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Posts Tagged ‘United States’

It’s time for an updated version of the U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest.

This ongoing series has featured amazing feats of inane government, including the world’s most pointless road markings, photo-ID requirements for drain cleaner purchases, and a government so incompetent that it couldn’t give money away.

Today’s contest, though, is going to focus on examples of wimpiness from both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s an excerpt from a story out of the United Kingdom. Apparently, one neurotic mother thinks her son is some sort of incompetent misfit.

OMG, he’s going to become a serial killer!!

A mother was left horrified after her 10-year-old son returned form Tesco’s supermarket with a pumpkin carving kit which included a sharp serrated blade. Natalie Greaves from Sheffield in South Yorkshire described her reaction to Shay returning home with the one pound kit: ‘I went berserk when he came home with it. ‘I couldn’t believe that he could pick that sort of thing up as a child – there should have been an age restriction on it.’

“Horrified”? “Beserk”? You must be kidding. If there’s someone in that family who shouldn’t be allowed around sharp objects, it’s the mother.

It’s almost enough to make me think the kid would be better off in foster care, notwithstanding my libertarian instincts that even bad homes are oftentimes better than state control.

But I also wonder what this says about the entire nation. Back in 2012, I shared some laughably pathetic examples of anti-gun political correctness from the United Kingdom and wondered how such inane behavior could exist in a country that “once ruled half the world.”

Needless to say, this story doesn’t reflect well on our cousins across the ocean.

But Americans are in no position to make fun of others since there are plenty of examples of brain-dead political correctness in the United States.

After all, you don’t want to throw stones if you live in a glass house. And when it comes to absurd anti-gun hysteria, government schools make Americans look like infantile idiots.

Here are parts of a story from a local news outlet in Alabama.

A Mobile mother is not happy about a controversial Mobile County School contract her daughter signed without her consent. The contract promises that her daughter will not kill or injure herself and others. …She said E R Dickson school officials crossed the line when they had her daughter sign a Mobile County Public Safety Contract without her being present.

This sounds serious. Are we talking about a 16-yr old gang member? A 17-yr old with psychiatric issues? A 15-yr old with a history of violence.

Ummm…not exactly.

The student, a 5-yr old girl named Elizabeth, was playing like a normal kid. Here are some of the details.

School officials told Rebecca they had to send Elizabeth home after an incident in class.  “They told me she drew something that resembled a gun,” said Rebecca. “According to them she pointed a crayon at another student and said, ‘pew pew,” said Rebecca. She said her child was given a questionnaire to evaluate her for suicidal thoughts. “[They] Asked her if she was depressed now,” said Rebecca. Without her permission, Rebecca said her child was given the Mobile County Public School Safety Contract to sign stating she wouldn’t kill herself or others. “While I was in the lobby waiting they had my 5-year-old sign a contract about suicide and homicide,” said Rebecca. …Rebecca is pushing to have the incident removed from her child’s record. She said school officials have requested Elizabeth see a psychiatrist.

As I’ve argued before, in cases like this it’s the school bureaucrats who need counseling.

So which nation wins the prize for the worst example of P.C. wimpiness?

I’m ashamed to say that the United States probably deserves that dubious honor. After all, the story from the U.K. involves one weird parent while the U.S. story involves a deliberate decision by an arm of government.

Though I will point out that it’s not just one screwy parent in the United Kingdom. Wimpiness appears to be pervasive.

The mum-of-three checked online and found similar carving kits with restrictions allowing only people over-18 to buy it. A Tesco spokesperson responded to this mother’s anger… ‘We were concerned by this incident and acted immediately to ensure all pumpkin carving knives will trigger an age restriction till prompt.’

So maybe the U.K. story belongs in the U.K. vs. U.S. private sector political correctness contest.

P.S. Let’s shift to a different topic. I recently wrote that the jihad against tobacco at the U.N.’s World Health Organization was a classic (and tragic) case of resources being diverted from something that genuinely matters, such as fighting deadly infectious disease.

A column in the Wall Street Journal makes the same point, only it identifies the silly crusade against sugar as the main example of mission creep.

The WHO’s record of handling epidemics over 30 years reveals a health system that is getting worse, not better. On at least four occasions the U.N. organization has failed to deal with major outbreaks of communicable disease. …The list of internal problems that cause the WHO to fumble when faced with an epidemic is no secret. …an array of disparate programs within the WHO—such as the current crusade against processed sugar and sugar beverages—have diverted time, attention and money from higher priorities, such as tracking and responding to epidemic diseases.

And the Washington Examiner has opined on the same issue.

Years of dramatically overstaffed city agencies, over-generous retirement promises to public employee unions, and white-elephant development projects had left the city unable to police its streets, keep street lamps on, maintain parks, or provide other basic government services, no matter how much the city government raised taxes. The lesson of Detroit is one that governments everywhere can learn: In a world with finite resources, governments that try to do too much end up neglecting even the essential. Detroit’s case is a microcosm of what Americans are now experiencing nationwide in several different areas — the evident inability of public health officials to manage the Ebola scare competently is just one of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that instructed a mildly symptomatic patient with known exposure to Ebola to board a commercial flight this week, spends millions annually on bonuses for top employees, bicycle paths, farmers markets, and other luxuries. …Even if they enjoy using the money the nation has for disease control and vaccine research to fund instead research on origami condoms and to appease politically active bicyclists, public health bureaucrats might do better in the future putting their massive budgets toward basic preparedness for precisely the kind of emergency the CDC was created to address.

The link between small government and effective government is something Calvin Coolidge understood. Needless to say, that’s not the attitude of the current occupant of the White House, which is why this bit of humor is worth sharing.

I think the unintentional video on Obama’s new Ebola Czar is even funnier, but whoever put this together gets high marks for cleverness.

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Divided government is good for America’s economy.

Or, to be more specific, divided government is a net plus if the alternative is to have statists fully in charge of economic policy.

I made this point back in 2012 when I pointed out that the unemployment rate started falling after Republicans captured the House of Representatives, and we got further good results when gridlock led to an end to extended unemployment benefits, first in North Carolina and then the entire country.

We also see positive evidence in the new rankings from the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World, which was published this week.

As you can see from this chart, the United States fell in 2010 to #18 in this global ranking of economic liberty, but now America has improved to #12.

That’s still far below our #3 ranking when Bill Clinton left office, so we’re still paying a high price for the statist policies of both Bush and Obama, but at least we’re finally moving back in the right direction.

If you look at the underlying data, you can see why America’s score has increased since 2010.

There was a slight improvement in the scores for trade and regulation, but that was offset by declines in the scores for monetary policy and property rights.

Fiscal policy is the area where there was a significant improvement for the United States, which matches with my data showing that sequestration and the Tea Party made a big difference by significantly slowing the growth of government spending.

But the improvement over the past two years, as noted above, is small compared to the decline in the previous 10 years.

Here’s how Economic Freedom of the World describes America’s fall.

The 7.81 chain-linked rating of the United States in 2012 is more than 8/10 of a point lower than the 2000 rating. What accounts for the US decline? While US ratings and rankings have fallen in all five areas of the EFW index, the reductions have been largest in the Legal System and Protection of Property Rights (Area 2)… The plunge in Area 2 has been huge. In 2000, the 9.23 rating of the United States was the 9th highest in the world. But by 2012, the area rating had plummeted to 6.99, placing it 36th worldwide. …the increased use of eminent domain to transfer property to powerful political interests, the ramifications of the wars on terrorism and drugs, and the violation of the property rights of bondholders in the auto-bailout case have weakened the tradition of strong adherence to the rule of law in United States. …To a large degree, the United States has experienced a significant move away from rule of law and toward a highly regulated, politicized, and heavily policed state.

Geesh, we’re becoming another Argentina.

Looking at the big picture, a falling score is not a trivial issue.

The decline in the summary rating between 2000 and 2012 on the 10-point scale of the index may not sound like much, but scholarly work on this topic indicates that a one-point decline in the EFW rating is associated with a reduction in the long-term growth of GDP of between 1.0 and 1.5 percentage points annually (Gwartney, Holcombe, and Lawson, 2006). This implies that, unless policies undermining economic freedom are reversed, the future annual growth of the US economy will be only about half its historic average of 3%.

Amen. This is why I worry so much about the corrosive impact of big government.

Now let’s look at the overall ratings for all nations. The chart is too large to show all nations, so here are the nations with the most economic freedom.

You shouldn’t be surprised to see that Hong Kong and Singapore own the top two spots.

Other nations with very high scores include New Zealand, Switzerland, Mauritius, UAE, Canada, Australia, Jordon and Chile.

Getting a good score today, however, is no guarantee of getting a good score in the future.

I’ve already expressed concern about Australia moving in the wrong direction, but I’m even more worried about Chile. That nation’s socialist President is making very bad moves on fiscal policy, and also is trying to undermine her country’s very successful system of school choice.

But it would take a lot of bad policy for Chile to drop down to the level of Venezuela, which has the dubious honor of being in last place.

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To put it mildly, I’m not a fan of the so-called Tax Justice Network. In a moment of typical understatement, I referred to the U.K.-based group as “…a bunch of crazy Euro-socialists.”

And to give you an idea of why I don’t like them, here’s some of what I wrote about them two years ago.

…the Tax Justice Network [is] closely allied with governments in left-wing nations such as France, and they share the same goals as statist international bureaucracies such as the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. If they succeed in crippling tax competition and setting up some sort of global network of tax police, more politicians will raise tax rates, causing more misery, and bringing more nations one step closer to Greek-style fiscal collapse.

With this bit of background, it goes without saying that I very rarely agree with TJN.

But just as a stopped clock is right twice daily, the Tax Justice Network on rare occasions will produce some worthwhile research. For example, here are some passages from my article in the latest issue of the Cayman Financial Review (where I’m a member of the Editorial Board).

…would anybody, if asked to list the world’s 10 biggest tax havens, put together a list that includes Germany, Japan and the United States? Sounds absurd, but that’s precisely what the ideologues at the Tax Justice Network (TJN) asserted in the Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) released last November. …To be fair, though, the methodological approach used in the FSI report is not wholly objectionable. The TJN is seeking to come up with a measure that combines both the degree to which a jurisdiction has “secrecy” laws and the extent to which that jurisdiction attracts global capital. In other words, the TJN’s philosophical leanings are extreme and the organization obviously is motivated by a desire to hinder tax competition and fiscal sovereignty, but the FSI report provides an interesting way of seeing which so-called tax havens play the biggest role in the world economy.

And one of the biggest tax havens – number 6 according to TJN – is the United States.

TJN FSI 2013I have no objection to their choice.

It makes sense to include the United States because there are several attractive policies for global investors, including the non-taxation and non-reporting of certain types of capital income. Moreover, several states have very friendly incorporation laws.

When I’m talking about “friendly incorporation laws,” I’m referring to the fact that states such as Delaware, Nevada, Wyoming, and others make it easy for everyone – particularly foreigners – to set up companies. This is a good thing for business and investment, but it irks statists because many American states don’t require the collection and sharing of information that foreign governments want for purposes of enforcing bad tax law.

So the United States is a de facto tax haven.

But that’s just part of the story. When I discuss the “non-taxation and non-reporting of certain types of capital income,” I’m referring to the fact that the internal revenue code generally does not impose tax on interest and capital gains paid to  foreigners (specifically nonresident aliens). And because we don’t tax those payments, there’s no requirement to report that information to any government. As you can imagine, this irks the left because it means there’s no information to share with foreign governments that want to track – and tax – flight capital.

To reiterate, this makes the United States is a de facto tax haven.

These laws are extremely beneficial to the American economy. To get an idea of why the United States is a big winner from being a “tax haven,” look at this chart showing historical data on the amount of money foreigners have invested in stocks, bonds, and other forms of indirect (sometimes called passive) investment in America.

By any standard, $13 trillion is a lot of money. Those funds boost our financial markets, enable job creation, and increase economic performance. We don’t know how much of that money is invested in the United States because we have a friendly and confidential tax system for nonresident aliens, but it surely helps to explain why there’s so much foreign investment in America.

Let’s be thankful that the United States is a so-called tax haven. Those pro-growth policies help to offset Obama’s bad policies. Indeed, two Canadian economists found that tax havens actually are economically beneficial for high-tax nations.

But that’s not the moral of the story. Yes, I like that America is a tax haven for foreigners, but the real moral of the story is that we should apply the same good policies to Americans.

Let’s get rid of the corrupt internal revenue code and adopt a simple and fair flat tax. That means a low tax rate, of course, but it also means no double taxation of income that is saved and invested.

Which means Americans would get the same pro-growth treatment now reserved for foreigners.

For more information, here’s my video on the economic argument for tax havens.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that hypocritical leftists love using tax havens to protect their money even though they want to deny that freedom to the rest of us.

P.P.S. I’m such an avid defender of tax havens that I almost wound up in a Mexican jail. That’s dedication!

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There’s an old joke about two guys camping in the woods, when suddenly they see a hungry bear charging over a hill in their direction. One of the guys starts lacing up his sneakers and his friend says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear.” The other guys says, I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you.”

That’s reasonably amusing, but it also provides some insight into national competitiveness. In the battle for jobs and investments, nations can change policy to impact their attractiveness, but they also can gain ground or lose ground because of what happens in other nations.

The corporate tax rate in the United States hasn’t been changed in decades, for instance, but the United States has fallen further and further behind the rest of the world because other nations have lowered their rates.

Courtesy of a report in the UK-based Telegraph, here’s another example of how relative policy changes can impact growth and competitiveness.

The paper looks at changes in the burden of welfare spending over the past 14 years. The story understandably focuses on how the United Kingdom is faring compared to other European nations.

Welfare spending in Britain has increased faster than almost any other country in Europe since 2000, new figures show.  The cost of unemployment benefits, housing support and pensions as share of the economy has increased by more than a quarter over the past thirteen years – growing at a faster rate than in most of the developed world. Spending has gone up from 18.6 per cent of GDP to 23.7 per cent of GDP – an increase of 27 per cent, according to figures from the OECD, the club of most developed nations. By contrast, the average increase in welfare spending in the OECD was 16 per cent.

This map from the story shows how welfare spending has changed in various nations, with darker colors indicating a bigger expansion in the welfare state.

Welfare Spending - Europe

American readers, however, may be more interested in this excerpt.

In the developed world, only the United States and the stricken eurozone states of Ireland, Portugal and Spain – which are blighted by high unemployment – have increased spending quicker than Britain.

Yes, you read correctly. The United States expanded the welfare state faster than almost every European nation.

Here’s another map, but I’ve included North America and pulled out the figures for the countries that suffered the biggest increases in welfare spending. As you can see, only Ireland and Portugal were more profligate than the United States.

Welfare Spending - NA + WE

Needless to say, this is not a good sign for the United States.

But the situation is not hopeless. The aforementioned numbers simply tell us the rate of change in welfare spending. But that doesn’t tell us whether countries have big welfare states or small welfare states.

That’s why I also pulled out the numbers showing the current burden of welfare spending – measured as a share of economic output – for countries in North America and Western Europe.

This data is more favorable to the United States. As you can see, America still has one of the lowest overall levels of welfare spending among developed nations.

Welfare Spending - NA + WE -Share GDP

Ireland also is in a decent position, so the real lesson of the data is that the United States and Ireland must have been in relatively strong shape back in 2000, but the trend over the past 14 years has been very bad.

It’s also no surprise that France is the most profligate of all developed countries.

Let’s close by seeing if any nations have been good performers. The Telegraph does note that Germany has done a good job of restraining spending. The story even gives a version of Mitchell’s Golden Rule by noting that good policy happens when spending grows slower than private output.

Over the thirteen years from 2000, Germany has cut welfare spending as a share of GDP by 1.5 per cent… Such reductions are possible by increasing welfare bills at a lower rate than growth in the economy.

But the more important question is whether there are nations that get good scores in both categories. In other words, have they controlled spending since 2000 while also having a comparatively low burden of welfare outlays?

Welfare Spending - The Frugal FiveHere are the five nations with the smallest increases in welfare spending since 2000. You can see that Germany had the best relative performance, but you’ll notice from the previous table that Germany is not on the list of five nations with the smallest overall welfare burdens. Indeed, German welfare spending consumes 26.2 percent of GDP, so Germany still has a long way to go.

The nation that does show up on both lists for frugality is Switzerland. Spending has grown relatively slowly since 2000 and the Swiss also have the third-lowest overall burdens of welfare spending.

Hmmm…makes you wonder if this is another sign that Switzerland’s “debt brake” spending cap is a policy to emulate.

By the way, Canada deserves honorable mention. It has the second-lowest overall burden of welfare spending, and it had the sixth-best performance in controlling spending since 2000. Welfare outlays in our northern neighbor grew by 10 percent since 2000, barely one-fourth as fast as the American increase during the reckless Bush-Obama years.

No wonder Canada is now much higher than the United States in measures of economic freedom.

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When I’m in Europe giving speeches and participating in conferences, it’s quite common that folks on the left will attempt to discredit my views by asserting that Americans are selfish and greedy.

Since I’m generally sympathetic to Ayn Rand’s writings, I don’t see anything wrong with people striving to make themselves better off. Moreover, Adam Smith noted back in 1776 that the desire to earn more money leads other people to make our lives better. One of his most famous observations is that, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept the premise of my statist friends in Europe and simply look at whether their assertion is correct. Are Americans more selfish and greedy that their counterparts across the ocean?

The most obvious way of testing this proposition is to compare rates and levels of voluntary charity. Selfish and greedy people presumably will cling to their money while compassionate and socially conscious people will share their blessings with others.

So how does the United State compare to other nations? Well, I’m not a big fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but the bureaucrats in Paris are quite good at collecting statistics from member nations and producing apples-to-apples comparisons.

And if you look at rates of “voluntary private social expenditure” among nations, it turns out that Americans are easily the most generous people in the developed world.

Voluntary Social Expenditure in OECD Nations

Wow, people in the United States are so generous that their voluntary giving amounts to 10.2 percent of gross domestic product. The only other nations that even crack 5 percent of GDP are the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Most of the supposedly compassionate welfare states have dismal levels of charitable giving. Voluntary social expenditure in major European nations such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain averages less than 2 percent of GDP.

It’s also worth noting that these numbers actually understate the charity gap between Americans and folks from other nations. Economic output in the United States is about 30 percent higher than it is in the rest of the developed world, so charitable giving by Americans actually represents a much bigger slice of a much bigger pie.

Statists might respond by asserting that Europeans express their generosity through the public sector. I reject that comparison since – as I explained when criticizing a Michael Gerson column – it’s wrong to equate government coercion with private charity.

But even if you have the European mindset that government should be a vehicle for redistribution, the OECD numbers show that there’s not much difference between the United States and other developed nations. According to the OECD data, government redistributes 20 percent of GDP in America compared to an average of 21.9 percent of GDP for all OECD nations. And since there’s strong evidence that government redistribution undermines progress in the fight against poverty, I actually wish there was a big gap between America and other nations!

And don’t forget, by the way, that 20 percent of U.S. GDP is a lot more money than 21.9 percent of GDP in other nations, so government in the United States spends more on redistribution, on average, than other OECD governments. Indeed, I’ve already shared healthcare numbers making that same point.

P.S. It’s also worth sharing the data showing that proponents of small government in the United States are far more generous than those who favor a big welfare state.

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A reader from New York has a follow-up question for me.

Referencing a “Question of the Week” from last month, in which I expressed guarded optimism that America could be saved, she wants to know what I would do if things go the wrong way.

In other words, what if things go really wrong and America suffers a Greek-style fiscal collapse? And imagine how bad that might be since there wouldn’t be an IMF or European Central Bank capable of providing bailouts to the United States.

Perhaps because of an irrational form of patriotism, I’m fairly certain that I will always live in the United States and I will be fighting to preserve (or restore) liberty until my last breath.

But I probably would want my children someplace safe and stable, so I’ll answer the question from that perspective.

The obvious first choice is a zero-income tax jurisdiction like the Cayman Islands that is prosperous and reasonably well governed.

But I’m not sure about the long-run outlook for the Cayman Islands, in part because the politicians there have flirted with an income tax and in part because the jurisdiction inevitably would suffer if the United States was falling apart.

So what’s a place that is stable and not overly tied to the American economy.

Then the obvious choice is Switzerland. That nation’s long-run fiscal outlook is relatively favorable because of  modest-sized government and a very good spending control mechanism.

But while Switzerland is not dependent on the U.S. economy, it is surrounded by European welfare states. And I’m fairly certain that nations such as France, Italy, and (perhaps) Germany will collapse before America.

And even though most Swiss households have machine guns and the nation presumably can defend itself from barbarian hordes in search of a new welfare check, Switzerland’s probably not the ideal location.

Estonia is one of my favorite countries, and they’ve implemented some good reforms such as the flat tax. But I worry about demographic decline. Plus, I’m a weather wimp and it’s too chilly most of the year.

Another option is a stable nation in Latin America, perhaps Chile, Panama, or Costa Rica. I haven’t been to Chile, but I’m very impressed by the nation’s incredible progress in recent decades. I have been to Panama many times and it is one of my favorite nations. I’ve only been to Costa Rica two times, but it also seems like a nice country.

The bad news is that I don’t speak Spanish (and my kids don’t speak the language, either). The good news is that Hispanics appear to be the world’s happiest people, so that should count for something.

“G’day mate, we’ve privatized our social security system!”

This brings me to Australia, the country that probably would be at the top of my list. The burden of government spending in Australia is less than it is in the United States.

But the gap isn’t that large. The reason I like Australia is that the nation has a privatized Social Security system (called Superannuation) and the long-run fiscal outlook is much, much better than the United States.

Plus the Aussies are genuinely friendly and they speak an entertaining form of English.

So if America goes under, I recommend going Down Under.

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I’ve shared several horror stories of government incompetence and bureaucratic nonsense as part of my series comparing stupid policies in the United States and United Kingdom.

This has been a neck-and-neck battle, with the United Kingdom recently throwing down the gauntlet with a decision to take kids away from their foster family because the mom and dad didn’t believe in unlimited immigration.

The United States responded by paying to have a bunch of bureaucrats attend a conference so they could learn how to respond to a zombie attack.

I’m not sure which of those decisions wins the prize for government stupidity, but today’s story suggests that it’s time to start chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

After all, surely the United Kingdom can’t surpass the moronic decision by Maryland school bureaucrats to suspend a little boy for pretending his hand was a gun and “shooting” another child.

Here’s all you need to know, as reported by the Washington Examiner, about this laughable – yet nauseating – example of nanny-state political correctness.

Child Hand-Gun

I guess he should play with dolls instead

A Montgomery County elementary school student was suspended for a pretend gunshot… The 6-year-old, who attends Roscoe R. Nix Elementary School in Silver Spring, made a gun with his hands, pointed it at another student and said “pow,” according to Robin Ficker, the boy’s attorney. He was given a one-day suspension, with a conference on the matter planned for Jan. 2, the day students return to school from winter break.

This is not an isolated incident. There are other examples of embarrassing stupidity in America.

Seems like the United States wins this contest for government stupidity.

But, wait, maybe I was blinded by patriotism. Perhaps I wanted America to win and that caused me to overlook equally inane decisions in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, that was the case. Showing that stupidity can reign supreme on both sides of the Atlantic, it turns out that two boys in England were reprimanded for make gun shapes were their hands.

But that’s not all. There have been other idiotic episodes of anti-gun lunacy in the United Kingdom.

And let’s not forget the woman who got in trouble with the police for trying to scare away some thugs by brandishing a knife in her own home.

So I guess that means we still have a tie. In the contest for government stupidity, the United States and the United Kingdom are both winners.

And the citizens of both nations are losers, but let’s not allow that pesky little fact take away from this exciting contest.

P.S. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Montgomery County is a suburb of Washington, DC. And, as you can see from this map, it is filled with overpaid bureaucrats and lobbyists. Since these are the people imposing so much bad policy on the rest of the nation, at least they’re being consistent and subjecting themselves to foolishness as well.

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