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Archive for January, 2013

Daniel Hannan is a member of the European Parliament from England. He is one of the few economically sensible people in that body, as demonstrated in these short clips of him speaking about tax competition and deriding the European Commission’s corrupt racket.

And as you can see from his latest article in the UK-based Telegraph, he’s also very wise on issues of class warfare tax policy and Laffer Curve responses to punitive taxation.

France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, is shifting his fortune to Belgium. Gérard Depardieu, the country’s greatest actor (figuratively and literally)is moving to Russia. And, if rumours are to be believed, Nicolas Sarkozy is planning a new career in London. That’s the problem with very high taxes – they don’t redistribute wealth; they redistribute people. …the rich don’t sit around waiting to be taxed. …many financiers can open their businesses abroad simply by opening their laptops. The result of a hike in tax rates is thus often a fall in tax revenue – which means, of course, that the rest of us end up paying more to cover the share of the departed plutocrats.

Hannan understands that rich people have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income, which is precisely why there are powerful Laffer Curve effects when politicians go after the so-called rich (as I tried to explain in a lesson for President Obama).

But Hannan also makes a good point about complexity.

The complexity of a tax system is every bit as damaging to competitiveness as the overall tax rate. The more convoluted the tax code becomes, the more time we have to take off work to comply with it.Tolley’s Tax Handbook is now 11,500 pages long, twice what it was when Gordon Brown became chancellor, and the number of tax lawyers has increased commensurately. …The very wealthy, who can afford ingenious tax advisers and high upfront fees, turn this complexity to their advantage, sheltering their assets in various pockets unintentionally created by government schemes. Again, the rest of us then have to pay more to make up their portion.

Since we have 72,000 pages of complexity and corruption in our tax code, I can’t help but comment that the Brits are lucky that they “only” have 11,500 pages (assuming, of course, that the methodology in both page counts is similar).

In both cases, though, Hannan is right in stating that complexity benefits those who can hire lots of tax lawyers, financial planners, accountants, and other tax advisers.

The answer, of course, is a flat tax. Hannan doesn’t explicitly embrace that option, but he does write about the benefits of lower rates and fewer distortions.

There is one other point he makes that is worth noting. He cites a former Labour Party politician who explicitly was willing to have less prosperity if it meant more equality.

You might, of course, agree with Roy Hattersley, who once said that he’d rather have 5% more equality than 10% more prosperity. That is a respectable position, but at least be honest about it. Wealth taxes create more equal, but poorer societies.

Margaret Thatcher eviscerated that destructive mentality many years ago in this famous speech, but this is an area where proponents of limited government need to do more work.

There are plenty of well-meaning people who mistakenly think the economy is a fixed pie. If we want to help them understand the benefits of small government and free markets, we need to come up with more effective ways of educating them about the important implications of even small differences in economic growth.

I try to make that point in this PBS interview, but I suspect these charts comparing North Korea and South Korea and comparing Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela are much more compelling.

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Fighting against statism in Washington is a lot like trying to swim upstream. It seems that everything (how to measure spending cuts, how to estimate tax revenue, etc) is rigged to make your job harder.

A timely example is the way the way government puts together data on economic output and the way the media reports these numbers.

Just yesterday, for instance, the government released preliminary numbers for 4th quarter gross domestic product (GDP). The numbers were rather dismal, but that’s not the point.

I’m more concerned with the supposed reason why the numbers were bad. According to Politico, “the fall was largely due to a drop in government spending.” Bloomberg specifically cited a “plunge in defense spending” and the Associated Press warned that “sharp government spending cuts” are the economy’s biggest threat in 2013.

To the uninitiated, I imagine that they read these articles and decide that Paul Krugman is right and that we should have more government spending to boost the economy.

But here’s the problem. GDP numbers only measure how we spend or allocate our national income. It’s a very convoluted indirect way of measuring economic health. Sort of like assessing the status of your household finances by adding together how much you spend on everything from mortgage and groceries to your cable bill and your tab at the local pub.

Wouldn’t it make much more sense to directly measure income? Isn’t the amount of money going into our bank accounts the key variable?

The same principle is true – or should be true – for a country.

That’s why the better variable is gross domestic income (GDI). It measures things such as employee compensation, corporate profits, and small business income.

These numbers are much better gauges of national prosperity, as explained in this Economics 101 video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

The video is more than two years old and it focuses mostly on the misguided notion that consumer spending drives growth, but you’ll see that the analysis also debunks the Keynesian notion that government spending boosts an economy (and if you want more information on Keynesianism, here’s another video you may enjoy).

The main thing to understand is that GDP numbers and the press coverage of that data is silly and misleading. We should be focusing on how to increase national income, not what share of it is being redistributed by politicians.

But that logical approach is not easy when the Congressional Budget Office also is fixated on the Keynesian approach.

Just another example of how the game in Washington is designed to rationalize and enable a bigger burden of government spending.

Addendum: I’m getting ripped by critics for implying that GDP is Keynesian. I think part of the problem is that I originally entitled this post “Making Sense of Keynesian-Laced GDP Reports.” Since GDP data is simply a measure of how national output is allocated, the numbers obviously aren’t “laced” one way of the other. So the new title isn’t as pithy, but it’s more accurate and I hope it will help focus attention on my real point about the importance of figuring out the policies that will lead to more output.

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Last year, I explained with considerable relief that President Obama would never be as bad as Franklin Roosevelt.

Yes, Obama has imposed a class-warfare tax hike, pushed through Obamacare, and squandered $billions on a faux stimulus (perfectly captured by this cartoon). But that’s trivial compared to the damage caused by FDR (and Hoover).

“I’ve tried, but it’s time for me to admit I’m not as bad as FDR”

Obama’s policies, to be sure, have contributed to an extremely weak expansion.

That’s bad, but FDR’s statism helped extend the Great Depression – by an additional seven years according to scholarly research! That’s a much worse track record.

But that doesn’t mean Obama doesn’t want to be as bad as FDR. Indeed, one of his top advisers seems very happy that the President’s second inaugural address was reminiscent of Roosevelt’s so-called Second Bill of Rights.

Here’s some of what Cass Sunstein wrote for Bloomberg.

Obama is updating Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights. …Roosevelt announced the Second Bill of Rights in his State of the Union address in 1944. With the Great Depression over, and the war almost won, FDR declared that we “have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” …Then he listed them:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.
  • The right of every family to a decent home.
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.
  • The right to a good education.

…the Second Bill was meant to specify the goals of postwar America… Obama took more such steps. …Obama’s second inaugural did not refer explicitly to the Second Bill of Rights, but it had an unmistakably Rooseveltian flavor. …Obama emphasized “that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.” …Having helped America to survive its greatest economic challenge since the 1930s, the current occupant of that office is giving new meaning to those commitments, and making them his own.

I guess we have to give Sunstein credit for chutzpah. We’re suffering through the weakest expansion since the end of World War II, and he wants us to be grateful for Obama’s policies since they supposedly “helped America to survive.”

Wow, I’d hate to see his idea of failure.

But here’s the good news. America will have gridlock for the next two years, and probably the next four years.

The bad news is that we won’t take necessary steps to reform entitlements, but the good news is that we won’t make things worse with the kind of statist policies outlined in FDR’s fake Bill of Rights.

Yes, I expect Republicans to screw up on some of the small issues and give the White House a few minor victories, but I can’t imagine them approving any big Obama initiatives, even if their opposition is driven only by partisanship rather than principle.

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I’m at Hillsdale College in Michigan for a conference on taxation. The event is called “The Federal Income Tax: A Centenary Consideration,” though I would have called it something like “100 Years of Misery from the IRS.”

I’m glad to be here, both because Hillsdale proudly refuses to take government money (which would mean being ensnared by government rules) and also because I’ve heard superb speeches by scholars such as Amity Shlaes (author of The Forgotten Man, as well as a new book on Calvin Coolidge that is now on my must-read list) and George Gilder (author of Wealth and Poverty, as well as the forthcoming Knowledge and Power).

My modest contribution was to present “The Case for the Flat Tax,” and I was matched up – at least indirectly, since there were several hours between our presentations – against former Congressman John Linder, who gave “The Case for the Fair Tax.”

I was very ecumenical in my remarks.  I pointed out the flat tax and sales tax (and even, at least in theory, the value-added tax) all share very attractive features.

  • A single (and presumably low) tax rate, thus treating taxpayers equally and minimizing the penalty on productive behavior.
  • No double taxation of saving and investment since every economic theory agrees that capital formation is key to long-run growth.
  • Elimination of all loopholes (other than mechanisms to protect the poor from tax) to promote efficiency and reduce corruption.
  • Dramatically downsize and neuter the IRS by replacing 72,000 pages of complexity with simple post-card sized tax forms.

For all intents and purposes the flat tax and sales tax are different sides of the same coin. The only real difference is the collection point. The flat tax takes a bite of your income as it is earned and the sales tax takes a bite of your income as it is spent.

That being said, I do have a couple of qualms about the Fair Tax and other national sales tax plans.

First, I don’t trust politicians. I can envision the crowd in Washington adopting a national sales tax (or VAT) while promising to phase out the income tax over a couple of years. But I’m afraid they’ll discover some “temporary” emergency reason to keep the income tax, followed by another “short-term” excuse. And when the dust settles, we’ll be stuck with both an income tax and a sales tax.

As we know from the European VAT evidence, this is a recipe for even bigger government. That’s a big downside risk.

I explore my concerns in this video.

To be sure, there are downside risks to the flat tax. It’s quite possible, after all, that we could get a flat tax and then degenerate back to something resembling the current system (though that’s still better than being France!).

My second qualm is political. The Fair Tax seems to attract very passionate supporters, which is admirable, but candidates in competitive states and districts are very vulnerable to attacks when they embrace the national sales tax.

On dozens of occasions over the past 15-plus years, I’ve had to explain to reporters that why anti-sales tax demagoguery is wrong.

So I hope it’s clear that I’m not opposed to the concept. Heck, I’ve testified before Congress about the benefits of a national sales tax and I’ve debated on C-Span about how the national sales tax is far better than the current system.

I would be delighted to have a national sales tax, but what I really want is a low-rate, non-discriminatory system that isn’t biased against saving and investment.

Actually, what I want is a very small federal government, which presumably could be financed without any broad-based tax, but that’s an issue for another day.

Returning to the issue of tax reform, there’s no significant economic difference between the flat tax and the sales tax. What we’re really debating is how to replace the squalid internal revenue code with something worthy of a great nation.

And if there are two paths to the same destination and one involves crossing an alligator-infested swamp and the other requires a stroll through a meadow filled with kittens and butterflies, I know which one I’m going to choose. Okay, a slight exaggeration, but I think you get my point.

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I posted a horrifying story last week about a Lithuanian immigrant who was mooching off British taxpayers.

She basically had a very comfortable life thanks to beleaguered taxpayers, and I compared her to a Greek woman who thought the state owed her everything.

But there’s no ethnic requirement to be a bum. I’ve also shared stories about American moochers and Austrian moochers.

I’ve even shared stories about terrorists getting welfare handouts in Australia and France!

UK BumsSo I hope my British friends won’t be upset that I’m now going to highlight a couple of English deadbeats.

Here are some odious details from the UK-based Sun.

Danny Creamer, 21, and Gina Allan, 18, spend each day watching their 47in flatscreen TV and smoking 40 cigarettes between them in their comfy two-bedroom flat. It is all funded by the taxpayer, yet the couple say they deserve sympathy because they are “trapped”.

Does this mean they are imprisoned? Is someone holding them at gunpoint?

Hardly. It simply means that these two scroungers get such lavish handouts that their living standards would fall if they actually lived decent and honorable lives and went to work.

The couple, who have a four-month-old daughter Tullulah-Rose, say they can’t go out to work as they could not survive on less than their £1,473-a-month benefits. The pair left school with no qualifications, and say there is no point looking for jobs because they will never be able to earn as much as they get in handouts. Gina admits: “We could easily get a job but why would we want to work — we would be worse off.” Danny’s father, 46, even offered him a job with his bowling alley servicing company — but could not pay him enough.

So how much are these moochers stealing from taxpayers? Quite a lot, particularly if you keep in mind that £1 is equal to $1.57.

The couple, who live in Hants, receive £340 a week, made up of £150 housing benefit, £60 child tax credit, £20 child benefit and £110 in Job Seeker’s Allowance. They pay just £25 towards their spacious £625-a-month home. Their lounge is dominated by the huge TV and a leather sofa. …They spend the same on tobacco as they do on their daughter’s milk and nappies.

Gee, isn’t that nice. Taxpayers are even financing their cigarettes.

I blame Danny and Gina for being a couple of bums, but I also blame British politicians for creating a lavish welfare state that enables this awful behavior.

It’s not that people are trapped in poverty, but they definitely are lured into dependency.

By the way, the same problem exists in the United States. Indeed, this chart shows that the plethora of freebies from taxpayers means a household can be better off with $29,000 of income rather than $69,000 of income.

No wonder the poverty rate stopped falling once the so-called War on Poverty began.

For more information, here’s a short debate I had about the topic, and here’s a video explaining how the welfare state is bad for both poor people and taxpayers.

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As a public finance economist, I normally focus on big-picture arguments against excessive government.

If the public sector is too large, for instance, that undermines economic growth by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy.

The damage is then compounded by a needlessly destructive and punitive tax system.

But I’ve also discovered that it helps to personalize the analysis by pointing out examples of ridiculous and wasteful behavior by government.

From England: The world’s most useless sign

That’s one of the reasons I share horror stories as part of the U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest.

Some actions by government, however, belong in a different category. I’m not sure what word I would choose to describe them – perhaps venal, evil, despicable, reprehensible, or disgusting would be good options.

Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, but is there any other reaction when the government persecutes a family with possible jail time for rescuing Bambi?

Here are some absurd and disturbing details from the Indianapolis Star.

When Connersville police officer Jeff Counceller first encountered the baby deer, she was curled up in the corner of a front porch.It was clear the fawn was injured. Counceller could see the wounds… If left to its own, the animal would surely die… So the Councellers took in the deer, which they named Dani, cleaned and dressed its wounds and nursed it back to health, all with the intention of turning it out into the wild once it was big enough and strong enough to have a chance on its own. …she was unable to stand, and her maggot-infested wound was ugly. The Councellers contacted DNR at the time but were told to return the deer to the wild and let nature take its course. “It would have been a death sentence,” Jeff said.

So the family did what any decent people would do. They nursed the deer back to health. But decency and government often are in conflict.

Trouble is, what the Councellers did is against the law. Now, more than two years after rescuing the deer, more than six months after conservation officers began an investigation, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources wants them prosecuted. …DNR officials began an investigation that entailed half a dozen visits to their home and numerous calls to local authorities. In July, the agency issued an eight-page report and asked for a special prosecutor from another county to handle the case. Why the charges are being sought now — six months later — isn’t clear.

Bureaucrats wanted to kill this baby deer

Bureaucrats wanted to kill this baby deer

I think the answer is obvious. The bureaucrats from the Department of Natural Resources are sulking because their imperious demands weren’t obeyed.

So they’re lashing out at an innocent family, as indicated by the following excerpts.

…when the DNR came calling, the Councellers say they were almost ready to release Dani back into the woods. They were just waiting for the summer drought to pass and the nearby corn crops to mature enough to offer cover and food for Dani. They say they weren’t aware it was illegal to keep the deer.

That’s when the bureaucratic nightmare began.

When the DNR began its investigation, the Councellers say the conservation officer suggested they obtain a rescue permit. But that was denied. Soon, the DNR said the deer must be euthanized, that it was a safety threat to humans.

Fortunately, an unknown good Samaritan intervened and freed Dani before the government could kill the helpless animal.

But on the day of Dani’s scheduled execution, the deer turned up missing, its enclosure left open. The Councellers say they didn’t arrange the escape or know how the deer was freed but acknowledge that they didn’t probe too deeply to find out.

But no good deed goes unpunished when spiteful bureaucrats are involved.

…there was nothing but silence from the DNR until the Councellers received notice of the charges earlier this month. They plan to fight the case, even though jail is unlikely and the lawyer costs — which could reach $5,000 — are significantly higher than a likely fine. It’s a matter of principle, they say. They don’t want to plead guilty for trying to help an animal and when they had no criminal intent.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the community is on the side of the deer (and the persecuted family). Indeed, there’s even a Facebook page for folks who want to register their displeasure with this example of government thuggery.

“People are outraged at the DNR and that the government has nothing better to do than harass these people,” said John Waudby, an Indianapolis man who created the Facebook page after hearing about the story. “Anybody in their right mind would have done the same thing.”

All things considered, this story from Indiana shouldn’t be part of the government stupidity and incompetence contest. Given the venality of the bureaucrats, it belongs with this list of horrifying examples of government thuggery.

In a just world, a court will immediately dismiss the charges against the Counceller family.

I would urge that the family then be awarded damages, but that’s not the right response. The bureaucrats would merely shrug and let taxpayers pick up the cost.

The only good outcome is to unceremoniously fire every bureaucrat who played a role in this outrageous episode.

Like most bureaucrats, I suspect the pinheads at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources are overpaid. So losing their pampered positions would be genuine punishment and it would send a message to the rest of the paper pushers not to harass innocent and good people.

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A lot of big-city police chiefs are political appointees who promote gun control, presumably to please their political masters.

911 Response TimeThey tell citizens that they should passively rely on government rather than take personal responsibility for self defense.

I have no idea if the numbers in this image are correct, but there’s no doubt that a gun is a lot quicker than the cops. Heck, just watch this video and ask yourself whether you would want your daughter armed.

And the cops I know – the ones who actually interact with the public and fight crime – are supportive of the Second Amendment, precisely because they realize they can’t be everywhere and they know there are bad people in the world.

But not all police chiefs and senior cops are mindless bureaucrats. In this video, the Sheriff of Milwaukee County not only acknowledges the right of self defense, but he’s also is willing to help train citizens to resist crime.

This doesn’t necessarily make him a libertarian hero. Indeed, his comments about layoffs and furloughs indicate that he’s also interested in maximizing the size of his staff.

And even though cops are probably my favorite government employees (at least when they’re fighting crime rather than giving me ridiculous traffic tickets), that doesn’t mean we should have too many of them or pay them too much (though, to be fair, they’re presumably not paid as much as cops in Oakland).

But I’ll forgive Sheriff Clarke for pursuing the interests of his staff, even if that conflicts with the interests of taxpayers.

P.S. Here’s a very good joke about what to say when you call 911.

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Much to the horror of various interest groups, it appears that there will be a “sequester” on March 1.

This means an automatic reduction in spending authority for selected programs (interest payments are exempt, as are most entitlement outlays).

Just about everybody in Washington is frantic about the sequester, which supposedly will mean “savage” and “draconian” budget cuts.

If only. That would be like porn for libertarians.

In reality, the sequester merely means a reduction in the growth of federal spending. Even if we have the sequester, the burden of government spending will still be about $2 trillion higher in 10 years.

The other common argument against the sequester is that it represents an unthinking “meat-ax” approach to the federal budget.

But a former congressional staffer and White House appointee says this is much better than doing nothing.

Here’s some of what Professor Jeff Bergner wrote for today’s Wall Street Journal.

You know the cliché: America’s fiscal condition might be grim, but lawmakers should avoid the “meat ax” of across-the-board spending cuts and instead use the “scalpel” of targeted reductions. …Targeted reductions would be welcome, but the current federal budget didn’t drop from the sky. Every program in the budget—from defense to food stamps, agriculture, Medicare and beyond—is in place for a reason: It has advocates in Congress and a constituency in the country. These advocates won’t sit idly by while their programs are targeted, whether by a scalpel or any other instrument. That is why targeted spending cuts have historically been both rare and small.

Bergner explains that small across-the-board cuts are very reasonable.

The most likely way to achieve significant reductions in spending is by across-the-board cuts. Each reduction of 1% in the $3.6 trillion federal budget would yield roughly $36 billion the first year and would reduce the budget baseline in future years. Even with modest reductions, this is real money. …let’s give up the politically pointless effort to pick and choose among programs, accept the political reality of current allocations, and reduce everything proportionately. No one program would be very much disadvantaged. In many cases, a 1% or 3% reduction would scarcely be noticed. Are we really to believe that a government that spent $2.7 trillion five years ago couldn’t survive a 3% cut that would bring spending to “only” $3.5 trillion today? Every household, company and nonprofit organization across America can do this, as can state and local governments. So could Washington.

And he turns the fairness argument back on critics, explaining that it is a virtue to treat all programs similarly.

Across-the-board federal cuts would have to include all programs—no last-minute reprieves for alternative-energy programs, filmmakers or any other cause. All parties would know that they are being treated equally. Defense programs, food-stamp recipients, retired federal employees, the judiciary, Social-Security recipients, veterans and members of Congress—each would join to make a minor sacrifice. It would be a narrative of civic virtue.

It’s worth noting, however, that the sequester would not treat all programs equally. Defense spending is only about 20 percent of the budget, for instance, yet the Pentagon will absorb 50 percent of the savings (though defense spending still increases over the next 10 years).

At the risk of oversimplifying, the sequester basically applies to so-called discretionary spending. So-called mandatory spending accounts for a majority of federal spending, but it is largely exempt, so entitlement reform will still be necessary if we want to address the nation’s long-run fiscal challenges.

To close, Bergner notes that “meat-ax” isn’t the right term to describe very small across-the-board cuts.

Talk of axes versus scalpels is designed to deflect reform. Whatever carefully targeted budget cuts might animate our dreams, the actual world of divided government suggests only one realistic way to achieve real spending reductions. It is not a meat ax. A scalpel that shaves a bit off all programs equally would work just fine.

In other words, the sequester is simply a very modest step in the right direction.

And while we should be radically downsizing the federal government, it’s worth reiterating that modest steps are capable of yielding big results.

Simply restraining the budget so that it grows 2.5 percent annually, for instance, is all that would be needed to balance the budget in 10 years. Not big budget cuts. Not small budget cuts. Just a bit of measly fiscal restraint.

Yet President Obama thinks that’s asking too much and instead wants ever-higher taxes to support an ever-growing government.

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I was asked last week which entitlement program is most deserving of reform.

While acknowledging that Social Security and Medicare also are in desperate need of modernization, I wrote that Medicaid reform should be the first priority.

But I’d be happy if we made progress on any type of entitlement reform, so I don’t think there are right or wrong answers to this kind of question.

We have the same type of question this week. A reader sent an email to ask “Which federal department should be abolished first?”

I guess this is what is meant when people talk about a target-rich environment.

We have an abundance of candidates, including the Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, etc.

But if I have to choose, I think the Department of Housing and Urban Development should be first on the chopping block.

Raze the building and put a layer of salt over the earth to make sure it can never spring back to life

I’ve already argued that there should be no federal government involvement in the housing sector and made the same argument on TV. And I’ve also shared some horror stories about HUD waste and incompetence.

Heck, I even made HUD the background image for my video on the bloated and overpaid bureaucracy in Washington.

It’s also worth noting that there’s nothing about housing in Article I, Section VIII, of the Constitution. For those of us who have old-fashioned values about playing by the rules, that means much of what takes place in Washington – including housing handouts – is unconstitutional.

Simply stated, there is no legitimate argument for HUD. And I think there would be the least political resistance.

As with the answer to the question about entitlements, this is a judgment call. I’d be happy to be proven wrong if it meant that politicians were aggressively going after another department. Anything that reduces the burden of government spending is a step in the right direction.

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Back in 2010, I shared a remarkable graph comparing the predictions of economists to what actually happened.

Not surprisingly, the two lines don’t exactly overlap, which explains the old joke that economists have correctly predicted nine of the last five recessions.

It’s not that economists are totally useless. It’s just that they don’t do a very good job when they venture into the filed of macroeconomics, as Russ Roberts succinctly explained. And they look especially foolish when they try to engage in forecasting.

But at least economists sometimes can be entertaining, though usually in the laughing-at-you rather than laughing-with-you way.

Consider, for instance, the escapades of one of Portugal’s leading economic analysts. Here’s some of what the UK-based Guardian recently reported.

As an ex-presidential consultant, a former adviser to the World Bank, a financial researcher for the United Nations and a professor in the US, Artur Baptista da Silva’s outspoken attacks on Portugal’s austerity cuts made the bespectacled 61-year-old one of the country’s leading media pundits last year.  …Mr Baptista da Silva…claimed to be a social economics professor at Milton College – a private university in Wisconsin, US…and to be masterminding a UN research project into the effects of the recession on southern European countries.

Promoting more government spending

Promoting more government spending

Mr. da Silva was sort of the Paul Krugman of Portugal, working with the left and urging Keynesian policy.

Blessed with such an impressive CV, Mr Baptista’s subsequent criticisms of the Lisbon government’s far-reaching austerity cuts, as well as dire warnings that the UN planned to take action against it, struck a deep chord with its financially beleaguered population. According to the Spanish newspaper El País, his powerfully delivered comments at a debate at the International Club, a prestigious Lisbon cultural and social organisation last month, were greeted with thunderous applause and a part-standing ovation. Then, in a double page interview in the weekly newspaper Expresso in mid-December, Mr Baptista da Silva continued to denounce the government’s policies. That was followed by an interview for the radio station TSF, appearances in high-profile television debates and well-publicised meetings with trade union leaders to advise them on economic policies.

But it turns out that there was a tiny problem with Mr. da Silva’s resume. At least if “tiny” is the right way to describe a total fraud.

The only problem was that Mr Baptista da Silva is none of the above. He turned out to be a convicted forger with fake credentials and, following his spectacular hoodwinking of Portuguese society, he could soon face fraud charges. …in the country’s jails, Mr Baptista da Silva’s sudden appearance among the intellectual elite caused amazement among his former cellmates. …Mr Baptista da Silva’s comeuppance began when the UN confirmed to a Portuguese TV station last month that he did not work for the organisation, not even as a volunteer, as he later alleged. Further media investigations uncovered his prison record and fake university titles… Mr Baptista da Silva has now disappeared completely from public life, and there are reports he is under investigation for fraud charges by the police.

I guess if he was intentionally misrepresenting himself, that perhaps da Silva should go back to jail. Though a lot of real economists and almost all politicians should be in prison as well if that’s the standard.

Let me close by making a serious point. Economists do not hold some magic source of knowledge about public policy. So I’ve never objected when journalists, political scientists, laymen, and others engage in debates about economic policy.

The key to good economic analysis, as Bastiat explained in the 1800s, is looking at the seen and the unseen. And you don’t have to be an economist to recognize that the secondary and tertiary effects of public policy are very important.

Indeed, if Paul Krugman’s any indication, maybe it’s better not to be an economist.

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I periodically share public opinion data, either because I’m encouraged by the results or because I think that the research helps show how to frame issues.

Examples include polling data on personal retirement accounts, the dangers of big government, support for spending caps, and viability of class warfare tax policy.

But I’ve been very narrowly focused. Just about all the polls I’ve shared have been about some aspect of fiscal policy.

So I was very interested to see a new poll about issues related to the Second Amendment, and I was particularly gratified to see that an overwhelming majority of gun owners would not surrender their constitutional rights if the jackals in Washington approved a gun ban.

Second Amendment Poll Defy Govt

For more information, here’s part of a Washington Times report on the new polling data.

Question 46 in the wide-ranging survey of more than 1,000 registered voters asks if there is a gun in the household. Overall, 52 percent of the respondents said yes, someone in their home owned a gun. That number included 65 percent of Republicans, 59 percent of conservatives, 38 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of liberals. But on to Question 47, addressed to those with a gun in their home: “If the government passed a law to take your guns, would you give up your guns or defy the law and keep your guns?” The response: 65 percent reported they would “defy the law.” That includes 70 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of conservatives, 52 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of liberals.

These results don’t tell us why people would defy the government, but the poll I conducted suggests that a plurality of Americans support the Second Amendment because they want the ability to resist tyranny.

I’m also happy to see that most Americans understand that gun bans are a very ineffective way of fighting crime. Heck, they realize that we need more guns in the hands of law-abiding people.

Second Amendment Poll Reduce Crime

In other words, ordinary Americans have a lot more common sense than the buffoons in the media. They know that you get less crime when you increase the expected cost of criminal behavior.

P.S. If you want to enjoy some good gun control cartoons, click here, here, and here.

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I’m fond of my video analyzing the problems with class warfare tax policy, and I’ve explained that higher tax rates on the rich will cause bad Laffer Curve effects because investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners have considerable ability to change the timing, level, and composition of their income.

But if you want to enjoy a succinct video that captures the moral bankruptcy of Obama’s agenda of class warfare and redistribution, this Penn & Teller video is well worth watching. And sharing.

And if you want to see rich, pro-tax statists exposed as hypocrites, watch these ambush interviews by Michelle Fields (who also narrated a very good video explaining how government policy mistakes caused – and exacerbated – the Great Depression).

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If you don’t want to be depressed, you should stop reading right now.

You probably know that we’ve been suffering because of a rising burden of government spending. And you probably understand that much of the problem is the relentless growth of redistribution and transfer programs.

But you probably don’t realize how far America has traveled in the wrong direction.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute rips apart President Obama’s empty assertion that the welfare state is desirable.

…the president is tired of listening to critics of America’s entitlement programs, and as far as he is concerned, the discussion is now over. It is not over—and won’t be anytime soon, because the country’s social-welfare spending is generating severe and mounting hazards for the nation. These hazards are not only fiscal but moral.

Eberstadt shares a bunch of bullet points that should worry anybody who cares about the future of the nation, starting with an inverse version of Mitchell’s Golden Rule. Handouts have been growing twice as fast as overall personal income!

• Over the 50-plus years since 1960, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, entitlement transfers—government payments of cash, goods and services to citizens—have been growing twice as fast as overall personal income. Government transfers now account for nearly 18% of all personal income in America—up from 6% in 1960.

• According to the BEA, America’s myriad social-welfare programs (the federal bureaucracy apparently cannot determine exactly how many of these there are) currently dispense entitlement benefits of more than $2.3 trillion annually. Since those entitlements must be paid for—either through taxes or borrowing—the burden of entitlement spending now amounts to over $7,400 per American man, woman and child.

The $7400 figure for per-capita redistribution burden is astounding. Others have calculated that this is akin to $60,000 for every poor household.

Dependency Burden 49 percentAnd even though I’ve written about the 49 percent figure, I had no idea that such a small portion was due to the aging population.

• According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly half (49%) of Americans today live in homes receiving one or more government transfer benefits. That percentage is up almost 20 points from the early 1980s. And contrary to what the Obama White House team suggested during the election campaign, this leap is not due to the aging of the population. In fact, only about one-tenth of the increase is due to upticks in old-age pensions and health-care programs for seniors.

A big problem is that many working-age people have decided not to work.

• As entitlement outlays have risen, there has been flight of men from the work force. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the proportion of adult men 20 and older working or seeking work dropped by 13 percentage points between 1948 and 2008. …In December 2012, more than 8.8 million working-age men and women took such disability payments from the government—nearly three times as many as in December 1990. For every 17 people in the labor force, there is now one recipient of Social Security disability program payments.

The solution, of course, is entitlement reform.

But that’s just part of the answer. We also need to change the culture. If people decide it is okay to live off the government, even leftists have begun to admit that it is very hard to re-create a system of self reliance.

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The welfare state creates some amazingly pathetic and disgusting individuals.

But I’ve never found a match for Olga, a Greek woman who thinks it is government’s job to take care of her from cradle to grave.

At least not until now. I’m excited to announce that Olga has a soulmate named Natalija. She’s from Lithuania, but she now lives in England, and she doubtlessly will inspire Olga on how to live off the state.

UK Welfare Horror StoryHere’s some of what The Sun reported about this very successful moocher.

Natalija Belova, 33, told The Sun how she spurns full-time work — yet can afford foreign holidays and buys designer clothes. The Lithuanian said: “British benefits give me and my daughter a good life.” She has milked soft-touch Britain for £50,000 in benefits and yesterday said: “I simply take what is given to me.”

And what is given to her? Quite a lot.

The graduate, who became a single mum after she arrived here, rakes in more than £1,000 a month in handouts — £14,508 a year — to fund her love of designer clothes, jaunts to the Spanish sun and nightclubbing. She bragged: “I have a lovely, fully-furnished flat and money to live properly on. …Her handouts total £279 a week — with housing benefit contributing £183, child tax credit adding £56, child benefit £20 and her council tax being paid to the tune of £20.

UK Welfare HandoutsYou might expect Natalija to be grateful, but you’d be wrong.

But she does have one criticism. Natalija moaned: “I think they should help pay for private nannies, rather than just free nursery.” …Natalija vowed: “I am not going to work like a dog on minimum wage.” She added: “I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m not doing anything wrong. “I know people won’t like to read this, but what would they do? “Would they not take the money that was being handed to them to stay with their child all day?”

I’ve written about the benefits of tax competition between nations. Well, this story shows the perverse impact of welfare competition between countries.

Speaking at her two-bedroom pad that came fully furnished in Watford, Herts, courtesy of the taxpayer, grateful Natalija said: “In Lithuania the benefits system does not pay enough. “I have a friend over there who is a single mother. “She only gets £20 a month in child benefit, plus some discounted help with gas and electricity — and some housing help. “It’s not enough to keep a normal level of life, like here. “If I was on benefits there, I couldn’t afford nice clothes or the holidays abroad.” She went on: “I am sure people will say I should return to Lithuania. But that won’t be happening. Being in Britain offers me far better benefits.”

We also have a remarkable example of labor supply economics. This is the real-world example of these charts showing how the British welfare state destroys incentives.

She is careful to work fewer than 16 hours a week so that the benefits keep rolling in. But her wages boost her income to more than £400 a week. On top of that she gets free childcare, fruit and milk vouchers — and even a clothes allowance for “job interviews”. Natalija said: “It is a strange system in this country. Basically, the fewer hours I work, the more I can earn on benefits. But that’s the way it is and it is not my fault.” …She insisted she would be prepared to get a full-time job — but only if the salary tops £25,000. …”Some people may think I am picky. But I am a realist. I need a full-time job that pays at least £25,000 — that is just enough to cover all my living costs that benefits currently pay for. “Otherwise working full time is not worth my while. “If I worked full time, I’d have to pay for childcare costs as well as rent and all my bills. “The benefits system in this country means that I do not have to do this.”

By the way, here’s a chart showing the same destructive policies in the United States.

Let’s look at one last excerpt about Natalija. British taxpayers can take comfort in the fact that this human tick is living a nice life.

In September she escaped the dreary British summer by jetting off with her daughter for a sun-kissed week in Spain. Last month she enjoyed a second holiday — back in her Lithuanian homeland. Natalija, who has three credit cards and loves to go on sprees at designer clothes stores, crowed: “After our holiday to Malaga, we went to Lithuania over Christmas and spent £1,000.” She continued: “I love to buy clothes on my credit cards and often have a blow-out at stores like Roberto Cavalli and the Armani Exchange. …”I also enjoy going to nightclubs and parties with my friends. It’s important to go out and get dressed up. It’s good for my self-esteem.”

Her self esteem has been boosted? Oh, joy!

And I can just imagine how much self esteem her daughter will have after growing up with a moocher for a mother.

John Hinderaker of Powerline was first on this horrific story and his analysis is very much worth reading as well. But since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I figured I would share the story and add some of my thoughts.

By the way, if you want more than just horrifying anecdotes, click here for a video that looks at the dismal impact of the American welfare state and click here to see how Obama has exacerbated the negative effects of such policies in America.

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Regular readers know that I get very excited when I see signs that more and more people are realizing that the real fiscal problem is big government. Even if the sound analysis comes from foreigners or international bureaucracies.

Deficits and debt are bad, to be sure, but they are best understood as symptoms of the underlying disease of excessive spending.

With that in mind, we have two cartoons that correctly identify the real threat to America’s future.

Here’s Lisa Benson showing the President enjoying a dance with his first love at the inaugural.

Big Government Dance Cartoon

And here’s a Jerry Holbert cartoon capturing the rapacious appetite of a bloated public sector and the impact on society.

Big Government Child Cartoon

As you can see here and here, it’s quite similar to the theme used with great effectiveness by Eric Allie.

Except Holbert seems to emphasize deliberate destructiveness, rather than the blundering incompetence in the Allie cartoons.

But the net effect is still the same. Big government is counter-productive government.

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What’s more realistic: A unicorn, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or a successful government program?

This isn’t a trick question. Even though I’ve presented both theoretical and empirical arguments against government spending, that doesn’t mean every government program is a failure.

I suppose the answer depends on the definition of success.

Government roads do enable me to get from Virginia to Washington every day. And the Post Office usually gets mail from one side of the country to another. By that standard, many government programs and activities yield positive results.

But if the question is whether government achieves anything in a cost-efficient manner, you’re probably better off searching under your bed for unicorns.

If you pose this question to someone on the left, however, don’t be surprised if they point to Head Start. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that this program gives low-income kids a critical leg up before they start school.

I would like this to be true. I may not be fond of big and bloated government, but the best interests of these kids are more important than my desire for a talking point against the welfare state.

So what does the evidence say?

Head Start CartoonHere’s what the Washington Examiner wrote about the program, starting with an explanation of what the program is supposed to accomplish.

There are few institutions more sacrosanct in Washington than President Johnson’s Head Start program. The federal government spent more than $7.9 billion on the program in 2012 alone to provide preschool services for nearly 1 million low-income Americans. The program represents everything that is supposedly great about the liberal welfare state. It redistributes resources from wealthy to poor. It uses the power of the federal government to combat inequality by giving poor and minority students an educational boost before they fall behind their wealthier peers. There’s just one problem: It doesn’t work.

Is that an empty assertion? Nope, it’s the evidence from the government’s own research.

The ongoing randomized study of Head Start was based on a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children who applied for the program in 2002. Approximately half of the subjects received Head Start services, while the other half did not. The students were then tested on their language, literacy, math and school performance skills. …the 2010 Head Start Impact Study report notes, “the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole.” Specifically, the language, literacy, math and school performance skills of the Head Start children all failed to improve. …Now, the HHS has finally published a follow-up to its 2010 study that follows the same children through the end of third grade. And again, the HHS has concluded that Head Start is ineffective, concluding that Heat Start resulted in “very few impacts … in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices.” And those impacts that were found “did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.”

So what’s this costing the nation (above and beyond the failure to improve the lives of children)?

Since 1965, the federal government has spent $180 billion on Head Start. …Does that sound like a program you’d want to spend $8 billion on next year?

Now imagine the good things that would have happened if that money was left in the economy’s productive sector.

Or, if you like government, but at least want good results, imagine the good things that would have happened if state and local governments shifted $180 billion from the failed school monopoly into genuine school choice programs.

But let’s close on an optimistic note. As far as I know, there’s no evidence that Head Start actually damages children. It’s just wasted money.

That’s a much better track record than other welfare state programs.

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Just like in the United States, politicians in the United Kingdom use the deceptive practice of “baseline budgeting” as part of fiscal policy.

This means the politicians can increase spending, but simultaneously claim they are cutting spending because the budget could have expanded at an even faster pace.

Sort of like saying your diet is successful because you’re only gaining two pounds a week rather than five pounds.

Deliberately gullible?

Anyhow, some people get deluded by this chicanery. Paul Krugman, for instance, complained in 2011 that “the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback.”

This was nonsense. There have not been any genuine budget cuts in the United Kingdom. Heck, just compare what’s happening today in the United Kingdom and what happened in Canada in the 1990s to see the difference between gimmickry and real fiscal restraint.

Now we have some new numbers that confirm that the UK economy is suffering because of a heavy burden of government spending.

Here’s some of what Allister Heath, the Editor of City A.M., wrote for the UK-based Telegraph.

The public finances are deteriorating again, making a mockery of the Coalition’s core purpose. Osborne’s fatal problem is that he is proving unable to deliver any meaningful reduction in the size of the state. The extent of his failure will come as a shock to many. Remarkably, public spending actually went up last year as a share of our national income… public spending hit 49pc of UK GDP last year, a shocking increase on the 48.6pc of GDP spent by the state in 2011. Even with a stagnant economy, this implies that Osborne has lost control of public spending.

Gee, doesn’t sound like much budget cutting to me.

Heck, the burden of government spending is worse than it is in Germany (45 percent of GDP). Or even Spain (44 percent) or Portugal (47.4 percent).

Perhaps the most shocking number is the one showing that the UK has radically veered in the wrong direction this century.

Public spending as a share of GDP hit a trough of just 36.6pc in 2000.

Allister hits the nail on the head.

…after all the rows about “slashing spending to the bone”, and following almost three years of coalition government, the state is still spending around half of national income. …it beggars belief that a government that remains so large, so bloated cannot provide much better quality services, and that we have a public debate in this country that exaggerates beyond all recognition the extent of the state’s downsizing.

But there has been some “austerity,” but only for taxpayers.

…real austerity is only biting on the tax side: total UK government revenues increased from 40.3pc of GDP in 2011 to 42.4pc in 2012, the OECD estimates. It’s getting increasingly hard for the Chancellor to extract revenues, with taxes on income and wealth falling to £194.3bn over 2012 as a whole, 2.7pc lower than in 2011, when they stood at £199.7bn, according to separate figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

That last sentence, by the way, shows the Laffer Curve in action.  The supposedly Conservative government of Cameron and Osborne has raised the tax burden, yet revenues aren’t materializing.

Allister also echoes the argument of Veronique de Rugy about choosing the right kind of austerity and reining in the public sector.

Not all kinds of austerity were created equal: cutting current expenditure, such as benefits, is good for growth; but hiking taxes is bad for it… There is also lots of evidence that elevated levels of public spending and large government debts are bad for GDP; no wonder, therefore, that growth is failing to materialise.

So what’s the bottom line? Well, as Allister stated, the real problem is that government is too big and spending too much.

And until Cameron and Osborne are willing to tackle that problem, don’t expect much positive from the United Kingdom.

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We’re supposed to believe that President Obama is some sort of expert on constitutional law.

Richard Epstein was not overly impressed by his track record as a lecturer at the University of Chicago, and here’s a good parody of the President’s selective view of the Bill of Rights.

Likewise, we now have a Michael Ramirez cartoon that captures the spirit of the President inaugural address earlier this week.

Collective Action Cartoon

If you’re amused – in a tragic way – by cartoons showing the huge gap between Obama’s ideology and America’s founding principles, you’ll doubtlessly enjoy this and this.

And in the spirit of cooperation, I even drafted a new Declaration of Dependency to help Obama explain his vision.

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I’ve already condemned the foolish people of California for approving a referendum to raise the state’s top tax rate to 13.3 percent.

This impulsive and misguided exercise in class warfare surely will backfire as more and more productive people flee to other states – particularly those that don’t impose any state income tax.

We know that people cross state borders all the time, and it’s usually to travel from high-tax states to low-tax states. And we’ve already seen some evidence that the state’s new top tax rate is causing a loss of highly valued jobs.

This mobility of labor and talent is one of the reasons why California is going to get a very painful lesson about the Laffer Curve.

Politicians (with help from short-sighted voters) can raise tax rates. But they can’t force people to earn income.

Now it looks like one of the super-rich is fed up and looking to make himself less vulnerable to California’s kleptocrats.

Here are some excerpts from an ESPN story.

Phil Mickelson said he will make “drastic changes” because of federal and California state tax increases. …The 42-year-old golfer said he would talk in more detail about his plans — possibly moving away from California or even retiring from golf… Mickelson said. “I’ll probably talk about it more in depth next week. …There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state and, you know, it doesn’t work for me right now. So I’m going to have to make some changes.” …”If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate’s 62, 63 percent,” said Mickelson, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe. “So I’ve got to make some decisions on what I’m going to do.”

He’s actually overstating his marginal tax rate. I suspect it’s closer to 50 percent.

California politicians got too greedy and now they may get 13.3 percent of nothing

But so what? It’s still outrageous and immoral that government is confiscating one-half of the income he generates.

Heck, medieval serfs were virtually slaves, yet they only had to give at most one-third of their output to the Lord of the Manor.

I hope he’s serious and that he escapes from the Golden State’s fiscal hell-hole.

And if he does, what will it mean for California government finances?

Well, here’s what Wikipedia says about his income.

According to one estimate of 2011 earnings (comprising salary, winnings, bonuses, endorsements and appearances) Mickelson was then the second-highest paid athlete in the United States, earning an income of over $62 million, $53 million of which came from endorsements.

Now let’s bend over backwards to make sure we’re not exaggerating. Notwithstanding the Wikipedia estimate, let’s assume his annual taxable income will be only $40 million for 2013 and beyond.

With a 10.3 percent top tax rate, California would collect about $4.12 million per year. And Mickelson apparently thought that was tolerable.

But guess how much the politicians will collect if he leaves the state? I’m tempted to say zero, but they may still get some revenue because of California-based tournaments and other factors.

Find Phil Mickelson

I can say with great confidence, however, that California won’t collect $5.32 million, which is probably what the politicians assumed when they seduced voters into approving the 13.3 percent tax rate.

After all, that assumption only works if Mickelson is willing to be a fiscal slave for Jerry Brown and the rest of the crooks in Sacramento.

As such, I’ll also state with certainty that California’s politicians won’t collect $4 million if Mickelson leaves for another state. Or $3 million. Or $2 million. Or even $1 million.

The best they can hope for is that Mickelson decides to stay in the state while also reducing his taxable income. In that scenario, the politicians might still pocket a couple of million dollars.

Not as much as they collected when the tax rate was 10.3 percent, and far less than what they erroneously assumed they would get with a 13.3 percent rate.

Regardless of Mickelson’s ultimate decision, California is going to be in trouble because most rich people – whether they’re golfers, celebrities, investors, or entrepreneurs – have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income. And they can afford to move.

This is why you don’t want to be on the downward-sloping portion of the Laffer Curve. Everyone’s a loser, both politicians and taxpayers.

So we’re going to see the Laffer Curve get revenge on California and I’ll be first in line to say “serves you right, you blood-sucking parasites.”

If you want more information, here’s my video on the Laffer Curve.

And if you want to watch the full three-part series, they’re all included in this Laffer Curve lesson that I put together for the President. He seems oblivious to real-world evidence, but others may find the information useful.

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Back in 2009, I posted about a critical new scientific discovery that helps explain the functioning of government.

In the same spirit today, I reprint a notice that appeared in my inbox.

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The Americans With No Abilities Act

President Barack Obama and the Democratic Senate are considering sweeping legislation that will provide new benefits for many Americans. The Americans With No Abilities Act is being hailed as a major legislative goal by advocates of the millions of Americans who lack any real skills or ambition.

“Roughly 50 percent of Americans do not possess the competence and drive necessary to carve out a meaningful role for themselves in society,” said California Sen. Barbara Boxer. “We can no longer stand by and allow People of Inability (POI) to be ridiculed and passed over. With this legislation, employers will no longer be able to grant special favors to a small group of workers, simply because they have some idea of what they are doing.”

“This legislation is just a precaution in case either one of us is forced to look for a private-sector job”

In a Capitol Hill press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed to the success of the U.S. Postal Service, which has a long-standing policy of providing opportunity without regard to performance. At the state government level, the Department of Motor Vehicles also has an excellent record of hiring Persons with No Ability (63 percent).

Under the Americans With No Abilities Act, more than 25 million mid-level positions will be created, with important-sounding titles but little real responsibility, thus providing an illusory sense of purpose and performance.

Mandatory non-performance-based raises and promotions will be given to guarantee upward mobility for even the most unremarkable employees. The legislation provides substantial tax breaks to corporations that promote a significant number of Persons of Inability (POI) into middle-management positions, and give a tax credit to small and medium-sized businesses that agree to hire one clueless worker for every two talented hires.

Finally, the Americans With No Abilities Act contains tough new measures to make it more difficult to discriminate against the non-abled, banning, for example, discriminatory interview questions such as, “Do you have any skills or experience that relate to this job?”

“As a non-abled person, I can’t be expected to keep up with people who have something going for them,” said Mary Lou Gertz, who lost her position as a lug-nut twister at the GM plant in Flint , Mich. , due to her inability to remember righty tighty, lefty loosey. “This new law should be real good for people like me. I’ll finally have job security.” With the passage of this bill, Gertz and millions of other untalented citizens will finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Said Sen. Dick Durbin: “As a senator with no abilities, I believe the same privileges that elected officials enjoy ought to be  extended to every American with no abilities. It is our duty as lawmakers to provide each and every American citizen, regardless of his or her inadequacy, with some sort of space to take up in this great nation and a good salary for doing so.”

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While this bit of satire is amusing, the joke may be on us. Let’s keep in mind that a recruitment agency in the United Kingdom actually got in trouble because it placed an ad “for ‘reliable’ and ‘hard-working’ applicants.” According to the government, this was wrong because such language “could be offensive to unreliable people.”

Surely it’s just a matter of time before similar forms of government stupidity migrate to this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

What’s next? Government intervention on behalf of ugly people? Oops, forget I asked.

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What’s the best think tank in the United States?

I’m obviously not impartial since I work at the Cato Institute, but here are a few relevant pieces of information.

But you don’t have to believe me.

CGD HeadlineThe Center for Global Development has just released new research showing that the Cato Institute is America’s most productive and effective think tank.

The CGD’s calculations on based on hard data, looking at how much organizations spend and comparing that to their success with social media, web traffic, links, media exposure, and scholarly citations.

As you can see, the Cato Institute has a comfortable lead over other think tanks.

CGD Think Tank Ranking

Much of the credit for Cato’s success belongs to Ed Crane, who founded the organization more than 30 years ago and presided over its growth until his retirement last year.

Under Ed’s leadership, Cato became a major factor in public policy debates. Some say this is because he had a good senior team and hired good people. All that is true (at least I hope since he hired me), but I think another key factor in Cato’s success is that there’s never even the slightest suggestion that what we say and do is influenced by politics.

People can disagree with Cato because they object to limited government and individual liberty, but they always know it’s the place to go for honest and principled analysis.

And that makes me a very lucky guy. Every day, thanks to Cato, I get to fight against wasteful, bloated, and corrupt government.

P.S. While we’re proud of our top performance in the CGD ranking, Cato came in second place in the 32-team DC think tank softball league, losing in the championship game of the tournament, so we know there’s room for improvement.

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Texas is in much better shape than California. Taxes are lower, in part because Texas has no state income tax.

No wonder the Lone Star State is growing faster and creating more jobs.

And the gap will soon get even wider since California voters recently decided to drive away more productive people by raising top tax rates.

But a key challenge for all governments is controlling the size and cost of bureaucracies.

Government employees are probably overpaid in both states, but the situation is worse in California, as I discuss in this interview with John Stossel.

But being better than California is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Texas fiscal policy.

A column in today’s Wall Street Journal, written by the state’s Comptroller of Public Accounts, points out some worrisome signs.

As the chief financial officer of the nation’s second-largest state, even I have found it hard to get a handle on how much governments are spending, and how much debt they’re taking on. Every level of government is piling up incredible bills. And they’re coming due, whether we like it or not. Even in low-tax Texas, property taxes have risen three times faster than the inflation rate and four times faster than our population growth since 1992. Our local governments, meanwhile, more than doubled their debt load in the last decade, to more than $7,500 in debt for every man, woman and child in the state. In Houston alone, city-employee pension plans are facing an unfunded liability of $2.4 billion. But too many taxpayers aren’t given the information they need to make informed decisions when they vote debt issues. Recently I spent several months holding about 40 town-hall meetings with Texans across our state. Each time, I asked the attendees if they could tell me how much debt their local governments are carrying. Not a single person in a single town had this information.

In other words, taxpayers need to be eternally vigilant, regardless of where they live. Otherwise the corrupt rectangle of politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, and interest groups will figure out hidden ways of using the political process to obtain unearned wealth.

P.S. The second-most-viewed post on this blog is this joke about Texas, California, and a coyote, so it must be at least somewhat amusing. If you want some Texas-specific humor, this police exam is amusing and you’ll enjoy this joke about the difference between Texans, liberals and conservatives. And if you want California-specific humor, this Chuck Asay cartoon hits the nail on the head.

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This is a tough question.

I obviously want comprehensive reform of all entitlement programs, so selecting just one is a bit of a challenge. Sort of like being asked to pick your favorite kid.

Would I reform Social Security? That’s a logical choice. It’s the biggest program in the federal budget, so it’s presumably the biggest problem.

And it sure would be nice to have personal retirement accounts, just like Australia, Chile, and other nations that have modernized their systems.

CBO Health Care Long Term Spending ForecastBut Medicare and Medicaid are growing faster than Social Security and the Congressional Budget Office projects that those two entitlements eventually will become a bigger burden on taxpayers than Social Security.

And since our goal should be to minimize the long-run burden of government spending, that suggests that it’s more important to reform the healthcare entitlements.

But which program should be fixed first?

There’s certainly a strong case to deal with Medicare. The health program for the elderly already is very expensive and it’s going to become even more of a budget buster because of demographic changes.

Moreover, shifting to a “premium support” system would be good for seniors since they would have the ability to pick a plan best suited to their needs. Basically the same type of system now available to members of Congress.

All things considered, though, I would deal first with Medicaid. There are three reasons why I would target the health program designed to supposedly help the poor?

  1. Medicaid is hugely expensive today and will become even more costly over time.
  2. The block-grant reform proposal is a good first step for restoring federalism.
  3. Obamacare can be partly repealed by block-granting the exchange subsidies as part of Medicaid reform.

For more information, here’s my video explaining how to reform the program.

I’m not going to cry – or even complain – if politicians instead decide to fix Medicare or Social Security. Just so long as they’re taking steps in the right direction, I’ll be happy.

What I don’t want to see, however, is a gimmicky plan such as Simpson-Bowles that merely papers over the underlying problems for a couple of years. The wrong type of entitlement reform is probably worse than doing nothing.

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As part of the silly budget debate in Washington, President Obama is claiming that an increase in the debt limit wouldn’t authorize higher spending.

That’s technically true, but it sure would enable higher spending.

This Chuck Asay cartoon offers an amusing perspective on the battle.

Asay Debt Limit Bills Cartoon

In the interest of accuracy, however, it should show President Bush having already gone through the checkout line with an equally big cart full of handouts.

After all, government spending imposes a heavy cost on the economy regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are the ones in charge of policy.

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It appears that my contest between the United States and United Kingdom for the most inane government policy how has to be augmented by a new contest between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Just yesterday, I mocked Maryland officials for suspending two little boys for the horrific crime of playing cops and robbers (and noted that this is not the first time such stupidity has been displayed by Maryland school officials).

Preferred Weapon of al Qaeda

Apparently, the pencil-neck bureaucrats in Pennsylvania are jealous that their neighbors are getting a lot of attention, so they’ve branded a five-year old girl as a terrorist threat for talking about her pink toy gun that shoots bubbles.

Yes, bubbles.

Here are some of the absurd details from a local news report.

Talking with a friend about a pink toy bubble gun got a five-year-old kindergarten girl in the Mount Carmel Area School District labeled as a terrorist threat, according to an attorney.The incident occurred Jan. 10 while the girl was waiting in line for a school bus, said Robin Ficker, the Maryland lawyer retained by the girl’s family. …Talking with a friend, the girl said something to the effect “I’m going to shoot you and I will shoot myself” in reference to the device that shoots out bubbles. The girl did not have the bubble gun with her and has never shot a real gun in her life, Ficker said. Elementary school officials learned of the conversation and questioned the girls the next day, Fickler said. He said the girl did not have a parent present during the 30 minutes of questioning. The result, he said, was that the student was labeled a “terrorist threat” and suspended for 10 days, Ficker said. The school also required her to be evaluated by a psychologist, Ficker said. “This little girl is the least terroristic person in Pennsylvania,” he said.

In yesterday’s post, I speculated that it was a teacher who reported the little boys for playing cops and robbers and I said that teacher should be suspended.

I also said the principal should be fired for punishing the boys for acting like boys.

But after reading this story, I realize that I was being wimpy. These stories show that the time has come to end the government school monopoly.

We already know that government schools do a rotten job, consuming ever-larger amounts of our tax dollars for a system that produces very mediocre results (check out this chart if you don’t believe me).

But that’s just part of the argument for school choice.

We also need to protect our kids from being exposed to bureaucrats who are jaw-droppingly stupid.

“I want to work for the IRS when I grow up”

Actually, WordPress is telling me that “droppingly” isn’t a word. So maybe instead we should take Instapundit’s advice and reward these idiot officials with some tar and feathers.

And I hope the tattle-tale punk from the bus stop who ratted out the little girls is condemned to some sort of grade-school purgatory featuring never-ending wedgies.

On a more serious note, I hope the parents sue the you-know-what out of the school.

Then I hope Pennsylvania’s state legislature and Governor quit screwing around and implement a sweeping school choice plan, as they supposedly were going to do two years ago.

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Even though I’m first and foremost an advocate of limited government and that’s the primary focus of this blog, I’m also glad to have the opportunity to promote the right of free people to keep and bear arms.

And readers seem to agree. The 4th-most viewed post of all time is the famous dictators-for-gun-control poster, while this satirical video is the 11th-most viewed (other Second Amendment-related posts in the top 16 can be seen here, here, and here, with the last one being quite relevant considering what’s going to happen on Monday).

It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I actually prefer videos. Here are some of my favorites.

Now I have a new one to add to the list. As you watch this video, imagine this is your daughter (or my daughter!). In this situation, would you want her armed?

The answer to my rhetorical query is obvious. Or at least it should be obvious.

And I think there’s at least one honest leftist who would give the right response.

Guns enable the weak and defenseless to protect themselves, as explained in this letter-to-the-editor. I don’t know if the letter is real, but the points it makes are accurate.

Let’s close with a few humorous videos on gun rights.

But if you like posters, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other images, then here’s a post you’ll enjoy.

And don’t forget there’s still time to cast a vote for why you think the Second Amendment is worth defending.

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I’ve had fun documenting and comparing examples of government stupidity in both the United States and United Kingdom, and today’s story clearly belongs on those lists.

Send this kid to a re-education camp!

It’s also an example of a perverse anti-gun mentality.

How else can you explain a school in Talbot County, Maryland, suspending a couple of young boys for the supposedly horrible offense of making gun shapes with their fingers while playing cops and robbers?!?

Here are some of the details from a local news report.

There’s controversy at a Talbot County school after two 6-year-old boys were suspended while playing cops and robbers during recess and using their fingers to make an imaginary gun. “It’s ridiculous,” said parent Julia Merchant.

There’s a reason this story may seem familiar.

This is the second time a Maryland child has been suspended for such play. Earlier this month, 6-year-old Rodney Lynch was suspended from his Montgomery County school after pretending to fire an imaginary gun more than once.

He fired his finger more than once? That might mean he has a semi-automatic finger! Oh, the horror.

Amazingly, the school in Montgomery County backed down after parents objected.

The school reversed its decision after Rodney’s parents appealed. “They’re saying he threatened a student, threatened to shoot a student. He was playing,” said Rodney’s father, Rodney Lynch Sr. …A number of parents agree. “Suspending them is a bit harsh and I don’t think that’s gonna do any good for the parent, child or school,” said Janet Geotzky.

It’s unclear what’s going to happen with this new incident (or, more accurately, non-incident) in Talbot County.

But I know what should happen if we want to discourage further episodes of political correctness run amok.

  1. The person (I assume a teacher) who filed the initial complaint should be suspended.
  2. The bureaucrat (I assume school principal) who suspended the boys should be fired.
  3. The children (all of them, not just the two who were suspended) should be given toy guns and encouraged to play like normal kids.

Have I missed something?

The Un-Free State

What else should be done to stop the continuing wussification and wimpification of modern society?

P.S. It’s probably no coincidence that these displays of government stupidity took place in Maryland. This is the state, after all, that crashed on the Laffer Curve, imposed regulations making it difficult for summer camps to protect kids from sunburn, and considered a law to give bums panhandling permits.

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In an ideal world, Congress would not raise the debt limit.

This would force – automatically and immediately – a balanced budget. More important, it would produce a meaningful reduction in the burden of government spending.

Debt Limit FWAnd contrary to hyperbole from defenders of the status quo, it doesn’t mean default since the federal government collects about ten times as much revenue as needed to pay interest on the debt.

But even though that seems like a fantasy outcome for people like me from the Cato Institute, I actually don’t think libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and other advocates of smaller government should make the debt limit a do-or-die battle.

As I say in this interview on Fox Business News, the “continuing resolution” is a much better vehicle.

To elaborate, my concern is that the White House will be able to whip up too much hysteria on the debt limit, particularly since the media will serve as an echo chamber and Bernanke will act as a lackey for the White House.

And if the Fed Chairman is able to rattle Wall Street and cause a big drop in the stock market, it’s quite likely that Republicans will buckle rather than run the risk of being blamed for causing a financial calamity.

But the Obama Administration has less leverage when the “CR” expires on March 27. Like the debt limit, the continuing resolution is a must-pass piece of legislation. Heck, it’s even important since it’s the only way of funding the non-entitlement portions of the federal government for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year.

This is where advocates of small government should draw a line and demand fiscal restraint. They should pass a CR, but only after eliminating some egregious waste from the federal budget.

Yes, the President can object to fiscal reforms. He can even veto such a bill. But the worst thing that happens under a stalemate is a “government shutdown.”

And not even a real shutdown. Things that actually have some value, like the military and the air traffic control system, continue operating. All that happens is that “non-essential” programs, agencies, and department are shuttered. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is a good example.

Let’s now think about leverage. Who will care more about reopening HUD and other non-essential parts of the government? The answer, quite obviously, is that bureaucrats and interest groups are the only ones who will care, and this means the pressure will be on the left.

Indeed, this is exactly what happened in 1995 when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton had their famous shutdown battle. The Democrats were anxious to cut a deal to get the gravy train rolling again, and Republicans used that leverage to achieve a significant policy victory.

This doesn’t mean a CR fight and potential government shutdown is free of political risk. Indeed, Newt Gingrich lost popularity as a result of that fight. But that was probably more a reflection of his political style.

In any event, a CR battle definitely has less downside risk than a debt limit battle. So if folks on Capitol Hill actually want to fight to save the country from becoming Greece, why not pick the battle that’s easier to win?

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How do you define a terrible team? No, this isn’t going to be a joke about Notre Dame foolishly thinking it could match up against a team from the Southeastern Conference in college football’s national title game (though the Irish win the contest for prettiest make-believe girlfriends).

I’m asking the question because a winless record is usually a good indication of a team that doesn’t know what it’s doing and is in over its head.

With that in mind, and given the White House’s position that class warfare taxation is good fiscal policy, how should we interpret a recent publication from the Tax Foundation, which reviews the academic research on taxes and growth and doesn’t find a single study supporting the notion that higher tax rates are good for prosperity.

None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Twenty-three studies found a negative relationship between taxes and growth, by contrast, while three studies didn’t find any relationship.

For those keeping score at home, that’s a score of 0-23-3 for the view espoused by the Obama Administration.

This new Tax Foundation report is also useful if you want more information to debunk the absurd study from the Congressional Research Service that claimed no relationship between tax policy and growth. Indeed, the TF report even explains that serious methodological flaws made “the CRS study unpublishable in any peer-reviewed academic journal.”

So what do we find in the Tax Foundation report?

…what does the academic literature say about the empirical relationship between taxes and economic growth? While there are a variety of methods and data sources, the results consistently point to significant negative effects of taxes on economic growth even after controlling for various other factors such as government spending, business cycle conditions, and monetary policy. In this review of the literature, I find twenty-six such studies going back to 1983, and all but three of those studies, and every study in the last fifteen years, find a negative effect of taxes on growth.

And what does this mean?

…results support the Neo-classical view that income and wealth must first be produced and then consumed, meaning that taxes on the factors of production, i.e., capital and labor, are particularly disruptive of wealth creation. Corporate and shareholder taxes reduce the incentive to invest and to build capital. Less investment means fewer productive workers and correspondingly lower wages. Taxes on income and wages reduce the incentive to work. Progressive income taxes, where higher income is taxed at higher rates, reduce the returns to education, since high incomes are associated with high levels of education, and so reduce the incentive to build human capital. Progressive taxation also reduces investment, risk taking, and entrepreneurial activity since a disproportionately large share of these activities is done by high income earners.

To be blunt, the report’s findings suggest the Obama White House is clueless about tax policy.

…there are not a lot of dissenting opinions coming from peer-reviewed academic journals. More and more, the consensus among experts is that taxes on corporate and personal income are particularly harmful to economic growth… This is because economic growth ultimately comes from production, innovation, and risk-taking.

Here’s my cut-and-paste copy of the table summarizing all the academic research.

Taxes and growthTaxes and growth 2Taxes and Growth 3Taxes and Growth 4Taxes and Growth 5

So what’s the bottom line? The Tax Foundation report concludes with the following.

In sum, the U.S. tax system is a drag on the economy.  Pro-growth tax reform that reduces the burden of corporate and personal income taxes would generate a more robust economic recovery and put the U.S. on a higher growth trajectory, with more investment, more employment, higher wages, and a higher standard of living.

In other words, America would be more prosperous with a simple and fair system such as the flat tax.

Too bad the political elite is more focused on maintaining (or even exacerbating) a corrupt status quo, even if it means less prosperity for the nation.

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I’ve shared several satirical signs, posters, videos, and bumper stickers on the topic of gun control, but surprisingly few political cartoons.

If my aging memory is correct, I’ve only posted a couple of Chuck Asay cartoons on concealed carry (here and here) and one Steve Kelley cartoon mocking the leftist tendency to focus on inanimate objects when a bad guy uses a gun.

So it’s time to correct this oversight.

Let’s start with this comparison of liberals and conservatives. As you can see, it’s sort of what you get when you mix this joke with this poster.

Rape Kit Cartoon

No wonder liberals and conservatives are contemplating divorce.

And with Obama proposing a bunch of executive orders on guns, this Scott Stantis cartoon is very timely.

Executive Order Cartoon

After all, who cares about the Constitution and the democratic process!

And here’s a cartoon with the same theme found in this poster.

Secret Service Cartoon

Now let’s shift to a couple of cartoons that look at causes of death, starting with one from Michael Ramirez that shows that so-called “assault rifles” are a statistical asterisk (and no more dangerous than other types of guns).

Causes of death cartoon

And here’s a specific comparison for 2011. Obviously we need hammer control.

Hammer Rifle Cartoon

While all these cartoons are amusing, the attack on our Second Amendment rights is not funny.

In my poll on protecting the right to keep and bear arms, a plurality of respondents said the Second Amendment was worth preserving so people had some ability to resist tyranny.

I personally think that the risk of societal breakdown is a more pressing concern, as I explained in this interview on NRA TV.

But all that really matters is that we all agree that freedom is worth defending. So let’s close with this inspirational powerpoint presentation on the Second Amendment.

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