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Archive for January, 2014

Early last year, with the sequester about to begin, President Obama stated that “these cuts are not smart, they are not fair, they will hurt our economy, they will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls.”

He made this statement because Keynesian theory says government spending can boost “aggregate demand” and goose an economy. So less government spending obviously must be bad for growth.

Then, in October, Obama claimed that the partial government shutdown “inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy” and also asserted that, “every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth.”

This statement also was based on the notion that government spending is a form of “stimulus” for economic performance. So anything that slows spending must be a downer for the economy and job creation.

The President had good reasons to worry, at least based on the aforementioned Keynesian perspective. The burden of government spending declined in 2013, both in nominal terms and as a share of economic output.

In other words, the sequester and the partial shutdown did exactly what the President warned about.

So did this mean the economy under-performed? Before we look at the data, I’m going to take a wild guess and predict just the opposite.

Simply stated, you don’t get more growth by expanding the size and scope of government. Here’s what I wrote last year about Keynesian fiscal policy.

Keynesian economics is the perpetual motion machine of the left. You build a model that assumes government spending is good for the economy and you assume that there are zero costs when the government diverts money from the private sector. With that type of model, you then automatically generate predictions that bigger government will “stimulate’ growth and create jobs. Heck, sometimes you even admit that you don’t look at real world numbers. Which perhaps explains why Keynesian economics has a long track record of failure. …The ongoing damage of counterproductive government outlays is much larger and more serious than the transitory costs of redeploying resources when spending is reduced. And overseas borrowing at best creates illusory growth that will be more than offset when the bills come due. Ultimately, the real-world evidence is probably the clincher for most people. As noted above, it’s hard to find a successful example of Keynesian spending.

Now let’s look at some real-world data.

The Wall Street Journal points out that the economy finally experienced some semi-decent growth in 2013, leading the editors to opine that less government leaves more resources in the productive sector of the economy.

Thursday’s news of 3.2% growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 was greeted with cheers and relief. The economy has now grown at 2.5% or faster for three quarters, and the pace in the last six months is the fastest since 2003-2004…The best news is that growth all came from private spending and investment, not the artificial high of unsustainable government spending. The official government contribution to growth was a negative 0.9% due to falling defense outlays and the federal budget sequester. The national-income accounts have a bias that treats government spending as a net contributor to growth even when it’s wasted. Remember how the Keynesians predicted that less spending would mean slower overall growth? Maybe the opposite is true: When government shrinks, the private economy has more money and room to expand.

I obviously agree with these sentiments, but let me augment the passage from the WSJ editorial with a few additional comments.

1. There is a bias in some of the government data. Or, to be more accurate, some data is presented in ways that lead some folks to make sloppy assumptions about government spending contributing to growth. That’s why I prefer looking at how national income is earned (GDI data) rather than how national income is allocated (GDP data).

2. When the burden of government spending shrinks, the economy expands because labor and capital will be used more efficiently. Simply stated, those resources are far more likely to be utilized productively when they’re allocated on the basis of market forces rather than political deal-making.

3. And let’s not forget to add an important caveat that we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from a quarter or two of data, particularly when there are many factors that determine economic performance.

That being said, there certainly seems to be lots of evidence showing that bigger government is counterproductive and smaller government enhances growth.

We have good evidence, for instance, of nations growing faster when government outlays are constrained, including Canada in the 1990s and the United States during both the Reagan years and Clinton years.

And the Baltic nations imposed genuine spending cuts in recent years and are now doing much better than other European countries that relied on either Keynesian spending or the tax-hike version of austerity.

But if you think those anecdotes are inadequate, you can review some scholarly research on the negative impact of excessive government spending from international bureaucracies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and European Central Bank. And since most of those organizations lean to the left, these results should be particularly persuasive.

Moreover, you can find similar findings in the work of scholars from all over the world, including the United States, Finland, Australia, Sweden, Italy, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.

Let’s close with a couple of encore performances. First here’s my video on Keynesian economics.

And here’s my video on Obama’s failed stimulus.

Hmmm…maybe, just maybe, politicians should obey the Golden Rule.

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Self awareness is supposed to be a good thing, so I’m going to openly acknowledge that I have an unusual fixation on the size of government.

I don’t lose a wink of sleep thinking about deficits, but I toss and turn all night fretting about the overall burden of government spending.

My peculiar focus on the size and scope of government can be seen in this video, which explains that spending is the disease and deficits are just a symptom.

Moreover, my Golden Rule explicitly targets the spending side of the budget. And I also came up with a “Bob Dole Award” to mock those who mistakenly dwell on deficits.

With all this as background, you’ll understand why I got excited when I started reading Robert Samuelson’s column in today’s Washington Post.

Well, there’s a presidential whopper. Obama is right that the role of the federal government deserves an important debate, but he is wrong when he says that we’ve had that debate. Just the opposite: The White House and Congress have spent the past five years evading the debate. They’ve argued over federal budget deficits without addressing the underlying issues of what the government should do, what programs are unneeded, whether some beneficiaries are undeserving… The avoidance is entirely bipartisan. Congressional Republicans have been just as allergic to genuine debate as the White House and its Democratic congressional allies.

By the way, I have mixed feelings about the final sentence in that excerpt. Yes, Republicans oftentimes have displayed grotesque levels of fiscal irresponsibility. Heck, just look at the new farm bill. Or the vote on the Export-Import Bank. Or the vote on housing subsidies. Or…well, you get the point.

On the other hand, GOPers have voted for three consecutive years in favor of a budget that restrains the growth of federal spending, in large part because it includes much-needed reforms to major entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

But Republican inconsistency isn’t our focus today.

I want to address other parts of Samuelson’s column that left a bad taste in my mouth.

He argues that you can’t balance the budget merely by cutting discretionary programs. That’s technically untrue, but it’s an accurate assessment of political reality.

I’m much more worried about his assertion that you can’t balance the budget even if entitlement spending also is being addressed.

Let’s look at what he wrote and then I’ll explain why he’s wrong.

Eliminating many programs that are arguably marginal — Amtrak, subsidies for public broadcasting and the like — would not produce enough savings to balance the budget. The reason: Spending on Social Security, Medicare and other health programs… But even plausible benefit trims for affluent retirees would still leave deficits. There would still be a need for tax increases.

This is wrong. Not just wrong, but demonstrably inaccurate.

The Ryan budget, for instance, balanced the budget in 2023. Without a single penny of tax hikes.

Senator Rand Paul and the Republican Study Committee also have produced balanced budget plans. Even as scored by the statists at the Congressional Budget Office.

By the way, you don’t even need to cut spending to balance the budget. Spending cuts would be desirable, of course, but the key to eliminating red ink is simply making sure that government spending climbs at a slower rate than revenues.

And since revenues are expected to grow by about 6 percent per year, it shouldn’t take advanced knowledge of mathematics to realize that the deficit will fall if spending grows by less than 6 percent annually.

Indeed, we could balance the budget as early as 2018 if spending merely was restrained so that the budget grew at the rate of inflation.

But never forget that the goal of fiscal policy should be shrinking the size and scope of the federal government, not fiscal balance.

Ask yourself the following questions. If $1 trillion floated down from Heaven and into the hands of the IRS, would that alter in any way the argument for getting rid of wasteful and corrupt parts of the federal leviathan, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development?

If the politicians had all that extra money and the budget was balanced, would that mean we could – or should – forget about entitlement reform?

If there was no red ink, would that negate the moral and economic imperative of ending the welfare state?

In other words, the first part of Samuelson’s column is right. We need a debate about “the underlying issues of what the government should do, what programs are unneeded, whether some beneficiaries are undeserving.”

But we’re not going to come up with a good answer if we don’t understand basic fiscal facts.

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One of the many differences between advocates of freedom and supporters of statism is how they view “rights.”

Libertarians, along with many conservatives, believe in the right to be left alone and to not be molested by government. This is sometimes referred to in the literature as “negative liberty,” which is just another way of saying “the absence of coercive constraint on the individual.”

Statists, by contrast, believe in “positive liberty.” This means that you have a “right” to things that the government will give you (as explained here by America’s second-worst President). Which means, of course, that the government has an obligation to take things from somebody else. How else, after all, will the government satisfy your supposed right to a job, education, healthcare, housing, etc.

Sometimes, the statists become very creative in their definition of rights.

You may laugh at these examples, particularly the ones that focus on seemingly trivial issues.

But don’t laugh too hard, because our friends on the left are busy with very grandiose plans for more “positive liberty.”

The EU Observer reports on efforts in Europe to create expanded rights to other people’s money.

Austerity programmes agreed with the troika of international lenders (the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) are in breach of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, according to a German legal expert. …under the EU charter of fundamental rights, a legal text which became binding for member states in 2009, several austerity measures enshrined in the MoUs can be fought in courts. …His study highlights that the MoUs “have seriously limited the autonomy of employers and trade unions to negotiate wages.” …Education and health care reforms prescribed in the memorandums are also questionable because they are focusing too much on cutting budgets, he said. …He noted that the concept of “financial stability” was put above all other considerations. “But financial stability cannot be achieved without social stability,” he said.

But it’s not just one oddball academic making these claims.

…the Council of Europe’s social rights committee noted that public policies since 2009 have been unable to stem a generalised increase in poverty on the continent. The committee identified some 180 violations of European Social Charter provisions on access to health and social protection across 38 European countries. In the bailed-out countries, the committee found several breaches – particularly in terms of wages and social benefits. Ireland was found in breach of the social charter for not ensuring the minimum levels of sickness, unemployment, survivor’s, employment injury and invalidity benefits. Greece and Cyprus have “inadequate” minimum unemployment, sickness, maternity and old age benefits, as well as a restrictive social security system. Spain also pays too little to workers on sick leave.

This crazy thinking also exists in the United States. A former Carter Administration official, now a law professor at Georgetown, has written that countries with good policy must change their systems in order to enable more tax revenue in nations with bad policy.

Do states like Switzerland, which provide a tax haven for wealthy citizens of developing countries, violate internationally recognized human rights? …bank secrecy has a significant  human rights impact if governments of developing countries are deprived of resources needed to meet basic economic rights guaranteed by the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. …The Covenant explicitly recognizes individual rights to adequate food, clothing, and housing (Article 11); health care, clean water, and sanitation (Article 12); and education (Article 13). The Covenant also imposes obligations on member states to implement these rights.

And the right to redistribution isn’t just part of the U.N. mission.

There’s also a European set of Maastricht Principles which supposedly obligates nations to help each expand the burden of government.

Articles 19 and 20 of The Maastricht Principles call on states to “refrain from conduct which nullifies or impairs the enjoyment and exercise of economic . . . rights of persons outside their territories . . . or which impairs the ability of another State to comply with that State’s . . . obligations as regards economic rights.” …recognizing the fact that secrecy for offshore accounts makes it difficult for developing countries to implement Covenant obligations. It therefore seems indisputable that offshore accounts impede the fulfillment of internationally recognized human rights.

You may be thinking that all this sounds crazy. And you’re right.

You may be thinking that it’s insane to push global schemes for bigger government at the very point when the welfare state is collapsing. And you’re right.

You may be thinking that it’s absurd to trample national sovereignty in pursuit of bad policy. And you’re right.

And you may be thinking this is a complete bastardization of what America’s Founding Fathers had in mind. And you’re right.

But you probably don’t understand that this already is happening. The IRS’s awful FATCA legislation, for instance, is basically designed for exactly the purpose of coercing other nations into enforcing bad American tax policy.

Even more worrisome is the OECD’s Orwellian Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, which is best viewed as a poisonous acorn that will grow into a deadly World Tax Organization oak tree.

P.S. And the Obama Administration already is pushing policies to satisfy the OECD’s statist regime. The IRS recently pushed through a regulation that says American banks have to put foreign tax law above U.S. tax law.

P.P.S. Statists may be evil, but they’re not stupid. They understand that tax havens and tax competition are a threat to big government.

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People are getting increasingly agitated about being spied on by government.

The snoops at the National Security Agency have gotten the most attention, and those bureaucrats are in the challenging position of trying to justify massive invasions of our privacy when they can’t show any evidence that this voyeurism has stopped a single terrorist attack.

And let’s not forget that some politicians and bureaucrats want to track our driving habits with GPS devices. Their immediate goal is taxing us (gee, what a surprise), but does anyone doubt that the next step would be a database of our movements?

But the worst example of government spying may be the web of laws and regulations that require banks to monitor our bank accounts and to share millions of reports about our financial transactions with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

Money laundering laws were adopted beginning about 30 years ago based on the theory that we could lower crime rates by making it more difficult for crooks to utilize the financial system.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach, at least in theory. But these laws have become very expensive and intrusive, yet they’ve had no measurable impact on crime rates.

As you might expect, politicians and bureaucrats have decided to double down on failure and they’re making anti-money laundering laws more onerous, imposing ever-higher costs in hopes of having some sort of positive impact. This is bad for banks, bad for the poor, and bad for the economy.

And it’s encouraging banks to treat customers like crap. Check out this ridiculous example included in a BBC report.

Stephen Cotton went to his local HSBC branch this month to withdraw £7,000 from his instant access savings account to pay back a loan from his mother. A year before, he had withdrawn a larger sum in cash from HSBC without a problem. But this time it was different, as he told Money Box: “When we presented them with the withdrawal slip, they declined to give us the money because we could not provide them with a satisfactory explanation for what the money was for. They wanted a letter from the person involved.” Mr Cotton says the staff refused to tell him how much he could have: “So I wrote out a few slips. I said, ‘Can I have £5,000?’ They said no. I said, ‘Can I have £4,000?’ They said no. And then I wrote one out for £3,000 and they said, ‘OK, we’ll give you that.’ ” He asked if he could return later that day to withdraw another £3,000, but he was told he could not do the same thing twice in one day.

Here’s another absurd story.

Peter from Wiltshire, who wanted his surname withheld, had a similar experience. He wanted to take out £10 000 cash from HSBC, some to pay to his sons and some to fund his long-haul travel plans. Peter phoned up the day before to give HSBC notice and everything seemed to be fine. The next day he got a call from his local branch asking him to pay his sons via a bank payment and to provide booking receipts for his holidays. Peter did not have any booking receipts to show.

And another.

Belinda Bell is another customer who was initially denied her cash, in her case to pay her builder. She told Money Box she had to provide the builder’s quote.

Why is the bank treating customers like dirt? Well, because they’re pressured to act that way thanks to anti-money laundering laws, which basically require them to act as if unusual transactions are criminal. In other words, customers are guilty until they prove themselves innocent.

HSBC has said…”We ask our customers about the purpose of large cash withdrawals when they are unusual and out of keeping with the normal running of their account. Since last November, in some instances we may have also asked these customers to show us evidence of what the cash is required for.” “The reason being we have an obligation to protect our customers, and to minimise the opportunity for financial crime…” Money Box asked other banks what their policy is on large cash withdrawals. They all said they reserved the right to ask questions about large cash withdrawals.

They’ve “reserved the right”?!? I think Mr. Cotton was spot on when he groused, “You shouldn’t have to explain to your bank why you want that money. It’s not theirs, it’s yours.”

A few politicians also are unhappy about pointless government-mandated spying.

Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton, is alarmed… “All these regulations which have been imposed on banks…infantilises the customer. In a sense your money becomes pocket money and the bank becomes your parent.”

Not let’s look at an example of how anti-money laundering laws lead to foolish intervention in the United States.

We’ll start with a feel-good story from Wired about an entrepreneur coming up with a service that’s desired by consumers.

Mike Caldwell spent years turning digital currency into physical coins. That may sound like a paradox. But it’s true. He takes bitcoins — the world’s most popular digital currency — and then he mints them here in the physical world. …by moving the digital currency into the physical realm, he also prevents hackers from stealing the stuff via an online attack. …You send him bitcoins via the internet, and he sends you back metal coins via the U.S. Postal Service. To spend bitcoins, you need a secret digital key — a string of numbers and letters — and when Caldwell makes the coins, he hides this key behind a tamper-resistant strip. …Caldwell takes a fee of about $50 on each coin he mints.

But our silver cloud has a dark lining.

…he received a letter from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN, the arm of the Treasury Department that dictates how the nation’s anti-money-laundering and financial crime regulations are interpreted. According to FINCEN, Caldwell needs to rethink his business. “They considered my activity to be money transmitting,” Caldwell says. And if you want to transmit money, you must first jump through a lot of state and federal regulatory hoops Caldwell hasn’t jumped through.

And since the hoops are very expensive, we have yet another example of foolish red tape killing a business.

Running afoul of FINCEN is a risky proposition. In the spring, the Department of Homeland Security seized two bank accounts belonging to Mt. Gox. The reasoning behind the $5 million seizure: Mt. Gox, like Caldwell, hadn’t registered itself as a money transmission business. …Because he runs a bitcoin-only business, Caldwell says there’s no Casascius bank account for authorities to seize. But he adds that he has no desire to anger the feds, whether he agrees with them or not. So he’s cranking out his last few orders.

I’m not saying, by the way, that bitcoins are necessarily a good way to hold wealth.

But I do believe that it’s good to see the evolution of private forms of money as a hedge against bad government policy. As I wrote back in 2011, “I have no way of knowing how well this system will work and how insulated it will be from government interference, but I very much hope it will be successful. Governments will never behave if they think people have no escape options.”

Unfortunately, politicians and bureaucrats are in the process of trying to shut down that escape option.

P.S. Switching to a different topic, I don’t know if there are any big policy implications, but I was fascinated to find this map in my twitter feed. It shows the first word that pops up when you ask why a country is so ____?

Europe Google Results

Here are my observations, for what it’s worth. Luxembourg and Switzerland are tax havens, so it’s no surprise that they are rich. Other nations should mimic their successful policies.

Norway, meanwhile, is rich because of oil.

I had no idea the Italians were supposed to be racist, though obviously this map merely shows what Google users are searching for, not what’s actually true.

I’m mystified that Macedonia is “important,” though I suspect Greece was similarly labeled because it is the first domino of the European debt crisis. Hardly something to be proud of.

I’m also surprised that Lithuanians are perceived as suicidal. Isn’t that a Swedish stereotype?

Croatia is beautiful, I’ll agree, at least along the coast.

The neglected people from Montenegro don’t even get a word! Heck, even the Kosovars and Moldovans have Google words.

I won’t comment on the stereotype about France, other than to say that the nation did get in the top-10 on a poll for attractiveness.

P.P.S. Since we’re discussing European stereotypes, here’s some politically incorrect terrorism humor from a British friend.

P.P.P.S. Speaking of stereotypes, here’s some polling data on how the Europeans see each other. I’m not sure how to interpret these results, other than to say that trustworthy people apparently are arrogant and lack compassion.

P.P.P.P.S. It goes without saying that I can’t resist the temptation to share these satirical maps on how the Greeks and Brits view their European neighbors.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Since the main topic of this post is money laundering, let’s end with a joke about how President Obama dealt with these foolish laws.

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Let’s start this post with some cheerful news.

The statists face a huge uphill battle if their campaign to undermine our rights to keep and bear arms. If you want evidence, just look at last year’s special election defeats of two anti-Second Amendment politicians in Colorado (followed by the resignation of another state senator who feared a recall). Or remind yourself about the utter failure of President Obama’s cynical attempt to get more gun control by exploiting the murder of children in Newtown, Connecticut.

And check out these two maps to see how we’re making progress at the state level.

But this doesn’t mean we can relax our vigil. Showing contempt for America’s separation-of-powers system, the President repeatedly has asserted that he has the power to unilaterally change government policy. And just as he arbitrarily rewrites Obamacare, he claims he can impose more gun control.

But that only allows him to nudge policy in the wrong direction since the courts have been reasonably helpful on the Second Amendment in recent years.

Moreover, the real constraint on the statists is the wonderful fact that the American people would respond with massive civil disobedience if politicians ever tried to take our guns. Heck, even some very admirable government officials already are engaging in civil disobedience.

So let’s maintain our momentum by doing everything we can to educate others about the folly of gun control. Here are a handful of images that help make the case for the the Second Amendment.

Though I fear our left-wing friends will misinterpret this one and demand to regulate box cutters (just as some left-wing Brits have advocated knife control).

Gun Control Jan 2014 2

Here’s one that reminds me that teachers in places such as Israel and Texas have the right to be armed.

Gun Control Jan 2014 1

Though I wonder whether that would be comfortable. Perhaps this Alabama woman has a better idea.

Here’s an image with the same message found at the top of this post and at the bottom of this post. (and if you want to see a t-shirt that shows the left’s “morally superior” approach, click here).

Gun Control Jan 2014 3

Needless to say, my daughter has been raised with the right understanding of this issue.

Here’s a poignant reminder that gun control often is a tool of totalitarian regimes.

Gun Control Jan 2014 4

Which is why I’ve always thought this poster is the most powerful argument against gun control.

Last but not least, here’s a reminder that bad people don’t like private gun ownership.

Gun Control Jan 2014 5

Sort of the same message I had in my IQ test for criminals and liberals. In simpler terms, would you go looting in the neighborhood pictured at the end of this post?

Let’s close this post with links to a couple of articles that also are worth sharing. If you have left-wing friends, there are two posts that may convince them to be rational about guns. Justin Cronin explains here that restrictions on gun ownership undermined his ability to protect his family. And Jeffrey Goldberg looked at the evidence and concluded that guns make people safer.

And for your analytically minded friends, this Larry Correia piece is must reading for anyone who wants to understand about magazine limits and so-called assault weapons.

P.S. Fee free to vote in my poll asking the most important reason to oppose gun control.

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If you want to know why the left is wrong about income inequality, you need to watch this Margaret Thatcher video. In just a few minutes, the “Iron Lady” explains how some – perhaps most – statists would be willing to reduce income for the poor if they could impose even greater damage on the rich.

This picture is another way of getting across the same point. It was sent to me by Richard Rahn (famous for the Rahn Curve), and it uses two pizzas to show how leftist policies would “solve” inequality.

Leftist Fairness

I like this analogy, and not just because I also used the pizza analogy to make the same argument in this TV interview.

The growing or shrinking pizza is useful because it helps to focus people on the importance of growth.

Nations that follow the right policy recipe can enjoy the kind of strong and sustained growth that enables huge increases in prosperity for all income classes. In other words, everyone can have a bigger slice if the pie is growing.

I even tried to educate a PBS audience that growth is better than redistribution if you really want to help the poor. Talk about Daniel in the Lion’s Den!

I don’t know if I persuaded anyone, but at least the facts are on my side. Consider, for instance, how the world’s two most laissez-faire jurisdictions – Hong Kong and Singapore – have overtaken the United States over the past 50-plus years.

That’s been great news for low-income and middle-income people, not just the rich.

So ask yourself whether you’d rather be a poor person in one of those jurisdiction or in France. The government in France has all sorts of programs to make your life easier, but you have very little hope of escaping a life of dependency.

And now ask yourself whether it’s good that Obama is doing his best to push America in that direction.

P.S. If you want another example of how long-run growth makes a big difference, check out this chart comparing Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela. Not only has Chile overtaken the other nation thanks to pro-market reforms, but the poverty rate has fallen dramatically.

P.P.S. Since this post shares a very good image about income inequality, let’s include a bonus picture on taxation.

It’s a helpful suggestion on how to make kids aware of the cost of big government.

Tax Lesson for Kids

Though let’s be sure to acknowledge that Obama is doing what he can to make kids more skeptical of class warfare.

P.P.P.S. On a separate topic, I’ve explained that the so-called “austerity” vs “growth” argument is grossly misguided because Keynesian spending isn’t pro-growth and also because it’s important to distinguish between good austerity and bad austerity.

Too many governments are choosing the wrong type of austerity, imposing destructive tax hikes on the private sector. What’s really needed in genuine spending restraint so that “austerity” is imposed on the public sector.

But some folks on the left say there’s been too much spending restraint in recent years.

So who’s right? Well, UBS has produced a report containing some very useful data.

Viewing the global economy as a single unit, we see a very  different picture to the post-crisis world of austerity – at least if “austerity” is taken to mean government spending cuts. The two largest components of global GDP, namely private consumption and fixed investment, both hit multi-year peaks in the first quarter of 2008. …Since the start of 2008, government consumption at the  global level has risen by 20% in real terms, whereas private consumption and fixed investment have risen just 8% and 5%, respectively. In other words, despite talk of austerity, government spending continues to run ahead of private-sector spending.

Hmmm…the burden of government has been growing faster than the private sector. That’s the opposite of what the Golden Rule calls for.

And not only has government been growing too fast in the past, it’s likely that fiscal policy will get even worse in the future.

Structurally, government debt, government spending, and the share of government within the economy must be sustainable. Government consumption’s share of global GDP has risen from 11% to 14% over the past 15 years. In 2013, it reached its highest level since 1980. At the same time, government debt-to-GDP ratios have hit record highs in many countries. In the long run, such elevated levels of expenditure (and corresponding levels of debt and deficit) are probably not sustainable, in particular, given other structural changes underway. For instance, demographic trends in many advanced economies pose challenges.

The moral of the story is that America and other nations should be restraining budgets, ideally by enacting the right kind of entitlement reform.

Though I’m worried that Obama is learning the wrong lesson from what’s happening in Europe.

Indeed, this Henry Payne cartoon shows what he has in mind. And if he succeeds, this satirical 2012 campaign slogan may become reality.

P.P.P.P.S. Here’s a final image that captures the essence of Washington.

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I don’t like government bureaucrats.

Actually, let me re-phrase that statement. I know lots of people who work for different agencies in Washington and most of them seem like decent people.

So maybe what I really want to say is that I’m not a big fan of government bureaucracies and the results they generate. Why?

Because a bloated government means overpaid bureaucrats, both at the federal level and state level (and in other nations as well).

Because inefficient bureaucracies enable loafing and bad work habits.

Because being part of the government workforce even encourages laziness!

And it may even be the case that government bureaucracies attract dishonest people. A story in the L.A. Times reveals that there’s a correlation between cheating and a desire to work for the government.

Here are some excerpts.

College students who cheated on a simple task were more likely to want government jobs, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania found in a study of hundreds of students in Bangalore, India. Their results, recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggest that one of the contributing forces behind government corruption could be who gets into government work in the first place. …Researchers ran a series of experiments with more than 600 students finishing up college in India. In one task, students had to privately roll a die and report what number they got. The higher the number, the more they would get paid. Each student rolled the die 42 times. …Cheating seemed to be rampant: More than a third of students had scores that fell in the top 1% of the predicted distribution, researchers found. Students who apparently cheated were 6.3% more likely to say they wanted to work in government, the researchers found.

I’m not surprised. Just as the wrong type of people often are attracted to politics, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that less-than-admirable folks sometimes are attracted to jobs in the bureaucracy.

But I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from this research.

The study looked at people in India and that nation’s government is infamous for rampant corruption.

However, if you look at how America scores in that regard (corruption measures are included in both Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom), the problem is much less severe.

So even though I’m willing to believe that bureaucrats in America are more prone to bad habits than their private-sector counterparts, I don’t think many of them decide to get government jobs in the expectation that they can extract bribes.

Indeed, I would guess that the average American bureaucrat is far more honest than the average American politician.

That’s damning with faint praise, I realize, but it underscores an important point that the real problem is big government. That’s what enables massive corruption in Washington.

P.S. Switching gears, I’ve written a couple of times about the intrusive and destructive Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Well, we have some good news on that front. The Republican National Committee has endorsed the law’s repeal. I don’t want to pretend that’s a momentous development and I even told Reuters that the GOP may only be taking this step for narrow political reasons.

Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said: “It’s hard to imagine an issue this obscure playing a visible role in elections … It is making overseas Americans far more sympathetic to (Republicans) and could have an impact on fundraising.”

That being said, I’m more than happy when politicians happen to do the right thing simply because it’s in their self interest. And if we can eventually undo FATCA and enable more tax competition, that’s good news for America and the rest of the world.

P.P.S. And here’s another positive update on a topic we’ve examined before. Governor Rick Perry of Texas has joined a growing list of people who are having second thoughts about the War on Drugs. Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Washington Post.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday voiced support for softening penalties for marijuana use, and touted his work moving in the direction of decriminalization. “After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade,” Perry said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

He joins a growing list of people – such as John Stossel, Gary Johnson, John McCainMona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Bransonwho are recognizing that it’s foolish to give government massive amounts of power and money simply to stop people from doing dumb things to themselves.

But maybe you disagree with all those people and would rather be on the same side as Hillary Clinton.

And make life easier for the folks in this cartoon.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written before about how leftists always criticize so-called tax havens, even though rich statists are among the biggest beneficiaries of these low-tax jurisdictions.

President Obama, for instance, has been so critical of tax havens that he’s been caught making utterly dishonest statements on the topic.

But I guess the President’s opposition to tax competition is less important than his desire to prop up Obamacare. Look at some of what’s been reported by Bloomberg.

…the job of taking over construction of HealthCare.gov, which failed miserably when it debuted in October, is going to Accenture Plc, which switched its place of incorporation in 2009 to Ireland from Bermuda. …Accenture has endured so much criticism over the years for its use of tax havens that it even has a disclosure in its annual report warning investors to expect as much. …Accenture’s roots date back to a once-iconic American business, which helps explain why it’s gotten a lot of heat for incorporating in tax havens since spinning off.

By the way, it makes sense for Accenture to be domiciled in Bermuda rather than the United States.

P.P.P.P.S. On a personal note, I’m down in Florida for my first softball tournament of the year and I’m happy to report that I managed to put one over the fence.

Tampa HRHitting home runs has become a distressingly infrequent event as I’ve gotten older (I’m playing in a tourney for the 55-and-up crowd), and I like to memorialize it when it happens just in case it’s the last time.

So forgive me if I engage in Walter Mitty-style fantasizing. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees will call with a contract offer.

Wait, who am I kidding?!?

That’s even less likely than Obamacare succeeding. Or politicians surrendering some of their power by enacting a flat tax.

I’m doomed to be a policy wonk for the rest of my life.

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