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Archive for March, 2013

I like rankings and maps because you get to see a lot of information in a single image.

I’ve shared some maps making very interesting international comparisons.

Here are some good state maps with useful information.

And I even have a local map.

Now we have a map, based on some research from the Friedman Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, showing which states have the most education bureaucrats compared to actual educators.

Non-teacher to Teacher Ratio Map

I’m ashamed that my state of Virginia is the worst in the nation. Maybe paying for this bureaucratic bloat explains why our Governor recently broke his promise and imposed a huge tax increase.

I’m also shocked that Illinois is one of the best states in the nation, at least by this measure. Though I suspect this is the exception to the rule and the Prairie State will still be neck and neck with California in the race to bankruptcy.

Though Illinois is much closer to the bottom than to the top in the “Moocher Index,” so maybe it’s not as bad as we think.

P.S. If you like this “educrat” ranking, here’s a “Poverty Pimp” ranking of “public welfare” bureaucrats compared to state population. Ohio and Alaska do poorly in both, for what it’s worth.

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This may be a sign of the apocalypse, but I’m going to praise a government agency.

In the past, I’ve scorched the Transportation Security Administration for pointless and foolish “security theater.”

  1. I’ve commented on the TSA’s incompetence.
  2. I’ve shared some horror stories about TSA abuse.
  3. And I’ve posted many jokes about the Keystone Cops of airport security (for more laughs, see this, this, this, and this).

But I’m willing to admit when the government makes a wise decision (even if all they’re doing is reversing a previous dumb decision), and the TSA’s policy on pocket knives deserves some applause.

Here are some details from a CNN report.

The nation’s aviation security chief on Thursday defended his recent decision to again permit knives aboard commercial flights, despite concerns from major airlines and their flight crews, and sharp criticism from some members of Congress. …He said small knives no longer pose a threat to aircraft security, which now emphasizes bomb detection. “A small pocket knife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft and an improvised explosive device will,” he said. “And we know, from internal covert testing, searching for these items, which will not blow up an aircraft, can distract our officers from focusing on the components of an improvised explosive device.” Small knives were banned along with a host of other undersized sharp objects like nail clippers, screwdrivers and cosmetic scissors, following the 9/11 al Qaeda hijack attacks on the United States.

I’ll be particularly happy if the new policy allows softball bats, since I sometimes have to fly to out-of-town tournaments with my over-50 team.

The rules also allow passengers to carry up to two golf clubs, certain toy bats or other sports sticks — such as ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and pool cues — aboard in carry-on luggage.

For skeptics out there, here’s the simple reality. In the post-9/11 worlds, passengers will not allow dirtbags to take over a plane with small knives, golf clubs, or any of the items being allowed on planes.

Chill, folks, this is not a threat

The TSA is correct to focus on things that represent bigger real-world threats.

P.S. I should also applaud the TSA’s “pre-check” program. I’m actually at Dulles Airport right now, having breezed through the new screening process that allowed me to keep on my shoes and jacket and to keep my laptop in its bag.

P.P.S. To show that I’m not getting too soft in my old age, I still think the TSA is inefficient and incompetent, and I invite everyone to peruse this remarkable info-graphic.

P.P.P.S. And because I don’t think the government should discriminate (even when it’s discriminating in my favor), I still object to special checkpoint lines for frequent flyers and first class passengers.

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It can be very frustrating to work at the Cato Institute and fight for small government.

Consider what’s happened the past couple of days.

Congressman Paul Ryan introduces a budget and I dig through the numbers with a sense of disappointment because government spending will grow by an average of 3.4 percent annually, much faster than needed to keep pace with inflation.

But I don’t even want government to grow as fast as inflation. I want to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

“Can’t they shut down even one department?”

I want to shut down useless and counterproductive parts of Leviathan, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, etc, etc…

I want to restore limited and constitutional government, which we had for much of our nation’s history, with the burden of federal spending consuming only about 3 percent of economic output.

So I look at the Ryan budget in the same way I look at sequestration – as a very modest step to curtail the growth of government. Sort of a rear-guard action to stem the bleeding and stabilize the patient.

But, to be colloquial, it sure ain’t libertarian Nirvana (though, to be fair, the reforms to Medicare and Medicaid are admirable and stem in part from the work of Cato’s healthcare experts).

But my frustration doesn’t exist merely because the Ryan budget is just a small step.

I also have to deal with the surreal experience of reading critics who assert that the Ryan budget is a cut-to-the-bone, harsh, draconian, dog-eat-dog, laissez-faire fiscal roadmap.

If only!

To get an idea of why this rhetoric is so over-the-top hysterical, here’s a chart showing how fast government spending is supposed to grow under the Ryan budget, compared to how fast it grew during the Clinton years and how fast it has been growing during the Bush-Obama years.

Ryan Clinton vs Bush Obama

I vaguely remember taking the SAT test in high school and dealing with questions entitled, “One of these things is not like the others.”

Well, I would have received a perfect score if asked to identify the outlier on this chart.

Bush and Obama have been irresponsible big spenders, while Clinton was comparatively frugal.

And all Paul Ryan is proposing is that we emulate the policy of the Clinton years.

Now ask yourself whether the economy was more robust during the Clinton years or the Bush-Obama years and think about what that implies for what we should do today about the federal budget.

At the very least, we should be copying what those “radical” Canadians and other have done, which is to impose some genuine restraint of government spending.

The Swiss debt brake, which is really a spending cap, might be a good place to start.

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I’ve reached the point where I can’t even get agitated any more.

The anti-gun ideology in government schools has led to so many stupid incidents that all I can do is shake my head and be thankful my kids somehow were spared this nonsense.

OH MY GOD!!! Call a SWAT team and child protective services!

Our latest story comes from Michigan, where a third grader brought some cupcakes to school for his birthday. That seems innocuous, but the boy’s mother (gasp!) decorated them with toy army men.

The school decided “to remove the Army soldiers from the cupcakes” and called the boy’s family to inform them that they had committed a thought crime.

Last week, Casey Fountain’s third-grade son had a birthday party at his school in Caro. His wife decided to whip up 30 cupcakes for the boy’s classmates. She topped the treats with plastic army guys like the ones countless boys and girls have played with for decades. Fountain says he never thought his innocent act of party planning would lead to controversy. Fountain says the principal of Schall Elementary School called him personally and told him that dressing the cupcakes with soldiers was, in the principal’s words, “insensitive” considering recent gun-related tragedies.

This definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame for brainless political correctness and hysterical overreaction. Other members of this distinguished Hall of Fame include:

At some point, you have to ask whether sending your kids to a government school not only puts them at risk of a substandard education, but also is a form of child abuse.

P.S. Actually, I am getting agitated the more I think about this. For all intents and purposes, the principal was equating soldiers with crazy mass killers. Why hasn’t this person been fired?

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Two months ago exactly, I appeared on TV to talk about the concept of eliminating the personal and corporate income tax in Louisiana.

Now Governor Jindal has unveiled a specific proposal.

The plan will eliminate two major tax types: personal income tax and corporate income and franchise tax. Eliminating income taxes in a revenue-neutral manner and improving sales tax administration will dramatically simplify Louisiana’s tax system and reduce administrative problems for families and small businesses. The effective start date of the program is January 1, 2014. …The plan will ensure revenue neutrality by…[b]roadening the state sales tax base and raising the state rate to 5.88%.

This is a superb plan.

Of all the possible ways for a state to generate revenue, the income tax is the most destructive.

My new man crush

That’s why researchers consistently have found that states without this punitive levy grow faster and create more jobs.

It’s also worth noting that jurisdictions such as Monaco, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands manage to be very prosperous in the absence of an income tax, though the incredible wealth of these places is partly a function of bad policy elsewhere, so the comparison isn’t perfect.

Anyhow, Gov. Jindal expands on this research with some very powerful data.

Over the last ten years, more than 60 percent of the three million new jobs in American were created by the nine states without an income tax. Every year for the past 40 years, states without an income tax had faster growth than states with the highest income taxes.  Economic growth in the nine states without income taxes was 50 percent faster than in the nine states with the highest top income tax rates.  Over the past decade, states without income taxes have seen nearly 60 percent higher population growth than the national average. …While we have reversed the more than two-decade problem of out-migration, we can do more to keep people here. Here are a couple of staggering statistics. Between 1995 and 2010, according to IRS data, Louisiana lost $3 billion in adjusted gross income to Texas.

Amen.

I particularly like that he recognizes the power of tax competition as an argument for better tax policy. Taxpayers win when Texas and Louisiana compete to have less oppressive tax systems.

Indeed, this should help explain why I am so fixated on the importance of making governments compete with each other. Simply stated, governments are very prone to over-tax and over-spend if they think taxpayers have no escape options.

So let’s keep our fingers crossed that Gov. Jindal’s proposal gets a friendly reception from the state legislature.

If he succeeds, I imagine he will vault himself to the top tier of Republicans looking to replace Obama.

And, who knows, maybe he can reinvigorate the argument that we can replace the corrupt internal revenue code with a national sales tax?

P.S. Jindal is good on more than just tax policy. He’s already implemented some good school choice reform, notwithstanding wretched and predictable opposition from the state’s teachers’ union.

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I wrote about the Ryan budget two days ago, praising it for complying with Mitchell’s Golden Rule and reforming Medicare and Medicaid.

But I believe in being honest and nonpartisan, so I also groused that it wasn’t as good as the 2011 and 2012 versions.

Now it’s time to give the same neutral and dispassionate treatment to the budget proposed by Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget Committee.

But I’m going to focus on a theme rather than numbers.

One part of her budget got me particularly excited. Her Committee’s “Foundation for Growth” blueprint makes a very strong assertion about the fiscal and economic history of the Clinton years.

The work done in the 1990s helped grow the economy, create jobs, balance the budget, and put our government on track to eliminate the national debt.

As elaborated in this passage, the 42nd President delivered very good results.

President Bill Clinton entered office in 1993 at a time when the country was facing serious deficit and debt problems. The year before, the federal government was taking in revenue equal 17.5 percent of GDP, but spending was 22.1 percent of the economy—a deficit of 4.7 percent. …The unemployment rate went from 7 percent at the beginning of 1993 to 3.9 percent at the end of 2000. Between 1993 and 2001, our economy gained more than 22 million jobs and experienced the longest economic expansion in our history.

And the Senate Democrats even identified one of the key reasons why economic and fiscal policy was so successful during the 1990s.

…federal spending dropped from 22.1 percent of GDP to 18.2 percent of GDP.

I fully agree with every word reprinted above. That’s the good news.

So what, then, is the bad news?

Well, Senator Murray may have reached the right conclusion, but she was wildly wrong in her analysis. For all intents and purposes, she claims that the 1993 tax hike produced most of the good results.

President Clinton’s 1993 tax deal…brought in new revenue from the wealthiest Americans and…our country created 22 million new jobs and achieved a balanced budget. President Clinton’s tax policies were not the only driver of economic growth, but our leaders’ ability to agree on a fiscally sustainable and economically sound path provided valuable certainty for American families and businesses.

First, let’s dispense with the myth that the 1993 tax hike balanced the budget. I obtained the fiscal forecasts that were produced by both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget in early 1995 because I wanted to see whether a balanced budget was predicted.

As you can see in the chart, both of those forecasts showed perpetual deficits of about $200 billion. And these forecasts were made nearly 18 months after the Clinton tax hike was implemented.

So if even the White House’s own forecast from OMB didn’t foresee a balanced budget, what caused the actual fiscal situation to be much better than the estimates?

The simple answer is that spending was restrained. You can give credit to Bill Clinton. You can give credit to the GOP Congress that took power in early 1995. You can give the credit to both.

But regardless of who gets the credit, the period of spending restraint that began at that time was the change that produced a budget surplus, not the tax hike that was imposed 18 months earlier and which was associated with perpetual red ink.

But spending restraint tells only part of the story. With the exception of the 1993 tax hike, the Clinton years were a period of shrinking government and free market reform.

Clinton RecordTake a look at my homemade bar chart to compare the good policies of the 1990s with the bad policies. It’s not even close.

You may be thinking that my comparison is completely unscientific, and you’re right. I probably overlooked some good policies and some bad policies.

And my assumptions about weighting are very simplistic. Everything is equally important, with a big exception in that I made the government spending variable three times as important as everything else.

Why? Well, I think reducing the burden of government spending during the Clinton years was a major achievement.

But maybe we shouldn’t rely on my gut instincts. So let’s set aside my created-at-the-spur-of-the-moment bar chart and look at something that is scientific.

This chart is taken directly from Economic Freedom of the World, which uses dozens of variables to measure the overall burden of government.

As you can see, the United States score improved significantly during the Clinton years, showing that economic freedom was expanding and the size and scope of government was shrinking.

In other words, Patty Murray is correct. She is absolutely right to claim that Bill Clinton’s policies “helped grow the economy, create jobs, balance the budget.”

Now she needs to realize that those policies were small government and free markets.

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Since I shared a pro-Second Amendment t-shirt the other day, let’s have an encore and enjoy this poster on gun control.

Gun Control Poster Buy One

I’m not sure, though, whether it’s the most compelling message in the world. I remember years ago being a spectator to an abortion argument, with the pro-choice person asserting that “if you don’t like an abortion, don’t have one,” which seemed somewhat persuasive, but then the pro-life person countered by asking whether it would make sense to assert “if you don’t like robbery, don’t commit one.”

But I almost never venture into the abortion debate (the only exceptions being here and here), and I’m not going to change my pattern today.

My only point is that the poster is snarky and mocking, which is the type of humor I often enjoy, so I had to share it.

We do have a second image, and this one is unambiguously clever and compelling.

Very similar message to the first image in this post.

Gun Control Poster Drugs

And if these two images don’t give you enough anti-gun control humor, feel free to click hereherehereherehere, here, herehere, here, here, and here.

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As a general rule, it’s not right to take pleasure at the misfortune of others.

But I think we’re allowed an exception to that Schadenfreude rule when the “others” are greedy politicians pursuing spiteful policies. We want the political elite to suffer misfortune because of our desire to promote freedom and prosperity for ordinary people.

With that in mind, I have a big smile on my face because Francois Hollande’s class-warfare tax policy in France is a bigger failure than even I predicted it would be.

I’m particularly happy that the geese with the golden eggs are flying away. And the flock seems to get bigger every day.

Here are some amusing excerpts from a story in the Financial Times.

New evidence of top French executives leaving the country has emerged as President Francois Hollande battles a stalling economy and tumbling approval ratings. Two senior executives at Moet Hennessy, the champagne and cognac arm of the LVMH luxury group, are moving to London from Paris and the head of Dassault Systemes, the software arm of Dassault Aviation, said some senior managers of his company had left and he was considering following suit. …The news follows Mr Arnault’s own application for Belgian citizenship, leaked last September, which poured fuel on a fiery debate in France about entrepreneurship, patriotism and high taxes.

Yup, just like Joe Biden, French politicians want people to think it’s patriotic to give more money to wasteful and incompetent politicians.

“I am the John Galt of France”

And then they have the gall (no pun intended) to complain when the intended victims decide they don’t want to cooperate in their own disembowelment.

You can see why I have a smile on my face.

While I’m happy that some people are escaping Hollande’s punitive tax grasp, there are plenty of victims that can’t escape. France’s economy is in the toilet and millions of ordinary people are suffering.

Figures released on Monday showing a worse-than-expected 1.2 per cent fall in industrial production in January over December underlined the grim outlook facing Mr Hollande, whose approval ratings have fallen this month to as low as 30 per cent. The economy went into reverse in the last quarter of 2012, unemployment has hit 10 per cent of the workforce

Not surprisingly, the politicians are not learning any lessons. They either have their heads buried in the sand or they lash out at those who offer constructive criticism.

The government has denied claims of a tax exodus and denounced as “French bashing” criticism such as the declaration last month by Maurice Taylor, head of tyremaker Titan International, that he would be “stupid” to buy a French factory.

Hollande and his cronies can pretend that successful taxpayers aren’t escaping, but reality will hit them over the head when they count how much tax revenue they receive this year and next year.

In other words, we’re going to see an interesting Laffer Curve experiment.

We saw in America that rich people paid a lot more to the IRS when Reagan lowered their tax rates in the 1980s.

Francois Hollande is trying to run the same experiment, only in reverse.

Anybody want to take a wild guess how that’s going to turn out?

P.S. As shown in this remarkable chart, the real problem in France is that government is far too big. And if the public sector is consuming more than 50 percent of a nation’s economic output, it’s impossible to have a good tax system.

Some big-government nations – such as Sweden and Denmark – try to minimize the damage of high tax burdens, but there’s no way to have a non-destructive tax system when the government wants to take half of what people produce.

And France is trying to maximize the pain rather than minimize the pain, so it’s a safe bet that Hollande’s policies won’t end well.

P.P.S. The debacle in France helps explain why we should celebrate tax competition. The fact that entrepreneurs can migrate to nations with better (or less worse) tax systems is a valuable way of penalizing politicians that impose bad policy.

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Sigh. Even when they’re sort of doing the right thing, Republicans are incapable of using the right argument.

Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has unveiled his proposed budget and he and other Republicans are bragging that the plan will balance the budget in 10 years.

That’s all fine and well, but good fiscal policy is achieved by reducing the burden of government spending, and that means that restraining the budget so that federal outlays grow slower than the private sector.

It’s good to balance the budget, of course, but that should be a secondary goal.

Now for the good news. The Ryan Budget does satisfy the Golden Rule of fiscal policy. As you can see in the chart, federal spending grows by an average of 3.4 percent annual, and that modest bit of fiscal discipline is enough to reduce the burden of government spending to 19.1 percent of economic output by 2023.

Ryan FY2014 Budget

It’s also good news that the Ryan Budget calls for structural reform of entitlement programs, including Medicaid block grants and Medicare premium support. The budget also assumes the repeal of the costly Obamacare program.

And there’s also some good tax policy. Not bold tax reform like a flat tax, but top tax rates would be reduced to 25 percent and many forms of double taxation like the death tax and capital gains tax presumably would be reduced or eliminated.

Let’s be clear, though, that this is not a libertarian budget. Federal spending will still be far too high. Indeed, the budget will consume a larger share of the economy than it did when Bill Clinton left office.

And while Republicans do a good job of restraining spending in the first couple of years of the new Ryan Budget, outlays rise far too rapidly beginning around 2016.

Moreover, there’s no Social Security reform.

Equally worrisome, the budget assumes that the federal tax burden should remain about 19 percent of GDP, higher than the long-run average of 18 percent of GDP and – for all intents and purposes – permanently enshrining Obama’s fiscal cliff victory.

And it’s depressing to see that the Ryan budget has gotten weaker each year.

At this rate, it won’t be that long before the GOP budget and Obama budget converge.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But the moral of the story is that the Ryan Budget is a step in the right direction, but much more will be needed to restore limited, constitutional government.

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As part of my “Question of the Week” series, I had to decide which department of the federal government was most deserving of abolition.

With a target-rich environment of waste, fraud, and abuse in Washington, that wasn’t an easy question to answer. But I decided to pick the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and I had some good reasons for that choice.

Well, thanks to the sequester, we can say that we’ve achieved 1.9 percent of our goal. Here are some blurbs from a Reuters report.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Monday said it plans to shut its doors for a total of seven days between May and September due to budget cuts and will furlough more than 9,000 employees on those days. …The agency will determine the exact shutdown dates at a later time.

The motto of special interests

This is what I call a good start.

You won’t be surprised to learn, though, that the bureaucracy is whining that these tiny cutbacks will have horrible effects.

In cataloging the impact of sequestration to a Senate panel last month, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan warned lawmakers that the government spending cuts would have harsh consequences for housing programs and could threaten Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts in the U.S. Northeast. “The ripple effects are enormous because of how central housing is to our economy,” Donovan told lawmakers.

Well, I hope that the “cuts” will have “harsh consequences for housing programs.” I’ve read Article I, Section VIII, of the Constitution, and nowhere does it say that housing is a function of the federal government.

And I’ve also explained that disaster relief is not Washington’s responsibility.

Most worthless department in Washington?

Last but not least, I agree that housing is important to our economy. But that’s precisely why I don’t want the federal government involved.

Didn’t we learn from the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle that bad things happen when the federal government tries to subsidize that sector.

Heck, I don’t even want tax preferences for housing.

No wonder I picked the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the background for my video on bloated and wasteful bureaucracy.

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I believe in the First Amendment, so I would never support legislation to restrict political speech or curtail the ability of people to petition the government.

That being said, I despise the corrupt Washington game of obtaining unearned wealth thanks to the sleazy interaction of lobbyists, politicians, bureaucrats, and interest groups.

So you can imagine my unfettered joy when reading about how this odious process is being curtailed by sequestration. Here are some cheerful details from story in Roll Call.

…sequester cuts…reflect not only Washington’s political paralysis but a bitter lobbying failure for K Street interests across the board. From university professors and scientists to cancer victims, defense contractors and federal workers, hundreds of advocacy, trade and labor groups have lobbied aggressively for months to head off the cuts. They’ve run ads, testified on Capitol Hill, staged demonstrations and hounded lawmakers, all to no avail. …the path forward could be a lobbying nightmare.

Reading the story, I recalled a Charles Addams cartoon from my childhood. Thanks to the magic of Al Gore’s Internet, I found it.

Slightly modified to capture my spirit of elation, here it is for you to enjoy.

Charles Addams Cartoon

Except I like to think I’m a bit more prepossessing than the Uncle Fester character, but let’s not get hung up on details.

What matters is that sequestration was a much-needed and very welcome victory for taxpayers. Obama suffered a rare defeat, as did the cronyists who get rich by working the system.

To be sure, all that we’ve achieved is a tiny reduction in the growth of federal spending (the budget will be $2.4 trillion bigger in 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion bigger). But a journey of many trillions of dollars begins with a first step.

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I’ve shared some powerful (and amusing) pro-Second Amendment posters herehereherehere, here, here, and here. And some clever  images of t-shirts and bumper stickers on gun control herehere, here, here, and here.

Here’s another good one for the collection, and I gather you can actually buy one for yourself if this website is legit.

Bullets First t-shirt

Here are some additional examples of Second Amendment humor, and you can enjoy some Chuck Asay cartoons here and here.

By the way, if you want some practical information on gun control, I strongly recommend the famous Larry Correia article. And for wisdom on the issue of so-called assault weapons, John Lott is the oracle.

And you can read the confessions of two honest liberals here and here.

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When I last checked, Henry Payne was winning the bronze medal in the contest to identify the best political cartoonist.

You can see why by checking out this cartoon about Washington’s reaction to sequestration, which (gasp!) slightly slows the growth of the federal budget so that it is only $2.4 trillion bigger 10 years from now rather than $2.5 trillion bigger.

Payne Sequester Cartoon

What makes the cartoon so effective is not just the humor, but also the fact that it makes clear that government is too big and it also debunks the Keynesian notion that bad things will happen if we have even an itsy-bitsy degree of fiscal discipline.

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I’m not a TV watcher. I don’t even have cable. So I’m only vaguely aware that there’s a program called “Parks and Recreation.”

Based on these clips, though, it seems that Ron Swanson would be my favorite character.

Let’s start with his inside assessment of government efficiency. This is the snarkiest clip I’ve seen about local government, rivaling this brutal video on overpaid firefighters.

Makes my video on overpaid bureaucrats pale in comparison.

But is he right about local government? Well, read this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this and decide for yourself.

Oh, and don’t forget what our feckless local school officials are doing to America’s children.

Swanson also has an amusing take on the general topic of bloated government.

I’d apply the same level of skepticism to the defense budget, of course, but Swanson’s character is on to something. Sort of the same theme of government being bloated and overweight that can be found in cartoons here, here, here, and here.

Then there’s this gem.

The piglet comparison, needless to say, made me think of this famous Chuck Asay cartoon.

I’m curious, by the way, whether Swanson’s character on the program is unappealing. In other words, is this an example of Hollywood seeking to mock libertarianism?

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I weep for my country. We are becoming pathetic fools and total wimps.

Consider these jaw-dropping examples of behavior by adults who work in government schools. I think they must be competing for the Stupid Official of the Year Award.

The contestants include:

Here’s another example that belies belief. It starts innocently enough, as reported by a Baltimore news outlet.

Children at Park Elementary School went home with a letter today explaining there was a disruption in school.

A “disruption”? What, pray tell, happened. A fire? A theft? A gang fight?

Well, brace yourself lest you faint in fright at what you’re about to read.

At Park Elementary school, Josh was enjoying his breakfast pastry when he decided to try and shape it into a mountain. Josh said, “It was already a rectangle and I just kept on biting it and biting it and tore off the top and it kinda looked like a gun but it wasn’t.” Josh takes full responsibly for trying to shape his breakfast pastry, but admits it was in innocent fun. He told FOX45, “All I was trying to do was turn it into a mountain but, it didn’t look like a mountain really and it turned out to be a gun kinda.” When his teacher saw the strawberry tart he knew he was in trouble, he recalls, “She was pretty mad…and I think I was in big trouble.”

Oh, Heavens. Get the smelling salts!

What was the punishment for this thug?

Josh’s dad received a phone call from the school saying that Josh has been suspended for two days because he took his breakfast pastry and fashioned it into a gun. Josh’s dad was astounded to learn the school chose such a harsh punishment, even after no one was hurt.
But here’s the real kicker. The supposed adults who run the school (and are in charge of educating children) decided that an artfully chewed pastry was “an inappropriate gesture.”
Late Friday afternoon a letter went home with students explaining the incident saying, “A student used food to make an inappropriate gesture.” But Josh’s dad is not happy saying, “I would almost call it insanity. I mean with all the potential issues that could be dealt with at school, real threats, bullies, whatever the real issue is, it’s a pastry.., Ya know?”

The dad had the right reaction.

And the real moral of the story is that we need to break up the government-run education monopoly and allow school choice.

P.S. Mindless political correctness is not limited to the United States. There are also unbelievable examples from the United Kingdom.

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I’ve spent a lot of time debunking class-warfare tax policy, and I’ve certainly explained ’til I’m blue in the face that big government facilitates a pernicious form of corruption that enriches powerful and well-connected insiders.

But I haven’t spent much time addressing the topic of income inequality, which is connected to those two other issues.

U.S. News & World Report just weighed in on this issue, citing a leftist video designed to build support for redistributionist policies.

Occupy is by now forgotten (if not gone), but the top 1 percent came roaring back into view this week with a viral video that has been seemingly inescapable for anyone on Facebook or Twitter. The slick, graph-heavy animation shows the results of a 2011 study that found not only that Americans vastly underestimate wealth inequality in the U.S. but that current inequality is very far from what most Americans see as ideal.

I contribute to the discussion, making the point that people should focus on the source of inequality.

…some would argue that not all inequality is created equal. According to one expert, the problem is far worse when it’s a function of bad government than when it’s a function of private industry growth. “If you’re a very corrupt, cronyist type economy like Argentina or Mexico, you have a huge degree of income inequality and it’s driven by the fact that the elites control the levers of power,” says Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Meanwhile, a less-corrupt, high-inequality, but fast-growing economy–Mitchell uses the example of Hong Kong–might be healthier, more stable, and more likely to have a rising tide of growth lifting all boats, even if it’s lifting some boats more than others. In other words, as long as everyone is benefiting, albeit to different degrees, he says, that’s one key test of whether inequality is “good” or “bad.” …As for the question of where U.S. inequality is coming from, Mitchell says he fears that corporate influence in Washington may be creating inequality of what he might call the Mexican or Argentinian type. That is, he believes that big banks and healthcare companies are skewing the system in their own favor via legislation like Dodd-Frank and healthcare reform.

To get an idea of what I’m talking about, check out this chart comparing economic performance in a nation with capitalism, a nation with cronyism, and a nation with statism.

And since I specifically cited Hong Kong, check out this chart. And click here to see how Argentina has fared with a system where government picks winners and losers.

The article then follows with a sentence that may be true as a political prediction, but completely misreads the point I was trying to make.

If that’s true–that those at the top are able to entrench their places at the top, at the expense of others–it is reason to angrily hit the share button.

NO!!! What I’m pointing out is that we should repeal laws such as Obamacare that promote cronyism and corruption.

But that’s not the only argument against the leftist argument for redistribution. My former grad school colleague, Steve Horwitz, makes the key argument that it is shoddy to compare changes over time for income quintiles without also measuring income mobility.

And you can click this link to hear what one of my professors from grad school, Don Boudreaux, had to say about the notion that wages have stagnated.

if you want even more, here’s something I wrote on income inequality and here’s a debate I did on income mobility. Even better, here’s what Margaret Thatcher said about these topics.

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One of the new Tea Party senators, Ted Cruz, gained a lot of support when he was Solicitor General of Texas Texas Sovereigntyand successfully defended his state’s ability to execute a murderer over the objections of the International Court of Justice.

At the time, this fight even led me to confess one of my lurid fantasies.

Now we have another battle involving American states and an international bureaucracy.

Here are a couple of passages from a report in the Seattle Times.

A United Nations-based drug agency urged the United States government on Tuesday to challenge the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, saying the state laws violate international drug treaties. …U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that he was in the last stages of reviewing the Colorado and Washington state laws. Holder said he was examining policy options and international implications of the issue.

Here’s a news flash for the bureaucrats at this branch of the United Nations in Vienna: American states are sovereign and don’t need to kowtow to a bunch of mandarins who get bloated (and tax free!) salaries in exchange for…well, I’m not sure what they do other than pontificate, gorge themselves at receptions, and enjoy first class travel at our expense while jetting from one conference to another.

If the people of Washington and Colorado want to legalize certain drugs, that’s their right. They haven’t signed any treaties with the United Nations.

By the way, this has nothing to do with whether drugs should be legalized.

Like John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson, I’m skeptical of the drug war.

But since I’m an abstainer, I confess I don’t really lose any sleep about the issue.

I generally do get agitated, by contrast, when international bureaucracies seek to impose one-size-fits-all policies on the world. Much of my ire is directed at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which seeks to penalize jurisdictions that commit the horrible crime of having attractive tax regimes (or, to be more accurate, having tax regimes that are more attractive than those in places such as France and Germany).

But I also get upset with bad policies from the IMF, the World Bank, the EU mega-bureaucracy, and even the World Health Organization.

P.S. Have you ever noticed that U.N. offices are in swanky places such as New York City, Geneva, and Vienna? If these bureaucrats really want to help the world, why aren’t their offices in Havana, Lagos, and Chisinau.  That would be quite appropriate, after all, since Cuba, Nigeria, and Moldova are all members of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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Here are three common-sense principles.

  1. Higher taxes are misguided. They undermine prosperity and finance bigger government.
  2. Bailouts also are misguided. They facilitate corruption and encourage moral hazard.
  3. And international bureaucracies are misguided. They promote statism and squander money.

So what’s the “perfect storm” of bad policy?

How about when international bureaucracies offers a bailout in exchange for higher taxes?

Here are some very unpleasant details from Reuters about how the International Monetary Fund is working with other international bureaucracies to coerce Cyprus into raising taxes in order to provide a bailout.

International lenders would like Cyprus to raise its corporate tax and introduce a levy on capital gains and a financial transaction tax to ensure it can repay a euro zone bailout it asked for last year, euro zone officials said on Thursday. …One official, briefed on the talks between the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission – known as the Troika – and the new government in Nicosia, said no decisions had yet been taken on any of the taxes.

I’ve already explained that Cyprus got in trouble because government spending rose faster than the ability of the private sector to finance it.

So if the problem is that the burden of government spending is excessive, then how does it make sense to increase the corporate tax burden? To impose a capital gains tax? Or to levy a tax on financial transactions?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t make sense.

This is a very perverse example of Mitchell’s Law, with the pinhead bureaucrats at the IMF and elsewhere misallocating global capital on the condition that Cyprus increase an already onerous tax burden.

One bad policy leading to another bad policy. And it’s happening with our money. Something to think about the next time the fiscal pyromaniacs at the International Monetary Fund ask for additional bailout authority.

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Too bad I didn’t have this Glenn Foden masterpiece when I did the political cartoonist contest last week.

I think it’s better than my previous favorite of his (about the “private sector doing fine”), and it’s thematically quite similar to the famous “European lemming” cartoon from Ramirez.

European Train Cartoon

One tiny correction, though. The Europeans aren’t socialists anymore. It’s more accurate to describe the policy in France, Italy, and elsewhere as cronyism, corporatism, or statism.

Though Thomas Sowell prefers to use an even harsher adjective when analyzing Obama’s approach.

What about providing some evidence that Obama’s making America more like Europe? Well, just check out the data from the latest Economic Freedom of the World annual report.

There are now six European nations that score above the United States, including two of my favorite places – Switzerland and Estonia!

It doesn’t justify his bad policies, but it’s worth noting that Obama’s merely continuing a bad trend that started under Bush.

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Should the federal government make life more difficult for low-skilled workers?

I hope everyone will emphatically say “NO!”

Heck, most people understandably will think you’re crazy for even asking such a preposterous question.

Minimum Wage Cartoon 2But some of those people will also think that it’s a good idea for politicians in Washington to make low-skilled workers less attractive to employers by raising the minimum wage.

I often ask such people whether they are more likely to buy a Big Mac if McDonald’s raises the price by 24 percent. They say they are less likely.

I then ask them if they are more likely to buy a car if GM increases the price of a Buick by 24 percent. They say less likely, of course.

But they seem to have a blind spot when I ask them whether employers will be more likely or less likely to hire low-skilled workers when the government increases the cost of those workers by 24 percent.

I explain further in this interview for Yahoo! Finance.

The interviewer, by the way, seems to be economically illiterate.

He apparently believes that we can reduce inequality by pricing poor people out of the job market. He also blames companies for sitting on piles of cash, presumably unaware that firms only will invest if there are profitable opportunities.

Minimum Wage CartoonAt one point, I delicately state that one of his questions “betrays a certain lack of historical knowledge,” which is a polite way of saying “you’re either lying or you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ultimately, I try to help him understand by comparing fast-growing economies such Hong Kong and Singapore, which have relatively low burdens of government, with slow-growth economies such as France and Italy, where politicians ostensibly seek to “help” people with various forms of intervention.

I’m not sure I made any progress, so feel free to suggest other ways of convincing skeptics that freedom is better than statism.

Anyway, for those who want more information, this video explains the underlying economics of the minimum wage. We also have plenty of evidence (see here and here) that unemployment rose following the most recent hike in the minimum wage.

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I’m not sure this would be a good idea, for a very obvious reason, but this photo-shopped image got me laughing.

Pope Message to Obama

But I’m sure my Republican friends will enjoy the visceral anti-Obama sentiment, just as they enjoyed this Pennsylvania joke, this Reagan-Obama comparison, this Wyoming joke, this Bush-Obama comparison, this sign, this video satire, this bumper sticker, and this message from a little girl.

But, to be fair, I think this pro-Obama picture may be the most effective piece of political satire I’ve seen in recent years.

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Triggered by an appearance on Canadian TV, I asked yesterday why we should believe anti-sequester Keynesians. They want us to think that a very modest reduction in the growth of government spending will hurt the economy, yet Canada enjoyed rapid growth in the mid-1990s during a period of substantial budget restraint.

I make a similar point in this debate with Robert Reich, noting that  the burden of government spending was reduced as a share of economic output during the relatively prosperous Reagan years and Clinton years.

Being a magnanimous person, I even told Robert he should take credit for the Clinton years since he was in the cabinet as Labor Secretary. Amazingly, he didn’t take me up on my offer.

Anyhow, these two charts show the stark contrast between the fiscal policy of Reagan and Clinton compared to Bush..

Reagan-Clinton-Bush Domestic Spending

And there’s lots of additional information comparing the fiscal performance of various presidents here, here, and here.

For more information on Reagan and Clinton, this video has the details.

Which brings us back to the original issue.

The Keynesians fear that a modest reduction in the growth of government (under the sequester, the federal government will grow $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion) will somehow hurt the economy.

But government spending grew much slower under Reagan and Clinton than it has during the Bush-Obama years, yet I don’t think anybody would claim the economy in recent years has been more robust than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

And if somebody does make that claim, just show them this remarkable chart (if they want to laugh, this Michael Ramirez cartoon makes the same point).

So perhaps the only logical conclusion to reach is that government is too big and that Keynesian economics is wrong.

I don’t think I’ll ever convince Robert Reich, but hopefully the rest of the world can be persuaded by real-world evidence.

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Public finance experts are quite familiar with the budgetary shenanigans of cossetted government bureaucracies.

They even have terms to describe how agencies and departments try to manipulate outcomes by claiming that any requirement for fiscal restraint will necessitate cuts to the most politically popular parts of the budget.

  • The “fireman first principle” – Describes how local government bodies (often coordinating with local politicians) will claim that firemen will have to be laid off and/or firehouses will have to close if there is any budgetary discipline. You can replace firefighters with cops or teachers if you want. The key point is to divert attention from the countless ways that local governments waste money by focusing on the few things that voters actually care about.
  • The “Washington Monument syndrome” – Based on a real-world example during the 1970s of the National Park Service claiming it would have to shut down tourist access to popular Washington-area sites if it was subject to fiscal restraint, the modern-day equivalent is President Obama scaring people with hysterical assertions about threats to food safety and airline operations.

Thomas Sowell clearly understands this racket.

Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do? The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.

Bingo. Bulls-eye. A perfect analysis of bureaucratic incentives and public-choice economics.

Sowell then describes what’s now happening in Washington.

The Obama administration is following the same pattern. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, released thousands of illegal aliens from prisons to save money — and create alarm. The Federal Aviation Administration says it is planning to cut back on the number of air traffic controllers, which would, at a minimum, create delays for airline passengers, in addition to fears for safety that can create more public alarm. …it serves Obama’s interest to maximize the damage and the public alarm, which he can direct against Republicans. President Obama has said that he would veto legislation to let him choose what to cut. That should tell us everything we need to know about the utter cynicism of this glib man.

The political cartoonists also are having a field day making fun of Obama’s silly demagoguery.

Let’s start with Michael Ramirez. You can see why he’s currently leading in the best-cartoonist poll.

Sequester Cartoon Ramirez 4

Nate Beeler also has a good contribution to the debate. The President is acting like the world is going to end because spending is going to be “slashed” by 1.2 percent, which means – gasp! – that spending will “only” grow by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years.

Yet somehow Armageddon has not occurred.

Sequester Cartoon Beeler 4

Indeed, the worst possible outcome for Obama and the other statists is that people notice zero negative impact when spending is restrained.

This Steve Kelley cartoon is very appealing to me because it shows the President going after the sequester when the real problem is an excessive burden of government spending.

Sequester Cartoon Kelley 4

Last but not least, we have a very good Scott Stantis cartoon.

Sequester Cartoon Stantis 4

The Stantis cartoon is particularly insightful because the GOP has won the battle, but the war is not over.

As I noted yesterday, Obama will have several additional opportunities to undo the sequester savings.

Thomas Jefferson was right when he warned that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

P.S. You can enjoy more sequester cartoons here, here, and here.

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In this appearance on Canadian TV, I  debunk anti-sequester hysteria, pointing out that “automatic budget cuts” merely restrain government so that it grows $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion.

I also point out that we shouldn’t worry about government employees getting a slight haircut since federal bureaucrats are overcompensated. Moreover, I warn that some agencies may deliberately try to inconvenience people in an attempt to extort more tax revenue.

But I think the most important point in the interview was the discussion of what happened in Canada in the 1990s.

This example is important because the Obama White House is making the Keynesian argument that a smaller burden of government spending somehow will translate into less growth and fewer jobs.

Nobody should believe them, of course, since they used this same discredited theory to justify the so-called stimulus and all their predictions were wildly wrong.

But the failed 2009 stimulus showed the bad things that happen when government spending rises. Maybe the big spenders want us to think the relationship doesn’t hold when government gets put on a diet?

Well, here’s some data from the International Monetary Fund showing that the Canadian economy enjoyed very strong growth when policymakers imposed a near-freeze on government outlays between 1992 and 1997.

Canada - Less Spending = More Growth

For more information on this remarkable period of fiscal restraint, as well as evidence of what happened in other nations that curtailed government spending, here’s a video with lots of additional information.

By the way, we also have a more recent example of successful budget reductions. Estonia and the other Baltic nations ignored Keynesian snake-oil when the financial crisis hit and instead imposed genuine spending cuts.

The result? Growth has recovered and these nations are doing much better than the European countries that decided that big tax hikes and/or Keynesian spending binges were the right approach.

Paul Krugman, not surprisingly, got this wrong.

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The spirit of 1776 is still alive in America. We see it in the Tea Party, which has forced real changes in Washington.

We also see it in little ways, such as the heroic actions of Jay Beeber, who single-handedly killed dangerous red light cameras in Los Angeles.

But I don’t want to be jingoistic. We also find pockets of rebellion against greedy and thuggish government elsewhere in the world.

So even though I’ve made fun of the English for statism and political correctness, I want to share some encouraging excerpts from a story in the UK-based Telegraph.

Meet the NoTo Mob, a group dedicated to fighting what they see as unfair parking tickets and charges. During the week they’re normal blokes (and the odd woman). …But on Saturdays they come together for a common cause. They follow council CCTV cars, or “spy cars”, then stand nearby holding signs to warn drivers about the presence of a CCTV vehicle and potential fine if they break the rules.Motorists pull over, wave or give the thumbs up in gratitude. Complete strangers have been known to hug them in support.

Notomob

Freedom Fighters!

Having been victimized by revenue cameras (which inevitably are set up where speed limits are absurdly low), I would gladly hug one of these blokes if they operated in the United States.

These ordinary men and women fully recognize that these cameras are designed to generate more revenue for government, not to promote safety.

The group targets “honey pots” – high-ticket areas with confusing road markings or unclear signs where the CCTV cars are most likely to operate. …The NoTo Mob…feels motorists are being used as cash cows. “I was near a bus lane and asked drivers who pulled over, ‘Did you see that sign?’ They replied, ‘What sign?’ They didn’t realise. They’d have got a fine if they’d driven down it. “It’s exploiting the average motorist, it’s disproportionate and it’s plain wrong. It’s highway robbery.”

Since I’m praising our English cousins, I suppose it’s also appropriate to give credit to the English government for not outlawing the NoToMob.

In the United States, I’m embarrassed to admit, you can get in trouble for warning other motorists about speed traps.

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The statist agenda of ever-growing government requires more money going to Washington, which is why I think that proponents of limited government should do everything they can to block tax increases.

This is the “starve the beast” theory, and I’ve previously explained why I think it is a necessary part of any long-run strategy to restrain the burden of government spending.

He would never admit it, but Obama seems to agree, which is why he is dogmatically fixated on doing everything he can to seduce Republicans into supporting higher taxes.

Obama Sequester Boomerang CartoonBut he miscalculated in thinking that the fiscal cliff tax hike somehow meant that he had permanently neutered the GOP, and he definitely goofed when he tried to use the sequester as a weapon to bully Republicans into another tax hike.

Ignoring the President’s hyperbole about the supposed catastrophic effects of a very modest reduction in the growth of the federal budget, Republicans have held firm.

And the President has suffered a painful political and policy defeat.

Here’s some of what was reported in The Hill about the President’s attitude.

The first months of President Obama’s second term are being built around a simple premise: No caving. …Obama is in an ultra-assertive mood, practically daring Republicans to defy his wishes. …Obama’s attitude is more akin to that of a general leading his forces into battle, confident that he can decimate the enemy. …On the sequester, for instance, Obama did little more than pay lip-service to the idea of a last-minute compromise to avert the package of cuts.

Well, Republicans did “defy his wishes” and it’s the worst possible outcome for the President. The growth of spending is being slowed and taxes are not going up.

Democrats on Capitol Hill also thought that the fiscal cliff tax hike would be a precedent for lots of future tax hikes. As reported by Politico, their analysis was misguided.

Democrats toasted the New Year’s fiscal cliff deal with the belief that they had set a crucial new precedent: Tax hikes would be part of any future deficit reduction package. Two months later, the champagne buzz is wearing off. …the exuberance expressed by many Democrats at the beginning of the year was misplaced. Efforts to avert the sequester never achieved liftoff, and Democrats are realizing that new tax revenues are off the table for the immediate future. …“We’ve tried everything we can,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Thursday. “They will not budge on anything dealing with revenue.”

Byron York has the best analysis, explaining in his Washington Examiner column that Obama gambled and (at least so far) lost.

Nine months ago, Barack Obama likened his Republican opposition to an illness. If he could just defeat Mitt Romney, Obama said, then the illness might subside. “I believe that if we’re successful in this election — when we’re successful in this election — that the fever may break,” Obama told a fundraiser in Minneapolis last June. After Obama won re-election, there was extensive discussion among his supporters about whether the Republican “fever” would, in fact, break.

But this strategy appears to have boomeranged. Byron thinks that the White House is now in a weak position.

There was little speculation about whether something quite different might happen: Would determined GOP opposition break Obama’s fever?  That is, could Republicans weaken the president’s resolve to defeat the GOP and further raise taxes? That appears to be what has occurred, at least for the moment. …Friday morning, Obama seemed resigned to the possibility that he cannot win the further tax increases he seeks, and that after enlisting his entire administration in a campaign to frighten Americans about sequestration, the cuts have become a reality that he has to acknowledge.

While I’m glad the President goofed, I’m not under any illusion that winning a battle is the same thing as winning a war.

It’s quite possible that the modest sequester savings will be undone as part of the “continuing resolution” legislation to fund the federal government between March 27 and the rest of the fiscal year.

There will also be a debt limit fight later in the Spring, which will give proponents of bigger government another bite at the apple (though it’s a double-edged sword since advocates of limited government also can use the debt limit as a vehicle for reform).

And the President obviously won’t give up on his campaign for higher taxes. I worry that he’ll trick gullible GOPers into a tax hike at some point, either as part of a Trojan Horse tax reform or as part of a budget summit that produces something like Bowles-Simposon, a package of real tax hikes and illusory entitlement reforms.

But we can fight those battles down the road. Today, let’s enjoy the sweet smell of victory.

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Back in 2010, I shared parts of a Dave Barry column that mocked the government for bizarre examples of stupid law enforcement.

Barry was specifically making fun of OSHA bureaucrats for fining a company for the horrible transgression of saving a worker when a trench collapsed. But there are many other examples of law enforcement run amok.

  1. The Food and Drug Administration raiding a dairy for the terrible crime of selling unpasteurized milk to people who prefer unpasteurized milk.
  2. New York City imposing a $30,000 fine on a small shop because it sold a toy gun.
  3. The pinheads at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission going after Hooters for not having any male waiters in hot pants and tight t-shirts.
  4. Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources is legally attacking a family for rescuing a baby deer.

And now we have another Kafkaesque episode.

Here are some of the strange details from a local newspaper.

Anthony Brasfield saw romance when he released a dozen heart-shaped balloons into the sky over Dania Beach with his sweetie. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper saw a felony. Brasfield, 40, and his girlfriend, Shaquina Baxter, were in the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Dania Beach Boulevard when he released the shiny red and silver mylar balloons and watched them float away Sunday morning. …Brasfield was charged with polluting to harm humans, animals, plants, etc. under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act. …Between 2008 and 2012, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said there were 21 arrests statewide under the rarely used environmental crime statute. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Let’s now think about what this means.

We have a guy who almost certainly had no idea he was committing a crime. He presumably isn’t rolling in money since he was staying at a Motel 6. Yet now he faces a harder life because he has a felony arrest on his record.

I’m assuming, by the way, that the government surely won’t send him to prison. I’m also guessing – or at least hoping – that the state won’t even impose a heavy fine. And perhaps the prosecutor’s office will drop or reduce the charges so he won’t have a felony conviction on his record. Though maybe I’m being too generous in those assumptions.

Anyway, my main point is to question why the unfortunate Mr. Brasfield was arrested in the first place. What was the cop thinking, that a felony arrest would help fill his quota?

By the way, I’m not claiming that there shouldn’t be a rule against releasing balloons near a nature preserve. It may be that imposing some sort of sanction is the right way, from a cost-benefit perspective, to preserve and protect the environment.

But Mr. Brasfield wasn’t a big corporation dumping chemicals into the water with full knowledge of lawbreaking and potentially doing millions of dollars of damage. That’s the situation where felony arrests and prosecutions are completely appropriate.

Releasing a few balloons, by contrast, should be treated more like jaywalking or littering. Though I realize that would require common sense from lawmakers, law enforcement, and the justice system. So good luck with that.

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If you asked me that question 30 years ago, I would have said Jeff MacNelly without hesitation.

MacNelly Shutdown CartoonsNot that I was exposed to many options in the pre-Internet dark ages, so my choice may have been driven by lack of knowledge. Nonetheless, MacNelly was a genius with the details, as you can see from these cartoons about IRS complexity and government shutdowns.

But what about today’s cartoonists?

Based on the number of cartoons I’ve shared, the easy answer would be either Michael Ramirez or Chuck Asay, but there are cartoons from other artists that are absolutely superb.

So I’m going to turn this question around.

Here are my favorite cartoons from various artists and you can answer the poll about which one you would rank highest.

In no particular order, the options are:

Michael Ramirez – This gem about Obamanomics is the most-viewed professional cartoon in the history of this blog, and his European lemming cartoon is great, as is his masterpiece on taxes in the Garden of Eden. But if I had to pick only one, it would be his Julia cartoon.

Chuck Asay – Since I’m a budget wonk, I should choose his cartoon about the garbage-in, garbage-out approach of the Congressional Budget Office. But for mass appeal, this tractor cartoon and this regime-uncertainty cartoon are much better. And my favorite is this nothing-left-to-steal masterpiece.

Henry Payne – For sentimental reasons, I might pick this Robin Hood cartoon. But for political cleverness, his Obamacare-Romneycare cartoon is a classic, and his Valentine’s Fairness Act cartoon is satire that could become reality. But given what I focus on every day at Cato, you’ll understand why this cartoon about Greek fiscal policy is at the top of my list.

Lisa Benson – This cartoon about California tax hikes would be near the top of the list, except taxpayers were tricked into voting for the referendum. I very much like this fiscal cliff cartoon, this Keynesian economics cartoon, and this one about jump-starting the economy with tax hikes. But the top prize goes to this cartoon because it perfectly captures Obama’s fiscal policy.

cartoon-obama-icebergEric Allie – More than anyone else, he shows with this cartoon and this cartoon how even well-intentioned government goes awry. And the teetering-on-the-edge-of-the-cliff cartoon accurately shows Obama’s mindset on fiscal policy. If forced to choose, though, I’ll go with this forward-to-the-iceberg cartoon.

Robert Ariail – I think I’ve only used three of his cartoons, but the image he produced about Greece, the euro, fiscal policy, and the rest of Europe is a classic. The other two I’ve used (here and here) are funny, but not in the same league. But if you need some added humor to compensate, this map showing how the Greeks perceive the rest of Europe is very amusing, as is this video and this video about the Greek mindset.

Gary Varvel – Here’s a good Halloween cartoon, but Varvel is the best at exposing the spending-cut hoax in DC, as you can see from this sequester cartoon and this deficit reduction cartoon. This cartoon about Bernie Madoff and Social Security, however, is at the top of my list.

Scott Stantis – Here’s a cartoon strip about involuntary contributions to support the green-energy boondoggle. And we also have a cartoon showing Obama’s less-than-stellar appreciation of the Bill of Rights. But without doubt this cartoon about Keynesian stimulus is the best Stantis cartoon I’ve ever seen.

Jerry Holbert – I was tempted to use this cartoon about the rich involuntarily financing a continued spending spree. And the Obama-as-magician cartoon will make you laugh, as will Holbert’s sequester cartoon. My favorite, though, is the one showing big government as a ravenous, spoiled, and destructive brat.

Glenn FodenGoing to Greece in a handbasket doesn’t seem like an obvious topic for a cartoon, but Foden pulls it off. And you’ll understand why I appreciate a cartoon that makes fun of sequester hysteria. But for what it’s worth, I think his best cartoon is the one mocking Obama’s private-sector-doing-fine assertion.

Chip Bok – He’s got a couple of amusing cartoons about Obama’s class-warfare agenda that can be seen here and here. I’m also partial to his cartoon about the Fed helping to bail out the euro. But the one that makes me laugh the hardest is his cartoon about the “war against women.”

Glenn McCoy – He has a great pair of cartoons on condoms and gay marriage, and I also like his cartoon on sequester hysteria. McCoy’s cartoon on gullible voters being bribed with their own money normally would be a contender. I don’t think there’s any question, though, that his cartoon on media bias is the best of the bunch.

A.F. Branco – Since I’m sick and tired of Obama and the special interests complaining about the supposedly savage sequester, I obviously like Branco’s cartoon portraying the sequester as a roadblock that may save us from fiscal destruction. But I’m even more partial to his cartoon riffing on Obama for his you-didn’t-build-that comment.

Unknown – Last but not least, here’s one of my favorite cartoons, though it’s really a parody of the Wizard of Id. And I don’t have any idea about who produced it. But how often do you find first-rate analysis of labor-supply incentives in a cartoon?

That was more work than I thought it would be, but I enjoyed getting a second look at many of these cartoons.

Now it’s time for your input. Which cartoon/author would you rank first?

P.S. Though I lack any artistic talent, I’ve played a role in creating some cartoons. Here’s my photo-shopped cartoon that uses Lucy and Charlie Brown to show why it is utterly naive to think that tax increases will lead to deficit reduction. I even have an award for gullible GOPers who don’t grasp this simple lesson.

Welfare State Wagon CartoonsWe also have the famous set of cartoons showing how the welfare state begins and how it ends. These images were drawn by a Cato intern, but I selfishly take credit for developing the concept and guiding her work. Especially since these cartoons are the most-viewed post in the history of this blog.

I didn’t include either of these in the voting, though, since I’m sure they would have received all the votes. Right? Surely you agree? Hello…anybody there? Can you hear me?

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Good ol’ Uncle Joe.

Given his chief role as national laughingstock, the Vice President attracts plenty of abuse. I like this caption contest, which led to a clever winning entry.

Handgun bad, shotgun good?

Here’s an amusing joke (with the naughty word redacted), and the late-night talk shows have produced some good one liners about the Veep hereherehere, and here.

And let’s not forget the laughs we all enjoyed when he asserted that paying higher taxes was patriotic.

But Biden has reached new levels on unintentional humor with his recent advice on home defense, all of which appears to be illegal according to fellow Bulldog Mary Katherine Ham.

This video, which has been a viral phenomenon, looks at the practical implications of arming some people with 12-gauge shotguns.

This is amusing, though it’s actually not that funny when you realize that this clown is in charge of the task force putting together gun control proposals for the Obama Administration.

By the way, if you like humorous videos dealing with gun control, here are my favorites.

P.S. And if you want serious videos about gun control, you can access several options by clicking here.

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While writing yesterday about a bureaucrat who might need to give up doggie day care service for his pet because of make-believe “deep spending cuts,” I mentioned that we need something akin to a medal-of-honor award for bureaucrats who endure untold suffering.

In that same spirit, we need some sort of national award for school officials who engage is spectacular acts of heroism to save their communities from the youth brigade of al Qaeda.

If we had this kind of award, some of the past winners would include:

And if we had such an award, Valerie Lara-Black might have an early favorite for the 2013. What did Ms. Lara-Black do to put herself in position for such a high honor? Well, she went above and beyond the call of duty.

A 7-year-old Mary Blair Elementary School student says he’s confused about getting in trouble…Thompson School District officials contend that the boy broke one of the school’s “absolutes.” Parent Mandie Watkins said Mary Blair principal Valerie Lara-Black called her Friday afternoon to inform her that her second-grade son, Alex, had been suspended.

Colorado Grenade Kid

Another thwarted terrorist!

What did this nascent young criminal do? What horrid offense against the community did he commit? Why was he suspended?

…for throwing an imaginary grenade during recess on the playground. Alex did not have anything in his hand at the time and made no threats toward other people, Watkins reportedly was told.

Thank goodness that Ms. Lara-Black was able to nip this crisis in the bud. Showing a mastery of bureaucracy, she quickly deployed her school’s policy against play weapons and she decided that an imaginary play weapon was just as dangerous as a real play weapon.

The rules are laid out by Mary Blair Elementary School in a list of “absolutes” that are posted on the school’s website and are aimed at making Mary Blair a safe environment. Included in those absolutes are no physical abuse or fighting – real or play – and the no-weapons absolute also covers real or play weapons.

I hope the school also has a policy against playing tag as well. After all, that’s a militaristic game that sometimes involves aggressive touching.

And if the kids play kickball during recess, I hope there’s a rule that all games end in ties so there are no winners and losers (or perhaps just require the kids to play soccer, where all games seem to end in scoreless ties anyway).

You can’t be too careful. It takes a lot of care and planning, after all, to raise the next generation of social workers!

Though I am a bit surprised that this happened in Colorado. The folks I’ve met at the High Lonesome Ranch, for instance, obviously were not lobotomized and emasculated while at school, so perhaps mind-numbing stupidity is a recent phenomenon in the state.

At least this type of thinking hasn’t spread to Texas, where policymakers are more likely to let teachers carry guns rather than turn them into enforcers of political correctness.

You can get a sense of how folks think in Texas from this coyote joke and this mock police exam.

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