Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified by Paul Krugman.

I’m impressed that he’s always “on message.” No matter what’s happening in America or around the world, he always has some sort of story about why events show the need for bigger government.

But I’m horrified that he’s so sloppy with numbers.

My all-time favorite example of his fact-challenged approach deals with Estonia. In an attempt to condemn market-based fiscal policy, he blamed that nation’s 2008 recession on spending cuts that took place in 2009.

Wow. That’s like saying that a rooster’s crowing causes yesterday’s sunrise. Amazing.

Let’s look at a new example. This is some of what he recently wrote while trying to explain why the U.S. has out-performed Europe.

America has yet to achieve a full recovery from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Still, it seems fair to say that we’ve made up much, though by no means all, of the lost ground. But you can’t say the same about the eurozone, where real G.D.P. per capita is still lower than it was in 2007, and 10 percent or more below where it was supposed to be by now. This is worse than Europe’s track record during the 1930s. Why has Europe done so badly?

Krugman answers his own question by saying that the United States has been more loyal to Keynesian economics.

…what stands out from around 2010 onward is the huge divergence in thinking that emerged between the United States and Europe. In America, the White House and the Federal Reserve mainly stayed faithful to standard Keynesian economics. The Obama administration wasted a lot of time and effort pursuing a so-called Grand Bargain on the budget, but it continued to believe in the textbook proposition that deficit spending is actually a good thing in a depressed economy.

I have to confess that alarm bells went off in my head when I read this passage.

If Krugman was talking about the two years between 2008 and 2010, he would be right about “staying faithful to standard Keynesian economics.”

But 2010 was actually the turning point when fiscal policy in America moved very much in an anti-Keynesian direction.

Here’s the remarkable set of charts showing this reversal. First, there was zero spending growth in Washington after 2009.

Second, this modest bit of fiscal restraint meant a big reduction in the burden of government spending relative to economic output.

Wow, if this is Keynesian economics, then I’m changing my name to John Maynard Mitchell!

So is Krugman hallucinating? Why is he claiming that U.S. policy was Keynesian?

Let’s bend over backwards to be fair and try to find some rationale for his assertions. Remember, he is making a point about U.S. performance vs. European performance.

So maybe if we dig through the data and find that European nations were even more fiscally conservative starting in 2010, then there will be some way of defending Krugman’s claim.

Yet I looked at the IMF’s world economic outlook database and I crunched the numbers for government spending in the biggest EU economies (Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, accounting for almost 80 percent of the bloc’s GDP).

And what did I find?

Contrary to Krugman’s claims, total government spending in those nations grew slightly faster than it did in the United States between 2009 and 2014.

So on what basis can Krugman argue that the U.S. had a more Keynesian approach?

Beats the heck out of me. I even looked at the OECD data on deficits to see whether there was some way of justifying his argument, but those numbers show the biggest reduction in red ink (presumably a bad thing according to Keynesian stimulus theory) took place in the United States.

But I will close by acknowledging that Krugman’s column isn’t just focused on fiscal policy. He also argues that the Federal Reserve has been more Keynesian than European central banks. My impression is that both the Fed and the ECB have been keeping interest rates artificially low, so I’m not sure that’s an effective argument (or an effective policy!), but I’ll leave that issue to the folks who specialize in monetary policy.

P.S. If you want additional examples of Krugman’s factual errors, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here,here, here, and here.

Way back in 2010, I shared two very depressing numbers to illustrate how Obama’s policies were creating “regime uncertainty.”

I shared data on the cash reserves of companies and suggested it was bad news that those firms thought it made more sense to sit on money rather than invest it.

I also shared numbers on the excess reserves that banks were keeping at the Federal Reserve and speculated that this was because of a similarly dismal perspective about economic prospects.

At the time, I figured that those numbers eventually would get better. But I was wrong.

Companies are still sitting on the same about of cash and banks have actually increased the amount of money they have parked at the Federal Reserve.

Now let’s look at some more data that doesn’t reflect well on Obamanomics.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland has some very discouraging analysis about worker compensation.

…real wages have barely risen—real compensation per hour has risen only by 0.5 percent, much less than at this point in past recoveries. The lack of strong wage growth has been one factor that has held down the growth of income, consumer spending, and the recovery. …Some longer-term changes in the economy have likely played a larger role in depressing real wage growth. …Productivity growth in the nonfarm business sector has averaged only 1.46 percent since 2004 and 0.85 percent since 2010. As the growth of labor productivity is a key determinant of real wage growth in the long run, the slowdown of productivity has probably helped to depress wage growth.

And here’s a chart from the article.

The brown line at the bottom is what’s been happening under Obamanomics. As you can see, compensation has basically been unchanged for the past five years. In other words, living standards have stagnated.

The Cleveland Fed data shows dismal earnings and productivity data for all Americans. And it’s important to understand how those numbers are related.

Some folks in Washington think that companies should act like charities and give workers lots of money simply because that’s a nice way to behave.

In the real world, though, workers get paid on the basis of how much they produce. So when productivity numbers are weak, as the Cleveland Fed points out, you also get weak data for worker compensation.

But now let’s dig even deeper and ask what determines productivity numbers. There are many factors, of course, but saving and investment are very important. In other words, capital formation. Simply stated, you need people to set aside some of today’s income to finance tomorrow’s growth.

And growth, as measured by inflation-adjusted changes in output, is entirely a function of population growth and productivity growth.

So the bottom line is that workers will only earn more if they produce more. But they’ll only produce more if there’s more saving and investment.

And this is why Obama’s policies are so poisonous. His tax policy is very anti-saving and anti-investment. And the increases in the regulatory burden also make it less attractive for investors and entrepreneurs to put money at risk.

Obama thinks he’s punishing the “rich,” but the rest of us are paying the price.

Now let’s look specifically at American blacks.

Deroy Murdock explains in National Review that they should feel especially angry at the gap between Obama’s rhetoric and performance.

Republicans should ask black Americans for their votes from now through November 2016. They should do so by challenging blacks to ask themselves an honest question: “What, exactly, have you gained by handing Obama 95 percent of your votes in 2008 and 93 percent in 2012?”

Deroy then lists a bunch of depressing statistics on what’s happened since 2009.

Here are the numbers that I think are most persuasive.

U.S. labor force participation has declined during that same period, from 65.7 to 62.7 percent. For blacks in general, …dipping from 63.2 to 61.0 percent of available employees in the work pool. For black teenagers, however, this number deteriorated — from 29.6 to 25.7 percent. The percentage of Americans below the poverty line inched up, the latest available Census Bureau data found, from 14.3 to 14.5 percent overall — between 2009 and 2013. For black Americans, that climb was steeper: The 25.8 percent in poverty rose to 27.2 percent. Real median household incomes across America retreated across those years, from $54,059 to $51,939. …such finances also reversed for black Americans, from $35,387 to $34,598. …Home ownership slipped from 67.3 percent of Americans in the first quarter of 2009 to 64.0 in the fourth quarter of 2014. For blacks, that figure slid from 46.1 to 42.1 percent.

Here’s Deroy’s bottom line.

Obama has betrayed blacks as a community, failed Americans as a people, and enfeebled the United States as a nation.

To be sure, it’s not as if Obama wanted to hurt blacks. He just doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that statist policies undermine economic performance.

And when you hurt economic growth, the folks at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder generally suffer the most, and that’s why there are so many grim statistics about the economic health of black America.

The good news is that we know how to solve the problem. The bad news is that Obama is in the White House until January 2017.

What’s America’s main fiscal policy challenge, particularly in the long run?

Most sensible people will agree that our greatest threat is the rising burden of entitlement spending.

More specifically, demographic changes and ill-designed programs will combine to dramatically expand the size of the public sector over the next few decades.

So it’s really amazing that some politicians, led by the clownish Elizabeth Warren, want to dig the hole deeper.

Here are some excerpts from a recent article in the Washington Examiner.

Elizabeth Warren is pushing Democrats to expand Social Security rather than cut it, a move that could pressure presumed party frontrunner Hillary Clinton to move left. …”What Elizabeth Warren has done on pushing the ball forward on Social Security is another example of why she’s a bold progressive hero,” said T.J. Helmstetter, a representative for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an outside group that pushes for progressive causes. …In March, almost all Democratic senators voted for a symbolic budget amendment to express support for expanding Social Security. …The messaging amendment approved by most Senate Democrats also did not specify how benefits were to be expanded.

I discussed this topic in a recent interview.

Though I’m surprised that my head didn’t explode while discussing such a reckless idea.

I closed the interview by expressing a modest bit of optimism.

Surely (at least I hope) politicians won’t dig the hole deeper when we can see right before our eyes the fiscal chaos and economic disarray in Greece, right?!?

I’m surprised demagogues such as Elizabeth Warren haven’t rallied behind a plan to simply add a bunch of zeroes to the IOUs already sitting in the so-called Social Security Trust Fund.

Fortunately, not all politicians think it’s smart to accelerate as you’re driving toward a cliff.

Writing in the Washington Post, Charles Lane explains Governor Christie’s proposal.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie…wants to campaign on a sweeping proposal to rein in federal entitlement spending on the elderly. …he urged a phaseout of Social Security benefits for retirees with $80,000 or more in other income and backed a gradual upward adjustment of the retirement ages for Medicare and Social Security, which is also appropriate, given increased life expectancy. …Social Security…remains a non-trivial cause of the government’s long-term fiscal imbalance. Its trust fund, admittedly an accounting fiction of sorts, is on course to run out of cash by the early 2030s. Christie’s plan would provide three-fifths of the resources necessary to guarantee Social Security’s solvency for 75 years

Kudos to Governor Christie for recognizing that you can’t repeal mathematics with politics.

And this modest bit of praise isn’t based on policy. I’m not a big fan of means testing, which has some unfortunate economic effects.

And I also think that raising the retirement age is sub-optimal since it forces people to pay longer into an inferior system that already is giving them a very low rate of return.

The right approach is to transition to a system of personal retirement accounts, but at least Christie has an adult proposal based on real-world considerations.

Though, to be fair, many leftists claim we can afford higher benefits and also “fix” the system with a giant tax increase. So they sometimes recognize that math exists, even if they want us to believe that 2 + 2 = 7.

P.S. If Hillary winds up endorsing Warren’s reckless plan, it will give us another data point for our I-can’t-believe-she-said-that collection.

P.P.S. Is Elizabeth Warren more of a faux populist or more of a faux American Indian?

P.P.P.S. You can enjoy some previous Social Security cartoons here, here, and here. And we also have a Social Security joke if you appreciate grim humor.

I realize it’s tax week and I should be condemning our convoluted tax code and oppressive IRS.

But I can’t resist getting diverted to another topic. It’s time to debunk the notion that there is rampant sexism in the private economy that causes women to by systematically underpaid.

I addressed the issue back in 2010, citing the solid work of Christina Hoff Summers. And I cited more of her work, as well as some analysis by Steve Chapman, when writing about the topic in 2012. The bottom line is that rigorous analysis finds that the so-called gender gap largely disappears once you consider factors such as occupational choice, hours worked, and education.

I’ll add my two cents to the discussion. For decades, I’ve been dealing with leftists who repeatedly tell me that business owners are consumed by greed and put profit above everything. Yet if women truly were making less money than men for doing equal work, then why aren’t these greed-filled business owners firing all their male employees and hiring women who will work for 80 percent of what it costs to employ men? Or 85 percent? Or 90 percent?

When I pose this question, my statist friends begin to mumble and stumble, but the clever ones eventually asset that business owners are not only soulless profiteers but also malign sexists. And the sexism apparently trumps the greed because they’re willing to employ men when equally competent women would work for less.

At that point, I usually ask them why entrepreneurs (presumably women and perhaps financed by rich leftists) don’t take advantage of a huge competitive opportunity by setting up rival businesses that could hire women for less money and lure customers away from the greedy sexist firms by charging lower prices.

I still haven’t received an answer to that question.

And that may explain why even one of President Obama’s top economic advisers basically admitted that equal-pay propaganda from the left is completely bogus.

Let’s dig into the data. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute does a very good job of explaining why Equal Pay Day is based on nonsensical numbers.

…the bogus feminist holiday event known as Equal Pay Day…is a statistical fairy tale because it’s based on the false assumption that women get paid 23% less than men for doing exactly the same work in the exact same occupations and careers, working side-by-side with men on the same job for the same organization, working the same number of hours per week, traveling the same amount of time for work obligations, with the same exact work experience and education, with exactly the same level of productivity, etc. …The reality is that you can only find a 23% gender pay gap by comparing raw, aggregate, unadjusted full-time median salaries, i.e. when you control for NOTHING that would help explain gender differences in salaries… Most economic studies that control for all of those variables conclude that gender discrimination accounts for only a very small fraction of gender pay differences, and may not even be a statistically significant factor at all. …As the Department of Labor concluded in 2009, “The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.” They also concluded that “the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action.”

By the way, all this data and research doesn’t mean sexism doesn’t exist. I’m sure it does, and it probably goes both ways.

I’m simply saying that unjustified discrimination in a competitive market economy is expensive. People who put prejudice above profits suffer. Which is why there’s so little actual evidence to support the feminist position.

Now let’s enjoy a bit of fun. It’s always amusing to expose statist hypocrisy.

The Obama White House claims to believe in so-called equal pay for equal work. But apparently that’s only a rule for us peasants.

And Hillary Clinton doubtlessly will regale us with speeches about equal pay over the next several months. Yet she didn’t practice what she preaches.

Yes, I realize we’re all shocked that politicians like Hillary prevaricate and dissemble.

P.S. Since this is tax season, I suppose I should close with a couple of relevant items.

First, we have an update to the infamous chart on the number of pages in the tax code.

Second, we have a new video from Reason TV about the “best tax code.”

Sadly, I don’t think my tax videos will ever be that entertaining.

With so many Americans currently filled with anxiety about their annual tax forms, this is the time of year that many people wistfully dream about how nice it would be to have a simple and fair flat tax.

Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to better tax policy. I’ve previously addressed some of these obstacles.

1. Politicians who prefer the status quo make appeals to envy by making class-warfare arguments about imposing higher tax rates on those who contribute more to economic output.

2. Politicians have created a revenue-estimating system based on the preposterous notion that even big changes in tax policy have no impact on economic performance, thus creating a procedural barrier to reform.

3. Politicians enormously benefit from the current corrupt and complex system since they can auction off tax loopholes for campaign cash and use the tax code to reward friends and punish enemies.

Today, we’re going to look at another obstacle to pro-growth reform.

One of the main goals of tax reform is to get a low flat rate. This is important because marginal tax rates affect people’s incentives to engage in additional productive behavior.

But it’s equally important to have a system that taxes economic activity only one time. This is a big issue because the current internal revenue code imposes a heavy bias against income that is saved and invested. It’s possible, when you consider the impact of the capital gains tax, corporate income tax, double tax on dividends, and the death tax, for a single dollar of income to be taxed as many as four times.

And what makes this system so crazy is that all economic theories – even Marxism and socialism – agree that capital formation is critical for long-run growth and rising living standards.

Yet here’s the problem. The crowd in Washington has set up a system for determining tax loopholes and that system assumes that there should be this kind of double taxation!

I’m not joking. You see this approach from the Joint Committee on Taxation. You see it from the Government Accountability Office. You see it from the Congressional Budget Office. Heck, you even see Republicans mistakenly use this benchmark.

This is why I organized a briefing for Capitol Hill staffers last week. You can watch the entire hour by clicking here, but if you don’t have a lot of time, here’s my 10-minute speech on the importance of choosing the right tax base (i.e., taxing income only one time).

Since I’m an economist, I want to highlight one particular aspect on my presentation. You’ll notice near the end that I tried to explain the destructive economic impact of double taxation with an analogy.

I shared a Powerpoint slide that compared the tax system to an apple tree. If you want to tax income, the sensible approach is to pick the apples off the tree.

But if you want to mimic the current tax system, with the pervasive double taxation and bias against capital, you harvest the apples by chopping down the tree.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), it’s utterly foolish to harvest apples by chopping down the tree since it means fewer apples in following years.

In this analogy, the apples are the income and the tree is the capital.

But as I thought about the issue further, I realized my analogy was imperfect because our current system doesn’t confiscate all existing capital.

Which is why it is very fortunate that one of the interns at Cato, Jonathan Babington-Heina, is a very good artist. And he was able to take my idea and come up with a set of cartoons that accurately – and effectively – show why discriminatory taxation of capital is so misguided.

By the way, this isn’t the first time that an intern has come to my rescue with artistic skill.

My highest-viewed post of all time is this famous set of cartoons that shows the dangerous evolution of the welfare state.

What’s the Laffer Curve?

It’s the simple, common-sense observation that there’s not a linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue.

Folks in the private sector understand this principle. No restaurant owner, for instance, would double meal prices and assume that revenues would climb by 100 percent.

Yet that’s basically the methodology used by the Joint Committee on Taxation when estimating the revenue impact of changes in tax rates.

Which helps to explain why Washington is so often wrong about revenue implications of personal tax rates and corporate tax rates.

The Laffer Curve also applies to tobacco taxation.

Patrick Gleason of Americans for Tax Reform points out in the Wall Street Journal that greedy politicians in New York have pushed cigarette taxes so high that the main beneficiaries are smugglers.

Rampant cigarette smuggling isn’t the problem in New York. It’s a symptom of the problem: sky high tobacco taxes. …New York state levies the highest cigarette tax in the nation, $4.35 per pack, and New York City tacks on an additional $1.50 local tax. All told, the cost of one pack there can run to $12 or more. …The result? Most of the cigarettes smoked in New York, 58%, are smuggled in from out of state… The higher that revenue-hungry politicians raise tobacco taxes, the more profit smugglers can make.

Which means, of course, that the higher tax rates don’t lead to more tax revenue.

…revenue from increases in cigarette taxes often falls short of expectations. Washington, D.C., experienced this firsthand after cigarette taxes were raised by 25%, to $2.50 per pack from $2, in October 2009. City leaders claimed the hike would generate a windfall of additional revenue. By February of 2010, D.C.’s chief financial officer reported that projections were off by $15 million. Revenue from the cigarette tax actually fell by $7 million after the hike. New Jersey should have learned the same lesson. In 2007 the Garden State raised cigarette taxes to $2.575, from $2.40. The new tax generated $52 million less than expected, and revenue from cigarette taxes fell by $22 million. But in 2009 New Jersey raised the tax by another 17.5 cents.

By the way, don’t believe the fall-back excuse that politicians don’t care about revenue because they’re motivated by public health concerns.

Lawmakers can claim they’re raising taxes on cigarettes to reduce smoking and improve public health. That talking point is belied by the recent imposition of taxes on electronic cigarettes, which are saving lives by delivering nicotine in puffs of water vapor instead of chemical-filled smoke. There are more than 15 tax bills pending across the country for currently untaxed e-cigarettes. Hawaii is proposing a tax of 80%, New York of 75%, Oregon of 65% and Ohio of 60%. For politicians, cigarette taxes are—and have always been—about one thing: money.

One last thing. Gleason reports that New York is suing UPS because the company ships cigarettes to New York customers.

New York state and New York City in February announced a $180 million lawsuit against the shipping company UPS over what officials allege was unlawful delivery of nearly 700,000 cartons of cigarettes from 2010-14. …New York state officials claim that the cigarette smuggling via UPS cost the treasury $29.7 million in lost tax revenue. That’s less than 0.03% of the state budget. The $4.7 million allegedly lost by New York City represents less than 0.006% of its budget. For a mere rounding error, state and city officials want to grab $180 million from UPS. That’s $180 million UPS could use to hire new workers, give employees raises, or invest back into its business. The leaders of New York and New York City should drop this silly lawsuit and find a more productive use of their time.

They shouldn’t merely drop the lawsuit. They should be condemned for engaging in a thuggish shakedown.

Returning to the main topic, here’s a video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity that reviews real-world examples of the Laffer Curve.

P.S. If local officials are greedy, state officials are ever greedier, and federal officials are greediest, then you can imagine how awful it would be to let international officials impose tobacco taxes.

When writing about the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international bureaucracy based in Paris, my life would be simpler if I created some sort of automatic fill-in-the-blanks system.

Something like this.

The OECD, subsidized by $____ million from American taxpayers, has just produced a new _________ that advocates more power for governments over the _________ sector of the economy.

But this may not be sufficiently descriptive.

So maybe I should create a multiple choice exercise. Sort of like when students take tests and get asked to circle the most appropriate answer.

The bureaucrats at the Paris-based OECD, working in cooperation with union bosses/class-warfare advocates/other tax-free international bureaucrats/politicians, have released a new report/study/paper urging more power/control/authority for governments in order to increase regulation/taxes/spending/redistribution/intervention.

You may think I’m trying to be funny, but this is totally serious.

How else would you describe a bureaucracy that consorts and cooperates with leftist groups like Occupy Wall Street and the AFL-CIO and routinely published propaganda in favor of Obama’s agenda on issues such as global warming, government-run healthcare, so-called stimulus, and class-warfare taxation.

And never forget that American taxpayers finance the biggest chunk of this bureaucracy’s budget.

Adding insult to injury, the bureaucrats at the OECD get tax-free salaries, which makes their relentless support for higher taxes on the rest of us even more obnoxious.

Now we have some new examples of the OECD’s statist mischief.

Here’s some of what the Center for Freedom and Prosperity recently uncovered.

At its sixth annual conference, the George Soros-founded Institute for New Economic Thinking will feature prominent left-wing economists Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz, and self-described Marxist and Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis. By itself that wouldn’t be remarkable, but the meeting will come with the implicit endorsement of the U.S. taxpayer thanks to the sponsorship of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which gets over 20 percent of its funding from the United States.

So why is the OECD subsidizing a left-wing gabfest and giving publicity to way-out-of-the-mainstream characters like Piketty?

Part of the answer, one suspects, is that the bureaucracy has a bloated budget.

But the bigger reason is presumably that the bureaucrats want to push a statist ideological agenda.

…tax collectors have hijacked the OECD… Over the last decade and a half, they have threatened and cajoled low-tax jurisdictions into counter-productive reforms that make their economies less attractive to those suffering under the excessive taxes required to fund European welfare states. …They have essentially turned the OECD into a global tax cartel, or an OPEC for politicians.

None of this is a surprise because it’s part of a bigger pattern.

The OECD gets its money from governments. Most of those governments are European welfare states. The bureaucrats at the OECD get very generous tax-free salaries.

So of course they’re going to pump out whatever propaganda is needed to please their political (and pay) masters.

Here are some other recent examples, both of which were disseminated by the OECD’s Washington Center, which mostly exists to make sure that Congress and the White House maintain the gravy train of handouts to Paris.

Our first example of economic malpractice is this nonsense about a so-called gender wage gap. Note that the OECD is forced to admit the numbers are “unadjusted.”

That’s because lots of research shows that the wage gap disappears once you adjust for factors such as hours worked, types of professions, and work history.

By the way, just in case you think I’m only citing pro-market sources, it’s very much worth noting that even one of President Obama’s economic advisers confessed that the left’s gender-gap numbers are bogus.

Now let’s look at another chart.

I’ve previously explained that what matters most for the poor is economic growth.

Yet statists prefer to focus on the rich-v-poor gap because they want to mislead folks into thinking the economy is a fixed pie (as depicted here) and the income of the rich is at the expense of the poor.

And that’s the purpose of this OECD chart.

This very much reminds me of the OECD’s laughably dishonest research on poverty, which purports to show that there is more poverty in the United States than there is in economically distressed nations such as Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Portugal.

As you can see from this video, statism is now the OECD’s chief product.

Which is why Republicans in Congress, if they actually on the side of taxpayers, should defund this destructive bureaucracy.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,729 other followers

%d bloggers like this: