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Archive for November, 2012

Regarding Obama’s “you-didn’t-build-that” comment back in July, I explained why that attack on entrepreneurs and small business owners was misguided.

And I also shared some humorous cartoons on the topic.

But it is true that no entrepreneur produces a product without help from many others. But what the President apparently doesn’t understand is that almost all of the real help comes from voluntary and decentralized exchange in the private market.

This CEI video is a good introduction to this spontaneous process.

And if you want to look at the topic from a different perspective, this video helps to explain how we often get much more than we pay for in a competitive market economy.

There’s also a moral argument presented in this video from the American Enterprise Institute.

Needless to say, Walter Williams is always worth reading to understand the difference between markets and statism. And here’s some good real-world evidence about the benefits of better policy.

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Obama has staked out a very dogmatic and inflexible position on class-warfare tax hikes and he obviously wants all of us to think only the “rich” will be impacted.

I think it’s foolish to penalize investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners and other upper-income taxpayers. What nation, after all, has ever prospered by placing obstacles in front of those who create jobs? France? Don’t make me laugh.

But I’m also amazed that anyone believes Obama isn’t going to screw the middle class as well. The simple reality is that there aren’t enough rich people to finance big government.

There are some honest folks on the left who admit that they want ordinary people on the chopping block.

Now we can add another honest statist to the list. I debated some guy from a left-wing think tank and he wants Obama to push all of us off the fiscal cliff.

I think this was a civilized debate, by the way. We both got equal time, and we both had a chance to make our points.

I’m hoping that viewers heard – and understood – these two points.

  1. We don’t need higher taxes since we can balance the budget merely by restraining government spending so that it grows by an average of 2.5 percent per year.
  2. The only budget deal that succeeded (as the New York Times accidentally admitted) was the one in 1997 that cut taxes rather than increasing them.

P.S. If I had to guess, I would say that Obama’s ultimate goal for hurting the middle class is a value-added tax. Notwithstanding the fiscal crisis in Europe, he actually said the VAT is “something that has worked for other countries.”

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When leftists do something clever, like this video making fun of libertarians or this image portraying the greed of the industrialized world, I’m willing to give them credit.

So you’ll understand why this cartoon about Fox News is worth sharing.

What makes the cartoon effective are the little touches, such as the “free stuff” truck and the “Sharia Law Now” sign.

Speaking of Fox News, it makes a cameo appearance in this cartoon, though the main focus is to link the GOP with empty-suit blowhards.

If you have the self-awareness to laugh at yourself, here’s some anti-libertarian humor to close up this post.

We have two cartoons, one on libertarian ice fishing and the other showing libertarian lifeguards.

Then there’s the very funny poster showing the 24 types of libertarians.

Last but not least, here’s an image of how the world see libertarians.

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I’m a big believer in the Laffer Curve, which is the common-sense proposition that changes in tax rates don’t automatically mean proportional changes in tax revenue. This is because you also have to think about what happens to taxable income, which can move up or down in response to changes in tax policy.

The key thing to understand is that incentives matter. If you raise tax rates and therefore increase the cost the engaging in productive behavior, people will be less likely to work, save, invest, and be entrepreneurial. And they’ll figure out ways to engage in tax avoidance and tax evasion to protect the interests of their families. In other words, taxable income will be lower because of higher tax rates.

Likewise, people will be more willing to earn – and report – taxable income if tax rates are reduced.

If you don’t believe me, look at this incredible data showing how the rich paid for more money after Reagan slashed their tax rates.

This doesn’t mean that “tax cuts pay for themselves.” That may happen in rare circumstances, but the real issue is the degree of “revenue feedback.”

For some types of tax changes, such as lowering tax rates on the “rich,” the revenue feedback may be very large because they have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

In other cases, such as providing a child tax credit, the feedback may be very small because there’s not much of an impact on incentives to engage in productive behavior.

This doesn’t necessarily mean one type of tax cut is good and the other bad. It just means that some changes in tax policy produce revenue feedback and others don’t.

Even leftists recognize there is a Laffer Curve. They may argue that the “revenue-maximizing rate” is very high, with some claiming the government can impose tax rates of more than 70 percent and still collect additional revenue. But they all recognize that there’s a point where revenue-feedback effects are so strong that higher rates will lose revenue.

Actually, let me rephrase that assertion. There is a small group of people in the nation who claim that there’s no Laffer Curve. But that’s no surprise, the world is filled with weird people. Some genuinely think the world is flat. Some think the moon landings were faked. You can probably find some people who actually think the sun is a giant candle in the sky.

But what is surprising is that this small cadre of anti-Laffer Curve fanatics are at the Joint Committee on Taxation, which is the group on Capitol Hill in charge of providing revenue estimates on tax legislation.

They aren’t completely oblivious to the real world. They do acknowledge some “micro” effects of changes in tax rates, such as people shifting between taxable and non-taxable forms of compensation. But they completely reject “macro” changes such as changes in economic growth and employment.

So if we replaced the nightmarish income tax with a simple and fair flat tax, the JCT would assume no impact of GDP or jobs. If we went the other direction and doubled all tax rates, the JCT would blithely assume no change to the economy.

To give you an idea of why this is an extreme view, I want to share some polling data. Last week, I spoke at the national conference of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.  As you can imagine, this is a crowd that is very familiar with the internal revenue code. They know the nooks and crannies of the tax code and they have a good sense of how clients respond when tax policy changes.

Prior to my remarks, the audience was polled on certain tax issues.

Some of the answers disappointed me. By a narrow margin, the crowd thought it would be a good idea if the overall tax burden increased. But here’s the response that fascinated me the most. The audience was asked what could be described as a Laffer Curve question. Specifically, they were asked, “Do you believe the growth potential of marginal tax rate cuts could lead to some degree of revenue feedback, even if not enough to be self-financing?”

They had four possible responses. Here’s the breakdown of their answers.

These are remarkable results. A plurality (more than 36 percent) think the Laffer Curve is so strong that lower tax rates are self-financing. Even I don’t think that’s the case. Another 23.5 percent of respondents think there are very significant feedback effects, meaning that lower tax rates don’t lose much money.

There were also 18.6 percent who thought there were some Laffer Curve effects, though they thought the revenue feedback wasn’t very significant.

Less than 15 percent of the crowd, however, agreed with the Joint Committee on Taxation and said that lower tax rates have no measurable revenue feedback.

Why am I sharing this information? Well, we’re going to have a big debate in the next month or two about President Obama’s proposed class-warfare tax hike on investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and other rich people.

Supporters of that approach will cite Joint Committee on Taxation numbers to claim that the tax hike will generate a big pile of money.

That number will be based on nonsensical and biased methodology. In an ideal world, opponents will mock that number and expose the JCT’s primitive approach.

For additional information, here’s Part III of my video series on the Laffer Curve, exposing the role of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

If you want to see Parts I and II, click here.

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I’ve written about the negative relationship between government spending and economic performance, but most of my focus is on “macro” issues such as the overall diversion of resources from the productive sector to government.

This leads to the misallocation of labor and capital, I’ve explained, which means the economy isn’t as efficient and living standards stagnate.

But, with the exception of some posts about the harmful impact of unemployment insurance (including evidence that Paul Krugman and Larry Summers used to be on the right side before politics clouded their judgment), I’ve rarely explained this story from a “micro” perspective.

Fortunately, Professor Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago has done some very solid work on this issue, some of which he recently wrote about in the New York Times.

The social safety net became more generous under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and as a result massively altered employment patterns in the labor market. …public moneys have recently been used to help the unemployed, the poor and the financially distressed endure the recession, but at the same time have dramatically eroded incentives for people to maintain their own living standards by seeking, accepting and retaining jobs, as well as incentives for employers to create jobs that are attractive to workers.

This makes sense to me. After all, Bush was a reckless big spender, just like Obama. And we also know that if you make work less attractive and idleness more attractive, bad things will happen.

But Prof. Mulligan actually measures the net impact.

As a result of more than a dozen significant changes in subsidy program rules, the average middle-class non-elderly household head or spouse saw her or his marginal tax rate increase from about 40 percent in 2007 to 48 percent only two years later. Marginal tax rates came down in late 2010 and 2011 as provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expired, but still remain elevated – at least 44 percent. …A few households even saw their marginal tax rates jump beyond 100 percent – meaning they would have more disposable income by working less. …work incentives were eroded about 20 percent for unmarried household heads…in the middle of the skill distribution, while they were eroded about 12 percent among married heads and spouses…with the same level of skill.

So what’s the bottom line? Well, Prof. Mulligan concludes that government policy hurt everybody, but it did the most damage for those least able to endure hardship, the low-skilled and unmarried.

The fact that marginal tax rates rose so differently for various groups means not only that redistributive public policy depressed the labor market but has also sharply, and arbitrarily, altered the composition of the work force in the direction of people who are married and more skilled.

This final point is worth contemplating for those who are still in post-election-analysis mode. Welfare state programs trap people in dependency. People in that situation naturally worry about who will take care of them, which makes them easily susceptible to snake-oil politicians who promise endless handouts financed by taxes on the so-called rich.

Some otherwise sensible politicians are reluctant to say no when asked to expand the welfare state because they fear it will hurt them at the polls. That’s definitely a possibility, but creating more dependency is a guaranteed way of making it harder to win future elections.

The moral of the story: Big government is bad for the poor.

Second moral of the story: Entitlement reform is good policy…and good politics.

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Regular readers know I’m not a fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Heck, just take a look at some of the examples in this post and you’ll understand why.

Well, the Secretary-General of the Paris-based bureaucracy just pontificated about the value-added tax. Let’s see whether my knee-jerk hostility is warranted.

“Night is day, up is down, and higher taxes boost growth”

Here is the basic hypothesis from the OECD’s head bureaucrat.

Our VAT policies are important tools to foster growth and employment, but also to build stronger, cleaner and fairer economies.

That’s a bold sentence, so let’s dissect it. Starting with the last part, I’m not sure what he means by “cleaner,” so let’s set that aside. I assume “fairer” is a code word for class warfare, though it doesn’t make sense in this context since a VAT – for all its other flaws – is a proportional levy.

So what does he mean by “foster growth and employment” and making an economy “stronger”? Does that mean the OECD is recommending big reductions in VAT rates? That would make sense since the VAT is similar to the income tax in that it drives a wedge between pre-tax income and post-tax consumption.

But you have to remember we’re dealing with the OECD, and on policy matters the Paris-based bureaucracy inevitably supports statism. So you won’t be surprised to learn that the OECD thinks higher VAT rates are good for growth! I’m not joking. Let’s look at what the Secretary-General of the OECD said.

VAT policies are playing a strategic role in our recovery efforts, but they could do more. Many countries are seeking to raise additional revenues from VAT as part of their fiscal consolidation strategies. Between 2009 and 2012, sixteen OECD countries increased their VAT rates. Six more increased their VAT rates. This is reflected in the OECD average standard VAT rate that has risen from 17.7% in 2008 to 19% today. This is quite remarkable considering that the OECD average had remained stable for over ten years before 2008. Raising the standard rate is the easiest way to increase revenue. …Another option for governments is to consider broadening the tax base, such that goods and services that are now exempt or subject to reduced rates would gradually be taxed at the standard rate.

In other words, he’s bragging that the VAT is easy to raise and he’s happy that the average VAT rate has jumped significantly.

But what’s really amazing is that he claims this is pro-growth, part of “our recovery efforts.” So the OECD is just as clueless as the Congressional Budget Office and is embracing the view that higher tax burdens are good for the economy.

This is par for the course for the OECD, as you can see from this video.

Something to keep in mind for lawmakers who are looking for an easy way to save $100 million without taking away any goodies from American voters.

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Other than the famous “riding in the wagon” set, the most-viewed cartoon on this blog is this one about Obama and self-imposed headwinds.

Now we have our first cartoon of the Christmas season!

This isn’t the theme of government as Santa Claus. It is government as Santa Claus.

And where does this approach lead? Well, this Eric Allie cartoon provides a road map.

You can see some previous Allie cartoons here , here, here, here, and here.

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Since one of my main priorities is to defend tax competition and tax havens, I’m always delighted to see others jump in the fight to defend fiscal sovereignty.

Especially when those people clearly understand that so-called tax havens are necessary to restrain the compulsive tendency of “onshore” politicians to over-tax and over-spend.

Pierre Bessard of Switzerland and Allister Heath of the United Kingdom are among the world’s best analysts on global tax issues. But Philip Booth of the UK’s Institute for Economic Affairs can be added to the list. Here are some key excerpts from his new Business Insider column.

Tax havens are in fact essential, especially international financial centres. Tax rules are often unjust… nobody should be taxed twice on investment returns. …it would be to the detriment of us all if there were no tax havens. Most predatory activity is actually undertaken by governments and not by companies. Governments are trying to spend more and more with the UK government now spending 50 per cent of national income – in common with other European Union countries. This is deeply damaging to general welfare and business in particular and it is very difficult to hold the elites who con­tinually expand the size of the state to account. Elections are very imperfect mechanisms. One effective method by which we can keep the size of government in check is if labour and capital can exercise its freedom to move to lower-tax jurisdictions. Capital is much more mobile than labour and so tax havens do us all a favour by ensuring that governments have to keep tax rates lower – thus creating a better environment for business.

This hits the nail on the head.

For all intents and purposes, the existence of tax havens makes tax competition more robust. And we need vigorous tax competition because politicians – with some sort of external constraint – will drive their nations into Greek-style fiscal chaos.

But there’s also a moral case for tax havens, as explained in this video.

One final thought. The real outrage in this issue is that American taxpayers are subsidizing the international bureaucracy that is trying to kill tax competition.

So if Republicans on Capitol Hill are looking for some much-needed budget cuts, that’s a good place to start.

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I’ve put together a video series on the need for entitlement reform and another one on the economics of government spending.

I think that my videos are straightforward and easy to understand, but I’m always open to the possibility that I’m too wonky. After all, normal people may not have the time or interest to endure 20 minutes of Dan Mitchell (perish the thought!).

So perhaps this short cartoon video from the folks at the American Enterprise Institute is a better approach. Sort of Dr. Seuss goes to Greece.

I particularly like illustration of growing dependency, similar to what’s expressed in this famous set of cartoons about riding in the wagon and pulling the wagon.

So feel free to share widely.

P.S. And if like 20-minute doses of Dan Mitchell, here are my video series on the Laffer Curve and tax reform.

P.P.S. Speaking of Dr. Seuss, here’s the story of his trip to Washington.

P.P.S. And if you like DC versions of children’s stories, here’s the PC version of the story about the ant and the grasshopper, as well as the modern fable about bureaucracy, featuring an ant and a lion.

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I’ve commented before how the fiscal fight in Europe is a no-win contest between advocates of Keynesian deficit spending (the so-called “growth” camp, if you can believe that) and proponents of higher taxes (the “austerity” camp, which almost never seems to mean spending restraint).

That’s a left-vs-left battle, which makes me think it would be a good idea if they fought each other to the point of exhaustion, thus enabling forward movement on a pro-growth agenda of tax reform and reductions in the burden of government spending.

That’s a nice thought, but it probably won’t happen in Europe since almost all politicians in places such as Germany and France are statists. And it might never happen in the United States if lawmakers pay attention to the ideologically biased work of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

CBO already has demonstrated that it’s willing to take both sides of this left-v-left fight, and the bureaucrats just doubled down on that biased view in a new report on the fiscal cliff.

CBO economist prepares another Keynesian estimate

For all intents and purposes, the CBO has a slavish devotion to Keynesian theory in the short run, which means more spending supposedly is good for growth. But CBO also believes that higher taxes improve growth in the long run by ostensibly leading to lower deficits. Here’s what it says will happen if automatic budget cuts are cancelled.

Eliminating the automatic enforcement procedures established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that are scheduled to reduce both discretionary and mandatory spending starting in January and maintaining Medicare’s payment rates for physicians’ services at the current level would boost real GDP by about three-quarters of a percent by the end of 2013.

Not that we should be surprised by this silly conclusion. The CBO repeatedly claimed that Obama’s faux stimulus would boost growth. Heck, CBO even claimed Obama’s spending binge was successful after the fact, even though it was followed by record levels of unemployment.

But I think the short-run Keynesianism is not CBO’s biggest mistake. In the long-run, CBO wants us to believe that higher tax burdens translate into more growth. Check out this passage, which expresses CBO’s view the economy will be weaker 10 years from now if the tax burden is not increased.

…the agency has estimated the effect on output that would occur in 2022 under the alternative fiscal scenario, which incorporates the assumption that several of the policies are maintained indefinitely. CBO estimates that in 2022, on net, the policies included in the alternative fiscal scenario would reduce real GDP by 0.4 percent and real gross national product (GNP) by 1.7 percent.  …the larger budget deficits and rapidly growing federal debt would hamper national saving and investment and thus reduce output and income.

In other words, CBO reflexively makes two bold assumption. First, it assumes higher tax rates generate more money. Second, the bureaucrats assume that politicians will use any new money for deficit reduction. Yeah, good luck with that.

To be fair, the CBO report does have occasional bits of accurate analysis. The authors acknowledge that both taxes and spending can create adverse incentives for productive behavior.

…increases in marginal tax rates on labor would tend to reduce the amount of labor supplied to the economy, whereas increases in revenues of a similar magnitude from broadening the tax base would probably have a smaller negative impact or even a positive impact on the supply  of labor.  Similarly, cutting government benefit payments would generally strengthen people’s incentive to work and save.

But these small concessions do not offset the deeply flawed analysis that dominates the report.

But that analysis shouldn’t be a surprise. The CBO has a track record of partisan and ideological work.

While I’m irritated about CBO’s bias (and the fact that it’s being financed with my tax dollars), that’s not what has me worked up. The reason for this post is to grouse and gripe about the fact that some people are citing this deeply flawed analysis to oppose Obama’s pursuit of class warfare tax policy.

Why would some Republican politicians and conservative commentators cite a publication that promotes higher spending in the short run and higher taxes in the long run? Well, because it also asserts – based on Keynesian analysis – that higher taxes will hurt the economy in the short run.

…extending the tax reductions originally enacted in 2001, 2003, and 2009 and extending all other expiring provisions, including those that expired at the end of 2011, except for the payroll tax cut—and indexing the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for inflation beginning in 2012 would boost real GDP by a little less than 1½ percent by the end of 2013.

At the risk of sounding like a doctrinaire purist, it is unethical to cite inaccurate analysis in support of a good policy.

Consider this example. If some academic published a study in favor of the flat tax and it later turned out that the data was deliberately or accidentally wrong, would it be right to cite that research when arguing for tax reform? I hope everyone would agree that the answer is no.

Yet that’s precisely what is happening when people cite CBO’s shoddy work to argue against tax increases.

It’s very much akin to the pro-defense Republicans who use Keynesian arguments about jobs when promoting a larger defense budget.

To make matters worse, it’s not as if opponents lack other arguments that are intellectually honest.

So why, then, would anybody sink to the depths necessary to cite the Congressional Budget Office?

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I have a love-hate attitude toward international bureaucracies.

I’m mostly negative about organizations such as the IMF, World Bank, UN, and OECD. In part this is because they are a very expensive burden on taxpayers, but also because they generally push for bad policy.

It’s reprehensible, for instance, that the OECD has allied itself with the Obama Administration to push for class-warfare tax policy. And it’s disgusting that these pampered bureaucrats at the IMF get tax-free salaries while pushing for bailouts and higher taxes.

But I confess that the international bureaucracies sometimes generate good data and produce interesting studies. The World Bank, for instance, showed how the welfare state and excessive government spending are reducing prosperity in Europe. And the European Central Bank also has produced solid research showing that large public sectors undermine economic growth.

One very good source of data from an international bureaucracy is the Doing Business Index, published each year by the World Bank. As you can see from the image (click to enlarge), the United States does relatively well in this ranking.

Since the United States has dropped in the Economic Freedom of the World Index and the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, it’s nice to see that the news isn’t all bad in the international rankings.

The one area where the U.S. gets a very poor score, though, is in the “paying taxes” category. This is yet another reason why we should junk the corrupt internal revenue code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax.

Hong Kong and Singapore are at the top of the rankings, unsurprisingly. The Nordic nations also do well, which fits with the analysis showing they are very free market in areas other than fiscal policy. And it’s always good to see Estonia with a relatively high score.

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I’m in Jersey, where I gave a speech last night.

But not New Jersey, the state where you shouldn’t die. That’s the state that many people have been fleeing because they don’t like paying confiscatory taxes to finance bureaucrats who make as much as $320,000 per year.

Instead, I’m in the Bailiwick of Jersey, which is a UK dependent territory off the coast of France. Jersey is a so-called tax haven, which I applaud because it helps encourage better tax policy in less enlightened parts of the globe.

Because I’m such a cultured and sophisticated guy, today I used some of my free time to visit the Jersey Museum. I now know lots of useless trivia about how a tiny island 15 miles from France wound up as an English territory.

But I also found something very interesting in the section on the economic history of Jersey. The museum explicitly recognizes the role of low taxation in promoting a prosperous society.

My blackberry camera isn’t that good and I’m probably a crummy photographer, so this image is very hard to read, but the display openly boasts that Jersey’s tax rates are much less onerous than those found in the United Kingdom.

If you want a simple and fair flat tax, Jersey’s 20 percent rate is not bad. And it’s definitely a lot better than the (now) 45 percent top rate in the United Kingdom

If you don’t want double taxation, the capital gains tax rate in Jersey is zero. That’s a lot better than the United Kingdom (though the rate there is now “only” 28 percent.

If you don’t want the government grabbing a big chunk of your income with a value-added tax, then you’re much better off with Jersey’s 5 percent rate rather than the 20 percent rate in the United Kingdom (the museum’s info is out-of-date).

Anyhow, you get the idea. Here’s a close-up photo of that part of the display.

There’s no death tax in Jersey, which is a very important consideration when successful and productive people decide where to conduct economic activity. The United Kingdom, by contrast, has one of the most onerous death tax regimes in the world.

In other words, the people of Jersey have made a very intelligent decision to avoid class-warfare tax policy.

Are you surprised to learn, therefore, that they are richer, on average, than folks in the USA?

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I’ve heard of sore losers, but never sore winners.

“El Presidente, it is best to steal all the money, not just 39.6 percent of it”

But that’s what popped into my mind when reading how the dictator of Venezuela supported Obama, yet already is second-guessing the President for paying insufficient attention to domestic affairs.

Yup, the thug who is presiding over an economic nightmare is presuming to give advice about domestic policy to the White House.

If you can believe it, Obama is being nagged for insufficient redistributionist zeal!

Here’s some of what Reuters wrote about the topic.

Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, has advised newly re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama to…concentrate on fixing internal problems. “He should reflect first on his own nation, which has a lot of economic and social problems. It’s a divided, socially fractured country with a super-elite exploiting the people,” the socialist president said late on Thursday in his first reaction to Obama’s victory this week… The 58-year-old Chavez, a quieter figure these days after a year of debilitating treatment for two bouts of cancer, had backed Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the White House.

As a nonpartisan patriot, I think it’s time to rally behind the President.

Chavez is a despicable thug and an economic illiterate. So if he’s whining about Obama, that at least means the President isn’t moving the country rapidly in the wrong direction.

Is that damning with faint praise? Of course.

But however much I criticize Obama’s policies, I am 99 percent sure that it is a good thing that Hugo Chavez is disappointed.

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More than four years ago, as part of my efforts to promote and protect tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy, I narrated this video explaining the economic benefits of so-called tax havens.

Pay close attention at the 1:07 mark.

Yes, you heard right. A former bureaucrat from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development actually called for the forcible annexation of low-tax jurisdictions, writing in the Financial Times that, “Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man should simply be absorbed lock, stock and barrel into the UK…Andorra, Monaco and Liechtenstein should be given the choice of ending bank secrecy or facing annexation.”

He wasn’t quite so belligerent about Switzerland, perhaps because all able-bodied male citizens have fully automatic assault weapons in their homes. But he did urge financial protectionism against the land of chocolate, yodeling, and watches.

What a bizarre attitude. It’s apparently okay for certain countries to persecute – or even kill – ethnic minorities, religious minorities, political dissidents, homosexuals, and other segments of their populations. Very rarely do people like Mr. Buiter call for annexation or sanctions against such loathsome regimes.

But if a nation has low taxes and  a strong human rights policy on financial privacy, then cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

It turns out Buiter isn’t the only one to have strange militaristic impulses.

Here are excerpts from an article posted at The Street, written by a statist who says that “tax havens” don’t have enough military force to resist high-tax nations.

There is a relatively easy answer to the financial troubles of Europe, America and Asia. The answer lies in so-called “tax havens.” A consensus is emerging among the world’s major taxing powers that tax evasion may not be a good thing. …Jurisdictions specializing in the financial secrecy needed to avoid taxes exist in or near every major financial power. There’s Switzerland in Europe, the Cayman Islands off the U.S., Hong Kong in China, Bahrain in the Middle East and Jersey between the U.K. and France. But none has the military force to maintain secrecy against concerted outside pressure. The question has always been whether the pressure would be applied, and there is now some reason for hope.

The title is particularly revealing. She must be the fiscal version of a neo-con, urging that high-tax nations should “Invade the Cayman Islands!”

Not Iran. Not Syria. Not Cuba. Not North Korea.

You see, those nations are all guilty of causing misery and instability, but such behaviors apparently are far less important than the imagined dangers posed by a prosperous multi-racial society with a competitive tax regime.

I assume Ms. Blankenhorn doesn’t actually want to practice gunboat diplomacy against the Cayman Islands, but her attitude is quite revealing. Like other statists, I gather she despises low-tax jurisdictions because they attract jobs and investment from high-tax nations.

In the spirit of problem solving, here’s a suggestion for Blankenhorn, Buiter, and the rest of the fiscal chicken hawks. If you really want to undermine the so-called tax havens, propose a simple and fair flat tax.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. The reason they want to squash tax havens is precisely because they want bad tax policy in America and other “onshore” nations.

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Augmented by some amusing cartoons, I’ve already warned that the hysteria about the fiscal cliff is basically a ploy by the politicians to extract more revenue to finance bigger government.

Obama Fiscal Manual

Elaborating on this concern, I wrote a column for today’s New York Daily News. I started with a description of the three issues that are getting lumped together.

…we face the threat of higher tax rates for some or all taxpayers on Jan. 1. …there’s also a possibility of a “sequester” — automatic budget cuts that also are scheduled to take place on Jan. 1. And politicians have been spending so much money that we’re about to bump up against the nation’s debt limit. So it’s likely that all these issues will get joined as President Obama and congressional leaders attempt to negotiate a deal.

I then outlined what might happen if the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire.

The higher tax rate portion of the fiscal cliff exists because 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. All taxpayers would see more of their earnings confiscated by the IRS beginning in January if Washington fails to act. All tax brackets would increase, taxes on dividends and capital gains would rise… The total yearly hike would be in the range of $400 billion. This could have profound implications, both because of immediate reductions in take-home pay and the negative long-run impact of economic stagnation.

And I explained how the problem should be solved, but warned that the biggest stumbling block is President Obama’s fixation on class-warfare tax policy.

Many are worried about these potential changes, with Congressional Budget Director Doug Elmendorf warning that Americans should expect a “significant recession” and the loss of some 2 million jobs. From my point of view, all the tax cuts should be made permanent. The bad news, to me, is that Obama wants to raise rates on investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners and other “rich” taxpayers. The sequester should be replaced by a more targeted set of fiscal reforms to restrain the growth of the entitlement state. Finally, the debt limit should be raised in exchange for a workable and enforceable cap on government spending.

I originally included an explanation of why the CBO estimate is flawed because of Keynesian methodology, but those sentences fell victim to space constraints. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that even folks on the left think big tax hikes aren’t a good idea (though they’re perfectly happy to have a series of small tax hikes that get you to the same Greek destination).

But set that aside. Is there any chance of seeing my solution adopted? Well, there’s no chance of a spending cap. The sequester will be stopped, but it won’t be replaced by better reforms.

The great unknown is what will happen on the tax side. I fear GOPers will surrender, even though they won the very same battle back in 2010 when they didn’t even control the House and had fewer seats in the Senate.

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A lot of people say Obama is anti-business, but there’s one part of the American economy that is delighted that he got reelected.

No, I’m not talking about bankruptcy lawyers or corrupt lobbyists, though those would be good guesses.

The real winners from Obama’s re-election are America’s gun manufacturers and gun sellers.

Not that I’ve looked at any data. I’m just basing this on the comments I’ve heard over the past few years and the up-tick in such comments in the past 36 hours.

But I’m quite confident that the overall firearms industry has profited from Obama’s tenure.

Anyway, the great economist Frederic Bastiat teaches us to look at both direct and indirect effects (or, as he put it, the “seen” and “unseen”), so I want to highlight a disadvantaged group that will suffer as a result of the Obama-induced increase in gun sales.

Yes, I’m talking about criminals.

To understand the point I’m trying to make, we’re going to do a thought experiment.

Start by closing your eyes and thinking about someone you know who has worked hard, saved some money, bought a nice house, and filled that house with nice things for the family to enjoy.

Now tell yourself, “I want those things as well.”

But you also think, “Damned if I’m going to wake up early every day like that chump and bust my rear end to earn a good life.”

Instead, you decide it’s okay to take things that don’t belong to you, even if it involves some coercion.

So what’s your next step?

No, this isn’t a thought experiment about voting for Obama. Besides, the election is over.

Close your eyes again and think about how you would obtain things that don’t belong to you and without using the government as the middleman.

What would you do? Well, you might beg the person to give you things.

But that might be a bit awkward or demeaning, and the person might say no.

That leaves burglary as your only option. Sort of a private sector version of income redistribution.

Now we get to the key point in our thought experiment.

You sneak up to the house with the nice things and you suddenly see a sign.

Here’s a quiz. What do you do after seeing this sign?

a. break into the house because you once heard a politician or journalist assert that gun ownership doesn’t deter crime?

b. decide after a bit of reflection about potential costs and benefits that it might be more prudent to find another house to rob?

If you need some help with the answer, think about the meaning of this cartoon.

If you’re still having trouble grasping the concept, this Chuck Asay cartoon might be worth a look. Or this post has some signs that may help your understanding.

And if you still don’t comprehend, then congratulations. You deserve a starring role in this video.

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Welcome to Paul Krugman’s readers. I invite you to read my response.

==================================

I was surprised when the people of Oregon voted for a tax increase back in early 2010.

Yes, I realize that the politicians and interest groups structured the measure so that the majority of voters would be unaffected. It was basically a class-warfare proposal, with a small fraction of the population being targeted to generate (at least in theory) a bunch of revenue that could be used to maintain a bloated and over-compensated state bureaucracy.

But I was nonetheless surprised because I figured voters would realize that upper-income taxpayers aren’t fatted calves idly awaiting slaughter. They can easily move to other states (particularly nearby zero-income tax states such as Washington and Nevada).

In other words, I thought Oregon voters understood that you shouldn’t drive away the geese that lay the golden eggs. A state isn’t like the old Soviet Empire, with an “Iron Curtain” of watchtowers and guard dogs to keep a population under control.

I was wrong about Oregon, so I shouldn’t be too surprised that California voters basically just made the same mistake.

Yesterday, the looters and moochers of the Golden State voted for Prop 30, a measure to significantly boost both the state sales tax and also hike income tax rates on investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

I’m generally reluctant to make predictions, but I feel safe in stating that this measure is going to accelerate California’s economic decline. Some successful taxpayers are going to tunnel under the proverbial Berlin Wall and escape to states with better (or less worse) fiscal policy. And that will mean fewer jobs and lower wages than otherwise would be the case.

It goes without saying, of course, that California’s politicians will respond to Prop 30 by increasing the burden of government spending. They then will act surprised when revenues fall short of projections because of the Laffer Curve.

The bottom line is that the state will remain in the fiscal ditch and I expect a Greek-style fiscal crisis. When that happens, I’ll be tempted to point and laugh and make snarky comments such as “you broke it, you bought it.” But my long-run worry is that Obama may push for a federal bailout.

Let’s now take a look at the other ballot measures I wrote about on Monday.

I said the two most important measures were Prop 30 in California and Prop 2 in Michigan. Well, we know things went the wrong way in the Golden State on Prop 30, but it seems the voters in the Wolverine State are a bit more rational.

Prop 2, which would have permanently rigged the rules even further in favor of government workers, was soundly defeated by a 58-42 margin. Taxpayers presumably recognized that it wouldn’t be a good idea to dig the hole even deeper.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the other ballot measures. A majority of them went the right way. I’ve underlined good votes.

Prop 38 and Prop 39 – Two additional tax hike measures, the first targeting individual taxpayers and the second targeting businesses. Rejected 73-27 and approved 60-40.

Prop 204 in Arizona – Renewing a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, ostensibly for the education bureaucracy. Rejected 65-35.

Issue 1 in Arkansas – Imposing a half-cent increase in the state sales tax, supposedly for highway spending. Approved 58-42.

Prop 5 in Michigan – Would require a two-thirds vote of both the state house and state senate to raise any tax. Rejected 69-31.

Prop B in Missouri – Raise the cigarette tax by 73 cents per pack. Rejected 51-49.

Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 13 in New Hampshire – A constitutional amendment to prohibit enactment of an income tax. Received 57 percent of the vote, but needed a super-majority for approval.

Measure 84 in Oregon – Would repeal the state’s death tax. Rejected 53-47.

Initiated Measure 15 in South Dakota – Increases the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. Rejected 57-43.

Initiative 1185 in Washington – Reaffirms the state’s two-thirds supermajority requirement before the state legislature can increase taxes. Approved 65-35.

Prop 114 in Arizona – Protects crime victims from being sued if they injure or kill criminals. Approved 80-20.

Amendment 2 in Louisiana – Strengthens right to keep and bear arms. Approved 73-27.

Amendment 64 in Colorado, Measure 80 in Oregon, and Initiative 502 in Washington – All of these ballot measures end marijuana prohibition to varying degrees. Approved 55-45 in Colorado. Rejected 55-45 in Oregon. Approved in Washington.

Prop 1 in Idaho – This measure would overturn recent legislative reforms to end tenure in government schools. Rejected 57-43.

Prop 3 in Michigan – Require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables. Rejected 63-37.

Question 1 in Virginia – Limits eminent domain to public purposes. Approved 75-25.

Amendment 6 in Alabama, Amendment 1 in Florida, Prop E in Missouri, Legislative Referendum 122 in Montana, and Amendment A in Wyoming – These are all anti-Obamacare initiatives in some form or fashion. Approved 60-40 in Alabama. Rejected 51-49 in Florida. Approved 62-38 in Missouri. Approved 67-33 in Montana. Approved 77-23 in Wyoming.

Is there a single lesson or theme we can discern from all these results? Other than the fact that people in California and Oregon are downright crazy?

Beats me. I think most Americans still believe in the classical liberal vision of a small federal government. But I also think the entitlement culture is becoming a greater and greater problem.

P.S. Speaking of the Iron Curtain, Walter Williams imagines California with a barbed wire fence to stop tax escapees.

P.P.S. This great Chuck Asay cartoon imagines how future archaeologists will view the Golden State.

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Last night was great. Two big victories, including a major comeback. Lots of drama, plenty of excitement. Here’s the bottom line: Notwithstanding chilly conditions and determined opposition, my Arlington County softball team cemented its hold on first place by sweeping a doubleheader. And I was 4-6 with a pair of doubles, so I managed to contribute.

Oh, wait, a few of you are interested in something else that happened last night…that’s right, there was an election. Before contemplating what this means for the nation, let’s quickly check my predictions.

  • Well, my presidential pick was fairly accurate. Even though people were scolding me for being too favorable to Obama, it turns out that I wasn’t favorable enough. He won all the states I thought he would, and he also carried Colorado and Florida. And if about 100,000 people changed their minds, my prediction would have been perfect.
  • But I was way off in my predictions for the Senate. I actually thought Republicans would pick up a couple of seats. But they somehow managed to lose a few seats, even though Democrats had more than twice as many to defend.
  • That being said, I did a semi-decent job with my guess for the House of Representatives. We don’t know all the details yet, but Republicans pretty much fought to a draw.

Now let’s think about the consequences for America.

Based on the conversations I’ve had and the emails I’ve received, many of you are very glum. I can understand the angst, so let me try to cheer you up by mentioning seven silver linings to this dark cloud.

1. There will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform entitlements the next time a Republican wins the White House. But it has to be the right kind of reform, not means-testing, price controls, and other gimmicks designed to somehow prop up the current programs. Romney did select Paul Ryan as his running mate, so it’s possible he would have pushed for structural reforms. But I’m guessing that the guy who adopted Obamacare on the state level ultimately would have botched this issue. This means good reforms are still possible, perhaps in as little as four years.

2. One of the most worrisome things about Mitt Romney is that he repeatedly refused to rule out a value-added tax when asked by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. I don’t trust politicians when they say they’ll do the right thing. So when they refuse to even give rhetorical assurances, alarm bells definitely start ringing. My nightmare scenario is that Romney would have been elected, made some half-hearted attempt to restrain spending, and then would have decided that a new source of revenue was needed once Harry Reid said no to any fiscal restraint. And as we saw during the Bush years, Republicans in Congress generally are willing to do the wrong thing when a Republican President makes the request. With Obama in the White House, it is highly unlikely that House Republicans would agree to this dangerous new tax.

3. As a general rule, the party controlling the White House loses seats in the House and Senate during mid-term elections. This presumably means more Tea Party-oriented Representatives and Senators after 2014.

4. With Obama in the White House for four more years, there’s an opportunity for a genuine advocate of small government to run and win in 2016. I don’t know whether that person will be Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Rand Paul, Governor Bobby Jindal, Representative Paul Ryan, or someone who isn’t even on my radar screen, but all of those options seem far more appealing – both philosophically and politically – than the GOP candidates who ran this year.

5. A Romney victory may have paved the way for Andrew Cuomo or some other statist in 2016. There will be leftists running next time, of course, but I’m guessing it will be more difficult for such a candidate to win since voters often get antsy after one party is in power for too long.

6. The election was not a mandate for Obamacare or the faux stimulus. The President spent almost no time bragging about the two biggest “accomplishments” of his first term. Indeed, he was probably fortunate that he ran against a Republican who couldn’t really exploit Obamacare because he did something very similar when he was Governor of Massachusetts (as this cartoon humorously illustrates). And he certainly didn’t get any political benefit from having flushed $800 billion down the drain on a bunch of Keynesian  gimmicks.

7. One very positive feature of the elections is that lawmakers did not measurably suffer because of their support for the Medicaid and Medicare reforms in the Ryan budget. Nancy Pelosi’s “Medi-scare” campaign was the dog that didn’t bark in the 2012 elections. This presumably bodes well if there’s ever a pro-reform President.

Now here are three reasons to be unhappy.

1. Obama is a bad President. His Keynesian stimulus was a flop. Obamacare made a bad healthcare system even worse. He keeps pushing for class-warfare tax policy. And he wants to increase the burden of government spending. I fully expect him to pursue the same misguided policies in a second term.

“Ha, ha, ha, I will haunt your dreams for the next four years!”

2. If there are any vacancies on the Supreme Court, they will be filled by doctrinaire leftists. So the great libertarian conspiracy to restore constitutional constraints on the federal government will be temporarily postponed.

3. We have to endure four more years of sanctimonious speeches.

But I doubt Romney would have pursued good policies, picked good Justices, or given uplifting speeches, so I would have been unhappy regardless.

So cheer up, my friends. Our Founding Fathers had to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to create America. In the battle to restore/protect their vision, all we have to do is engage in some activism.

P.S. Since I’ve written that conservatives and libertarians share some common ground on the issue of abortion, I’m going to make a friendly suggestion to pro-life Republican candidates and their consultants. Spend a couple of days before each campaign developing a few on-the-shelf talking points so you’re less likely to say really stupid things about rape and abortion.

P.P.S. For my partisan Republican friends who are looking for someone to blame, allow me to suggest George Bush and Karl Rove. By deliberately choosing bad policy in hopes of gaining short-run political advantage, they created the medium-run conditions that enabled Obama to win the White House.

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Tonight is going to be special.

But not because of the election. It will be special because I’ll be playing my final softball games of the year.

I had this poster in my room. Great memories.

That being said, I can’t help but think back in time to an election night that was very special.

I’ve already expressed my view that Ronald Reagan was the greatest President of the past 100 years. Indeed, his only competition is from Calvin Coolidge.

I was fortunate to be politically active at the time, having started a Students for Reagan group at the University of Georgia (where we beat native-son Jimmy Carter by a 2-1 margin in the campus mock election).

At the risk of being self-indulgent, let’s re-live the happy memory of what happened 32 years ago. Just imagine how these NBC News journalists must have hated making this announcement.

Let’s also enjoy this moment from CBS News. Gee, don’t Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather look happy?

What a great night that was, followed by these great words just a couple of months later.

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If readers of this blog were the only ones voting, Mitt Romney would win in a landslide with 70 percent of the vote and Gary Johnson would edge out Barack Obama for second place.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that readers of International Liberty are not quite representative of the overall population (I need more looters and moochers in my audience, sort of like what you see in this cartoon).

Yes, I’m going to be bold and say that Obama will get more than 12.5 percent of the vote.

Indeed, I’m guessing he’ll get at least a plurality of the vote. And I’m specifically predicting he’ll get a majority of the electoral college.

I’ve been predicting that Obama would win re-election for the past six months, and I see no reason to change my mind now that it’s election day. I’m even moving two more states – New Hampshire and Virginia – into Obama’s column, which will be enough to give him a 294-244 margin in the electoral college.

As you can see from the large number of states in the “leaning” category, I don’t have a high level of confidence in my prediction. And plenty of my Republican friends have made strong arguments that the polls are flawed because of “turnout” assumptions.

But I have no competence to judge the veracity of these claims, so I’m going with my gut instinct and calling it for the Spender-in-Chief.

If my guess of an Obama victory turns out to be correct, I suppose I could claim special insight because of my January 1 prediction that Obama would win if the unemployment rate fell under 8 percent. But as you can see from this graph, I’ve always shown Obama ahead, even when the joblessness rate was higher.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s anything terribly unusual or unconventional about my predictions for the electoral college. But I am going to be a non-conformist in my guesses about the partisan breakdown of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Republicans began the year with high hopes of taking control of the Senate, but a series of mis-steps have hurt the GOP and some people even predict they will lose seats. That’s possible, but I’m going out on a limb and predicting a two-seat gain for Republicans.

I’m also going to be a non-conformist in my predictions for the lower chamber, guessing a one-seat pick-up for the GOP.

I’ll also make two final predictions. First, drawing from my post yesterday about key ballot initiatives, I predict that California voters will reject all the proposed tax increases. This will prove that left-wingers are capable of being right-wingers when their own money is on the table.

Second, I’ll offer a prediction that’s about as controversial as asserting that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. I predict that government will get even bigger over the next four years, which will mean more corruption and weaker economic performance.

P.S. My predictions for the U.S. Senate assume that the independent candidate will win in Maine and will ally himself with the Democrats.

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I wish the rest of the world was as wonky as me and dying to read the latest data on the Laffer Curve, or something like that.

Alas, it seems like everybody is focused on which statist will be confiscating our earnings and trying to dictate our lives for the next four years.

So I’ll go with the flow and share some election-oriented humor, beginning with jokes from the late-night talk shows.

Normally I wait several weeks and accumulate a larger list, but many of these jokes will be past their expiration dates if I wait until after the election. So enjoy.

Jay Leno

  • Last night I answered the door and there was a kid lying on the porch. He was playing dead. I said: “What are you supposed to be?” He said: “the economy.”
  • President Obama canceled the annual White House Halloween party. He didn’t want to; he just didn’t want to risk a trick-or-treater asking him a question about Libya.
  • I had a trick-or-treater tonight who stood outside on my porch for an hour, didn’t ring the bell, didn’t knock on the door. I said, “Who are you supposed to be?” He said, “I’m an undecided voter.”
  • Donald Trump, did you see him today? He was giving candy only to kids who could show their birth certificate and their school records.
  • Economists say rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy will give the ailing construction industry a huge boost. In fact, the storm has already created more jobs than President Obama.
  • “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is back. Not for gays in the military — it’s President Obama’s new policy for questions about Libya.
  • Republicans are accusing the White House of successfully engineering a massive cover-up of the Libyan attack. But, on the plus side, it’s the first time in four years Republicans have given credit to Obama for doing anything successfully.
  • Folks back east are feeling the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy — 100-mile-an-hour winds, lot of folks without power. Because of the hurricane, both candidates have had to cancel speeches and campaign events. So at least some good has come out of it.

David Letterman

  • Mitt Romney resumed campaigning today. He was visiting those hardest hit by the storm, and that would be swing-state Latinos.
  • The New York City Marathon is still on for Sunday. Typically the New York City Marathon is won by a guy from Kenya. No, no, I’m sorry. I’m thinking about next week’s election.
  • Are you excited about Halloween? People go out pretending to be something they’re not, looking for handouts. It’s like running for president.
  • You folks ready to vote? On the bright side, after Tuesday we’ll finally be rid of at least one candidate. That’s good news.
  • Mitt Romney is reminding everybody about changing your clocks. He’s urging his voters, his constituents, and all Americans to turn your clocks back to 1954.

Conan

  • Everybody’s mind is on Hurricane Sandy. The worst is over. Now people are discussing the cause. Sources say that it was partly caused by global warming. Meanwhile, Fox News said it was caused by two men kissing in Central Park.
  • President Obama now has a 52-point lead with Hispanics. However, Mitt Romney has a 90-point lead with the people who hire Hispanics.

Jimmy Kimmel

  • Mayor Bloomberg announced that all cars coming into New York City via the bridges must have a minimum of three people in them. Unless one of the people is very, very fat — in which case, two people but no sodas.

Now here’s a video that will probably appeal more to my Democrat-leaning friends, but everyone should enjoy it because it is well produced and effective satire. Sort of reminds me of the videos in this post.

In the interest of fairness, here are a couple of cartoons for my Republican-leaning friends. The first one is actually very misguided since it assumes Obama should be doing something about the hurricane. Wrong, emergency response should be an issue for the affected state and local governments.

But just as the video is amusing because if focuses on Romney’s wealth, this cartoon is effective because it focuses on Obama’s inflated sense of self.

This next cartoon is funny for the obvious reason, but it also makes a good point. If my prediction is wrong and Romney pulls an upset, I fully expect the establishment media to produce a lot of navel-gazing analysis about the latent racism of the American people (never bothering to explain, of course, how non-racist people in 2008 somehow became racists in 2012).

Maybe, just maybe, if Romney prevails, the establishment press should be open to the idea that voters aren’t very happy about a rising burden of government spending. That’s certainly what we see in this new polling data.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that Romney would solve the problem. He could be another big-government statist like Bush. Indeed, I think his failure to articulate a pro-freedom message is one reason why he seems to be slightly behind.

But the one thing that comforts me about this election is that the American people seem to understand that government is the problem, not the solution. Gee, where have I heard words like that before?

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Two years ago, I highlighted nine key state ballot initiatives and happily reported about a week later that voters generally chose to limit statism.

We have a similar collection of measures this year. Some of these votes – such as the decisions about higher taxes in California and power for government employee unions in Michigan – will have profound implications and perhaps even signal whether certain jurisdictions are doomed to failure.

Since I’m motivated primarily by the desire to reduce the burden of government spending and block bad tax policy, let’s look first at the key fiscal measures on this year’s ballot.

Prop 30 in California – Would impose a huge tax hike, including an increase in the state sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent, along with three new higher income tax brackets (maxing out at more than 13 percent!) for upper-income taxpayers. The adjoining cartoon is a good summary of the issue, as is this classic bit of political humor.

Prop 38 and Prop 39 – Two additional tax hike measures, the first targeting individual taxpayers and the second targeting businesses. I’m not sure which tax-hike proposition is the worst, but they all need to be defeated for there to be any hope about California’s future.

Prop 204 in Arizona – Renewing a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, ostensibly for the education bureaucracy. Money is fungible, so this is merely a vote for bigger government.

Issue 1 in Arkansas – Imposing a half-cent increase in the state sales tax, supposedly for highway spending. Another bait-and-switch scam to trick voters into financing bigger government.

Prop 5 in Michigan – Would require a two-thirds vote of both the state house and state senate to raise any tax. Anything that makes it harder to raise taxes is also a step making it harder to boost the burden of spending.

Prop B in Missouri – Raise the cigarette tax by 73 cents per pack. Politicians in the Show Me state should kick their addiction to big government.

Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 13 in New Hampshire – A constitutional amendment to prohibit enactment of an income tax. The Granite State has been blessed by avoiding either a state sales tax or a state income tax. It’s almost a shame that there’s a First Amendment guaranteeing free speech, because otherwise I’d be tempted to outlaw even discussion of imposing an income tax.

Measure 84 in Oregon – Would repeal the state’s death tax. This should be a no-brainer. You don’t want to repeat the mistakes of New Jersey and drive productive residents to other states. But Oregon voters have demonstrated a lemming-like suicide instinct in the past.

Initiated Measure 15 in South Dakota – Increases the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. There’s no income tax, but that’s no argument for making a modest sales tax into an onerous sales tax.

Initiative 1185 in Washington – Reaffirms the state’s two-thirds supermajority requirement before the state legislature can increase taxes. Voters repeatedly have reaffirmed their support for the supermajority in the past. Let’s hope that doesn’t change now.

Now let’s shift to matters of personal freedom and look at ballot measures involving the Second Amendment and the Drug War.

Prop 114 in Arizona – Protects crime victims from being sued if they injure or kill criminals. Yes, there are examples of excessive response, but the easiest way of avoiding those situations – if you’re a criminal – is by keeping your nose clean.

Amendment 2 in Louisiana – Strengthens right to keep and bear arms. If this doesn’t pass by more than 80 percent, I’ll be disappointed.

Amendment 64 in Colorado, Measure 80 in Oregon, and Initiative 502 in Washington – All of these ballot measures end marijuana prohibition to varying degrees. Let’s hope voters take a small step in ending the War on Drugs.

These initiatives are related to fiscal policy, but they belong in a special category since they deal with the necessity of curtailing bloated and over-compensated government bureaucracies.

Prop 1 in Idaho – This measure would retain recent legislative reforms to end tenure in government schools. The only real solution is school choice, but this measure at least should make it easier to get rid of awful teachers that contribute to making the public schools both costly and ineffective.

Prop 2 in Michigan – Creates permanent negotiating advantages for already pampered government employee unions. This is the bureaucrat equivalent of Prop 30 in California, a massive transfer of wealth and power from the productive sector. If it passes, Michigan probably would be past the tipping point in its descent into stagnation and despair.

Last but not least, here are measures on random issues that are very important.

Prop 3 in Michigan – Require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables. This will be an interesting test of whether the voters of a particular state are so clueless about economics that they are willing to voluntarily boost their own energy bills and undermine their own job prospects. I almost hope it passes just for the lesson it will teach.

Question 1 in Virginia – Limits eminent domain to public purposes. Corrupt developers and their cronies in state and local government don’t like this proposal, which naturally means it is a very good idea for those who support property rights.

Amendment 6 in Alabama, Amendment 1 in Florida, Prop E in Missouri, Legislative Referendum 122 in Montana, and Amendment A in Wyoming – These are all anti-Obamacare initiatives in some form or fashion. Continued resistance is important, even if some of these measures are only symbolic, so fingers crossed that they’re all approved.

You can find more information about state ballot initiatives and referendum here, here, here, here, and here.

And one final philosophical/policy point: In an ideal world, the United States would be like Switzerland and have a much more robust version of federalism. Almost everything that happens in Washington, with the exception of national defense, should either be in the private sector or at the state and local level of government.

A big advantage of a genuinely federalist system is that competition among states would be more vigorous than it is today. So if Michigan voters enacted Prop 2 or California voters approved Prop 30, tho adverse consequences would materialize much faster, thus helping to educate people that free markets and limited government are the best policies.

Addendum: How did I forget the all-important Los Angeles referendum to create a special bureaucracy to monitor condom usage in the porn industry.

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Price controls are a spectacularly foolish idea, and that’s true whether they’re imposed by thugs such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services.

That’s why one of the 20th Century’s economic heroes is Ludwig Erhard, who unleashed the post-war German miracle by abolishing the price controls imposed by the allied powers.

Notwithstanding all this history, politicians oftentimes can’t resist doing the wrong thing, as you can see from this new Reason TV video.

A simple explanation for the stupidity of politicians is that there are more consumers than gas station owners. But I also think this is an example of their illiteracy about what Bastiat referred to as the seen and the unseen.

I hope you’re familiar with Reason TV, by the way. If not, you should peruse the great work they do. Some of my favorites include:

And if you enjoy humor, here are some more great videos from Reason TV:

Feel free to share these examples with friends and colleagues.

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After riots swept parts of the United Kingdom last year, I wrote about the moral argument for gun ownership. Simply stated, it is wrong to disarm law-abiding people, particularly when there is a risk of societal breakdown.

The same argument is equally applicable in the areas ravaged by the recent storm to hit the northeastern United States. As you can see from this report in the New York Post, the government is failing in its responsibility to provide law and order.

Hardened New Yorkers are ready to battle lowlife criminals to protect their homes and stores in storm-ravaged areas plagued by looting and break-ins. In Coney Island, several residents were loading up their guns, sharpening their machetes and brandishing other deadly weapons. Jacinto Gonzalez, 42, picked up a baseball bat and stood guard outside his two-story rowhouse on West 27th Street near Neptune Avenue with his family. Another Coney Island resident, Roberto Aviles, brandishing a rusty 3-foot machete and warning he has a gun, who has lived in Coney Island since 1995 with his wife, says he’s ready to take on phony burglars posing as Con Ed workers. “I’m prepared inside here,” the 76-year-old Aviles said, showing off his rusted, three-foot machete and warning he had a gun. Chris Lane, a 50-year-old resident of the Coney Island Houses, put together a small arsenal with his double pump action gun.

And here’s some coverage from the United Kingdom

…residents of the Rockaways in Queens continued to struggle without power, heat or food for a sixth day as their neighborhood slowly descended into chaos. ‘It’s chaos; it’s pandemonium out here,’ said Chris Damon, who had been waiting for 3.5 hours at the site and had circled the block five times. “It seems like nobody has any answers.” Added Damon: ‘I feel like a victim of Hurricane Katrina. I never thought it could happen here in New York, but it’s happened. ‘With little police presence on the storm-ravaged streets, many residents of the peninsula have been forced to take their protection into their own hands, arming themselves with guns, baseball bats and even bows and arrows to ward off thugs seeking to loot their homes. …’We booby-trapped our door and keep a baseball bat beside our bed,’ Danielle Harris, 34, told the New York Daily News. The woman added that she has been hearing gunshots likely fired in the nearby housing project for three nights in a row. Meanwhile, local surfer Keone Singlehurst said that he stockpiled knives, a machete and a bow and arrow.

Now ask yourself a basic question: Is it better to be armed with a baseball bat or a gun?

Last but not least, here’s a picture that was widely circulated last decade, presumably after a storm like Katrina. It’s amusing, but it also makes me very proud of the American spirit.

These guys were having fun, but they also made an important statement. Ask yourself another question: If you were a low-life thug, would you try to rob that neighborhood?

P.S. You can  see some amusing pro-Second Amendment posters herehereherehere, and here. And some amusing images of t-shirts and bumper stickers on gun control herehere, and here.

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I’ve written, ad nauseum, about the economic impact of excessive government spending.

But I’ve also acknowledged that Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution grants specific powers to the federal government.

What I’ve neglected to explore, though, is the key issue of how today’s bloated welfare state interferes with and undermines the government’s ability to competently fulfill its legitimate responsibilities.

Imagine, for instance, if we had the kind of limited federal government envisioned by the Founding Fathers and the “best and brightest” people in government – instead of being dispersed across a vast bureaucracy – were concentrated on protecting the national security of the American people.

In that hypothetical world, I’m guessing something like the 9-11 attacks would be far less likely.

I’m mostly thinking about reducing the inefficiency and incompetence of Washington, but the same principle applies to other levels of government.

Using lots of humor and sarcasm, Mark Steyn elaborates on this issue.

In political terms, Hurricane Sandy and the Benghazi consulate debacle exemplify at home and abroad the fundamental unseriousness of the United States in the Obama era. …John Brennan, the Counterterrorism guy, and Tony Blinken, the National Security honcho, briefed the president on the stiff breeze, but on Sept. 11, 2012, when a little counterterrorism was called for, nobody bothered calling the Counterterrorism Security Group, the senior U.S. counterterrorism bureaucracy. …our government is more expensive than any government in history – and we have nothing to show for it. …one Obama bill spent a little shy of a trillion dollars, and no one can point to a single thing it built. “A big storm requires Big Government,” pronounced The New York Times. But Washington is so big-hearted with Big Government it spends $188 million an hour that it doesn’t have – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Ramadan. And yet, mysteriously, multitrillion-dollar Big Government Obama-style can’t doanything except sluice food stamps to the dependent class, lavish benefits and early retirement packages to the bureaucrats that service them, and so-called government “investment” to approved Obama cronies. …Last week, Nanny Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, rivaled his own personal best for worst mayoral performance since that snowstorm a couple of years back. This is a man who spends his days micromanaging the amount of soda New Yorkers are allowed to have in their beverage containers rather than, say, the amount of ocean New Yorkers are allowed to have in their subway system – just as, in the previous crisis, the municipal titan who can regulate the salt out of your cheeseburger proved utterly incapable of regulating any salt on to Sixth Avenue. Imagine if this preening buffoon had expended as much executive energy on flood protection for the electrical grid and transit system as he does on approved quantities of carbonated beverages. But that’s leadership 21st-century style: When the going gets tough, the tough ban trans fats. Back in Benghazi, the president who looks so cool in a bomber jacket declined to answer his beleaguered diplomats’ calls for help – even though he had aircraft and Special Forces in the region. Too bad. He’s all jacket and no bombers. This, too, is an example of America’s uniquely profligate impotence. When something goes screwy at a ramshackle consulate halfway round the globe, very few governments have the technological capacity to watch it unfold in real time. Even fewer have deployable military assets only a couple of hours away. What is the point of unmanned drones, of military bases around the planet, of elite Special Forces trained to the peak of perfection if the president and the vast bloated federal bureaucracy cannot rouse themselves to action? What is the point of outspending Russia, Britain, France, China, Germany and every middle-rank military power combined if, when it matters, America cannot urge into the air one plane with a couple of dozen commandoes? In Iraq, al-Qaida is running training camps in the western desert. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are all but certain to return most of the country to its pre-9/11 glories. But in Washington the head of the world’s biggest “counterterrorism” bureaucracy briefs the president on flood damage and downed trees.

Amen. Four Americans are dead in part because the idiots in Washington are focused on things that are not the proper responsibility of the federal government.

I don’t know if this was his intent, but Steyn just made a very compelling argument for the libertarian vision.

Here are a few of my favorite examples of Steyn’s writings.

This post is about the link between effective government and small government, with the obvious implication that the current federal behemoth is largely incapable of handling its legitimate responsibilities. Well, the flip side is that doesn’t do a good job in areas where it shouldn’t be involved, as cleverly illustrated by this cartoon.

P.S. Speaking of libertarianism, here’s some self-mocking humor. We’ll start with a video portraying Somalia as a libertarian paradise, followed by cartoons on libertarian ice fishing and libertarian lifeguards, then an info-graphic showing 24 types of libertarians, and close with a poster showing how the world sees libertarians.

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I’ve had some fun on this blog by comparing moronic government policies in the United States and United Kingdom.

In my never-ending search for cheap laughs and juvenile entertainment, I’ve ever turned this into a contest to see which nation has more pathetic and useless bureaucrats.

The United Kingdom has some very strong contestants.

As a patriotic American, I’m proud to say that we’re giving the Brits a run for their money. As you can see, the United States is filled with equally stupid and clueless government officials.

These are all amazing episodes of bureaucratic stupidity, but I must confess that I’ve been unfair.

I’ve been sharing stories about moronic government officials and completely overlooking examples of idiotic behavior and decision-making in the non-government sector.

To be sure, you’re more likely to find stupidity in government, but that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent elsewhere.

So, to rectify that oversight, let’s share two examples of jaw-dropping stupidity from non-bureaucrats in the U.S. and U.K. (or perhaps we should call them aspiring bureaucrats).

We’ll start with some clowns at Tufts University (a private school), who have kicked a Christian group off campus because it refused to change its internal policies so that non-Christians could be officers.

I’m not joking. Here are some of the absurd details.

After the student leaders of Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) declined to revise their leadership policies, the Boston-area research university’s Community Union Judiciary (TCUJ) revoked the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter’s status as an officially recognized student organization. …TCUJ originally suspended TCF for its requirement that any student who wishes to hold a leadership position within TCF must affirm basic Christian beliefs. The student judiciary told TCF that those statements violated the student body constitution’s non-discrimination clause by excluding students who do not share these beliefs. TCF was given the opportunity to adapt its constitution and move the belief-based leadership requirement into its mission statement, which is not legally binding. However, TCF declined, resulting in the final TCUJ decision on Oct. 18.

Too bad they didn’t have this policy when I was at Georgia. I could have applied to be an officer in the Black Student Union. Or Hillel, the club for Jewish students.

On second thought, I would have filed suit to join a sorority! Imagine how much fun I would have had hanging out by the showers. And then another lawsuit so I could have been quarterback for the Bulldawgs. After all, how dare they discriminate against the athletically challenged.

To be momentarily serious, I have to wonder about the students at Tufts who first brought the complaint against the Christian group. I bet they feel like big men on campus right now.

Maybe they should demonstrate that they have some real cojones by launching a similar attack on the local Muslim student group. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen. Just like I’m not expecting the same from the people in Hollywood who think they’re edgy and brave when they mock Christians and Mormons.

Not that I have any objection to humor targeting religious people. Or atheists, for that matter. But I don’t have much use for cowards who engage in empty posturing.

But I’m digressing. Now let’s turn to our example of private-sector stupidity in the United Kingdom. It deals with bookstore chain that has decided to save impressionable British tykes from the life-scarring horror of buying shooting magazines.

Here are some details from the Telegraph on this ideologically motivated example of political correctness run amok.

WH Smith, Britain’s biggest chain of newsagents, has banned youngsters from buying copies of country sports magazines after a campaign by animal rights activists. The retailer…says it has introduced an age limit on such magazines as Shooting Times because children are not allowed to obtain a firearms certificate until they are 14. However, sports enthusiasts point out that this is wrong. There is no minimum age for holding a shotgun licence in Britain…They question why the high street chain does not restrict the sale of motoring magazines such as TopGear to those old enough to drive. “It is extraordinary that in WH Smith you can buy a car magazine at any age, despite the age limit of 17 for driving,” said Christopher Graffius, of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. “You can also buy numerous war magazines which depict the killing of people, yet WH Smith is concerned about children buying shooting magazines, a legal and an Olympic sport. “They are also causing enormous offence to adult shooters who are stopped at auto-scan tills.”

Kudos to Mr. Graffius for exposing the absurd hypocrisy of the company, but I gather his is a lonely voice. It’s remarkable that a nation that once ruled half the world now produces people who decide that shooting magazines should be restricted like porn.

Not that I’ve ever had a reason to patronize a bookstore in England, but I will make sure not to visit WH Smith on my visit later this month.

Since I believe in private property, I want to stress that WH Smith has the right to restrict access to shooting magazines. Or to ban their sale completely. But I sure hope English consumers will exercise their rights to patronize other bookstores.

Feel free to comment on who deserves to win the prize for empty and vapid stupidity, the clowns at Tufts or the buffoons at WH Smith.

P.S. I don’t mean to slight the rest of the world. There are many examples of bureaucratic incompetence and political idiocy in other parts of the world, including Italy, Greece, Germany, and the European Union. So I hope nobody gets offended that their country isn’t on the list. There’s only so much time in a day.

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Since folks aren’t paying that much attention to policy as the election gets closer, we may as well enjoy some political humor.

Let’s start with an image of Nancy Pelosi hearing the horrifying news that she’s going to be subjected to Obamacare.

On a momentarily serious note, one of my objections to government-run healthcare is that the political elite won’t be subjected to the indignities of sub-standard care and bureaucratic sloth. Take a look at some of the examples linked at the bottom of this post about the British system and ask yourself whether the politically well connected ever endure those horror stories.

And, speaking of Britain, here’s an image of the President explaining the basic principles of class-warfare policy to Prime Minister David Cameron.

Not that Cameron needs any help since he already views taxpayers with contempt.

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In some sense, the President is fortunate. I predicted a long time ago that he would win re-election if the unemployment rate was under 8 percent.

Well, the new numbers just came out and the joblessness rate is 7.9 percent.

So even though his stimulus failed, and even though his class-warfare tax policy is like a dark cloud over the economy, and even though his plans to further increase the burden of government spending will accelerate America’s descent a Greek-style fiscal quagmire, he may dodge the proverbial bullet.

You can see my latest election prediction by clicking here, and you can even cast a vote in my reader poll, but let’s set aside the crystal ball nonsense and focus on public policy.

Here are four images that summarize Obama’s dismal performance.

We’ll start with a chart showing what President Obama claimed would happen to unemployment if we enacted his so-called stimulus compared to the actual real-world results.

As you can see, the joblessness rate currently is more than 2-1/2 percentage points higher than Obama claimed it would be if we implemented his Keynesian plan.

Now let’s look at some updated images of how this “recovery” compares to previous recoveries in the past six decades, based on data from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. We’ll start with the unemployment rate. Take a wild guess which President has presided over the red line at the bottom.

Previously, I’ve compared Obamanomics and Reaganomics, but this image may be even better because it shows all business cycles and confirms that the Obama years have been the worst in post-World War II history.

And we see something similar if we look at GDP growth. Once again, go out on a limb and guess who is responsible for the weakest recovery since World War II.

Last but not least, this info-graphic is a bit dated, but Obama’s dismal track record would not change if we added the past few months of data.

Defenders of the White House argue that all these bad numbers are a legacy of the dismal situation that Obama inherited. That’s partially true. Obama should not be blamed for the depth of a recession that began before he took office.

But he should be held at least somewhat accountable for an anemic recovery. Particularly since he promised “hope” and “change” and then continued the big-spending, pro-cronyism policies of the Bush years.

The moral of the story, needless to say, is that free markets and small government are the keys to growth and prosperity.

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I’m not a big fan of the International Monetary Fund, largely because the folks in charge oftentimes advocate toxic policies such as bailouts, higher taxes, and currency devaluation.

But there are some top-rate economists working at the IMF, and the bureaucracy has published some good studies about the economic benefits of reducing government spending and others warning that tax increases can be self defeating (by the way, too bad we can’t get the Joint Committee on Taxation to also acknowledge the Laffer Curve).

Now the IMF has a new study about the relationship between economic growth and different types of taxes. Those finding are interesting, and I may even write about them in the next few days, but I want to focus on some amazing data from this research that shows exactly why proponents of limited government should resist the value-added tax.

These charts are taken from page 10 of the IMF study and they depict changes, over the past several decades, for both personal income tax (PIT) revenues and consumption tax revenues, both measured as a share of economic output. The charts are divided to show trends in low-income countries, middle-income countries, and high-income countries.

These are remarkable numbers. They basically show that politicians have been unable to squeeze more money out of the income tax. We don’t know if that’s because of the Laffer Curve, tax competition, electoral resistance, or all of the above. But we can say with considerable confidence that the income tax has not been a money machine over the past 40 years.

I’m not saying it’s a good tax. Far from it. The income tax is unfair. It’s punitive. It’s discriminatory. It’s corrupt. And, when it was first adopted, it did generate a big new pile of revenue for the politicians.

But that was 100 years ago. In recent decades, by contrast, it hasn’t been a piggy bank for statists seeking to expand the burden of government spending.

The data for the VAT and other consumption taxes, by contrast, shows just the opposite. With each passing decade, the VAT burden climbs, and that’s true for nations at all stages of development.

This is one of the reasons why a VAT would be a disaster for the United States. Politicians might make promises about repealing or reducing other taxes in exchange for a VAT, but it is a 99-percent certainty that politicians would pull a bait-and-switch. We’d still be stuck with the awful income tax system and the IRS, but the crooks and clowns in Washington would have a new source of revenue to feed their spending addiction.

Isn’t that wonderful? We’d be taxed when we earn our income (often more than one time), and then taxed again when we spend our income. Just like Europe.

Here’s my video explaining why a value-added tax would be a fiscal disaster.

One final point. I don’t care if you like Mitt Romney or dislike Mitt Romney. But, given his less-than-sound views on the VAT, I want everybody to be prepared to hold his feet to the fire if he happens to prevail on November 6.

P.S. You’ll be delighted to learn that the pampered bureaucrats at the IMF get tax-free salaries, just like their cousins at the OECD and the rest of the international bureaucracies.

P.P.S. I just shared these a few days ago, but if you didn’t get a chance to see them, you can enjoy some good anti-VAT cartoons herehere, and here.

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I was going to wait until the morning of the election to make my final prediction for the 2012 elections, but I’m inexplicably getting a lot of emails asking whether I’ve changed my mind since I predicted last month that Obama would eke out a narrow 271-267 victory.

So I’m going to cave to peer pressure and make a next-to-final guess about the outcome.

But my GOP friends won’t be happy, because the only thing I’m changing is that I’m putting Nevada in Obama’s column.

You’ll also notice I’m hedging my bets by putting lots of states in the “leaning” category. Depending on how these states break, we could get everything from a 332-206 rout for Obama to a comfortable 301-237 victory for Romney.

I’m curious, by the way, to see who readers support. Please vote below, and feel free to add additional thoughts in the comments section. This is a highly scientific poll (at least by the standards of the global warming cranks who say that “climate change” causes AIDS and that skeptics are racist).

The candidates are in alphabetical order, by the way, so Gary Johnson’s position has no significance beyond the fact that “J” comes before “O” or “R.”

Next Tuesday, I’ll include my predictions for the House and Senate when I make my final guess about the presidential election. Not to brag too much, but I was right on the mark in my prediction for the U.S. House and off by just one seat in my prediction for the U.S. Senate.

P.S. I’ll be very happy next Wednesday because the political silly season will be over and we can get back to what really matters – figuring out how to control the burden of government spending, how to implement much-needed entitlement reform, and how to fix the corrupt tax system.

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