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It would require several people, working around the clock, to provide daily updates about the bizarre and senseless actions of the crowd in Washington.

And you’d need many additional people to monitor the foolish decisions in state capitals.

I certainly try to do my small part, sharing example of jaw-dropping vapidity by our overseers in government (especially in New York City and California).

But I don’t like to discriminate, which is why I periodically highlight inane behavior by foreign bureaucrats and politicians. And we have two perfect examples today. We’ll start north of the border.

Here are some passages from a CBC report about nanny-state overkill from Canada (h/t: Lenore Skenazy).

Clayton, 8, and Kristopher Cadieux, 10, started their business last summer, digging up worms and selling them as bait for $2.50 per dozen. But after a complaint from a neighbour, the brothers received a note from the city saying they were breaking a bylaw and had to shut down their business. The mayor of Cornwall, Leslie O’Shaughnessy, explained that the bylaw requires all personal business sales be conducted within the home, without outdoor signage. …The city told the brothers to move their business inside their home, and to take down their signs on their front lawn. …Kristopher said the worm enterprise only brought in about $34 a month last summer, and he doesn’t understand why he and his brother are being told they can’t sell worms from their front lawn.

How dare these kids display entrepreneurship.They’re almost as bad as the Canadian kid who got in trouble for stopping a knife attack.

But I still think America wins the prize for teaching kids bad lessons. After all, local government officials have heroically thwarted rogue operators of unregulated and unlicensed lemonade stands, in California, Georgia, and Oregon!

Without adequate government supervision, you never know what might happen. If you allow kids to engage in voluntary exchange, maybe that will be the gateway step to other forms of anti-social behavior. Such as snow removal without government approval. Or giving topless haircuts without a cosmetology license!

Our second example of foreign government stupidity comes from the United Kingdom, which is infamous for astounding – and embarrassing – episodes of political correctness.

But this latest example, reported by the U.K.-based Metro, represent the ultimate triumph of the P.C. culture (h/t: Amy Alkon).

…according to one school, Wonder Woman and her Golden Lasso of Truth are…not suitable lunchbox fodder. According to Redditor twines18, who posted a copy of the letter and offending lunchbox on Imgur, the lunchbox contravened the schools dress code which states children aren’t allowed to bring ‘violent images’ into the building. The letter states: ‘We have defined “violent characters” as those who solve problems using violence. Super heroes certainly fall into that category.’

Part of me is convinced this is a joke, but it seems legit.

And let’s remember this is coming from a nation where anti-gun fanaticism results in jaw-dropping displays of government stupidity.

Anyhow, here’s the letter that was sent to the parents.

So solving problems using violence is bad?

I guess that means this school doesn’t teach the kids about World War II. After all, Churchill and other U.K. leaders obviously took the wrong approach. I’m sure a big group hug would have sufficed to stop Hitler and the rest of the National Socialists.

P.S. Speaking of England, the U.K.-based Spectator reports that local universities have an unfortunate habit of filling the heads of foreign students with very bad economic theories. And when those students gain power in their home countries, you get very bad results.

Varoufakis was a product of British universities. He read economics at Essex and mathematical statistics at Birmingham, returning to Essex to do a PhD in economics. With the benefit of his British university education he returned to Greece and, during his short time in office, obliterated the nascent recovery.But Varoufakis is not alone. Plenty of other visitors to our universities have been influenced by the teaching here and returned to their countries to wreak havoc. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of an independent India…was influenced by British intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw, a socialist, Bertrand Russell, who once remarked ‘communism is necessary to the world’, and John Maynard Keynes. He returned to India and started to put the ideology into practice with state planning, controls and regulations. This was a calamity. …Julius Nyerere, president of Tanzania,…read economics and history at Edinburgh (as did Gordon Brown). Naturally he was surrounded by leftist academics and apparently ‘encountered Fabian thinking’ in particular. The experience made it all but inevitable that Tanzania would endure a bloated bureaucracy, shortages and miserably low growth. …the London School of Economics can rightly claim more than its share, of course. Jomo Kenyatta, first prime minister of Kenya after independence, went there. …overblown, corrupt state industries and attempted import substitution took their toll, so that GDP growth per capita was low and, in some years, negative. …Pierre Trudeau…came to the LSE for his doctorate. He did not finish it but the LSE nonetheless gave him a finishing course in leftist economics. Under his rule, Canada introduced wage and price controls while inflation, unemployment and the national debt all rose. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, variously president and prime minister of Pakistan, went to…Oxford. …once he had gained power, declaring ‘socialism is our economy’, he nationalised the steel, chemical, cement and banking industries along with the flour, rice and cotton mills. Economic growth slowed to a crawl.

Wow, what a rogue’s gallery of statist politicians.

Though, to be fair, I don’t think you automatically get bad ideas by studying economics in the United Kingdom. It’s a function of being “taught” be misguided professors.

After all, just think what must happen to foreign students in America who take classes from Paul Krugman. If these examples (here, here, here, herehereherehereherehere, herehere, and here) are any indication, they probably experience un-learning.

Why are many developed nations facing long-run fiscal crisis according to long-run estimates from the IMF, BIS, and OECD?

Poorly designed entitlement programs are a big part of the answer, with the United States being an unfortunate example of how fiscal systems become unstable when politicians buy votes by putting burdens on future taxpayers.

But changing demographics is an equally important part of the answer.

Simply stated, birth rates are falling and lifespans are increasing all over the world. Those aren’t bad things. Indeed, longer lifespans are a very good thing.

But it means there won’t be enough workers to finance the modern welfare state. And when there are too many people riding in the wagon and too few people pulling the wagon, that is a recipe for Greek-style fiscal chaos.

When I explain this to audiences, I get the feeling that some folks think I’m exaggerating.

Indeed, some people openly accuse me of exaggerating demographic changes as part of a “scare campaign.”

They’re partially correct. My warnings about the need for reform could be considered a “scare campaign.” But that’s because I am scared. And I’m definitely not exaggerating.

Check out this very sobering image of how America’s population pyramid is turning into a population cylinder. Heck, our population profile will be somewhat akin to an upside-down pyramid by the middle of the century!

I have two thoughts when looking at this data.

The first – and most obvious – reaction is that we better implement genuine entitlement reform if we want to avoid a big mess. And the sooner, the better.

My second reaction is to express some sympathy and understanding (thought not approval) for the politicians who created America’s entitlement crisis.

Social Security was created in the mid-1930s and Medicare and Medicaid were adopted in the mid-1960s. And if you pay close attention to the above image, you’ll see that America had a “population pyramid” during those periods, meaning that there were comparatively few old people, plenty of workers, and then even larger generations of children (i.e., future workers and taxpayers).

With that type of population profile, tax-and-transfer entitlement systems appeared to be financially sustainable. That didn’t mean those programs were a good idea, of course, but it did mean that politicians could plausibly argue that it was okay to create entitlement programs that resembled Ponzi schemes.

The bottom line is that FDR and LBJ were very misguided, but their mistakes look far worse today than they did at the time.

So now the question is whether today’s politicians will show some actual foresight and fix the problems. There are reasons for optimism, but also reasons for pessimism.

P.S. Demography is not destiny. As I wrote earlier this year, “there are jurisdictions, such as Singapore and Hong Kong that are in reasonably good shape even though their populations rank among the nations with the lowest levels of fertility and longest life expectancies. …Mandatory pension savings is a key reason why some jurisdictions have mitigated a demographic death squeeze.

P.P.S. My 11th-most viewed post of all time (and the most-viewed item in the past three months) used two cows to explain economic and political theories.

Here’s an addendum to that post.

For more Greek-related humor, this cartoon is quite  good, but this this one is my favorite. And the final cartoon in this post also has a Greek theme.

We also have a couple of videos. The first one features a video about…well, I’m not sure, but we’ll call it a European romantic comedy and the second one features a Greek comic pontificating about Germany.

Last but not least, here are some rather un-PC maps of how various peoples – including the Greeks – view different European nations.

 

Earlier this month, Americans for Prosperity held a “Road to Reform” event in Las Vegas.

I got to be the warm-up speaker and made two simple points.

First, we made a lot of fiscal progress between 2009 and 2014 because various battles over debt limits, shutdowns, and sequestration actually did result in real spending discipline.

Second, I used January’s 10-year forecast from the Congressional Budget Office to explain how easy it would be to balance the budget with a modest amount of future spending restraint.

Here’s my speech (you can see the entire event by clicking here).

I realize I sound uncharacteristically optimistic in these remarks, but it is amazing how easy it is to make progress with even semi-effective limits on the growth of government.

Genuine spending cuts would be very desirable, of course, but we move in the right direction so long as government spending grows slower than the private sector.

The challenge, needless to say, is convincing politicians to limit spending.

Well, we now have some new data in that battle. The CBO released its Update this morning, which means the numbers I shared in Nevada are now slightly out of date and that I need to re-do all my calculations based on the new 10-year forecast.

But it doesn’t really make a difference.  As you can see from the chart, we can balance the budget by 2021 if spending is capped so that it grows by 2 percent annually. And even if spending is allowed to grow by 3 percent per year (about 50 percent faster than projected inflation), the budget is balanced by 2024.

At this point, I feel compelled to point out that the goal should be smaller government, not fiscal balance.

But since fiscal policy debates tend to focus on how to eliminate red ink and balance the budget, I may as well take advantage of this misplaced focus to push a policy (spending restraint) that would be desirable even if we had a budget surplus.

And that’s the purpose of this video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity back in 2010. The numbers obviously have changed over the past five years, but the underlying argument about the merits and efficacy of spending restraint are exactly the same today.

For more information on the merits of smaller government, here’s my tutorial on government spending.

This century has not been good news for economic liberty in the United States.

According to Economic Freedom of the World, America has dropped from being the 3rd-freest economy of the world in 2001 to the 12th-freest economy in the most recent rankings.

Perhaps more important, our aggregate score has fallen from 8.20 to 7.81 over the same period.

So why has the U.S. score dropped? Was it Bush’s spending binge? Obama’s stimulus boondoggle? All the spending and taxes in Obamacare? The fiscal cliff tax hike?

I certainly think all those policies were mistaken, but if you dig into the annual data, America’s score on “size of government” only fell from 7.1 to 7.0 between 2001 and 2012.

Which means economic freedom in the United States mostly declined for reasons other than fiscal policy. In other words, our score dropped because of what happened to our scores for trade policy, monetary policy, regulatory policy, and property rights and rule of law.

That triggered my curiosity. If America is #12 in the overall rankings, how would we rank if fiscal policy was removed from the equation?

Here are the results, showing the top 25 jurisdictions based on the four non-fiscal policy factors. As you can see, the United States drops from #12 to #24, which means we trail 14 European nations in these important measures of economic freedom.

If you look in the second column, you’ll notice how many of those European nations have double-digit increases when you look at their non-fiscal rankings compared to their overall rankings.

This is for two reasons.

First, their fiscal scores are terrible because of high tax rates and a stifling burden of government spending.

Second, these same nations are hyper-free market on issues such as trade, regulation, money, rule of law and property rights.

In other words, the data back up points I’ve made about policy in nations such as Denmark and Sweden.

In an ideal world, countries should have free markets and small government. In Northern Europe, they manage to get the first part right. Which is important since non-fiscal factors account for 80 percent of a nation’s overall grade.

Now let’s return to the issue of America’s decline.

Here are the non-fiscal rankings from 2001. As you can see, the United States was #5 at the time, scoring higher than even Singapore and Hong Kong. And the U.S. was behind only three European nations back in 2001.

For what it’s worth, America’s score has fallen primarily because of a significant drop in the trade category (from 8.7 to 7.7) and a huge drop for rule of law and property rights (from 8.7 to 7.0).

In other words, it’s not good for prosperity when a nation begins to have problems such as protectionism and politicized courts.

P.S. The erosion of America’s score for non-fiscal factors is particularly disappointing since improvements in those factors have played a big role in protecting the world from the negative economic consequences of more spending and taxes.

P.P.S. I think this is an example of correlation rather than causation, but the above rankings for non-fiscal economic liberty seem somewhat similar to the rankings I shared last week looking at overall societal freedom.

I created the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame as a way of giving special attention to government employees who go above and beyond the call of duty in their efforts to get paid way too much in exchange for doing far too little.

While my standard practice is to bestow this honor on individual bureaucrats, sometimes I bend the rules and give the award to an entire group, such as the paralegals at the Patent and Trademark Office who were paid – and even given bonuses – even though they were never assigned any work.

Well, not doing work must be part of the culture at that bureaucracy. The Washington Post reports on an employee who apparently was supposed to do some actual work but instead gamed the system.

A federal patent examiner racked up more than 18 weeks of pay last year for work he didn’t do, but his manager didn’t notice until he received an anonymous letter claiming the employee only showed up for his job sporadically and turned in work that was “garbage.” …The examiner, a poor performer for years who was never disciplined, came and went as he pleased… He frequently told colleagues he was leaving work to go to the local golf driving range, play pool or grab a beer — then claimed a full day on the job on his time sheet. On most of the days when the examiner was gaming the system, “there was no evidence” he even went to the office or did any work on his government-issued laptop, investigators found.

My initial reaction to this story is that American bureaucrats need to learn some lessons from their foreign counterparts.

Doing zero work for 18 weeks and still getting paid may sound impressive, but it’s trivial compared to the Indian bureaucrat who managed to get paid up until last year even though he stopped showing up for work back in 1990. Or the lavishly compensated Italian government employee who only worked 15 days over a nine-year period.

But I’m not an Indian or Italian taxpayer. I get irked by when my tax dollars are being squandered.

So why didn’t his supervisor notice that something was amiss?

Well, perhaps that person didn’t notice because he or she was never around.

The examiner’s supervisor works from home more than 30 hours a week.

And even if the supervisor was paying attention, it might not have mattered.

…union rules allowed supervisors limited oversight over their employees.

Though there were plenty of warning signs that should have been noticed.

“Despite numerous red flags and the [patent office’s] internal controls, the agency did not review [the examiner’s] time and attendance records to determine if he was claiming time for work he did not perform,” the 27-page investigation by Acting Inspector General said. The patent office had received numerous complaints from inventors and their attorneys that the examiner was not responsive to their e-mails and phone calls.

If you’re a taxpayer, you’ll be delighted to know that the bureaucrat was making a very comfortable salary.

And even though the scam has been ended, you’ll also be happy to learn that he or she will leave with a clean personnel record.

The employee, a GS-11 making more than $70,000, quit two hours before he was scheduled to meet with the inspector general’s office, the report said. The union representing patent examiners told him that if he resigned, his personnel record would stay clean, not showing that he was under investigation for falsifying hours.

Gee, isn’t that wonderful. Anybody want to guess whether this person winds up working for another government agency?

The final part of the story nicely captures much of what’s wrong with Washington.

An independent review last month by the National Academy of Public Administration…praised the agency’s telework program as a model in the federal government that’s good for morale

Yeah, I bet it’s good for morale. If I got (over)paid and didn’t have to do much work, I might feel happy as well.

Actually, that’s not true. For better or worse, I passionately care about the future of the country and the cause of human liberty. So I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing even if I had to do it as a hobby. I’m just lucky that I get to ply my trade at America’s most effective think tank.

What’s the biggest economic fallacy on the left? What’s the defining mistake for our statist friends?

One obvious answer is that many of them hold the anti-empirical belief that the economy is  a fixed pie and that one person can’t climb the economic ladder unless another person falls a few rungs.

There’s no doubt that the fixed-pie myth is an obstacle to sound thinking, but I’m wondering whether an even bigger problem is the pervasive belief on the left that there are easy shortcuts to prosperity.

Keynesian fiscal policy, for instance, is based on the notion that more growth is just a simple question of having the government spend more money.

And Keynesian monetary policy is based on a similarly simplistic assumption that more growth is generated by having central banks create more money.

To be sure, both policies may seem to work in the short run since people suddenly perceive that they have more money. But perceptions and reality may be different, particularly if the short-run boost in the economy is an illusory bubble.

And that’s why I’m not a big fan of QE-type policies designed to “stimulate” growth with artificially low interest rates.

As I explain in this brief FBN interview, any short-run gain is offset by long-run pain.

And I’m not the only one who has a jaundiced view.

The Wall Street Journal also is not happy with the Federal Reserve, opining that the real economy has stagnated as financial assets have been propped up by easy money.

…the Fed has only itself to blame for its economic and political predicament. …One lesson here is that the Fed’s great monetary experiment since the recession ended in 2009 looks increasingly like a failure. Recall the Fed’s theory that quantitative easing (bond buying) and near-zero interest rates would lift financial assets, which in turn would lift the real economy. …But while stocks have soared, as have speculative assets like junk bonds and commercial real estate, the real economy hasn’t. This remains the worst economic recovery by far since World War II…the economic expectations of Fed Chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen have been consistently wrong. …the Fed now finds itself caught between a slowing global economy and its promise to begin normalizing rates this year. …One result has been to increase economic uncertainty and market volatility.

Another result is that easy-money policies give politicians an excuse to avoid the real reforms that would boost long-run growth.

I definitely think that’s been a problem in Europe. Politicians keep waiting for magical results from the European Central Bank when the real obstacle to prosperity is a stifling burden of taxation, spending, and regulation.

The bottom line is that politicians all over the world are exacerbating bad fiscal and regulatory policy with bad monetary policy.

To augment this analysis, here’s a video from the Fraser Institute about the insight of Friedrich Hayek, who warned that government intervention, particularly via monetary policy, caused booms and busts by distorting market signals.

Needless to say, last decade’s financial crisis is a case study showing the accuracy of Hayek’s Austrian-school analysis.

But politicians never seem to learn. Or maybe they just don’t care. They focus on the short run (i.e., the next election) and it always feels good when the bubble is expanding.

And when the government-created bubble bursts, they can simply blame greed, or rich people, or find some other scapegoat (and then repeat the same mistakes as soon as the dust settles).

P.S. For a more detailed look at Austrian economics, check out this lecture. And Austrian-school scholars also have the best analysis of the Great Depression.

P.P.S. And for a more conventional critique of easy-money policies, here are some highlights from a speech by a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.

At the risk of oversimplifying, there are two types of statists.

The first type is generally insincere and simply views bigger government and increased dependency as a strategy to obtain and preserve political power. Most inside-the-beltway leftists in Washington are in this category.

The second type genuinely cares about the less fortunate but makes the mistake of thinking that good intentions somehow lead to good results. You could call these people the Pope Francis leftists.

As you might imagine, there’s very little hope of persuading the first category of statists. You could show them all the data and evidence in the world, for instance, that a flat tax would boost prosperity, and they’ll simply shrug and tell you to jump in a lake because genuine tax reform would reduce the power and influence of Washington’s political elite.

But the second group of statists should be persuadable. That’s why I share so many comparisons of nations with smaller government and freer markets versus countries with bigger government and more intervention. I want open-minded folks on the other side to see how good policy leads to better economic performance, particularly since the poor will be big beneficiaries. That should be compelling, especially when combined with the data on how the welfare state simply traps poor people in government dependency.

I then try to augment that macro data with specific micro examples of how policies that seem compassionate actually backfire.

Is it compassionate, for instance, to increase the minimum wage if that means low-skilled workers can’t get jobs?

Alternatively, is it compassionate to extend unemployment benefits if that means people are less likely to get jobs?

Anyhow, all this discussion is simply to provide some context for a very good piece on the pitfalls of John Kasich and so-called compassionate conservatism.

In her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberly Strassel takes aim at Governor Kasich and other folks who think big government is somehow good for the poor.

…here’s one way to divide the arena: small-government reformers and big-government surrenderists. That debate is at the center of a bigger GOP meditation on how to better appeal to the poor and minorities. Mr. Kasich has emerged as the most eloquent and compelling spokesperson for the go-big camp. …his theme: that it’s OK to be “conservative” and have a “big heart.” It’s his way of excusing his decision to embrace ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid, putting that welfare program on track to consume 50% of Ohio’s operating budget in 2016.

Needless to say, Ms. Strassel doesn’t think Kasich’s embrace of Obamacare demonstrates a big heart.

Instead, it’s just the latest manifestation of the big-government conservatism that failed so badly last decade.

This is “compassionate conservatism”—or at least a bastardized version of it. George W. Bush first used that phrase to explain how conservative policies made everyone better off. But it would later turn into a license for Republicans to embrace government for their own conservative ends. Giant new education spending was needed to create school “accountability”; a new Medicare drug entitlement would create health-care “competition;” green-energy subsidies bolstered “national security.” …The philosophy got a revamp in the past year in the self-styled “reformicon” movement. …it’s Compassionate Conservatism 2.0.

And what happens when you cede the moral high ground and agree with the statists that bigger government somehow benefits people?

…underpinning the entire compassionate-conservative movement is a glum surrender to the entitlement state. The left has won; all that remains is to argue that conservative big-government is better managed than liberal big-government.

Ms. Strassel is much more impressed with what she calls the “small-government reformers.”

…there is another approach to compassion. It’s the version made popular by Jack Kemp, and embraced by House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan—and a growing list of converts. It holds that there is nothing whatsoever compassionate about consigning low-income Americans to a government health-care system that delivers second-class outcomes. There’s nothing compassionate about making today’s working poor pay into a bleeding Social Security system… There’s nothing compassionate about propping up a federally run poverty industrial-complex that spends most of its money on itself. The Kemp-Ryan view knows that government is the problem, not the answer—not in any form. The answer is to devolve the money and power back to states and communities…spreading the gospel of smaller government, in the name of helping those most vulnerable.

Amen. Kemp was a hero in the battle to lower confiscatory tax rates, leading to a victory that was enormously successful in the 1980s. And Ryan deserves endless praise for his efforts to reform entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

This is the approach that offers the most hope to the less fortunate because it enables growth and job creation.

Big-government conservatism, by contrast, undermines economic dynamism by acquiescing to the idea of an ever-growing state.

By the way, none of this suggests that John Kasich is universally bad on policy or that Paul Ryan is universally good. Kasich, after all, was Chairman of the House Budget Committee in the 1990s when genuine spending restraint led to a balanced budget. And Paul Ryan’s otherwise good ideas on tax reform have been marred by occasional flirtation with a value-added tax.

What ultimately matters is whether a politician is – on balance – pushing to shrink the size and power of the federal government. So ultimately it’s an imperfect process of deciding which lawmaker is 75 percent good and which one is 65 percent good (or, in too many cases, comparing one who is 10 percent good with one who is 5 percent good).

P.S. If “Libertarian Jesus” is correct and genuine compassion is defined as helping others with your own money, then Americans have much bigger hearts than their European counterparts.

P.P.S. Speaking of compassion, here’s an anti-Obama joke featuring some Pennsylvania cops.

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