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Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

The United Nations is not nearly as bad as other international bureaucracies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or the International Monetary Fund.

But that’s because the U.N. tends to be completely ineffective. So even when the bureaucrats push for bad policy, they don’t have much ability to move the ball in the wrong direction.

But just like a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, the United Nations periodically does something that genuinely would expand the power and burden of government.

And that’s what happening this week in Moscow. Under the “leadership” of the U.N.’s World Health Organization, hundreds of bureaucrats have descended on the city for the “Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).”

But this isn’t the usual junket. The bureaucrats are pushing to create “guidelines” for tobacco taxation. Most notably, they want excise taxes to be at least 70 percent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes.

I’m not a smoker and never have been, but this is offensive for several reasons.

1. Enabling bigger government.

If there were five gas stations in your town and the owners all met behind closed doors to discuss pricing, would the result be higher prices or lower prices? Needless to say, the owners would want higher prices. After all, the consumer benefits when there is competition but the owners of the gas stations benefit if there’s a cartel. The same is true with government officials. They don’t like tax competition and would prefer that a tax cartel instead. And when tax rates get harmonized, they always go up and never go down. Which is what you might expect when you create an “OPEC for politicians.”   In their minds, if all governments agree that excise taxes must be 70 percent of the cost of cigarettes, they think they’ll got a lot more tax revenue that can be used to buy votes and expand government.

2. Promoting criminal activity.

In the previous paragraph, I deliberately wrote that politicians “think they’ll get” rather than “will get” a lot more tax revenue. That’s because, in the real world, there’s a Laffer Curve. We have lots of evidence that higher tobacco taxes don’t generate revenue and instead are a boon for smugglers, criminal gangs, and others that are willing to go underground and provide cigarettes in the black market. We saw this in Bulgaria and Romania.  We saw in in Quebec and Michigan. And we saw it in Ireland and Washington, DC. As I explained a couple of years ago, “In many countries, a substantial share of cigarettes are black market or counterfeit. They put it in a Marlboro packet, but it’s not a Marlboro cigarette. Obviously it’s a big thing for organized crime.” And if the WHO succeeds, the problem will get far worse.

3. Eroding national sovereignty.

 Or maybe this section should be called eroding democratic accountability and control. In any event, the issue is that international bureaucracies should not be in the position of seeking to impose one-size-fits-all policies on the world. Particularly when you get perverse results, such as bureaucrats from health ministries and departments supplanting the role of finance ministries and treasury departments. Or when the result is earmarked taxes, which even the IMF warns is problematical since, “Earmarking creates pots of money that can invite corruption and, unchecked, it can lead to a plethora of small nuisance taxes.” And keep in mind the WHO operates in a non-transparent and corrupt fashion.

For more information, Brian Garst of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity has a thorough analysis of the dangers of global taxation.

By the way, the health community will argue that globally coerced tobacco tax hikes are a good idea since the money can be used to fund programs that discourage tobacco use.

Yet we have some experience in this area. Many years ago, state politicians bullied tobacco companies into a giant cash settlement, accompanied by promises that much of the money would be used to fight tobacco use.

But, as NPR reports, politicians couldn’t resist squandering the money in other areas.

So far tobacco companies have paid more than $100 billion to state governments as part of the 25-year, $246 billion settlement. …all across the country hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to states, and the states have made choices not to spend the money on public health and tobacco prevention. …Myron Levin covered the tobacco industry for the Los Angeles Times for many years and is also the founder of the health and safety news site Fair Warning. He says talking states into spending settlement money on tobacco prevention is a tough sell.

Even when the politicians are asked to spend only a tiny fraction of the money on anti-smoking programs.

To help guide state governments, in 2007 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that states reinvest 14 percent of the money from the settlement and tobacco taxes in anti-smoking programs. But most state governments have decided to prioritize other things.

Needless to say, governments around the world will behave like state governments in America. Any additional tax revenue will be used to expand the burden of government spending.

Let’s close with some big-picture analysis. Bureaucracies inevitably seem drawn to mission creep, which occurs when agencies and departments get involved in more and more areas in order to get more staffing and bigger budgets.

But when that happens, the core mission tends to get less attention. For many bureaucracies, that probably doesn’t matter since the core mission probably doesn’t have any value (HUD, anyone?).

But presumably there is a legitimate government role in preventing something like infectious diseases. So why isn’t WHO focused solely on things such as Ebola and SARS rather than engaging in ideological campaigns to expand the size and scope of government?

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I’m not a big fan of international bureaucracies.

Regular readers know that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is the worst institution from my perspective, followed by the International Monetary Fund.

Some folks ask why the United Nations isn’t higher on the list?

My answer is simple. The UN has a very statist orientation and it routinely advocates bad policy, but it is too incompetent to do much damage.

The OECD and IMF, by contrast, have some capacity to undermine global growth by encouraging more statism.

That being said, the UN occasionally does something that is so obnoxious that I can’t resist commenting. Especially since my tax dollars pay a big share of that bureaucracy’s bloated budget.

What has me irked is that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development just released its annual Trade and Development Report.

You would think an institution that focuses on trade and development would be advocating free markets and small government.

But UNCTAD takes the opposite approach.

Here’s how the bureaucrats frame the issue in the report. Keep in mind that “market liberalism” is their term for free markets (in other words, classical liberalism).

Back in 1964, the international community recognized that “If privilege, extremes of wealth and poverty, and social injustice persist, then the goal of development is lost”. Yet, almost everywhere in recent years, the spread of market liberalism has coincided with highly unequal patterns of income and wealth distribution. A world where its 85 wealthiest citizens own more than its bottom three and a half billion was not the one envisaged 50 years ago. …the past three decades have demonstrated that delivery is unlikely with a one-size-fits-all approach to economic policy that cedes more and more space to the profitable ambitions of global firms and market forces. …the moment is right to propose another international “New Deal” that can realize the promise of “prosperity for all”.

But not only does UNCTAD utilize class-warfare rhetoric, they also try to support their ideological agenda with historical illiteracy.

I’ve pointed out that the western world became rich when government was very small and markets were liberated.

But the statists at the UN want us to think that big government deserves the credit.

None of today’s developed countries depended on market forces for their structural transformation and its attendant higher levels of employment, productivity and per capita incomes. Rather, they adopted country-specific measures to manage those forces, harnessing their creative side to build productive capacities and provide opportunities for dynamic firms and entrepreneurs, while guiding them in a more socially desired direction. They also used different forms of government action to mitigate the destructive tendencies of those same market forces. This approach of managing the market, not idolizing it, was repeated by the most rapidly growing emerging market economies − from the small social democratic economies of Northern Europe to the giant economies of East Asia − in the decades following the end of the Second World War.

Wow. They even want us to think big government deserves the credit for prosperity in Hong Kong and Singapore.

So you know the bureaucrats are either very stupid or very dishonest. I suspect the latter, but it doesn’t matter. All we need to know is that they are willing to make very preposterous claims to advance their agenda.

And what is their agenda? Well, a major theme is that politicians in developing nations need “policy space” to enable bigger government.

For instance, UNCTAD doesn’t like free trade but does like industrial policy (aka, crony capitalism).

Policy space is…reduced by free trade agreements… Along with the proliferation of trade agreements and their expansion into trade-related areas, there has been a global revival of interest in industrial policy.

But a big focus of the report is that tax competition is a threat to the “policy space” of politicians.

Fiscal space goes hand in hand with policy space. …strengthening government revenues is key. …This…allows for higher growth-enhancing public spending… The need for reclaiming and expanding fiscal space faces particular challenges in an increasingly globalizing economy. …A major problem is that globalization has affected the ability of governments to mobilize domestic revenues. …the increased mobility of capital and its greater use of fiscal havens have considerably altered the conditions for taxing income − both personal and corporate − and wealth. The dominant agenda of market liberalism has led to a globalized economy that encourages tax competition among countries, at times pushing them to a “race to the bottom”.

Gasp, how horrible! Politicians don’t have as much “policy space” to impose punitive taxes.

That’s the best advertisement for tax competition I’ve ever read, even if it is unintentional.

So what do the UN bureaucrats want to solve this supposed problem? Simple, just destroy financial privacy and fiscal sovereignty so that politicians have carte blanche to expand taxes.

…a number of developments aimed at improving transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes have taken place. They include a declaration by G20 leaders to promote information sharing… an OECD Action Plan on base erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), increased monitoring by several national tax authorities…and numerous bilateral tax treaties (BTTs) and tax information exchange agreements (TIEAs). …these initiatives are steps in the right direction.

With BEPS, indiscriminate information sharing, and more power for national tax police, UNCTAD has put together a trifecta of bad policies.

And to add insult to injury, all the bureaucrats at the UN get tax-free salaries while they concoct schemes to enable higher taxes on the rest of us.

Geesh, no wonder I sometimes have perverse fantasies about them.

And I’m very grateful that Senator Rand Paul is leading the fight against their evil ideas.

P.S. On a more pleasant topic, the “Beltway Bandits” just played in the softball world series in Las Vegas. We competed in the 55+ grouping and finished with three wins and two losses.

Not bad, but not good enough to win any trophies. But we got to play in replica Major League stadiums, which was a fun experience.

I can now say I’ve hit home runs in Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field, and also doubled off the Green Monster at Fenway. Sounds impressive so long as nobody asks any follow-up questions!

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P.P.S. Here’s something else that I found amusing.

Bill Clinton not only understands the inversion issue, but he’s also willing to publicly explain why Obama is wrong.

During an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton called to cut corporate taxes and give companies a break on money stashed overseas, dinging President Barack Obama’s latest effort to combat corporate tax-dodging. When asked what should be done about corporate inversion transactions, Clinton responded with a host of GOP talking points about the tax burden on big business. “America has to face the fact that we have not reformed our corporate tax laws,” Clinton told CNBC, according to a transcript. “We have the highest overall corporate tax rates in the world. And we are now the only OECD country that also taxes overseas earnings on the difference between what the companies pay overseas and what they pay in America.”

But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. This isn’t the first time he’s had sensible things to say on the issue of corporate taxation.

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The English are an interesting tribe. There is much to like about their country, including the fact that voters repeatedly elected Margaret Thatcher, one of the world’s best leaders in my lifetime.

On the other hand, the United Kingdom has veered sharply to the left in recent decades, and Thatcher must have been very disappointed that her Conservative Party now is but a hollow shell, controlled by statists who actually think people should voluntarily pay extra tax to support wasteful and corrupt government.

And the politicians openly pursue Orwellian tax-collection tactics!

No wonder the country now faces a very grim future.

But the thing that most irks me about the British political class is the fanatical embrace of anti-gun policies. Consider some of these examples.

Given these example of anti-gun zealotry, you won’t be surprised to learn that some English pundits think America is primitive and backwards for retaining an individual right to bear arms.

You may be thinking, “so what, they have their bad laws and we have our good laws.” But it seems at least some Brits want to disarm not just their own citizens, but Americans as well.

Writing for the UK-based Guardian, Henry Porter asserts that it is time for the United Nations to somehow undermine private gun ownership in the United States.

…what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? … If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.

Mr. Porter doesn’t specify how the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations are supposed to accomplish this task.

Does he want Obama to ram through the U.N. treaty that leftists hope would trump the Second Amendment?

If so, all I can say is good luck trying to enforce gun bans. The American people would engage in widespread disobedience if our own politicians tried to take away our constitutional freedoms.

I’d like to see UN bureaucrats try to disarm these great Americans

And if a bunch of U.N. bureaucrats tried to do the same thing…well, that’s such a ridiculous notion that I’m reminded of my fantasy about what might have happened if the United Nations had tried to stop Texas from executing a child murderer who originally was from Mexico.

But the call for UN intervention is not the most absurd part of the article.

What could be sillier, you ask? How about the fact that Mr. Porter implies that gun owners are akin to slave owners. It’s not an explicit accusation, but you can see in this excerpt that he wants readers to draw that conclusion.

Half the country is sane and rational while the other half simply doesn’t grasp the inconsistencies and historic lunacy of its position, which springs from the second amendment right to keep and bear arms, and is derived from English common law and our 1689 Bill of Rights. We dispensed with these rights long ago, but American gun owners cleave to them with the tenacity that previous generations fought to continue slavery.

So if you “cleave” to your guns, you’re on the same level as the people who defended slavery. I guess this is the U.K. version of Obama accusing some Americans of “clinging to guns.”

Ironically, Mr. Porter self identifies as a “journalist specialising in liberty and civil rights.” But he doesn’t specify what side he’s on, so I guess we can assume – based on this column – that he specializes in undermining liberty and curtailing civil rights.

P.S. The Guardian is known as a left-wing newspaper, but I’ve always had a special place for them in my heart ever since one of their writers accused me of being “a high priest of light tax, small state libertarianism.” He meant it as an insult, of course, but I think of it as the nicest thing ever written about me. Even better than this.

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Citing the analysis of America’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, I wrote last year about a treaty being concocted at the United Nations that would threaten our right to keep and bear arms.

Well, with the aid of the Obama Administration, this new treaty has been approved. Fortunately, there probably are not 67 votes in the Senate to ratify the measure.

And that’s a good thing. The Wall Street Journal has a column by John Bolton and John Yoo explaining why the new U.N . treaty is so misguided and dangerous.

…the new treaty also demands domestic regulation of “small arms and light weapons.” The treaty’s Article 5 requires nations to “establish and maintain a national control system,” including a “national control list.” …Gun-control advocates will use these provisions to argue that the U.S. must enact measures such as a national gun registry, licenses for guns and ammunition sales, universal background checks, and even a ban of certain weapons. The treaty thus provides the Obama administration with an end-run around Congress to reach these gun-control holy grails.

But doesn’t the Second Amendment protect our rights, regardless?

Unfortunately, that’s not clearly the case, as Bolton and Yoo note.

The Constitution establishes treaties in Article II (which sets out the president’s executive powers), rather than in Article I (which defines the legislature’s authority)—so treaties therefore aren’t textually subject to the limits on Congress’s power. Treaties still receive the force of law under the Supremacy Clause, which declares that “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” …this difference in language between laws and treaties allows the latter to sweep more broadly than the former.

One thing we can state with certainty is that opponents of individual rights will use the treaty to push an anti-gun agenda inside the United States. And since the Supreme Court has upheld the Second Amendment by only one vote, I’m not overly confident that we can rely on the judiciary anyhow.

Ultimately, our fundamental rights to protect ourselves and our families only exist because politicians are scared of getting voted out of office and losing the best job most of them will ever have.

And remember that the “slippery slope” is a very relevant concern. Many anti-gun activists think only government should have the right to possess guns, and they view incremental gun control measures as building blocks to that ultimate goal.

Even though government monopolies on gun possession have been associated with some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships!

I’m not worried that the United States is going to turn into some Venezuelan-style anti-gun totalitarian regime, so I actually disagree with the results of my poll on the biggest reason to oppose gun control.

If I was asked to give my worst-case scenario for why we need private gun ownership, it would involve fiscal and societal breakdown because of an ever-growing welfare state.

But regardless of why you believe in the Second Amendment, this U.N. treaty would be a very bad development.

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One of the new Tea Party senators, Ted Cruz, gained a lot of support when he was Solicitor General of Texas Texas Sovereigntyand successfully defended his state’s ability to execute a murderer over the objections of the International Court of Justice.

At the time, this fight even led me to confess one of my lurid fantasies.

Now we have another battle involving American states and an international bureaucracy.

Here are a couple of passages from a report in the Seattle Times.

A United Nations-based drug agency urged the United States government on Tuesday to challenge the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, saying the state laws violate international drug treaties. …U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that he was in the last stages of reviewing the Colorado and Washington state laws. Holder said he was examining policy options and international implications of the issue.

Here’s a news flash for the bureaucrats at this branch of the United Nations in Vienna: American states are sovereign and don’t need to kowtow to a bunch of mandarins who get bloated (and tax free!) salaries in exchange for…well, I’m not sure what they do other than pontificate, gorge themselves at receptions, and enjoy first class travel at our expense while jetting from one conference to another.

If the people of Washington and Colorado want to legalize certain drugs, that’s their right. They haven’t signed any treaties with the United Nations.

By the way, this has nothing to do with whether drugs should be legalized.

Like John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson, I’m skeptical of the drug war.

But since I’m an abstainer, I confess I don’t really lose any sleep about the issue.

I generally do get agitated, by contrast, when international bureaucracies seek to impose one-size-fits-all policies on the world. Much of my ire is directed at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which seeks to penalize jurisdictions that commit the horrible crime of having attractive tax regimes (or, to be more accurate, having tax regimes that are more attractive than those in places such as France and Germany).

But I also get upset with bad policies from the IMF, the World Bank, the EU mega-bureaucracy, and even the World Health Organization.

P.S. Have you ever noticed that U.N. offices are in swanky places such as New York City, Geneva, and Vienna? If these bureaucrats really want to help the world, why aren’t their offices in Havana, Lagos, and Chisinau.  That would be quite appropriate, after all, since Cuba, Nigeria, and Moldova are all members of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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The United Nations may be useful as a forum for world leaders, but it is not a productive place to develop policy. The international bureaucracy compulsively supports statist initiatives that would reduce individual liberty and expand the burden of government.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that the United Nations also wants to control the Internet. Actually, to be more specific, some nations want to regulate and censor the Internet and they are using the United Nations as a venue.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Gordon Crovitz explains this new threat. He starts by describing the laissez-faire system that currently exists and identifies the governments pushing for bad policy.

Who runs the Internet? For now, the answer remains no one, or at least no government, which explains the Web’s success as a new technology. But as of next week, unless the U.S. gets serious, the answer could be the United Nations. Many of the U.N.’s 193 member states oppose the open, uncontrolled nature of the Internet. Its interconnected global networks ignore national boundaries, making it hard for governments to censor or tax. And so, to send the freewheeling digital world back to the state control of the analog era, China, Russia, Iran and Arab countries are trying to hijack a U.N. agency that has nothing to do with the Internet. For more than a year, these countries have lobbied an agency called the International Telecommunications Union to take over the rules and workings of the Internet.

He then warns about the risk of government control.

Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. The Internet is made up of 40,000 networks that interconnect among 425,000 global routes, cheaply and efficiently delivering messages and other digital content among more than two billion people around the world, with some 500,000 new users a day. …The self-regulating Internet means no one has to ask for permission to launch a website, and no government can tell network operators how to do their jobs. The arrangement has made the Internet a rare place of permissionless innovation.

Crovitz identifies some of the specific tax and regulatory threats.

Proposals for the new ITU treaty run to more than 200 pages. One idea is to apply the ITU’s long-distance telephone rules to the Internet by creating a “sender-party-pays” rule. International phone calls include a fee from the originating country to the local phone company at the receiving end. Under a sender-pays approach, U.S.-based websites would pay a local network for each visitor from overseas, effectively taxing firms such as Google and Facebook. …Regimes such as Russia and Iran also want an ITU rule letting them monitor Internet traffic routed through or to their countries, allowing them to eavesdrop or block access.

And he warns that the Obama Administration’s representative seems inadequately committed to advancing and protecting American interests.

The State Department’s top delegate to the Dubai conference, Terry Kramer, has pledged that the U.S. won’t let the ITU expand its authority to the Internet. But he hedged his warning in a recent presentation in Washington: “We don’t want to come across like we’re preaching to others.” To the contrary, the top job for the U.S. delegation at the ITU conference is to preach the virtues of the open Internet as forcefully as possible. Billions of online users are counting on America to make sure that their Internet is never handed over to authoritarian governments or to the U.N.

With all the support Obama got from Silicon Valley and the high-tech crowd, one would think this is an issue where the Administration would do the right thing. And it sounds like the U.S. is on the right side, but the real issue is whether the American representative is prepared to tell the dictators and kleptocrats to jump in a lake.

The moral of the story is that the United Nations should not be a policy forum. The bureaucrats seem to have no appreciation or understanding of how the economy works, perhaps because they live in a bubble and get tax-free salaries.

And I don’t say that out of animosity. The folks I’ve met from the United Nations have all been pleasant and I even participated in a U.N. conference as the token free-market supporter.

But just because someone’s nice, that doesn’t mean that they should have any power over my life or your life. And many of the nations pushing to control and regulate the Internet are governed by people who are neither nice nor pleasant.

P.S. You probably don’t want to know my innermost fantasies, but one of them involved the United Nations.

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Every so often, I share breakthrough stories about advances in “human rights” around the world.

Now, in honor of Sandra Fluke, the United Nations has decided that contraception is a human right. Not just a human right, a universal human right. The New York Times reports on this big news.

The United Nations says access to contraception is a universal human right that could dramatically improve the lives of women and children in poor countries.

So what’s the big deal? Surely people should have the right to buy a condom.

Paid for with your tax dollars?

Yes, but we’re talking about the United Nations, so you won’t be surprised to learn that there shouldn’t be any “financial barriers” to birth control, which means  people have the right to have other people pay for their fun and games.

It effectively declares that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women’s rights. …The global body also says increasing funding for family planning by a further $4.1 billion could save $11.3 billion annually in health bills for mothers and newborns in poor countries.

Well, Sandra Fluke surely will be happy about this news. Even though national governments safely can ignore U.N. pronouncements, this is yet another sign of a growing dependency mindset.

P.S. Speaking of Sandra Fluke, you can enjoy some laughs with this great Reason video, this funny cartoon, and four more jokes here.

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