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For self-interested reasons, I obviously like my video on the merits of free trade and the downside of protectionism.

But now I’ll also be recommending this new video from Liberty International.

It has some great examples, such as Washington’s corrupt trade barriers to sugar (as well as other examples of foolish agriculture subsidy programs).

And there’s some excellent analysis of how developing nations are hurt by the double-edged sword of protectionism and foreign aid.

What happened to Haiti is especially tragic.

My only criticism (and this is a sin of omission) is that there wasn’t enough time to explain why people shouldn’t fixate on the trade deficit – which is, after all, simply the flip side of a capital surplus.

For purposes of today’s column, though, I want to focus more on the politics of trade rather than the economics of trade.

That’s because Trump and Biden are basically the Bobbsey Twins of protectionism.

In his New York Times column, Binyamin Appelbaum explains why Trump’s China tariffs backfired.

I obviously agree, but Appelbaum only mentions in passing that Biden has not done much to reverse that policy.

Tariffs on imports from China have refilled the employee parking lot at Stoughton Trailers in Evansville, Wis. …the rest of us are paying for those jobs. The tariffs have contributed to a shortage of chassis in the middle of an import boom, one reason that American ports are gridlocked. Tariffs also drive up prices. American chassis are beginning to roll off production lines, but they cost more than pretariff Chinese chassis, which raises the price of everything that travels by chassis. …the government has decided to limit competition, a lazy approach that is both expensive and counterproductive. Taxing imports from China gives the appearance of punishing China, but the cost of the tariffs is paid by Americans. …Mr. Biden should make a clean break with Mr. Trump’s destructive tariffs. The right recipe is simple…, maintain an environment in which companies can flourish, ensure workers reap the benefits.

So at what point do Trump’s tariffs become Biden’s tariffs?

Technically, we hit that point in late January of 2021.

To make matters worse, Biden is also imposing new trade taxes on American consumers and businesses.

The Wall Street Journal opined today on Biden’s latest protectionist initiative.

President Biden says he feels your pain regarding inflation… Too bad his Administration’s policies reveal different priorities. Witness the Commerce Department’s decision to raise tariffs on lumber, which will raise building costs in an already strained housing market. The Commerce Department said last week that it will double the average tariff on Canadian softwood lumber to 17.9% from 8.99%. …There’s rarely a good time for trade restrictions, but the timing of this one is tragicomical. The same month Commerce revealed its tariff plan, lumber hit a record price of $1,650 per thousand board-feet, more than three times the level before pandemic supply shortages began. …The Biden Administration’s tariff resumes the U.S.-Canada lumber war where President Trump left off. …President Biden campaigned against his predecessor’s tariffs, but his trade policy in office has been nearly as protectionist. He’s kept most tariffs in place.

Kept most in place…and now adding more.

This is very sad, particularly since I had hoped that was one area where Biden might actually move policy in the right direction.

No, I didn’t think Biden actually understood why free trade is good (he’s always been a proponent of bigger government, after all).

But I hoped he would do the right thing simply to show he was different than Trump. Those hopes have been dashed.

P.S. If you want more reasons to be concerned, Biden also hasn’t done much to resuscitate the World Trade Organization and he isn’t pushing back on his party’s embrace of carbon protectionism.

Tax issues such as depreciation, net operating losses, worldwide taxation, and carry forwards probably set the record for inducing boredom, but I suspect most people also have little interest in a workforce issue known as “employment protection.”

But they should.

Job creation and wage levels can be adversely affected when politicians impose laws and regulations that sound nice, but have the unintended consequence of increasing the cost of employing people.

The good news is that this is an area where the United States gets a high score.

As shown in the chart, America is behind only Denmark in having a deregulated market for matters such as hiring, firing, and compensation.

Today, we’re going to examine some research about the impact of government intervention in labor markets.

Here are some excerpts from a new working paper for the European Central Bank, authored by Gerhard Rünstler, that looks at the impact of labor market deregulation in eurozone nations over the past 20-plus years.

This paper uses a narrative panel VAR to estimate the macro-economic effects of reforms in the euro area in between 1998 Q1 and 2018 Q4. …The narrative VAR finds that unemployment benefit reforms lead to a relatively quick increase in employment and a moderate decline in the real wage. In the medium term, the effect on employment remains, while real compensation reverts back to baseline. The responses to reforms of regular contract EPL are similar, but the response of employment builds up gradually and reaches its full scale only after about six years. …the effects of EPL reforms depend on the state of the business cycle: in states of low growth the response of real activity and employment is more delayed. Some of the reforms had sizeable medium-term effects. In particular, the German Hartz reforms and EPL reforms in Portugal after 2007 altogether raised GDP and employment by above 2% in these countries. Reforms in the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain had smaller but still significant effects.

Here are some of the statistical estimates from the study, starting with a look at relaxing employment protection legislation.

Output and employment increase, which is good news, but the most important finding is an increase in long-run compensation.

Here’s a look at what happens if the law is changed to reduce subsidies for joblessness.

Unsurprisingly, there’s more output and more employment (a lesson we’ve learned in the United States).

I’ll include one final graphic from the study.

Figure 5 shows that the benefits may be larger, or materialize more quickly, depending on the economy’s underlying health.

The bottom line is that it is always a good idea to reduce government intervention in labor markets. If you want more jobs and higher pay, deregulate when the economy is weak and deregulate when the economy is strong.

By the way, the European Central Bank is not the only international organization to reach this conclusion.

I also want to share some passages from last year’s Doing Business report from the World Bank.

…firms should…be free to conduct their business in the most efficient way possible. When labor regulation is too cumbersome for the private sector, economies experience higher unemployment—most pronounced among youth and female workers. …Flexible labor regulation provides workers with the opportunity to choose their jobs and working hours more freely, which in turn increases labor force participation. …For example, if France were to attain the same degree of labor market flexibility as the United States, its employment rate would rise by 1.6 percentage points, or 14% of the employment gap between the two countries. When Sweden increased labor market flexibility, by giving firms with fewer than 11 employees the freedom to exempt two workers from their priority list, labor productivity in small firms increased 2–3% more than it did at larger firms. …Many high- and upper-middle-income economies, including Denmark…and the United States, have flexible labor regulation. In other advanced economies, including Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Spain, strict labor rules make the process of hiring employees arduous. Research shows that strict employment protection legislation shapes firms’ incentives to enter and exit the economy, which in turn has implications for job creation and economic growth. …When faced with rigid employment protection laws, firms lose the freedom to conduct business efficiently. …A firm’s ability to adjust to shocks is adversely affected by rigid labor regulation. Moreover, firms invest less in new product creation in such an environment.

The moral of the story is that when politicians impose laws to “protect” workers, they’re actually making it less likely that businesses will hire workers.

P.S. This cartoon aptly captures what happens when well-intentioned people expand government (by the way, most politicians are not well-intentioned).

Back in 2016, I shared a television program about the “Improbable Success” of Switzerland. Today, here’s a follow-up look at that “sensible country.”

There are elements to this video that are outside my area of expertise, such as the role of the reformation.

But the video mentions policies that I find very appealing, such as the country’s strong federalist system (unlike the United States, federalism hasn’t eroded).

This means jurisdictional competition, which has played a big role in curtailing bad policy.

And there was a brief indirect mention of the nation’s spending cap, which also has been a big success.

Interestingly, Switzerland’s strong track record is getting noticed in unusual places.

Here are some excerpts from a New York Times column by Ruchir Sharma.

There is…a country far richer and just as fair as any in the Scandinavian trio of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. ….with lighter taxes, smaller government, and a more open and stable economy. Steady growth recently made it the second richest nation in the world…with an average income of $84,000, or $20,000 more than the Scandinavian average. …surveys also rank this nation as one of the world’s 10 happiest. This less socialist but more successful utopia is Switzerland. …Wealth and income are distributed across the populace almost as equally as in Scandinavia, with the middle class holding about 70 percent of the nation’s assets. The big difference: The typical Swiss family has a net worth around $540,000, twice its Scandinavian peer. …Capitalist to its core, Switzerland imposes lighter taxes on individuals, consumers and corporations than the Scandinavian countries do. In 2018 its top income tax rate was the lowest in Western Europe at 36 percent, well below the Scandinavian average of 52 percent. Government spending amounts to a third of gross domestic product, compared with half in Scandinavia. And Switzerland is more open to trade, with a share of global exports around double that of any Scandinavian economy. …Only one in seven Swiss work for the government, about half the Scandinavian average. …The Swiss have become the world’s richest nation by getting it right, and their model is hiding in plain sight.

Kristian Niemietz of London’s Institute of Economic Affairs also pointed out that Switzerland is a role model.

Classical liberal ideas work. But they are usually counterintuitive, and often hard to explain. …It is therefore helpful for classical liberals if we can point to a practical example…it is Switzerland which, in many ways, represents such an example. Switzerland is not a libertarian paradise. But it is a country which, through its mere existence and its economic success, refutes a lot of…conventional wisdoms. …Take decentralisation. …the Swiss example shows that local autonomy and pluralism can be a recipe for success. In Switzerland, even tiny cantons like Glarus or Obwalden, which have far fewer inhabitants than a typical London borough, enjoy a degree of political autonomy that London, which has more inhabitants than the whole of Switzerland, can only dream of. …the Swiss system shows that a healthcare system based on choice and competition can work exceptionally well. The Swiss system offers ample choice between insurers, insurance plans, providers and delivery models. …Liberal market economists…can simply refer to the successful example of Switzerland. We can end a lot of tedious discussions by simply saying, “Of course it works – just look at Switzerland”.

Amen.

Switzerland is a great role model.

By the way, neither the video nor the two articles mentions Switzerland’s private pension system, which is another big advantage the country has over most other nations.

If you want to see a chart that illustrates Switzerland’s stunning success, this look at both life expectancy and per-capita economic output is very revealing.

The link between prosperity and longevity isn’t big news, but Switzerland’s rapid upward ascent is very remarkable.

To conclude, there are numerous reasons to rank Switzerland above the United States, at least with regard to public policy.

P.S. The video mentions that Switzerland is the closest example in the world of a direct democracy. I’m instinctively opposed to that approach, because of the dangers of majoritarianism.

That being said, Swiss voters usually vote the right way.

P.P.S. It wasn’t mentioned in the video, but I like that Switzerland is one of the few European nations with widespread gun ownership.

P.P.P.S. We should not be surprised that some folks in Sardinia would like to secede from Italy and join Switzerland.

Nearly 10 years ago, I shared some data to show how a Swiss-style spending cap would have prevented some of the excess spending of the Bush and Obama years.

Trillion-dollar deficits would have been avoided. But, more important, the burden of government spending would have been significantly lower.

That would have enabled stronger growth, as confirmed even by researchers from left-leaning bureaucracies such as the OECD and CBO.

I then did the same thing in 2020, showing once again how a spending cap would have produced great results.

And, earlier this year, I crunched the numbers to show how Italy and Greece could have avoided their fiscal nightmares if they had imposed spending caps a couple of decades ago.

Today, let’s look at similar data for Canada.

Except I don’t need to do any work because Livio di Matteo has a new study on tax and expenditure limitations from the Fraser Institute. Here’s some he wrote about the conceptual issues.

Tax and expenditure limits restrict the growth of either revenues or expenditures or both by either setting them at a fixed dollar amount or by limiting the growth rate by linking them to the growth of specific economic variables. …A key perceived benefit of TELs is that they serve as a restraint on politicians and bureaucrats who often have little incentive to restrain spending in response to pressures from interest groups. A second benefit of TELs is that smaller government can be associated with higher rates of economic growth. …One noteworthy type of TEL is a strict restriction on tax or expenditure levels, or, more commonly their rates of growth. This is generally a formula driven approach and the most common mechanism involves restricting expenditure growth to the pace of personal income, GDP, or combined population and inflation growth.

Now let’s look at his numbers for Canada, starting with a look at the the status quo outlook for 2015-2025, which shows that the spending burden will climb by 58 percent over the 10-year period.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the implementation of a simple TEL and assess its impact and effectiveness is via an example that makes use of recent federal public finance data. …The base scenario…shows revenues rising from…$292.6 billion to $437.7 billion—an increase of 50 percent. …Meanwhile, expenditures rise from $295.4 billion to $466 billion for an increase of 58 percent.

But what if spending was limited so it could only grow at the same rate as population plus inflation?

The spending burden would increase by just 33 percent.

The simulations in this paper…involves a fixed growth rule for expenditures so that they cannot exceed growth in population plus inflation… Under this approach, federal expenditures grow from $295.5 billion in 2015–16 to reach $393.2 billion by 2025–26, which is a much smaller increase in spending relative to the projections contained in Budget 2021. …Expenditures grow from $295.5 billion in 2015–16 to reach $393.2 billion by 2025–26, an
increase of 33 percent.

The report also looks at what would happen if there was an opt-out clause to allow emergency spending, specifically the outlays for Canada’s response to the COVID pandemic.

The net result is that spending climbs by 43 percent over the 10-year period.

…In figure 3, a…final scenario is presented that…assumes that the TEL was designed to accommodate the need for an emergency fiscal response… Expenditures are assumed to grow at 2.9 percent annually from 2015–16 to 2019–20 and then from 2023–24 onwards. …The results show that revenues rise from $292.6 billion in 2015–16 to $427.7 billion by 2025–26 for a total increase of 46 percent. Meanwhile, expenditures rise from $295.5 billion in 2015–16 to reach $423.7 billion by 2025–26 for an overall increase of 43 percent.

Here is the aforementioned Figure 3, for those interested.

The main takeaway is that a spending cap can be very successful, even if there’s a provision that allows emergency spending.

Total spending grows by less than total revenue, thus satisfying my Golden Rule. And, as a result, there’s far less government debt.

In other words, even with a TEL as structured under this scenario, it would have been possible for the federal government to deliver the exact same amount of COVID-19 fiscal support as laid out in the 2021 federal spring budget, balance the budget by 2025–26, and only accumulate half the deficits

P.S. Let’s look at a final excerpt from the study. We have reviewed a bunch of data showing how spending caps would be successful.

By contrast, balanced budget requirements do not have a good track record.

Balanced budget legislation is often perceived as a form of TEL but in practice it is considered different in that it simply attempts to achieve budget balance so that debt stops being accumulated. Such legislation is not necessarily designed to constrain the rate of growth of government spending—nor to limit the size of the public sector… Indeed, according to Clemens et al. (2003) the adoption of balanced budget laws in Canada, which by the early 2000s existed in eight out of ten provinces, coincided with increases in government spending and taxation as measured by real per-capita consolidated provincial and municipal spending.

This is not surprising. The cyclical nature of revenues means it is very difficult to maintain a balanced budget rule.

By contrast, the International Monetary Fund (twice!), the European Central Bank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (twice!) have acknowledged that spending caps are the most, if not only, effective fiscal rule.

P.P.S. If you want some real-world evidence, Switzerland’s spending cap continues to produce strong outcomes.

If you want to understand why some nations enjoy much stronger economic growth than other nations, the best place to start is the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World.

And if you want to understand why some states have more vibrant economies than other states, you should check out the latest edition of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America.

Since most readers are from the United States, I’ll start with a look at the publication’s sub-national index, which shows how American states rank in terms of economic liberty. Unsurprisingly, a bunch of jurisdictions with no income tax are at the top of the list and California and New York are at the bottom.

By the way, the authors (Dean Stansel, José Torra, and Fred McMahon) specifically note that the rankings are based on 2019 data (the latest-available data) and thus “do not capture the effect on economic freedom of COVID-19 and government responses to it.

With that caveat out of the way, here are some of the findings for the sub-national index (which is where Figure 1.2b from above can be found).

Since the Fraser Institute is based in Canada, they understandably start by looking at Canadian provinces, but you can then read about results for the rest of North America.

For the purpose of comparing jurisdictions within the same country, the subnational indices are the appropriate choice. There is a separate subnational index for each country. In Canada, the most economically free province in 2019 was again Alberta with 6.17, followed by British Columbia with 5.44, and Ontario at 5.31. However, the gap between Alberta and second-place British Columbia continues to shrink, down from 2.30 points in 2014 to 0.73 in 2019. The least free by far was Quebec at 2.83, following New Brunswick at 4.09, and Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia at 4.20. In the United States, the most economically free state was New Hampshire at 7.83, followed closely by Tennessee at 7.82, Florida at 7.78, Texas at 7.75, and Virginia at 7.59. …In Mexico, the most economically free state was Baja California at 6.01.

Here are the provincial rankings from Canada.

Alberta is the best place for economic growth and Quebec is the worst (by a significant margin).

Here are the some of the findings for the all-government index (which uses a different methodology than the sub-national index mentioned above).

The good news, from the perspective of folks in the U.S., is that most states rank above every other jurisdiction in North America (and the Mexican state all rank at the bottom).

The top jurisdiction is New Hampshire at 8.23, followed by Florida (8.17), Idaho (8.16), and then South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming tied for fourth (8.15). Alberta is the highest ranking Canadian province, tied for 33rd place with a score of 8.00. The next highest Canadian province is British Columbia in 47th at 7.91. Alberta had spent seven years at the top of the index but fell out of the top spot in the 2018 report (reflecting 2016 data). The highest-ranked Mexican state is Baja California with 6.65, followed by Nayarit (6.62)… Seven of the Canadian provinces are ranked behind all 50 US states.

By the way, here’s some historical context showing that all three nations had their best scores back in the early 2000s (when the “Washington Consensus” for pro-market policy still had some impact.

Historically, average economic freedom in all three countries peaked in 2004 at 7.74 then fell steadily to 7.24 in 2011. Canadian provinces saw the smallest decline, only 0.19, whereas the decline in the United States was 0.51 and, in Mexico, 0.58. Since then average economic freedom in North America has risen slowly to 7.43 but still remains below that peak in 2004. However, economic freedom has increased in the United States and Mexico since 2013. In contrast, in Canada, after an increase in 2014, it has fallen back below its 2013 level.

P.S. If you want some additional historical context, Alberta’s fall from the top (mentioned in the first excerpt) can be partly blamed on the provincial government’s fiscal profligacy when it was collecting a lot of energy-related tax revenue.

P.P.S. I first wrote about Economic Freedom of North America in 2013 and more recently shared commentary about the 2019 and 2020 versions.

Over the years, I’ve shared three videos making the same point about how the first European settlers in America nearly starved because of socialism.

Let’s recycle one of those videos today.

To be sure, starving because of socialism didn’t become a big thing until the 20th century.

So the settlers were ahead of their time, albeit in a bad way.

But at least they gave us another data point showing that it doesn’t make sense to have an economic system that penalizes productivity and subsidizes sloth.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened in the 1600s.

Here’s some of what Helen Raleigh wrote for the Federalist.

Today’s self-identified democratic socialists like to claim real socialism has never been tried in America, but they need to brush up on their history. The Pilgrims did try it — and it failed. …Puritans from the Separatist Church, led by Rev. John Robinson, decided to…secure a land patent in the existing Virginia colony. …The deal stipulated that everything the colonists produced would belong to a “commonwealth,” and at the end of seven years, everything would be equally divided between investors and colonists. …this deal forbade colonists from having any personal time to work on any private business during the seven-year contract term. …Even with the help of the Indians, the colonists had a hard time surviving. Although the word “socialism” hadn’t been invented yet, the Plymouth colony bore many resemblances to a socialist society. Since investors back in England demanded that the colony operate communally, everything was owned by every colonist jointly. No one was allowed to own private land or to work on his private business. The communal social and economic structure proved disastrous. Not all colonists were willing to work hard or at all for the “commonwealth.” …Since not everyone was pulling the same weight, the colony was constantly running out of food, a typical problem in all the socialist countries, from China to Venezuela. …Bradford wisely recognized that a change had to take place…turning the communal property into private property… hardworking and motivated colonists turned Plymouth colony into one of the most successful colonies in North America.

John Stossel authored a piece for Reason on the same sad history.

Tragedy of the Commons nearly killed the Pilgrims. When they landed at Plymouth Rock, they started a society based on sharing. Sharing sounds great. But sharing, basically, is collective or communal farming, which is socialism. Food and supplies were distributed based on need. Pilgrims were forbidden to selfishly produce food for themselves. That collective farming was a disaster. When the first harvest came, there wasn’t much food to go around. The Pilgrims nearly starved. Since no individual owned crops from the farm, no one had an incentive to work harder to produce extra that they might sell to others. Since even slackers got food from the communal supply, there was no penalty for not working. …People eager to provide for their families were less eager to provide for others. Bradford wrote, “young men, that were most able and fit for labour, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense.” …The Pilgrims’ solution: private property. …the collective farm was split up, and every family was given a plot of land. People could grow their own food and keep it or trade it. “It made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” wrote Bradford. “Women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability.” The Pilgrims flourished because they turned to private property. So, this Thanksgiving, be grateful for private property, a foundation of capitalism.

Let’s close with some humor.

Libertarians have a reputation for being somewhat dorky and that comes across in this bit of satire from Babylon Bee.

After his state’s governor banned gatherings of more than 10 people for Thanksgiving, local libertarian Paul Figgen was looking forward to boldly defying the government with a massive holiday gathering of dozens. Unfortunately, he’s having a hard time finding dinner guests since no one wants to hang out with him. “I know Thanksgiving was made a federal holiday by the infamous war criminal Abraham Lincoln,” said Figgen, “but I really want to stick it to the Feds and organize a huge dinner and talk about how taxation is theft while smoking weed with a bunch of people! I invited everyone but no one seems to want to hang out for some reason.” …”It’s ok,” Figgen sighed. “If people want to be a bunch of sheep, that’s fine. I’ll just have Thanksgiving with my cardboard cutout of Ron Paul. He loves to hang out with me.”

As a libertarian, I wince when I read this, but I also laughed.

As illustrated by this cartoon, we sometimes have a not-so-endearing tendency to make moralistic arguments at inopportune moments.

The fact that we’re right doesn’t really matter.

P.S. If you like Thanksgiving-themed humor, you can click here and here for some cartoons from the Obama era.

And if you’re not a fan of America’s hypocritical politicians, you’ll like this “self-stuffing turkey.”

Last but not least, I dug into the archives to find this dystopian look at a left-wing Thanksgiving.

There are certain topics that seem to be slam-dunk wins for those who favor free markets and limited government, and one reason I make this assertion is that folks on the left don’t even bother to make counter-arguments.

Here are just a few examples:

Prior to today, I also would have included this example:

But now I can no longer include Chile’s economic renaissance because I finally found someone who concocted an alternative explanation.

As part of a column in today’s Washington Post about Chile’s upcoming presidential election, Anthony Faiola made this claim about that nation’s economic performance.

After Pinochet’s ruthless rule came to an end in 1990, the newly democratic nation witnessed a historic period of economic growth. Gross domestic product growth between 1990 and 2018 averaged 4.7 percent annually, well above the Latin American average. Over that same period, democratic governments increased social spending. Extreme poverty (below $1.5 per day) was virtually wiped out.

But now let’s consider whether this alternative explanation is accurate.

Mr. Faiola wants readers to believe that the positive developments in Chile (“historic period of growth” and “extreme poverty…was virtually wiped out”) occurred after 1990.

But if that’s the case, why did per-capita living standards begin to climb much earlier?

As shown by these two charts, it’s far more likely that the dramatic rise in per-capita economic performance around 1980 is the result of a big increase in economic liberty (as measured by Economic Freedom of the World) that also was occurring around that time.

(There is a separate measure of economic freedom for the years before 1970, so the orange and blue lines are discontinuous.)

One should always be careful about interpreting numbers. For instance, national economic data at a given moment in time will be affected when there are periods of global recession, such as the early 1980s and 2008.

Which is why it is important to look at longer periods of time. And when looking at decades of data for Chile, the big jump in prosperity clearly began after the economy was liberalized, not after Pinochet ceded power in 1990.

We’ll close with some bad news and good news.

The bad news, as captured by the bottom-half of the stacked charts abvoe, is that there hasn’t been much pro-market reform in recent decades.

But the good news is that Chile hasn’t deteriorated. The nation has endured some left-leaning governments, but economic freedom has remained high by world standards. Which means the economy continues to grow.

P.S. I’ll add some worrisome news. The left in Chile wants a new constitution that would give politicians more power over the economy. If that effort is successful, I fear the country will suffer Argentinianstyle decline.

P.P.S. I suppose Mr. Faiola deserves some credit for cleverness. Some leftists have tried to argue Chile is a failed “neoliberal experiment.” Given the nation’s superior performance, that’s obviously an absurd strategy. So Faiola came up with a new hypothesis that acknowledges the growth, but tries to convince readers that it’s all the result of things that happened after 1990. He’s wildly wrong, but at least he tried.

P.P.P.S. I have a three-part series (here, here, and here) on how low-income people have been big winners as a result of Chile’s shift to free enterprise.

P.P.P.P.S. Here’s a column on Milton Friedman’s indirect contribution to Chilean prosperity.

In my column yesterday about state tax systems, I specifically noted that North Carolina has been making big improvements.

Not only did the state shift to a flat tax a few years ago, it recently voted to lower the rate from 5.25 percent to 3.99 percent.

Why did this happen?

The easy answer is that Republicans gained control of the state legislature. But that’s – at best – only a partial answer. After all, there are plenty of places where Republicans gain power and don’t enact good fiscal policy.

So maybe a better answer is that Reagan-style Republicans took control.

I suspect that’s a far more accurate answer, but I want to dig deeper and look at a policy reform that made the tax cuts possible.

Simply stated, North Carolina politicians embraced the Golden Rule of spending restraint.

And by controlling the growth of spending, they created fiscal maneuvering room for lower tax rates.

In a column for a North Carolina newspaper, John Hood, a board member of the John Locke Foundation (the state’s pro-market think tank) explains what happened.

…in North Carolina, conservative governance has actually reduced the size of state government and significantly improved its fiscal condition. …As a share of the economy, state spending has averaged about 5.8% over the past 45 years. It was well over 6% as recently as 2009. Since fiscally conservative Republicans won control of the General Assembly in 2010, however, budgets have gone up every year in dollar terms but have gone down almost every year when expressed as a share of GDP. That’s because legislative leaders have stuck to their commitment to keep annual spending growth at or below the combined rates of inflation and population growth. …That has, in turn, allowed legislators to rebuild the state’s savings reserves, pay off state debt, and finance several rounds of growth-enhancing tax cuts.

I fully agree that the goal should be to reduce state spending as a share of GDP, so kudos to North Carolina lawmakers.

By limiting annual spending increases, they have strengthened the private sector.

Here’s a chart, based on data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, showing what has happened to state spending since 2010. For background, a simple rule of thumb is that the “general fund” is money a state raises and spends while “total spending” includes that spending plus money that comes from Washington.

By the way, population has increased by about 1 percent annually in North Carolina, so per-capita state spending is only growing by about 1.5 percent per year.

All things considered, a very good job. Too bad Republicans in Washington don’t push for similar policies (to be fair, they did restrain spending during the Tea Party era).

I’ll close with a worrisome observation that North Carolina does not not have a TABOR-style constitutional spending limit.

So while it’s admirable that state lawmakers have restrained spending over the past decade, there are no guarantees that the Tarheel State will enjoy spending restraint in the future.

So North Carolina should copy Colorado and adopt something like TABOR. Or, they can demonstrate their worldliness by copying Switzerland’s “debt brake,” which is another constitutional provision to limit spending.

The goal – for the state and the nation – should be some sort of spending cap.

Motivated in part by an excellent graphic that I shared in 2016, I put together a five-column ranking of state personal income tax systems in 2018.

Given some changes that have since occurred, it’s time for a new version. The first two columns are self explanatory and columns 3 and 5 are based on whether the top tax rate on households is less than 5 percent (“Low Rate”) or more than 8 percent (“Class Warfare”).

Column 4, needless to say, is for states where the top tax rate in between 5-8 percent.

The good news is that the above table is better than the one I created in 2018. Thanks to tax competition between states, there have been some improvements in tax policy.

I recently wrote about Louisiana’s shift in the right direction.

Now we have some good news from the Tarheel state. The Wall Street Journal opined today about a new tax reform in North Carolina.

The deal phases out the state’s 2.5% corporate income tax between 2025 and 2031. …The deal also cuts the state’s flat 5.25% personal income tax rate in stages to 3.99% by July 1, 2027. …North Carolina ranks tenth on the Tax Foundation’s 2021 state business tax climate index, and these reforms will make it even more competitive. …North Carolina has an unreserved cash balance of $8.55 billion, and legislators are wisely returning some of it to taxpayers.

What’s especially noteworthy is that North Carolina has been moving in the right direction for almost 10 years.

P.S. Arizona almost moved from column 3 to column 5, but that big decline was averted.

P.P.S. There are efforts in Mississippi and Nebraska to get rid of state income taxes.

P.P.P.S. Kansas tried for a big improvement a few years ago, but ultimately settled for a modest improvement.

I’ve posted several videos about the Keystone Cops of airport security (see here, here, here, here, and here) and here’s another one to enjoy.

Why am I motivated to mock the Transportation Security Administration today?

For the simple reason that I went to the Atlanta Airport yesterday after watching my #1 Georgia Bulldogs win another game.

Yet when I exited the highway to the airport, traffic ground to a halt. It took me about 30 minutes to get to parking (a trip that normally takes about three minutes).

And then, when I got in the airport, the “Clear” line for accelerated screening was shut down, which required me to instead get in the slower “Pre-check” line (but still faster than the regular line).

But that line was much longer than normal, and moved much slower than normal, because the bureaucrats required us to take off shoes and remove laptops (things that normally are not required for flyers that have received Pre-check clearance).

So why did I have to endure and extra hour-plus of wasted time, risking my ability to make my flight?

Because some idiot earlier in the day accidentally packed a gun in his carry-on bag and then apparently panicked and grabbed the gun when it was (surprisingly enough) detected by screeners, causing an accidental discharge.

I don’t blame the TSA for engaging in a brief period of heightened security following this incident.

But it was utterly pointless to have a huge police presence on the airport roads hours later (thus slowing traffic to a crawl), along with shutting down the Clear line and eliminating the (comparative) efficiency of the Pre-check line (making it a slow slog).

This is empty “security theater,” particularly since there have already been nearly 5,000 cases this year of passengers forgetting about guns in carry-on bags. So it’s not as if finding a gun is unusual.

What is unusual, of course, is the accidental discharge – and the subsequent TSA over-reaction.

Which gives me an excuse to write about the TSA and the need for reform for only the third time since 2015 (I had one column about the TSA in 2019 and another one in 2016).

We’ll start with a just-published column by J.D. Tuccille for Reason.

…the TSA has proven itself skilled at harassing travelers and freaking out over pocketknives and water bottles while steadfastly failing at its assigned task of making air transportation any safer. The TSA, in short, is an awful example of government in action. …It’s not clear why anybody saw a need for the TSA, since it’s unlikely that a federal agency would have been any more successful than private contractors at predicting terrorists’ unprecedented use of aircraft as kamikaze weapons. It’s especially unlikely that the federal agency we actually got would have successfully diverted itself from confiscating play-doh to thwarting homicidal fanatics. …What the TSA is good at is high-visibility groping, scanning, and confiscating. Making people drop their pants, take off their shoes, and surrender their shampoo annoys people in a way that says “we’re doing something” without actually accomplishing anything.

Wow, I would suspect he also traveled through Atlanta yesterday, but his article was published Friday.

Next, we have an overall indictment of the TSA. Here are some excerpts from a column by Kevin Williamson for National Review.

The catalogue of the TSA’s sins reads like the diary of the Marquis de Sade, from the sexual abuse of children to the production of child pornography, beside which such workaday offenses as looting travelers’ property and smuggling drugs seem quaint. This is not a few bad apples — this is a crime syndicate pretending to be a federal agency. …The TSA’s record for providing actual security is practically nonexistent; security testers sneaking mock explosives and weapons past TSA screeners achieved an astonishing success rate of 95 percent. …Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport processes more passengers than does New York’s JFK, and its security process, including something like an El Al pre-board interview in which a well-trained security officer gives passengers the hairy Dutch eyeball, generally takes only a few minutes, whereas traversing JFK can take hours. …We need choice, competition, and accountability. And we also need to fire a few tens of thousands of people, starting with TSA administrator.

So what’s the solution?

David Inserra of the Heritage Foundation explains for FEE that the private sector is a better option.

A private model would allow for strengthened accountability, a decrease in operation costs, enhanced management of labor, and better focus on security threats and problems. …The TSA model is quite uncommon worldwide. The more common models utilize the government as a security regulator while a contractor or the airport itself provides security. This automatically pushes accountability and competition higher than the current U.S. model. …By looking to examples in Canada and Europe, we can observe how governments spend drastically less yet still manage to meet international aviation standards. These countries show that privately-hired scanning teams can manage personnel far more efficiently than the government and still make a profit. They also cost significantly less—Canada spent about 40 percent less per capita on aviation security than the U.S. in 2014, for example.

Amen.

Here’s the graphic accompanying the article. As you can see, other nations wisely utilize private contractors.

If Americans got better security, perhaps higher costs and longer lines would make it worthwhile.

But that’s not the case, as I’ve previously pointed out (see here, here, and here).

And if that’s not enough, here’s what NBC reported about bomb-sniffing dogs.

Bomb-sniffing K-9 teams at 10 major U.S. airports have failed tests that check how accurately they can detect explosives… New records obtained by KXAS through a Freedom of Information Act request call into question whether those dog teams are training enough to stay sharp and keep bombs out of airports and off planes… K-9 teams funded by the Transportation Security Administration have failed annual certification tests at 10 large airports 52 times between Jan. 1, 2013, and June 15, 2015, the most recent detailed numbers TSA provided. Some teams failed to find explosives, while others had too many false alarms that could cause unnecessary airport evacuations.

Humans are probably even worse, as Judd Gregg explained in a piece for the Hill.

The TSA failed to detect ninety percent of the bombs and weapons that were passed through its passenger screening system in its last test. Were the test also applied to baggage placed on planes, it is likely that their failure rate in detecting bombs specifically would be even higher. Thus, an agency that costs the taxpayer $7.5 billion a year, has 40,000-plus screeners and 15,000-plus administrators does not seem to be doing a very good job of protecting passengers on airplanes.

I have other pieces I can cite, but I’ll save them for another day.

Let’s close with an outrageous example of TSA foolishness, as captured by this tweet from Amy Alkon.

P.S. Here are other examples of bone-headed TSA actions.

P.P.S. I am willing to defend the TSA when the bureaucrats make sensible choices based on cost-benefit analysis.

P.P.P.S. And I am always willing to share some jokes at TSA’s expense (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Socialism Humor

I try to share something humorous every weekend (economics humor last weekend and politician humor the previous weekend).

This weekend, we’re going to add to our collection of socialism humor.

Our first item nicely summarizes the incentive structure of socialism (sort of like this cartoon).

Our second item mocks the left’s hypocritical approach to coercion.

This next item may have been motivated by Libertarian Jesus.

Our fourth item makes a lot of sense if you know history.

Last but not least, here’s a version of “real socialism hasn’t been tried.”

P.S. If you want information on why socialism is bad economics, you can peruse my threepart series.

First we got Biden’s $1.9 trillion so-called stimulus.

Then we got his $1 trillion-plus infrastructure boondoggle.

Now Congress may be on the verge of approving the President’s budget, which (if we use honest numbers) is a $5 trillion plan to expand the welfare state.

And…

So it’s hardly a surprise that recent changes will lead to a much-larger burden of government spending.

This is bad news for our economy, as measured by my recent study (with similar findings from a wide range of academics – as well as normally left-leaning bureaucracies such as the IMF, World Bank, and OECD).

For purposes of today’s column, let’s put America’s fiscal decline in global context.

Here are some excerpts from a very depressing article in the Economist, starting with some discussion of how Biden’s spending binge is similar to the mistakes made by other nations.

President Joe Biden is building on what started as emergency pandemic-related policy, expanding the child-tax credit, creating a universal federally funded child-care system, subsidising paid family leave and expanding Obamacare. America’s government spending remains somewhat below the developed-world average. But this change is not just a matter of catching up; the target is moving. Government spending as a share of gdp in the oecd as a whole has consistently inched higher in the six decades since the club was formed in 1961.

There’s then some discussion about how a few nations – most notably Sweden and New Zealand – enjoyed period of genuine spending restraint, but accompanied by depressing observations about how fiscal responsibility is very rare.

Examples of genuine state retrenchment in developed countries are few and far between. Sweden managed it in the 1980s. In the early 1990s Ruth Richardson, then New Zealand’s finance minister, cut the size of the state drastically. …State spending is now six percentage points lower as a share of gdp than it was in 1990. But this is a rare achievement, and perhaps one doomed to pass. …This is a sorry state of affairs if you believe that low taxes and small government are the right, and possibly the only, conditions for reliable, enduring economic growth. …an argument made by Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian philosopher, Milton Friedman, an American economist, and others in the mid-20th century.

There’s also some historical analysis showing how the burden of government used to be relatively minor.

From 1274 to 1691 the English government raised less than 2% of gdp in tax. …In the 1870s the governments of rich countries were spending about 10% of gdp. In 1920 it was nearer 20%. It has been growing ever since (see chart 2).

Here’s the aforementioned chart 2, and there are a lot of depressing numbers, though notice how Switzerland does better than other nations.

I’ve previously shared a version of this data, calling it the “world’s most depressing chart” – all of which was made possible by the imposition of income taxes.

But there is some good news. The ever-rising fiscal burden of government has been somewhat offset by reductions in other bad policies.

Governments have not grown more powerful by all measures. Bureaucrats no longer, as a rule, set wages or prices, nor impose strict currency controls, as many did in the 1960s or 1970s. In recent decades the public sector has raised hundreds of billions of dollars from privatisations of state assets such as mines and telecoms networks. If you find it faintly amusing to hear that, from 1948 to 1984, the British state ran its own chain of hotels, that is because the “neoliberal” outlook on the proper place of government has triumphed.

Last but not least, there’s some discussion of “public choice,” which explains why politicians and bureaucrats have incentives to expand the size and scope of government.

Governments and bureaucrats are at least partly self-interested: “public-choice theory” says that unrestrained bureaucracies will defend their turf and seek to expand it. …Politicians have their own incentives to expand the state. It is generally more rewarding for a politician to introduce a new programme than it is to close an old one down; costs are spread across all taxpayers while benefits tend to be concentrated, thus eliciting gratitude from interest groups

I’ll close by reiterating my warning that ever-rising spending burdens not only lead to less growth, but they also will lead to Greek-style fiscal crises.

Europe will get hit first, but it’s just a matter of time before the United States suffers a similar fate.

P.S. There is a simple solution to avoid such crises, and a specific policy to achieve that solution. But don’t hold your breath waiting for politicians to tie their own hands.

Immediately after election day in early November, I applauded voters in the (very blue) state of Washington. They wisely expressed their opposition to a plan by state politicians to impose a capital gains tax.

And it wasn’t even close. Voters said no by a landslide margin in a state that went heavily for Biden.

Today, we’re going to look at more good news from a statewide initiative.

Voters in Louisiana last Saturday had a chance to vote for some pro-growth tax reform. And, as reported by KPVI, they made a wise choice.

Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment that decreases the maximum individual income tax rate from 6% to 4.75% beginning next year. …fifty-four percent of voters agreed to Amendment 2, which affects taxpayers making more than $50,000 and couples making more than $100,000 annually. …The free market Pelican Institute also supported Amendment 2. “For too long Louisiana has been lagging behind our neighbors, but the people of Louisiana voted to start our comeback story by passing amendment 2 to simplify our tax code and lower our income tax rates to the lowest in the Southeast of states that levy the tax,” Pelican Institute CEO Daniel Erspamer said in a statement.

The good news gets even better.

Voters imposed a cap on income tax rates, with a maximum of 4.75 percent.

But the legislature is putting the rate down to 4.25, as noted by the Tax Foundation.

Let’s close by looking at some excerpts from an editorial by the Wall Street Journal.

…voters on Saturday approved a constitutional amendment that will reduce corporate and individual income tax rates while simplifying the code. …The tax reform, approved with 54% of the vote, eliminates the deductibility for federal taxes while reducing the top income tax rate on individuals making more than $50,000 to 4.25% from 6%. Rates will also decline for lower earners. The current five corporate tax brackets would be consolidated into three with the top rate falling to 7.5% from 8%. Most Louisianans will get a small net tax cut, and the implementing legislation includes triggers that would reduce rates more if revenues meet growth goals.

For what it’s worth, allowing state deductibility of federal taxes is almost as misguided as federal deductibility of state and local taxes.

So Louisiana voters opted for a win-win situation of lower rates and getting rid of a loophole.

P.S. In a payoff to their wealthy constituents (and to make life easier for profligate governors, state lawmakers, and local officials), Democrats in Congress are pushing to re-create a big deduction for state and local tax payments.

I’ve periodically warned the European nations such as France, Italy, Greece, and Spain almost surely are doomed to suffer a fiscal crisis.

This is because governments in Europe didn’t respond to the 2010 crisis by actually solving the problem of excessive spending.

Instead, I pointed out about five years ago that they have allowed the spending burden to rise, as measured by outlays as a share of economic output.

Well, things have since gone even further in the wrong direction, exacerbated by long-run factors such as demographic decline and short-run factors such as the coronavirus pandemic.

So what’s the net result?

Writing for the Hill, Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute is concerned about the possibility of a new round of fiscal chaos in Europe.

In 2010, the Eurozone experienced a sovereign debt crisis that shook the world economy. Today…, it appears that the Eurozone could be well on the way to another such debt crisis. It is not only that the public finances of several key countries in the Eurozone periphery are considerably worse than they were on the eve of the 2010 sovereign debt crisis. It is also that inflation has risen to a level that will make it difficult for the European Central Bank (ECB) to continue to keep the Eurozone periphery governments afloat by a continuation of bond purchases on the massive scale that it has been doing to date. …Over the past 18 months, in response to the pandemic and with a view to stimulating the European economy, the ECB increased the size of its balance sheet by more than $4 trillion. …The fly in the ointment for countries such as Italy and Spain is that they cannot expect that the ECB will continue to buy their bonds on a large scale forever. …Another reason to fear an early end to the ECB’s massive bond-buying program is the strong resistance to such bond buying by the Eurozone’s northern member countries in general and by Germany in particular. These countries view the ECB’s bond-buying activities as a move to a fiscal union through the backdoor.

Excellent points, particularly with regard to the malignant role of the European Central Bank, which has created the conditions for a much bigger crisis by enabling bigger government and more debt.

If you want to understand how much worse the debt problem is today, here’s a chart based on OECD data for European nations (with the U.S. and Japan added for purposes of comparison.

Keep in mind, of course, that the debt is basically a symptom of the real problem of excessive spending.

Though debt becomes its own problem when investors no longer trust a government’s ability to pay bondholders.

P.S. Notice Switzerland’s good numbers, which is an argument for that nation’s spending cap.

P.P.S. The problem in Europe is too much government spending, not the euro currency.

P.P.P.S. Eurobonds will make things worse in the long run.

P.P.P.P.S. It is possible to reduce large debt burdens, so long as governments simply restrain spending.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Here’s some comedy (and more comedy) about Europe’s fiscal mess.

I regularly cite data about Europe’s sub-par economic outcomes in hopes of driving home the point that the United States should not copy that continent’s approach of onerous fiscal burdens.

Which is now a very relevant topic with Biden pushing for a big expansion of the welfare state.

This is not a good idea. Americans are richer than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. Even more remarkably, lower-income people in the United States often have living standards equal to – or even greater than – middle-income Europeans.

Another way of making this point is to compare economic outcomes in American states compared to European countries.

I first did that back in 2015, citing data to show that all be the very-richest European nations would be considered poor if they were part of the United States.

I want to augment that comparison today. I’m motivated by a National Review column by Charles Cooke. As a former European, he realizes it would be a mistake for the United States to copy European policies.

Schrager writes, “Americans can’t spend like they used to. Store shelves are emptying, and it can take months to find a car, refrigerator or sofa. If this continues, we may need to learn to do without — and, horrors, live more like the Europeans. That actually might not be a bad thing.” Counterpoint: Yes, it would. …having spent a great deal of time in both places, I can assure you that it is considerably easier to live in America than it is to live in Europe, and that one of the main reasons for that — beyond Americans’ being so stonkingly rich — is that Americans are far, far more demanding of their marketplaces. …We do not, under any circumstances, need to “learn to do without.”

I want to focus on the “stonkingly rich” part of the above excerpt.

Cooke links to a 2014 column in the Washington Post by Hunter Schwarz. Here are the key passages.

If Britain were to join the United States, it would be the second-poorest state, behind Alabama and ahead of Mississippi. The ranking, determined by Fraser Nelson, an editor of The Spectator magazine, was made by dividing the gross domestic product of each state by its population, and it  took into account purchasing power parity for cost of living. Several other European countries were also included… Norway was the top European country on the list, between Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Here’s the Nelson data, which shows that only oil-rich Norway and pro-market Switzerland look good.

Some readers may be questioning the use of numbers from 2014 and 2015.

That’s a reasonable suspicion since perhaps European countries have closed the gap over the past few years.

But that’s not the case. The United States has grown faster in recent years, so updated state/country numbers would make Europe look even worse.

P.S. A Swedish think tank, Timbro, produced similar calculations back in 2004.

Here are those comparisons, showing again that European countries would be viewed as poor if they were states.

P.P.S. After a period of “convergence” after World War II, European countries have actually been falling further behind the United States in recent decades. Needless to say, it’s not good to be part of the “anti-convergence club.”

Back in May, as part of a discussion about the tradeoff between free markets (efficiency) and redistribution (equity), I put together a chart to show how poor people are better off in the long run if policy makers focus on the former rather than the latter.

I made sure to assume that pro-market policies would generate only a small increase in growth.

However, thanks to “the miracle of compounding growth,” even that tiny increase results in the poor being better off when compared to a world with less growth and more redistribution.

But I was just providing a theoretical example, and it would be easy to change some assumptions to show that the poor would have better lives (as measured by consumption levels) with bigger government.

Fortunately, there’s a new study, authored by Justin Callais of Texas Tech University and Vincent Geloso of George Mason University, that looks at hard data to see which approach is best for poor people.

Here’s a description of their methodological approach, which uses the positive liberty vs negative liberty construct.

While it is true that economic freedom speaks directly to negative liberty, it also speaks indirectly to positive liberty because of its welldocumented effects on economic growth, health outcomes and education. We build on these works by using a rich dataset of estimates of income mobility of people born in the 1980s. …the dataset employed includes a larger number of poor and rich countries. Combining these data with those of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World (henceforth EFW) index, we try to measure its indirect effect (through growth and income levels) on intergenerational income mobility in a horse race with income inequality.

For all intents and purposes, they want to see which effect dominates in this flowchart.

And here’s the way they describe the chart.

…the true effect of economic freedom on intergenerational mobility is 𝛽1 + 𝛼1𝛽2. As long as 𝛽1 + 𝛼1𝛽2 > β3, economic freedom’s effects outweigh those of income inequality on positive liberty (as intergenerational income mobility is a standin for positive liberty).

So what did they find?

We find that economic freedom has both a direct and indirect effect on intergenerational income mobility. More importantly, those effects are more important than those of income inequality. We argue that our results militate for the claim that good institutions matter more to securing positive liberty than income redistribution does.we find that the lifetime institutional environment is a strong predictor of incomes today. The indirect effect of economic freedom (through income levels) on mobility is again strong and negatively correlated (indicated greater income mobility). economic freedom has both a direct and indirect effect on intergenerational income mobility. Economic freedom provides the legal right to engage in commerce, but through economic freedom’s impact on income, the institutional environment speaks to increasing the practical and realistic choice sets of people to better their situation.

The bottom line is that the poor are better off with economic freedom (i.e., negative liberty). Free markets lead to more upward mobility and higher living standards.

So if you want less poverty, push for more capitalism.

Rent Control Lunacy

There are some issues – such as class-warfare tax rates and the minimum wage – where intelligent people on the left will privately admit being wrong (or at least they will admit adverse consequences).

Another example is rent control.

Indeed, it’s so obvious that imposing price controls on housing will create shortages that some folks on the left even admit publicly that it’s a bad idea.

Yet leftist politicians are drawn to the policy for the simple reason that renters outnumber landlords.

Simply stated, they’re willing to impose considerable damage so long as they can grab a few extra votes.

Let’s look at some evidence about the folly of rent control, and we’ll start with a hot-off-the-presses column by Ryan Mills for National Review.

Democratic leaders in Minnesota’s capital city are scrambling for solutions after developers put several large projects on hold across St. Paul in the wake of last week’s election, when residents approved what may be the strictest rent-control policy in the country. …left-wing activists on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River succeeded in their effort to cap rent increases at 3 percent annually, including on new construction, a step most communities that have imposed rent-control policies have specifically avoided out of concern that it would discourage future investments. The St. Paul initiative passed last week with 53 percent support. …Large developers who spoke to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press told reporters that they’re pausing their projects across the city, and they are “re-evaluating what – if any – future business we’ll be doing in St. Paul.” Lenders are pulling out of new projects, they say, worried about the impact of the new policy. …dozens of buildings…have had 2022 rehabilitation projects stopped.

Wow. Sounds like St. Paul wants to supplant Minneapolis as the worst-governed city in the state.

Speaking of poorly governed cities, Christian Britschgi of Reason wrote early last year about what’s happening with rent control in New York City.

When the New York legislature passed major changes to the state’s rent regulations in June 2019, critics warned the new law would reduce investment in, and renovations of, rental properties in New York City. …those predictions are bearing out. …sales of apartment buildings in the Big Apple fell by 36 percent in 2019, and…the money spent on those sales fell by 40 percent. The prices investors were paying for rent-stabilized units—where allowable rent increases are set by the government and usually capped at around 1 or 2 percent per year—fell by 7 percent. …69 percent of building owners have cut their spending on apartment upgrades by more than 75 percent since the passage of the state’s rent regulations. Another 11 percent of the landlords in the survey decreased investments in their properties by more than 50 percent.

Some European cities also have adopted price controls on housing.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Jon Miltimore explains the damage this approach has caused in Stockholm.

Stockholm is just one of many Swedish cities struggling with a housing shortage. It’s not just that prices are too high; wait times for flats are also stunningly long. In Stockholm, for example, the average waiting time for a typical property is about nine years…, but wait-time in Stockholm’s most attractive neighbourhoods can run double that. …For younger Swedes in particular, the housing situation is a real problem—and it stems from Sweden’s decades-long embrace of rent control policies, which stretch back to World War II. …the results of Sweden’s rent control policies were quite predictable. The reality is price controls and other government regulations can’t fix housing problems.

The mess in Stockholm has even attracted attention from the BBC, as illustrated by the excerpt in this tweet.

Jon Miltimore also wrote about disastrous impact of rent control in Berlin.

In February 2020, Berlin introduced the so-called Mietendeckel—a cap on rent—to keep Berlin from becoming the next London or New York, cities where pricey rents have driven out many lower- and middle-class residents. The rent caps didn’t apply to everyone, however. They applied to properties built prior to 2014, freezing rent at June 18, 2019 levels. …Well, a year later, and the results of Berlin’s experiment are in. …Housing supply has shrunk and many landlords have reportedly exited the market, making the shortage much worse. …The lesson? Rent control has effects on housing supply, and those effects are not good.

And it you want more bad news from Germany, Berlin voters just approved a scheme to confiscate some apartments.

Here’s the story from the EU Observer.

Berliners voted in favour of expropriating apartments owned by big real-estate companies, with 56 percent of voters in the German capital saying ‘yes’ in the non-binding referendum at this weekend, the Financial Times reported on Monday. Now Berlin’s new municipal government has to decide how to proceed, since the expropriation of housing units could be legally challenged as against the German constitution.

I don’t know the outcome (if any) of the court challenge, but I do know that rent control is horrible policy.

And other economists agree.

P.S. Price controls are also bad news for pharmaceutical products and emergency supplies.

Economics Humor

I’ve shared lots of socialism humor and communism humor, but only a few examples of economics humor.

So let’s use today’s column as an opportunity to augment that limited collection.

We’ll start with a couple of items about the minimum wage. I wrote a column back in 2009 about why unions support a higher minimum wage.

Now we have an example of why investors might support that policy as well.

Here’s the second item about the minimum wage, and it depicts the response I often use when discussing the issue.

Here’s some satire mocking economists, though it’s more of a stereotype about clever folks from Wall Street.

Sort of reminds me of the “two cows” parable.

Next we have a joke about monetary policy, sort of the humor version of this long video.

Last but not least, nobody should be surprised that this is my favorite item from today’s collection.

It reminds people that “free” government in Europe is actually very, very, expensive for ordinary people.

Adding insult to injury, Europeans have considerably less income to begin with.

At the risk of being momentarily serious, this is why I’m baffled that Biden wants to make the U.S. more like Europe.

Shouldn’t we copy nations that are richer than America rather than poorer?

Way back in 2009, I shared a meme that succinctly summarizes how Washington operates.

It’s basically a version of Mitchell’s Law. To elaborate, governments cause problems and politicians then use those problems as an excuse to make government even bigger.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I worry the same thing may be about to happen because of the current concern about “supply chain” issues, perhaps best illustrated by the backlog of ships at key ports, leading to shortages of key goods.

Some of this mess is fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s being exacerbated by bad policy.

In a column for Reason, J.D. Tuccille points out that government is the problem, not the solution.

…supply-chain issues…create shortages and push prices up around the world. …Lockdowns also changed people’s lives, closing offices and factories and confining people at home. That resulted in massive and unpredictable shifts in demand and unreliable supply. …”Market economies tend to be pretty good at getting food on the supermarket shelves and fuel in petrol stations, if left to themselves,” agrees Pilkington. “That last part is key: if left to themselves. Heavy-handed interference in market economies tends to produce the same pathologies we see in socialist economies, including shortages and inflation. That has been the unintended consequence of lockdown.” …The danger is that people see economic problems caused by earlier fiddling and then demand even more government intervention. …if the government were to further meddle in the market to allocate products made scarce by earlier actions, it’s hard to see how the result wouldn’t be anything other than increased supply chain chaos.

Allysia Finley opines for the Wall Street Journal about California’s role in the supply-chain mess.

The backup of container ships at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports has grown in recent weeks… The two Southern California ports handle only about 40% of containers entering the U.S., mostly from Asia. Yet ports in other states seem to be handling the surge better. Gov. Ron DeSantis said last month that Florida’s seaports had open capacity. So what’s the matter with California? State labor and environmental policies. …business groups recently asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency and suspend labor and environmental laws that are interfering with the movement of goods. …One barrier is a law known as AB5. …Trucking companies warned that the law could put small carriers out of business and cause drivers to leave the state. …there’s little doubt the law hinders efficiency and productivity. …State officials have also pressed localities to attach green mandates to permits for new warehouses, which can be poison pills. …This boatload of regulations is making it more expensive and difficult to store goods arriving at California ports.

Needless to say, I’m not surprised California is making things worse.

The state seems to have some of the nation’s worst politicians.

But let’s set that aside and close with some discussion about one of the differences between government and the private sector.

This may surprise some readers, but people and businesses in the private sector make mistakes all the time.

So part of the supply-chain mess presumably is a result of companies and entrepreneurs making bad guesses.

That being said, there’s a big feedback mechanism in the private sector. It’s called profit and loss.

So when mistakes are made, there’s a big incentive to quickly change.

With government, by contrast, there’s very little flexibility (as we saw during the pandemic). And when politicians and bureaucrats do act, they often respond to political incentives that lead them to make things worse.

Political Typology Quiz

I can’t resist taking online quizzes about politics and economics, especially when they generate results that I like (I’m a “minimalist” on fiscal policy, a “right libertarian” on philosophy, and I get a failing grade of 6% on “communism“).

So you won’t be surprised that I was interested to see that Pew Research has survey data on “political typology.”

Instead of dividing the population into Democrats and Republicans, or liberals and conservatives, they identify nine different groups of potential voters.

As you can see from the adjacent chart, there are four Democrat-leaning groups and four Republican-leaning groups, and some “stressed sideliners” stuck in the middle.

Needless to say, I wanted to see how I would be categorized, so I took the quiz (and you can as well by clicking here).

Here is the description of where I fit. Given the options (they didn’t have a “libertarian” category), this seems reasonable.

But while I’m satisfied with where I landed, this doesn’t mean the quiz is perfect. As is usually the case, I think some of the questions are poorly worded.

For instance, does Question #2 mean open borders, or does it mean nativism, or something in between?

I picked openness, but I would have preferred better wording.

I also don’t like Question #5 since we don’t know what is meant by “equal rights.”

Is is narrowly defined (i.e., equality under the law), or is the question asking us to consider the broader philosophical fight about equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcomes?

I picked the middle option because I view school choice as a civil rights issue, but I’m guessing that’s not what the Pew folks had in mind when they designed the question.

And Question #14 is problematical because I want some criminals to serve longer sentences and others to be immediately pardoned because I don’t believe in victimless crimes.

So I wound up picking “the right amount of time” even though that’s a very weak substitute for my actual position.

Now that I’m done quibbling about some of the questions, I’ll close with this analysis of how people like me (the “Ambivalent Right”) think about certain issues, both compared to the general population, as well as the other eight groups.

For what it’s worth, I’m disappointed my group doesn’t get the best scores on the first two issues (as defined by being in favor of smaller government and less red tape).

P.S. If you share my weakness and like taking online quizzes, you can start by clicking here.

Biden’s budget plan is based on fraudulent numbers, but it is also based on the fraudulent idea that a big, European-style welfare state can be financed without fleecing lower-income and middle-class taxpayers.

I’ve repeatedly pointed out that this is not true, but it’s time to turn this fiscal fact into a Theorem of Government.

Some of my friends on the left don’t agree with the first sentence of this Theorem. In some cases, I think they sincerely believe that big government can be entirely financed by going after upper-income taxpayers.

This is why I added the second sentence. After all, surely some of Europe’s welfare states would have figured out how to shield poor and middle-class people from high tax burdens if that was possible.

Yet that’s not the case. As illustrated by this unfortunate Spaniard, ordinary people in Europe get fleeced by their governments.

The good news (sort of) is that there are some honest folks on the left who openly admit a big welfare state means big taxes on ordinary people.

I even include them on my page of “honest leftists.”

And now we have a new member of that club. Congressman Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania recently admitted that his party’s agenda will require taxes on those of us with modest incomes.

Here are some excerpts from a report by Emily Brooks.

Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb acknowledged that enacting all of the Democrats’ sweeping policy visions would require Democrats to raise taxes on the middle class rather than relying on tax increases on the rich. “If we want to propose a lot of new spending and adventurous new government programs in our party, we have to have the confidence to ask … the middle class and people like that to contribute to it. And I think that’s … what we’re missing right now,” Lamb, a Democrat representing a swing district northwest of Pittsburgh, said last week. …”Some of the focus on the billionaires and the ultra-wealthy that people are putting in the news right now — it’s fine, it’s valid, it’s not enough to fund everything we want to do,” Lamb said.

Needless to say, I disagree with Cong. Lamb’s policy agenda. If we adopt European-style fiscal policy, it will mean anemic, European-style economic malaise.

And that will translate into lower living standards for the masses.

But at least he’s being honest about what he wants.

P.S. To elaborate, a small government can be financed by a few rich people. That’s basically the story of Hong Kong. A medium-sized government can be financed in large part by the rich. That’s sort of the story of the United States (though ordinary people pay of a lot of payroll taxes). But there’s no way to finance a Biden-style agenda without going after ordinary taxpayers.

P.P.S. Here are my other Theorems of Government.

Civil asset forfeiture occurs when bureaucrats literally steal a person’s property when the person hasn’t been convicted – or perhaps not even charged – of any wrongdoing.

Citing a nauseating example of this odious practice, I wrote back in 2014 that all decent and moral people should be libertarians.

I was exaggerating, of course, so allow me to share a different statement that is completely accurate: Supporters of civil asset forfeiture (also known as “policing for profit“) are neither decent nor moral.

Indeed, they are bad people who support thuggish and unfair mistreatment of their fellow citizens.

If you think I’m being too dogmatic about this issue, here are some excerpts from a story in the New York Times by Michael Levenson.

When Kermit Warren lost his job shining shoes during the Covid-19 pandemic last year, he and his son took his life savings of nearly $30,000 to buy a tow truck to support Mr. Warren’s longtime side business of collecting scrap metal. …As Mr. Warren walked through security at the airport in Columbus, Ohio, the screeners asked him about the money… At the gate, just before Mr. Warren and his son boarded their flight, three agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration asked Mr. Warren about the cash. …The agents soon suspected that Mr. Warren was carrying illegal drug money and seized the cash. …“I never knew in my whole 58 years as a man in the United States that three D.E.A. agents could take a man’s money from him that he worked for, and not had committed any kind of crime, or was arrested for doing any type of wrongdoing,” Mr. Warren said… “How could they just take my money from me like that?” …The practice is a popular way to raise revenue but has been easily abused and widely criticized for depriving people of their right to due process and for disproportionately affecting poor people and people of color like Mr. Warren, who is Black.

Fortunately, this awful story has a happy ending.

…the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm…sued the D.E.A. and the Transportation Security Administration, accusing the agencies of seizing travelers’ money without probable cause. …On Thursday, federal prosecutors agreed to return all $28,180 to Mr. Warren and to dismiss their civil forfeiture complaint.

Congratulations to the great libertarian lawyers at the Institute for Justice, who tirelessly fight on behalf of people suffering from abusive government.

And kudos to the small handful of states that have restricted the ability of law enforcement to steal from citizens.

But what we really need is for the Supreme Court to rule that civil asset forfeiture is unconstitutional. Fortunately, Clarence Thomas may be interested in leading such an effort.

P.S. The one silver lining to the horror of asset forfeiture is that it produced this clever example of humor.

P.P.S. Civil asset forfeiture is an example of predatory government (and I cheer people who find novel ways of fighting back).

Back in 2017, I shared my Second Theorem of Government to warn why it is so important to resist new government giveaway programs.

And I used Obamacare as a costly example.

Simply stated, it’s much easier to block new handouts than it is to take away goodies once people have been conditioned to think they can and should rely on government.

In some sense, this is not just about economics. It’s also about preserving societal capital.

All of which helps to explain why it is so important to resist some of Biden’s proposed giveaways, such as parental leave and per-child handouts.

And if you want some extra evidence, look at places where people have become accustomed to living off others.

In her column for the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes about the basket case of Argentina.

Socialist ideologues know that the welfare state is addictive. New entitlements create dependencies that, once born, demand to be fed and to grow no matter the party in power. Argentina proves the rule. The Argentine electorate may be about to throw out the hard-left Peronists… The bad news is that even if peronismo loses its unchecked power in Argentina’s National Congress, it’s probably too late to avoid another fiscal and monetary crisis. …Both legislative chambers are likely to remain heavily populated by advocates of European socialism.

She shares some history about Argentina’s descent from prosperity to dependency, and points out how the entitlement mindset makes much-needed reforms very difficult.

Even when supposedly right-of-center governments win elections.

One hundred years ago Argentina was one of the world’s most prosperous nations. But as the roaring ’20s wound down, continental fascism gained cachet. …Gen. Juan Perón, who ruled from 1946 through 1955 and again briefly in 1973-74, was especially fond of Benito Mussolini’s Italy. …statism sticks once it’s in place. …fiscal profligacy endured and support for rigid labor laws remained intransigent. …even with Argentine inflation above 50%, widespread price controls and the economy sputtering for a decade, a viable alternative to populism hasn’t emerged.

For more information about the economic tragedy of Argentina, you can click here, here, and here.

To be frank, however, I’m not overly concerned about that country. Like Greece, I view it as a lost cause.

What worries me is that the United States may wind up on a slippery slope if more entitlements are added to our already-creaky and burdensome welfare state.

P.S. Argentina probably wouldn’t be such a basket case if the IMF didn’t provide endless bailouts.

P.P.S. It wasn’t too long ago that Biden seemed to understand the importance of societal capital.

 

More Politician Humor

I didn’t like many of the things Trump did (his wasteful spending and his protectionist tax increases) and I don’t like many of the things Biden is doing (his pork-filled stimulus and his infrastructure boondoggle).

So hopefully you’ll understand why I’m not fond of politicians.

And this is why I shared some mockery of politicians yesterday and why I’m going to augment that collection with some more satire targeting our ruling class today.

We’ll start with an idea that might finally end the pandemic.

Next, there are discussions about UFOs and why aliens haven’t made their presence known.

I think we now have a good explanation.

Our third item illustrates the difference between political rhetoric and political reality.

Last but not least, if Godzilla and his friends decide to pillage Washington, they better make sure they don’t have allergies.

P.S. If you like mocking the political class, I have lots of other material for you to enjoy. You can read about how the men and women in DC spend their time screwing us and wasting our money. We also have some examples of what people in MontanaLouisianaNevada, and Wyoming think about big-spending politicians. This little girl has a succinct message for our political masters, here are a couple of good images capturing the relationship between politicians and taxpayers, and here is a somewhat off-color Little Johnny joke. Speaking of risqué humor, here’s a portrayal of a politician and lobbyist interacting. Returning to G-rated material, you can read about the blind rabbit who finds a politician. And everyone enjoys political satire, as can be found in these excerpts from the always popular Dave Barry. Let’s not forgot to include this joke by doctors about the crowd in Washington. And last but not least, here’s the motivational motto of the average politician.

Politician Humor

Politicians are not necessarily or automatically evil. Instead, they screw up in large part because of perverse incentives.

That being said, they should be mocked rather than admired (with St. Ronald being the obvious exception).

With that in mind, let’s enjoy another edition of politician humor.

We’ll start with a potential fringe benefit of facial recognition software.

Next we have some evidence that cattle may be smarter than people.

Our third item is a joke from George Carlin.

Last but not least, I thought about using this meme for one of my columns about “statism in images,” but the second frame leads me to think it mostly about mocking elected officials.

P.S. Last October, I wrote a two-part series about America’s venal political class (see here and here).

P.P.S. If you want more political humor, click hereherehere, and here. I also have satirical columns about selected politicians (BidenTrumpSandersBill and Hillary Clinton, and Obama).

There’s a political party in the United States – the Democrats – that represents rich people and it is trying very hard to cut taxes for those rich people.

Since I don’t resent rich people (indeed, I applaud them if they earn their money honestly), I generally want lower taxes for upper-income taxpayers. But I don’t want special tax breaks for rich people. Instead, I want to cut their taxes in ways that promote greater national prosperity so that I’ll benefit as well.

Sadly, those aren’t the options the Democrats are choosing.

They are putting all their energy into a dramatic expansion of the state and local tax deduction. This is the tax break that rich people get when they use state and local tax payments to reduce the amount of taxable income they report to the IRS.

It was curtailed as part of the 2017 tax law and now Democrats want to expand it.

The restored tax break would be available to everyone, they say, but let’s look at who really benefits.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is a middle-of-the-road group, and it points out that more only 2.5 percent of the tax cut would go to people making less than $100K per year.

The Tax Policy Center is a left-of-center organization and it also points out that expanding the deduction for state and local taxes means a windfall for the rich.

Here’s TPC’s chart showing that almost all the gains go to those in the top quintile.

While Democrats in Congress are pushing this big tax cut for the rich, some folks on the left are not very happy about what’s happening.

I often disagree with Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post, but she makes some excellent points in her recent column on the SALT deduction.

Wrong. A disaster. Obscene. These are among the ways liberal budget wonks have described Democrats’ determination to give a huge windfall to the rich by repealing the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions. …Households making $1 million or more a year would receive roughly half the benefit of this policy, according to estimates from the Tax Policy Center. About 70 percent of the benefit would go to households making at least $500,000. …Nearly every millionaire (93 percent)…would get a tax cut, with an average size of $48,000. …As a result, the top 5 percent of households would still likely see their taxes go down on net, after accounting for all tax provisions in the budget bill.

The New York Times made similar points about Democrats in an editorial earlier this year.

…the party is flirting with a major change in tax policy that would allow the wealthiest Americans to pay lower taxes. …Proponents of an unlimited SALT deduction say they are seeking to help middle-class taxpayers. If so, they should go back to the drawing board. The top 20 percent of American households, ranked by income, would receive 96 percent of the benefits of the change… The primary beneficiaries would be an even smaller group of the very wealthiest Americans. The 1 percent of households with the highest incomes would receive 54 percent of the benefit, on average paying about $36,000 less per year in federal income taxes.

Honest folks on the left aren’t just upset that congressional Democrats are pushing a big tax cut for rich people.

They’re also upset that this big tax cut is crowding out some other priorities for the left – such as additional spending.

This tweet from Jason Furman (a former top economist for Obama) captures this sentiment.

The bottom line is that the most important constituency for many elected Democrats is not poor people.

It’s rich people and the politicians at the state and local level who represent those rich people.

I’ll close by observing that I don’t want more spending and I also don’t want a special tax break that subsidizes bad policy by state and local politicians, so I’m  obviously not in full agreement with Mr. Furman.

So the best result is for Biden’s entire agenda to implode. That would be a win for American taxpayers, a win for the American economy, and a win for long-suffering residents of blue states.

P.S. Yes, resentment against success motivates many people on the left, but elected Democrats are not the same as left-wing activists.

To finance a bigger welfare state and create more dependency, President Biden and his congressional allies have been contemplating all sorts of tax increases.

The common theme is “soak the rich.” Our friends on the left seem to think class-warfare taxation is politically popular, and it’s easy to understand their political calculus – win votes by pillaging a tiny group and distributing goodies to a much bigger group.

But if that’s the case, they may want to look at the results of a referendum that was decided earlier this week. It took place in the blue state of Washington, where voters had the chance to register their approval or disapproval of a capital gains tax imposed earlier in the year by the state’s politicians.

Here are the official results, which show a landslide rejection of the class-warfare levy. And it happened in a state that Biden won by nearly 20 percentage points.

Now for the bad news.

The referendum does not repeal the capital gains tax. It’s simply an “advisory vote.”

If you want to know more details, Jared Walczak wrote about the issue last month for the Tax Foundation.

On May 4th, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed legislation creating a 7 percent capital gains tax, to take effect next year. On November 2nd, Washington lawmakers will learn what voters think about it. Although the ballot measure asking voters to recommend on retaining or repealing the new tax is purely advisory, this gauge of voter sentiment could be particularly illuminating as Washington barrels forward on the implementation of a highly volatile, constitutionally suspect tax that breaches the state’s historic barrier against income taxation. …Legal challenges to the tax are already pending and may ultimately do more to stop it in its tracks than can a nonbinding advisory vote. Nevertheless, the fate of Advisory Question 37 is an important one, not only because the capital gains tax itself would be economically harmful, or because it shows an irreverence for the state constitution, a concern in its own right. It’s also important because if voters signal their opposition to taxing this specific class of income, that sends a strong message that they are decidedly uninterested in efforts to scrap the state’s ban on a broader income tax.

Well, the voters did send a “strong message” that they want to preserve the state’s zero-income-tax status.

Whether the courts listen (or, more important, whether they uphold the state’s constitution) is yet to be determined.

For purposes of today’s column, however, I’ll simply observe that the election results may have an impact on whether Biden’s awful fiscal proposals get enacted.

Most observers are focused on the upset victory for Republicans in Virginia and the huge vote gains for the GOP in New Jersey. And I won’t be upset if those remarkable election results lead my Democratic friends in DC to back away from Biden’s big-government agenda.

But I think what happened in the state of Washington also indicates that voters don’t want big government, even when politicians tell them “the rich” will pick up the tab. Maybe, just maybe, ordinary people realize that they’ll be collateral damage if we make the United States more like Europe.

I’ve shared several videos (here, here, here, and here) that use rigorous data to show that grinding poverty and severe material deprivation was the norm for humanity – until capitalism gained a foothold a few hundred years ago.

Fortunately, as free enterprise has gradually spread around the world, there’s been a remarkable increase in living standards, leading to a stunning drop in poverty.

For today’s column, let’s look at some new academic evidence about the link between capitalism and poverty reduction.

Here the abstract of a new study by Colin Doran and Thomas Stratmann of George Mason University.

We study the relationship between economic freedom and poverty rates in 151 countries over a twentyyear period. Using the World Bank’s poverty headcounts of those living on less than $1.90 per day, $3.20 per day, and $5.50 per day, we find evidence that economic freedom, measured by the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, is associated with lower poverty rates. We also test the effect of various components of the Index of Economic Freedom. We find that a government’s integrity and a country’s trade freedom are associated with lower poverty rates.

Keep in mind that this study is looking at the relationship between free markets and extreme poverty (not the relatively comfortable type of poverty that exists in the United States).

More specifically, the authors were investigating the impact of public policy on people who live on between about $700-$2000 per year. In other words, poor people in poor nations.

And the big takeaway is that capitalism leads to less poverty, but what really makes a difference is to have open trade and less corruption.

The good news is that we know how to get free trade. Just get rid of protectionist policies.

The bad news is that corruption in government is a much more challenging topic. Yes, shrinking government would mean less opportunity for graft, but that doesn’t solve the problem of delivering “public goods” in a competent and honest manner.

P.S. Foreign aid makes things worse rather than better.

P.P.S. Click here is you want to learn about poverty reduction in rich nations.

It’s impossible to predict when another pandemic will strike.

But there’s one future crisis that we already know about, and I recently spoke about that issue to the Liberty International World Conference in Medellin.

At first, I wasn’t planning to share this video, particularly since I covered much of the same material in a speech back in January.

But then I saw a story in Yahoo Finance that includes this very sobering chart about how the burden of government spending will climb in G-7 nations over the next four decades.

The main takeaway is that aging populations and poorly designed tax-and-transfer programs (entitlements) are a recipe for long-run fiscal crisis in almost all developed nations.

That includes the United States. The four-decade outlook for America isn’t as bad as it is in nations such as France and Japan, but government will grow more than the fiscal burdens in Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

And here are some details from the story.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have bloated public debt…, but that’s nothing compared to the fiscal difficulties brewing in the coming decades, the OECD said. …states will face rising costs, particular from pensions and health care. To maintain public services and benefits while stabilizing debt in that environment, governments would have to raise revenues by nearly 8% of gross domestic product, the OECD said. In some countries, including France and Japan, the size of the challenge would amount to more than 10% of output, and the economists didn’t even account for new expenditures such as climate change adaptation.

If you want to dig into the details, you can click here to read the underlying report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation.

I think the following excerpts are particularly relevant. As you can see, the problem is demographics, which leads to more spending for entitlement programs such as health and pensions.

And, assuming politicians decide to address the issue with revenues, this implies massive tax increases.

Public health and long-term care expenditure is projected to increase by 2.2 percentage points of GDP in the median country between 2021 and 2060… These projections are based on a pre-pandemic spending baseline, so any permanent increase in health spending in response to experience with COVID-19…would come in addition. Public pension expenditure is projected to increase by 2.8 percentage points of GDP in the median country between 2021 and 2060… Other primary expenditures are projected to rise by 1½ percentage points of GDP… This projection excludes potential new sources of expenditure pressure, such as climate change adaptation. …OECD governments would need to raise taxes in this scenario to prevent gross government debt ratios from rising over time… The median country would need to increase structural primary revenue by nearly 8 percentage points of GDP between 2021 and 2060, but the effort would exceed 10 percentage points in 11 countries.

Most interesting, the two authors of the OECD study point out that are some major problems with the tax “solution.”

The results of this section do not imply that taxes will, or even should, rise in the future. The fiscal pressure indicator is simply a metric serving to quantify and illustrate the fiscal challenge facing OECD governments. Raising taxes is only one of many possible avenues to meet this challenge. …Pushing mainstream taxes on incomes or consumption further up, even by only a few percentage points of GDP, may be politically difficult and fiscally counter-productive if it means reaching the downward-sloping segment of the Laffer curve.

I’m especially impressed that they acknowledge the Laffer Curve (the nonlinear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue that the Biden Administration wishes away).

P.S. The real solution is entitlement reform, and here’s the explanation for how to do it in the United States.

P.P.S. As I’ve regularly noted, the economists who work at the OECD often produce very solid analysis. The problem with that bureaucracy is that it has very statist leadership, which is why the OECD’s policy agenda includes anti-growth policies such as big tax increases and tax harmonization.

When President Biden first proposed a global minimum tax on companies, I immediately warned that creating a corporate tax cartel would be very bad news for workers, consumers, and shareholders.

I also warned a BBC audience that proponents would use the agreement as a stepping stone for other statist initiatives to increase the power of politicians.

Simply stated, I’ve been ringing the alarm bells that a tax cartel will lead to ever-higher corporate tax rates. And it will serve as a model for other forms of harmonization.

Well, now that Ireland has capitulated and governments formally adopted the scheme, this is my “I told you so” column.

In a column for the Washington Post, Larry Summers, a former top adviser for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, celebrates the creation of a global tax cartel.

His column has a laughably inaccurate title, but he starts with some accurate observations about the importance of the agreement.

This agreement is arguably the most significant international economic pact of the 21st century so far. It is built around a profoundly important principle: Countries should cooperate to raise corporate taxation, not compete to reduce it. …It also demonstrates the power of ideas to shape economic policy, as tax scholars have for years been pondering the conundrums of taxing global companies.

I also think the agreement is important, albeit in a very bad way.

And it does show the power of ideas, albeit very bad ideas (though politicians instinctively want more money and power and merely rely on left-leaning academics and policy wonks for after-the-fact rationalizations of statism).

As you might expect, Summers veers from reality to fantasy when discussing the implications of the new tax cartel.

Countries have come together to make sure that the global economy can create widely shared prosperity, rather than lower tax burdens for those at the top. By providing a more durable and robust revenue base, the new minimum tax will help pay for the sorts of public investments that are fundamental to economic success in all countries.

For all intents and purposes, he’s embracing the absurd notion that more growth will materialize if politicians impose higher tax rates and use the money to expand the burden of government.

Proponents of this view conveniently never offer any evidence.

Why? Because there isn’t any.

The scholarly research shows the opposite is true. Free markets and small government are the recipe for growth and prosperity.

I’ll now shift back to a part of the column that is unfortunately accurate.

It is also a template for much more that needs to be done to tackle the adverse side effects of our modern, global capitalism.

What’s accurate about that sentence isn’t the jibe about “adverse side effects” of capitalism (unless, of course, he thinks mass prosperity is a bad thing).

But he’s right about the statists using the global tax cartel as “a template” for further schemes to empower politicians and their cronies.

Summers mentions issues such as public health (I guess he wants to reward the World Health Organization’s corruption and incompetence).

Since I’m a public-finance economist, I’m more worried about cartels that will be created for personal income tax, capital gains tax, dividend tax, wealth tax, etc.

P.S. The corporate tax cartel will lead to higher tax rates, but OECD and IMF data (and U.S. data) show that this doesn’t necessarily mean higher revenue.

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