Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for February, 2014

Like John Stossel and Thomas Sowell, I’m not a big fan of the Federal Reserve.

It’s not just that I’m a libertarian who fantasizes about the denationalization of money.

I also think the Fed hasn’t done a good job, even by its own metrics. There’s very little doubt, for instance, that easy-money policies last decade played a major role in creating the housing bubble and causing the financial crisis.

Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac played a big role, but it was the Fed that provided the excess liquidity that the GSEs used to subsidize the subprime lending orgy.

But I’m not writing today about possible alternatives to the Fed or big-picture issues dealing with monetary policy.

Instead, I want to highlight three rather positive signs about the Janet Yellen, the new Chair of the Fed’s Board of Governors.

1. Unlike a normal political animal and typical bureaucratic empire builder, she didn’t assert powers that she doesn’t have. She was asked at a congressional hearing about bitcoin and she forthrightly stated that the Federal Reserve has no legislative authority to mess with the online currency.

The Federal Reserve has no authority to supervise or regulate Bitcoin, chair Janet Yellen told Congress on Thursday. …On Wednesday, Manchin wrote to the Fed, Treasury and other regulators warning that the currency was “disruptive to our economy” and calling for its regulation. “Bitcoin is a payment innovation that’s taking place outside the banking industry. To the best of my knowledge there’s no intersection at all, in any way, between Bitcoin and banks that the Federal Reserve has the ability to supervise and regulate. So the Fed doesn’t have authority to supervise or regulate Bitcoin in anyway,” said Yellen.

This is very refreshing. A government official who is willing to be bound by the rule of law.

President Obama, by contrast, is now infamous for his radical and unilateral rewrites of his failed healthcare law.

Eighteen of them for those keeping count at home.

But it’s not just Obamacare.

Because of my interest in tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy, I’m upset that his Treasury Department pushed through a regulation that overturns – rather than enforces – laws about protecting American banks from tax inquiries by foreign governments.

But let’s not wander into other issues. Today’s post is about positive signs from Janet Yellen.

2. And here’s another one.

Political Cartoons by Gary VarvelThe Fed Chair poured cold water on the left’s fantasy view that higher minimum wage mandates don’t kill jobs.

The new Federal Reserve chairman, Janet Yellen, seemed to offer some support for the CBO’s recent conclusion that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as President Obama and Senate Democrats propose, would cost a significant number of jobs. The CBO projected that the proposal would mean 500,000 fewer jobs by the end of 2016, a conclusion the White House took issue with. Yellen said the CBO “is as qualified as anyone to evaluate the literature” about the employment effects of the minimum wage (some of which argues there would be little to no jobs losses, and some of which suggests there would be significant job losses), and that she “wouldn’t want to argue with their assessment.”

In the cautious-speak world of Fed officials, this is a very strong statement.

Congratulations to Yellen for putting intellectual honesty above partisan loyalty.

3. Most important of all, Yellen also affirmed that she plans on continuing the “taper,” which is the buzzword for winding down the Fed’s easy-money policy.

…she reiterated that it would take a “significant change” to the economy’s prospects for the Fed to put plans to wind down its bond-buying program on hold. …After more than five years of ultra easy monetary policy in the wake of the 2007-2009 recession, the Fed is taking the first small steps towards a more normal footing. It trimmed its bond buying by $10 billion in each of the past two months, and it expects to raise interest rates some time next year as long as the economy continues to improve. Yellen reiterated her concerns about possible asset price bubbles, and suggested the Fed would move to a more qualitative description of when it plans to finally raise rates. …Yellen acknowledged that such low borrowing costs “can give rise to behavior that poses threats to financial stability.”

And she even acknowledged that easy money can cause bubbles.

A refreshing change from some previous Fed Governors.

Now let’s give a caveat. None of this suggests Yellen is a closet libertarian.

She is perceived as being on the left of the spectrum, and it’s worth noting that many hardcore statists in the Democratic Party urged her selection over Larry Summers because he was (incorrectly) seen as somehow being too moderate.

Moreover, I suspect she will say many things in the coming years that will add to my collection of gray hair.

All that being said, I’m glad Obama picked her over Summers. By all accounts, Yellen is honest and will focus her attention on monetary policy.

Summers, by contrast, is a far more political animal and would have used the position of Fed Chair to aggressively push for more statism in areas outside of monetary policy.

P.S. Private financial institutions also played a role in the housing bubble and financial crisis, which is why those entities should have been allowed to go bankrupt instead of benefiting from the corrupt TARP bailout.

P.P.S. Since this post mentions bitcoin and since I sometimes get asked about the online currency, I’ll take this opportunity to say that I hope that it is ultimately successful so that we have alternatives to government monetary monopolies. That being said, I wouldn’t put my (rather inadequate) life savings in bitcoin.

P.P.P.S. If you want an amusing video mocking the Fed, here’s the famous “Ben Bernank” video. And if you want a serious takedown of the Fed, here’s George Selgin’s scholarly but accessible analysis.

P.P.P.P.S. On a completely unrelated topic, if you’re a fan of “House of Cards,” I invite you to pay close attention at about the 30:00 mark of Episode 5, Season 2. If you don’t blink, you may notice an unexpected cameo appearance. Maybe this person has a future acting career if he ever succeeds in restoring limited government and needs to find something new to occupy his time. After all, if President Obama has a future on the silver screen, why not others?

Read Full Post »

To make fun of big efforts that produce small results, the famous Roman poet, Horace, wrote “The mountains will be in labor, and a ridiculous mouse will be brought forth.”

That line sums up my view of the new tax reform plan introduced by Congressman Dave Camp, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.

To his credit, Congressman Camp put in a lot of work. But I can’t help but wonder why he went through the time and trouble. To understand why I’m so underwhelmed, let’s first go back in time.

Back in 1995, tax reform was a hot issue. The House Majority Leader, Dick Armey, had proposed a flat tax. Congressman Billy Tauzin was pushing a version of a national sales tax. And there were several additional proposals jockeying for attention.

To make sense of this clutter, I wrote a paper for the Heritage Foundation that demonstrated how to grade the various proposals that had been proposed.

As you can see, I included obvious features such as low tax rates, simplicity, double taxation, and social engineering, but I also graded plans based on other features such as civil liberties, fairness, and downside risk.

Tax Reform Grading Matrix

There obviously have been many new plans since I wrote this paper, most notably the Fair Tax (a different version of a national sales tax than the Tauzin plan), Simpson-Bowles, the Ryan Roadmap, Domenici-Rivlin, the Heritage Foundation’s American Dream proposal, the Baucus-Hatch blank slate, and – as noted above – the new tax reform plan by Congressman Dave Camp.

Given his powerful position as head of the tax-writing committee, let’s use the 1995 guide to assess the pros and cons of Congressman Camp’s plan.

Rates: The Top tax rate for individual taxpayers is reduced from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, which is a disappointingly modest step in the right direction. The corporate tax rate falls from 35 percent to 25 percent, which is more praiseworthy, though Camp doesn’t explain why small businesses (who file using the individual income tax) should pay higher rates than large companies.

Simplicity: Camp claims that he will eliminate 25 percent of the tax code, which certainly is welcome news since the internal revenue code has swelled to 70,000-plus pages of loopholes, exemptions, deductions, credits, penalties, exclusions, preferences, and other distortions. And his proposal does eliminate some deductions, including the state and local tax deduction (which perversely rewards states with higher fiscal burdens).

Saving and Investment: Ever since Reagan slashed tax rates in the 1980s, the most anti-growth feature of the tax code is probably the pervasive double taxation of income that is saved and invested. Shockingly, the Camp plan worsens the tax treatment of capital, with higher taxation of dividends and capital gains and depreciation rules that are even more onerous than current law.

Social Engineering: Some of the worst distortions in the tax code are left in place, including the healthcare exclusion for almost all taxpayers. This means that people will continue to make economically irrational decisions solely to benefit from certain tax provisions.

Civil Liberties: The Camp plan does nothing to change the fact that the IRS has both the need and the power to collect massive amounts of private financial data from taxpayers. Nor does the proposal end the upside-down practice of making taxpayers prove their innocence in any dispute with the tax authorities.

Fairness: In a non-corrupt tax system, all income is taxed, but only one time. On this basis, the plan from the Ways & Means Chairman is difficult to assess. Loopholes are slightly reduced, but double taxation is worse, so it’s hard to say whether the system is more fair or less fair.

Risk: There is no value-added tax, which is a critically important feature of any tax reform plan. As such, there is no risk the Camp plan will become a Trojan Horse for a massive expansion in the fiscal burden.

Evasion: People are reluctant to comply with the tax system when rates are punitive and/or there’s a perception of rampant unfairness. It’s possible that the slightly lower statutory rates may improve incentives to obey the law, but that will be offset by the higher tax burden on saving and investment.

International Competitiveness: Reducing the corporate tax rate will help attract jobs and investment, and the plan also mitigates some of worst features of America’s “worldwide” tax regime.

Now that we’ve taken a broad look at the components of Congressman Camp’s plan, let’s look at a modified version of my 1995 grades.

Camp Tax Matrix

You can see why I’m underwhelmed by his proposal.

Congressman Camp’s proposal may be an improvement over the status quo, but my main reaction is “what’s the point?”

In other words, why go through months of hearings and set up all sorts of working groups, only to propose a timid plan?

Now, perhaps, readers will understand why I’m rather pessimistic about achieving real tax reform.

We know the right policies to fix the tax code.

And we have ready-made plans – such as the flat tax and national sales tax – that would achieve the goals of tax reform.

Camp’s plan, by contrast, simply rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic.

P.S. If you need to be cheered up after reading all this, here’s some more IRS humor to brighten your day, including the IRS version of the quadratic formula, a new Obama 1040 form, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon ofhow GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), and two songs about the tax agency (hereand here),  and a PG-13 joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

Read Full Post »

Time for another great moment in red tape.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that banks treat customers poorly in part because of bad laws and regulations from Washington.

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. …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.

You may think that only cranky libertarians are unhappy about this system.

But that’s not the case. Three professors with expertise in criminology, justice, sociology, and public policy wrote a detailed assessment of policies on anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT).

Given the establishment pedigree of the authors, the finding of the report are rather shocking. The report’s introduction hints that the whole apparatus should be called into question.

To date there is no substantial effort by any international organization, including the IMF, to assess either the costs or benefits of an AML/CFT regime.  The FATF system has proceeded as if  it produces only public and private goods, not public or private “bads” or adverse by-products  against which the “goods” have to be weighed.   The Fund staff itself has raised questions about whether its substantial investment in the 3rd round has yielded adequate returns. It is not known what value that investment produced for the FATF or the Fund’s core objectives.  There needs to be more open acknowledgement of actual and potential financial costs of AML/CFT controls, their potential misuse by authoritarian rulers, and possible adverse effects on populations that rely on remittances and the informal economy, as well as potential negative impacts on NGOs and parts of civil society.

And when you dig into the details of the report, you find some surprisingly blunt language.

Basically, there’s no evidence that these policies work, and lots of evidence that they impose real harm.

Benefits of the FATF AML/CFT system have not been demonstrated. Although there may be benefits known to international organizations, governments, regulators, and intelligence agencies, no systematic efforts have been made by the FATF network of IOs or countries or institutions to demonstrate benefits. …Standards and Methodology proceed as if the implementation of an effective AML/CFT regime delivers only public and private goods and imposes no public or private “bads.” This study has learned of no significant effort by any of the standard-setting or assessor bodies to undertake a cost-benefit analysis… Little consideration has been given, they say, to the costs of implementing an AML/CFT regime, and little evidence has been adduced to demonstrate that the costs produce commensurate benefits in their own or indeed in any other jurisdiction. …Costs are substantial whether construed broadly or narrowly. …Moreover, an AML/CFT regime generates substantial costs on the financial sector in terms of money-laundering compliance staff and software procurement. Entire industries have grown around consulting and advising businesses and governments on AML/CFT compliance… Particularly strong views were expressed by bankers about excessive costs of misplaced demands upon the financial industry for surveillance of customers.

The report notes that poor people are among the biggest victims.

AML laws and regulations may adversely affect access of marginal groups whom FATF documents describe as subject to “financial exclusion” from the formal financial system. The more onerous the burdens placed on individuals, companies, and NPOs in countries where there is a substantial informal and cash economy, the more likely they are to opt out of the formal economy for reasons of cost. …Money laundering and counter-terrorism measures can reduce the volume of overseas remittances to the most vulnerable populations in the poorest countries. …Administrative and financial costs imposed on voluntary associations, most of which are very small and poorly funded, can threaten the survival of small associations

By the way, the World Bank also has acknowledged that these counterproductive laws are very bad for poor people, oftentimes disenfranchising them from the banking system

Last but not least, kudos to the authors for making the very relevant point that the destruction of financial privacy is a boon for authoritarian governments.

Numbers of experienced assessors have observed that a fully functioning AML/CFT regime in some countries has provided tools for authoritarian rulers to repress their political opponents by denying them banking or other facilities, increasing surveillance over their accounts, and prosecuting or penally taxing them for  non-disclosure, in addition to opening up more opportunities for illegal extortion for private gain. This weapon can be applied against persons/organizations already in the formal financial system.

It’s worth pointing out that this also explains why it’s so dangerous to have governments collecting and sharing tax information.

But let’s stick to the issue of money laundering. Now let’s look at two case studies to get a sense of how these laws impose real-world harm.

We’ll begin with an article in The Economist, which looks at how Western Union’s ability to provide financial services has been hampered by heavy-handed (yet ineffective) laws and regulation.

It seems like this is a company providing a very valuable service, particularly to the less fortunate.

Western Union’s services are essential for people who do not have bank accounts or are working far from home. …Western Union helps to bolster trade and disperse the world’s wealth.

But the statists don’t care.

Someone, somewhere, may want to transfer money for a nefarious purpose. And rather than the government do its job and investigate actual crimes, politicians and bureaucrats have decided that it’s easier to make Western Union spy on all customers.

…these laudable activities conflict with another pressing goal: impeding money laundering. Rules to that end require financial institutions to know who their customers are and how they obtained their money. These requirements transform the virtues of Western Union’s model—the openness and breadth of its network and its willingness to process vast numbers of small transactions—into liabilities.

And the heavy boot of government came down on the company, forcing Western Union to incur heavy expenses that make the system far more expensive for consumers.

Western Union struck a far-reaching compliance agreement with Arizona’s attorney-general in 2010. It agreed to adopt 73 changes to its systems and procedures, to install an external monitor to keep tabs on its conduct and to fund the creation of a new enforcement entity, the Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Alliance. Many of the recommendations were highly detailed. Western Union has, for example, set up a system to monitor transactions that takes into account factors such as the seasonality of marijuana harvests and illegal immigration. It is conducting background checks on agents and their families. Such efforts have turned out to be difficult and expensive. …Western Union’s shares have been jolted several times. Earlier this month Western Union said it would be subject to independent monitoring for an extra four years. It faces big fines and criminal prosecutions if it fails to meet the stipulations in the compliance agreement.

Let’s look at another real-world consequence of the AML/CFT regime.

You’ve heard of “driving while black,” which describes the suspicion and hostility that blacks sometimes experience, particularly when driving in ritzy neighborhoods.

Well, DWB has a cousin. It’s BWR, otherwise know as “banking while Russian.” And the stereotype has unpleasant consequences for innocent people.

Here are some passages from a story in the New York Times.

We had sold our apartment in Moscow, jumped through an assortment of Russian tax hoops and transferred the proceeds to the United States, where we now lived. It made me nervous to have all that money sitting in one virtual clump in the bank — but not nearly as nervous as having the card connected to it not work. The experience was also humiliating. In one moment, I had gone from being a Citigold client to a deadbeat immigrant who couldn’t pay for her son’s diapers. I called Citibank as soon as I got home. …”Who closed it?” I was working hard not to sound belligerent. “And where is my money?” …It was Citibank. “I see that because your transactions indicated there may be an attempt to avoid complying with currency regulations, Citibank has closed your account,” the woman informed me. …“Why wasn’t I notified?” “The cashier’s check will serve as your notice.” Citibank had fired me as a client.

Why would a bank not want customers?

Because the government makes some clients too costly and too risky, even though there’s no suggestion of wrongdoing.

Other than ethnicity.

I wasn’t entirely surprised. This had happened to other Russian-Americans I know, including one of my closest friends and my father. My friend had opened her account at a local bank in the United States when she got her first job, at age 13. Her accounts were summarily closed in 2008, while she was working in Russia. The bank, which had been bought by Sovereign in the meantime, would not state a reason for firing a client of 27 years. My father, who immigrated to the United States in 1981, had his accounts closed by BankBoston in 2000, when he was a partner in a Moscow-based business. His lawyers pressed the bank on the issue and were eventually told that because Russians had been known to launder money, the bank applied “heightened scrutiny” to accounts that had a Russia connection. It had closed “many” accounts because of what it considered suspicious activity. Like other kinds of ethnic profiling, these policies of weeding out Russian-Americans who have money are hardly efficient.

But the main thing to understand is that the entire system is inefficient.

Laws were adopted with the promise they would reduce crime. But just like you don’t stop crime by having cops hang out at Dunkin’s Donuts, you also don’t stop crime by creating haystacks of financial data and then expecting to make it easier to find needles.

For more information, here’s my video on the government’s failed money laundering policies.

P.S. This map shows you the countries considered most at risk of dirty money, which should make you wonder why anyone is foolish enough to think that higher costs on American banks will make a difference.

P.P.S. You probably didn’t realize there was such a thing as money laundering humor, but you’ll enjoy this joke featuring President Obama.

Read Full Post »

One of my goals is to convince people that even small differences in long-run growth can have a powerful impact on living standards and societal prosperity.

In other words, the economy is not a fixed pie. The right policies, such as free markets and small government, can create a better life for everybody.

And bad policy, needless to say, can have the opposite impact.

Very few people realize, for instance, that Argentina was one of the world’s 10-richest nations at the end of World War II, but interventionist policies have weakened growth and caused the country to plummet in the rankings.

Hong Kong, by contrast, had a relatively poor economy at the end of the war, but now is one of the globe’s most prosperous jurisdictions.

If you want more examples, check out this chart showing how North Korea and South Korea have diverged over time.

Or how about the chart showing how Chile has out-performed other major Latin American economies.

This comparison of living standards in the United States and Europe also is very compelling.

Here’s a simple guide to highlight the difference between weak growth and strong growth. It shows how long it takes a nation to double economic output depending on annual growth.

As you can see, a nation with 1 percent growth (think Italy) will have to wait 70 years before the economic pie doubles in size.

But a nation that grows 4 percent or faster each year (think Singapore) will double GDP in less than 20 years.

Years to Double GDP

So why am I plowing through all this material?

My answer is simple, but depressing. I’m worried that the United States is becoming more like Europe. During the Bush-Obama years, we’ve seen big increases in the size and scope of government, and it’s no surprise that we’re now suffering from anemic economic performance.

That’s the first point I made in this interview with Michelle Fields of PJTV.

Much of the material in the interview will be familiar to regular readers, but a few points deserve some emphasis.

I say that America becoming more like Europe isn’t the end of the world, but I should elaborate. What I meant is that we can survive 2 percent growth instead of 3 percent growth. We could even survive 1 percent growth.

But if we continue on the current path of ever-growing government and combine that with an aging population and poorly designed entitlement programs, then we will see the end of the world. At least in the sense of fiscal crisis and economic collapse.

All the points I make about jobs, employment, labor force participation, unemployment insurance and disability are simply different ways of saying that it’s not good for the economy when politicians continuously make dependency more attractive than work.

If you want to know more about why the so-called stimulus was a failure, my article in The Federalist is a nice place to start.

The libertarian fantasy world of a small central government is a very good goal, but it’s still possible to make significant progress if politicians follow Mitchell’s Golden Rule.

P.S. You may recognize the host because she narrated a very good video for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Michelle explained how the big-government policies of Hoover and Roosevelt deepened and extended the Great Depression.

She also exposed rich leftists as complete hypocrites in this interview.

P.P.S. Since I mentioned above that South Korea has far surpassed North Korea, I should share this powerful nighttime picture of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea v South Korea

Gee, maybe capitalism is better than statism after all.

Unless, of course, you think there’s something really nice about North Korea to offset South Korea’s economic advantages.

Such as malnutrition or enslavement. Or a small carbon footprint, which led some nutjobs to rank Cuba far above America.

Read Full Post »

There’s an ongoing debate about Keynesian economics, stimulus spending, and various versions of fiscal austerity, and regular readers know I do everything possible to explain that you can promote added prosperity by reducing the burden of government spending.

Simply stated, we get more jobs, output, and growth when resources are allocated by competitive markets. But when resources are allocated by political forces, cronyism and pork cause inefficiency and waste.

That’s why statist nations languish and market-oriented countries flourish.

Paul Krugman has a different perspective on these issues, which is hardly a revelation. But I am surprised that he oftentimes doesn’t get the numbers quite right when he delves into specific case studies.

He claimed that spending cuts caused an Estonian economic downturn in 2008, but the government’s budget actually skyrocketed by 18 percent that year.

He complained about a “government pullback” in the United Kingdom even though the data show that government spending was climbing faster than inflation.

He even claimed that Hollande’s election in France was a revolt against austerity, notwithstanding the fact that the burden of government spending rose during the Sarkozy years.

My colleague Alan Reynolds pointed out that Krugman mischaracterized the supposed austerity in the PIIGS nations such as Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain.

We have another example to add to the list.

He now wants us to believe that Germany has been a good Keynesian nation.

Here’s some of what Professor Krugman wrote for the New York Times.

I hear people trying to dismiss the overwhelming evidence for large economic damage from fiscal austerity by pointing to Germany: “You say that austerity hurts growth, but the Germans have done a lot of austerity and they’re booming.” Public service announcement: Never, ever make claims about a country’s economic policies (or actually anything about economics) on the basis of what you think you’ve heard people say. Yes, you often hear people talking about austerity, and the Germans are big on praising and demanding austerity. But have they actually imposed a lot of it on themselves? Not so much.

In some sense, I agree with Krugman. I don’t think the Germans have imposed much austerity.

But here’s the problem with his article. We know from the examples above that he’s complained about supposed austerity in places such as the United Kingdom and France, so one would think that the German government must have been more profligate with the public purse.

After all, Krugman wrote they haven’t “imposed a lot of [austerity] on themselves.”

So I followed the advice in Krugman’s “public service announcement.” I didn’t just repeat what people have said. I dug into the data to see what happened to government spending in various nations.

And I know you’ll be shocked to see that Krugman was wrong. The Germans have been more frugal (at least in the sense of increasing spending at the slowest rate) than nations that supposedly are guilty of “spending cuts.”

German Austerity Krugman

To ensure that I’m not guilty of cherry-picking the data, I look at three different base years. But it doesn’t matter whether we start before, during, or after the recession. Germany increased spending at the slowest rate.

Moreover, if you look at the IMF data, you’ll see that the Germans also were more frugal than the Swedes, the Belgium, the Dutch, and the Austrians.

So I’m not sure what Krugman is trying to tell us with his chart.

By the way, spending in Switzerland grew at roughly the same rate as it did in Germany. So if Professor Krugman is highlighting Germany as a role model, maybe we can take that as an indirect endorsement of Switzerland’s very good spending cap?

But I won’t hold my breath waiting for that endorsement to become official. After all, Switzerland has reduced the burden of government spending thanks to the spending cap.

Not exactly in line with Krugman’s ideological agenda.

P.S. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with folks who mischaracterize German fiscal policy. When Professor Epstein and I debated a couple of Keynesians in NYC as part of the Intelligence Squared debate, one of our opponents asserted that Germany was a case study for Keynesian stimulus. But when I looked at the data, it turned out that he was prevaricating.

P.P.S. This post, I hasten to add, is not an endorsement of German fiscal policy. As I explained while correcting a mistake in the Washington Post, the burden of government is far too large in Germany. The only good thing I can say is that it hasn’t grown that rapidly in recent years.

P.P.P.S. Let’s close with a look at another example of Krugman’s misleading work. He recently implied that an economist from the Heritage Foundation was being dishonest in some austerity testimony, but I dug into the numbers and discovered that, “critics of Heritage are relying largely on speculative data about what politicians might (or might not) do in the future to imply that the Heritage economist was wrong in his presentation of what’s actually happened over the past six years”

Read Full Post »

If I banged my head against the wall every time politicians advocated bad policy in Washington – which is a tempting impulse, I would have been institutionalized because of brain damage a long time ago.

But it’s difficult to maintain my self control when I think about minimum wage laws.

All sentient human beings should know higher minimum wage laws will mean more unemployment. Just ask them, for instance, what would happen if the minimum wage was raised to $100 per hour. Once they admit that would lead to massive job losses, they’ve accepted the principle and it’s simply an empirical issue of figuring out how many jobs are lost when the minimum wage is $75, $50, $20, $10, $6, etc.

At the risk of stating the obvious, businesses seek to make money and they won’t hire somebody who can only produce $6 of value per hour if the government says that person has to be paid $7.25.

But there are those who nonetheless push for higher minimum wage requirements. I’ve previously provided six potential reasons why a person would support such a policy, three of which are because of cynicism and three of which are because of naiveté.

I strongly suspect Obama and his team are pushing for a higher minimum wage for the first reason, but it’s hard to even care. All that really matters is that people will suffer if the President succeeds.

And I’m not making a partisan point. Mitt Romney and George W. Bush had the same mentality.

Now, perhaps, you understand why this issue is so frustrating.

So let’s try to maintain our sanity by mocking these feckless and uncaring politicians.

Here are a couple of good cartoons on the topic, beginning with a clever contribution from Lisa Benson.

Political Cartoons by Lisa Benson

This Steve Breen cartoon makes the same point, showing how the poor are disadvantaged.

Political Cartoons by Steve Breen

I also would recommend this video if you want to learn more about the minimum wage, and if you want to understand why this issue gets me very frustrated, check out this interview.

It’s especially perverse that politicians are pushing these policies when, as Walter Williams has explained, blacks and other minorities are among the biggest victims.

Last but not least, I’m a libertarian, which means that I’m motivated by morality as well as economic efficiency.

So I get equally upset that politicians think they should have the right to block a labor contract between consenting adults.

What gives them the right to tell other people that they can’t engage in non-coercive, non-violent exchange?

Read Full Post »

There’s an old joke that a quandary exists when your mother-in-law drives off a cliff in your new Porsche. Are you more happy about losing her or more unhappy about losing your sports car?

I’m not clever enough to come up with humorous quandaries, but I have shared policy quandaries.

I’ve asked, for instance, whether libertarians might have second thoughts about an end to drug prohibition if the result was bigger government.

And I speculated whether leftists or social conservatives would be more upset about a gay man legally adopting his lover in order to minimize Pennsylvania’s death tax.

And if you like this kind of thing, I have more than one dozen additional examples of these types of quandaries.

I have something else to add to the list, and it’s near and dear to my heart because I like to think that I’m among the biggest critics of both Obamacare and bureaucracy.

But what happens if there’s an issue pitting Obamacare and bureaucrats against each other? Would I be able to pick sides?

This isn’t theoretical speculation. Check out these excerpts from a recent report in the New York Times.

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say. …Even after the administration said this month that it would ease coverage requirements for larger employers, public employers generally said they were keeping the restrictions on work hours because their obligation to provide health insurance, starting in 2015, would be based on hours worked by employees this year. Among those whose hours have been restricted in recent months are police dispatchers, prison guards, substitute teachers, bus drivers, athletic coaches, school custodians, cafeteria workers and part-time professors.

To be honest, I don’t know how to react to this.

Am I glad that we have more evidence that Obamacare is hurting people and reducing labor supply?

That’s obviously the case, and it’s an embarrassment to the Obama Administration.

For months, Obama administration officials have played down reports that employers were limiting workers’ hours. But in a report this month, the Congressional Budget Office said the Affordable Care Act could lead to a reduction in the number of hours worked, relative to what would otherwise occur. Jason Furman, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, reaffirmed the White House view that the law was “good for wages and incomes and for the economy over all.” …The Obama administration says “there is absolutely no evidence” of any job loss related to the Affordable Care Act.

One suspects, by the way, that the Obama White House must have a very strange definition of “job loss.”

They’ll only confess culpability, one imagines, if Obama personally delivers the pink slip or HHS Secretary Sebilius personally orders the loss of hours.

But let’s get back to our main point. I was wondering whether I should be happy to have this additional evidence against Obamacare.

But perhaps I should be glad instead that local governments are squeezing the hours and benefits of the bureaucracy, particularly since the alternative would be higher taxes.

Check out these passages from the NYT’s story. Isn’t it wonderful to read about sulking bureaucrats?

William J. Lipkin, an adjunct professor of American history and political science at Union County College in Cranford, N.J., said: “The Affordable Care Act, rather than making health care affordable for adjunct faculty members, is making it more unaffordable. Colleges are not giving us access to health care, and our hours are being cut, which means our income is being cut. We are losing on both ends.” The American Federation of Teachers lists on its website three dozen public colleges and universities in 15 states that it says have restricted the work assignments of adjunct or part-time faculty members to avoid the cost of providing health insurance.

Some people love the smell of napalm in the morning. Not me. I prefer the whining of angry and resentful bureaucrats. Maybe (as I’ve suggested before) Obamacare isn’t all bad after all.

But 98 percent bad is still bad. The law is a trainwreck and needs to be repealed.

P.S. On another topic, is anyone surprised that the IRS doesn’t like obeying the laws it enforces against the rest of us.

Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration found that the expenses for nine IRS executives — out of 31 whose travel was examined — were wrongly deemed to be nontaxable, on average reimbursements of $51,420. Those executives traveled an average of 140.5 days combined in fiscal 2011 and 2012, the two years examined by the inspector general. The IRS had at least 350 executives in each of those years, meaning the inspector general report covers just a fraction of the agency’s top officials.

Maybe we should save the IRS bureaucrats from potential legal trouble by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with a simple and fair flat tax.

Read Full Post »

Did you sing Happy Birthday?

The nation just “celebrated” the fifth anniversary of the signing of the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Political Cartoons by Nate Beelermore commonly referred to as the “stimulus.”

This experiment in Keynesian economics was controversial when it was enacted and it’s still controversial today.

The Obama Administration is telling us that the law was a big success, but I have a far more dour assessment of the President’s spending binge.

Here’s some of what I wrote about the topic for The Federalist.

The White House wants us to think the legislation was a success, publishing a report that claims the stimulus “saved or created about 6 million job-years” and “raised the level of GDP by between 2 and 3 percent from late 2009 through mid-2011.”

Sounds impressive, right?

Unfortunately, these numbers for jobs and growth are based on blackboard models that automatically assume rosy outcomes.

Here’s how I explain it in the article.

…how, pray tell, did the White House know what jobs and growth would have been in a hypothetical world with no stimulus? The simple answer is that they pulled numbers out of thin air based on economic models using Keynesian theory. …Keynesian economics is the perpetual motion machine of the left. They build models that assume government spending is good for the economy and they assume that there are zero costs when the government takes money from the private sector. That type of model then automatically generates predictions that bigger government will “stimulate’ growth and create jobs. The Keynesians are so confident in their approach that they’ll sometimes even admit that they don’t look at real world numbers. And that’s what the White House did in its estimate. The jobs number (or, to be more technical, the job-years number) is built into the model. It’s not a count of actual jobs.

In the real world, however, you can count jobs.

As part of my article, I looked at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank’s interactive website and compared the current recovery to all business cycle expansions in the post-World War II era.

And I did that comparison for jobs and growth. Here are the numbers for the labor market. The current recovery is in red, and you can see that the nation is “stumbling through the second-worst recovery for job creation in the post-WWII era.”

Minn Fed Recovery Jobs Data

And here are the Minneapolis Fed’s numbers for growth.

It doesn’t seem possible, but GOP performance has been even worse than job performance. We are mired in stagnation. As I noted, “the current recovery (red line) is the weakest expansion since World War II.”

Minn Fed Recovery GDP Data

In other words, it’s very difficult to argue – looking at the numbers – that the President’s main economic initiative was a success.

So why did it flop?

I pontificate in the article, pointing out three specific problems with Keynesian economics. I start with the elementary observation that the theory is based on the notion that you can become richer by taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another pocket.

…there is an “opportunity cost” when government borrows money and spends it. Resources are diverted from the productive sector of the economy. This might not be a problem if government spent money wisely, but stimulus schemes tend to reward interest groups with the most political clout. So instead of outlays for physical and human capital, which at least theoretically might improve the economy’s productive capacity, the White House directed the bulk of the stimulus to redistribution programs and handouts to state governments.

I then make a critical observation about how you shouldn’t try to solve one set of bad government policies with another layer of bad policy.

…the Keynesians don’t seem to appreciate that recessions generally are the result of bad government policies – such as inflation, housing subsidies, etc – that lead to fundamental and unsustainable economic imbalances. Unfortunately, more government spending often is designed to prop up these imbalances, which can create a longer and more painful period of adjustment.

Political Cartoons by Eric AllieBut the clincher, at least for most people, is the simple fact that Keynesianism doesn’t work.

But the biggest problem with Keynesianism is that the real-world evidence is so unfriendly. Consider, for instance, that the White House claimed that the unemployment would never climb above 8 percent if the stimulus was adopted. The following chart shows the actual unemployment projection put together by the Obama Administration, but modified to show the actual monthly unemployment rates the country experienced. …And that’s just the tip of the stimulus iceberg. Keynesian economics has a long track record of failure. It didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s. It didn’t work for Nixon, Ford, and Carter in the 1970s. It didn’t work for Japan in the 1990s. And it hasn’t worked this century for either Bush or Obama.

And guess what? I’m going to make a very sad prediction that we’ll get more Keynesian economics in the future, but it’s easy to predict right now that these future spending binges will fail just like previous stimulus schemes have flopped.

P.S. Here’s my video on Keynesian economics and here’s my video on Obama’s failed stimulus.

P.P.S. If you’d rather laugh than hear my voice, my favorite cartoons on Keynsianism can be viewed here and here.

Read Full Post »

I’ve already explained why leftists must be depressed about their failure to restrict private gun ownership.

They’ve suffered brutal electoral setbacks in Colorado, and more and more states have strengthened the right to keep and bear arms.

Moreover, it’s hard for them to claim their agenda is about safer streets when cops overwhelmingly reject the premises of the anti-gun zealots.

And they also have to deal with something very troubling that further undermines their campaign against the Second Amendment.

That troubling thing is facts and data.

Because the more information that we learn, the more evidence we have – as John Lott often reminds us – that more guns equal less crime.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley peruses some new data from the FBI. Here are some key excerpts.

A new FBI report says that violent crime continues to fall nationwide, which might annoy liberals because gun purchases continue to rise. In the first six months of 2013, murders fell by nearly 7 percent, compared with the same period in 2012. Aggravated assaults fell by 6.6 percent, and robberies are down 1.8 percent. “All of the offenses in the violent crime category—murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault, and robbery—showed decreases when data from the first six months of 2013 were compared with data from the first six months of 2012,” according to the FBI. Overall, violent crime in the U.S. fell by 5.4 percent. …The left likes to link violent crime to the proliferation of guns in the country, so it’s worth noting that the crime reductions described in the FBI report correlate with a steady increase in firearm sales.

But that’s not all.

It’s also worth noting that gun-ownership rates in the Midwest (39 percent) and South (50 percent) far exceed gun-ownership rates in the Northeast (22 percent), yet violent crime is down more in the Midwest and South than it is in the Northeast, according to the FBI statistics. And rural areas, where gun-ownership rates also are higher than average, saw a larger reduction in violent crime that metropolitan areas, where gun-ownership rates are lower than average. Not that gun-control zealots, who are so certain of a causal link between firearms and violent crime rates, care about such details.

Gee, what a surprise.

When more law-abiding people have guns, the bad guys are more skittish.

Hmmm…sounds like someone took the IQ test I devised for criminals and liberals.

But we have more good news.

It seems that Americans are not sheep meekly waiting to be fleeced of their constitutional freedom and liberties.

In Connecticut, where reprehensible politicians exploited a school shooting to impose restrictions on the Second Amendment, it appears that many citizens are – in effect – telling them to bugger off.

Here are some excerpts from a story in the Hartford Courant.

Everyone knew there would be some gun owners flouting the law that legislators hurriedly passed last April, requiring residents to register all military-style rifles with state police by Dec. 31. But few thought the figures would be this bad. By the end of 2013, state police had received 47,916 applications for assault weapons certificates, Lt. Paul Vance said. An additional 2,100 that were incomplete could still come in. That 50,000 figure could be as little as 15 percent of the rifles classified as assault weapons owned by Connecticut residents, according to estimates by people in the industry… And that means as of Jan. 1, Connecticut has very likely created tens of thousands of newly minted criminals — perhaps 100,000 people…who have broken no other laws.

This story makes me proud to be an American.

We’ve seen some polling data that shows there would be widespread civil disobedience if politicians tried to confiscate guns, but I wondered whether people would be more willing to acquiesce to preliminary steps such as the Connecticut registration plan.

So it’s great to see that tens of thousands of them are resisting.

P.S. As I’ve noted before, anyone who cares about this issue should read these observations from a genuine firearms expert.

And 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.

P.P.S. If you simply want a laugh or two,  this funny video shows that our left-wing friends are incapable of understanding this topic.

For more gun control humor, check out this joke comparing California with other parts of America, this interview with a general is worth sharing (presumably an urban legend, but could be true), and here’s a t-shirt that I’m putting on my Christmas list.

Read Full Post »

When I give speeches around the country, I often get asked whether it’s time to give up.

More specifically, has America reached a tipping point, with too many people riding in the wagon of government dependency and too few people creating wealth and pulling the wagon in the right direction?

These questions don’t surprise me, particularly since my speeches frequently include very grim BIS, OECD, and IMF data showing that the long-run fiscal problem in the United States is larger than it is in some nations that already are facing fiscal crisis.

But that doesn’t mean I have a good answer. I think there is a tipping point, to be sure, but I’m not sure whether there’s a single variable that tells us when we’ve reached the point of no return.

Is it when government spending consumes 50 percent of economic output? That would be a very bad development if the burden of government spending reached that level, but it’s not necessarily fatal. Back in the early 1990s, the public sector was that big in Canada, yet policy makers in that country were able to restrain budgetary growth and put the country on a positive path. Sweden is another nation that has turned the corner. Government spending peaked at 67 percent of GDP in the early 1990s, but is now down to 47 percent of GDP after years of free-market reforms.

Is it when a majority of households are getting government handouts? That’s also a worrisome development, especially if those folks see the state as a means of living off their fellow citizens. But taking a check from Uncle Sam doesn’t automatically mean a statist mindset. As one of my favorite people opined, “some government beneficiaries – such as Social Security recipients – spent their lives in the private sector and are taking benefits simply because they had no choice but to participate in the system.”

Is it when a majority of people no longer pay income taxes, leaving a shrinking minority to bear all the burden of financing government? It’s not healthy for society when most people think government is “free,” particularly if they perceive an incentive to impose even higher burdens on those who do pay. And there’s no question that the overwhelming majority of the tax burden is borne by the top 10 percent. There’s little evidence, though, that the rest of the population thinks there’s no cost to government – perhaps because many of them pay heavy payroll taxes.

I explore these issues in this interview with Charles Payne.

The main takeaway from the interview is that the tipping point is not a number, but a state of mind. It’s the health of the nation’s “social capital.”

So for what it’s worth, the country will be in deep trouble if and when the spirit of self-reliance becomes a minority viewpoint. And the bad news is that we’re heading in that direction.

The good news is that we’re not close to the point of no return. There is some polling data, for instance, showing that Americans still have a much stronger belief in liberty than their European counterparts.

And we’ve even made a small bit of progress against big government in the past few years.

I speculated in the interview that we probably have a couple of decades to save the country, but it will become increasingly difficult to make the necessary changes – such as entitlement reform and welfare decentralization – as we get closer to 2020 and 2030.

Welfare State Wagon CartoonsAnd if those changes don’t occur…?

That’s a very grim subject. I fully understand why some Americans are thinking about the steps they should take to protect their families if reforms don’t occur and a crisis occurs.

Indeed, this to me is one of the most compelling arguments against gun control. If America begins to suffer the chaos and disarray that we’ve seen in nations such as Greece, it’s better to be well-armed.

Though maybe there will be some nations that remain stable as the world’s welfare states collapse. And if emigration is your preferred option, I’d bet on Australia.

But wouldn’t it be better to fix what’s wrong and stay in America?

Read Full Post »

The tax code is a complicated nightmare, particularly for businesses.

Some people may think this is because of multiple tax rates, which definitely is an issue for all the non-corporate businesses that file “Schedule C” forms using the personal income tax.

A discriminatory rate structure adds to complexity, to be sure, but the main reason for a convoluted business tax system (for large and small companies) is that politicians don’t allow firms to use the simple and logical (and theoretically sound) approach of cash-flow taxation.

Here’s how a sensible business tax would work.

Total Revenue – Total Cost = Profit

And it would be wonderful if our tax system was this simple, and that’s basically how the business portion of the flat tax operates, but that’s not how the current tax code works.

We have about 76,000 pages of tax rules in large part because politicians and bureaucrats have decided that the “cash flow” approach doesn’t give them enough money.

So they’ve created all sorts of rules that in many cases prevent businesses from properly subtracting (or deducting) their costs when calculating their profits.

One of the worst examples is depreciation, which deals with the tax treatment of business investment expenses. You might think lawmakers would like investment since that boosts productivity, wage, and competitiveness, but you would be wrong. The tax code rarely allows companies to fully deduct investment expenses (factories, machines, etc) in the year they occur. Instead, they have to deduct (or depreciate) those costs over many years. In some cases, even decades.

But rather than write about the boring topic of depreciation to make my point about legitimate tax deductions, I’m going to venture into the world of popular culture.

Though since I’m a middle-aged curmudgeon, my example of popular culture is a band that was big about 30 years ago.

The UK-based Guardian is reporting on the supposed scandal of ABBA’s tax deductions. Here are the relevant passages.

The glittering hotpants, sequined jumpsuits and platform heels that Abba wore at the peak of their fame were designed not just for the four band members to stand out – but also for tax efficiency, according to claims over the weekend. Abba…And the reason for their bold fashion choices lay not just in the pop glamour of the late 70s and early 80s, but also in the Swedish tax code. According to Abba: The Official Photo Book, published to mark 40 years since they won Eurovision with Waterloo, the band’s style was influenced in part by laws that allowed the cost of outfits to be deducted against tax – so long as the costumes were so outrageous they could not possibly be worn on the street.

When I read the story, I kept waiting to get to the scandalous part.

But then I realized that the scandal – according to our statist friends – is that ABBA could have paid even more in tax if they wore regular street clothes for their performances.

In other words, this is not a scandal at all. It’s simply the latest iteration of the left-wing campaign (bolstered by tax-free bureaucrats at the Paris-based OECD) to de-legitimize normal and proper tax deductions.

So I guess this means that the New York Yankees should play in t-shirts and gym shorts since getting rid of the pinstripes would increase the team’s taxable income.

And companies should set their thermostats at 60 degrees in the winter since that also would lead to more taxable income.

Or, returning to the example of ABBA, perhaps they should have used these outfits since there wouldn’t be much cost to deduct and that would have boosted taxable income.

Shifting to the individual income tax, another potential revenue raiser is for households to follow this example from Monty Python and sell their kids for medical experiments. That would eliminate personal exemptions and lead to more taxable income.

Heck, maybe our friends on the left should pass a law mandating weekend jobs so we could have more income for them to tax.

Though I’m not sure how that would work since the statists are now saying Obamacare is a good thing because it “liberates” millions of people from having to work.

I’m not sure how they square that circle, but I’m sure the answer is more class-warfare tax policy.

P.S. If you want to a simple rule to determine what’s a legitimate tax deduction, just remember that economic activity should be taxed equally (and at the lowest possible rate). That’s why businesses should have a cash-flow tax, and it’s why households should have a neutral system like a flat tax or national sales tax.

P.P.S. Though it would be nice if we had the very limited government envisioned by the Founding Fathers. In that case, we wouldn’t need any broad-based tax whatsoever.

P.P.P.S. A very low tax rate is the best way of encouraging taxpayers to declare income and minimize deductions. Sweden Individual Income tax ratesWhen ABBA first became famous, the top personal tax rate in Sweden was at the confiscatory level of about 80 percent and the corporate tax rate was about 55 percent. With rates so high, that meant taxpayers had big incentives to reduce taxable income and little reason to control costs.

After all, a krona of deductible expense only reduced income by about 20 öre for individual taxpayers.

Corporate taxpayers weren’t treated as badly, but a rate of 55 percent still meant that a krona of deductible expense only reduced after-tax income by 45 öre.

But if the rate was very modest, say 20 percent, then taxpayers might be far more frugal about costs (whether the cost of uniforms or anything else) because a krona of deductible expense would reduce income by 80 öre.

By the way, the United States conducted an experiment of this type in the 1980s and the rich wound up declaring far more income to the IRS.

Read Full Post »

Just like Clark Kent could change into Superman, President Obama has a remarkable ability to change into King Obama.

Tired of that pesky Constitution? Irritated that the Founding Fathers created a system based on separation of powers? Well, there’s a superhero to overcome those obstacles.

Faster than a last-minute Obamacare reg! More powerful than the Tenth Amendment! Able to leap the enumerated powers clause in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s SuperPresident!”)… Yes, it’s SuperPresident … strange visitor from corrupt Chicago, who came to Washington with powers and hubris far beyond those of the Founding Fathers! SuperPresident … who can change the course of the Constitution, bend the Bill of Rights in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Barack Obama, mild-mannered uniter who stops the rise of the oceans and heals the planet, fights a never-ending battle for redistribution, statism, and the French way!

And what has our superhero done lately?

He’s arbitrarily and unilaterally changed the Obamacare law.

Since it’s the 18th time he’s done that, this may not seem very newsworthy. But the latest change is particularly interesting because the President is ordering certain companies to maintain their existing payrolls.

Check out this blurb from a Fox News story.

Obama officials made clear in a press briefing that firms would not be allowed to lay off workers to get into the preferred class of those businesses with 50 to 99 employees. …Firms will be required to certify to the IRS–under penalty of perjury–that ObamaCare was not a motivating factor in their staffing decisions. To avoid ObamaCare costs you must swear that you are not trying to avoid ObamaCare costs.

When this story first came to my attention, thanks to James Taranto, something seemed eerily familiar.

Where had I read about a government ordering companies to freeze in place their employment levels.

I went through all the usual suspects in my mind. Was it Argentina? Was it France? How about California?

And then it struck me that life was imitating fiction. Obama’s policy is so bad that it resembles a scene in an Ayn Rand novel.

In her most famous work, Atlas Shrugged, the political elite try to halt the economy’s decline by imposing Directive 10-289, which seeks to freeze in place all factors of production – including the number of workers at each firm.

All workers, wage earners and employees of any kind whatsoever shall henceforth be attached to their jobs and shall not leave nor be dismissed nor change employment.

Obama’s latest diktat doesn’t go nearly as far as Directive 10-289, thankfully, but it’s more than a bit disturbing that we’ve gotten to the point where a bunch of hacks in Washington think that they have the right to tell private companies how many people they’re allowed to have on the payroll.

But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

This isn’t the first time that the real-world unfolding of Obamacare has resembled a scene from Atlas Shrugged. Back in 2011, I wrote about how the waiver process for escaping the law was almost identical to the corrupt system of unfreezing railroad bonds in the book.

P.S. While searching online to get the details of Directive 10-289, I saw that John Sexton, writing for Breitbart, beat me to the punch.

P.P.S. If you prefer to get anti-statism satire from Superman instead of Atlas Shrugged, you may enjoy this cartoon.

Read Full Post »

I’ll be first in line if there’s a contest over who thinks most strongly that politicians are corrupt, or whether they can waste money in creative ways.

But if somebody asserts that politicians are stupid, I’m going to argue on the other side.

This isn’t because I’m a fan of elected officials. Far from it. However, having been a student of public policy for three decades, I have a grudging admiration for their animal cunning. They’ve developed some remarkably clever ways of extracting more and more revenue from taxpayers.

The bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are turning an old pact on mutual administrative assistance between governments into something akin to a World Tax Organization that will have the power to penalize nations that don’t impose onerous tax burdens.

Showing amazing capacity for innovation, Pakistan’s tax police hires transgendered people to encourage (presumably homophobic) taxpayers to cough up more money.

The tax police in England have floated a proposal to have all paychecks go directly to the tax authority, which would then decide how much gets forwarded to taxpayers.

And since we’re talking about the United Kingdom, that nation’s despicable political class wants to improve compliance by indoctrinating kids to snitch on their parents.

Speaking of snitches, tax authorities in both the state of New York and the city of Chicago have programs encouraging neighbors to rat our neighbors.

World Bank bureaucrats put together a report card on the tax systems of different nations, and the way to get a high grade is to impose high tax burdens.

Our friends at the Internal Revenue Service have something called the Taxpayer Advocate Service that mostly exists to – get ready for a surprise – push policies to expand the size and power of the IRS.

And who among us isn’t impressed that the German tax authorities have figured out how to levy a prostitute tax using parking meters.

That last example is a good segue into our newest example of great moments in tax enforcement.

The state of New York has won the right to impose a sales tax on lap dances and other…um…services at strip clubs. Here are some excerpts from the Daily News.

The jiggling and gyrating strippers at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club are selling sexual fantasy — not demonstrating their dance skills — in the private rooms at the Hell’s Kitchen skin palace, an administrative law judge ruled. “The dancing portion of the service is merely ancillary to the performer removing her clothes or creating the sexual fantasy,” Judge Donna Gardiner wrote in a decision released Monday that means the raunchy moves are subject to the state sales tax. …Gardiner said the Hell’s Kitchen jiggle joint will have to pay $2.1 million in sales tax on the $23.8 million worth of scrip, or the club’s in-house currency, that it sold between June 1, 2006 and November 2008.

And don’t think the government didn’t investigate this issue closely before rendering a decision.

After listening to strippers’ testimony and watching the club’s videotapes, Gardiner ruled that some of the strippers’ routines involve dance, choreography and music, but overall, these are not artistic performances.

I wonder if they also read copies of Hustler magazine? This might be a case where government officials went above and beyond the call of duty to study a topic.

Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club owes $2.1 million in taxes for lap dances performed at the Hell’s Kitchen jiggle joint.Regardless, the strip club didn’t prevail. I guess art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I suppose this is the point where I should make some more jokes, but I’m enough of a tax dork that instead I’m going to make a serious point.

The problem in New York is not that the Hustler Club is now being taxed. The problem is that there’s an exemption from the sales tax for “artistic performances.”

Don’t get me wrong. I would prefer that there not be an income tax or sales tax in New York. But if the state is going to impose a sales tax, then all consumption should be treated equally.

This is also my view on the flat tax. I would prefer no income tax, and America did quite well with that approach until 1913. But if there is going to be an income tax, then you minimize corruption and economic damage by having the levy apply equally and neutrally.

At least one Judge in New York seems to have the right perspective on this issue. Here’s another blurb from the Daily News report.

One judge, Robert Smith, criticized the majority, arguing that it was making a distinction based on their preferences. …“Perhaps, for similar reasons I do not read Hustler magazine; I would rather read the New Yorker,” he wrote. “I would be appalled, however, if the state were to exact from Hustler a tax that the New Yorker did not have to pay, on the ground that what appears in Hustler is insufficiently ‘cultural and artistic.’”

Needless to say, I doubt politicians pay much attention to these philosophical and economic arguments for genuine fairness in the tax code.

They simply want more money. And even though I wish they were stupid and incompetent in this regard, they have great talents when it comes time to take our money.

But there is one easy way to avoid heavy taxation. Just drop out of the labor force and live off the government. Millions of your neighbors already have taken this route.

It’s not good for the nation, but it sure is the logical response to perverse government policies that make it less and less attractive to pull that wagon and more and more comfortable to ride in the wagon.

As Henry Payne sarcastically noted, it’s time to party like the Greeks!

Read Full Post »

Very few political cartoons make me laugh out loud.

Even when I look back at the all-time favorites that I included in my political cartoonist contest, most of them are on that list because they make a very effective and clever point about public policy.

Though I do recall being very amused by Glenn McCoy’s cartoon on media bias, Chip Bok’s war-on-women cartoon, and Robert Ariail’s cartoon about Greece and the euro.

But I don’t think any of them made me laugh as much as this gem by Scott Stantis.

Socialist Obama Cartoon

I don’t even know why it struck me as being so funny.

Yes, I have a peculiar interest in international economic policy, so I’m fully aware that President Hollande of France is a disaster, but I’m not sure that’s enough to make a cartoon amusing.

And I’ve commented several times on the debate over whether Obama is a socialist, but that’s hardly a topic that lends itself to humor.

Hollande v ObamaOr perhaps I’m just a narcissist and I appreciated a cartoon that was somewhat similar to one of my homemade jokes about Hollande and Obama.

Beats me.

But kudos to Scott Stantis (who also is the author of the best-ever cartoon on the failure of Keynesian stimulus).

Since we’re looking at funny cartoons, it’s time to give some credit to the other side.

I don’t often find much humor on the left, but this cartoon on income inequality is worth sharing.

It’s from the New Yorker, though I don’t know the author. And I confess that I’m merely assuming a left-wing perspective.

It’s your call whether this cartoon is as good as the other leftist cartoons I’ve shared, but it is a good caricature of the GOP country club types.

P.S. Yesterday I shared some libertarian valentines.

So in the interest of fairness, here’s are some left-wing valentines.

They’re designed to trick people into signing up for Obamacare.

Our first option is from a group called the National Women’s law Center.

And here’s one from a group named the Young Invincibles.

obamacare valentine

I have to say that I’m not overly impressed with either one of these valentines.

Though anything has to be better pro-Obamacare marketing than Pajama Boy or casual sex (because big government can take the fun out of anything).

JeffersonP.P.S. Speaking of Valentine’s Day, the PotL graced me with her presence, making me an inexplicable winner.

Even if some of my erstwhile friends who watch Modern Family have started to refer to us as Jay and Gloria.

P.P.P.S. Let’s close with a comment on a very odd story from Norway.

The nut-job who killed 77 people has made an announcement.

Anders Breivik…wants the world to know that he’s being treated “worse than an animal” in prison and is considering going on a hunger strike until the “torture”-like living conditions improve. Just how bad are things for the admitted and unrepentant killer? Well, for one, he says he’s being forced to play his video games on an out-of-date Playstation 2 instead of a newer model. …Breivik was deemed sane by a Norwegian court in the summer of 2012 and sentenced to 21 years in prison, the most-severe sentence allowed under the Scandinavian country’s laws… Details of Breivik’s current conditions are a bit unclear, although Norwegian news reports from the time of his sentencing suggested that he was going to be kept in a three-room cell complete with an exercise area and a television.

I guess it’s a good thing I’m not the warden at his prison.

Why? Because I not only would turn down his request, but I also would dump him in a 6X8 call. Moreover, I would station a couple of guards outside his cell and have them play the newest and fanciest version of Playstation 24 hours a day.

Read Full Post »

I know there are stereotypes about libertarians being a bunch of dorks.

Conservatives think we’re potheads. Liberals think we’re heartless.

And many other people simply think we’re a bit weird.

These stereotypes can be amusing, but I also think they’re wrong.

And regardless, I think there’s much to admire in the libertarian ideals of small government, personal liberty, free markets, non-intervention, and individual responsibility

Moreover, we have other redeeming features.

For instance, we’re actually the last of the great romantics.

Don’t believe me? Well, check out this collection of libertarian valentines.

My two favorites include this one mocking Obamacare.

And I also think the valentine mocking the National Security Agency is in the running to be my favorite.

But they’re all good and worth sharing.

So remember that libertarians are cuddly and loving!

P.S. There’s no policy angle in this postscript, but I feel compelled to offer a public service announcement for any men in the audience.

If your significant other tells you she doesn’t want you to do anything for Valentine’s Day, don’t believe her.

Sort of reminds me of the famous Dave Barry column about men and women that I linked at the end of this post.

P.P.S. Let’s close with a serious point about public policy.

I’ve mocked the Transportation Security Agency for its empty “security theater.”

And I’ve shared horror stories of utterly pointless harassment of travelers.

But nothing will be more compelling and convincing than this article by a former TSA bureaucrat. Here’s an excerpt, but you really need to read the whole article.

It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying. Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.

And here’s another example of the TSA in action.

A bureaucrat confiscated a tiny toy gun that was part of a sock monkey’s outfit.

I’m not kidding. Here are some passages from a news report on the incident.

May and her husband were going through the screening process when she noticed that one of her bags was missing. “And the (TSA agent) held it up and said ‘whose is this?’” she said. “I realized oh, my God this is my bag.” May said the TSA agent went through the bag, through the sewing supplies and found the two-inch long pistol. “She said ‘this is a gun,’” said May. “I said no, it’s not a gun it’s a prop for my monkey.” “She said ‘If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not,’ and I said ‘really?’” said May. The TSA agent told May she would have to confiscate the tiny gun and was supposed to call the police. “I said well go ahead,” said May. “And I said really? You’re kidding me right, and she said no it looks like a gun.” “She took my monkey’s gun,” said May, who has retained her sense of humor. “Rooster Monkburn has been disarmed so I’m sure everyone on the plane was safe,” she said.

Let’s end with some humor about the Keystone Cops of airport security. If you want some TSA laughs, see this, this, and this.

Read Full Post »

What’s the defining characteristic of our political masters?

Going all the way back to when they ran for student council in 6th grade, is it a craven desire to say or do anything to get elected?

Is it the corrupt compulsion to trade earmarks, loopholes, and favors in exchange for campaign cash?

Or is it the knee-jerk desire to buy votes by spending other people’s money?

The answer is yes, yes, and yes, but I want to add something else to the list.

One of the most odious features of politicians is that they think they’re entitled to all of our money. But it goes beyond that. They also think they’re doing us a favor and being magnanimous if they let us keep some of what we earn.

Think I’m joking or exaggerating?

Consider the fact that the crowd in Washington says that provisions in the internal revenue code such as IRAs are “tax expenditures” and should be considered akin to government spending.

So if you save for retirement and aren’t subject to double taxation, you’re not making a prudent decision with your own money. Instead, you’re the beneficiary of kindness and mercy by politicians that graciously have decided to give you something.

And the statists at the Washington Post will agree, writing that folks with IRAs are getting “a helping hand” from the government.

Or if you have a business and the government doesn’t impose a tax on your investment expenditures, don’t think that you’re being left alone with neutral tax policy. Instead, you should get on your knees and give thanks to politicians that have given you a less-punitive depreciation schedule.

And the Congressional Budget Office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, and the Government Accountability Office will all agree, saying that you’re benefiting from a “tax expenditure.”

The same attitude exists in Europe. But instead of calling it a “tax expenditure” when taxpayers gets to keep the money they earn, the Euro-crats say it is a “subsidy” or a form of “state aid.”

Speaking at the European Competition Forum in Brussels, EU commissioner Joaquin Almunia said he would investigate whether moves by national governments to tailor their tax laws to allow companies to avoid paying tax had the same effect as a subsidy. Subsidising certain businesses could be deemed as anti-competitive, breaching the bloc’s rules on state aid. …The remarks by the Spanish commissioner’s, who described the practice of “aggressive tax planning” as going against the principles of the EU’s single market, are the latest in a series of salvos by EU officials aimed at clamping down on corporate tax avoidance. …He added that the practice “undermines the fairness and integrity of tax systems” and was “socially untenable.”

Needless to say, Senor Almunia’s definition of “fairness” is that a never-ending supply of money should be transferred from taxpayers to the political elite.

The head of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development wants to take this mentality to the next level. He says companies no longer should try to legally minimize their tax burdens.

International technology companies should stop considering it their “duty” to employ tax-dodging strategies, said Angel Gurria, head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. …The OECD, an international economic organization supported by 34 member countries including the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan, will publish the results of its research on the issue for governments to consider within the next two years, Gurria said.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that the OECD’s “research on the issue” is designed to create a one-size-fits-all scheme that will lead to companies paying a lot more tax.

But let’s think about the broader implications of his attitude about taxation. For those of us with kids, should we choose not to utilize the personal exemptions when filling out our tax returns? Should we keep our savings in a regular bank account, where it can be double taxed, instead of an IRA or 401(k)?

Should we not take itemized deductions, or even the standard deduction? Is is somehow immoral to move from a high-tax state to a low-tax state? In other words, should we try to maximize the amount of our income going to politicians?

According to Mr. Gurria, the answer must be yes. If it’s bad for companies to legally reduce their tax liabilities, then it also must be bad for households.

By the way, it’s worth pointing out that bureaucrats at the OECD – including Gurria – are completely exempt from paying any income tax. So if there was an award for hypocrisy, he would win the trophy.

P.S. Switching topics to the NSA spying controversy, here’s a very amusing t-shirt I saw on Twitter.

The shirt isn’t as funny as the Obama-can-hear-you-now images, but it makes a stronger philosophical point.

P.P.S. Let’s close with an update on people going Galt.

I wrote with surprise several years ago about the number of people who were giving up American citizenship to escape America’s onerous tax system.

But that was just the beginning of a larger trend. The numbers began to skyrocket last year, probably in part the result of the awful FATCA legislation.

Well, we now have final numbers for 2013.

Expats_1998_2013

What makes these numbers really remarkable is that expatriates are forced to pay punitive exit taxes before escaping the IRS.

Which is why there are probably at least 10 Americans who simply go “off the grid” and move overseas for every citizen who uses the IRS process to officially expatriate.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Obamanomics.

Read Full Post »

I feel a bit like Goldilocks.

No, this is not a confession about cross-dressing or being transsexual. I’m the boring kind of libertarian.

Instead, I have a run-of-the-mill analogy. Think about when you were a kid and your parents told you the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

You may remember that she entered the house and tasted bowls of porridge that were too hot and also too cold before she found the porridge that was just right.

And then she found a bed that was too hard, and then another that was too soft, before finding one that was just right.

Well, the reason I feel like Goldilocks is because I’ve shared some “Rahn Curve” research suggesting that growth is maximized when total government spending consumes no more than 20 percent of gross domestic product. I think this sounds reasonable, but Canadians apparently have a different perspective.

Back in 2010, a Canadian libertarian put together a video that explicitly argues that I want a government that is too big.

Now we have another video from Canada. It was put together by the Fraser Institute, and it suggests that the public sector should consume 30 percent of GDP, which means that I want a government that is too small.

My knee-jerk reaction is to be critical of the Fraser video. After all, there are examples – both current and historical – of nations that prosper with much lower burdens of government spending

Singapore and Hong Kong, for instance, have public sectors today that consume less than 20 percent of economic output. Would those fast-growing jurisdictions be more prosperous if the burden of government spending was increased by more than 50 percent?

Or look at Canadian history. As recently as 1920, government outlays were 16.7 percent of economic output. Would Canada have grown faster if lawmakers at the time had almost doubled the size of government?

And what about nations such as the United States, Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, all of which had government budgets in 1870 that consumed only about 10 percent of GDP. Would those nations have been better off if the burden of government spending was tripled?

I think the answer to all three questions is no. So why, then, did the Fraser Institute conclude that government should be bigger?

There are three very reasonable responses to that question. First, the 30 percent number is actually a measurement of where you theoretically maximize “social progress” or “societal outcomes.” If you peruse the excellent study that accompanies the video, you’ll find that economic growth is most rapid when government consumes 26 percent of GDP.

Second, the Fraser research – practically speaking – is arguing for smaller government, at least when looking at the current size of the public sector in Canada, the United States, and Western Europe. According to International Monetary Fund data, government spending consumes 41 percent of GDP in Canada, 39 percent of GDP in the United States, and 55 percent of GDP in France.

The Fraser Institute research even suggests that there should be significantly less government spending in both Switzerland and Australia, where outlays total “only” 34 percent of GDP.

Third, you’ll see if you read the underlying study that the author is simply following the data. But he also acknowledges “a limitation of the data,” which is that the numbers needed for his statistical analysis are only available for OECD nations, and only beginning in 1960.

This is a very reasonable point, and one that I also acknowledged when writing about some research on this topic from Finland’s Central Bank.

…those numbers…are the result of data constraints. Researchers looking at the post-World War II data generally find that Hong Kong and Singapore have the maximum growth rates, and the public sector in those jurisdictions consumes about 20 percent of economic output. Nations with medium-sized governments, such as Australia and the United States, tend to grow a bit slower. And the bloated welfare states of Europe suffer from stagnation. So it’s understandable that academics would conclude that growth is at its maximum point when government grabs 20 percent of GDP. But what would the research tell us if there were governments in the data set that consumed 15 percent of economic output? Or 10 percent, or even 5 percent? Such nations don’t exist today.

For what it’s worth, I assume the author of the Fraser study, given the specifications of his model, didn’t have the necessary post-1960 data to include small-state, high-growth, non-OECD jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Singapore. If that data had been available, I suspect he also would have concluded that government should be closer to 20 percent of economic output.

I explore all these issues in my video on this topic.

The moral of the story is that government is far too large in every developed nation.

I suspect even Hong Kong and Singapore have public sectors that are too large, causing too many resources to be diverted from the private sector.

But since I’m a practical and moderate guy, I’d be happy if the burden of government spending in the United States was merely reduced back down to 20 percent of economic output.

P.S. Though I would want the majority of that spending at the state and local level.

P.P.S. Since I’m sharing videos today, here’s an amusing video from American Commitment about the joy of being “liberated” from employment.

And if you like snarky videos about Obamacare, here are some based on sex and mockery, and there’s even a Hitler parody.

P.P.P.S. This has nothing to do with public policy, but I got a good chuckle from this news out of Iraq.

A group of Sunni militants attending a suicide bombing training class at a camp north of Baghdad were killed on Monday when their commander unwittingly conducted a demonstration with a belt that was packed with explosives, army and police officials said. …Twenty-two ISIS members were killed, and 15 were wounded, in the explosion at the camp.

One of the reasons I laughed is that I recalled a cartoon that was sent to me many years ago. And when I dug into my humor folder, it was still there.

I think you’ll see the obvious connection.

Terrorist School

And since we’re venturing into humor about self-detonating terrorists, here’s another joke from my treasure trove.

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

Guy goes into a sex shop and asks for an inflatable doll.

Guy behind the counter says, “Male or female?”

Customer says, “Female.”

Counter guy asks, “Black or white?

Customer says, “White.”

Counter guy asks, “Christian or Muslim?”

Customer says, “What the hell does religion have to do with it?”

Counter guy says, “The Muslim one blows itself up.”

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

And here’s another joke that’s worth sharing.

Garfield Terrorist

If this isn’t enough terrorism-related humor for you, we also have this collection of stereotypes I received from an English friend.

This image, meanwhile, doubtlessly has caused a few nightmares in certain quarters.

And this Jay Leno joke is one of the best examples of anti-political correctness I’ve ever seen.

Read Full Post »

We’ve reached the stage where Obamacare is the punchline to a bad joke.

The law has been a disaster, both for the economy and for the Democratic Party. Not that we should be surprised. You don’t get better healthcare with a poisonous recipe of higher taxes, added government spending, and more intervention.

With any luck, Obamacare will be a textbook example of why we should never again give power to a bunch of political hacks and dreamy-eyed central planners.

Because when they try to buy votes and create more dependency with Rube Goldberg schemes, the results are…well, we see the cluster-you-know-what of Obamacare unfolding before our eyes.

Not that anyone should be surprised. Remember what happened when politicians decided government would make housing more affordable?

And remember what happened when politicians decided government should extend American tax law into other nations?

Simply stated, grandiose plans for expanded government don’t end well.

But this isn’t a normal public policy issue.

The Obama Administration has just announced that it arbitrarily will be ignoring one of the requirements in the law, and this is the executive branch’s 18th unilateral change to Obamacare.

We have to ask whether the American political system is being corrupted by a White House that doesn’t feel bound by the rule of law.

To put it mildly, the Wall Street Journal is not impressed.

…the law increasingly means whatever President Obama says it does on any given day. His latest lawless rewrite arrived on Monday as the White House decided to delay the law’s employer mandate for another year and in some cases maybe forever. …last summer the Treasury offered a year-long delay until 2015 despite having no statutory authorization. …Now the new delay arrives amid a furious debate about jobs after a damning Congressional Budget Office report last week, only this time with liberals celebrating ObamaCare’s supposed benefits to the job market. …Oh, and the Treasury also notes that, “As these limited transition rules take effect, we will consider whether it is necessary to further extend any of them beyond 2015.” So the law may be suspended indefinitely if the White House feels like it. …The text of the Affordable Care Act specifically says when the mandate must take effect—”after December 31, 2013″—and does not give the White House the authority to change the terms. Changing an unambiguous statutory mandate requires the approval of Congress, but then this President has often decided the law is whatever he says it is.

I admit that part of me wants Obamacare delayed as much as possible.

After all, even more jobs will be lost if the employer mandate is properly enforced, and that would add to an already anemic employment situation.

But America isn’t Argentina, or some other Banana Republic, where the law is based on the arbitrary and capricious decisions of some political thug.

Political Cartoons by Lisa Benson

At least it shouldn’t be.

If the President wants to change the law, he should propose legislation and send it to Congress.

But it’s obvious what that isn’t happening. The White House understands that it would be forced to make concessions to get the changes it wants.

So why not make a mockery of the rule of law instead?

As nicely illustrated by the Lisa Benson cartoon.

This is such a depressing topic that we need to close this post with some cartoons about the failure of Obamacare.

We’ll start with Henry Payne, who uses an Olympics theme.

Political Cartoons by Henry Payne

Gary Varvel has some fun mocking the left about being “liberated” from the drudgery of employment.

Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

Fans of James Bond my remember a certain scene from Goldfinger, and Glenn McCoy recreates that scene.

Political Cartoons by Glenn McCoy

Steven Breen looks at the law’s impact on jobs.

Political Cartoons by Steve Breen

And Robert Gorrell makes a nice point about labor supply incentives.

Political Cartoons by Bob Gorrell

These are all amusing cartoons, but let’s not forget that Obama will get the last laugh if the final result is more dependency and a permanent expansion of the welfare state.

At some point, we need to restore genuine market forces and get a lower-cost, more-efficient healthcare system.

And that means not only repealing Obamacare, but also addressing all the other programs and policies which have caused the third-party payer crisis.

P.S. Here’s some good news showing we’re not quite at the same level as Argentina.

You may remember what I wrote back in 2012 about the IRS seeking to impose new restrictions on the tax preparation industry.

This was a power grab with no legal justification. Indeed, it seems to have been an example of crony capitalism since H&R Block wanted to shut down low-cost competitors.

That was the bad news. The good news is that the Institute for Justice sued to block the IRS/H&R block scheme.

And the great news is that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just drop-kicked the IRS thugs into a dumpster.

Here’s part of the Court’s decision, as reported in the Washington Post.

It might be that allowing the IRS to regulate tax-return preparers more stringently would be wise as a policy matter. But that is a decision for Congress and the President to make if they wish by enacting new legislation…. The IRS may not unilaterally expand its authority.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the Courts do the same – by defending the rule of law – on future Obamacare decisions.

Read Full Post »

The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death,” but the same can’t be said of Washington, DC.

The bureaucrats, lobbyists, politicians, contractors, insiders, cronyists, and influence peddlers have rigged the system so that they get rich by diverting money from people in the productive sector of the economy.

How bad is the disconnect between Washington and real America?

Well, according to Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, people in every state have a negative outlook.

But there is one outpost of giddy prosperity, and that’s the District of Columbia, where residents have a 20-point gap compared to the most optimistic (or, to be more accurate, least pessimistic) state and a whopping 35-point gap with the average American.

Gallup Confidence DC

If you’re a glass-half-full person, there is a tiny sliver of good news in the new Gallup report.

It turns out that DC is not as fat and happy as it was one year ago, and the likely reason is that the federal Leviathan got put on a modest diet.

The District of Columbia (+19) is the clear outlier in economic confidence, having the only positive reading for 2013 and well above the readings for even the most optimistic states. Its confidence has taken a hit, however, since 2012, when its index was +29. Likely factors in the 10-point drop include October’s federal government shutdown as well as the sequestration spending cuts that occurred earlier in the year.

This explains, of course, why lobbyists were so bitterly opposed to the sequester. It reduced the money flow to Washington, and that meant less of our money to be shared by looter class that dominates the DC establishment.

Unfortunately, the establishment ultimately prevailed and they weakened the sequester as part of the Murray-Ryan tax-hike budget deal.

So don’t be surprised if Washington’s Economic Confidence Index is higher when new numbers are released next year.

And that means that we’ll be one step closer to being another Argentina, a nation on the decline because a corrupt elite uses the coercive power of government to obtain undeserved and unearned wealth.

And the most depressing sign that this already is happening to the United States is that so many of America’s richest communities are now part of the Washington metropolitan area.

P.S. I’m a big fan of Australia. Their private Social Security system is a huge success, and I’ve even suggested that it might be the best place to go if America suffers a Greek-style fiscal collapse.

But that doesn’t mean its government isn’t capable of squandering money in stupendous fashion. Check out this blurb from an Australian news report.

A refrigerator lightbulb retailing for about $3 at a hardware store ended up costing a far north Queensland state school almost $500 after Queensland’s Public Works Department sent an electrician to install it in a teacher’s government-owned home. Doomadgee State School, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, was billed $200 for labour alone after the teacher was told workplace health and safety regulations prevented any staff member from buying and replacing the bulb themselves

This sounds even crazier than some of the absurd examples of waste that I listed last month.

And since I’m in the uncharacteristic position of beating up on Australia, you may as well click here and here to see other examples of government stupidity Down Under.

Though, to be fair, at least the Aussies manage to involve sex when trying to bilk the workplace compensation system.

Read Full Post »

Over the years, I’ve shared many charts, graphs, and tables to help people understand that the welfare state is fundamentally unsustainable.

And, assuming there’s not genuine entitlement reform, many of these fiscal estimates show that the United States has a very perilous future.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, the United States is in worse shape than every nation other than Japan and the United Kingdom.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has a bigger long-run fiscal problem than all countries other than New Zealand and Japan.

And according to International Monetary Fund estimates of both future spending increases and the need for reform, no nation has a bigger problem than the United States.

So do all these numbers mean the United States is really in worse shape than basket cases such as Italy, Spain, Japan, France, and Greece?

Yes and no. I realize that answer makes me sound like a politician, but it is  hard to answer that question because America’s grim long-run numbers are largely a function of rapidly rising health care spending.

And if you assume that Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare are left unreformed, then the budgets for these programs will eat up an ever-larger share of our economy and we’ll eventually suffer a fiscal collapse.

However, if you assume that these programs at some point get reformed (and it better be the right kind of reform), then the long-run outlook is considerably less severe.

But notice that I wrote “less severe.” That’s because we still have a demographic issue. Any type of pay-as-you-go welfare state becomes increasingly expensive when there are more and more old people and fewer and fewer young workers.

This is why new projections from the Pew Research Center are so sobering. They show the change in age dependency ratio between now and 2050.

As you can see, we currently have about 50 young or old people for every 100 working-age people. By 2050, however, there will be 66 dependents for every 100 working-age people. And most of that added dependency will be caused by an aging population, not more children.

Age Dependency Ratio Pew

But here’s the good news. Compared to nations such as Spain and Japan, we’re in pretty good shape. Or, to be more accurate, we don’t face as deep of a problem. Indeed, it’s hard to see how those nations will survive.

Same with South Korea and Italy.

Even Germany has a very difficult future. Its welfare state may not be as bloated as some other nations in Europe, and the work ethic may be stronger than most other European countries, but as I already explained, any welfare state becomes unsustainable without new workers to pay taxes to support the dependent class.

In other words, demographics can be destiny. Look at this data on the nations with the lowest fertility rates. You’ll notice that Germans are not reproducing. And the same is true of the Japanese, Italians, and South Koreans (Spain is in 191st place, so they also aren’t having many kids).

Fertility Rate by Nation

I don’t know where this will lead, but it won’t be pretty. Simply stated, the welfare states in these nations will have to be reformed.

But how does that happen in countries where people have been told for decades that they have a “human right” to freebies from the government?

I fear that European nations are going to suffer some major dislocations. And as this Michael Ramirez cartoon suggests, the same problem could happen in America.

Let’s close with some optimism. You’ll notice that two of the four jurisdictions with the lowest fertility rates in the entire world are Hong Kong and Singapore. Yet there’s no major long-run fiscal crisis in those places.

Why? Because they have “pre-funded” retirement systems. In other words, they have personal retirement accounts instead of tax-and-transfer entitlement systems.

The moral of the story is that demographics can be destiny, but it doesn’t have to be.

Something to keep in mind next time there’s a discussion of Social Security reform.

P.S. Considering the high levels of pulchritude in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, I’m mystified that there’s so little reproduction in those nations. Maybe I should volunteer to help out?

Read Full Post »

I asked back in September whether all the bad news about Obamacare meant it was time to feel sorry for President Obama and other statists.

Some people apparently didn’t realize I was being sarcastic, so I got some negative feedback.

I’ve since learned to be more careful with my language, and subsequent columns about Obamacare developments have used more direct rhetoric such as Obamacare disaster, Obamacare Schadenfreude, and the continuing Obamacare disaster.

Well, I don’t even know if there are words that can describe the latest bit of bad news about Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office, which usually carries water for those who favor bigger government, has been forced to acknowledge that Obamacare is going to wreak havoc with America’s job market.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a column on the topic, giving considerable and deserved credit to Casey Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago who has produced first-rate research on implicit marginal tax rates and labor supply incentives.

Rarely are political tempers so raw over an 11-page appendix to a dense budget projection for the next decade. But then the CBO—Congress’s official fiscal scorekeeper, widely revered by Democrats and Republicans alike as the gold standard of economic analysis—reported that by 2024 the equivalent of 2.5 million Americans who were otherwise willing and able to work before ObamaCare will work less or not at all as a result of ObamaCare. As the CBO admits, that’s a “substantially larger” and “considerably higher” subtraction to the labor force than the mere 800,000 the budget office estimated in 2010. The overall level of labor will fall by 1.5% to 2% over the decade, the CBO figures. Mr. Mulligan’s empirical research puts the best estimate of the contraction at 3%. The CBO still has some of the economics wrong, he said in a phone interview Thursday, “but, boy, it’s a lot better to be off by a factor of two than a factor of six.”

That’s a lot of lost jobs, which is going to translate into lower levels of economic output and reduced living standards.

By the way, I can’t resist quibbling with the assertion that CBO is “widely revered” and that it’s the “gold standard of economic analysis.”

Utter nonsense. CBO helped grease the skids for Obamacare by producing biased numbers when the law was being debated.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. CBO also produces “analysis” which implies that you maximize growth with 100 percent tax rates. And the bureaucrats at CBO also are reflexive advocates of Keynesian economics, which is why they claimed that Obama’s so-called stimulus was creating jobs even though unemployment was rising.

So you can understand why I don’t like citing CBO numbers, even when they happen to support my position.

As far as I’m concerned, the bureaucracy should be shut down. And if Republicans win the Senate in the 2014 elections, it will be interesting to see whether they have the brains to at least reform CBO to limit future damage.

But I’ve digressed long enough. Let’s get back to the WSJ column about the latest Obamacare disaster.

Our friends on the left are in a very tough position.

…liberals have turned to claiming that ObamaCare’s missing workers will be a gift to society. Since employers aren’t cutting jobs per se through layoffs or hourly take-backs, people are merely choosing rationally to supply less labor. Thanks to ObamaCare, we’re told, Americans can finally quit the salt mines and blacking factories and retire early, or spend more time with the children, or become artists. Mr. Mulligan reserves particular scorn for the economists making this “eliminated from the drudgery of labor market” argument, which he views as a form of trahison des clercs. …A job, Mr. Mulligan explains, “is a transaction between buyers and sellers. When a transaction doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. We know that it doesn’t matter on which side of the market you put the disincentives, the results are the same. . . . In this case you’re putting an implicit tax on work for households, and employers aren’t willing to compensate the households enough so they’ll still work.” Jobs can be destroyed by sellers (workers) as much as buyers (businesses).

By the way, just in case you’re an unsophisticated rube like me, Wiktionary says that trahison des clercs means “a compromise of intellectual integrity by members of an intelligentsia.”

Which is a pretty good description of leftists who are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to rationalize that joblessness and government dependency are good things.

And Prof. Mulligan makes the right analogy.

He adds: “I can understand something like cigarettes and people believe that there’s too much smoking, so we put a tax on cigarettes, so people smoke less, and we say that’s a good thing. OK. But are we saying we were working too much before? Is that the new argument? I mean make up your mind. We’ve been complaining for six years now that there’s not enough work being done. . . . Even before the recession there was too little work in the economy. Now all of a sudden we wake up and say we’re glad that people are working less? We’re pursuing our dreams?” The larger betrayal, Mr. Mulligan argues, is that the same economists now praising the great shrinking workforce used to claim that ObamaCare would expand the labor market. He points to a 2011 letter organized by Harvard’s David Cutler and the University of Chicago’s Harold Pollack, signed by dozens of left-leaning economists including Nobel laureates, stating “our strong conclusion” that ObamaCare will strengthen the economy and create 250,000 to 400,000 jobs annually.

Gee, that “strong conclusion” about an increase in jobs somehow turned into a cold reality that the economy might lose the equivalent of 2.5 million jobs.

This is very grim news. We can be happy that there’s now even more evidence that big government doesn’t work, but we should never forget that there are real victims when statist policies lead to less growth and more joblessness.

So let’s try to bring some cheer to a dismal situation with some new Obamacare cartoons.

Our first entry is from Chip Bok, who is mocking the New York Times for writing that fewer jobs was “a liberating result of the law.”

Gary Varvel’s analysis of the job impact has a seasonal theme.

And the great Michael Ramirez points out that the death panel has been very busy.

Lisa Benson picks up on the same theme, pointing out that at least Granny is still safe.

And Henry Payne makes a subtle, but superb point about labor supply incentives.

Just like this Chuck Asay cartoon, this Wizard-of-Id parody., and this Robert Gorrell cartoon.

Let’s now look at another Lisa Benson cartoon. It’s not about the job losses, but the underlying foolishness of how Obamacare is designed.

And if you like cartoons with sharks, here’s a classic one about Keynesian economics.

Let’s close with a couple of cartoons that look at the big picture.

Glenn McCoy shares a warning label.

And Steve Breen also has a warning label about Obamacare, but it’s much quicker to read.

Last but not least, Scott Stantis looks at one of the side effects of Obamacare.

Stantis Obamacare Cartoon

Stantis, by the way, produced the best-ever cartoon about Keynesian economics.

P.S. If you want to learn more about how redistribution programs such as Obamacare trap people in dependency and discourage them from the job market, click here.

There are even some honest leftists who recognize this is a serious problem.

Read Full Post »

My main goal for fiscal policy is shrinking the size and scope of the federal government and lowering the burden of government spending.

But I’m also motivated by a desire for better tax policy, which means lower tax rates, less double taxation, and fewer corrupting loopholes and other distortions.

One of the big obstacles to good tax policy is that many statists think that higher tax rates on the rich are a simple and easy way of financing bigger government.

I’ve tried to explain that soak-the-rich tax policies won’t work because upper-income taxpayers have considerable ability to change the timing, level, and composition of their income. Simply stated, when the tax rate goes up, their taxable income goes down.

And that means it’s not clear whether higher tax rates lead to more revenue or less revenue. This is the underlying principle of the Laffer Curve.

For more information, here’s a video from Prager University, narrated by UCLA Professor of Economics Tim Groseclose.

An excellent job, and I particularly like the data showing that the rich paid more to the IRS following Reagan’s tax cuts.

But I do have one minor complaint.

The video would have been even better if it emphasized that the tax rate shouldn’t be at the top of the “hump.”

Why? Because as tax rates get closer and closer to the revenue-maximizing point, the economic damage becomes very significant. Here’s some of what I wrote about that topic back in 2012.

…labor taxes could be approximately doubled before getting to the downward-sloping portion of the curve. But notice that this means that tax revenues only increase by about 10 percent. …this study implies that the government would reduce private-sector taxable income by about $20 for every $1 of new tax revenue. Does that seem like good public policy? Ask yourself what sort of politicians are willing to destroy so much private sector output to get their greedy paws on a bit more revenue.

The key point to remember is that we want to be at the growth-maximizing point of the Laffer Curve, not the revenue-maximizing point.

P.S. Here’s my video on the Laffer Curve.

Since it was basically a do-it-yourself production, the graphics aren’t as fancy as the ones you find in the Prager University video, but I’m pleased that I emphasized on more than one occasion that it’s bad to be at the revenue-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve.

Not as bad as putting rates even higher, as some envy-motivated leftists would prefer, but still an example of bad tax policy.

P.P.S. Switching to a different topic, it’s been a while since I’ve mocked Sandra Fluke, a real-life Julia.

To fix this oversight, here’s an amusing image based on Ms. Fluke’s apparent interest in becoming a politician.

Fluke Filing Fee

But she’s apparently reconsidered her plans to run for Congress and instead now intends to seek a seat in the California state legislature.

She’ll fit in perfectly.

If you want to see previous examples of Fluke mockery, check out this great Reason video, this funny cartoon, and four more jokes here.

P.P.P.S. And since I’m making one of left-wing women, we may as well include some humor about Wendy Davis.

Check out this excerpt from a story in the Daily Caller.

A dating service that pairs wealthy “sugar daddies” with “sugar babies” for “mutually beneficial dating arrangements” has endorsed Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. SeekingArrangement.com’s Friday announcement followed a recent report in the Dallas Morning News which detailed a number of discrepancies in Davis’ personal narrative, including that she left a man 13 years her senior the day after he made the last payment for her Harvard Law School education. “Wendy Davis is proof that the sugar lifestyle is empowering,” seeking arrangements founder and CEO Brandon Wade said in his endorsement.

Mr. Wade obviously is a clever marketer, but he may also be a closet libertarian.

After all, he also mocked Obamacare with an ad telling young women to join his site so they could find a sugar daddy to pay for the higher premiums caused by government-run healthcare.

Then again, I’ve also speculated that Jay Leno and Bill Maher may be closet libertarians, so I may be guilty of bending over backwards to find allies.

Read Full Post »

A just-released report from the bean counters at the Congressional Budget Office is getting lots of attention because the bureaucrats are now admitting that Obamacare will impose much more damage to the economy than they previously predicted.

Of course, many people knew from the start that Obamacare would be a disaster and that it would make the healthcare system even more dysfunctional, so CBO is way behind the curve.

Moreover, CBO’s deeply flawed estimates back in 2009 and 2010 helped grease the skids for passage of the President’s failed law, so I hardly think they deserve any applause for now producing more realistic numbers.

But today’s post isn’t about the Obamacare fiasco. I want to focus instead on some other numbers in the new CBO report.

The bureaucrats have put together their new 10-year “baseline” forecast of how much money the government will collect based on current tax laws and the latest economic predictions.

These numbers show that tax revenue is projected to increase by an average of 5.4 percent per year.

As many readers already know, I don’t fixate on balancing the budget. I care much more about reducing the burden of government spending and restoring the kind of limited government our Founding Fathers envisioned.

But whenever the CBO publishes new numbers, I can’t resist showing how simple it is to get rid of red ink by following my Golden Rule of fiscal restraint.

Here’s a chart showing projected revenue over the next 10 years, along with lines showing what happens if spending (currently $3.54 trillion) follows various growth paths.

Balancing the Budget Is Easy

The two biggest takeaways are that a spending freeze (similar to what we got in 2012 and 2013) would almost balance the budget in 2016 and would definitely produce a budget surplus in 2017.

I also highlight what would happen if politicians merely limited spending so it grew at the rate of inflation, about 2.3 percent per year. Under that scenario, the budget would be balanced in 2019 (actually a $20 billion surplus, but that’s an asterisk by Washington standards).

In other words, there is no need to raise taxes. It’s very simple to balance the budget without extracting more money from taxpayers.

This means the Simpson-Bowles people are wrong. The Domenici-Rivlin folks are wrong. Senator Patty Murray is wrong. Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham are wrong. And (here’s a surprise) the Obama Administration is wrong.

And we have some additional evidence. It’s a chart taken directly from the CBO report and it shows that revenues over the next 10 years will be above the long-run average. This is because even weak growth slowly but surely produces more revenue for Washington, in part because it gradually pushes people into higher tax brackets.

CBO Above-Average Revenues

And this chart just looks at the next 10 yeas. If you peruse the long-run fiscal projections, you’ll see that the tax burden is projected to increase dramatically over the next several decades.

The moral of the story is that there should be tax cuts (ideally as part of tax reform), not tax increases.

P.S. Just in case you think I was being unfair in my description of the Congressional Budget Office, keep in mind that these are the bureaucrats who advise Congress that economic performance increases when taxes go up.

P.P.S. And even though CBO is finally admitting some of the flaws in Obamacare, the bureaucrats are still unrepentant Keynesians. Check out this excerpt from a story in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, cited the CBO’s finding that the law will “boost overall demand for goods and services over the next few years,” This is because people benefiting from its expansion of Medicaid and insurance subsidies will likely have extra money to spend, which “will in turn boost demand for labor over the next few years,” the report says.

So CBO would like us to believe that the more money the government redistributes, the more growth we’ll get. I guess this explains why France is such an economic dynamo.

More seriously, this is the same flawed analysis that allowed CBO to claim the so-called stimulus was creating jobs as employment was falling.

You can understand why I’ve written that Keynesian economics is the left’s perpetual motion machine.

P.P.P.S. Here’s a Center for Freedom and Prosperity video that I narrated back in 2010, which explains why it is simple to balance the budget. The numbers in the video obviously need to be replaced with the ones I shared above, but the analysis is still right on the mark.

P.P.P.P.S. And if you want to know how to achieve the modest spending restraint needed to balance the budget, the Swiss “debt brake” would be a good place to start.

It’s really a spending cap, and it’s worth noting that the Swiss budget has increased by only 2 percent per year since voters imposed the law back in 2001.

Or maybe we could somehow hope that politicians would simply be responsible, like lawmakers in Canada and New Zealand in the 1990s. Or we could reincarnate Reagan. Or even bring back Clinton.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Since we started this post by talking about how Obamacare is undermining the economy, let’s close with a great example of Obamacare humor.

Remember Pajama Boy? Well, he’s back for an encore performance thanks to some very clever people at Americans for Prosperity.

There’s no update, by the way, on whether being without a job impacts his chances of getting a date with Julia. They’d make such a good couple.

Pajama Boy Jobless

This is amusing, but it surely isn’t as funny as President Obama’s Chief Economist, who actually argued with a straight face that it was a good sign that Obamacare was leading people to drop out of the labor force because unemployment  “might be a better choice and a better option than what they had before.”

Sort of reminds me of this Chuck Asay cartoon, or this famous set of wagon cartoons.

Dependency for more and more people. Such an inviting concept…until this happens.

Read Full Post »

Looking at labor markets, my biggest concern is the drop in labor force participation.

The data from the Labor Department on the employment-population ratio, for instance, suggest a permanent reduction in the share of the population that is working.

And since economic output and living standards ultimately depend on the quality and quantity of labor and capital that is being productively utilized, it obviously is not good news that millions of people are no longer employed.

But if I had to identify a second-biggest concern, it would be the “Europeanization” of long-run unemployment in the United States. Specifically, we have a growing problem of too many people being unemployed for long periods.

I pontificate about this issue in a column for CNN.

…there are almost 4 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months. That’s a big number. What’s disconcerting is that the current long-term unemployment is more serious than in previous economic downturns. Data from previous business cycles show people suffering from long-run joblessness at worst accounted for about 20% to 25% of the unemployed. In recent months, that percentage has jumped to nearly 40% — an all-time record! Indeed, America is beginning to look like Europe. It used to be that long-term unemployment in the U.S. was only a fraction of Europe’s, but the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that the United States has caught up to many of Europe’s welfare states. That’s not a race we want to be part of, much less win.

Here are some charts that illustrate the severity of the problem.

Let’s start with a look at what’s happened over time in the United States.

Long-Run Unemployment as Share of Unemployed

As you can see, the problem of long-run unemployment rises and falls with the business cycle. But during previous recessions, the share of the unemployed who were out of work for more than six months rarely climbed above 20 percent. And then the problem quickly got better once the economy began to recover.

That’s no longer the case. Long-term unemployment peaked at more than 40 percent of overall joblessness between 2010 and 2012. And even though we’ve supposedly been in a recovery since the summer of 2009, that number has fallen to only about 37 percent.

Now let’s compare the data from the United States to the numbers from other developed nations. As you can see, the United States used to have a huge advantage over other industrialized countries, but that gap has almost completely disappeared.

Long-Run Unemployment - US v OECD

We don’t know, to be sure, whether this represents a permanent change. But my concern is that we’re more and more likely to see bad European-type numbers now that we’re enduring European-type economic policies of bigger government and more intervention.

There is an alternative, which I explained in my CNN column, that could improve American labor markets.

…what’s the solution? There’s no silver bullet, but economic growth is the single most important key. …Unfortunately, …we’re still suffering through a sluggish economic cycle. Recent improvements in the overall employment rate are in large part the result of people dropping out of the labor force, and the problem of long-run unemployment has barely budged. To boost employment, we need the kind of strong growth America enjoyed during the Reagan and Clinton years, when millions of new jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell dramatically. To get there, we need a return to the types of free-market policies we got under Reagan and Clinton: a lower burden of government spending and less intervention from Washington.

Seems simple, right? We got good growth and job numbers during the Reagan and Clinton years, so we should replicate those policies.

But that hasn’t been the case. And the problem didn’t start with Obama, though he’s certainly made it worse.

…we’ve been moving in the exact opposite direction. Under both Presidents Bush and Obama, the size and scope of government has expanded, and the United States — which had the world’s third-most free-market economy when Bill Clinton left office — has now dropped to 17th in the Economic Freedom of the World rankings. We also need to make sure the unemployed don’t get lured into long-term dependency. One glaring example of misguided big-government policy is the argument to endlessly extend unemployment benefits. …Moreover, Obama’s proposed hike in the minimum wage…is the equivalent of sawing off the bottom rungs on the economic ladder. Simply stated, businesses create jobs when they think a new employee will help the bottom line. Artificially raising the cost of workers — particularly those with marginal skills — is a recipe for creating more unemployment.

I hate repeating myself, but it bears saying over and over again that the key to prosperity is small government and free markets.

But to the extent we become more like France and less like Hong Kong, we are doomed to get anemic economic performance and fall in the competitiveness rankings.

P.S. On another topic, it pains me to report that one of the worst examples of DC sleaze is about the become law.

The so-called farm bill has cleared Congress after corrupt Democrats seeking more food stamp spending Farm Bill Spendingjoined forces with corrupt Republicans seeking more agri-business welfare.

The invaluable Tim Carney describes the lobbyist feeding frenzy that produced this monstrosity.

A trillion-dollar, pork-filled farm bill stuffed with corporate welfare passed the House last week and cleared the Senate on Tuesday… The bill perpetuates the federal sugar program. Arguably Washington’s least defensible corporate welfare boondoggle, the sugar program keeps out foreign sugar, hiking prices for consumers, killing jobs for candy makers and enriching a few politically connected sugar producers. The farm bill replaces a flawed program of direct payments to farmers with a potentially more wasteful program of subsidized crop insurance, which takes money from taxpayers and gives it to banks and farming businesses. …The bill had its supporters, of course: the agribusiness lobby, the farm-finance lobby, the White House and the Congressional leadership of both parties. …The Ag lobby got what they wanted. The GOP leadership passed its bill. Democrats got their trillion-dollar price tag.

But here’s the part that really gets me pissed.

Lawmakers also stripped out of the final farm bill a provision that would have required congressmen to disclose the farm subsidies they receive from taxpayers.

This Chip Bok cartoon is a good summary of what happened.

Farm Bill Cartoon Bok

Just in case you need a reminder about why the Department of Agriculture should be abolished.

P.P.S. Since we’re sharing bad news, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that the new head of the IRS has decided to reward employees by giving them more of our money. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Washington Times.

Citing the need to boost employee morale, the Internal Revenue Service’s new commissioner said Monday that he will pay out millions of dollars in bonuses to agency employees, reversing a decision his predecessor made to save money… The move didn’t sit well with congressional critics who have been stupefied by the agency’s targeting of tea party groups… “It’s hard to think of a group of people less deserving of bonuses than IRS employees. Frankly, this is outrageous,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

Hey, but nothing to worry about.

After all, the President has appointed one of his big donors to investigate whether anybody at the IRS did anything wrong.

And we already know the results of that investigation. As this Jerry Holbert cartoon notes, the President has told us there isn’t a smidgen of corruption.

IRS Musical Cartoon

Gee, I know I’m satisfied with that assurance. After all, the President would never lie to us, would he?

I guess this is what they mean by trickle-down government.

Read Full Post »

Why do statists support higher tax rates?

The most obvious answer is greed. In other words, leftists want more tax money since they personally benefit when there’s a larger burden of government spending. And the greed can take many forms.

They may want bigger government because they’re welfare recipients getting handouts.

They may want bigger government because they are overpaid bureaucrats administering ever-growing programs.

They may want bigger government because they’re lobbyists manipulating the system and it’s good to have more loot circulating.

They may want bigger government because they’re one of the many interest groups feeding at the federal trough.

Or they may want bigger government because they are politicians seeking to buy votes.

But greed isn’t the only answer.

Some statists want higher tax rates for reasons of spite and envy.

Consider this poll from the United Kingdom. It shows that an overwhelming majority of Labour voters want higher tax rates even if the government doesn’t collect any money.

Class Warfare UK Tax Poll

These numbers are remarkable.  It’s not just that the Labour Party is filled with people who want to punish success, I’m also dismayed to see that 16 percent of Tory voters and 35 percent of UKIP voters also want class-warfare tax hikes solely as an instrument of envy (though, given the mentality of some of their leaders, I’m pleasantly surprised that “only” 29 percent of Lib Dems are motivated by spite).

What about Americans? Do they have the same mentality?

We don’t have identical polling data, so it’s hard to say. But it would be very interesting to show leftists the IRS data from the 1980s, which unambiguously demonstrates that rich people paid more tax after Reagan dramatically lowered the top rate, and then see how they would answer the same question.

If they’re motivated by greed, they would favor Reagan’s tax cuts. But if they’re motivated by envy, like leftists in the United Kingdom, they’ll be against Reagan’s lower tax rates.

Unfortunately, there’s at least one prominent statist in America who has the same views as England’s Labour Party voters. Pay close attention at the 4:20 mark of this video.

Yes, you heard correctly. President Obama wants higher tax rates and class-warfare tax policy even if the government doesn’t collect any additional money.

Which means, of course, that he’s willing to undermine American competitiveness and reduce economic output solely to penalize entrepreneurs, investors, small business owners, and other “rich” taxpayers.

Remarkable.

P.S. By the way, the poll of UK voters wasn’t merely a theoretical question. UK Laffer Curve Class WarfareThe previous Labour Party government raised the top tax rate from 40 percent to 50 percent near the end of last decade and there’s very strong evidence that this tax hike failed to raise any revenue. In all likelihood, the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, imposed the class-warfare policy in hopes of gaining votes in the upcoming election.

P.P.S. Notwithstanding their many flaws, at least the folks who work for left-leaning international bureaucracies acknowledge the Laffer Curve and generally argue against pushing tax rates above the revenue-maximizing level.

Since it takes a lot to be to the left of the United Nations, that gives you an idea of where Obama (and UK Labour Party voters) are on the ideological spectrum. Which is why I made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Birthers accuse Obama of being born in Denmark rather than Kenya.

Read Full Post »

Imagine you’re a statist and you want to raise your kids to have the same spiteful and envious mindset.

What’s the best approach? Well, sending your children to a government school is an obvious first step.

But kids sometimes rebel against big-government orthodoxy, so perhaps you want to take additional measures such as a visit to their school from President Obama.

As shown in the image, he can tell them about the glories of redistribution.

You can also make sure to have them only visit certain houses on Halloween. That will help them appreciate class-warfare policy.

That being said, you probably want some insurance. An extra way of helping them understand the joy of living off other people.

So what could be better than these new toys, called the Kronies!

With these new toys, your kids will enjoy hours of fun as they learn to use mandates, protectionism, bailouts, and pork to obtain undeserved wealth!

They’ll definitely realize that big government is very profitable if you’re an insider!

P.S. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I feel compelled to inform left-wing readers that this post – including the video – is satire. In other words, there aren’t real action figures called the Kronies. If you want to teach your kids to rape and pillage other people using the coercive power of government, you’re on your own. My only advice is to keep them from reading about the fiscal chaos in Europe so they don’t realize the consequences of redistribution and corruption.

P.P.S. And for the rest of you readers, the Kronies satire video was produced by John Papola, who gave us the famous Keynes v. Hayek rap contest, followed by the equally entertaining sequel, featuring a boxing match between Keynes and Hayek. And even though it’s not the right time of year, he also gave us the satirical commercial for Keynesian Christmas carols.

Read Full Post »

As part of his State-of-the-Union speech, President Obama announced he was going to unilaterally create a new retirement savings account that supposedly would be available to all workers.

Employers would be mandated to facilitate these”MyRA” accounts, and the money collected would be invested in “guaranteed” government bonds.

There are some good features to the MyRA plan, most notably the fact that money in the accounts would be protected from double taxation. Workers would put after-tax money in the accounts, but there would be no additional layers of tax on any earnings, or when the money is withdrawn.

In other words, a MyRA would be akin to a back-ended (or Roth) IRA.

But there are some bad features, including the fact that taxpayers would be subsidizing the earnings, or interest, paid to account holders (though this would be a relatively benign form of government spending, at least compared to Obamacare, ethanol, etc, etc).

My biggest complaints, though, are the sins of omission, which I discuss in this interview for Blaze TV.

Simply stated, if Obama was concerned about low returns for savers, he should be directing his ire at the Federal Reserve, which has artificially pushed interest rates to very low levels as part of its easy-money policy.

But more importantly, MyRAs will be very inadequate for most workers with modest incomes. If the President really wanted to help ordinary people save for retirement, he would follow the successful example of more than 30 other nations and allow workers to shift their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts.

This video explains why reform is so desirable.

Critics say it would be very expensive to make a transition to this modern system, and they’re right. If we let younger workers put their payroll taxes in a personal accounts, we’ll have to come up with a new source of revenue to finance benefits being paid to current retirees and older workers.

And we’re talking lots of money, as much as $7 trillion over the next few decades.

But that’s a lot less than the $36 trillion cash shortfall that we’ll have to somehow deal with if we maintain the current system.

In other words, we’re in a very deep hole. But if we shift to personal retirement accounts, the hole won’t be nearly as large.

P.S. The video mentions that Chile and Australia deserve special attention. Click here if you want to learn about Chile’s successful system and click here if you want to see how Australia’s “superannuation” system has been a big winner.

P.P.S. Some people already have asked me whether I was too Pollyannish in saying that there’s no risk for several decades that Washington will default. I could be wrong, of course, and I have shared BISOECD, and IMF data that reveals the United States has gigantic long-run fiscal challenges. But as I said in the interview, I think most other welfare states will collapse first, and that will lead to “flight capital” coming to America, which will help prop up our system.

P.P.P.S. You can enjoy some Social Security cartoons here, here, and here. And we also have a Social Security joke if you appreciate dark humor.

P.P.P.P.S. You probably don’t want to know how Obama would like to “fix” the Social Security shortfall.

Read Full Post »

There are certain groups of people who support gun control for very logical reasons.

Criminals are obviously big fans of gun control because they prefer unarmed victims.

Dictators also are big supporters of gun control because they want unarmed subjects.

Other segments of the population like gun control for inexplicable ideological reasons.

International bureaucrats advocate for gun control because they apparently think government should be daddy and citizens should be children.

Foreign politicians impose gun control because…well, I’m not sure why, but probably because they’re weenies.

And some American politicians want gun control because it appears they viscerally oppose individual freedom.

But I’m at a loss to understand why other segments of the population are on the wrong side of the gun issue. Why, for instance, does the National Football League have a policy prohibiting this very simple and innocuous ad from airing during the Super Bowl?

You may be thinking that the NFL simply doesn’t want to get involved in a controversial issue. And I wouldn’t be upset if that was the motivating factor.

But don’t forget that they allowed these two political clowns to appear in this ad during last year’s Super Bowl.

In other words, it’s okay for a couple of hack politicians to peddle anti-Second Amendment nonsense, but the NFL is barring a company from airing an ad designed to sell a legal product.

So what’s going on? I’m guessing the League is barring the ad from Daniel Defense for reasons of political correctness.

But your guess is as good as mine.

If you want more information about this kerfuffle, here’s a video about the controversy from the National Rifle Association.

For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with everything in the video. It’s wrong for the NFL to block the ad, but that doesn’t mean it’s censorship or a violation of the First Amendment. That occurs when government is prohibiting a voice from being heard. When a private entity does it, it’s just empty-headed political correctness.

P.S. Maybe we should be happy the NFL gave Mayor Bloomberg air time. When he gets involved in fights to restrict the Second Amendment, the good guys seem to win.

P.P.S. Here’s my favorite video from the NRA.

P.P.P.S. If you like pro-Second Amendment videos, here’s a great collection.

Read Full Post »

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: