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Archive for November, 2009

The clever folks at the Taxpayers Alliance in the United Kingdom have a new video documenting some of the wasteful European Union programs that are imposing a heavy burden on average people.

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This is almost beyond parody. The head of the U.K.’s Environment Agency actually wants to track everyone’s carbon use and make them pay extra is they have an “extravagent lifestyle.” The Telegraph reports on this odious bit of cloying fascism:

Lord Smith of Finsbury believes that implementing individual carbon allowances for every person will be the most effective way of meeting the targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. It would involve people being issued with a unique number which they would hand over when purchasing products that contribute to their carbon footprint, such as fuel, airline tickets and electricity. Like with a bank account, a statement would be sent out each month to help people keep track of what they are using. …Lord Smith will call for the scheme to be part of a “Green New Deal” to be introduced within 20 years when he addresses the agency’s annual conference on Monday. …Ruth Lea, an economist from Arbuthnot Banking Group, told the Daily Mail: “This is all about control of the individual and you begin to wonder whether this is what the green agenda has always been about. It’s Orwellian. This will be an enormous tax on business.”

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Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post has a common-sense column warning about the dangers of the Fed’s easy-money policy. It is possible, to be sure, that the Fed will withdraw (or “soak up”) all this liquidity as the economy recovers, but all the signs suggest that the central bank is kowtowing to the politicians and debasing the currency in order to help politicians create illusory growth. This is a recipe for a return to the 1970s. The bad policy started under Bush (and Greenspan) and is continuing under Obama (and Bernanke):

The Federal Reserve is still going through its “lessons-learned” exercise from the recent financial crisis, but there’s one lesson it clearly has not yet absorbed — the one about ignoring and enabling credit bubbles. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the Fed’s decision last week to not only keep its benchmark interest rates at zero but also let everyone know that it intends to leave them there for a good long time. …Not surprisingly, all of this sparked a week-long party in financial markets that had already experienced powerful rallies over the past six months. Even with Thursday’s modest pullback on Wall Street, U.S. stocks are up 60 percent since March, and share prices in emerging markets have nearly doubled. Commodity prices are soaring once again, led by gold, which is now selling for more than $1,100 an ounce, and crude oil, which is up a whopping 126 percent since February. A rally in the junk-bond and third-world debt markets has driven interest rates back to where they were before the crisis. In urban China, India and Brazil, property prices have doubled in the past year. “The markets are on a sugar high,” Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of Pimco, the giant money manager, told Newsweek’s Rana Foroohar last week. Judging from how sharply and quickly these prices have risen, it’s a pretty good guess that most of the buying has not been done by long-term investors who are suddenly upbeat about the prospects of global economic growth. The better bet is all this is the handiwork of short-term speculation by banks, hedge funds, private-equity funds and other financial center wise-guys moving as a herd, financing their purchases directly or indirectly with some of that yummy zero-percent money provided courtesy of the Fed. …There’s no way to know how long all this can continue before one of these bubbles finally bursts, the dollar spikes upward and investors all rush to unwind their trades at the same time. But it is a good guess that it will last as long as the Fed and other central banks indicate there is no end in sight for the current cheap-money regime. The longer they wait, the bigger the bubbles, and the bigger the mess to clean up. All of which is why the recent statements by policymakers were so disappointing — and so dangerous.

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Appearing on Fox Business News, I explain why government-run healthcare will be a fiscal disaster for taxpayers.

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I don’t know which is scariest. Probably Biden. Maybe Frank.

Constipation

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Since the Treasury Department is still very much on the wrong side of the OECD anti-tax competition campaign, don’t get too excited about the headline. But it is still nice to see that Tim Geithner and the rest of the crowd in the Obama Administration are not so hopelessly statist that they are willing to go along with a global tax on financial transactions. The Wall Street Journal opines:

In the department of bad ideas that won’t go away, Exhibit A is a global tax on financial transactions. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown mooted the tax last weekend before the G-20 finance ministers in St. Andrews, Scotland, where he was promptly rebuffed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. …it’s easy to see why high-tax countries such as France and Germany relish the idea. Tax competition is a bête noire for the Western European countries whose governments eat up close to half of their economies. The U.K. is back in that club after the post-financial-panic recession lopped 6% off its GDP. Scrambling for revenue—and unwilling to hamstring London markets alone—Mr. Brown is suddenly promoting global tax coordination. …Like all tax-harmonization schemes, the Tobin levy is designed to raise taxes above a level that is hard to sustain in a competitive world. This is why its backers have always insisted on a global imposition of the tax. Kudos to Secretary Geithner for offering Mr. Brown a reality check.

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The Guardian is a left-wing paper, so the author of this column may also be a collectivist, but he gets credit for being honest about the European Union’s shortcomings. Even more important, he has several very clever lines – such as “post-democratic statism” and “greatest boondoggle of the late 20th century.” His column is designed to promote Gordon Brown for the job of EU President, but read it for the scathing rhetoric:

He is clearly unhappy with the rough and tumble of democratic politics, with the daily grind of public appearances, glad-handing and schmoozing. But these are not required in Brussels, where nobody is elected to anything and such populism as smiling at cameras and holding referendums are anathema. Brown, dark-suited and anonymous, is a natural oligarch, his governing style attuned to the post-democratic statism of 21st-century Europe. …If a Brown presidency were a success it would be a triumph for Europe. It might help rescue the meretricious gravy train that is today’s EU hierarchy, perhaps even setting it on a path to usefulness. If Brown failed, nothing would be lost, since everyone knows it is not a proper job anyway. Since it was invented by the greatest boondoggle of the late 20th century, the Lisbon treaty, it has been a title looking for a purpose – which is why Tony Blair so wants it. …An inability to think laterally has long been the curse of the European movement. A sign of its intellectual insecurity is that it cannot handle scepticism, treating any but the most craven sycophant as an enemy. At the Nice summit that followed the corruption scandals of 1998-9, the EU’s spin doctors declared that in future “decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen”. They lied, and knew it. So did the public. Since 2005, few have dared ask Europe’s citizens if they agreed with the Lisbon constitution, and those that did received bloody noses. The reneging of Labour and the Liberal Democrats on 2005 election commitments to a referendum showed the power of Europe’s oligarchs to outflank democratic accountability. It is near impossible to ascertain what any European citizen expects or wants from what is to be an extraordinary sovereign power placed over them. Nothing in recent constitutional history has been more cynical – or more dangerous – than the fact that referendums voting yes to euro-integration are accepted and those that vote no are rejected. …The tragedy of Lisbon is that it is a rotten treaty, slithering from the disciplines needed for freer trade to the phoney utopia of a level socioeconomic playing field across the continent. This will not work. It will propel the EU into constant friction with national parliaments, and stir public anger at being denied a vote on the new constitution.

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There is a growing body of evidence showing that school choice improves academic outcomes, but a new study published by the South Carolina Policy Council highlights research showing that a market-based education system also leads to more self-employment among youth. Here is the key section:

South Carolina is in dire need of economic growth, especially in its rural communities. This study shows how, hypothetically, school choice would have increased the number of small businesses created by residents aged 16-25 in five counties in South Carolina. Our findings are based on the research of Russell Sobel and Kerry King, which shows that counties that offer school choice see a significantly higher rate of self-employment among young men and women. According to Sobel and King, voucher-based school choice can increase youth self-employment by as much as 25 percent. In this study we found that a similar program in the counties of Clarendon, Hampton, Lee, Marlboro and Williamsburg could have created 123 small businesses and 379 additional jobs.

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The punitive class-warfare mentality of the left can be found buried in the healthcare bill. The Wall Street Journal dug deep and found a big capital gains tax increase. Ideally, there should be no double taxation of income that is saved and invested, which means the right tax rate is zero. Boosting the rate from 15 percent to 25.4 percent is a big step in the wrong direction, of course, and almost surely will lose revenue (and definitely will undermine growth):

Our job is to read bad legislation so you don’t have to, and on that score we may demand combat pay for plowing our way through the House health-care bill that passed on Saturday. …House Democrats are funding their new entitlement with a 5.4% surtax on incomes above $500,000 for individuals and above $1 million for joint filers. The surcharge is intended to snag the greatest number of taxpayers to raise some $460.5 billion, and so the House has written it to apply to modified adjusted gross income. That means it includes both capital gains and dividends. That surtax takes effect on January 1, 2011, or the day the Bush tax rates of 2001 and 2003 expire. Today’s capital gains tax rate of 15% would bounce back to 20% because of the Bush repeal and then to 25.4% with the surtax. That’s a 69% increase, overnight.

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The Kelo case was one of the most reprehensible Supreme Court decisions in recent history. The Court said it was okay for a local government to seize a private home solely to please a big corporation. So it is morbidly satisfying to see that the strategy has backfired for the town. Tim Carney reports for the Washington Examiner:

Susette Kelo’s little, pink house in New London, Conn. — like the houses of all her neighbors — is now a pile of rubble, overgrown with weeds. But Pfizer, the company that called for the demolition in order to build a new research and development plant, announced Monday it is packing up and leaving town in order to cut costs after its merger with fellow drug-giant Wyeth. New London now has a wasteland where a neighborhood once stood, and no jobs or business to show for it. It’s another travesty of central planning. …Kelo, and other residents who didn’t want to move, sued to block the condemnation. They lost, but they fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the four liberal justices joined with moderate Anthony Kennedy to rule in favor of the developers — the takings were perfectly legal. …the takings in New London begin to sound like a great progressive victory: government, triumphing over the exploitive notion of “property rights,” helps the many at the expense of a few. But, New London was really another example of political cronyism and politicians using the might of government in order to benefit well-connected big business at the expense of those poorer and less influential. Consider that the head of the New London Development Corporation was Claire Gaudiani, who was married to David Burnett, the Pfizer executive who wanted “a nice place to operate.” Pfizer vice president George Milne also sat on the development corporation’s board. …Pfizer got its loot – free land, special tax breaks, and government-funded clean-up of the neighborhood (including clearing out the unsightly neighbors) – and the area prepared for economic “rejuvenation,” as Justice Stevens put it. It didn’t work out that way. The Fort Trumbull neighborhood Pfizer had bulldozed today consists only of “weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe and shingle splinters,” according to the Associated Press.

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The indispensable John Lott explains how a misguided anti-gun regulation from the early 1990s created a safe environment for Major Hasan’s terrorist attack. As Lott explains in his Foxnews.com article, gun bans only disarm innocent people. Terrorists and other human refuse take advantage of such situations to kill more people:

Shouldn’t an army base be the last place where a terrorist should be able to shoot at people uninterrupted for 10 minutes? After all, an army base is filled with soldiers who carry guns, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. Beginning in March 1993, under the Clinton administration, the army forbids military personnel from carrying their own personal firearms and mandates that “a credible and specific threat against [Department of the Army] personnel [exist] in that region” before military personnel “may be authorized to carry firearms for personal protection.” …The unarmed soldiers could do little more than cower as Major Nidal Malik Hasan stood on a desk and shot down into the cubicles in which his victims were trapped. Some behaved heroically, such as private first class Marquest Smith who repeatedly risked his life removing five soldiers and a civilian from the carnage. But, being unarmed, these soldiers were unable to stop Hasan’s attack. The wife of one of the soldiers shot at Ft. Hood understood this all too well. Mandy Foster’s husband had been shot but was fortunate enough not to be seriously injured. In an interview on CNN on Monday night, Mrs. Foster was asked by anchor John Roberts how she felt about her husband “still scheduled for deployment in January” to Afghanistan. Ms. Foster responded: “At least he’s safe there and he can fire back, right?” — It is hard to believe that we don’t trust soldiers with guns on an army base when we trust these very same men in Iraq and Afghanistan. …The law-abiding, not the criminals, are the ones who obey the ban on guns. Instead of making areas safe for victims, the bans make it safe for the criminal. Hasan not only violated the army’s ban on carrying a gun, he also apparently violated the rules that require soldiers to register privately owned guns at the post. Research shows that allowing individuals to defend themselves dramatically reduces the rates of multiple victim public shootings. Even if attacks still occur, having civilians with permitted concealed handguns limits the damage. A major factor in determining how many people are harmed by these killers is the amount of time that elapses between when the attack starts and someone is able to arrive on the scene with a gun. …All the multiple victim public shootings in the U.S. — in which more than three people have been killed — have all occurred in places where concealed handguns have been banned.

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An honest statist at the New Yorker openly admits that a key purpose of Obamacare is to create a new entitlement that will make people more dependent on government and therefore more likely to support Democrats. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page admires Mr. Cassidy’s honesty, but obviously is troubled by the implications. For what it’s worth, Cassidy’s argument is very similar to the one made by Bill Clinton’s pollster back in the early 1990s, so we can’t say we haven’t been warned what the left wants:

…let’s give credit to John Cassidy, part of the left-wing stable at the New Yorker, who wrote last week on its Web site that “it’s important to be clear about what the reform amounts to.” Mr. Cassidy is more honest than the politicians whose dishonesty he supports. “The U.S. government is making a costly and open-ended commitment,” he writes. “Let’s not pretend that it isn’t a big deal, or that it will be self-financing, or that it will work out exactly as planned. It won’t. What is really unfolding, I suspect, is the scenario that many conservatives feared. The Obama Administration . . . is creating a new entitlement program, which, once established, will be virtually impossible to rescind.” Why are they doing it? Because, according to Mr. Cassidy, ObamaCare serves the twin goals of “making the United States a more equitable country” and furthering the Democrats’ “political calculus.” In other words, the purpose is to further redistribute income by putting health care further under government control, and in the process making the middle class more dependent on government. As the party of government, Democrats will benefit over the long run.

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The war against drugs certainly has been good for government, with bigger budgets, more bureaucracy, and new powers.

But does it have any positive impact, even from the perspective of people (like me) who think drug use has a net negative impact on both users and society?

The answer, almost surely, is no. A recent article from The Economist finds that marijuana use is very low in Portugal, even though most drugs – including heroin and cocaine – were decriminalized in 2001.

So if the Drug War has lots of bad consequences and no good consequences, isn’t it time to stop? After all, if you’re in a hole, doesn’t it make sense to stop digging?

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This video provides 12 reasons in less than 7 minutes.

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This Reason.tv video reminds us about the horrors of totalitarian oppression. The fall of the Berlin Wall was a tremendous victory for freedom and could be Ronald Reagan’s greatest accomplishment.

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The UK-based Daily Telegraph makes fun of a video produced by the English government, asking whether deserves as award for being the most boring video on youtube.

It is a tedious production, but perhaps it deserves an award for being the most sinister or collectivist video on youtube. The video is designed to bully Brits into telling tax authorities about offshore accounts, and the narrator brags that the tax authorities has “more powers” and actually has the nerve to complain that people with undeclared accounts are “robbing public services of much needed funding.”

Yes, robbery is taking place. But at the risk of pointing out the obvious, it is government that is using coercion to take money it doesn’t deserve.

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Republicans usually are not very creative, so I’m uncharacteristically impressed that they have come up with a devastating chart showing the bureaucratic nightmare that will be created (on top of the current mess) for health care.

Congressman Brady of Texas gets an award for the best one-liner, saying about the Pelosi plan that “If the IRS and Medicare had a baby, it would look like this.”

Pelosi Plan

For a closer look, click this PDF link.

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Here’s the weekly political humor, though I hope Obama is very unsuccessful with the rest of his promises.

Political Promises

Reminds me of the old line about “Thank goodness we don’t get all the government we pay for.”

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Last month, this blog noted the bad news from Ireland, where voters were bullied into endorsing the so-called Lisbon Treaty to create a bigger and more powerful European Union bureaucracy in Brussels. Now, the last obstacle has been cleared as Czech President Vaclav Klaus has signed the pact. The Euro-crats in Brussels are overjoyed, but this agreement will mean more bureaucracy, more centralization, and more harmonization. It also makes the EU even more anti-democratic. Reuters reports:

Czech President Vaclav Klaus signed the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty Tuesday, bringing into force the EU’s plan to overhaul its institutions and win a greater role on the world stage. Klaus was the last EU leader to ratify the treaty and his signature, coming after the top Czech court cleared the pact, means the bloc of nearly half a billion people can pick its first-ever long-time president and a more powerful foreign representative.

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The Administration’s bogus job numbers are so outlandish that even the Associated Press is pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes. The AP report notes that the White house claim of 600,000-plus jobs is based on absudities such as claiming a job is saved when bureaucrats get pay increases. The White House also counted 935 jobs for an agency that has only 508 employees. For people in the real world, the actual data from the Department of Labor show that total employment has dropped by more than 3 million since Obama took office:

The government’s latest tally of stimulus jobs counted pay increases for existing workers as jobs saved in a popular federal preschool program, raising fresh questions about the process the Obama administration is using to tout the success of its $787 billion economic recovery plan. A review of the latest stimulus reports – which the White House promised would undergo extensive reviews to ensure accuracy – found that more than two-thirds of 14,506 jobs credited to the recovery act by Head Start programs involved pay increases. Health and Human Services spokesman Luis Rosero defended the practice. “If I give you a raise, it is going to save a portion of your job,’’ he said. …Most of the inflated figures were like those cited in the 935 saved jobs reported by the Southwest Georgia Community Action in Moultrie, Ga. Director Myrtis Mulkey-Ndawula said she followed the guidelines the Obama administration provided and multiplied her 508 employees by 1.84 – the percentage pay raise they received – and came up with 935 jobs saved. …More than 250 other community agencies receiving stimulus cash from the HHS Administration for Children and Families similarly reported saving jobs when using the money to give pay raises, pay for training and continuing education, extend employee work hours, or buy equipment, according to their spending reports.

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I tangle once again with my regular nemesis on Street Signs. I almost feel sorry for Christian, since he feels he should fall on his sword to defend the Administration’s make-believe “jobs created or saved” numbers. But then I remember that he has an annoying habit of trying to use up all the air time (his scientific name is Filibusteris Interruptus), and I realize that maybe this is karma.

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Yesterday’s elections were almost a complete disaster for the White House. In the races for governor, the GOP won a huge landslide in Virginia and knocked off the Democratic incumbent in New Jersey. The only silver lining to Obama’s dark cloud came in upstate New York, where the collectivist Republican nominee apparently was successful in helping the Democratic candidate beat the Conservative Party candidate in the race to fill a seat in the House of Representatives.

But this was a 99 percent defeat for the Obama Administration. Especially New Jersey.

From a policy perspective, it will make Democrats on Capitol Hill much more nervous about supporting government-run health care. This does not guarantee the defeat of Obamacare, but it is much less likely now than it was 24 hours ago.

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In this new video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Eline van den Broek of the Netherlands needs only about four minutes to explain why government-run healthcare in Europe is a mistake and why the problems in the U.S. healthcare system are the result of too much government, not too little.

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What is now known as the European Union started as a free-trade area, which is something to be admired. But over the decades, the free trade area has mutated into a statist super-bureaucracy pushing for centralization and harmonization. Now, according to leaked documents, the collectivists in Brussels want to impose a direct tax. This would be on top of the already onerous tax systems imposed by member nations. Needless to say, one hopes that one of the 27 nations will use its veto to stop this terrible idea. That would seem to be a simple and obvious task, but the vast majority of politicians in all European nations are terrified of being called anti-European, so even awful ideas become very plausible threats. The UK-based Daily Express reports:

Secret plans to seize more than £4billion a year from Britain and make its citizens pay taxes direct to Europe emerged last night. The leaked proposals, seen by the Daily Express, …would…mean Brussels being given the power to dip straight into taxpayers’ pockets. Shadow Europe Minister Mark Francois vowed they would be resisted by a Tory government. He said: “The idea of an EU tax is a non-starter. …Possible taxes suggested in the report – which could be discussed as soon as the start of the European summit in Brussels tomorrow – include levies on phone calls, flights, financial transactions or carbon emissions. …Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, branded the idea of direct taxation from Brussels an “outrage”. He added: “Control of taxation must rest solely in the hands of democratically elected politicians who answer to British taxpayers. “The EU has shown time and time again it is greedy for power. This is another sign they will never stop trying to grab it.”

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This video has been circulating around the Internet for a while, but it’s a classic. If you haven’t seen it, take a look. And if you have seen it, it’s refreshing to watch it again.

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Tax competition is an issue that arouses passion on both sides of the debate. Libertarians and other free-market advocates welcome tax competition as a way of restraining the greed of politicians. Governments have lowered tax rates in recent decades, for instance, because politicians are afraid that the geese that lay the golden eggs can fly across the border. But collectivists despise tax competition – for exactly the same reason. They want investors, entrepreneurs, and companies to passively serve as free vending machines, dispensing never-ending piles of money for politicians. So when a left-wing group puts together a ranking of the world’s “top secrecy jurisdictions” in hopes of undermining tax competition, proponents of individual freedom can use that list as a guide to world’s most investor-friendly nations. The good news is that an American state, Delaware, is number one on the list. And since being a tax haven is a magnet for investment, this is good news for U.S. competitiveness. The bad news is that American taxpayers are not allowed to benefit from many of Delaware’s “tax haven” policies. Here’s what a left-wing columnist in the United Kingdom wrote about the issue:

You’re a billionaire but you don’t want anyone, least of all the taxman, to know. What do you do? Head for a palm-fringed island paradise or a snow-covered Alpine micro-state? Wrong. The world’s most opaque jurisdictions – the ones that will best shield you and your cash from the light – are mostly in the heart of the most sophisticated and powerful global financial centres. London, Luxembourg and Zurich are in the top five most secretive jurisdictions, according the first comprehensive index of financial transparency ever compiled. Yet top of the pile, beating the British Virgin Islands, Belize or Liechtenstein as the best place to hide wealth, is Delaware. One of the smallest states in the US, it offers the best protection for anyone who does not want to disclose their identity as a beneficial owner of a company. That is one very good reason why the East Coast state hosts 50% of the US’s quoted firms and 650,000 companies – almost equivalent to one company per Delaware resident. …Delaware – the political power-base of the US vice-president, Joe Biden – offers high levels of banking secrecy and does not make details of trusts, company accounts and beneficial ownership a matter of public record. Delaware also allows companies to re-domicile within its borders with minimal disclosure, and allows the existence of privacy-enhancing “protected cell” or “segregated portfolio” companies, among many other stratagems useful for protecting the identity of those who do business there.

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Politicians understand the economic impact of taxation when it serves their interests. They often brag about raising tobacco taxes to discourage smoking. It’s not their business to dictate private behavior, of course, but they are right about higher taxes leading to less smoking (they also lead to more cigarette smuggling, but that’s a separate issue). Those same politicians, however, conveniently forget about the economic effect of taxes when they impose high tax rates on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. Or maybe they simply don’t care. But as is explained in the Wall Street Journal, taxes on productive behavior matter a lot. More than one million people have escaped New York this decade, and punitive taxes clearly have played a role in this brain drain to other states:

Between 2000 and 2008, the Empire State had a net domestic outflow of more than 1.5 million, the biggest exodus of any state, with most hailing from New York City. The departures also have perilous budget consequences, since they tend to include residents who are better off than those arriving. Statewide, departing families have income levels 13% higher than those moving in, while in New York County (home of Manhattan) the differential was even more severe. Those moving elsewhere had an average income of $93,264, some 28% higher than the $72,726 earned by those coming in. In 2006 alone, that swap meant the state lost $4.3 billion in taxpayer income. Add that up from 2001 through 2008, and it translates into annual net income losses somewhere near $30 billion. …no single reason can be fingered for a million migrants seeking their fortunes across state lines, but one place to start is New York’s notorious state and local tax burden. According to the Tax Foundation, between 1977 and 2008, New York has ranked first or second in the country for its state-local tax burden compared to the U.S. average. In the years considered by the Empire Center study, New York’s state and local tax burden ranged between 11% and 12% of income. The peak year for taxes, 2004, was followed by the peak year for departures—as New York lost nearly 250,000 people to other states in 2005. And that’s before another big tax hike this year. That pattern is consistent with the annual migration patterns, showing that highly taxed and economically lackluster states were most likely to end up in residents’ rear view mirrors. According to the annual study by United Van Lines, states like New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois have been big losers in recent years. …Liberals continue to insist that they can raise taxes ever higher without any effect on behavior, but the New York study is one more piece of evidence that this is a destructive illusion.

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