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Libertarian Halloween

I normally share this comedy skit every Halloween, but let’s go for a change of pace and peruse this video about the government’s awful system of sugar subsidies.

 

But we do some appropriately themed humor, thanks to the satirists at Babylon Bee.

It’s Halloween, which means trick-or-treaters are beginning to flood the streets of cities and towns all across the country in a beloved tradition. Children joyously knock on doors and receive candy at most of the houses in their neighborhood—most of the houses, that is, except for that of Bernie Sanders. …he pulls out his large bowl of candy, reaches his hand out, and takes from the children who have a lot of candy, placing their “donations” into his bowl for later redistribution to the less fortunate. …Of course, the senator doesn’t provide his redistribution services for free: he takes a “small tax” out of his collection before carefully redistributing the candy based on his fair and equitable Candy Plan, which he draws up every year. At publishing time, Sanders still couldn’t figure out why kids kept avoiding his front door altogether.

We’ll close with a more serious point about Halloween, courtesy of Kerry McDonald’s column for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Several cities and counties have placed an outright ban on children’s trick-or-treating due to COVID-19 fears, while others are strongly urging families to forgo the practice. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises individuals and families to spend this Saturday at home, alone (masks optional). …Springfield, Massachusetts was one of the first places in the US to ban trick-or-treating. In September, the mayor canceled all trick-or-treating in the state’s third largest city, saying it was a “no-brainer.” …The Republican governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, pointed out the potential unintended consequences of banning trick-or-treating… Baker explained that “the reason we’re not canceling Halloween is because that would have turned into thousands of indoor Halloween parties, which would have been a heck of a lot worse for public safety.” …bans and restrictions also punish children and young people whose mental health and emotional well-being are increasingly deteriorating under dystopian isolation policies. This year, these policies are the spookiest things about Halloween.

P.S. I can’t tell if this is a pro-Trump or anti-Trump cartoon, but it’s definitely appropriate for today.

P.P.S. If you click here, here, and here, you’ll see that there were lots of clever Halloween-themed cartoons during Obama’s presidency.

The Party of the Rich

I wrote last year about Democrats favoring certain tax breaks that overwhelmingly benefit the rich.

The state and local tax deduction is an obvious example, but Democrats also are big fans of the tax exemption for municipal bond interest and other provisions that primarily reduce tax liabilities for upper-income taxpayers.

One interpretation is that Democrats don’t like the rich, but they’re even more interested in enabling more taxes and spending by state and local governments.

But I’m also beginning to wonder whether Democrats are becoming pro-rich (or less anti-rich) for the simple reason that upper-income people are a key constituency.

For instance, they control all 20 of the richest congressional districts in America, as explained by Terry Jeffrey.

Each of the nation’s 20 wealthiest congressional districts, when measured by median household income, …held by Democrats… Seven are in or near New York City. Five are in the San Francisco Bay Area. Four are in suburbs of Washington, D.C. Two are in Southern California. One is near Boston. And another — the only one in the middle of the continent — sits west of Chicago.

And John Fund reports that Biden is overwhelmingly the candidate of Wall Street.

Joe Biden is scooping up the lion’s share of big-money contributions from finance leaders on Wall Street. People in the financial industry have given well over $50 million to back Biden, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, compared with some $10 million for Trump. Biden has benefited from large contributions from leaders at Blackstone, JPMorgan Chase, The Carlyle Group, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, among other firms.

Ramesh Ponnuru opines that Democrats also are the party of the near-rich.

…the Democrats’ solicitude for the interests of the affluent in this case may not be the aberration it appears to be. It reflects the party’s long-term movement up the socioeconomic ladder — and shows why Democrats may find it impossible to reclaim their historical identity as a working-class party. …In the 2008 election, Republican John McCain did 11 points better among voters making more than $50,000 a year than among voters making less than that. He did one point better among those with college degrees than those without. By 2016, education had become a sharper dividing line between the parties. Trump did seven points better among those making more than $50,000 than among those making less. He did nine points better among those who lacked college degrees than among those who have them. …distressingly for the left’s true believers, the shift erodes the moral credibility of their historical self-presentation as the champion of the downtrodden.

Democrats are also the party of the Ivy League, based on the revealing data contained in this tweet.

Last but not least, here are some excerpts from a column for Reason, authored by Ira Stoll.

Maybe it’s time to rebrand the Democrats as the party of the rich. …”J.B.” Pritzker…governor of Illinois. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, is worth an estimated $3.2 billion…Edward M. “Ned” Lamont Jr., …Connecticut governor…an heir to the J.P. Morgan banking fortune of his great-grandfather Thomas Lamont…governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, filed financial disclosure forms as a member of the House of Representatives indicating estimated wealth of more than $300 million. …all Democrats. …as a professor of political science at Williams College, Darrel Paul, put it after analyzing wealthy congressional districts, “the big story of the 2018 election is the swing of the rich toward the Democrats.” …Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the country, though, if wealthy voters do become a swing constituency to be courted by both political parties, rather than a group to be insulted, scapegoated, or taken for granted. …The sweet spot is for politicians to be rich enough that they understand and appreciate wealth creation, but not so rich that they are entirely remote from the reality of ordinary Americans.

Now for my two cents.

Based on what I see when I drive around the rich neighborhoods of Northern Virginia, the reports cited above are accurate. I mostly see Biden signs in the yards of people with multi-million dollar homes. But when I drive to poorer areas of the state, the situation is reversed and Trump signs dominate.

The interesting question is why? What accounts for rich people shifting to the left, especially since Democrats still support a wide range of policies (higher income tax rateshigher capital gains taxeshigher Social Security taxeshigher death taxes, a new wealth tax, etc) that target upper-income taxpayers?

I don’t pretend to know the answer, but here are a few possibilities:

Social issues are more important than economic issues – This is the theory that rich voters care mostly about what candidates think about issues such as abortion, climate, and gay marriage. In other words, they’ll accept higher taxes to get their preferred policies in other areas.

Class identification is more important that economic self-interest – This is the theory that people are very reluctant to break ranks with the prevailing view of their social group. For example, since Trump is viewed as a blowhard by the elite, they must side with Democrats.

Ignorance – This is the theory that rich people want to help the poor, perhaps because they feel guilty about their comfortable lives, and simply don’t understand that the policies pushed by Democrats actually make it harder for the less fortunate to climb the economic ladder.

Republicans are all talk but no (or negative) action – This is the theory that Republicans don’t actually do pro-growth things when they get power (think Nixon, Bush I, and Bush II), so why bother supporting the GOP.

Government-imposed credentialing helps the rich – This is the theory that a range of government-imposed and government-encouraged policies (everything from licensing requirements to degree requirements) create economic advantages for privileged people.

Add your speculation and guesses in the comment section. I’d be interested to see what everyone else thinks.

P.S. I guess we shouldn’t overlook the possibility that rich leftists are simply a bunch of hypocrites who have no intention of abiding by the policies they impose on everyone else.

Back in 2013, I wrote about Phil Mickelson escaping high-tax California and moving to zero-income tax Florida.

The famed golfer grew up in California, but decided that the 2012 decision to boost the top tax rate to 13.3 percent mattered more than beautiful climate and wonderful scenery.

Needless to say, Mickelson’s not the only tax exile. Florida, Texas, Nevada, and other zero-income tax states receive a steady stream of entrepreneurs, investors, business owners, and others who are tired of California’s predatory politicians.

And celebrities as well. Yahoo! Entertainment reports that a famous rock star is leaving the not-so-Golden State.

Gene Simmons has put his longtime Beverly Hills mansion on the market for $22 million, citing California’s “unacceptable” tax rates as the reason for his move. After 34 years at the home, the KISS rocker and his wife Shannon are heading to Washington state. …In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Simmons explained, “California and Beverly Hills have been treating folks that create jobs badly and the tax rates are unacceptable. I work hard and pay my taxes and I don’t want to cry the Beverly Hills blues, but enough is enough.”

When I read stories like this, I wonder if my friends on the left will learn any lessons about tax competition, the Laffer Curve, or the economic consequences of bad tax policy.

But I also confess that I’m amused by stories like this.

And so are the folks at America’s top site for satire, the Babylon Bee.

Here are some of their recent articles about California, starting with Governor Newsom’s plan to hinder the exodus of taxpayers.

In a move to prevent Californians from fleeing by the millions, Gavin Newsom announced a ban on gasoline automobiles this week. The law will make it so that Californians can’t drive away and escape the state in a matter of hours… “Now, they’ll have to cross the desert on foot,” Newsom said as he handed down the order. “I’ll show them, trying to flee my progressive utopia! Ha ha ha ha ha!”

The Governor apparently forgot to also ban trucks.

And U-Haul is taking advantage with a new advertising campaign.

To help meet the demand of millions of people desperately trying to escape the dark, ravaged wasteland of California, U-Haul is introducing a new product in its moving van line-up: the War Rig. These weaponized, armored moving vehicles will ensure you and your belongings stay safe during the long and perilous journey out of the state. …said local U-Haul franchise owner Glax Destroyer, who manages 12 locations in Southern California. “We brought in the War Rig to supplement our completely depleted fleet of moving vans. With everyone leaving in droves, we don’t have much left. We’re pretty much salvaging old trucks from the junkyard and then adding armor plating and mounted weapons.”

One problem, though, is that the people escaping from California bring along their bad political preferences.

Which has convinced Texas officials to impose a ban on their ability to vote.

To the relief of Texans across the state, Governor Greg Abbott has signed a law prohibiting escaping Californians from voting after they move to Texas. Experts say this will prevent the happy and prosperous slice of heaven from sliding into the endless despair and crushing poverty of leftist policy. …According to sources, emergency legislation was drafted after it was discovered that 97% of Californians favor destroying every small business on the planet and salting the earth where the businesses once stood. They also favor mandatory gay marriage and banning all country music to avoid hurting the ears of sea turtles. …Californians have marched on the state capital to demand their voting rights back, and have promised they’ll move on to Oklahoma after they finish destroying Texas.

On a serious note, there’s actually some evidence that the folks moving into Texas are more conservative than average.

And with regards to the big-picture issue of California policy, I recommend these columns from 2016 and 2020.

P.S. If you want data comparing Texas and California, click herehereherehere, and here.

P.P.S. My favorite California-themed jokes (not counting the state’s elected officials) can be found herehere, here, and here.

P.P.P.S. Here’s some tongue-in-cheek advice for California from Walter Williams.

P.P.P.P.S. Even Bill Maher is upset about California taxes, though he hasn’t (yet) voted with his feet.

 

Given my complete and utter disdain for socialism, I’m obviously a big fan of this discussion between Rand Paul and John Stossel.

In the video, Paul and Stossel draw a distinction between market-friendly welfare states in Scandinavia and genuinely socialist nations such as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and modern-day Venezuela.

That’s because, from a technical perspective, the defining feature of socialism is government ownership and control of the “means of production” and government-directed allocation of resources. In the most extreme cases, you even get policies such as state-run factories and collective farms.

Usually accompanied by central planning and price controls.

On this basis, Scandinavian nations are not socialist. Yes, they make the mistake of high tax burdens accompanied by lots of redistribution, but there’s very little government ownership and control. Markets drive the allocation of labor and capital, not politicians and bureaucrats.

And it’s also fair to say (assuming we rely on the technical definition) that politicians such as Obama and Biden aren’t socialist.

But what if don’t use the technical definition?

YouGov did a survey late last year to ascertain what ordinary Americans think. Here is their view of the policies that are (or are not) socialist. As you can see, the most-socialist policy is government-run utility companies and the least-socialist policy is separation of church and state.

I’m fascinated to see that so many Americans view government-run schools as socialist, much more so than a wealth tax or income tax.

It’s also interesting that Republicans and Democrats have somewhat similar opinions, other than on the topic of gun control.

But my main takeaway is that ordinary people aren’t that different than economists. They think – quite correctly – that socialism means control rather than redistribution.

But they had a better understanding after World War II, as noted by James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute.

When someone calls themself a “socialist” or says they think “socialism” has a lot of good ideas, what do they mean? …Back in 2018, Gallup updated a question it first asked in 1949: “What is your understanding of the term ‘socialism’?” …23 percent of Americans today understand socialism as referring to some form of equality vs. 12 percent in 1949; 10 percent think the means something about the public provision of benefits like free healthcare vs. 2 percent in 1949; and 17 percent define socialism as government control of business and the economy vs. 34 percent in 1949. …this idea of “control” is an interesting one. …The danger this view holds for human freedom and progress is obvious to us today — or should be… Skepticism of applied socialism — or any socioeconomic system without political freedom at its core — stemmed from harsh experience, not learned ideology. For many people, “socialism” meant “control,” with that control inevitably leading to terrible outcomes. One should hope these lessons do not need to be relearned.

Even some folks on the left draw a distinction between market-accepting left-wing policies (redistributionism) and market-disdaining control-oriented policies (socialism).

A few years ago, Jonathan Chait made those points in an article for New York.

…in the United States, liberalism faces greater pressure from the left than at any time since the 1960s, when a domestic liberal presidency was destroyed by the VietnamWar. While socialism remains highly unpopular among the public as a whole, Americans under the age of 30 — who have few or no memories of communism — respond to it favorably. …Meanwhile, Jacobin magazine has given long-marginalized Marxist ideas new force among progressive intellectuals. …Sanders’s success does not reflect any Marxist tendency. It does, however, reflect a…generational weakening of the Democratic Party’s identification with liberalism over socialism. …Years ago, he supported the Socialist Workers Party, a Marxist group that favored the nationalization of industry. Today he…holds up Denmark as the closest thing to a real-world model for his ideas. But, while “socialism” has meant different things throughout history, Denmark is not really a socialist economy. …it combines generous welfare benefits…with highly flexible labor markets — an amped-up version of what left-wing critics derisively call “neoliberalism.” While Denmark’s success suggests that a modern economy can afford to fund more generous social benefits, it does not reveal an alternative to the marketsystem.

David Brooks of the New York Times started out as a socialist, but he figured out that government-controlled economies simply don’t work.

I was a socialist in college. …My socialist sympathies didn’t survive long once I became a journalist. I quickly noticed that the government officials I was covering were not capable of planning the society they hoped to create. It wasn’t because they were bad or stupid. The world is just too complicated. …Socialist planned economies — the common ownership of the means of production — interfere with price and other market signals in a million ways. They suppress or eliminate profit motives that drive people to learn and improve. …Capitalism creates a relentless learning system. Socialism doesn’t. …living standards were pretty much flat for all of human history until capitalism kicked in. Since then, the number of goods and services available to average people has risen by up to 10,000 percent. …capitalism has brought about the greatest reduction of poverty in human history. …places that instituted market reforms, like South Korea and Deng Xiaoping’s China, tended to get richer and prouder. Places that moved toward socialism — Britain in the 1970s, Venezuela more recently — tended to get poorer and more miserable. …Over the past century, planned economies have produced an enormous amount of poverty and scarcity. …Socialism produces economic and political inequality as the rulers turn into gangsters. A system that begins in high idealism ends in corruption, dishonesty, oppression and distrust.

And, from the Wall Street Journal, here are George Melloan’s first-hand observations on the track record of socialism.

All economic systems are capitalist. A modern economy can’t exist without the accumulation of capital to build factories and infrastructure. The difference lies in who owns the capital—individuals or the state. …Having first visited the mother of socialism, the Soviet Union, in April 1967, I can extract a few historical nuggets… The Soviet state owned everything. State enterprises compensated their workers with rubles. …And those rubles bought very little, because the command economy produced very little (except weapons), and most of what it produced was shoddy. …stores were short on goods. …Rents were cheap, if you didn’t mind squalor. …Prices and production quotas were set by a huge Soviet planning bureaucracy called Gosplan, staffed by thousands of “economists.” Free-market pricing efficiently allocates resources. Price controls created waste as factories produced a lot of what nobody wanted. …Britain, where I was living at the time, was conducting a socialist experiment… After World War II, the Labour Party of Prime Minister Clement Attlee had nationalized coal, steel, electricity and transportation, with damaging and wasteful consequences. …I interviewed a steelworker in Sheffield who lived with his wife and two children in a “back to back” house with only a single door, at the front. …He didn’t own a car and had few other conveniences. A worker for U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh would have been appalled at such conditions.

Based on the above excerpts, which come from the right, left, and center, it would seem that capitalism has prevailed over socialism.

I like to think that’s true, but I do wonder whether there’s a point when redistributionism gets so extensive (and the accompanying taxes become so onerous) that it morphs into control. In other words, socialism.

And I also worry that there are indirect ways for government to control the allocation of resources.

In a column for the Washington Post, George Will wisely frets about backdoor socialism from the Federal Reserve.

…the Federal Reserve has, Eberstadt says, “crossed a Rubicon.” Wading waist-deep into political policies, the Fed is adopting, Eberstadt says, “the role of managing and even micromanaging the American economy through credit allocation, potentially lending vast sums not only to financial institutions but also directly to firms it judges suitable for government support. …It is by no means inconceivable that the current crisis will propel it to a comparably dominant position in domestic commercial credit.” If socialism is government allocation of economic resources (and hence of opportunity), …in the 2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve launched “creditor bailouts, propping up asset prices to keep investors from losing money, buying unprecedented assets.” The risk of moral hazard — incentives for reckless behavior — is obvious. …Central banks buying trillions of assets are thereby “allocating credit.” Which is the essence of socialism. The Fed buying government and corporate debt creates something difficult to unwind — what Cochrane calls “an entirely government-run financial system”: an attribute of socialism. …Near-zero interest rates…create, Eberstadt says, “zombie companies” that “can only survive in a low-interest [rate] environment.” The result is rent-seeking and economic sclerosis, because “America cannot succeed unless a lot of its firms fail — including its largest ones. Bankruptcy and reallocation of resources to more productive ends are the mother’s milk of dynamic growth.” The pandemic has propelled government toward promiscuously picking economic winners and losers. As has been said, governments are not good at picking winners, but losers are good at picking governments.

Let’s close by returning to the YouGov survey.

Here’s a look at the nations that the American people think are (or are not) socialist. Their top choices are correct, but they’re wildly wrong to have the Nordic nations ranked as more socialist than France, Spain, or Italy.

It’s also bizarre to rank New Zealand below the United States when the Kiwis routinely score higher than the United States in the major measures of economic liberty.

I’m equally baffled that people Mexico and India have more economic liberty than Canada.

The moral of the story is that the countries with the biggest welfare states are not necessarily the nations with the most government control over the allocation of labor and capital.

Given my big miss in 2016, I’m not sure why anyone would be interested in my election predictions, but I’ve received several emails asking me to offer up my guesses for 2020 (perhaps some of them are long-time readers who remember 2010, when I actually did a good job?).

Before I offer up my prediction, I’ll first share some of the guesses from the experts.

Everyone is predicting Biden, though my Trump friends regularly remind me that the experts were wrong in 2016.

We’ll start with the outlook from Real Clear Politics.

Next, we have Nate Silver’s 538 numbers.

Here are the betting odds for the election, as compiled by John Stossel and Maxim Lott.

And here’s Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball forecast.

I’ll add one caveat to the above estimates.

This tweet from Frank Luntz explains why my Democratic friends are still nervous.

Finally, for those of you who want my guess, here’s my prediction of a comfortable Biden victory.

It’s basically the same (wrong) prediction I made in 2016, except I’m now giving Arizona and Michigan to the Democrats and Pennsylvania to the Republicans.

For what it’s worth, I was very tempted to give Pennsylvania – and maybe a few other states – to Biden.

Why? Because I think late-deciding voters may decide that they’re tired of all the drama and fighting that we get with Trump in the White House.

But I ultimately decided on the above map because I also think some of those voters may worry about Biden’s age. And they may worry even more about the Democratic Party’s leftward drift.

I guess we’ll know in a week (or so!).

In any event, if you really want to have fun, you can take my predictions, give Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina to Trump, along with one of Maine’s congressional districts, at which point you’d have a 269-269 tie. That would be a perfect ending for 2020, huh?

I’ll close with a few words about policy.

Biden clearly would move the country to the left on certain issues, most notably taxes and regulation. The only silver lining to that dark forecast is that I suspect that his tax increase will be much smaller than what’s contained in his awful plan.

I’m also somewhat hopeful that he won’t push for the so-called Green New Deal and that we’ll instead get the more-modest kind of Solyndra-style cronyism that we got under Obama. That’s bad, but not the end of the world.

The good news is that trade policy will move in the right direction.

But the biggest silver lining to a Biden victory is that Republicans will revert to pretending to once again be opposed to big government.

Earlier this month, I reviewed some evidence and analysis about the corruption in Washington.

Today, let’s look at some tangible examples of how the political elite routinely exploit their positions to enrich themselves by pillaging taxpayers.

We could start with the obvious example of Hunter Biden, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg. I noted way back in January that several members of Joe Biden’s family have cashed in on their connection to the former Vice President.

It goes without saying that lobbyists and other special interests are funneling money to the Biden family because they expect that they’ll be rewarded with lucrative contracts and other goodies from the government. Heck, the Biden family is basically cutting out the middleman in this picture.

But this isn’t a partisan issue. Plenty of Republicans also play the same game.

A column by Larry Getlen in the New York Post describes how this racket works.

Rather than risk their careers taking bribes for potentially minuscule rewards, …today’s politicians are savvier, engaging in what he calls “corruption by proxy.” While politicians and their spouses are often subject to rigid regulations on what gifts they can accept and what sort of business they can conduct, others around them — like their friends or children have no such obstacles. So while a politician could theoretically wind up in prison for accepting $10,000 for doling out favors, establishing overseas connections that could land your children multi-million-dollar deals is harder to detect, and often legal. …This ethical looseness is endemic throughout the federal government. …it has spread like a virus through Congress, where the lines between members, their families, and lobbying groups have become indistinguishable.

Senator Mitch McConnell gets some unfavorable attention in the column, along with many other lawmakers from both parties.

And if you want even more examples, you can easily search the Internet if you want to learn about the unsavory actions of other senior officials – including Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein.

The inescapable takeaway is that we have an unholy trinity of politicians, big government, and corruption.

And it’s totally bipartisan.

For instance, the Atlantic put together a very harsh assessment of the Trump Cabinet back in 2018.

Shulkin and Carson face the same problem: dubious use of taxpayer dollars in their duties as secretaries. They can console themselves knowing that they’re in good company. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been caught in extravagant expenditures, too. Less heartening is the sixth example, Tom Price, who was unceremoniously forced out as secretary of health and human services in September 2017. There are so many cases of huge spending of taxpayer dollars by Cabinet secretaries that it’s easy to lose track of them all—or simply to become desensitized.

The list is damning (and is costing taxpayers a lot of money).

…a trip to Europe during summer of 2017. The government paid not only for Shulkin, but also for his wife, a security detail, and other staffers. Almost half of the trip was devoted to tourism, visiting castles and then the Wimbledon tennis tournament, to which the Shulkins improperly accepted tickets. …Carson’s big problem is a $31,000 dining-table set purchased for his office, which far exceeded regulations on spending for decoration. …Price was forced to resign after spending more than $1 million on travel on private and military jets. That’s the largest single figure to emerge, but only by a hair, while the type of behavior has occurred repeatedly. Documents obtained by the left-leaning watchdog group CREW suggest Mnuchin racked up nearly $1 million in his own travel, including a notorious trip to watch the eclipse at Fort Knox in Kentucky, publicized by his wife Louise Linton’s Instagram feud about it. …Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who took a security detail along when he went on a non-work-related two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey last year. …For still-opaque reasons, the Interior Department paid $139,000 for a door for Zinke’s office… Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief, who has spent more than $100,000 on first-class tickets, an expenditure he attributed to the need for security.

But even more damning is this sentence.

Because fiscal conservatism isn’t an organizing principle for the Trump presidency, it’s easier for Cabinet secretaries to justify big spending.

In other words, taxpayers are getting screwed because Trump has been profligate (even more of a big spender than Obama!).

And let’s not forget that the corruption is so bad that some Trump insiders have wound up in legal trouble.

But remember, this is a problem with both political parties, and it’s a near-inevitable consequence of having a bloated federal government that is collecting and redistributing trillions of dollars (and also wielding enormous regulatory power, which also can be improperly used to reward friends and punish enemies).

Let’s close by adding to our collection of politician humor. After all, if they keep ripping us off, we at least deserve a few laughs.

P.S. The silver lining to all the bad news discussed above is that the American people are aware there is a problem. According to Chapman University’s Survey of American Fears, “For the fifth year in a row the top fear of Americans is corrupt government officials. And as in the previous five years, the fear that our government is corrupt far exceeds all others we asked about. More than 3/4 of Americans said they are afraid or very afraid of corrupt governmental officials in 2019.”

P.P.S. If there was a gold medal for insider corruption, the Clintons would own it (Obama and his people were sleazy, but amateurs by comparison).

The good thing about being a libertarian is that real-world events repeatedly demonstrate that your skepticism of big government is fully justified.

  • Nations that adopt dirigiste policies don’t do well.
  • States that adopt dirigiste policies don’t do well.
  • Localities that adopt dirigiste policies don’t do well.

The bad thing about being a libertarian is that there are very few governments that even partially follow laissez-faire policies.

Moreover, there’s always a risk that those few governments with reasonably good policy will veer in the wrong direction.

I worry that’s happening in Hong Kong, and I fear it may happen today in Chile if voters make the wrong choice in a national referendum.

In a column for Quillette, Axel Kaiser from Chile’s Adolfo Ibaniez University analyzes what is happening.

In an extraordinary development, Chileans are deciding whether they want to create an entirely new constitution from scratch or preserve the existing one. …Chileans will also vote on whether the new constitution will be drafted by a mixed constitutional convention of politicians and elected representatives from the citizenry, or a constitutional assembly composed entirely of citizens. In either case, decisions by the body would require a two-thirds majority, and its deliberations must be completed within a year. …the new process portends a period of political instability, and the specter of open-ended conflicts and stand-offs between different branches of government. …To many outside Chile, it may seem strange that what has been arguably the most stable and prosperous country in Latin America would circumvent its institutions in this way… But in fact, the creation of an entirely new constitutional order has long been an ambition of the Chilean Left. …Revolutionary efforts to upend existing constitutional schemes have been a common feature in Latin America since the 19th century. …The idea that a new constitution will provide Chile with an instant solution…various forms of social conflict has become an attractive delusion. Yet the more likely scenario is that it will simply legally encode the unrealistic ideological demands that brought Chile to this point in the first place. ……many voters seem…swayed by extravagant promises of the future benefits they will enjoy under a new (and as yet undrafted) constitution. …56 percent of Chileans believe that a new constitution would lead to higher pensions, better education, and superior health care, among a long list of other improvements.

And he also explains why voters should be big fans of the current constitution.

At least if they care about good results, especially for those with lower incomes.

Under the period covered by the current constitution, inflation—which had peaked at over 500 percent in 1973—fell below five percent by the 2000s. Between 1980 and 2015, per-capita income in Chile quadrupled to $23,000—the highest growth rate in Latin America. More importantly, life expectancy rose from 69 to 79, and levels of housing overcrowding fell to one-quarter of its pre-1980 levels. The middle class, as that category is defined by the World Bank, grew from 24 percent of the population in 1990 to 64 percent in 2015. Extreme poverty fell from 34 percent to less than three percent. Between 1990 and 2015, the income of the richest 10th of the population grew a total of 30 percent, while the income of the poorest 10th saw an increase of 145 percent. The Gini index, a widely used statistic that measures income inequality, fell from 52 in 1990 to about 48 in 2015. Chile also held the highest position among Latin American nations in the 2019 UN Human Development Index.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, in her Wall Street Journal column, is concerned that Chileans may be poised to make a big mistake.

Chile is on the cusp of collective political and economic suicide… On Oct. 25 Chileans will vote on whether the country needs a new constitution. Polls indicate that the “yes” vote will prevail even as the process of rewriting the highest law in the land is shaping up to be a disaster.A new constitution is likely to put at risk the model of democratic capitalism that brought Chilean poverty to below 10% in 2018, from nearly 70% in 1990. Chile also had the highest social mobility in a 2018 Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development study of 16 member countries. …Many Chileans seem to believe that a new constitution will make things right, à la Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela circa early 2000s. …Referendum backers say it is a “democratic” process. It is certainly majoritarian. But Chileans are bound to be disappointed if higher living standards and greater opportunity are the goal. The nation will be lucky if it finishes the exercise on par with the impoverished Argentine welfare state. …expect a document that reads like a litany of unattainable aspirations.

Some people favor majoritarianism, of course, especially if the result is a new set of “positive rights” to other people’s money.

In a column for the New York Times, Professor Michael Albertus hopes a new constitution will incorporate statist economic policy.

Chileans will vote to reject or approve the start of creating a new constitution. The citizens of more countries should do the same. The country’s current Constitution…has protected conservative interests and the military and has suppressed political dissent for 40 years. …The vote to convene a constitutional assembly in Chile could lead to a new document that brings the leadership closer to the people… It could also enshrine greater rights for labor unions, establish health care and education as fundamental rights… Most of Chile’s protesters and their supporters are largely motivated by bread and butter issues like higher pay, gender equity, improved health care access and quality medical care, pension reform, more rights for Indigenous peoples, access to affordable public transportation and free public education. …Protesters view a new constitution as key to delivering on these demands.

So why might Chileans be willing to gamble with their nation’s prosperity?

Early this year, Axel Kaiser offered some insight in a column in the Wall Street Journal.

He blames a left-leaning former government for creating economic malaise.

The economic pain started with the antimarket reforms of the previous government under Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, from 2014-18. Ms. Bachelet increased corporate taxes by 30%; signed a law banning the replacement of workers on strike, thereby dramatically increasing the costs of labor; increased public spending at three times the economic growth rate; and unleashed armies of regulatory bureaucrats on the private sector. Capital investment fell in each year of her term. Such a consistent reduction in investment hasn’t happened since data was first collected, in the 1960s. Economic growth collapsed from an annual average of 5.3% under the previous government of Mr. Piñera (2010-14) to 1.7% under Ms. Bachelet. Real wage growth took a 50% hit.

By the way, I take no pleasure in having predicted that Ms. Bachelet’s tenure would yield bad results.

But let’s not focus on her mistakes.

Indeed, Mr. Kaiser thinks her bad policies (and the anemic Bush/Macri/Sarkozy-type approach of the current government) are largely a reflection of a bigger problem.

The policies result from a profoundly false narrative Chilean elites tell themselves about the country. Over the past 20 years, intellectuals, media personalities, business leaders, politicians and celebrities in this Latin American nation have marketed the myth that Chile is an extreme case of injustice and abuse. It began at the universities, where progressive ideologues spread the idea that there was nothing to feel proud about when it came to Chile’s social and economic record. …Ms. Bachelet’s second term and her social justice-driven agenda were the inevitable result. …The free market didn’t fail Chile… The central problem is that a large proportion of the elites who run key institutions—especially the media, the National Congress and the judiciary—no longer believe in the principles that made the country successful. The result is a full-blown economic and political crisis. Other nations should take note: This is what elite self-hatred can do for you.

I wonder if Alex is referring to the United States when warning other nations about the danger of “elite self-hatred.”

It’s certainly true that many elites in America are quite disdainful of the nation’s economic system. Which has always mystified me since that system enabled their success – or the success of their parents, which allows them to lead very comfortable (albeit guilt-ridden) lives.

More important, it enabled ever-higher living standards for ordinary people, which should please folks on the left, at least if we believe their rhetoric (though I fear many of them are more motivated by hostility to the rich rather than love for the poor).

But let’s not digress. I want to close by noting that poor people have been the biggest winners from Chile’s free-market reforms.

This tweet from Professor Daniel Lacalle is a perfect example. It shows how poverty has plummeted, regardless of which measure is used.

The bottom line is that lower-income people have enjoyed the biggest income gains. And that bit of data is especially impressive given how fast income has grown for the entire country.

P.S. I’ve already written that the most important referendum for 2020 is the upcoming vote whether to retain the Illinois flat tax. Perhaps I should have listed today’s vote in Chile?

When I opine about class-warfare taxation, I generally focus on the obvious argument that it’s not a good idea to penalize people for creating prosperity.

This argument against punitive tax policy is based on the fact that entrepreneurs, investors, business owners, and other successful people can choose to reduce their levels of work, saving, investment, and risk taking.

And it’s also based on the fact that they can shift their economic activity to tax-favored (but generally unproductive) sectors such as municipal bonds.

Moreover, I don’t want politicians to have more money to finance a bigger burden of government.

But we should also consider how class-warfare taxes also can cause the “geese with the golden eggs” to simply fly away.

The New York Times reports that one of the New York’s richest taxpayers is moving his business to Florida.

…on Wednesday, Mr. Singer, a billionaire who is one of the wealthiest people in the United States, revealed that he was moving his firm’s headquarters from Midtown Manhattan to West Palm Beach, Fla. …The departure by Elliott Management…follows a similar migration in recent years by other aging billionaire investors, including Carl C. Icahn, who left New York City for Florida, home to sunny weather, beaches and generous tax benefits… Mr. Singer’s move could bode ill for the city… New York City’s personal income tax revenue, which is heavily reliant on wealthy New Yorkers, is expected to drop by $2 billion this fiscal year. …For wealthy taxpayers, moving to Florida can provide a significant windfall. Unlike New York State, Florida has no individual income tax, estate tax or capital gains tax.

Singer’s move is just the tip of the iceberg.

A story in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year documented some of the tax-driven migration happening in the United States.

…the federal tax overhaul that Congress passed in late 2017…made it costlier to own a house in many high-price, high-tax areas… its effects are rippling through local economies and housing markets, pushing some people to move from high-tax states where they have long lived. Parts of Florida, for example, are getting an influx of buyers from states such as New York, New Jersey and Illinois. …the 2017 law…curbed how much homeowners can subtract from their federal taxes for paying local property and income taxes, by capping the state and local tax deduction at $10,000. …many residents in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California had been deducting well over $10,000 a year. …Mr. Lee estimates the move to Nevada, which has no state income tax, whacked his state tax bill by 90%. …Rick Bechtel, head of U.S. residential lending at TD Bank, lives in the Chicago area and said he recently went to a party where it felt like everyone was planning their moves to Florida. “It’s unbelievable to me the number of conversations that I’m listening to that begin with ‘When are you leaving?’ and ‘Where are you going?’ ” he said. …California has lost residents to Nevada for years, but that accelerated after the tax law passed. Nevada picked up a net of 28,000 people from California in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. …Mr. Belardi and Ms. LaPorte, who are planning to leave San Francisco, …have been growing tired of state and local politics, as well as the difficulty of running their two small businesses in California. …They estimate the move will save them tens of thousands of dollars annually. “I just hope all the Californians going to Nevada don’t turn Nevada into a California,” Mr. Belardi said.

By the way, there’s even tax-driven migration from some low-tax states to states with even lower taxes.

The dynamic is affecting even states typically thought to have low taxes. Mauricio Navarro and his family left Texas last year for Weston, Fla. Neither state collects its own income tax, but Mr. Navarro was paying more than $25,000 annually in property taxes in the Houston area, he said. …Filling out his 2018 tax returns helped motivate him to move with his wife and two children, said Mr. Navarro, who owns a software-development business.

And there’s tax-driven migration from high-tax nations to low-tax nations.

Here are some excerpts from some scholarly research in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, authored by Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, Mathilde Muñoz, and Stefanie Stantcheva.

Here’s some of their background data.

Tax rates differ substantially across countries and across locations within countries. An important question is whether people choose locations in response to these tax differentials, thus reducing the ability of local and national governments to redistribute income… In this paper, we review what we know about mobility responses to personal taxation and discuss the policy implications. Our main focus is on the mobility of people, especially high-income people, but we will also discuss the mobility of wealth in response to personal taxes. It is clear that high-income individuals sometimes move across borders to avoid taxes. …The Rolling Stones left England for France in the early 1970s in order to avoid the exceptionally high top marginal tax rates—well above 90 percent—in the UK at the time. Many other British rock stars moved to lower tax jurisdictions, including David Bowie (Switzerland), Ringo Starr (Monte Carlo), Cat Stevens (Brazil), Rod Stewart (United States), and Sting (Ireland). In more recent years, actor Gérard Depardieu moved to Belgium and eventually Russia in response to the 75 percent millionaire tax in France, while a vast number of sports stars in tennis, golf, and motor racing have taken residence in tax havens such as Monte Carlo, Switzerland, and Dubai.

The authors point out that there are challenges, however, when trying to move from interesting anecdotes to statistically supported conclusions.

They overcome that challenge by examining a special tax regime in Denmark.

…the introduction of special tax schemes to foreigners provides such compelling quasi-experimental settings. Consider for instance the Danish tax scheme for foreigners… This scheme was enacted in 1992 and applied to the earnings of foreign workers from June 1991 onwards. Eligibility for the scheme requires annual earnings above a threshold located around the ninety-ninth percentile of the earnings distribution. Initially, the scheme offered a flat income tax rate of 30 percent in lieu of the regular progressive income tax with a top marginal tax rate of 68 percent. …The design of the scheme lends itself to a difference-in-differences approach in which we compare the evolution of the number of foreigners above the eligibility threshold (treatments) and below the eligibility threshold (controls). Such an analysis is presented in Figure 3. It shows the stock of foreigners between 1980–2005 in the treated earnings range and in two untreated earnings ranges, between 80–90 percent of the threshold and between 90–99 percent of the threshold. …The graph provides exceptionally compelling evidence of mobility responses.

Here’s a chart from the study showing a pronounced increase in migration from those (the red line) who could benefit from the lower tax rates.

The study also includes some evidence from the 1986 Tax Reform Act in the United States.

Can elasticities be sizable even for large countries that start with a large base of foreigners? Akcigit, Baslandze, and Stantcheva (2016) shed light on this question. They study the effects of top tax rates on the international mobility of “superstar” inventors—those with the most and best patents. …panel B considers the US Tax Reform Act of 1986 which sharply reduced the top marginal income tax rate. … the US Tax Reform Act of 1986 had a strong effect on the growth of foreign superstar inventors. In fact, the estimated mobility elasticity of top 1 percent superstar inventors for the US economy is extremely large, above 3.

Here’s the chart showing how lower tax rates in the United States helped to attract valuable inventors.

If you want more data, I wrote about the tax-driven mobility of super-entrepreneurs in 2015 and I wrote about the tax-driven mobility of super-inventors in 2016

There are two obvious lessons from all of the data and evidence in today’s column.

First, high tax rates are very costly because high-value taxpayers are far more likely to move. This means there are greater-than-ever penalties for bad policy and greater-than-ever rewards for good policy. Bad news for states like New Jersey and nations such as France. Good news for Florida and Switzerland.

Second, tax competition is a very valuable check on the greed of politicians (a.k.a., the “stationary bandits“). Simply stated, governments no longer have unconstrained ability to tax and spend. Which explains, of course, why international bureaucracies (acting at the behest of politicians) are working very hard to replace the liberalizing force of tax competition with some sort of global tax cartel.

In another display of selfless masochism, I watched the TrumpBiden debate last night.

The candidates behaved better, for whatever that’s worth, but I was disappointed that there so little time (and even less substance) devoted to economic issues.

One of the few exceptions was the brief tussle regarding the minimum wage. Trump waffled on the issue, so I don’t give him any points, but Biden fully embraced the Bernie Sanders policy of basically doubling the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

This is very bad news for low-skilled workers and very bad news to low-margin businesses.

The economic of this issue are very simple. If a worker generates, say, $9 of revenue per hour, and politicians say that worker can’t be employed for less than $15 per hour, that’s a recipe for unemployment.

Earlier this month, Professor Steven Landsburg on the University of Rochester opined for the Wall Street Journal on Biden’s minimum-wage policy.

It isn’t only that I think Mr. Biden is frequently wrong. It’s that he tends to be wrong in ways that suggest he never cared about being right. He makes no attempt to defend many of his policies with logic or evidence, and he deals with objections by ignoring or misrepresenting them. …Take Mr. Biden’s stance on the federal minimum wage, which he wants to increase to $15 an hour from $7.25. …So why does Mr. Biden want to raise the minimum wage…? He hasn’t said, so I have two guesses, neither of which reflects well on him. Guess No. 1: He’s dissembling about the cost. …The minimum wage…comes directly from employers but indirectly (after firms shrink and prices rise) from consumers. A minimum wage is a stealth tax on eating at McDonald’s or shopping at Walmart. …Mr. Biden should acknowledge the cost of wage hikes and argue for accepting it. Instead he’s silent about the cost, hoping he can foist it on people who won’t realize they’re footing this bill. Guess No. 2: He’s rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies. New York is going to vote for Mr. Biden. The state also has a high cost of living and high wages—so New Yorkers would be largely unaffected by the minimum-wage hike. Alabama is going to vote against Mr. Biden. Alabama has a low cost of living and relatively low wages—so under the Biden plan Alabama firms would shrink, to the benefit of competitors in New York. Alabama workers and consumers would pay a greater price than New Yorkers.

And Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute recently highlighted some of the adverse effects for unskilled workers.

It’s an economic reality that workers compete against other workers, not against employers, for jobs, and higher wages in the labor market. And it’s also true that lower-skilled, limited-experience, less-educated workers compete against higher-skilled, more experienced, more educated workers for jobs. …If the minimum wage is increased…, that will…take away from unskilled workers the one advantage they currently have to compete against skilled workers – the ability to offer to work for a significantly lower wage than what skilled workers can command. …Result of a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour? Demand for skilled workers goes up, demand for unskilled workers goes down, and employment opportunities for unskilled workers are reduced.

Since I recently shared videos with Milton Friedman’s wisdom on both taxes and spending, here’s what he said about the minimum wage.

Let’s share one last bit of evidence. Mark Perry’s article referenced some new research by Jeffrey Clemens, Lisa Kahn, and Jonathan Meer.

Here’s what those scholars found in a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

We investigate whether changes in firms’ skill requirements are channels through which labor markets respond to minimum wage increases. …Data from the American Community Survey show that recent minimum wage changes resulted in increases in the average age and education of the individuals employed in low-wage jobs. Data on job vacancy postings show that the prevalence of a high school diploma requirement increases at the same time. The shift in skill requirements begins within the first quarter of a minimum wage hike. Further, it results from both within-firm shifts in postings and across-firms shifts towards firms that sought more-skilled workers at baseline. Given the poor labor market outcomes of individuals without high school diplomas, these findings have substantial policy relevance. This possibility was recognized well over a century ago by Smith (1907), who noted that the “enactment of a minimum wage involves the possibility of creating a class prevented by the State from obtaining employment.” Further, negative effects may be exacerbated for minority groups in the presence of labor market discrimination.

So why do politicians push for higher minimum wages, when all the evidence suggests that vulnerable workers bear the heaviest cost?

Part of the answer is that they don’t understand economics and don’t care about evidence.

But there’s also a more reprehensible answer, which is that they do understand, but they want to curry favor with union bosses, and those union bosses push for higher minimum wages as a way of reducing competition from lower-skilled workers.

P.S. Here’s my CNBC debate with Joe Biden’s top economic advisor on this issue.

P.P.S. Here’s a rather frustrating discussion I had on the minimum wage with Yahoo Finance.

P.P.P.S. But if you’re pressed for time, don’t listen to me pontificate. Instead, watch this video.

The good news is that the election season is almost over. The bad news is that we’ll have a president next year who does not embrace classical liberal principles of free markets and social tolerance.

But that doesn’t mean Trump and Biden are equally bad. Depending on what issues you think are most important, they’re not equally bad in what they say. And, because politicians often make insincere promises, they’re not equally bad in what they’ll actually do.

Regarding Trump, we have a track record. We know he’s pro-market on some issues (taxes and red tape) and we know he’s anti-market on other issues (spending and trade).

Regarding Biden, we have his track record in the United States Senate, where he routinely voted to expand the burden of government.

But we also have his presidential platform. And that’s the topic for today’s column. We’re going to review the major economic analyses that have been conducted on his proposals.

We’ll start with a report from Moody’s Analytics, authored by Mark Zandi and Bernard Yaros, which compares the economic impacts of the Trump and Biden agendas.

The economic outlook is strongest under the scenario in which Biden and the Democrats sweep Congress and fully adopt their economic agenda. In this scenario, the economy is expected to create 18.6 million jobs during Biden’s term as president, and the economy returns to full employment, with unemployment of just over 4%, by the second half of 2022. During Biden’s presidency, the average American household’s real after-tax income increases by approximately $4,800, and the homeownership rate and house prices increase modestly. Stock prices also rise, but the gains are limited. …Near-term economic growth is lifted by Biden’s aggressive government spending plans, which are deficit-financed in significant part. …Greater government spending adds directly to GDP and jobs, while the higher tax burden has an indirect impact through business investment and the spending and saving behavior of high-income households. …The economic outlook is weakest under the scenario in which Trump and the Republicans sweep Congress and fully adopt their economic agenda. …Trump has proposed much less expansive support to the economy from tax and spending policies.

Here’s the most relevant set of graphs from the report.

The Moody’s study is an outlier, however. Most other comprehensive analyses are less favorable to Biden.

For instance, a study for the Hoover Institution by Timothy Fitzgerald, Kevin Hassett, Cody Kallen, and Casey Mulligan, finds that Biden’s plan will weaken overall economic performance.

We estimate possible effects of Joe Biden’s tax and regulatory agenda. We find that transportation and electricity will require more inputs to produce the same outputs due to ambitious plans to further cut the nation’s carbon emissions, resulting in one or two percent less total factor productivity nationally. Second, we find that proposed changes to regulation as well as to the ACA increase labor wedges. Third, Biden’s agenda increases average marginal tax rates on capital income. Assuming that the supply of capital is elastic in the long run to its after-tax return and that the substitution effect of wages on labor supply is nontrivial, we conclude that, in the long run, Biden’s full agenda reduces fulltime equivalent employment per person by about 3 percent, the capital stock per person by about 15 percent, real GDP per capita by more than 8 percent, and real consumption per household by about 7 percent.

Wonkier readers may be interested in these numbers, which show that there’s a modest benefit from unwinding some of Trump’s protectionism, but there’s a lot of damage from the the other changes proposed by the former Vice President.

In a report authored by Garrett Watson, Huaqun Li, and Taylor LaJoie, the Tax Foundation estimated the impact of Biden’s proposed policies. Here are some of the highlights.

According to the Tax Foundation General Equilibrium Model, Biden’s tax plan would reduce the economy’s size by 1.47 percent in the long run. The plan would shrink the capital stock by just over 2.5 percent and reduce the overall wage rate by a little over 1 percent, leading to about 518,000 fewer full-time equivalent jobs. …Biden’s tax plan would raise about $3.05 trillion over the next decade on a conventional basis, and $2.65 trillion after accounting for the reduction in the size of the U.S. economy. While taxpayers in the bottom four quintiles would see an increase in after-tax incomes in 2021 primarily due to the temporary CTC expansion, by 2030 the plan would lead to lower after-tax income for all income levels.

Table 2 from the report is worth sharing because it shows what policies have the biggest economic impact.

The bottom line is that it’s not a good idea to raise the corporate tax burden and it’s not a good idea to worsen the payroll tax burden.

Here are some excerpts by a study authored by Professor Laurence Kotlikoff for the Goodman Institute.

The micro analysis is based on The Fiscal Analyzer (TFA), which uses data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finance to calculate how much representative American households will pay in taxes net of what they will receive in benefits over the rest of their lives. …The key micro issues…are the degree to which the Vice President’s reforms alter relative remaining lifetime net tax burdens and lifetime spending of the rich and poor within specific age cohorts and the impact of the reforms on incentives to work, i.e., remaining lifetime marginal net tax rates. The macro analysis is based on the Global Gaidar Model (GGM)…a dynamic, 90-period OLG, 17-region general equilibrium model. …The analysis includes three sets of findings. The first is the change in lifetime net taxes defined as the change in lifetime net taxes. The second is the percentage change in lifetime spending, defined as the change in the present value of outlays on all goods and services as well as bequests, averaged across all survivor path. The third is the lifetime marginal net tax rate from earning an extra $1,000. TFA’s lifetime marginal net tax rate measure takes full account of so-called double taxation. …The GGM predicts a close to 6 percent reduction in the U.S. capital stock. The GGM predicts close to a 2 percent permanent reduction in annual U.S. GDP.  The GGM predicts a roughly 2 percentage-point reduction in wages of U.S. workers, with a larger reduction in the wages of high-skilled workers.

In a study for the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, Professor Casey Mulligan estimated the following effects.

This study addresses the impact of these tax rate changes on economic behavior – work, investment, output and growth. This study finds that the Biden tax agenda will reduce production, incomes, and employment per capita by increasing taxation of both labor and business capital. Employment will be about 3 million workers less in the long run (five to ten years). This employment effect is primarily due to the agenda’s expansion of health insurance credits, which raises the average marginal tax rates on labor income by 2.4 percentage points. Biden also plans to increase taxes on businesses and their owners by a combined 6 to 10 percentage points. These taxes will reduce long-run wages, GDP per worker, and business capital per worker in the long run. By decreasing both the number of workers per capita and GDP per worker, respectively, these two key elements of Biden’s agenda reinforce to significantly reduce GDP per capita and average household incomes. I estimate that, as a result of Biden’s tax agenda, real GDP per capita would be 4 to 5 percent less, which is about $8,000 per household per year in the long run. The two parts of the tax agenda combine to reduce real per capita business capital by 7 to 12 percent in the long run.

Here’s a table from the study.

I’ll add two points to the above analyses.

First, the reason that the Moody’s study produces wildly different results is that its model is based on Keynesian principles. As such, a bigger burden of government spending is assumed to stimulate growth.

For what it’s worth, I think borrowing and spending can lead to short-run increases in consumption, but I’m very skeptical that Keynesian policies can generate increases in national income (i.e., what we produce rather than what we consume) over the medium-run or long-run.

All of the other studies rely on models that estimate how government policies impact incentives to engage in productive behavior. They don’t all measure the same things (some of the studies look solely at taxes, some look at overall fiscal policy, and some also include a look at regulatory proposals) but the methodologies are similar.

Second, I’ll re-emphasize the point I made at the beginning about how politicians routinely say things during campaigns that are either insincere or impractical.

For instance, Trump promised to restrain domestic discretionary spending by $750 billion and he actually increased it by $700 billion.

Likewise, I don’t expect Biden (assuming he prevails) to deliver on his campaign promises. In this case, that’s good news since he won’t increase taxes and spending by nearly as much as what he’s embraced during the campaign (in my fantasy world, he turns out be like Bill Clinton and actually delivers a net reduction in the burden of government).

P.S. For those on the losing side of the upcoming election, I’ll remind you that Australia is probably the best option if you want to escape the United States. Though you may want to pick Switzerland if you have a lot of money.

Back in July, I wrote a three-part series designed to identify the states with the greediest politicians.

The results sometimes matched expectations. Florida generally looked very responsible, for instance, while New York looked rather profligate.

But other results were mixed. In particular, Alaska and Wyoming have very good tax systems, but they use energy taxes to finance bloated public sectors.

Today, let’s build on that research by reviewing two new reports than rank state economic policy.

First, we have the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2020 Report on Economic Freedom. It’s based on several factors, but I can’t help but notice that the 10-best-ranked states include five with no income tax and three with flat taxes.

If you look at the 10 states at the bottom of the rankings, by contrast, they almost all have so-called progressive taxes. The only exceptions are Alaska, which (as noted above) finances a big government with energy taxes, and Illinois, which has a flat tax that currently is under assault by the state’s big spenders.

Now let’s look at the Tax Foundation’s newly released State Business Tax Climate Index.

As you can see, the top 10 is dominated by states that either don’t tax income, or have flat taxes, and the one state (Montana) with a so-called progressive tax compensates by having no sales tax.

Every state in the bottom 10, meanwhile, has a discriminatory income tax.

The two reports cited above measure different things. But both use good data and rely on sound methodology, so it’s very interesting to see which states score well (and score poorly) in both.

The states that crack the top 10 in both reports are South Dakota, Florida, New Hampshire, Utah, and Indiana.

And the states that languish in the bottom 10 in both reports are Louisiana (they should have adopted Bobby Jindal’s plan when they had a chance) and New Jersey (not exactly a surprise).

P.S. I recently wrote about Chris Edwards’ Report Card on America’s Governors. So if we mesh those results (New Hampshire was in the top category while New Jersey was in the bottom category) with today’s results, the folks in the Granite State get the triple crown while the folks in the Garden State get a booby prize.

Since Americans are not as sensible as the Swiss, I’m generally not a fan of direct democracy in the United States.

Simply stated, I don’t like untrammeled majoritarianism, which occurs when 51 percent of voters can pillage 49 percent of voters.

But I’ll admit that the level of my angst fluctuates depending on whether voters make wise choices. With that in mind, here are the six ballot initiatives that I’ll be closely watching on election day.

1. Proposed Amendment to the 1970 Illinois Constitution

The most important ballot initiative is the proposal by the hypocritical governor of Illinois to undo the state’s flat tax. I’ve already dedicated an entire column to this issue, so I’ll simply add some additional analysis from a Wall Street Journal editorial.

Illinois voters will decide next month whether to enact a progressive income tax, paving the way for a new top rate of 7.99%. …The Prairie State currently ranks 36th worst in overall tax burden because its flat individual rate of 4.95% offsets very high property and other taxes. …its proposed slate of new individual income tax rates, along with a corporate tax hike tied to the same ballot measure, would drop the state’s rank overall to 47th. That would move Illinois into Dante’s ninth ring of tax hell, ahead of only New Jersey, New York and California. …Iowa and Missouri have…slashed their top rates in recent years rather than jacking them up as Illinois Democrats intend. Kentucky lawmakers in 2018 replaced their progressive income tax with a flat rate of 5%. Heading in the opposite direction of neighboring states could push many of Illinois’s overburdened families and businesses across the border.

2. Arizona Proposition 208

There’s a class-warfare proposal to dramatically increase the top income tax rate in Arizona.

Once again, the editors at the Wall Street Journal have spot-on analysis.

Arizona has long been a refuge for Americans seeking relief from high-tax California and states in the Northeast. But a tax referendum on the ballot Nov. 3 would whack job creators and make people rethink retirement in Scottsdale or a business move to Tucson. …The current top rate of 4.5% would rise to 8%, which would move the state to the 10th highest income-tax rate in the country, from 11th lowest today… Arizona would move closer to California (13.3% top rate) than Nevada (no income tax). …about half of the targets would be small businesses that pay taxes at the individual rate… They employ a huge chunk of Arizona workers, and the added tax costs would trickle down in lower pay and fewer jobs. …One definition of fiscal insanity would be to raise state taxes when the Biden Democrats may soon raise federal tax rates to heights not seen since the 1970s.

3. California Proposition 16

In California, politicians want the state to have to power to engage in racial and sexual discrimination. In pursuit of that goal, they are asking voters to repeal Proposition 209, adopted by voters in 1996.

Gail Heriot, a law professor who also serves on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, explains why this is a bad idea in a column for Real Clear Politics.

California’s deep-blue legislature has been itching to repeal Proposition 209 for years. …Proposition 209 amended California’s constitution to prohibit the state from engaging in preferential treatment based on race or sex. It was a rebuke to the identity politics obsessions of state and local governments. …By approving Proposition 209 by a wide margin, they aimed to end the race and sex spoils system. …The best reason for retaining Proposition 209 is…that the initiative has been good for Californians — of all races…the number of under-represented minority students in academic jeopardy collapsed. …in the years immediately following Proposition 209, it had three effects on under-represented minorities in the UC system. It increased (1) graduation rates, (2) GPAs, and (3) the number of science or engineering majors.

4. California Proposition 15

Since we just discussed one bad California proposition, we may as well mention another.

There’s also a scheme to (again) raise taxes. The Wall Street Journal opines on this misguided initiative.

Sooner or later California’s public unions had to hit up the hoi polloi to pay for their pensions after soaking what’s left of the state’s millionaire class, and here they come. On Nov. 3, Californians will vote on a “split roll” ballot initiative (Prop. 15) that seeks to enact the biggest tax hike in state history. …Under current law, tax rates on residential and commercial property are capped at 1% of their assessed value—i.e., the purchase price—and can increase by no more than 2% annually. …This is the only balm in California’s oppressive tax climate and acts as a modest restraint on the government spending ratchet. Unions know that attempting to repeal this entirely would spur a homeowner revolt, so they are targeting businesses. …Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is Prop. 15’s second biggest donor. Perhaps he’s trying to atone for his wealth, but as the NAACP and minority business groups explained in a letter to him in August: “Unlike Facebook, restaurants, dry cleaners, nail salons and other small businesses can’t operate right now and many may never open again. The last thing they need is a billionaire pushing higher taxes on them under the false flag of social justice.” …Prop. 15 would raise property taxes by $8.5 billion to $12.5 billion a year by 2025.

5. Colorado Proposition 117

Proponents of fiscal responsibility in Colorado want to strengthen TABOR (or, to be more accurate, stop the erosion of TABOR) by requiring a public vote for non-trivial efforts to increase government revenue.

Here’s a summary from CPR.

Proposition 117..would add a new TABOR-like provision to state law, requiring the state government to get voter permission before it creates major new “enterprises,” which are partially funded by fees. Colorado voters already have authority over tax increases and rarely approve them. The state Supreme Court has held that a fee is different from a tax because it is reasonably connected to a specific purpose. And in the years that TABOR has been in effect, lawmakers have used them as a way to raise money without raising taxes. Critics see fees as an end-run around TABOR’s spending limits.

6. Colorado Proposition 116

Sticking with Colorado, there’s also a proposal to lower the state’s flat tax.

Once again, let’s use CPR as a source.

This initiative would cut the state’s income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent. …This change would reduce the state government’s revenue by an estimated $170 million in the next fiscal year. Supporters argue it would boost businesses and consumer spending, while opponents say it would weaken government services and social supports already severely cut by the downturn. The measure was originally intended to counter a progressive tax measure that failed to make the ballot.

Honorable Mention

There are many other ballot initiatives. Here are some that I care about, even if they were not important enough to be featured.

Proposition 21 for rent control in California. Bad idea.

Proposition 22 to penalize the gig economy in California. Also a bad idea. [Oops, got this backwards. Prop 22 would undo the legislation that penalizes the gig economy.]

Initiatives to legalize marijuana in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. The libertarian side of me is very supportive, but the fiscal side of me doesn’t like the fact that one of the motives is a desire to collect more tax revenue.

Ranked-choice voting in Alaska and Massachusetts. This is a system that requires voters rank all candidates and awards victory to whoever has the strongest support across all ballots. It is assumed that the impact will be more centrist candidates and more civil elections. I don’t have strong views, but it’s worth noting that Australia uses this approach and it’s one of my favorite nations.

13 initiatives in San Francisco. Lot of tax increases, as you might expect from that poorly governed city.

P.S. Voting for politicians who make bad decisions is unfortunate. Directly voting for bad propositions isn’t any better.

For a land-locked nation without many natural resources, Switzerland is remarkably successful.

One reason for the country’s success is pro-market policy. Switzerland routinely scores in the top 5 according to both Economic Freedom of the World and Index of Economic Freedom.

More specifically, I’m a big fan of the country’s fiscal policy, especially the “Debt Brake,” which was imposed when voters overwhelmingly adopted the provision (84.7 percent approval) early this century.

There’s always been a debate, however, whether Switzerland’s good outcomes are because of the debt brake, or because of some random reason, such as the sensibility of Swiss voters.

Three academic economists, Michele Salvi, Christoph Schaltegger, and Lukas Schmid, investigated this issue in a study for Kyklos, a scholarly journal published by the University of Basel.

A prominent means to prevent excess debt accumulation is the use of fiscal rules. In fact,fiscal rules focus on securing solvency of governments by concentrating on the intertemporal budget constraint. …there is a strong positive association between constrained fiscal discretion and improved fiscal performance. …Our paper presents evidence on the effect of a fiscal rule with a strict enforcement mechanism… We analyze the consequences of the centrally imposed balanced budget rule on public debt in Switzerland. …the Swiss debt containment rule stands out as a clearly defined fiscal rule with a constitutional basis that constrains deviating from a balanced budget in the long-term. …The rule consists of a simple mechanism stating that expenditure may not exceed revenues over the course of an economic cycle. …The debt containment rule brings a“top-down”element into the budgeting process, which has a strong disciplinary appeal and leads to more accurate budgeting. …one key aspect is the fact that the debt containment rule sets a clear expenditure ceiling.

The key parts from the above excerpt are “expenditure may not exceed” and “clear expenditure ceiling.”

Those statements ratify my oft-made point that the debt brake is really a spending cap. And spending caps are far and away the only effective macro-fiscal rule.

The policy certainly has generated good results for Switzerland. Here’s what the authors found when thy crunched numbers to compare the country’s current fiscal trajectory with what would have happened without a spending cap.

To construct the counterfactual outcome of the debt ratio for Switzerland without a debt containment rule, we select a control group…countries expected to be driven by a similar structural process as Switzerland. …Due to the availability of comprehensive debt data, the observation period is restricted to last from 1980 until 2010. …we divide the time period into a pre-treatment period from 1980 to 2002 and a postintervention period from 2003 to 2010. …Figure 2 displays the central government debt ratio for Switzerland and its synthetic counterpart during the study period. …In 2003, the two debt ratio curves start to diverge. …it appears that the introduction of the debt containment rule led to a substantial and persistent decrease in the debt ratio in Switzerland.

And here’s the relevant set of charts from the study.

Here’s one more sentence I want to cite since it echoes the argument I’ve made to my Keynesian friends about how they also should support a Swiss-style spending cap.

The debt containment rule has made a significant contribution to switching from a procyclical to a cyclically appropriate fiscal policy.

Simply stated, the political tradeoff embedded in the debt brake is that politicians get to modestly increase spending during a downturn, even though revenues are falling, but they also can only enact modest spending increases during growth years, even if revenue is growing much faster.

By the way, you will have noticed that the study focused on how the debt brake helped to reduce red ink.

Regular readers know that I’m far more interested in focusing on the real fiscal problem, which is excessive government spending.

So I’ll close by looking at some additional evidence from Switzerland. Here’s a chart, based on IMF data, showing that the growth rate of spending fell sharply after the debt brake was adopted.

I looked at the 2003-2010 period, since it matched the years in the study discussed above.

But I also calculated the spending growth rate for 2003-2019 and confirmed that the debt brake’s success hasn’t just been a temporary phenomenon.

P.S. Click here for a short presentation on the debt brake, as well as similar presentations on Hong Kong’s spending cap and Colorado’s TABOR spending cap.

Socialism Humor

Like beauty, socialism is in the eye of the beholder.

In either case, though, you get ugly results. You’ll wind up somewhere between Venezuela and Greece.

But we’re not going to add to the already voluminous research on the failures of socialism in today’s column. Instead, we’re going to laugh at this evil ideology.

For starters, I shared a satirical video in 2018 that showed the nations where socialism doesn’t work. This Amy Coney Barrett meme takes the reverse approach. It lists the examples of where socialism is successful.

Next, we have some mockery of some protesters who mistakenly think big government is how you save the planet.

Last but not least, here’s some helpful advice for vapid millennials.

To be fair, you can see someone who became rich from socialism if you scroll to the bottom of this column.

P.S. You can enjoy the entire collection of socialism and communism humor by clicking here.

One of the problems with state balanced budget requirements is that tax revenues are very sensitive to economic conditions.

Boom Years: When there’s robust economic growth, politicians collect unanticipated revenue because more people have good jobs and more businesses are earning money.

And what do politicians do when this happens? They spend a big chunk of that unanticipated tax revenue.

Bust Years: When there’s a recession and tax revenues unexpectedly decline, state politicians are in a tough position because they’ve made lots of promises to spend money, including for the extra spending that took place when the economy was growing.

And what do politicians do when this happens? They usually respond with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

This boom-bust budgeting is unwise for many reasons, but I don’t like it because it leads to a long-run expansion in the size of government (the spending increases in the boom years almost always are greater than the cutbacks in the bust years).

Indeed, one of the reasons why I prefer a spending cap instead of a balanced budget requirement is that you avoid this “ratchet effect.”

Now let’s look at some real-time data on why this matters. Given what’s happened with the coronavirus, we’re currently in a “bust year” and many governors and state legislators claim that they’re dealing with special conditions that necessitate a bailout from Washington.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council and Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute explore the topic.

Many governors now seek a federal bailout, but borrowing trillions more will only make matters worse for taxpayers… Every state provides the same basic services, but some do it at much lower cost, which allows them to have lower taxes. ……high-spending states are at the front of the line for a federal bailout. …Too many elected officials would rather have taxpayers submit to a tax increase now, or pay off bailout debt later, than do the hard work of eliminating unnecessary spending.

Their column includes plenty of hard data showing that the states clamoring for the bailouts wouldn’t be facing any fiscal problems if they weren’t spending so much money.

…The 41 states with an income tax spent 55% more per resident in 2018 than did the nine states without an income tax. Florida, which doesn’t have an income tax, spent the least, at $2,327 per resident. Texas and New Hampshire, also without income taxes, have the next lowest spending at $2,585 and $2,773, respectively. New Hampshire is frugal enough to avoid a sales tax. …New York, which has an income tax, spends $5,231 per resident. Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatens to cut services unless he gets a $60 billion bailout over two years. If New York spent at Florida’s level per resident, the Empire State would save $56.7 billion each year. If Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker were to trim his state’s per resident spending to match Texas’, he would save his taxpayers $22.3 billion a year—and there would be no need for any income-tax increase. Gov. Gavin Newsom could save Californians $64.6 billion annually if his state matched New Hampshire’s spending.

Here’s the map that accompanied the column, showing per-capita spending levels in each state.

Earlier this year, I looked at state data, but also included spending by local governments.

But slicing the numbers in a different way doesn’t change the fact that some states spend much more (and without delivering more and/or better services).

Some people portray this as a battle of red states vs. blue states, but I prefer to avoid the politics and simply compare big-spending states to modest-spending states. For instance, compare New York and Florida. If that’s not enough, also compare Texas and California.

Democracy and Liberty

A pure democracy, where 51 percent of the people have the right to do anything they want, is not a desirable form of government. It means tyranny of the majority.

That’s why America’s Founding Fathers instead created a constitutional republic, not only because they wanted to limit the power of the central government but also because they wanted certain rights to be inalienable – i.e., guaranteed and protected even if 99 percent of the population feel otherwise.

Some pundits and some lawmakers in Washington either don’t understand this part of American history or they want to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Fortunately, Senator Lee of Utah is not one of those people, as illustrated by this recent tweet.

This elementary observation rubbed some people the wrong way.

Indeed, it even generated a hostile article by Nathaniel Zelinsky in the Bulwark, an anti-Trump site operated by former Republicans.

This message fits a growing and disturbing trend. Among the conservative intelligentsia, especially in certain legal circles, it has become stylish to view self-governance as nothing more than a means to a very particular set of ends. And should “conservative” policies lose out in the democratic process, then liberal democracy itself should go. …Among Federalist Society members, a group once defined by a commitment to judicial restraint to protect democracy, one today hears about “active judging”—the notion that life-tenured jurists shouldn’t hesitate to strike down popularly enacted legislation. …these tendencies share a common endpoint: Upset the delicate bargain of American democracy and impose a narrow set of preferences on the rest of us. And it’s exactly this vein of illiberalism that Senator Lee tapped into. …Yes, the Founders crafted a constitutional structure that prevents the majority from easily imposing itself on a minority and places some hard limits on the government’s powers. But Senator Lee’s attack on “rank democracy”…leaves little room for…collective self-government.

At the risk of understatement, Mr. Zelinsky’s attack on Senator Lee is completely incoherent.

The Utah Senator was celebrating the “classical liberalism” of America’s founding principles. Senator Lee was extolling a system that protects individual rights.

That’s the opposite of “illiberalism.”

To be sure, there are some folks on the right who don’t embrace those values. But Senator Lee isn’t one of them.

This isn’t a new controversy, by the way. Writing last year for the U.K.-based Guardian, Quinn Slobodian accused “neoliberals” of favoring economic freedom over democracy (in Europe, they often use “neoliberal” as a term for libertarians).

The ideal world described by these indexes is one where property rights and security of contract are the highest values, inflation is the chief enemy of liberty, capital flight is a human right and democratic elections may work actively against the maintenance of economic freedom. …The definition of freedom they used meant that democracy was a moot point, monetary stability was paramount and any expansion of social services would lead to a fall in the rankings. Taxation was theft, pure and simple, and austerity was the only path to the top. …Pinochet, Thatcher and Reagan may be dead. But economic freedom indexes carry the neoliberal banner by deeming the goals of social justice forever illegitimate…the indexes help perpetuate the idea that economics must be protected from the excesses of politics – to the point that an authoritarian government that protects free markets is preferable to a democratic one that redesigns them.

Unlike the Zelinsky piece, Slobodian’s column is actually coherent.

He wants untrammeled majoritarianism, at least when he thinks it will result in bigger government.

And he’s correct that classical liberals reject that approach.

But we have good reasons for that skepticism. Writing earlier this year for the Foundation for Economic Education, Professor Gary Galles explained why it’s better to rely on “market democracy” rather than “political democracy.”

In a political democracy, a majority can also force its preferences on others in any issue. That is why our founders adopted constraints on majority abuse, such as limited, delegated powers and the Bill of Rights. However, those constraints have largely been undermined. In contrast to political democracy, free-market capitalism, which reflects democratic self-government, represents a far better ideal. Its system of exclusively voluntary cooperation based on self-ownership requires that property rights be respected; no majority can violate owners’ rights. …a superior form of democracy is to remove virtually all decisions and policies that we need not share in common (almost all of them, beyond the mutual protection of our property rights) from government dictation, even if they are “democratic,” and let people exercise self-government through their own voluntary arrangements, protected by their inalienable rights.

Amen. Professor Galles is correct.

Pure democracy is simply another way of saying untrammeled majoritarianism.

And that system of government is a threat the rights of minorities – whether you’re talking about religious minorities, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, political minorities, or any other subset of the population that may be unpopular at some point with mass opinion.

P.S. Here’s an amusing Michael Ramirez cartoon about Obama and the Constitution.

P.P.S. On the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Calvin Coolidge correctly summarized the meaning of the American experiment.

P.P.P.S. If you want a horrifying example of majoritarianism in action, see Venezuela.

P.P.P.P.S. To be fair, Switzerland is a very successful example of a nation based not only on majoritarianism, but also direct democracy (my two cents is that the nation’s decentralization is the real reason for its success).

Whether we’re examining Economic Freedom of the World, Index of Economic Freedom, World Competitiveness Ranking, the Global Competitiveness Report, or the World Bank’s Doing Business, publications that endeavor to give us apples-to-apples comparisons of economic policy provide useful measuring sticks.

I’m especially interested in comparisons that focus on fiscal policy.

So I was very interested to see that the Tax Foundation just released its annual International Tax Competitiveness Index, which measures the quality of tax policy of nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Here are highlights from the report, starting with some background.

The structure of a country’s tax code is an important determinant of its economic performance. A well-structured tax code is easy for taxpayers to comply with and can promote economic development… In contrast, poorly structured tax systems can be costly, distort economic decision-making, and harm domestic economies. Many countries have recognized this and have reformed their tax codes. Over the past few decades, marginal tax rates on corporate and individual income have declined significantly… Not all recent changes in tax policy among OECD countries have improved the structure of tax systems; some have made a negative impact. …The International Tax Competitiveness Index (ITCI) seeks to measure the extent to which a country’s tax system adheres to two important aspects of tax policy: competitiveness and neutrality. …To measure whether a country’s tax system is neutral and competitive, the ITCI looks at more than 40 tax policy variables. These variables measure not only the level of tax rates, but also how taxes are structured.

The ITCI is a very useful publication. Indeed, I’d like it to be expanded. When writing about last year’s edition, I mentioned it should cover more nations and also include the aggregate tax burden as one of the variables.

But let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. With regards to this year’s version, what nations have the best and worst tax regimes?

Estonia ranks #1 (not a big surprise) and Italy is at the bottom (also not a big surprise).

For the seventh year in a row, Estonia has the best tax code in the OECD. Its top score is driven by four positive features of its tax system. First, it has a 20 percent tax rate on corporate income that is only applied to distributed profits. Second, it has a flat 20 percent tax on individual income that does not apply to personal dividend income. Third, its property tax applies only to the value of land, rather than to the value of real property or capital. Finally, it has a territorial tax system… Italy has the least competitive tax system in the OECD. It has a wealth tax, a financial transaction tax, and an estate tax. Italy also has a high compliance burden associated with its individual tax system. It takes businesses an estimated 169 hours to comply with the individual income tax.

American readers presumably are most interested in the United States, so here’s the data showing that the United States has a mediocre grade, ranking #21 out of 36 nations.

If you dig through the details, the good news is that the United States has a very high score for “consumption taxes,” which largely is because we haven’t copied the mistake of other nations and imposed a value-added tax.

The U.S. also gets credit for “expensing,” though the report notes that policy is scheduled to expire.

The bad news, by contrast, is that America ranks below average for corporate taxes and individual taxes and way below average for property taxes and international tax rules.

The report also notes that America’s “progressive tax” is a weakness that undermines competitiveness.

But let’s look at the glass as being half full rather than half empty. When the Tax Foundation launched this publication back in 2014, the United States was a lowly #32 out of 34 nations. And we were still mired near the bottom in 2016, ranked #31 out of 35 countries.

Thanks to the Trump tax reform, however, the United States has subsequently enjoyed the biggest improvement of any nations. There’s still plenty of policy mistakes that need to be addressed, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.

Bernie Sanders was considered a hard-core leftist because his platform was based on higher taxes and higher spending.

Elizabeth Warren also was considered a hard-core leftist because she advocated a similar agenda of higher taxes and higher spending.

And Joe Biden, even though he is considered to be a moderate, is currently running on a platform of higher taxes and higher spending.

Want to know who else is climbing on the economically suicidal bandwagon of higher taxes and higher spending? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the pro-tax International Monetary Fund just published its World Economic Outlook and parts of it read like the Democratic Party’s platform.

Here are some of the ways the IMF wants to expand the burden of government spending.

Investments in health, education, and high-return infrastructure projects that also help move the economy to lower carbon dependence… Moreover, safeguarding critical social spending can ensure that the most vulnerable are protected while also supporting near-term activity, given that the outlays will go to groups with a higher propensity to spend their disposable income… Some fiscal resources…should be redeployed to public investment—including in renewable energy, improving the efficiency of power transmission, and retrofitting buildings to reduce their carbon footprint. …social spending should be expanded to protect the most vulnerable where gaps exist in the safety net. In those cases, authorities could enhance paid family and sick leave, expand eligibility for unemployment insurance, and strengthen health care benefit coverage…social spending measures…strengthening social assistance (for example, conditional cash transfers, food stamps and in-kind nutrition, medical payments for low-income households), expanding social insurance (relaxing eligibility criteria for unemployment insurance…), and investments in retraining and reskilling programs.

And here’s a partial list of the various class-warfare taxes that the IMF is promoting.

Although adopting new revenue measures during the crisis will be difficult, governments may need to consider raising progressive taxes on more affluent individuals and those relatively less affected by the crisis (including increasing tax rates on higher income brackets, high-end property, capital gains, and wealth) as well as changes to corporate taxation that ensure firms pay taxes commensurate with profitability. …Efforts to expand the tax base can include reducing corporate tax breaks, applying tighter caps on personal income tax deductions, instituting value-added taxes.

Oh, by the way, if nations have any rules that protect the interests of taxpayers, the IMF wants “temporary” suspensions.

Where fiscal rules may constrain action, their temporary suspension would be warranted

Needless to say, any time politicians have a chance to expand their power, temporary becomes permanent.

When I discuss IMF malfeasance in my speeches, I’m frequently asked why the bureaucrats propose policies that don’t work – especially when the organization’s supposed purpose is to promote growth and stability.

The answer is “public choice.” Top IMF officials are selected by politicians and are given very generous salaries, and they know that the best way to stay on the gravy train is to support policies that will please those politicians.

And because their lavish salaries are tax free, they have an extra incentive to curry favor with politicians.

P.S. I wish there was a reporter smart enough and brave enough to ask the head of the IMF to identify a single nation – at any point in history – that became rich by expanding the size and cost of government.

P.P.S. There are plenty of good economists who work for the IMF and they often write papers pointing out the economic benefits of lower taxes and smaller government (and spending caps as well!). But the senior people at the bureaucracy (the ones selected by politicians) make all the important decisions.

 

I’ve written favorably about the pro-growth policies of low-tax states such as Texas, Florida, and Tennessee, while criticizing the anti-growth policies of high-tax states such as Illinois, California, and New York.

Does that mean we should conclude that “red states” are better than “blue states”? In this video for Prager University, Steve Moore says the answer is yes.

The most persuasive part of the video is the data on people “voting with their feet” against the blue states.

There’s lots of data showing a clear relationship between the tax burden and migration patterns. Presumably for two reasons:

  1. People don’t like being overtaxed and thus move from high-tax states to low-tax states.
  2. More jobs are created in low-tax states, and people move for those employment opportunities.

There’s a debate about whether people also move because they want better weather.

I’m sure that’s somewhat true, but Steve points out in the video that California has the nation’s best climate yet also is losing taxpayers to other states.

Since we’re discussing red states vs blue states, let’s look at some excerpts from a column by Nihal Krishan of the Washington Examiner.

States run by Republican governors on average have economically outperformed states run by Democratic governors in recent months. …Overall, Democratic-run states, particularly those in the Northeast and Midwest, had larger contractions in gross domestic product than Republican-run states in the Plains and the South, according to the latest state GDP data for the second quarter of 2020, released by the Commerce Department on Friday. Of the 20 states with the smallest decrease in state GDP, 13 were run by Republican governors, while the bottom 25 states with the highest decrease in state GDP were predominantly Democratic-run states. …Republican-controlled Utah had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the country in August at 4.1%, and the second-lowest GDP drop, at just over 18% in the second quarter. Nevada, run by Democrats, had the highest unemployment rate, at 13.2%. It was closely followed by Democratic-run Rhode Island, 12.8%, and New York, 12.5%.

Krishan notes that this short-run data is heavily impacted by the coronavirus and the shutdown policies adopted by various states, so it presumably doesn’t tell us much about the overall quality (or lack thereof) of economic policy.

I wrote about some multi-year data last year (before coronavirus was a problem) and found that low-tax states were creating jobs at a significantly faster rate than high-tax states.

But even that data only covered a bit more than three years.

I prefer policy comparisons over a longer period of time since that presumably removes randomness. Indeed, when comparing California, Texas, and Kansas a few years ago, I pointed out how a five-year set of data can yield different results (and presumably less-robust and less-accurate results) than a fifteen-year set of data.

P.S. What would be best is if we had several decades of data that could be matched with rigorous long-run measures of economic freedom in various states – similar to the data I use for my convergence/divergence articles that compare nations. Sadly, we have the former, but don’t have the latter (there are very good measures of economic freedom in the various states today, but we don’t have good historical estimates).

One of the best political cartoons I’ve ever seen was this gem from Glenn McCoy.

It very effectively captures how greedy local governments breed resentment and create conflict by using the law to fleece residents (and it definitely will be featured if I ever do another political cartoonist contest).

This is not a trivial topic. I’ve previously written about how fees, fines and charges can wreck the lives of the less fortunate.

So how do we solve this problem?

, in a column for the New York Times, argues we should impose much higher fines on rich people.

For people living on the economic margins, even minor offenses can impose crushing financial obligations, trapping them in a cycle of debt and incarceration for nonpayment. …Across America, one-size-fits-all fines are the norm… Other places have saner methods. Finland and Argentina, for example, have tailored fines to income for almost 100 years. The most common model, the “day fine,” scales sanctions to a person’s daily wage. A small offense like littering might cost a fraction of a day’s pay. A serious crime might swallow a month’s paycheck. Everyone pays the same proportion of their income. …Finland…handed a businessman a $67,000 speeding ticket for going 14 miles per hour above the limit.

He argues this is a matter of fairness.

…scaling fines to income is a matter of basic fairness. …The flat fine threatens poor people with financial ruin while letting rich people break the law without meaningful repercussions. Equity requires punishment that is equally felt. …while punishment is supposed to prevent undesirable conduct from happening in the first place, flat fines deter the wealthy less than everyone else. …That’s particularly true in cities like Ferguson that went easy on wealthier residents but treated poor people like cash cows. After all, the city would get more bang for its buck pulling over a rich driver with a blown blinker.

I think Schierenbeck is both right and wrong.

He’s correct that his approach would be more fair. An income-based speeding ticket would be akin to a flat tax – i.e., take the same proportion of everyone’s income. For what it’s worth, I made this argument with regard to traffic offenses back in 2015.

But that approach won’t do anything to help poor people (to be fair, the author doesn’t claim it would).

If we want to protect low-income people from greedy governments, that are several options.

  • Have fewer nuisance laws that lead to fines, fees, and charges.
  • Have income-based fines, but at a low level for rich and poor alike.
  • Perhaps most important, control government spending so politicians have less incentive to grab more money from people.

The bottom line is that I don’t want government to screw over poor people, just as I don’t want government to screw over middle-class people or rich people.

P.S. My point about higher fines on the rich not helping the poor is the same an my argument that class-warfare taxes on upper-income taxpayers don’t do anything to help the less fortunate. Indeed, poor people actually suffer collateral damage because of diminished prosperity.

Earlier this year, I asked “Why are there so many bad and corrupt people in government?” and suggested two possible explanations.

  1. Shallow, insecure, and power-hungry people are drawn to politics because they want to control the lives of others.
  2. Good people run for political office, but then slowly but surely get corrupted because of “public choice” incentives.

I’m sure both answers apply to some extent. But let’s consider whether one answer is more accurate in more cases?

In an article for Quillette, Professor Crispin Sartwell of Dickinson College looks at this chicken-or-egg issue of whether people are corrupted by government or corrupt people gravitate to government.

“Power corrupts,” as the saying goes, and a corollary is that, other things being equal, the more power, the more corruption. …But perhaps the explanation runs the other way: It’s not only or not even primarily that power corrupts, but that corrupt people seek power, and the most effectively corrupt are likeliest to succeed in their quest. …That is, it is likely that a political career would attract moral corner-cutters. …There may be a certain percentage of people who seek power because they want to do good, or it may be that in the back of their minds, every political leader believes that he intends to do good. But to use power to do good, you’ll have to do whatever’s necessary to get that power. You’ll likely have to compromise whatever basic moral principles (“tell the truth,” for example) you came in with. …political power is a constant temptation to hypocrisy, or just flatly demands it. And when the public persona and the private reality come apart, a human being becomes a moral disaster, a mere deception. That is a fate common among politicians.

Professor Sartwell may not have a firm answer, but one obvious conclusion is that good people will be scarce in Washington.

And it’s not just the politicians we should worry about. The whole town seems to attract dodgy people.

In a 2018 study, Professor Ryan Murphy of Southern Methodist University found that Washington has far more psychopaths than any other part of the country.

Psychopathy, one of the “dark triad” of personality characteristics predicting antisocial behavior, is an important finding in psychology relevant for all social sciences. …While a very small percentage of individuals in any given state may actually be true psychopaths, the level of psychopathy present, on average, within an aggregate population (i.e., not simply the low percentages of psychopaths) is a distinct research question. …The most extreme data point is the District of Columbia, which received a standardized score of 3.48. …The presence of psychopaths in District of Columbia is consistent with the conjecture found in Murphy (2016) that psychopaths are likely to be effective in the political sphere. …The District of Columbia is measured to be far more psychopathic than any individual state in the country, a fact that can be readily explained…by the type of person who may be drawn a literal seat of power.

Moreover, we know that the crowd in D.C. figuratively screws taxpayers, but it appears they’re also busy screwing in other ways.

Residents in Washington, D.C. have the highest rates of sexually transmitted disease, compared to 50 states, according to a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention report. Out of the four kinds of STDs that the CDC report identified – chlamydia, gonorrhea, primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis – the district scored No.1 in the first three by a large margin… For every 100,000 D.C. residents, 1,083 cases of chlamydia were reported. Alaska came in second with only 772 cases. Similarly, the district had 480 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 population, double the rate of Mississippi, which ranked second.

Since this report was based on data in 2016, it’s possible another state has overtaken D.C.

But given Washington’s big lead, that would take a lot of risky extracurricular activity.

This tweet caught my eye because it nicely captures how the “experienced” people in Washington often may be the worst of the worst.

And we’ll close with this quote, which comes down on the side of bad people naturally gravitating to government.

P.S. If you like mocking the political class, you can read about how the buffoons 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.

In my lifetime, perhaps the greatest moment for human liberty took place 31 years ago when the corrupt socialist dictatorship of East Germany lost the will and ability to maintain the Berlin Wall.

Almost overnight, there was hope for the long-suffering people of the so-called German Democratic Republic.

In a spontaneous celebration that still brings tears to my eyes, they joined together with the free people of West Germany to tear down the ugly symbol of Marxist tyranny and oppression.

Even better, the fall of the Berlin Wall was a precursor to the total collapse of the Soviet Empire, thus liberating hundreds of millions of people from the horrific brutality of communism.

But not everybody is happy that the communism wound up on the ash heap of history. In a column for Jacobin, Loren Balhorn wistfully remembers East Germany’s Stalinst regime.

On October 3, 1990, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), formerly one of the most enthusiastic members of the Warsaw Pact, …ceased to exist…the uprisings of 1989–1990 across Eastern Europe saw the consolidation of a neoliberal order as the supposed price to pay for basic civil liberties and nominal freedom of movement. Communist parties that had ruled for decades fell into disarray, hastily rebranding themselves as social democrats or dissolving entirely. The fall of the Soviet bloc also demoralized large sections of the Left on the other side of the Iron Curtain, prompting the collapse of the international communist movement. …The specter of dictatorship and economic stagnation that is used to (one-sidedly) characterize life in the Eastern Bloc continues to be cited as incontrovertible “proof” that capitalism is the only workable — and indeed desirable — socioeconomic system. Moreover, socialism’s collapse in 1989 demonstrated that, when presented with the choice, most workers opt for the material abundance of capitalism and liberal democracy over whatever a socialist system has to offer. …whatever gains workers had made under socialism evidently were not enough to retain their loyalty when the moment of decision came. …But did it have to be this way?

After posing the rhetorical question whether it had “to be this way?”, Balhorn provides a very twisted answer

For many who survived fascism and wanted a new, better Germany, the GDR appeared as the natural choice. A number of prominent leftist intellectuals and artists, like renowned playwright Bertolt Brecht, composer Hanns Eisler, philosopher Ernst Bloch, and legal theorist Wolfgang Abendroth, opted to move East and lend their services to the cause. …Beyond these famous examples, it should not be forgotten that over five hundred thousand Germans chose to migrate not West but East in the first decade of the GDR’s existence. …The Wall…gave the GDR the chance to build a society that was broadly characterized by modest prosperity and social equality between classes and genders. Workers were guaranteed employment, housing, and all-day childcare, while basic foodstuffs and other goods were heavily subsidized. Though wages were only half of what they were in the West, adjusted for prices in relation to earnings, GDR workers’ actual purchasing power was more or less the same. …class distinctions in the GDR were in fact dramatically reduced, both in material as well as cultural terms.

In other words, Balhorn wants readers to believe that equal levels of misery and deprivation in former communist nations are something to celebrate.

I can’t resist pointing out that his assertion about levels of purchasing power being “more of less the same” in West Germany and East Germany is utter nonsense.

Here’s the data from a column I wrote last year.

Simply stated, both parts of Germany started out from a very low level after the destruction of World War II.

But then West Germany, triggered by the free-market reforms of leaders such as Ludwig Erhard, became a rich nation while East Germany lagged far behind.

Here’s one final excerpt which must set a record for romanticizing a Marxist dictatorship.

…the women and men who lived and worked in the GDR spent four decades building a society they understood as such and registered a number of remarkable achievements. …we can look to many of its achievements in education, housing, childcare, and labor relations as evidence that society does not have to be organized around the interests of the wealthy and that the free market is not the only way to organize an economy. It is possible to ensure that everyone has a place to live, health care, enough food to eat, and access to education — something that no capitalist society can claim today.

This is – at best – moral blindness.

I noted back in 2017 that there were some economists who used to write about the supposed superior performance of communist nations. But there were merely guilty of naively believing data from communist nations (and also guilty of not actually understanding economics).

I don’t think any of them would be dumb enough to praise East Germany today.

So Loren Balhorn definitely qualifies as a dupe and apologist.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that the nations with the most pro-market reforms are the ones that have most prospered since the collapse of communism.

P.P.S. There’s a grocery store in Texas that played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Writing about the failed government education monopoly back in 2013, I paraphrased Winston Churchill and observed that, “never has so much been spent so recklessly with such meager results.”

This more-recent data from Mark Perry shows that inflation-adjusted spending has ballooned in recent decades, driven in part by teacher expenses but even more so by the cost of bureaucrats.

Robby Soave recently wrote about the hypocrisy of one of those non-teaching bureaucrats.

In a must-read article for Reason, he notes that the lavishly compensated superintendent of government schools in a suburb of Washington, DC, has decided that one of his kids will get a better education at a private school.

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Gregory Hutchings has always been proud to call himself a parent of two children who attend public school. …But now, Hutchings has pulled one of his kids from ACPS—which remains all-virtual, to the frustration of many parents—and instead enrolled the child in a private Catholic high school currently following a hybrid model: some distance learning, and some in-person education. …It’s hard to blame Hutchings for trying to do right by his own child. But he is in a position to do right by thousands of other kids who don’t have the same opportunity.

Mr. Hutchings is a hypocrite, but that’s hardly a surprise.

So was Barack Obama. And Obama’s Secretary of Education. Lots of other leftists also have opposed school choice while allowing their kids to benefit from superior private schools, including Elizabeth Warren.

Why are they hypocrites? Because they put the self-interest of teacher unions before the educational interests of other people’s children.

But let’s return to Mr. Hutchings, because not only is he a hypocrite, he’s also a believer in equal levels of mediocrity.

Hutchings previously expressed concerns about parents seeking alternative educational arrangements. In a July 23 virtual conversation with parents and teachers detailing the district’s fall plans, Hutchings fretted that in-person learning pods would cause some students to get ahead of their Zoom-based public school counterparts. …Hutchings described pod-based learners as “privileged.” “If you’re able to put your child in a learning pod, your kids are getting ahead,” he said. “The other students don’t get that same access.” Students enrolled in pod-based learning, private tutoring, or private schooling that involves in-person instruction are indeed better off than those languishing in virtual education. But that’s a failure of public schools, which have largely chosen to privilege the demands of unions over the needs of children.

This is truly reprehensible.

In the past, I’ve criticized President George W. Bush “No Child Left Behind” scheme because it involved more centralization and more wasted money.

Hutchings is even worse. His policy should be called “No Child Gets Ahead.” And he’s not alone. My home county of Fairfax has the same disgusting attitude.

All things considered, Mr. Hutchings deserves membership in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame.

P.S. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow, that the record spending increases for government schools have not been matched by improvements in educational outcomes. Heck, the chart shows that there haven’t been any improvements.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but keep in mind that the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

Every so often, I’ll grouse about media sloppiness/media bias, most often from the Washington Post or New York Times, but also from other outlets (Reuters, Time, ABC, the Associated Press, etc).

Let’s add to the collection today by perusing an interesting – but frustrating – article in the New York Times about Venezuela’s near-decimated oil industry.

Authored by Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and , it provides a thorough description of how the energy sector in oil-rich Venezuela has collapsed.

For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela. Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned… Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks… Fuel shortages have brought the country to a standstill. At gas stations, lines go on for miles. …The country that a decade ago was the largest producer in Latin America, earning about $90 billion a year from oil exports, is expected to net about $2.3 billion by this year’s end… More than five million Venezuelans, or one in six residents, have fled the country since 2015, creating one of the world’s greatest refugee crises, according to the United Nations. The country now has the highest poverty rate in Latin America, overtaking Haiti.

But here’s what shocked me. The article never once mentions socialism. Or statism. Or leftist economic policy.

Instead, there is one allusion to “mismanagement” and one sentence that refers to government policy.

…years of gross mismanagement… Hugo Chávez, appeared on the national stage in the 1990s promising a revolution that would put Venezuela’s oil to work for its poor majority, he captivated the nation. …Mr. Chávez commandeered the country’s respected state oil company for his radical development program. He fired nearly 20,000 oil professionals, nationalized foreign-owned oil assets and allowed allies to plunder the oil revenues.

Almost 1800 words in the article, yet virtually no discussion of how maybe, just maybe, Venezuela’s hard shift to the left (as illustrated by the chart, economic freedom has steadily declined this century) may have contributed to the collapse of the country’s major industry.

This is journalistic malpractice. Sort of like writing about 2020 and not mentioning coronavirus or writing about 1944 and not mentioning World War II.

For those of you who do care about facts, it’s worth knowing that Venezuela has the world’s lowest level of economic liberty according to Economic Freedom of the World and second-to-lowest level of economic liberty according to the Index of Economic Freedom.

In a column for USA Today, Daniel di Martino writes about the awful consequences of his nation’s drift to socialism.

All my life, I lived under socialism in Venezuela until I left and came to the United States as a student in 2016. Because the regime in charge imposed price controls and nationalized the most important private industries, production plummeted. No wonder I had to wait hours in lines to buy simple products such as toothpaste or flour. …My family and I suffered from blackouts and lack of water. The regime nationalized electricity in 2007 in an effort to make electricity “free.” Unsurprisingly, this resulted in underinvestment in the electrical grid. By 2016, my home lost power roughly once a week. …The real reason my family went without water and electricity was the socialist economy instituted by dictators Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. The welfare programs, many minimum-wage hikes and nationalizations implemented by their regimes resulted in a colossal government deficit that the central bank covered by simply printing more money — leading to rampant inflation. …I watched what was once one of the richest countries in Latin America gradually fall apart under the weight of big government.

And he issues a warning about what could happen to the United States.

…neither Medicare for All nor a wealth tax alone would turn the United States into Venezuela overnight. No single radical proposal would do that. However, if all or most of these measures are implemented, they could have the same catastrophic consequences for the American people that they had for Venezuela.

The good news, so to speak, is that it would take many decades of bad policy to turn the U.S. into an economic basket case. There’s even a somewhat famous quote from Adam Smith (“there is a great deal of ruin in a nation“) about the ability of a country to survive and withstand lots of bad public policy.

But that doesn’t mean it would be a good idea to see how quickly the U.S. could become Venezuela. As I pointed out when writing about Argentina, it’s possible for a rich country to tax, spend, and regulate itself into economic crisis.

P.S. If you like gallows humor, you can find Venezuela-themed jokes here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. I speculated about the looming collapse of Venezuela in both 2018 and 2019. Sadly, it looks like the regime will last at least until 2021.

 

According to the Fraser Institute’s calculations of overall economic freedom, Delaware apparently has the worst politicians and New Hampshire has the best ones.

According to comprehensive estimates of economic liberty in Freedom in the 50 States, New York’s politicians seem to be the worst and Florida’s are the best.

But what if we focus just on fiscal policy?

Earlier this year, I wrote three columns that illustrated different ways – income taxes, sales taxes, and government spending burden – of measuring the quality of state fiscal policy.

Today, let’s look at a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s governors, courtesy of Chris Edwards. Here’s his core methodology.

…this year’s 15th biennial fiscal report card on the governors…examines state budget actions since 2018. It uses statistical data to grade the governors on their tax and spending records—governors who have restrained taxes and spending receive higher grades, while those who have substantially increased taxes and spending receive lower grades. …Scores ranging from 0 to 100 were calculated for each governor on the basis of seven tax and spending variables. Scores closer to 100 indicate governors who favored smaller-government policies. 

Only four governors got the highest grade (and that’s using a curve!), led by Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.

Those of you who follow politics may be interested in knowing that Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Ron DeSantis (R-FL), both potential presidential candidates in 2024, got “B” grades. So good, but not great.

Now let’s look at the most profligate chief executives.

The worst of the worst is Jay Inslee of Washington. So however bad Biden’s agenda is for the country, let’s be happy that Governor Inslee didn’t win the Democratic presidential nomination.

I’m not surprised by the other “F” governors. Though I am surprised that Gov. Pritzker isn’t in last place, given his efforts to get rid of the the Illinois flat tax.

For what it’s worth, the best-ranked Democrat (a “B” grade) is Steve Sisolak of Nevada. I assume this means he hasn’t tried to ruin the state’s zero-income-tax status. The worst-ranked Republican (a “D” grade) is Bill Lee of Tennessee and his bad score is because of huge increases in the state spending burden.

Last but not least, Chris identifies a systemic problem impacting almost all states. Simply stated, government spending has been growing too rapidly, more than double what would be needed to keep pace with inflation.

General fund spending grew at an annual average rate of 4.1 percent between 2010 and 2020, including increases of 5.5 percent in 2019 and 5.8 percent in 2020.

Here’s the accompanying chart.

In the study, Chris says states should use “rainy day funds” to avoid boom-and-bust budgeting (in other words, set aside some revenue when the economy is growing so it’s not necessary to make big adjustments when there’s a recession).

That’s definitely a prudent approach, and the study points out that some blue-leaning states like California follow that policy, while others (most notably, Illinois) recklessly spent surplus revenue.

My two cents is that a spending cap is the best long-run solution, and Colorado’s TABOR is easily the best fiscal rule among the 50 states.

P.S. Governor Sununu of New Hampshire needs to continue getting good scores to atone for his father’s terrible role, as Chief of Staff for George H.W. Bush, in pushing through the failed 1990 tax increase.

On election day, most people focus on the big-ticket partisan battles, such as this year’s contest between Trump and Biden.

Let’s not forget, though, that there are sometimes very important referendum battles at the state (or even local) level.

This year, the most important referendum will be in Illinois, where hypocritical Governor J.B. Pritzker wants voters to approve an initiative to replace the state’s flat tax with a discriminatory progressive tax.

I’ve already explained that the flat tax is the only thing saving Illinois from going further and faster in the wrong direction. Let’s add some additional evidence, starting with excerpts from this editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

The last state to adopt a progressive income tax was Connecticut in 1996, and we know how that turned out. Now Democrats in Illinois want to follow Connecticut down the elevator shaft with a referendum replacing the state’s flat 4.95% income tax with progressive rates… Public unions have long wanted to enact a progressive tax to pay for increased spending and pensions, and they think the political moment has finally arrived. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker says a progressive tax will hit only the wealthy… Don’t believe it. There aren’t enough wealthy in the state to pay for his spending promises, so eventually Democrats will come after the middle class. …Illinois has no fiscal room to fail. Since 2015 Illinois’s GDP has grown a mere 1% annually, about half as fast as the U.S. and slower than Ohio (1.4%), Indiana (1.7%), Wisconsin (1.7%) and Michigan (2.1%). About 11% of Illinois residents have left since 2001, the second biggest state exodus after New York. Taxpayer flight has been accelerating as income and property taxes have risen. …A progressive tax would be a gift to Florida and Texas.

The head of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Todd Maisch, also worries that other states will benefit if voters make the wrong choice. Here are excerpts from his column in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The rest of the nation’s states are cheering on Illinois’ efforts to enact a progressive income tax. That’s because they know it will be one more self-inflicted blow to our state’s economy, certain to drive dollars, jobs and families into their waiting arms. …The reality is that this proposal is intended to do just one thing: Make it easier to raise taxes on all Illinoisans. …the spenders in Springfield are coming for you too, sooner or later. Proponents of the progressive tax know something they don’t want to tell you. Taxing millionaires will in no way meet their appetite for state spending. There simply isn’t enough money at the higher income levels to satisfy their demands. Tax rates will go up and tax brackets will reach lower and lower incomes. …Other states already are benefiting from the outmigration of Illinoisans and their money. Illinois passing the progressive tax is exactly what they are hoping for.

Amen. We already have lots of evidence showing that taxpayers move from high-tax states to low-tax states. And Illinois already has been bleeding taxable income to other states, so it’s very likely that a progressive tax would dramatically worsen the state’s position.

Illinois voters can and should learn from what’s happened elsewhere.

For instance, Orphe Divounguy of the Illinois Policy Institute shares evidence from California about the adverse impact of class-warfare taxation.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker finds himself in the same place as then-California Gov. Jerry Brown was in back in 2012 – trying to convince voters that a progressive state income tax hike will fix state finances in crisis. Brown claimed the burden of those tax hikes would only harm those earning $250,000 or more – the top 3% of earners. That’s exactly what Pritzker promises with his “fair tax” proposal. Brown was wrong. …Here are the main findings of the new study… The negative economic effects of the tax hike wiped out nearly half of the expected additional tax revenue. Among top-bracket California taxpayers, outward migration and behavioral responses by stayers together eroded 45% of the additional tax revenues from the tax hike… The “temporary” income tax hike, which has now been extended through 2030, made it about 40% more likely wealthy residents would move out of California, primarily to states without income taxes.

Illinois voters also should learn from the painful experiences of taxpayers in Connecticut and New Jersey.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized this morning about their negative experiences.

Illinois is the nation’s leading fiscal basket case, with runaway pension liabilities and public-union control of Springfield. But it has had one saving grace: a flat-rate income tax that makes it harder for the political class to raise taxes. Now that last barrier to decline is in jeopardy on the November ballot. …the pattern of other blue states is instructive. Democratic governors have often lowballed voters with modest rates when introducing a new tax, only to ratchet up the levels in each administration. …New Jersey first taxed individual income in 1976 amid a national revenue slump, with a top rate of 2.5%. …Democratic Gov. James Florio raised the tax to 7%… A decade later Democrats raised the top rate to 8.97%, and last year Gov. Murphy added the 10.75% rate… Or take Connecticut… For decades its lack of an income tax lured New York workers and businesses, but Gov. Lowell Weicker introduced the tax in 1991…and the original 1.5% rate has since been raised five times to today’s 6.99%.

And here’s the chart that every taxpayer should memorize before they vote next month.

And never forget that ever-increasing tax rates on high earners inevitably are accompanied by ever-increasing tax rates on everyone else – exactly as predicted by the Sixth Theorem of Government.

So if middle-class Illinois voters approve the so-called Fair Tax initiative, they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves when their tax rates also climb.

P.S. If voters in very-blue Illinois reject Pritzker’s class-warfare tax referendum, I wonder if that will discourage Democrats in Washington from embracing Biden’s class warfare agenda next year (assuming he wins the election)?

P.P.S. There’s a debate whether ballot initiatives and other forms of “direct democracy” are a good idea. Professor Garett Jones of George Mason University persuasively argues we’ll get better governance with less democracy. On the other hand, Switzerland is a very successful, very well-governed nation where voters directly decide all sorts of major policy issues.

While I generally don’t think recycling is economically sensible, I am going to reuse this 2013 BBC interview because it’s time (again) to criticize the economic illiteracy of Pope Francis.

As I’ve previously explained, it’s good to care for the less fortunate. Indeed, as I explain in the interview, it’s part of being a good person.

It’s misguided, however, to think that higher taxes and bigger government are an effective way of lifting people out of poverty.

Indeed, we have centuries of evidence demonstrating that only capitalism produces mass prosperity.

Sadly, Pope Francis has a Peronist mindset on economic matters. So when he issues his thoughts on economic matters, we get erroneous cliches rather than helpful analysis.

A story from the Associated Press summarizes the Pope’s new attack on economic liberty.

Pope Francis says…the “magic theories” of market capitalism have failed and that the world needs a new type of politics that promotes dialogue and solidarity… The document draws its inspiration from…the pope’s previous preaching on the injustices of the global economy. “…not everything can be resolved by market freedom,” he wrote. …As an outgrowth of that, Francis rejected the concept of an absolute right to property for individuals… He repeated his criticism of the “perverse” global economic system, which he said consistently keeps the poor on the margins while enriching the few… Francis also rejected “trickle-down” economic theory… “Neo-liberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name — as the only solution to societal problems,” he wrote. “There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged ‘spillover’ does not resolve the inequality.

And here’s how NPR reported the Pope’s anti-market message.

The document..is a scathing description of laissez faire capitalism… Once the pandemic passes, the pope writes, “our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation.” …Francis says the marketplace cannot resolve every problem, and he denounces what he describes as “this dogma of neoliberal faith” that “resort[s] to the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle.’ ” A good economic policy, he says, creates jobs — it doesn’t eliminate them.

The Pope is right that good policy creates jobs, by the way, but he’s wildly wrong to think that there’s a better alternative than capitalism.

For what it’s worth, I’m guessing that he doesn’t like the fact that capitalism means “creative destruction,” which does result in millions of jobs being eliminated every year. But, barring a recession, that same process also leads to the creation of an even greater number of new jobs.

Equally important, this is the process that results in higher productivity, higher wages, and higher living standards.

The bottom line is that a statist economic agenda – at best – offers the poor a life of dependency (especially when you consider the very high implicit marginal tax rates created by redistribution programs).

Capitalism, by contrast, gives the poor opportunity and upward mobility (as I noted a few years ago, it would be much better to be a poor person in Hong Kong than in France).

P.S. I strongly recommend what Thomas Sowell and George Will wrote about the Pope’s anti-market ideology.

P.P.S. Mauritius is a powerful example of why the Pope is very fallible on economic matters.

Yesterday’s column featured some of Milton Friedman’s wisdom from 50 years ago on how a high level of societal capital (work ethic, spirit of self-reliance, etc) is needed if we want to limit government.

Today, let’s look at what he said back then about that era’s high tax rates.

His core argument is that high marginal tax rates are self-defeating because the affected taxpayers (like Trump and Biden) will change their behavior to protect themselves from being pillaged.

This was in the pre-Reagan era, when the top federal tax rate was 70 percent, and notice that Friedman made a Laffer Curve-type prediction that a flat tax of 19 percent would collect more revenue than the so-called progressive system.

We actually don’t know if that specific prediction would have been accurate, but we do know that Reagan successfully lowered the top tax rate on the rich from 70 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1988.

So, by looking at what happened to tax revenues from these taxpayers, we can get a pretty good idea whether Friedman’s prediction was correct.

Well, here’s the IRS data from 1980 and 1988 for taxpayers impacted by the highest tax rate. I’ve circled (in red) the relevant data showing how we got more rich people, more taxable income, and more tax revenue.

The bottom line is that Friedman was right.

Good tax policy (i.e., lower rates on productive behavior) can be a win-win situation. Taxpayers earn more and keep more, while politicians also wind up with more because the economic pie expands.

Something to keep in mind since some politicians in Washington want a return to confiscatory taxes on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

I identified four heroes from the “Battle of Ideas” video I shared in late August – Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Here’s one of those heroes, Milton Friedman, explaining what’s needed to control big government.

For all intents and purposes, Friedman is pointing out that there’s a “public choice” incentive for government to expand.

To counteract that disturbing trend, he explains that we need a high level of “societal capital.” In other words, we need a self-reliant and ethical populace – i.e., people who realize it’s wrong to use the coercive power of government to take from others.

Sadly, I don’t think that’s an accurate description of today’s United States.

So how, then, can we get control of government?

Since politicians are unlikely to control spending in the short run (their time horizon is always the next election), our best hope is to get them to agree to a rule that constrains what can happen in the future.

I’ve repeatedly argued in favor of a spending cap. Such a policy has a proven track record, and is far more effective than a balanced budget requirement.

That’s what should happen.

Now let’s focus on what shouldn’t happen. As Milton Friedman famously observed in 2001, tax increases are never the solution because politicians will simply spend any additional revenue (and the tax increases also will hurt the economy and cause Laffer-Curve feedback effects).

P.S. You can enjoy more wisdom from Friedman on issues such as the role of the firm, spending other people’s money, and so-called Robber Barons.

P.P.S. On the issue of spending other people’s money, here’s an example of Jay Leno channeling Friedman.

When I write about regulation, I mostly focus on cost-benefit analysis.

Simply stated, red tape makes it more expensive for people and businesses to do things, much as adding obstacles makes it more difficult for someone to get from Point A to Point B.

So a relevant question is whether proposed regulations generate enough benefits to justify the added expense (I’m generally skeptical, but those are empirical matters).

But there’s another question we should ask, which is why governments create new rules and red tape in the first place?

Those are all plausible explanations.

But one thing that never occurred to me is that we may get more regulation if we live in a state or nation with lots of people.

That’s a topic that James Bailey, James Broughel, and Patrick A. McLaughlin investigated in a new study from the Mercatus Center. Here’s a description of their methodology.

…very few academic studies have advanced scholars’ understanding of the relationship between regulation and population. This article is intended to help fill this gap in the literature. We aim to test whether this population-regulation connection holds using more recent, more refined, and more comprehensive measures of regulation. …This study is the first to use RegData to measure why some polities are more regulated than others, the first to use the full State RegData (released in October 2019) for any econometric analysis, and the first to combine federal and state RegData for the United States with RegData datasets for other countries (Australia and Canada).

Here is some of the key data from the United States, Canada, and Australia.

The United States has about an order of magnitude more people than Canada, along with about an order of magnitude more regulatory restrictions than Canada. Conversely, Australia is less populous than Canada but has nearly twice as many regulatory restrictions. On a per capita basis, Canada, with only 0.0023 restrictions per capita for the entire time period examined, appears somewhat less regulated than the United States (at about 0.0032 restrictions per capita) and significantly less regulated than Australia (whose restrictions per capita rise from about 0.0053 in 2005 to a peak of 0.0095 in 2012, and taper slightly to 0.0092 in 2018). We note, however, that both the Canadian and the Australian regulatory systems are fairly decentralized compared to that of the United States, delegating a considerable amount of autonomy and authority to provincial governments.

The study includes some interesting charts.

First, we see that there are a lot more regulatory restrictions in the United States than in Canada and Australia.

Though if you adjust for population size, Australia has the most red tape.

Kudos to Canada for having the lowest level of red tape, both in absolute terms and in per-capita terms. As I wrote a few years ago, there are many Canadian policies we should emulate.

One common feature of the U.S., Canada, and Australia is that all three nations have some degree of federalism, which means that some government policies are handled at the state/provincial level.

And this means the Mercatus study has another way of measuring the relationship between population and red tape. In the United States, we learn that more people means more regulations.

Figure 3 compares the 2000 population and 2018 regulatory restriction counts of 46 US states and the District of Columbia. We see a strong positive correlation between population and regulatory restrictions. Running a basic linear regression with no controls, we find that, on average, an increase in population of 1,000 people is associated with a statistically significant increase of 9 regulatory restrictions. …we next take the log of both population and regulatory restrictions and run a simple linear regression on these variables…which show that, on average, a 10 percent increase in population is associated with a 3.27 percent increase in regulatory restrictions.

Here’s the relevant chart from the study.

Congratulations to South Dakota for having the lowest level of red tape (the state also scores well on fiscal policy).

Canada and Australia have fewer subnational governments, but the study finds a similar relationship between population size and regulatory restrictions.

While Canada and Australia do not have enough provinces to support proper regression analysis, Figures 4 and 5 plot their subnational populations against their subnational regulatory restrictions. The results are also suggestive of a positive population-regulation correlation.

Here’s the chart for Canada.

And here’s the chart for Australia.

The relationship between red tape and population isn’t a perfect fit, either in the U.S. or in the other two countries. But there certainly seems to be some level of correlation.

But why?

The authors offer some potential answers.

…we show that larger polities consistently have more regulation. This provides support for previous theoretical work that posited a fixed cost associated with regulating. Specifically, the fixed costs of establishing new bureaus, staffing them, and funding them to implement and enforce regulations may fall on a per capita basis with a larger population. In addition to the fixed cost explanation, Mulligan and Shliefer offer other alternative explanations for why regulation may increase with population levels…the scope of activities to regulate becomes larger as population increases.

Sounds like we should turn the 50 states into 500 states (to help ensure good political outcomes, let’s leave California, New York, and Illinois alone and subdivide the libertarian-leaning states).

Not only would we get less red tape, we’d also benefit from additional regulatory diversity and additional regulatory competition.

P.S. Our friends on the left want to go in the opposite direction, favoring global regulation.

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