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Last month, I shared a very interesting video from Canada’s Fraser Institute that explored the link between economic performance and the burden of government spending.

There’s now an article in the American Enterprise Institute’s online magazine about this research.

The first half of the article unveils the overall findings, explaining that there is a growth-maximizing size of government (which, when put onto a graph, is shaped like a hump, sort of a spending version of the Laffer Curve).

One recent addition to the mounting evidence against large government is a study published by Canada’s Fraser Institute, entitled “Measuring Government in the 21st Century,” by Canadian economist and university professor Livio Di Matteo. Di Matteo’s analysis confirms other work showing a positive return to economic growth and social progress when governments focus their spending on basic, needed services like the protection of property. But his findings also demonstrate that a tipping point exists at which more government hinders economic growth and fails to contribute to social progress in a meaningful way. …Government spending becomes unproductive when it goes to such things as corporate subsidies, boondoggles, and overly generous wages and benefits for government employees. …Di Matteo examines international data and finds that, after controlling for confounding factors, annual per capita GDP growth is maximized when government spending consumes 26 percent of the economy. Economic growth rates start to decline when relative government spending exceeds this level.

This is standard Rahn Curve analysis and it shows that the public sector is far too large in almost all industrialized nations.

And if you happen to think that 26 percent overstates the growth-maximizing size of government (as I argued last month), then it’s even more apparent that significant fiscal restraint would be desirable.

But I’m more interested today in the specific topic of Canada and the Rahn Curve. The article has some very interesting data.

For a real-life example of how scaling back government has led to positive and practical economic benefits, Americans should look north. …total government spending as a share of GDP went from 36 percent in 1970 (just over 2 percentage points higher than in the United States) to 53 percent when it peaked in 1992 (14 percentage points higher than in the United States). Spending Canada v US…the federal and many provincial governments took sweeping action to cut spending and reform programs. This led to a major structural change in the government’s involvement in the Canadian economy. The Canadian reforms produced considerable fiscal savings, reduced the size and scope of government, created room for important tax reforms, and ultimately helped usher in a period of sustained economic growth and job creation. This final point is worth emphasizing: Canada’s total government spending as a share of GDP fell from a peak of 53 percent in 1992 to 39 percent in 2007, and despite this more than one-quarter decline in the size of government, the economy grew, the job market expanded, and poverty rates fell dramatically.

Simply stated, none of this should be a surprise.

The Canadian economy had the breathing room to expand when the burden of spending was reduced. Why? Because more labor and capital were available to be allocated by market forces.

This is one of the reasons why Canada now ranks higher than the United States in both Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom.

And it’s also worth noting that spending restraint has facilitated significant tax cuts in Canada. Indeed, some American companies are moving north of the border!

Here’s my video that includes a discussion of Canada’s dramatically successful period of spending restraint in the 1990s.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that Paul Krugman would rather misrepresent supposed austerity in the United Kingdom rather than address the real success story of Canada.

P.P.S. More generally, I’ve challenged all Keynesians to explain why Canada’s economy enjoyed good growth when there was genuine spending restraint.

P.P.P.S. While I’m a big fan of Canada, I’m not fully confident about the nation’s long-term outlook.

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My main goal for fiscal policy is shrinking the size and scope of the federal government and lowering the burden of government spending.

But I’m also motivated by a desire for better tax policy, which means lower tax rates, less double taxation, and fewer corrupting loopholes and other distortions.

One of the big obstacles to good tax policy is that many statists think that higher tax rates on the rich are a simple and easy way of financing bigger government.

I’ve tried to explain that soak-the-rich tax policies won’t work because upper-income taxpayers have considerable ability to change the timing, level, and composition of their income. Simply stated, when the tax rate goes up, their taxable income goes down.

And that means it’s not clear whether higher tax rates lead to more revenue or less revenue. This is the underlying principle of the Laffer Curve.

For more information, here’s a video from Prager University, narrated by UCLA Professor of Economics Tim Groseclose.

An excellent job, and I particularly like the data showing that the rich paid more to the IRS following Reagan’s tax cuts.

But I do have one minor complaint.

The video would have been even better if it emphasized that the tax rate shouldn’t be at the top of the “hump.”

Why? Because as tax rates get closer and closer to the revenue-maximizing point, the economic damage becomes very significant. Here’s some of what I wrote about that topic back in 2012.

…labor taxes could be approximately doubled before getting to the downward-sloping portion of the curve. But notice that this means that tax revenues only increase by about 10 percent. …this study implies that the government would reduce private-sector taxable income by about $20 for every $1 of new tax revenue. Does that seem like good public policy? Ask yourself what sort of politicians are willing to destroy so much private sector output to get their greedy paws on a bit more revenue.

The key point to remember is that we want to be at the growth-maximizing point of the Laffer Curve, not the revenue-maximizing point.

P.S. Here’s my video on the Laffer Curve.

Since it was basically a do-it-yourself production, the graphics aren’t as fancy as the ones you find in the Prager University video, but I’m pleased that I emphasized on more than one occasion that it’s bad to be at the revenue-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve.

Not as bad as putting rates even higher, as some envy-motivated leftists would prefer, but still an example of bad tax policy.

P.P.S. Switching to a different topic, it’s been a while since I’ve mocked Sandra Fluke, a real-life Julia.

To fix this oversight, here’s an amusing image based on Ms. Fluke’s apparent interest in becoming a politician.

Fluke Filing Fee

But she’s apparently reconsidered her plans to run for Congress and instead now intends to seek a seat in the California state legislature.

She’ll fit in perfectly.

If you want to see previous examples of Fluke mockery, check out this great Reason video, this funny cartoon, and four more jokes here.

P.P.P.S. And since I’m making one of left-wing women, we may as well include some humor about Wendy Davis.

Check out this excerpt from a story in the Daily Caller.

A dating service that pairs wealthy “sugar daddies” with “sugar babies” for “mutually beneficial dating arrangements” has endorsed Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. SeekingArrangement.com’s Friday announcement followed a recent report in the Dallas Morning News which detailed a number of discrepancies in Davis’ personal narrative, including that she left a man 13 years her senior the day after he made the last payment for her Harvard Law School education. “Wendy Davis is proof that the sugar lifestyle is empowering,” seeking arrangements founder and CEO Brandon Wade said in his endorsement.

Mr. Wade obviously is a clever marketer, but he may also be a closet libertarian.

After all, he also mocked Obamacare with an ad telling young women to join his site so they could find a sugar daddy to pay for the higher premiums caused by government-run healthcare.

Then again, I’ve also speculated that Jay Leno and Bill Maher may be closet libertarians, so I may be guilty of bending over backwards to find allies.

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I’ve narrated a video that cites Economic Freedom of the World data to explain the five major factors that determine economic performance.

But that video is only six minutes long, so I only skim the surface. For those of you who feel that you’re missing out, you can listen to me pontificate on public policy and growth for more than sixty minutes in this video of a class I taught at the Citadel in South Carolina (and if you’re a glutton for punishment, there’s also nearly an hour of Q&A).

There are two points that are worth some additional attention.

1. In my discussion of regulation, I mention that health and safety rules can actually cause needless deaths by undermining economic performance. I elaborated on this topic when I waded into the election-season debate about whether Obama supporters were right to accuse Romney of causing a worker’s premature death.

2. In my discussion of deficits and debt, I criticize the Congressional Budget Office for assuming that government fiscal balance is the key determinant of economic growth. And since CBO assumes you maximize growth by somehow having large surpluses, the bureaucrats actually argue that higher taxes are good for growth and their analysis implies that the growth-maximizing tax rate is 100 percent.

P.S. If you prefer much shorter doses of Dan Mitchell, you can watch my one-minute videos on tax reform that were produced by the Heartland Institute.

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I’ve expressed concern about QE3 and other decisions by the Federal Reserve about monetary policy, but I have also admitted that it’s difficult to know the right monetary policy because it requires having a good idea about both the demand for money and the supply of money.

But this raises a bigger issue. The only reason we expect the Fed to “know the right monetary policy” is because it’s been assigned a monopoly role in the economy. But not just a monopoly role, we also expect the Fed to be some sort of omniscient central planner, knowing when to step on the gas and when to hit the brakes.

And we also are asked to suspend reality and assume that the folks at the Fed will be good central planners and never be influenced by their political masters. Yeah, good luck with that.

With so many difficult – or perhaps impossible – demands placed upon them, no wonder the Fed has a lousy track record (as documented in this powerful George Selgin video).

So let’s ask a fundamental question. Is the Fed necessary? Are we stuck with a central-planning monopoly because there’s no alternative? Professor Larry White says no in this new video from Learn Liberty.

This is one of the best videos I’ve ever seen, so I strongly encourage everyone to share this post widely.

Professor White effectively demonstrates how private markets can replace the five different roles of the Fed. But his arguments are not just based on theory. He shows that the private sector used to handle those roles in the past.

And I especially like his point about how a decentralized market system would operate. Indeed, I would have stressed even more how such a system overcomes the knowledge problem that exists with a monopoly central planner.

Here’s my video on the Fed. I focus more on how central banks developed, but you’ll see some common themes in the two videos.

P.S. Here’s a video with 10 reasons to dislike the Fed.

P.P.S. If you want some Fed humor, we have a Who-is-Ben-Bernanke t-shirt, this Fed song parody, some special Federal Reserve toilet paperBen Bernanke’s hacked Facebook page, and the famous “Ben Bernank” video.

P.P.P.S. Professor White’s video shows how we can improve monetary policy, but let’s also be aware that there are proposals that would lead to even worse monetary policy.

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Ron Paul has made “End the Fed” a popular slogan, but some people worry that this is a radical untested idea. In part, this is because it is human nature to fear the unknown.

But there are plenty of examples of policy reforms that used to be considered radical but are now commonplace.

This list could go on, but the pattern is always the same. People assume something has to be done by government because “that’s the way it’s always been.” Then reform begins to happen and the myth is busted.

But is money somehow different? Not according to some experts.

Here’s some of what John Stossel wrote in a recent column.

Why must our government make currency competition illegal? …Competition is generally good. Why not competition in currencies? Most people I interviewed scoffed at the idea. They said private currency should be illegal. But impressive thinkers disagree. In 1975, a year after he won the Nobel Prize in economics, F.A. Hayek published “Choice in Currency,”which has inspired a generation of “free banking” economists. Hayek taught us that competition not only respects individual liberty, it produces essential knowledge we cannot obtain any other way. Any central bank is limited in its access to such knowledge, and subject to political pressure, no matter how independent it’s supposed to be. “This monopoly of government, like the postal monopoly, has its origin not in any benefit it secures for the people but solely in the desire to enhance the coercive powers of government,” Hayek wrote. “I doubt whether it has ever done any good except to the rulers and their favorites. All history contradicts the belief that governments have given us a safer money than we would have had without their claiming an exclusive right to issue it.” Former Federal Reserve economist David Barker discussed this idea recently with me. “There are a lot of ways that private money might be better,” Barker said. “It might have embedded chips that would make it easier to count.” The chips would also prevent counterfeiting. There used to be private currencies. A businessman who sold iron and tin made coins that advertised his business. The Georgia Railroad Co. also produced its own currency. This became illegal in 1864 — Abraham Lincoln was a fan of central banking.

Stossel’s historical references are particularly important. As I explain in this video, many nations – including the United States – used to have competing currencies.

And if you want a thorough analysis of the Fed’s performance, I urge you to watch this George Selgin speech. Then ask yourself whether we would have been in better shape with private currencies.

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Almost exactly one year ago, I did a post entitled “A Laffer Curve Tutorial” because I wanted readers to have all the arguments and data in one place (and also because it meant I wouldn’t have to track down all the videos when someone asked me for the full set).

Riders from the fiscal policy short bus

Today, I’m doing the same thing on the issue of government spending. If you watch these four videos, you will know more about the economics of government spending than 99.9 percent of the people in Washington. That’s not a big achievement, to be sure, since you’re being compared to a remedial class, but it’s nonetheless good to have a solid understanding of an issue.

The first video defines the problem, explaining that deficits and debt are bad, but then explaining that red ink is best understood as a symptom of the real problem of too much government spending.

The second video reviews the theoretical reasons why a large public sector undermines prosperity.

The next video examines the empirical evidence, citing both cross-country data and academic research.

Last but not least, the final video looks at the research about the growth-maximizing size of government.

You may have noticed, by the way, that this post does not include any of the videos about Keynesian economics or Obama’s stimulus. That’s an entirely different issue, perhaps best described as being a debate over whether it’s good or bad in the short run to increase the burden of government spending. The videos in this post are about the appropriate size and scope of government in the long run.

This post also does not include the video about fiscal restraint during the Reagan and Clinton years, or the video looking at how nations such as New Zealand and Canada were able to restrain spending. Those are case studies, not economics.

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I speculated last year that the political elite finally might be realizing that higher tax rates are not the solution to Greece’s fiscal situation.

Simply stated, you can only squeeze so much blood out of a stone, and pushing tax rates higher cripples growth and drives more people into the underground economy.

Well, it turns out that even the International Monetary Fund agrees with me. Here’s what the IMF said in its latest analysis about the Greek fiscal situation.

…further progress in reducing the deficit is going to be hard without underlying structural fiscal reforms. The fiscal deficit is now expected to be 9 percent this year, against the program target of 7½ percent. “One of the things we have seen in 2011 is that we have reached the limit of what can be achieved through increasing taxes,” Thomsen said. “Any further measures, if needed, should be on the expenditure side.

This is a remarkable admission. The IMF, for all intents and purposes, is acknowledging the Laffer Curve. At some point, tax rates become so punitive that the government collects less revenue.

This is a simple and common-sense observation, as explained in this video.

Unfortunately, even though the IMF now recognizes reality, the same can’t be said about the Obama Administration.

The President has proposed higher tax rates in his recent budget and it seems he can’t make a speech without making a class-warfare argument for penalizing producers, investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

Yet if you compare American tax rates and Greek tax rates, it seems that the IMF’s lesson also applies in the United States.

The top tax in Greece is 45 percent, which is higher than the 35 percent top rate in America. But this doesn’t count the impact of state income taxes, which add an average of about five percentage points to the burden. Or the Medicare payroll tax, which boosts the rate by another 2.9 percentage points.

So Obama’s proposed 4.6 percentage point hike in the top tax rate almost certainly would mean a higher tax burden in the United States.

Even more worrisome, the U.S. tax rates on dividends and capital gains already are higher than the equivalent rates in Greece. Yet Obama wants to boost double taxation on these forms of retained earnings and distributed earnings.

But there are important cultural differences between the United States and Greece, so there’s no reason to think that the revenue-maximizing tax rates in both nations are the same (by the way, policy makers should strive for growth-maximizing tax rates, not the rates that generate the most money).

That’s why I wrote about the U.S.-specific evidence from the 1980s, which shows that rich people paid much more to the IRS when tax rates were slashed from 70 percent to 28 percent.

But all this analysis may miss the point. Why is the President willing to raise tax rates even if the economy suffers enough damage that the Treasury doesn’t collect any revenue? And if you’re wondering why I might ask such a crazy question, watch this video – especially beginning about the 4:30 mark.

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