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Posts Tagged ‘States’

Let’s enjoy some semi-good news today.

We’ve discussed many times why Obamacare is bad news, whether we’re looking at it from the perspective of the healthcare system, taxpayers, or workers.

But it could be worse. Writing in the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson explains that two-dozen states have refused the lure of expanding Medicaid (the means-tested health care program) in exchange for “free” federal money.

From 1989 to 2013, the share of states’ general funds devoted to Medicaid has risen from 9 percent to 19 percent, reports the National Association of State Budget Officers. Under present law, the squeeze will worsen. The White House report doesn’t discuss this. …To the White House, the right-wing anti-Obamacare crusade is mean-spirited partisanship at its worst. The 24 non- participating states are sacrificing huge amounts of almost-free money… Under the ACA, the federal government pays all the cost of the Medicaid expansion through 2016 and, after that, the reimbursement rate drops gradually to a still-generous 90 percent in 2020.

But that “almost-free money” isn’t free, of course. It’s simply money that the federal government (rather than state governments) is diverting from the productive sector of the economy.

So the 24 states that have rejected Medicaid expansion have done a huge favor for America’s taxpayers. To be more specific, Nic Horton of Watchdog.org explains that these states have lowered the burden of federal spending (compared to what it would have been) by almost $90 billion over the next three years.

By not expanding Medicaid, 24 states are saving taxpayers $88 billion over the next three years. That is $88 billion that will not be added to the national debt — debt that will not be passed on to future generations of taxpayers. On the other hand, states that have expanded Medicaid through Obamacare are adding roughly $84 billion to the national debt through 2016.

Returning to Samuelson’s column, he would like a grand bargain between states and the federal government, with Washington agreeing to pay for all of Medicaid (currently, states pay a portion of the bill) in exchange for states taking over all spending for things such as roads and education.

We could minimize this process for states and localities by transferring all Medicaid costs to Washington (or at least the costs of the elderly and disabled). To pay for it, Washington would reduce transportation and education grants to states. Let Washington mediate among generations. Let states and localities concentrate on their traditional roles of education, public safety and roads. Spare them the swamp of escalating health costs. This is the bargain we need — and probably won’t get.

I like half of that deal. I want to transfer education, law enforcement, and roads back to the state level (or even the local level).

But I don’t want Washington taking full responsibility for Medicaid. Instead, that program also should be sent down to the states as well. This video explains why that reform is so desirable.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of Obamacare, this Chip Bok cartoon perfectly captures the essence of the Hobby Lobby decision. The left wants the mandate that contraception and abortifacients be part of health insurance packages.

Rather than exacerbate the damage of using insurance to cover routine costs, wouldn’t it make more sense to have employers simply give their workers more cash compensation and then allow the workers to use their money as they see fit?

That way there’s no role for those evil, patriarchal, oppressive, and misogynistic bosses!

I realize this might upset Sandra Fluke, but at least she has the comfort of knowing that her narcissistic statism generated some good jokes (here, here, and here).

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More than three years ago, I wrote that the Department of Transportation should be dismantled for the simple reason that we’ll get better roads at lower cost with the federalist approach of returning responsibility to state and local governments.

I echoed those sentiments in this CNBC interview.

Since there’s only an opportunity to exchange soundbites in these interviews, let me elaborate on some of the reasons why transportation should be a state and local responsibility.

1. Washington involvement is a recipe for pork and corruption. Lawmakers in Congress – including Republicans – get on the Transportation Committees precisely because they can buy votes and raise campaign cash by diverting taxpayer money to friends and cronies.

mitchells-first-theorem-of-government2. Washington involvement in transportation is just the tip of the iceberg. As I said in the interview, the federal budget is mostly a scam where endless streams of money are shifted back and forth in leaky buckets. This scam is great for insiders and bad news for taxpayers.

3. Washington involvement necessarily means another layer of costly bureaucracy. And this is not a trivial issues since the Department of Transportation is infamous for overpaid bureaucrats.

4. Washington involvement gives state and local politicians an excuse to duck responsibility for low-quality infrastructure. Why make adult decisions, after all, when you can shift the blame to DC for not providing enough handouts.

While I think I made some decent points in the interview, I should have addressed the assertion that our infrastructure is falling apart. My colleague at the Cato Institute, Chris Edwards, effectively dealt with this scare tactic in his recent Congressional testimony.

I also should have pointed out that a big chunk of the gas tax is diverted to boondoggle mass transit projects.

Last but not least, I’m disappointed that I failed to connect some very important dots. Gov. Rendell and the CNBC host both fretted that the current system isn’t producing a desirable outcome, but they’re the ones advocating for a continuation of the status quo! Heck, they want even more of the system that they admit doesn’t work.

Sigh.

P.S. While I obviously want to get rid of the Department of Transportation, it’s not at the top of my list for the most wasteful and counterproductive federal bureaucracy.

P.P.S. On a completely separate topic, I can’t resist sharing this Ramirez cartoon.

And since we’re making fun of our Statist-in-Chief, here’s some satire about the award Obama received from Steven Spielberg.

The teleprompters are a nice touch, reminiscent of some very amusing jokes here, here, here, and here.

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As you can imagine, there’s a lot to choose from in the contest for the most spectacular waste of tax dollars.

But the politicians in Oregon must really want the prize, because they managed to flush several hundred million dollars down a rat hole by putting together a state-run Obamacare website that has to be abandoned because it is so dysfunctional.

And if the Oregon website is so bad that it’s switching to the much-derided Washington Obamacare website, it must be a disaster of unparalleled dimensions!

Here are some excerpts from an AP report.

After months of trying to get its problem-plagued online health exchange to work, Oregon on Friday officially gave up on the state portal… Officials say fixing the existing system would be too costly at $78 million and would take too long. …Oregon’s exchange is seen as the worst in more than a dozen states that developed their own online health insurance marketplaces. The general public still can’t use Cover Oregon’s website to sign up for coverage in one sitting. Instead, Oregonians must use a time-consuming hybrid paper-online process to sign up for insurance — despite $134 million the state paid Oracle Corp. to build the online exchange. …In March, the federal Government Accountability Office announced an investigation of Oregon’s exchange, including looking at whether the federal government can reclaim grant money given to Cover Oregon if taxpayer funds were mismanaged.

Heck, it’s not just the GAO that’s investigating.

The FBI reportedly is probing the failed launch of Oregon’s ObamaCare insurance exchange, joining several other agencies looking into the multimillion-dollar program that was scrapped last month.  …the FBI has interviewed several people as part of the inquiry. The Oregonian reported that the bureau held a 90-minute meeting with a former Republican lawmaker who detailed potential wrongdoing — including suspicions that the state showed the feds a misleading demonstration to keep money flowing. …A U.S. House committee already is probing the Oregon debacle, as is the Government Accountability Office. The state received more than $300 million in federal grants to launch and operate the health care system. Much of what it has spent so far has gone to Oracle Corp.

But let’s be fair. Not all of the $300 million was squandered on the failed website.

The politicians also coughed up $3 million for this video, which presumably was supposed to lure people to the non-working website but probably just made people think Oregon is infested by patchouli-soaked deadbeats.

The video almost stands by itself as a form of left-wing self parody.

But what makes it especially amusing is that it generated this amusing segment on one of HBO’s programs.

Well done.

I don’t watch TV, so I don’t know if the guy who did this segment is on the right, the left, or somewhere in between.

But it would be nice to have a talk show host who is willing to go after all sides, unlike Colbert and Stewart who clearly bend over backwards to curry favor with the White House.

Anyhow, if you like videos that use humor to mock government-run healthcare, here are some good options.

*The head of the National Socialist Workers Party finds out he can’t keep his health plan.

*A creepy version of Uncle Sam wants to know about your sex life.

*Young people discover that they’re screwed by Obamacare.

*One of the biggest statists of the 20th century is angry that the Obamacare exchanges don’t work.

*A cartoon video showing how to buy coffee in an Obamacare world.

But never forget that this is a serious issue. Government has screwed up the healthcare system, yet politicians then use the mess they create to justify even more intervention.

The only effective solution is economic liberty.

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Last August, I shared a fascinating map from the Tax Foundation.

It showed which states have chased away taxable income and which ones have attracted more taxpayers (along with their taxable income).

In other words, what are the “Golden Geese” doing with their money?

Well, the obvious and unsurprising answer is that they are escaping high-tax states and moving to states that aren’t quite so greedy.

Now we have another map from the Tax Foundation. They’ve just released the latest data on state and local tax burdens as a share of state income. Because of lags in data, we’re looking at 2011 numbers, but that’s not important. The main thing is to notice that the states with the highest tax burdens are very much correlated with the states that suffered the great loss of taxable income.

State-Local Tax

You can tell a few additional things just by looking at the map, most notably that the high-tax states are largely along the Pacific coast, in the upper Midwest, and much of the Northeast.

The rest of the nation seems more reasonable.

If you specifically want to know the best and worst states, I’ve put together a list. But I’ve reversed the order. The state with the lowest tax burden is #1 while the state with the greediest politicians is #50.

Best-worst tax states

A couple of observations on the data.

First, it helps to have no state income tax. The top four states, and seven out of the top 10, avoid that punitive levy.

Second, while it’s no surprise to see which states are at the bottom because of harsh tax burdens, it will be interesting to see how Chris Christie and Scott Walker explain the poor rankings of their respective states should they run for President.

This isn’t to say it’s their fault. After all, New Jersey and Wisconsin were high-tax states when they took office. But it will be incumbent upon them to say what they’ve done to make a bad situation better (or at least to keep a bad situation from getting worse).

Here are some more interesting maps, including international comparisons, national comparisons, and even one local comparison.

Which nations have the most red ink.

Which nations are money laundering centers (hint, not tax havens).

A crazy left-wing “Happy Planet” map.

Another silly map showing that America is supposedly one of the world’s most authoritarian nations.

Here are some good state maps with useful information.

Which states give the highest welfare payments.

In which state is the burden of government spending climbing most rapidly.

Which states are in a “death spiral” because of too many takers and too few makers.

Which states have too many school bureaucrats compared to teachers.

There’s even a local map.

How many of the nation’s richest counties are in the D.C. metro region.

P.S. I wrote recently about the foolishness of anti-money laundering laws, which impose very high costs without having any positive impact in terms of thwarting crime.

Now bureaucrats want to make these laws even worse. Casinos are going to be required to be more intrusive, regardless of whether there’s any evidence or suspicion that customers have done anything wrong. I’m not a gambler, so I don’t worry about the fate of Las Vegas, but even I feel sorry for the casinos since many high rollers from overseas will decide to go to Macau, Monaco, or other locations where they’re not treated poorly because of misguided government.

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I’ve been asked whether I’m a hypocrite because I support decentralization while at the same time being critical of state and local governments.

I don’t think there’s any inconsistency in my position. Here’s some of what I wrote last July.

I’m a strong believer in federalism, but not because I think state and local governments are competent. Politicians and interest groups are a toxic combination in all circumstance. But at least people have considerable ability to cross borders if they want to escape greedy and despotic governments at the state and local level. And when the geese with the golden eggs can fly away, this facilitates competition between governments and forces politicians to restrain their appetites.

Maybe I’m just daft (as my leftist friends often claim), but I think that’s a perfectly defensible position.

Anyhow, I feel compelled to give that bit of background because it’s once again time to mock state and local governments.

Here’s an excerpt from the Detroit News that tells you everything you’ll ever need to know about the stupidity of government. The city actually loses money on parking enforcement.

The city is paying $32 to issue and process a $30 parking violation, and it hasn’t adjusted rates since 2001. On top of that, about half of Detroit’s 3,404 parking meters are not operating properly at any given time, says Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling.

Wow, this must be an all-time record. A local government can’t even fleece people competently.

The only thing more shocking is when the government is too incompetent to give away money, which actually happened with one boondoggle in the United Kingdom.

Now let’s travel a few thousand miles and look at another example of how Washington isn’t the only place where government does strange things.

I’ve written many times about the lavish pay and gold-plated benefits of bureaucrats, but cops in Hawaii may have set a new record for fringe benefits. Or maybe this is a new version of friends with fringe benefits, to coin a phrase.

Here are the fun (and PG-13-rated) details in Jacob Sullum’s article in Reason.

Hawaii’s prostitution law includes an exemption for “any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties.” …That’s right: Cops insisted that they must be free not just to receive blowjobs and handjobs from prostitutes but also to engage in vaginal and anal intercourse with them. Evidently the police also need permission to engage in “flagellation or torture by or upon a person as an act of sexual stimulation or gratification” (Hawaii’s definition of “sadomasochistic abuse”). Just in case. Since an entire chamber of the state legislature agreed to this request, the cops must have had a pretty persuasive argument.

Hmmm…makes me wonder if the legislators also added an exemption for themselves. Based on the state’s tax rates, we already know they screw taxpayers for money, so it’s not much of a leap to suspect they’re doing the same thing on a one-on-one basis.

Though, as shown in this cartoon, they’re not used to spending their own money.

All kidding aside, Jacob makes the very sensible point that the real problem is that politicians have enacted laws against a victimless crime.

…the double standard demanded by police highlights the utter absurdity of prostitution laws. Police do not commit murder to catch killers or knock over banks to catch robbers. Yet here they are insisting that they need the leeway to have sex with prostitutes in order to stop people from having sex with prostitutes. Even if cops never take advantage of that freedom, they routinely commit the crime of agreeing to pay for sex, except that in their case it is not treated as a crime. That exemption is considered acceptable only because exchanging money for sex, unlike murder and robbery, does not violate anyone’s rights. But if so, why not broaden the exemption to cover everyone?

I agree. I find the whole business of prostitution very distasteful, just as I feel nothing but disdain for illegal drugs. But prohibition just makes matters worse.

P.S. Since this post looks at both parking meters and prostitution, you’ll be amused by the way the Germans combined those two topics.

P.P.S. I periodically share polling data that strikes me as significant. Most recently, for instance, I noted that crazy left wingers openly admitted they want higher tax rates even if the government doesn’t raise any revenue. That was a depressing result, but I was encouraged to see that a vast majority of Americans view big government as a threat to the nation’s future.

Here are a couple of new polls that caught my attention.

1. I’m rather worried that a new Rasmussen poll found that “for the first time, fewer than half of voters believe tax cuts help the economy.” For what it’s worth, I suspect this is because politicians often gravitate to “tax cuts” that fail to reduce the burden on productive activity. Instead, they make the code more complex by expanding credits, deductions, exemptions, preferences, and exclusions.

If they started pushing for lower marginal tax rates or fundamental tax reform, the polling numbers would probably be better.

2. Let’s now cross the ocean and look at some remarkable Gallup data on the role of government in thwarting small businesses.

Gallup Europe Entrepreneurship

I already knew Greece had stunningly absurd barriers to entrepreneurship (click here for an unbelievable example), so one can only imagine the types of nonsense imposed by Italy’s feckless government.

3. Let’s close with some very good news. It seems that young people are beginning to realize that Ronald Reagan was right (see second video) when he said government is the problem rather than the solution.

Check out this excerpt from a report by National Journal.

Millennials who may have voted with youthful exuberance in 2008 seem to have grown fatigued with the government’s inability to get things done. In 2009, 42 percent of millennials said government programs are usually inefficient and wasteful, according to Pew data. By 2012, that number had increased to 51 percent. And young people say they’re losing trust in the government to Do the Right Thing. In 2009, 44 percent of millennials said they trust the government to do what’s right all or most of the time. By 2013, that dropped to 29 percent.

Makes me think maybe these youngsters finally figured out that programs like Social Security are empty Ponzi schemes.

By the way, here are the best poll numbers I’ve ever seen.

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When I first started working on fiscal policy in the 1980s, I never thought I would consider Sweden any sort of role model.

It was the quintessential cradle-to-grave welfare state, much loved on the left as an example for America to follow.

But Sweden suffered a severe economic shock in the early 1990s and policy makers were forced to rethink big government.

They’ve since implemented some positive reforms in the area of fiscal policy, along with other changes to liberalize the economy.

I even, much to my surprise, wrote a column in 2012 stating that it’s “Time to Follow Sweden’s Lead on Fiscal Policy.”

More specifically, I’m impressed that Swedish leaders have imposed some genuine fiscal restraint.

Here’s a chart, based on IMF data, showing that the country enjoyed a nine-year period where the burden of government spending grew by an average of 1.9 percent per year.

Swedish Fiscal Restraint

From a libertarian perspective, that’s obviously not very impressive, particularly since the public sector was consuming about two-thirds of economic output at the start of the period.

But by the standards of European politicians, 1.9 percent annual growth was relatively frugal.

And since Mitchell’s Golden Rule merely requires that government grow slower than the private sector, Sweden did make progress.

Real progress.

It turns out that a little bit of spending discipline can pay big dividends if it can be sustained for a few years.

This second chart shows that the overall burden of the public sector (left axis) fell dramatically, dropping from more than 67 percent of GDP to 52 percent of economic output.

Swedish Spending+Deficit as % of GDP

By the way, the biggest amount of progress occurred between 1994 and 1998, when spending grew by just 0.27 percent per year. That’s almost as good as what Germany achieved over a four-year period last decade.

It’s also worth noting that Sweden hasn’t fallen off the wagon. Spending has been growing a bit faster in recent years, but not as fast as overall economic output. So the burden of spending is now down to about 48 percent of GDP.

And for those who mistakenly focus on the symptom of red ink rather than the underlying disease of too much spending, you’ll be happy to know that spending discipline in the 1990s turned a big budget deficit (right axis) into a budget surplus.

Now let’s get the other side of the story. While Sweden has moved in the right direction, it’s still far from a libertarian paradise. The government still consumes nearly half of the country’s economic output and tax rates on entrepreneurs and investors max out at more than 50 percent.

And like the United Kingdom, which is the source of many horror stories, there are some really creepy examples of failed government-run health care in Sweden.

Though I suppose if the third man grew new legs, maybe we would all reassess our views of the Swedish system. And if the first guy managed to grow a new…oh, never mind.

But here are the two most compelling pieces of evidence about unresolved flaws in the Swedish system.

First, the system is so geared toward “equality” that a cook at one Swedish school was told to reduce the quality of the food she prepared because other schools had less capable cooks.

Second, if you’re still undecided about whether Sweden’s large-size welfare state is preferable to America’s medium-size welfare state, just keep in mind that Americans of Swedish descent earn 53 percent more than native Swedes.

In other words, Sweden might be a role model on the direction of change, but not on the level of government.

P.S. On a separate topic, regular readers know that I’m a fan of lower taxes and a supporter of the Second Amendment. So you would think I’d be delighted if politicians wanted to lower the tax burden on firearms.

This is not a hypothetical issue. Here’s a passage from a local news report in Alabama about a state lawmaker who wants a special sales tax holiday for guns and ammo.

Rep. Becky Nordgren of Gadsden said today that she has filed legislation to create an annual state sales tax holiday for gun and ammunition purchases. The firearms tax holiday would occur every weekend prior to the Fourth of July. Alabama currently has tax holidays for back-to-school shopping and severe weather preparedness. Nordgren says the gun and ammunition tax holiday would be a fitting way to celebrate the anniversary of the nation’s birth and Alabama’s status as a gun friendly state.

I definitely admire the intent, but I’m enough of a tax policy wonk that the proposal makes me uncomfortable.

Simply stated, I don’t want the government to play favorites.

For instance, I want to replace the IRS in Washington with a simple and fair flat tax in part because I don’t want the government to discriminate based on the source of income, the use of income, or the level of income.

And I want states to have the lowest-possible rate for the sales tax, but with all goods and services treated equally. Alabama definitely fails on the first criteria, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it also granted a lot of loopholes.

So put me in the “sympathetic skepticism” category on this proposal.

Though I imagine this Alabama lass could convince me to change my mind.

P.P.S. A few days ago, the PotL noticed that I shared some American-European humor at the end of a blog post. She suggests this would be a good addition to that collection.

Europe Heaven Hell

I can’t comment on some of the categories, but I will say that McDonald’s in London is just as good as McDonald’s in Paris, Milan, Geneva, and Berlin.

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I’ll be first in line if there’s a contest over who thinks most strongly that politicians are corrupt, or whether they can waste money in creative ways.

But if somebody asserts that politicians are stupid, I’m going to argue on the other side.

This isn’t because I’m a fan of elected officials. Far from it. However, having been a student of public policy for three decades, I have a grudging admiration for their animal cunning. They’ve developed some remarkably clever ways of extracting more and more revenue from taxpayers.

The bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are turning an old pact on mutual administrative assistance between governments into something akin to a World Tax Organization that will have the power to penalize nations that don’t impose onerous tax burdens.

Showing amazing capacity for innovation, Pakistan’s tax police hires transgendered people to encourage (presumably homophobic) taxpayers to cough up more money.

The tax police in England have floated a proposal to have all paychecks go directly to the tax authority, which would then decide how much gets forwarded to taxpayers.

And since we’re talking about the United Kingdom, that nation’s despicable political class wants to improve compliance by indoctrinating kids to snitch on their parents.

Speaking of snitches, tax authorities in both the state of New York and the city of Chicago have programs encouraging neighbors to rat our neighbors.

World Bank bureaucrats put together a report card on the tax systems of different nations, and the way to get a high grade is to impose high tax burdens.

Our friends at the Internal Revenue Service have something called the Taxpayer Advocate Service that mostly exists to – get ready for a surprise – push policies to expand the size and power of the IRS.

And who among us isn’t impressed that the German tax authorities have figured out how to levy a prostitute tax using parking meters.

That last example is a good segue into our newest example of great moments in tax enforcement.

The state of New York has won the right to impose a sales tax on lap dances and other…um…services at strip clubs. Here are some excerpts from the Daily News.

The jiggling and gyrating strippers at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club are selling sexual fantasy — not demonstrating their dance skills — in the private rooms at the Hell’s Kitchen skin palace, an administrative law judge ruled. “The dancing portion of the service is merely ancillary to the performer removing her clothes or creating the sexual fantasy,” Judge Donna Gardiner wrote in a decision released Monday that means the raunchy moves are subject to the state sales tax. …Gardiner said the Hell’s Kitchen jiggle joint will have to pay $2.1 million in sales tax on the $23.8 million worth of scrip, or the club’s in-house currency, that it sold between June 1, 2006 and November 2008.

And don’t think the government didn’t investigate this issue closely before rendering a decision.

After listening to strippers’ testimony and watching the club’s videotapes, Gardiner ruled that some of the strippers’ routines involve dance, choreography and music, but overall, these are not artistic performances.

I wonder if they also read copies of Hustler magazine? This might be a case where government officials went above and beyond the call of duty to study a topic.

Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club owes $2.1 million in taxes for lap dances performed at the Hell’s Kitchen jiggle joint.Regardless, the strip club didn’t prevail. I guess art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I suppose this is the point where I should make some more jokes, but I’m enough of a tax dork that instead I’m going to make a serious point.

The problem in New York is not that the Hustler Club is now being taxed. The problem is that there’s an exemption from the sales tax for “artistic performances.”

Don’t get me wrong. I would prefer that there not be an income tax or sales tax in New York. But if the state is going to impose a sales tax, then all consumption should be treated equally.

This is also my view on the flat tax. I would prefer no income tax, and America did quite well with that approach until 1913. But if there is going to be an income tax, then you minimize corruption and economic damage by having the levy apply equally and neutrally.

At least one Judge in New York seems to have the right perspective on this issue. Here’s another blurb from the Daily News report.

One judge, Robert Smith, criticized the majority, arguing that it was making a distinction based on their preferences. …“Perhaps, for similar reasons I do not read Hustler magazine; I would rather read the New Yorker,” he wrote. “I would be appalled, however, if the state were to exact from Hustler a tax that the New Yorker did not have to pay, on the ground that what appears in Hustler is insufficiently ‘cultural and artistic.’”

Needless to say, I doubt politicians pay much attention to these philosophical and economic arguments for genuine fairness in the tax code.

They simply want more money. And even though I wish they were stupid and incompetent in this regard, they have great talents when it comes time to take our money.

But there is one easy way to avoid heavy taxation. Just drop out of the labor force and live off the government. Millions of your neighbors already have taken this route.

It’s not good for the nation, but it sure is the logical response to perverse government policies that make it less and less attractive to pull that wagon and more and more comfortable to ride in the wagon.

As Henry Payne sarcastically noted, it’s time to party like the Greeks!

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