

The law has been a disaster, both for the economy and for the Democratic Party. Not that we should be surprised. You don’t get better healthcare with a poisonous recipe of higher taxes, added government spending, and more intervention.

With any luck, Obamacare will be a textbook example of why we should never again give power to a bunch of political hacks and dreamy-eyed central planners.

Because when they try to buy votes and create more dependency with Rube Goldberg schemes, the results are…well, we see the cluster-you-know-what of Obamacare unfolding before our eyes.

Not that anyone should be surprised. Remember what happened when politicians decided government would make housing more affordable?

And remember what happened when politicians decided government should extend American tax law into other nations?

Simply stated, grandiose plans for expanded government don’t end well.

But this isn’t a normal public policy issue.

The Obama Administration has just announced that it arbitrarily will be ignoring one of the requirements in the law, and this is the executive branch’s 18th unilateral change to Obamacare.

We have to ask whether the American political system is being corrupted by a White House that doesn’t feel bound by the rule of law.

To put it mildly, the Wall Street Journal is not impressed.

…the law increasingly means whatever President Obama says it does on any given day. His latest lawless rewrite arrived on Monday as the White House decided to delay the law’s employer mandate for another year and in some cases maybe forever. …last summer the Treasury offered a year-long delay until 2015 despite having no statutory authorization. …Now the new delay arrives amid a furious debate about jobs after a damning Congressional Budget Office report last week, only this time with liberals celebrating ObamaCare’s supposed benefits to the job market. …Oh, and the Treasury also notes that, “As these limited transition rules take effect, we will consider whether it is necessary to further extend any of them beyond 2015.” So the law may be suspended indefinitely if the White House feels like it. …The text of the Affordable Care Act specifically says when the mandate must take effect—”after December 31, 2013″—and does not give the White House the authority to change the terms. Changing an unambiguous statutory mandate requires the approval of Congress, but then this President has often decided the law is whatever he says it is.

I admit that part of me wants Obamacare delayed as much as possible.

After all, even more jobs will be lost if the employer mandate is properly enforced, and that would add to an already anemic employment situation.

But America isn’t Argentina, or some other Banana Republic, where the law is based on the arbitrary and capricious decisions of some political thug.

Political Cartoons by Lisa Benson

At least it shouldn’t be.

If the President wants to change the law, he should propose legislation and send it to Congress.

But it’s obvious what that isn’t happening. The White House understands that it would be forced to make concessions to get the changes it wants.

So why not make a mockery of the rule of law instead?

As nicely illustrated by the Lisa Benson cartoon.

This is such a depressing topic that we need to close this post with some cartoons about the failure of Obamacare.

We’ll start with Henry Payne, who uses an Olympics theme.

Political Cartoons by Henry Payne

Gary Varvel has some fun mocking the left about being “liberated” from the drudgery of employment.

Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

Fans of James Bond my remember a certain scene from Goldfinger, and Glenn McCoy recreates that scene.

Political Cartoons by Glenn McCoy

Steven Breen looks at the law’s impact on jobs.

Political Cartoons by Steve Breen

And Robert Gorrell makes a nice point about labor supply incentives.

Political Cartoons by Bob Gorrell

These are all amusing cartoons, but let’s not forget that Obama will get the last laugh if the final result is more dependency and a permanent expansion of the welfare state.

At some point, we need to restore genuine market forces and get a lower-cost, more-efficient healthcare system.

And that means not only repealing Obamacare, but also addressing all the other programs and policies which have caused the third-party payer crisis.

P.S. Here’s some good news showing we’re not quite at the same level as Argentina.

You may remember what I wrote back in 2012 about the IRS seeking to impose new restrictions on the tax preparation industry.

This was a power grab with no legal justification. Indeed, it seems to have been an example of crony capitalism since H&R Block wanted to shut down low-cost competitors.

That was the bad news. The good news is that the Institute for Justice sued to block the IRS/H&R block scheme.

And the great news is that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just drop-kicked the IRS thugs into a dumpster.

Here’s part of the Court’s decision, as reported in the Washington Post.

It might be that allowing the IRS to regulate tax-return preparers more stringently would be wise as a policy matter. But that is a decision for Congress and the President to make if they wish by enacting new legislation…. The IRS may not unilaterally expand its authority.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the Courts do the same – by defending the rule of law – on future Obamacare decisions.

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Looking at labor markets, my biggest concern is the drop in labor force participation.

The data from the Labor Department on the employment-population ratio, for instance, suggest a permanent reduction in the share of the population that is working.

And since economic output and living standards ultimately depend on the quality and quantity of labor and capital that is being productively utilized, it obviously is not good news that millions of people are no longer employed.

But if I had to identify a second-biggest concern, it would be the “Europeanization” of long-run unemployment in the United States. Specifically, we have a growing problem of too many people being unemployed for long periods.

I pontificate about this issue in a column for CNN.

…there are almost 4 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months. That’s a big number. What’s disconcerting is that the current long-term unemployment is more serious than in previous economic downturns. Data from previous business cycles show people suffering from long-run joblessness at worst accounted for about 20% to 25% of the unemployed. In recent months, that percentage has jumped to nearly 40% — an all-time record! Indeed, America is beginning to look like Europe. It used to be that long-term unemployment in the U.S. was only a fraction of Europe’s, but the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that the United States has caught up to many of Europe’s welfare states. That’s not a race we want to be part of, much less win.

Here are some charts that illustrate the severity of the problem.

Let’s start with a look at what’s happened over time in the United States.

Long-Run Unemployment as Share of Unemployed

As you can see, the problem of long-run unemployment rises and falls with the business cycle. But during previous recessions, the share of the unemployed who were out of work for more than six months rarely climbed above 20 percent. And then the problem quickly got better once the economy began to recover.

That’s no longer the case. Long-term unemployment peaked at more than 40 percent of overall joblessness between 2010 and 2012. And even though we’ve supposedly been in a recovery since the summer of 2009, that number has fallen to only about 37 percent.

Now let’s compare the data from the United States to the numbers from other developed nations. As you can see, the United States used to have a huge advantage over other industrialized countries, but that gap has almost completely disappeared.

Long-Run Unemployment - US v OECD

We don’t know, to be sure, whether this represents a permanent change. But my concern is that we’re more and more likely to see bad European-type numbers now that we’re enduring European-type economic policies of bigger government and more intervention.

There is an alternative, which I explained in my CNN column, that could improve American labor markets.

…what’s the solution? There’s no silver bullet, but economic growth is the single most important key. …Unfortunately, …we’re still suffering through a sluggish economic cycle. Recent improvements in the overall employment rate are in large part the result of people dropping out of the labor force, and the problem of long-run unemployment has barely budged. To boost employment, we need the kind of strong growth America enjoyed during the Reagan and Clinton years, when millions of new jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell dramatically. To get there, we need a return to the types of free-market policies we got under Reagan and Clinton: a lower burden of government spending and less intervention from Washington.

Seems simple, right? We got good growth and job numbers during the Reagan and Clinton years, so we should replicate those policies.

But that hasn’t been the case. And the problem didn’t start with Obama, though he’s certainly made it worse.

…we’ve been moving in the exact opposite direction. Under both Presidents Bush and Obama, the size and scope of government has expanded, and the United States — which had the world’s third-most free-market economy when Bill Clinton left office — has now dropped to 17th in the Economic Freedom of the World rankings. We also need to make sure the unemployed don’t get lured into long-term dependency. One glaring example of misguided big-government policy is the argument to endlessly extend unemployment benefits. …Moreover, Obama’s proposed hike in the minimum wage…is the equivalent of sawing off the bottom rungs on the economic ladder. Simply stated, businesses create jobs when they think a new employee will help the bottom line. Artificially raising the cost of workers — particularly those with marginal skills — is a recipe for creating more unemployment.

I hate repeating myself, but it bears saying over and over again that the key to prosperity is small government and free markets.

But to the extent we become more like France and less like Hong Kong, we are doomed to get anemic economic performance and fall in the competitiveness rankings.

P.S. On another topic, it pains me to report that one of the worst examples of DC sleaze is about the become law.

The so-called farm bill has cleared Congress after corrupt Democrats seeking more food stamp spending Farm Bill Spendingjoined forces with corrupt Republicans seeking more agri-business welfare.

The invaluable Tim Carney describes the lobbyist feeding frenzy that produced this monstrosity.

A trillion-dollar, pork-filled farm bill stuffed with corporate welfare passed the House last week and cleared the Senate on Tuesday… The bill perpetuates the federal sugar program. Arguably Washington’s least defensible corporate welfare boondoggle, the sugar program keeps out foreign sugar, hiking prices for consumers, killing jobs for candy makers and enriching a few politically connected sugar producers. The farm bill replaces a flawed program of direct payments to farmers with a potentially more wasteful program of subsidized crop insurance, which takes money from taxpayers and gives it to banks and farming businesses. …The bill had its supporters, of course: the agribusiness lobby, the farm-finance lobby, the White House and the Congressional leadership of both parties. …The Ag lobby got what they wanted. The GOP leadership passed its bill. Democrats got their trillion-dollar price tag.

But here’s the part that really gets me pissed.

Lawmakers also stripped out of the final farm bill a provision that would have required congressmen to disclose the farm subsidies they receive from taxpayers.

This Chip Bok cartoon is a good summary of what happened.

Farm Bill Cartoon Bok

Just in case you need a reminder about why the Department of Agriculture should be abolished.

P.P.S. Since we’re sharing bad news, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that the new head of the IRS has decided to reward employees by giving them more of our money. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Washington Times.

Citing the need to boost employee morale, the Internal Revenue Service’s new commissioner said Monday that he will pay out millions of dollars in bonuses to agency employees, reversing a decision his predecessor made to save money… The move didn’t sit well with congressional critics who have been stupefied by the agency’s targeting of tea party groups… “It’s hard to think of a group of people less deserving of bonuses than IRS employees. Frankly, this is outrageous,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

Hey, but nothing to worry about.

After all, the President has appointed one of his big donors to investigate whether anybody at the IRS did anything wrong.

And we already know the results of that investigation. As this Jerry Holbert cartoon notes, the President has told us there isn’t a smidgen of corruption.

IRS Musical Cartoon

Gee, I know I’m satisfied with that assurance. After all, the President would never lie to us, would he?

I guess this is what they mean by trickle-down government.

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As part of his State-of-the-Union speech, President Obama announced he was going to unilaterally create a new retirement savings account that supposedly would be available to all workers.

Employers would be mandated to facilitate these”MyRA” accounts, and the money collected would be invested in “guaranteed” government bonds.

There are some good features to the MyRA plan, most notably the fact that money in the accounts would be protected from double taxation. Workers would put after-tax money in the accounts, but there would be no additional layers of tax on any earnings, or when the money is withdrawn.

In other words, a MyRA would be akin to a back-ended (or Roth) IRA.

But there are some bad features, including the fact that taxpayers would be subsidizing the earnings, or interest, paid to account holders (though this would be a relatively benign form of government spending, at least compared to Obamacare, ethanol, etc, etc).

My biggest complaints, though, are the sins of omission, which I discuss in this interview for Blaze TV.

Simply stated, if Obama was concerned about low returns for savers, he should be directing his ire at the Federal Reserve, which has artificially pushed interest rates to very low levels as part of its easy-money policy.

But more importantly, MyRAs will be very inadequate for most workers with modest incomes. If the President really wanted to help ordinary people save for retirement, he would follow the successful example of more than 30 other nations and allow workers to shift their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts.

This video explains why reform is so desirable.

Critics say it would be very expensive to make a transition to this modern system, and they’re right. If we let younger workers put their payroll taxes in a personal accounts, we’ll have to come up with a new source of revenue to finance benefits being paid to current retirees and older workers.

And we’re talking lots of money, as much as $7 trillion over the next few decades.

But that’s a lot less than the $36 trillion cash shortfall that we’ll have to somehow deal with if we maintain the current system.

In other words, we’re in a very deep hole. But if we shift to personal retirement accounts, the hole won’t be nearly as large.

P.S. The video mentions that Chile and Australia deserve special attention. Click here if you want to learn about Chile’s successful system and click here if you want to see how Australia’s “superannuation” system has been a big winner.

P.P.S. Some people already have asked me whether I was too Pollyannish in saying that there’s no risk for several decades that Washington will default. I could be wrong, of course, and I have shared BISOECD, and IMF data that reveals the United States has gigantic long-run fiscal challenges. But as I said in the interview, I think most other welfare states will collapse first, and that will lead to “flight capital” coming to America, which will help prop up our system.

P.P.P.S. You can enjoy some Social Security cartoons here, here, and here. And we also have a Social Security joke if you appreciate dark humor.

P.P.P.P.S. You probably don’t want to know how Obama would like to “fix” the Social Security shortfall.

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The President’s main “accomplishment” has been such a disaster that I wonder whether it’s time to feel sorry for Obama.

And if you looked in the dictionary for a definition of Schadenfreude, you might find a picture of me reading a story exposing more evidence that Obamacare isn’t working.

Heck, I’ve even shared Hitler parody videos (two of them!) mocking the law.

But to paraphrase Mae West, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.

Today, we’re going to look at the opinions of two experts, both of whom expect further bad news for Obamacare.

Here’s some of what Michael Tanner, my Cato colleague, wrote for the New York Post.

…“the State of ObamaCare” is growing ever more troubled. For starters, it’s falling far short of the goal of universal coverage. …just 1.5 million have actually completed the ObamaCare checkout, including payment. Worse, surveys indicate that less than a third of those enrolling were previously uninsured. …Even using the most optimistic reading of these figures, fewer than 11 percent of uninsured Americans have gotten coverage because of the ObamaCare law; most likely, fewer. This is what we’re getting for the $2.7 trillion that ObamaCare will cost over the next 10 years? Plus, we should subtract the roughly 500,000 Americans who, by the White House’s own count, have lost insurance because of ObamaCare.

And Mike expects things will get worse over time.

…that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because those policy-killing rules will hit another part of the market over the course of this year — namely, the “small group” market, where employers now buy health policies that cover about 78 million Americans. Many of those with cancelled plans will ultimately end up with similar, if more expensive, employment-based policies, but some are likely to simply wind up uninsured. …Then there’s the bad news about who is enrolling in ObamaCare plans — or rather, who isn’t: not enough of the young and healthy folks that the program needs to overpay for insurance so as to offset the costs of covering older and sicker people. …Oh, and a Reuters survey finds that new enrollees are also less healthy than ObamaCare’s designers hoped, too. Humana, one of the nation’s largest insurers, reports that so far enrollment in its exchange-based plans has been far “more adverse than previously expected.”

Megan McArdle of Bloomberg is similarly unimpressed with how Obamacare has developed.

Enrollment is below expectations: According to the data we have so far, more than half of the much-touted Medicaid expansion came from people who were already eligible before the health-care law passed, and this weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the overwhelming majority of people buying insurance through the exchanges seem to be folks who already had insurance. Coverage is less generous than many people expected, with narrower provider networks and higher deductibles. The promised $2,500 that the average family was told they could save on premiums has predictably failed to materialize. And of course, we now know that if you like your doctor and plan, there is no reason to think you can keep them.

But it’s going to get worse, she writes.

The Barack Obama administration is in emergency mode, pasting over political problems with administrative fixes of dubious legality, just to ensure the law’s bare survival — which is now their incredibly low bar for “success.” Although the fixes may solve the short-term political problems, however, they destabilize the markets, which also need to work to ensure the law’s survival. The president is destroying his own law in order to save it.

The article has lots of detail, but here are a few highlights of the bad things that already have happened.

Obamacare’s exchange facility was conceived as a “three-legged stool”: guaranteed issue, community rating, mandate. …Take one away, and the whole thing is in danger of collapsing. Unfortunately, whenever someone has voiced discontent with the way things are going, the administration has taken a hacksaw to another leg. …some folks who had policies they liked before were being forced to drop them and buy new policies they didn’t like so much. That caused an outcry, followed by an emergency grandfathering rule. Other major emergency fixes include…A one-year delay of the employer mandate…Numerous extensions of enrollment and payment deadlines…Changes in the rules governing the “risk corridor” programs that cover excess losses at insurers.

And here are the bad things that Megan expects will happen in the future.

…the worst is yet to come. Here’s what’s ahead…2014: Small-business policy cancellations…Summer 2014: Insurers get a sizable chunk of money from the government to cover any excess losses. When the costs are published, this is going to be wildly unpopular…Fall 2014: New premiums are announced…2014 and onward: Medicare reimbursement cuts eat into hospital margins…Spring 2015: The Internal Revenue Service starts collecting individual mandate penalties…Spring 2015: The IRS demands that people whose income was higher than they projected pay back their excess subsidies…Spring 2015: Cuts to Medicare Advantage…Fall 2015: This is when expert Bob Laszewski says insurers will begin exiting the market if the exchange policies aren’t profitable…Fall 2017: Companies and unions start learning whether their plans will get hit by the “Cadillac tax,”…January 2018: The temporary risk-adjustment plans, which the administration is relying on to keep insurers in the marketplaces even if their customer pool is older and sicker than projected, run out…Fall 2018: Buyers find out that subsidy growth is capped for next year’s premiums…I expect that the administration is going to issue “temporary” administrative fixes for most of the law’s unpopular bits — just as it has so far. That’s not going to get any easier as midterms and then a presidential election creep closer.

Wow. If I was a Democrat politician, I would not be overly happy at that list – particularly since Obamacare already has caused several dozen involuntary retirements from Congress.

And if I was a partisan Republican, I would get down on my knees every day to give thanks because Chief Justice John Roberts was willing to disregard the Constitution to keep Obamacare alive.

But since I’m a humble policy wonk who simply wants to protect and restore economic liberty, I’m just glad that there’s growing recognition that Obamacare is a turkey that needs to be repealed. No wonder I’m getting more optimistic with each passing day.

Let’s close with a couple of new Obamacare cartoons.

Using an image that will cause many of us to wince, Glenn Foden manages to combine Obamacare and the NSA spying scandal.

Obamacare Cartoon Tampa 2

Hmmm…I think the images in this example of NSA humor is more pleasurable.

And here’s Henry Payne mixing Obamacare and movie awards.

Obamacare Cartoon Tampa 1

This post has focused on Obamacare’s failings, so let’s close with an acknowledgement that it’s hard to beat something with nothing.

That’s why reformers need to advocate the types of policies that would undo decades of intervention and re-introduce market forces to the healthcare system.

This video from Reason TV is  a great introduction to that topic.

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According to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.7 percent. Is this good news?

Well, it’s depends on your benchmark. Compared to France’s anemic economy and double-digit levels of unemployment, America is in decent shape.

But if you use data from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve to compare the current business cycle to previous downturns and upturns in the U.S. economy, then the outlook is very grim. Simply stated, the American economy is enduring the worst performance for labor markets since the Great Depression.

Moreover, the Washington Post put together a chart in 2012 showing that Obama was far behind other presidents on job creation (a point humorously reinforced by Michael Ramirez).

Let’s look at some additional data to assess the President’s track record on jobs.

We’ll start with a chart, versions of which I’ve been sharing for nearly four years. It shows the unemployment rate that the White House claimed we would have back in 2009 if the so-called stimulus was enacted, compared to what actually happened.

Obama Unemployment

As you can see, this is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Keynesian notion that more government spending is good for job creation (or for Nancy Pelosi’s laughable claim that you create jobs by paying people not to work).

But even though I’ve used variations of that chart several times, I don’t think it’s the best measure of either employment markets or the President’s performance. The White House can argue, with some validity, that the chart merely shows that the recession was more severe than they first forecast.

And critics of the Obama Administration can argue, also with validity, that the unemployment rate is an inadequate measure because it doesn’t capture the extent to which people drop out of the job market.

That’s why I’ve always liked the Labor Department’s figures showing the employment-population ratio. It’s a very straightforward number, showing the share of the working-age population that is employed.

And this data series is perhaps even more unfavorable if we’re giving Obama a grade for jobs.

The big drop took place before the President took office, so that’s definitely not his fault. But he can be blamed for the fact that the labor market didn’t bounce back, which usually happens after a recession.

Having millions of people leave the labor force translates into less economic output.

…economic output is a function of labor and capital. And if you want an economy to produce more, your only choices are to somehow achieve one or more of the following:

  • More capital.
  • More labor.
  • More efficient use of capital.
  • More productive use of labor.

In other words, labor and capital are the two ingredients that determine economic performance.

Needless to say, if you have less of one of the ingredients, you’re not going to produce as much.

Let’s look at another chart that reveals the Administration’s poor performance on jobs. James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute combines concepts by replicating the White House’s chart (including their prediction of joblessness in the absence of a so-called stimulus), but also including red dots showing what the unemployment rate would be today based on the various labor force participation rates that we might expect in a healthier economy.

The startling takeaway from this chart is that the unemployment rate today would be more than 10 percent if people hadn’t dropped out of the labor market!

Very sobering data, indeed.

And the main response from the White House is to argue for more unemployment benefits. That’s not very compassionate, as Senator Rand Paul and I explained in a piece for USA Today.

BLS LFP ForecastBy the way, there is no reason to think that labor force was supposed to shrink. Here’s what the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in 2007 compared to what’s actually happened.

So we have to ask ourselves why did so many workers leave the labor market? Was it the overall increase in the burden of government? The increase in the minimum wage? The disability scam? Subsidized unemployment? The welfare trap?

The honest answer is either “I don’t know” or “all of the above.” Or maybe something in between.

But I do know that it’s a very bad sign.

And it’s especially discouraging that we’re seeing a significant drop if labor force participation among males of prime working age.

That may reflect an erosion of social capital, and once a society loses the spirit of self reliance and the work ethic, it’s very difficult to restore those valuable norms. And once a nation has too many people riding in the wagon and not enough people pulling the wagon, that doesn’t bode well.

Since this post has been filled withe depressing data, let’s close by sharing some amusing cartoons.

Nate Beeler has produced some gems, so let’s start with this cartoon showing that some people have been stuck in a deep freeze.

Cartoon Obama Unemployment 3

And here’s Beeler’s take on the “drop” in labor force participation.

Cartoon Obama Unemployment 2

Lisa Benson, meanwhile, mocks the President’s empty talking points.

Cartoon Obama Unemployment 4

And Glenn McCoy shows the President’s version of compassion.

Cartoon Obama Unemployment 1

These cartoons remind me of the ones I shared last August.

P.S. Careful readers will have noticed that this piece cites both the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate. These two data series are sometimes used interchangeably, though I prefer the former for reasons explained in this article for the BLS’s Monthly Labor Review.

P.P.S. On a totally separate topic, I want to share some good news about the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is a statist international bureaucracy that pushed for bad policy, both in America and other nations. Last year, I reported that the Obama Administration proposed to give the IMF more money and authority, but that lawmakers on Capitol Hill wisely rejected the request. Well, the same positive outcome  happened again as part of the spending bill just approved by Congress.

Here’s some of what the New York Times reported.

Administration officials concede that Congress’s decision not to make the changes will be an embarrassment to President Obama internationally…congressional Republicans would not budge… The structural changes to the fund have languished since Mr. Obama agreed to the “rebalancing” with great fanfare at the G-20 meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in 2010.  …Since the 2010 accord, every nation involved but the United States has ratified it. But the United States remains the monetary fund’s largest contributor, and without Congress’s approval, the restructuring cannot happen.

P.P.P.S. And since I’m sharing random news, here’s something else that may interest readers. Time has a non-political personality quiz that supposedly reveals whether you are liberal or conservative. For what it’s worth, I’m 83 percent conservative and 17 percent liberal. I’m not sure what to think of the test, but it’s definitely better than the “social attitude test” I took last year, which concluded that I’m a “moderate” and “a centrist with few strong opinions.” I much prefer Professor Bryan Caplan’s libertarian purity quiz, where I scored a 94 out of 160, which may not sound impressive, but it was enough to put me in “the heady realm of hard-core libertarianism.”

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Welcome Instapundit readers. To augment the depressing and worrisome message in this post, I suggest you read this article showing how we can restore market forces to our government-dictated healthcare system.

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I hate to dredge up bad memories so early in a new year, but we need to remind ourselves of the awful TARP bailout of 2008.

Our financial system had gone out of whack because of bad monetary policy from the Federal Reserve and unsustainable housing subsidies from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Some financial institutions gambled on the government’s misguided policies and got caught with their pants down when the bubble burst.

But rather than let those companies fail and use the sensible and non-corrupt “FDIC resolution” method to recapitalize the banking system, we got a taxpayer-to-Wall-Street bailout.

Or, from the perspective of the big banks, they got a very good return on their campaign contributions (read Kevin Williamson if you want to get upset about this disgusting form of cronyism).

Well, as Yogi Berra might say, it’s deja vu all over again.

Except now the fat cats lining up at the Treasury door are the big health insurance corporate titans. They got in bed with the White House to push Obamacare and now they’re worried about losing money now that it’s becoming more apparent that the American version of government-run healthcare doesn’t work any better than the British version.

Charles Krauthammer warns us about what may happen in his Washington Post column.

…there’s a Plan B. It’s a government bailout. Administration officials can’t say it for political reasons. And they don’t have to say it because it’s already in the Affordable Care Act, buried deep. First, Section 1341, the “reinsurance” fund collected from insurers and self-insuring employers at a nifty $63 a head. (Who do you think the cost is passed on to?) This yields about $20 billion over three years to cover losses. Then there is Section 1342, the “risk corridor” provision that mandates a major taxpayer payout covering up to 80 percent of insurance-company losses.

At this point, you may be wondering why there’s bailout language buried in the Obamacare legislation.

The simple answer is that politicians always love to accumulate power, and the insurance industry probably lobbied very hard to get this back-door access to our money.

But maybe the White House knew that Obamacare would be unstable and they needed a bailout option to keep the system from totally unraveling. Particularly when it seems that the Obama Administration is arbitrarily changing the system every other day.

First, it postponed the employer mandate. Then it exempted from the individual mandate people whose policies were canceled (by Obamacare). And for those who did join the exchanges, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebeliusis “strongly encouraging” insurers — during the “transition” — to cover doctors and drugs not included in their clients’ plans. The insurers were stunned. Told to give free coverage. Deprived of their best customers. Forced to offer stripped-down “catastrophic” plans to people age 30 and over (contrary to the law). These dictates, complained an insurance industry spokesman, could“destabilize” the insurance market.

So what does all this mean? It’s not good news for Big Insurance.

Shrinking revenues and rising costs could bring on the “death spiral” — an unbalanced patient pool forcing huge premium increases (to restore revenue) that would further unbalance the patient pool as the young and healthy drop out. End result? Insolvency — before which the insurance companies will pull out of Obamacare. Solution? A huge government bailout. It’s Obamacare’s escape hatch. And — surprise, surprise — it’s already baked into the law.

This sounds depressing, but Krauthammer suggests that there could be a way of derailing a bailout before it begins.

…the GOP needs to act. Obamacare is a Rube Goldberg machine with hundreds of moving parts. Without viable insurance companies doing the work, it falls apart. No bailout, no Obamacare. Such a bill would be overwhelmingly popular because Americans hate fat-cat bailouts of any kind. Why should their tax dollars be spent not only saving giant insurers but also rescuing this unworkable, unbalanced, unstable, unpopular money-pit of a health-care scheme? …Do you really think vulnerable Democrats up for reelection will vote for a bailout? And who better to slay Obamacare than a Democratic Senate — liberalism repudiating its most important creation of the last 50 years. Want to be even bolder? Attach the anti-bailout bill to the debt ceiling. That and nothing else. Dare the president to stand up and say: “I’m willing to let the country default in order to preserve a massive bailout for insurance companies.” …Who can argue with no bailout? Let the Senate Democrats decide: Support the bailout and lose the Senate. Or oppose the bailout and bury Obamacare.

I hope his political judgement is correct, though I suspect the statists (and their echo chamber in the media) would portray any effort to amend the debt limit as a sore-loser attack on Obamacare.

But if it’s a simple no-bailout message, perhaps that would be sufficiently popular to overcome the political establishment. As Krauthammer points out, the legislation could be very simple: “Sections 1341 and 1342 of the Affordable Care Act are hereby repealed.”

Let’s close today’s post with some good Obamacare cartoons. We’ll start with Eric Allie’s amusing look at how the White House is measuring success.

Obamacare Cartoon Jan 2014 1

Nice gimmick, huh? You pass a law that destroys people’s existing insurance policies, then you claim victory when some of them sign up for more expensive Obamacare insurance.

Next we have Nate Beeler welcoming the new year.

Obamacare Cartoon Jan 2014 2

Chip Bok’s cartoon is somewhat optimistic in that he’s suggesting that Obamacare may unravel.

Obamacare Cartoon Jan 2014 3

And Gary Varvel mocks the moving goalposts of Obamacare.

Obamacare Cartoon Jan 2014 4

Lisa Benson congratulates the President for winning Politifact’s Lie of the Year Award.

Obamacare cartoon Jan 2014 5

Michael Ramirez hints that the President may not be in a position to enjoy his multi-million dollar Hawaiian vacation.

Obamacare Cartoon Jan 2014 6

Last but not least, Scott Stantis warns us that Obamacare violates the Hippocratic Oath about doing no harm.

Obamacare Cartoon Jan 2014 7

P.S. Under no circumstances should you feel sorry for the insurance companies. As I noted the other day, they endorsed Obamacare and actively lobbied for its passage. They deserve every bad thing that might happen to them.

P.P.S. It’s hard to find much humor in this situation, but perhaps this funny “bailout application” could be updated to make it easier for big insurance companies to rape and pillage taxpayers.

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Normal people aren’t thinking about public policy at this time of year, but I’m a libertarian who has decided to fight against big government in Washington, so I’m definitely not normal and I could be a masochist.

And since you’re reading this instead of daydreaming about Santa, you’re also not part of the herd. Which means you may enjoy some good laughs with a Christmas theme.

In prior years, I’ve shared IRS Christmas gifts, a video showing what would happen if Obama ran the North Pole, and presents from Ben Bernanke.

This year, let’s enjoy some cartoons. Given my disdain for big government, destructive redistribution, and high tax rates, you’ll understand why this Robert Gorrell cartoon is first on my list.

Gorrell XMas Cartoon

Next we have Henry Payne mocking the President’s desperate efforts to get people to climb on the sinking ship of Obamacare.

Payne XMas Cartoon

Speaking of which, here’s a gem from Michael Ramirez featuring the President in the role of Pajama Boy.

Ramirez XMas Cartoon

Since we’ve already enjoyed some Pajama Boy jokes, you might think there’s nothing new in this cartoon,

But I wanted to share it because of a minor disagreement. I wish Ramirez was right and Obama was “only” talking about changing health insurance.

Instead, the President has taken a health care system that already was a mess because of government intervention and imposed a law that will make a bad situation far worse.

Last but not least, I want to share some…um…feedback I received last night. Long-time readers may remember that I have a license plate that expresses my deep and sincere affection for Washington, DC.

Well, you’ll be shocked to learn that some people disagree with me.

And one of those people left a message on my windshield. I don’t know if this “fan” was an overpaid bureaucrat, an Obama drone, a corrupt lobbyist, or a 1960s refugee, but you can see that he (could be a she, I suppose, but the handwriting seems male) was irked.

Leftist Note

A few thoughts about the message.

1. Why is my license plate offensive? Were the Founding Fathers also offensive because of their distrust of centralized power and authority? That certainly seems to be Obama’s view, so maybe my “fan” is an Obama drone.

2. Then again, the use of “bespeaks” suggests someone who spent too much time in college. So maybe this is a former grad student who became a Hill staffer and is now a sleazy lobbyist for some unethical group of moochers.  No wonder he’s angry about life.

Cabo Abir3. Regarding the…er…challenge to my manhood, it was actually my girlfriend who found the message. And since she’s way too hot for me, I must have some redeeming quality. At least I hope.

4. I’m surprised that my new friend wrote “Merry Christmas.” Isn’t that politically incorrect?!? What if I was Jewish? Or Muslim? Or Buddhist? Or whatever? This makes me think the author was an overpaid bureaucrat who slept through his mandatory sensitivity training. European Union bureaucrats surely would never make this mistake.

5. Last but not least, I’m amused that  a statist would use “Peace” as a valediction. It is the left that believes in using the coercive power of government – ultimately enforced by threats and violence – to restrict the rights of others. So maybe my “fan” is a 1960s leftover. These are the nitwits, after all, who protest against government by demanding more government.

Maybe the guy who left the note is a reader and will reveal his identity, but I won’t hold my breath.

In the meantime, enjoy a politically incorrect Christmas story from Larry the Cable Guy.

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After nearly five years in office, what’s President Obama’s most significant accomplishment?

This is a serious question, so no jokes about the Nobel Prize he received for not being Bush. And no partisan GOP answers about the 2010 election, either.

Put yourself in the position of a future historian and think about what you would put in a book to describe Obama’s biggest accomplishment.

I don’t think anyone, regardless of ideology, would pick the so-called stimulus. Advocates of small government say it was a waste of money based on deeply flawed Keynesian theory.

Proponents of big government, by contrast, also aren’t big fans of the stimulus, though they’re dissatisfied because they think Obama should have wasted even more money.

Another potential answer is Obamacare. Libertarians and conservatives, needless to say, would say it was a significant accomplishment in the same sense that the Titanic had a significant maiden voyage.

Leftists, by contrast, obviously can’t be pleased by the way Obamacare is imploding  in the short run, but they nonetheless may think that it will be worth it in the medium run because more people will be dependent on government (though they may regret their choice in the long run).

Killing Osama bin Laden is probably a good answer, but if terrorism and conflict with the Islamic world are still big issues in the future, then I suspect the achievements of Seal Team Six won’t be seen as making that much of a difference.

For what it’s worth, I think the change in public opinion may be the President’s most long-lasting and significant accomplishment. Take a look at these remarkable results just published by Gallup. A record share of the population now say that big government is the biggest threat to the nation’s future.

Gallup Big Government Polling Data

Wow. I’m tempted to say that this is strong evidence of the effectiveness of the Cato Institute (and there is independent data to support that position), but I feel compelled to admit that Obama also deserves a good bit of the credit.

Even more amazing, President Obama has done something that is probably beyond even the ability of Cato. He’s convinced partisan Democrats that big government is a serious threat. Look at how the numbers have dramatically changed since 2008.

Gallup Big Govt Democrat Polling Data

What’s particularly amazing about the shift among Democrats isn’t that 56 percent now view big government as the major threat today, compared to 32 percent about five years ago. What’s shocking is that this change happened with a Democrat in the White House.

This is newsworthy because partisan Republicans and Democrats have a tendency to say things are good or bad depending on whether “their team” is in charge.

While these numbers are remarkable, I suppose it’s too early to say the growing concern about big government is the most significant accomplishment of the Obama presidency.

That being said, anxiety about big government may lead to big political changes in 2014 and 2016, and those political changes may then lead to big policy changes such as entitlement reform and tax reform.

And if that happens, then the shift in public opinion during the Obama years may turn out to be profoundly important. In other words, Obama may turn out to be another Herbert Hoover – a politician whose statist policies set the stage for dramatic changes in public policy.

And if that happens, Obama truly will deserve to be named “libertarian of the year.”

P.S. While big government is the biggest threat to the country’s future, big business and big labor can be very dangerous to liberty when they get in bed with big government.

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On Thanksgiving, I shared a bunch of cartoons mocking the national turkey known as Obamacare.

One of those cartoons, by Robert Ariail, mocked the President for repeatedly lying when he said we could keep our health insurance plans if we liked them.

Well, we have more humor using that theme.

And if you like these images and cartoons, you can keep them!

Our first example (which arrived in my inbox, so I don’t know who deserves the credit) will be familiar to fans of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Keep It Image 2

Next we have a Lisa Benson cartoon, which would have been a good addition to a Thanksgiving cartoon collection.

Keep It Cartoon 1

Here’s a cartoon from Gary Varvel and it shows a group that is now terrified because of Obama’s deceit.

Keep It Cartoon 2

As a matter of fact, there already is evidence that many politicians did lose their jobs back in 2010 because of Obamacare.

It would be nice if more of them were punished next year.

Last but not least, we have some doggies that are a bit troubled by a version of Obama’s big lie.

Keep It Image 3

If you need more Obamacare humor, you can enjoy various cartoons, videos, and jokes by clicking here, here, hereherehereherehere,hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

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Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner is a must-read columnist and expert on the pervasive corruption in Washington.

He’s also an insightful commentator on why freedom and morality go hand in hand, which suggests libertarians and conservatives should be strong allies.

But today, in honor of the holidays, let’s address a lighter topic. Tim has some helpful advice on how to educate your crazy statist relatives.

When Thanksgiving talk turns political, do you feel like you and your liberal relatives can’t communicate? It’s okay. I can help you. I was born in Greenwich Village to a lawyer dad and community-organizer mom. I used to live on Capitol Hill, and now I live in Montgomery County in Maryland. I even served a year as an MSNBC contributor. This is all to say, I speak liberal. …So let me offer my conservative and libertarian readers the first annual Thanksgiving Guide to Making Conservative Arguments in Liberals’ Language.

Tim shows how you can help them understand that regulation is misguided.

Your liberal relatives generally trust government regulations to solve problems. They don’t sweat the costs to the economy as much as you do. Throw in a healthy distrust of Corporate America — often even an unhealthy disdain for it — and progressives (this is what they call themselves these days) end up regarding regulation as a force for good. You can plant a seed of skepticism about regulators’ ability to do good, though, by pointing to the salad course Trevor brought. The organic, local, sustainable kale in it might be impossible to get after the Obama administration’s food safety rules go into effect. …At work here are two dynamics common to regulation: They’re called “regulatory capture” and “the overhead smash.” Obama’s food safety czar is Michael Taylor, former top lobbyist for Monsanto. (You’ll be amazed at the power of the word “Monsanto” with some of your relatives.) Industrial farms and major food processors hire the best lobbyists and thus get a seat at the table when the FDA writes the rules. Thus, the biggest players in the regulated industry have “captured” the agency that regulates them. “The overhead smash” is my phrase for the tendency of regulations to add to overhead — the fixed costs of doing business — which smashes smaller competitors while protecting the big guys. In the food safety realm, small farms are begging to be exempted from these rules that only big farms can afford.

Since regulation imposes a staggering cost on the economy, I hope Tim’s suggested approach is successful.

And he explains how you can open their eyes about the need for Social Security reform.

FDR is still probably a god to these relatives, so you’ve got an uphill battle convincing them Social Security needs reforming. Here’s one place to start: Social Security is funded by a regressive tax and it redistributes wealth from minorities to whites. Here’s a line for you: For every $100 that white beneficiaries pay in taxes, they receive $113 in benefits, blacks receive $89 and Hispanics receive $58. …Social Security’s redistribution isn’t due to some racist Republican rule change. …White people live longer and are less likely to be immigrants, so they earn more credits and collect for longer.

And since more than 30 jurisdictions around the world have implemented personal retirement accounts (most recently the Faroe Islands), we know that reform can be very successful.

But let’s not get all serious when there’s turkey and football to occupy our attention, so let’s close with some great cartoons.

We’ll begin with a gem from Henry Payne, who identifies the top turkey of the season.

TG Cartoon 5

Michael Ramirez then identifies a prayer that no longer applies.

TG Cartoon 7

Robert Ariail suggests that the wrong turkey got pardoned at the White House.

TG Cartoon 4

And here’s another one of his cartoons mocking the President’s reprehensible dishonesty.

TG Cartoon 6

Nate Beeler also has some fun with the notion of a White House turkey pardon.

TG Cartoon 1

This Glenn McCoy classic is probably my favorite from today’s collection.

TG Cartoon 2

Last but not least, we have another Ramirez cartoon, which also weaves in some Iran humor.

TG Cartoon 3

P.S. Looking through the archives, we had some good class-warfare cartoons last year.

P.P.S. In 2011, we had a cartoon about politicians and a dismal vision of a future Thanksgiving caused by Obama and Bloomberg.

P.P.P.S. We shared a serious lesson about incentives and private property in 2010, but also had some non-political humor here and here.

P.P.P.P.S. In the blog’s first year, we looked at how government makes Thanksgiving more expensive and wondered why the PC crowd doesn’t like the holiday.

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Time for some weekend humor.

A friend sent me an example of three naval ships.

The first is an aircraft carrier named after Ronald Reagan.

Regular readers know I’m a big fan of the Gipper, and I’ve shared several inspirational Reagan videos (see here, here, and here). So I’m understandably appreciative of the USS Reagan.

SS Reagan

Next, we have a ship named after Bill Clinton.

We’re obviously entering make-believe territory, and I would have preferred this joke to target Jimmy Carter because Clinton actually turned out to be a pretty good President. Or, to be more precise, we got reasonably good policy during the Clinton years.

In any event, I can certainly see the humor in this image.

Though I’m surprised there isn’t a reference to coed bunks.

Or interns.

Or cigars.

Or…well, you get the point.

SS Clinton

By the way, if you like Bill Clinton humor, you can enjoy my favorites by clicking here, here, here, here, and here.

Last but not least, we have a new naval vessel that captures the Obama Administration.

SS Obama

I’m surprised there’s not also a reference to a website, but maybe this set of images was put together before the cluster-you-know-what of Obamacare.

To close, let’s share some more Obama mockery. We have this t-shirt, this Pennsylvania joke, this Reagan-Obama comparison, this Wyoming joke, this Bush-Obama comparison, this video satire, and this bumper sticker.

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While I’m critical of the overall design and impact of President Obama’s economic policy, I don’t have a partisan agenda and I’m willing to give the White House credit when it’s warranted.

I’ve pointed out, for instance, that Obama has increased spending at a slower rate than his GOP predecessor. That may be damning with faint praise since Bush was a big spender, but at least Obama didn’t open the money spigot in Washington even wider.

I also gave Obama some grudging praise for opposing a French tax harmonization scheme.

Heck, I even went out of my way to find something vaguely positive to say about Obamacare.

And I’ve shared some pro-Obama humor and even (sort of) defended Obama from the accusation that he’s a socialist.

So I think I have at least some ability to dispassionately judge (from a libertarian perspective) how President Obama ranks in comparison to others who have held the office.

I’m motivated to address this issue because several readers sent me an article in the Huffington Post that makes a rather remarkable claim.

Barack Obama is one of the greatest presidents America has ever seen. I believe history will prove this, and with time, he will be remembered in the annals of history as a revered revolutionary.

Even more amazing, the author wasn’t being satirical. He lists 12 specific reasons why he thinks Obama deserves high praise.

1. He is for The People. …2. He is for civil rights. …3. He is for one race – the human race. …4. He is for a healthcare system that brings hope and healing to the hurting. …5.  He is for the middle class. …6. He is for women’s rights. …7. He is for doing away with pomp and circumstance. …8. He is for the environment. …9. He is for veterans. …10. He is for peace. …11. He is for education. …12. He is for entertaining the masses.

If you click through and read the details, you’ll notice that the author almost never provides any details to back up his 12 reasons. He simply asserts that the President has good intentions.

Well, that probably true. But so what? I’m sure Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon also had good intentions.

And when the author does provide details, they are very weak. Let’s look at a few specific claims.

We’re supposed to believe Obama “is for peace” because he was awarded a Nobel Prize immediately after taking office and before he did anything.

His actual record, for what it’s worth, has been to continue many of Bush’s policies and to pursue military intervention in Libya and Syria.

The author says Obama is “for the middle class,” yet that passage of the article doesn’t list a single policy, much less a specific accomplishment.

And there certainly wasn’t any effort to explain how an $8 trillion output gap and a seemingly permanent reduction in the employment-population ratio are good for ordinary people.

Moreover, if Obama “is for a healthcare system that brings hope and healing to the hurting,” then one might expect the author to reconcile that assertion with the fact that Obamacare is causing millions of people to lose their health insurance.

I’m also puzzled by the claim that the President “is for education.” This is the White House, after all, that was so intent on undermining opportunity for disadvantaged kids in Louisiana that even the Washington Post felt compelled to slam the Administration.

There’s no need to go through all 12 “reasons” before reaching the conclusion that there’s no way Obama deserves to be ranked anywhere near the top of the list for best Presidents.

And I’m not basing that on my own ideological preferences. If you want my opinion, Reagan and Coolidge are among the best (with an honorable mention for Bill Clinton) and FDR, Nixon, Wilson, and Hoover are near the bottom.

But even by non-ideological standards, it’s simply not credible to give Obama high marks.

P.S. If I had to guess, I suspect Obama would like to be another FDR. Fortunately, he won’t achieve that goal.

P.P.S. The assertion that Obama is “one of the best Presidents ever” is almost as silly as the claim that he is a conservative.

P.P.P.S. Since we’re comparing Presidents, I can’t resist sharing that the polling data showing that people would overwhelmingly vote for Reagan over Obama.

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President Obama has presided over a terrible jobs market.

Unemployment is more than two-percentage points higher today than the White House claimed it would be if the so-called stimulus was enacted.

Even more worrisome, the employment-population ratio seems to have permanently fallen, which is bad news for economic performance since our output is a function of how much capital and labor is being productively utilized.

So what’s the response from the Obama Administration? Well, they want to further subsidize people for not working.

I’m not joking. Here’s some of what has been reported by the Huffington Post.

The Obama administration on Friday came out strongly in support of extending long-term unemployment insurance past its current expiration date. …”We have always done so when unemployment is this high and would make little sense to fail to do so now when we are still facing the burdens of the worst downturn since the Great Recession,” [Obama economic adviser Gene] Sperling said. “It is high bang for the buck for the economy, reduces poverty and helps workers who lost jobs due to no fault of their own get back on their feet.”

But is it true that providing more unemployment benefits is an approach that “helps workers”?  In their academic writings, both Paul Krugman and Larry Summers have pointed out that you get more unemployment when you subsidize joblessness.

And research by Professor Casey Mulligan also has found a very clear link between government benefits and unemployment. If you’re still not convinced, here’s some more empirical evidence showing that you get more joblessness when you subsidize leisure.

And now we have even more evidence showing that it doesn’t make sense to make leisure more attractive than employment. Four economists conducted some new empirical research to look at how unemployment benefits impact economic performance in the labor market. First they explain the theoretical concerns.

Unemployment in the U.S. rose dramatically during the Great Recession… The policy response involved an unprecedented extension of unemployment benefits with benefit duration rising from the usual 26 weeks to as long as 99 weeks. …The effectiveness of this policy response was questioned by Barro (2010) and Mulligan (2012), among others. Because unemployment benefit extensions represent an implicit tax on market work, they subsidize unemployment and discourage labor supply. …Everything else equal, extending unemployment benefits exerts an upward pressure on the equilibrium wage. This lowers the profits employers receive from filled jobs, leading to a decline in vacancy creation. Lower vacancies imply a lower job finding rate for workers, which leads to an increase in unemployment.

Then they report their findings, including the remarkable result that the bulk of poor employment numbers in recent years are the result of extended unemployment benefits.

Our empirical strategy exploits a policy discontinuity at state borders to identify the effects of unemployment insurance policies on unemployment. …We explicitly control for the effects of other policy changes at the state level (that could be correlated with the expansion of unemployment benefit durations) to ensure that our estimates isolate the effects of unemployment benefit extensions. …We find that unemployment rises dramatically in the border counties belonging to the states that expanded unemployment benefit duration as compared to the counties just across the state border. The quantitative magnitude of this effect is so large that our estimates imply that benefit extensions can quantitatively account for much of the unemployment dynamics following the Great Recession.

Some Keynesians argue that unemployment benefits are nonetheless good for the economy because of the impact on aggregate demand. But even if you believe Keynesian theory, the authors find that unemployment benefits don’t help because of the offsetting foregone income resulting from fewer jobs.

…an increase in unemployment due to benefit extensions is similar in magnitude to the decline of employment. Thus, the total effect on spending is ambiguous as extending benefits increase spending by the unemployed but at the same time decrease spending as fewer people are employed.

So what’s the bottom line? Simply stated, we need some tough love. There needs to be a limit on unemployment benefits so that companies will have more incentive to create jobs and so that unemployed people will have more incentive to get off the couch and find a job.

I’ve made this point during television interviews, but I suspect that many people will find this Michael Ramirez cartoon more compelling and convincing. In any event, it’s more entertaining.

And we definitely can’t overlook this superb Wizard-of-Id parody. It doesn’t focus on unemployment benefits, but it makes a great point about labor supply incentives in a very amusing fashion.

But let’s close on a serious note. Comparing data from the United States and Europe also shows that government policy has a big impact on the labor market. And if you prefer anecdotes, check out this story from Michigan and this example from Ohio.

P.S. At least the President is consistent. He also is pushing another policy that would increase unemployment.

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I’ve periodically used “Schadenfreude” to describe my feelings about certain issues.

“Time for another tax hike!”

Maybe this makes me a bad person, but I’ve openly admitted to a perverse sense of happiness at the misfortune of others when, for instance, France’s class-warfare tax policy backfired because successful taxpayers emigrated.

And I’ve expressed similar amusement when writing about Europe’s fiscal crisis and the whining of statist politicians.

But the Obamacare disaster gives me a steroid-fueled feeling of Schadenfreude. As a matter of fact, we need to augment that term with another phrase just to capture what’s happening.

So what’s a good option? Well, according to Wikipedia, “Desert /dɨˈzɜrt/ in philosophy is the condition of being deserving of something, whether good or bad.”

That’s where we get the phrase “just deserts,” and that’s exactly what Obamacare supporters are getting as their cherished scheme for government-run healthcare blows up in front of our eyes.

I’m not the only one who is enjoying this moment in history. Here’s some of Jonah Goldberg’s unabashedly snarky column in National Review.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the unraveling of Obamacare. …If you can’t take some joy, some modicum of relief and mirth, in the unprecedentedly spectacular beclowning of the president, his administration, its enablers, and, to no small degree, liberalism itself, then you need to ask yourself why you’re following politics in the first place. Because, frankly, this has been one of the most enjoyable political moments of my lifetime. …Indeed, not since Dan Rather handcuffed himself to a fraudulent typewriter, hurled it into the abyss, and saw his career plummet like Ted Kennedy was behind the wheel have I enjoyed a story more.

Isn’t that a marvelous excerpt, particularly the comment about the “beclowning of the president”?

But Jonah’s just getting started.

In every tale of hubris, the transgressor is eventually slapped across the face with the semi-frozen flounder of reality. …in the modern era, comeuppance-for-the-arrogant is more often found in comedies, and the “rollout” of Healthcare.gov has been downright hilarious. …Indeed, the whole law is coming apart like a papier-mâché yacht in rough waters.

I don’t even know what “orcs” are, but this next passage does a very good job of nailing Obama for arrogantly refusing to negotiate when the President probably had the most to gain from a delay!

During the government shutdown, Barack Obama held fast, heroically refusing to give an inch to the hostage-taking, barbaric orcs of the Tea Party who insisted on delaying Obamacare. …But we didn’t know something back then: Obama desperately needed a delay of Healthcare.gov. In his arrogance, though, he couldn’t bring himself to admit it. The other possibility is that he is such an incompetent manager, who has cultivated such a culture of yes-men, that he was completely in the dark about the problems. …This is how you know we’re in the political sweet spot: when the only plausible excuses for the administration are equally disastrous indictments.

Jonah also has some great commentary about the role of other Administration flunkies.

The president may now claim that he knew nothing, but he must have wondered why Henry Chao, Healthcare.gov’s chief project manager, set the bar of success at sea level last March: “Let’s just make sure it’s not a Third World experience.” At this point, it could only be more of a Third World experience if Healthcare.gov required enrollees to pay with chickens. …every day Jay Carney looks even more like a little boy who put on his dad’s suit. You have to wonder what goes on in his mind, as a former journalist, when he tells his former colleagues that “the American forces have been completely destroyed with minimal Iraqi casualties.” (Oh, wait, that was Baghdad Bob. I get them confused.) And what about Dan Pfeiffer going on the Sunday shows to insist that no American should believe his or her lying eyes? …the website will get better. It could hardly get worse, short of a finding that it causes irritable bowel syndrome.

Speaking of Jay Carney, Jonah says that the President’s spokesman has reached the point where “the musky stench of fear, sweat, and urine wafting from the podium makes it hard for all but the true believers to put much stock in his words.”

Jonah then makes the very serious point – in a very amusing way – that Obamacare was deliberately designed so that millions of people would lose their old coverage.

Five million people — and counting — have lost their health insurance, despite the president’s years of “you can keep your plan” promises. The president has apologized, sort of. He says he’s “sorry” that people have found themselves in a bad situation because of “assurances” he made. But no one has lost their insurance because of the president’s assurances, they’ve lost their insurance because of the president’s law. If a captain has the lifejackets filled with cement, his assurance that “you can keep your lifejacket” is only half the crime.  Obama knew the lifejackets wouldn’t work. …Millions more will eventually lose the insurance they like because of Obamacare, according to the administration’s own internal estimates. The cancellations aren’t a bug, they’re a feature, and the president lied about it over and over again.

So what’s the bottom line? Jonah is reveling in the moment.

…as a political and ideological matter, this is beyond fantastic. For years we’ve been told that Democrats were more “reality-based,” that “facts have a liberal bias,” in the words of Paul Krugman, and that if they could just have their way, they could fix all of our problems. No one represented this arrogant promise more than Barack Obama himself. But, with an irony so rich it would be made of Corinthian leather if it was a car seat, the only way he could get his signature legislation passed was to baldly and brazenly lie about it, over and over and over again. He created a rhetorical cloud castle where no one would lose his insurance, every family would save thousands of dollars, and millions of the uninsured would suddenly get coverage. Anyone who doubted this was called a fool or a liar, or even a racist.

Let’s add to our amusement with some cartoons, starting with one from Glenn McCoy.

Obamacare Snakes Cartoon

Next is one from Michael Ramirez.

Obamacare Lying King Cartoon

We’ve already seen some humor with that theme, but I wanted to share the Ramirez cartoon because he does such a great job capturing Obama’s imperious demeanor.

Next we have Nate Beeler who makes a very serious point in a very funny manner.

Obamacare TNT Cartoon

Eric Allie shows how the President’s lapdogs are trying to rationalize this train wreck.

Obamacare Truthers Cartoon

Last but not least, Henry Payne summarizes the website mess while suggesting that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Obamacare Website Goof Cartoon

If this hasn’t exhausted your interest in Obamacare humor, you can enjoy various cartoons, videos, and jokes by clicking here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

*Several people have asked whether it should be “just desserts.” That was my initial inclination, but I went with the single-S approach based on Wikipedia. Suffice to say, I’m not sure which approach is correct and I’ve certainly made mistakes before. But if this is a goof on my part, at least it’s a lot smaller than the $16 trillion error I made on national TV.

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When I wrote a few days ago about the “Continuing Obamacare Disaster,” I didn’t realize I was understating the problems with the President’s boondoggle scheme.

Now that the law’s been passed and implemented, the American people are finally finding out what’s in it (per Nancy Pelosi) and they’re not happy.

Indeed, they’re so unhappy that our overseers in Washington are scrambling to mitigate the political fallout.

The Wall Street Journal opined today on the meaning of President Obama’s announcement.

In a major political reversal, the President announced at a surprise press conference that he is suspending the regulations that he now admits are the reason that millions of health insurance plans have been terminated. …Now these mass cancellations are proving to be unpopular, and Democrats are panicking, so Mr. Obama is offering a temporary stay of execution.  …There is less reprieve here than Mr. Obama claims. It’s hard to un-cancel insurance. The rules Mr. Obama is repudiating were written in 2010, and insurers have been adapting to them for years. They will now have to scramble to revive the policies they can while throwing all of their actuarial assumptions out the window. The faux reprieve also lasts for only one year and applies only to anyone who was covered in 2013.

But even that’s not the full story. Here’s more of the editorial.

The burden will also now fall on state insurance commissioners to decide if they want to try to reapprove old plans, or something similar to the outlawed products. But even the insurers that want to exercise this option will need to resuscitate plans in a mere six weeks. The first they heard about the President’s “fix” was at the press conference. …Such regulatory rewriting is also probably illegal. The Administration claims it has “enforcement discretion” to suspend the regulations. But like the employer mandate Mr. Obama also delayed for a year, their hard start-dates are defined in the statute—January 1, 2014. The black-letter law of the Affordable Care Act does not say the rules apply whenever they are politically convenient.

Megan McArdle also thinks the White House is brazenly disregarding legal requirements.

The administration is not changing the rules, just declining to enforce them against the insurers. This is becoming a pattern: Obama’s position on the law seems to be that it’s his law, and therefore the law is whatever he and his appointees say it is. That’s dangerous for all sorts of reasons.

I’ll be less polite and say that the President is acting like America is a banana republic and he’s the tinpot dictator who can arbitrarily decide the law.

Keep this going and we’ll eventually be Argentina.

Though maybe this isn’t a bad thing. If I can somehow magically become President, I can use the Obama precedent to suspend bad tax law and to unilaterally decide to shut down a bunch of wasteful government departments.

Returning to the real world, Veronique de Rugy gives us a very important reminder in the Washington Examiner that this mess was entirely predictable because of the inherent incompetence and inefficiency of government.

Washington is missing the bigger picture of what the rollout glitches represent. That’s the much deeper problem of government intervention in general. …government-program incentives tend to favor interest groups instead of rewarding success or punishing failure in the same way as the market. …In sum, the problem with the Obamacare rollout is…that government institutions themselves are inherently prone to bad decision-making, often choosing the interest of politically favored groups. …In fact, we can expect these types of negative consequences when the government intervenes in any market — not just health care. For proof, look no further than the flawed government policies that distorted the health care system and prompted the push for Obamacare in the first place.

The final sentence is spot on. Our healthcare system was dysfunctional when Obama took office. But it was screwed up because of government intervention. So Obama’s plan to add another layer of government was a very painful example of Mitchell’s Law.

In reality, you don’t solve government-caused problems with more government.

But this brings us to the big issue of what happens next. The statists will argue that the failure of Obamacare means we need single payer healthcare, which means the government has full control of everything, like in the United Kingdom.

Needless to say, that would be a disaster. More spending and more taxes would be one obvious consequence, but it would also mean that politicians and bureaucrats would decide who lives and who dies. Stalin UK HealthIf you think that’s an exaggeration, check out this horror story (as well as the other examples linked in the third paragraph).

For those of us who care about both taxpayers and good healthcare, we need to use the Obamacare meltdown as a springboard to push for policies that will actually make the system work better.

I actually wrote back in April that Obamacare wouldn’t work and that this would create precisely this opportunity. But making a prediction is the easy part (especially since I never remind people of the times when I make inaccurate predictions). The hard part is pushing the right policies and convincing the American people that we have the right ideas.

I’m a think tank wonk, so I’ll simply list the good policies.

As part of fundamental tax reform, we need to phase out the healthcare exclusion in the tax code – a perverse policy that encourages grotesque waste, inefficiency, and featherbedding in most parts of the medical industry.

We also should reform Medicaid and Medicare to help address the part of the third-party payer crisis caused by the direct government intervention.

If you want to get an idea of how a genuine market-based system would operate, watch this superb video from Reason TV. If you want more examples, here’s a report from North Carolina on free-market healthcare in action and here’s a similar story about capitalist healthcare in Maine.

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