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Archive for September, 2014

Much of my writing is focused on the real-world impact of government policy, and this is why I repeatedly look at the relative economic performance of big government jurisdictions and small government jurisdictions.

But I don’t just highlight differences between nations. Yes, it’s educational to look at North Korea vs. South Korea or Chile vs. Venezuela vs. Argentina, but I also think you can learn a lot by looking at what’s happening with different states in America.

So we’ve looked at high-tax states that are languishing, such as California and Illinois, and compared them to zero-income-tax states such as Texas.

With this in mind, you can understand that I was intrigued to see that even the establishment media is noticing that Texas is out-pacing the rest of the nation.

Here are some excerpts from a report by CNN Money on rapid population growth in Texas.

More Americans moved to Texas in recent years than any other state: A net gain of more than 387,000 in the latest Census for 2013. …Five Texas cities — Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth — were among the top 20 fastest growing large metro areas. Some smaller Texas metro areas grew even faster. In oil-rich Odessa, the population grew 3.3% and nearby Midland recorded a 3% gain.

But why is the population growing?

Well, CNN Money points out that low housing prices and jobs are big reasons.

And on the issue of housing, the article does acknowledge the role of “easy regulations” that enable new home construction.

But on the topic of jobs, the piece contains some good data on employment growth, but no mention of policy.

Jobs is the No. 1 reason for population moves, with affordable housing a close second. …Jobs are plentiful in Austin, where the unemployment rate is just 4.6%. Moody’s Analytics projects job growth to average 4% a year through 2015. Just as important, many jobs there are well paid: The median income of more than $75,000 is nearly 20% higher than the national median.

That’s it. Read the entire article if you don’t believe me, but the reporter was able to write a complete article about the booming economy in Texas without mentioning – not even once – that there’s no state income tax.

But that wasn’t the only omission.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is the 4th-best state in the Tax Foundation’s ranking of state and local tax burdens.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was the least oppressive state in the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Soft Tyranny Index.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was ranked #20 in a study of the overall fiscal condition of the 50 states.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is in 4th place in a combined ranking of economic freedom in U.S. state and Canadian provinces.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was ranked #11 in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is in 14th place in the Mercatus ranking of overall freedom for the 50 states (and in 10th place for fiscal freedom).

By the way, I’m not trying to argue that Texas is the best state.

Indeed, it only got the top ranking in one of the measures cited above.

My point, instead, is simply to note that it takes willful blindness to write about the strong population growth and job performance of Texas without making at least a passing reference to the fact that it is a low-tax, pro-market state.

At least compared to other states. And especially compared to the high-tax states that are stagnating.

Such as California, as illustrated by this data and this data, as well as this Lisa Benson cartoon.

Such as Illinois, as illustrated by this data and this Eric Allie cartoon.

And I can’t resist adding this Steve Breen cartoon, if for no other reason that it reminds me of another one of his cartoons that I shared last year.

Speaking of humor, this Chuck Asay cartoon speculates on how future archaeologists will view California. And this joke about Texas, California, and a coyote is among my most-viewed blog posts.

All jokes aside, I want to reiterate what I wrote above. Texas is far from perfect. There’s too much government in the Lone Star state. It’s only a success story when compared to California.

P.S. Paul Krugman has tried to defend California, which has made him an easy target. I debunked him earlier this year, and I also linked to a superb Kevin Williamson takedown of Krugman at the bottom of this post.

P.P.S. Once again, I repeat the two-part challenge I’ve issued to the left. I’ll be happy if any statists can successfully respond to just one of the two questions I posed.

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I’m a huge fan of Switzerland, largely because its voters approved a spending cap that should be a role model for other nations.

It’s called the “debt brake” and it has helped reduce the burden of government spending in Switzerland at a time when most nations in Europe have been moving in the wrong direction.

But that’s not the only reason I like Switzerland.

I also appreciate the fact that Swiss voters seem to be much more sensible than voters in other nations.

Every so often I see polls, for instance, suggesting that French voters overwhelmingly want less government spending. But then they go out and elect statist presidents such as Sarkozy and Hollande.

In Switzerland, by contrast, voters are sensible where it counts most – in the voting booth.

Earlier this year, 76 percent of voters rejected a minimum wage hike.

Back in 2010, nearly 60 percent of voters shot down a class-warfare proposal for higher taxes on the rich.

And they’ve done it again. In a recent referendum, they defeated a government-run healthcare system by a landslide.

Here are some excerpts from an AFP report.

Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a plan for a seismic shift from the country’s all-private health insurance system to a state-run scheme. Referendum results showed that almost 62 percent of voters had shot down a reform pushed by left-leaning parties. …”The Swiss population does not want a single national scheme,” said the Swiss Insurance Association. “Our health system is among the top performers in the world. Competition between health insurers and freedom of choice for clients play a major role in this,” it added. …The rejection of the plan by nearly two-thirds of voters is a major blow for pro-reform campaigners, given that opinion polls had shown the ‘No’ vote was likely to be around 54 percent. In a 2007 referendum, 71 percent of voters rejected similar reforms. …for Switzerland’s cross-party government and its right- and centre-dominated parliament, the current system has proven its mettle and is debt-free, unlike the health services of France, Italy or Britain.

Though it seems that speaking French is somehow linked to economic illiteracy.

German-speaking regions voted against the plan, while their French-speaking counterparts were in favour.

Back in 2011, I wrote that there were five reasons why Switzerland was better than the United States.

But perhaps I wasn’t being sufficiently enthusiastic. Over at Being Classically Liberal, there’s an article entitled “9 Reasons Libertarians Should Love Switzerland.” Here’s the bottom line.

The Swiss are rich, happy, gun-owning, peace-loving people. The country has one of the freest market economies in the world and a relatively small and very decentralized government which hasn’t waged war since the early 19th century. In this libertarian’s eyes, Switzerland might just be the most awesome country in existence.

I’m agnostic on whether Switzerland is the “most awesome.” Hong Kong and Singapore, for instance, have smaller government.

That being said, Switzerland is much better on both guns and federalism.

And if you believe in grading on a curve, the burden of government spending in Switzerland is far smaller than it is in neighboring nations.

So it is a very admirable place.

Though I haven’t given up on America quite yet. And if I ever do, I’ll still choose Australia over Switzerland.

P.S. While it is encouraging that Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a single-payer healthcare scheme, I should acknowledge that their current system is not exactly libertarian Nirvana since it mandates that households purchase a health insurance policy.

P.P.S. But I don’t want to close on a bad point, so I’ll simply call your attention to the fact that Switzerland has one of the lowest levels of welfare spending among industrialized nations.

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Most of us will never be directly impacted by the international provisions of the internal revenue code.

That’s bad news because it presumably means we don’t have a lot of money, but it’s good news because IRS policies regarding “foreign-source income” are a poisonous combination of complexity, harshness, and bullying (this image from the International Tax Blog helps to illustrate that only taxpayers with lots of money can afford the lawyers and accountants needed to navigate this awful part of the internal revenue code).

But the bullying and the burdens aren’t being imposed solely on Americans. The internal revenue code is uniquely unilateral and imperialistic, so we simultaneously hurt U.S. taxpayers and cause discord with other jurisdictions.

Here are some very wise words from a Washington Post column by Professor Andrés Martinez of Arizona State University.

Much of his article focuses on the inversion issue, but I’ve already covered that topic many times. What caught my attention instead is that he does a great job of highlighting the underlying philosophical and design flaws of our tax code. And what he writes on that topic is very much worth sharing.

The Obama administration is not living up to its promise to move the country away from an arrogant, unilateral approach to the world. And it has not embraced a more consensus-driven, multipolar vision that reflects the fact that America is not the sole player in the global sandbox. No, I am not talking here about national security or counter-terrorism policy, but rather the telling issue of how governments think about money — specifically the money they are entitled to, as established by their tax policies. …ours is a country with an outdated tax code — one that reflects the worst go-it-alone, imperialistic, America-first impulses. …the…problem is old-fashioned Yankee imperialism.

What is he talking about? What is this fiscal imperialism?

It’s worldwide taxation, a policy that is grossly inconsistent with good tax policy (for instance, worldwide taxation is abolished under both the flat tax and national sales tax).

He elaborates.

The United States persists in imposing its “worldwide taxation” system, as opposed to the “territorial” model embraced by most of the rest of the world. Under a “territorial” tax system, the sovereign with jurisdiction over the economic activity is entitled to tax it.  If you profit from doing business in France, you owe the French treasury taxes, regardless of whether you are a French, American or Japanese multinational.  Even the United States, conveniently, subscribes to this logical approach when it comes to foreign companies doing business here: Foreign companies pay Washington corporate taxes on the income made by their U.S. operations. But under our worldwide tax system, Uncle Sam also taxes your income as an American citizen (or Apple’s or Coca-Cola’s) anywhere in the world. …Imagine you are a California-based widget manufacturer competing around the world against a Dutch widget manufacturer. You both do very well and compete aggressively in Latin America, and pay taxes on your income there. Trouble is, your Dutch competitor can reinvest those profits back in its home country without paying additional taxes, but you can’t.

Amen.

Indeed, if you watch this video, you’ll see that I also show how the territorial system of the Netherlands is far superior and more pro-competitive than America’s worldwide regime.

And if you like images, this graphic explains how American companies are put at a competitive disadvantage.

Professor Martinez points to the obvious solution.

Instead of attacking companies struggling to compete in the global marketplace, the Obama administration should work with Republicans to move to a territorial tax system.

But, needless to say, the White House wants to move policy in the wrong direction.

Looking specifically at the topic of inversions, the Wall Street Journal eviscerates the Obama Administration’s unilateral effort to penalize American companies that compete overseas.

Here are some of the highlights.

…the Obama Treasury this week rolled out a plan to discourage investment in America. …the practical impact will be to make it harder to make money overseas and then bring it back here. …if the changes work as intended, they will make it more difficult and expensive for companies to reinvest foreign earnings in the U.S. Tell us again how this helps American workers.

The WSJ makes three very powerful points.

First, companies that invert still pay tax on profits earned in America.

…the point is not to ensure that U.S. business profits will continue to be taxed. Such profits will be taxed under any of the inversion deals that have received so much recent attention. The White House goal is to ensure that the U.S. government can tax theforeign profits of U.S. companies, even though this money has already been taxed by the countries in which it was earned, and even though those countries generally don’t tax their own companies on profits earned in the U.S.

Second, there is no dearth of corporate tax revenue.

Mr. Lew may be famously ignorant on matters of finance, but now there’s reason to question his command of basic math. Corporate income tax revenues have roughly doubled since the recession. Such receipts surged in fiscal year 2013 to $274 billion, up from $138 billion in 2009. Even the White House budget office is expecting corporate income tax revenues for fiscal 2014 to rise above $332 billion and to hit $502 billion by 2016.

Third, it’s either laughable or unseemly that companies are being lectured about “fairness” and “patriotism” by a cronyist like Treasury Secretary Lew.

It must be fun for corporate executives to get a moral lecture from a guy who took home an $800,000 salary from a nonprofit university and then pocketed a severance payment when he quit to work on Wall Street, even though school policy says only terminated employees are eligible for severance.

Heck, it’s not just that Lew got sweetheart treatment from an educational institution that gets subsidies from Washington.

The WSJ also should have mentioned that he was an “unpatriotic” tax avoider when he worked on Wall Street.

But I guess rules are only for the little people, not the political elite.

P.S. Amazingly, I actually found a very good joke about worldwide taxation. Maybe not as funny as these IRS jokes, but still reasonably amusing.

P.P.S. Shifting from tax competitiveness to tax principles, I’ve been criticized for being a squish by Laurence Vance of the Mises Institute. He wrote:

Mitchell supports the flat tax is “other than a family-based allowance, it gets rid of all loopholes, deductions, credits, exemptions, exclusions, and preferences, meaning economic activity is taxed equally.” But because “a national sales tax (such as the Fair Tax) is like a flat tax but with a different collection point,” and “the two plans are different sides of the same coin” with no “loopholes,” even though he is “mostly known for being an advocate of the flat tax,” Mitchell has “no objection to speaking in favor of a national sales tax, testifying in favor of a national sales tax, or debating in favor of a national sales tax.” But as I have said before, the flat tax is not flat and the Fair Tax is not fair. …proponents of a free society should work towardexpanding tax deductions, tax credits, tax breaks, tax exemptions, tax exclusions, tax incentives, tax loopholes, tax preferences, tax avoidance schemes, and tax shelters and applying them to as many Americans as possible. These things are not subsidies that have to be “paid for.” They should only be eliminated because the income tax itself has been eliminated. …the goal should be no taxes whatsoever.

In my defense, I largely agree. As I’ve noted here, here, here, and here, I ultimately want to limit the federal government to the powers granted in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, in which case we wouldn’t need any broad-based tax.

Though I confess I’ve never argued in favor of “no taxes whatsoever” since I’m not an anarcho-capitalist. So maybe I am a squish. Moreover, Mr. Vance isn’t the first person to accuse me of being insufficiently hardcore.

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I’m a big believer that real-world examples can teach us about the benefits of good fiscal policy (think Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, and the U.S. under Reagan and Clinton) and the costs of bad fiscal policy (France, Cyprus, Greece, and the U.S. under Bush and Obama).

Today, let’s look at another example of bad fiscal policy. And we’re going to pick on Slovenia since I’m on my way back from the annual Liberty Seminar at Lake Bohinj.

I’m motivated because one of the other lecturers at the Seminar was that country’s former Finance Minister, Janez Šušteršič.

His basic argument is that Slovenia is at risk of falling behind because of a failure to reduce the size and scope of government.

Here are some of his slides, starting with a look at how Slovenia started out richer than many other post-Soviet Bloc jurisdictions, but you can see that other nations (with better track records on reform) are catching up.

I especially like that he shows the rapid growth of the Baltic nations (hmmm….I guess Paul Krugman was wrong after all).

The message from these two slides is one that I often make, which is that faster economic growth makes a big difference over time.

You can click here to get links to a bunch of similar examples of how countries with pro-market policies out-pace other countries that chose statism.

The one disappointment in Dr. Šušteršič‘s presentation is that he looked at deficits and debt when he discussed fiscal policy.

Here’s his slide showing a big increase in red ink.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I think he should have focused on the underlying disease of too much spending rather than the symptom of red ink.

So I went to the IMF data and put together this chart.

As you can see, the reason that Slovenia has more red ink is that the burden of government spending increased so rapidly in recent years.

In the past few years, you can see that spending no longer is growing so rapidly.

I’d like to think this is a sign of new-found fiscal rectitude, but I suspect it’s simply a sign that Slovenian politicians realize they may be at the precipice of a fiscal crisis.

What Slovenia needs (what just about every nation needs) is some sort of spending cap to enforce long-run and sustainable spending restraint.

The Swiss “debt brake” is a good model to emulate.

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I believe that protecting the environment is both a good thing and a legitimate function of government.

But I’m rational. So while I want limits on pollution, such policies should be determined by cost-benefit analysis.

Banning automobiles doubtlessly would reduce pollution, for instance, but the economic cost would be catastrophic.

On the other hand, it’s good to limit carcinogens from being dumped in the air and water. So long as there’s some unbiased science showing net benefits.

But while I’m pro-environment, I’m anti-environmentalist. Simply stated, too many of these people are nuts.

Then there’s the super-nutty category.

But since I’m an economist, what really worries me is that these people are statists. There’s an old joke that environmentalists are “watermelons” since they’re green on the outside and red on the inside.

But maybe it’s not really a joke. At least not in all cases. Check out this video from Reason, filmed at the so-called climate march in New York City.

Just in case you think the folks at Reason deliberately sought out a few crazy people in an otherwise rational crowd, let’s now look at the views of Naomi Klein, who is ostensibly a big thinker for the left on environmental issues.

Slate published an interview with her and you can judge for yourself whether her views are sensible. Here’s some of what Slate said about her.

According to social activist and perennial agitator Naomi Klein, the really inconvenient truth about climate change is that it’s not about carbon—it’s about capitalism. …she’s turned her argument into a hefty book… This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is focused on exposing how the relentless pursuit of growth has locked us in to a system that’s incompatible with a stable climate. …

And here’s some of what Ms. Klein said.

The post-carbon economy we can build will have to be better designed. …not only does climate action mean a healthy community—it’s also the best chance at tacking inequality. …The divestment movement is a start at challenging the excesses of capitalism. It’s working to delegitimize fossil fuels, and showing that they’re just as unethical as profits from the tobacco industry. …profits are not legitimate in an era of climate change.

Profits are not legitimate?!? Geesh, sounds like a certain President who also disdains profit.

By the way, I’d bet Naomi Klein has a far bigger “carbon footprint” than the average person.

And I can say with great certainty that other leftists are huge hypocrites on the issue. Check out the vapid actor who did some moral preening at the climate-change march.

Kudos to Ms. Fields. She has a way of exposing phonies on camera.

Though I think it’s safe to say that Mr. DiCaprio doesn’t win the prize for being the biggest environmental hypocrite.

Shifting back to policy issues, even “mainstream” environmental initiatives are often very misguided. Here are a few examples.

The bottom line is that we presumably have some environmental challenges. For instance, it’s quite possible that there is some global warming caused by mankind.

I just don’t trust environmentalists to make policy. When they’re in charge, we get really dumb policies. Or grotesque examples of government thuggery. Or sleazy corruption and cronyism.

But at least we have some decent environmental humor here, here, here, and here.

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I’ve shared some interested rankings on tax policy, including a map from the Tax Foundation showing which states have the earliest and latest Tax Freedom Days.

There’s also a depressing table showing that the United States “earns” a lowly 94th place in a ranking of business-friendly tax system.

Heck, there’s even a map showing the states with the highest wine taxes, as well as a map showing which states have the lightest and heaviest tax burdens compared to income.

So I was very interested to see this table from the Tax Foundation revealing which countries have the most punitive regimes for penalizing success.

Portugal has the dubious honor of having the most progressive (i.e., discriminatory) tax system in the developed world.

I don’t think anyone is surprised to see France in second place, though I confess that I was not expecting to see pro-reform success stories such as Chile and Canada in the top five.

And I’m totally embarrassed that the United States is #8, worse than such garden spots as Greece, Mexico, and Belgium.

Though it’s important to understand that the Tax Foundation is relying on a narrow definition of progressivity.

One way to measure and compare the progressivity of income tax codes across countries is to express the level of income at which each country’s top tax bracket applies as a multiple of that country’s average income.

That’s a useful bit of information and it shows one aspect of progressivity, but it’s also a bit misleading since it implies that the Swedish tax system (with a top tax rate of 56.7 percent) is less progressive than the Slovakian tax system (with a top tax rate of 21.7 percent).

You won’t be surprised that I think a ranking that purports to show the burden of “progressive” taxation should include the top tax rate.

Speaking of which, this is why I like the Tax Foundation’s measure of progressivity on the state level.

The…table also shows the gap between the top marginal tax rate and the marginal tax rate on $25,000 of taxable income. …Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have progressive rate structures that rise after $25,000. California, New Jersey, and Vermont have the most progressive rate structures by a wide margin.

Who could have guessed that California would be the worst state, though I’m not surprised to see New Jersey (the worst place to die) and Vermont (worst place for self reliance) have such poor ratings as well.

And is anyone even remotely shocked to see that states with no income taxes manage to avoid any problems with ‘so-called” progressivity? Not surprisingly, they also grow faster and create more jobs.

The moral of the story, at the very least, is that America needs a simple and fair flat tax.

And not the Obama or Hollande version.

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I want to challenge supporters of intervention and big government. Here are two simple questions. I’ll be happy if I can get a semi-reasonable answer to either of them.

1. Can you name a nation that became rich with statist policies?

Before you say Sweden, or even France, note that I asked you to name a nation that became rich during a period when it followed policies of interventionism and big government. Countries in Western Europe became rich during the 1800s and early 1900s when government was very small. Indeed, government spending consumed only about 10 percent of economic output in Western Europe prior to World War I and there was almost no redistribution. That’s more libertarian than what you find today in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Speaking of which, what I’m really asking my leftist friends is that they give me the left-wing versions of Hong Kong and Singapore. These jurisdictions were relatively impoverished at the end of World War II, but they are now both very rich by global standards. And libertarians and other advocates of small government and free markets can make a very strong case that good policy played a role in their amazing rise to prosperity.

So where’s the role model for statists? What nation can they put forth as a successful example?

I won’t hold my breath waiting for an accurate answer.

Now for the other part of the challenge.

2. Can you name a nation that with interventionism and big government that is out-performing a similar nation with free markets and small government?

Before you embarrass yourself by asserting that, say, Denmark is richer than Paraguay because of statism, you need to look at the data. Denmark has a bigger welfare state than Paraguay, but it’s much more pro-market in other respects. Indeed, it is ranked #14 in the Economic Freedom of the World, compared to #89 for Paraguay. You’d be more clever to ask why, for example, #42 Belgium is richer than #6 Mauritius.

But this is why I asked for a comparison of similar nations. In other words, find two countries that are, or were, roughly equal in terms of demographics, economic development, resource endowments, and other factors. And then I want an example of a nation with statist policy that has out-performed a nation that instead chose small government and free markets. Or the jurisdictions don’t even need to be that similar. Just show me a statist nation that grows faster, over a meaningful period of time, than a pro-market jurisdiction.

From a libertarian perspective, I can cite lots of examples, such as Chile vs. Argentina vs. Venezuela. Or North Korea vs. South Korea. Or Ukraine vs. Poland. Or Hong Kong vs. Argentina. Or Singapore vs. Jamaica. Or the United States vs. Hong Kong and Singapore. Or even Sweden vs. Greece. I could continue, but I think you get the point.

I will patiently wait for my left-wing friends to provide examples that support their perspective, but cobwebs will form before they fulfill my challenge.

In the meantime, here’s a video that explains the simple recipe that countries should follow if they want to enjoy growth and prosperity.

You’ll notice that the video heavily borrows from Economic Freedom of the World.

That’s no surprise. There’s no better source for making apples-to-apples comparisons to see whether countries are following good policy.

The bad news is that the United States has taken a dive in the wrong direction in these rankings.

When Bill Clinton left office, the United States had the world’s 3rd-freest economy. Today, thanks to years of statism under both Bush and Obama, we’ve dropped to #17.

This Lisa Benson cartoon is a very painful illustration of what’s happening.

America is copying the nations that are in deep trouble because of excessive government.

Which is the same message you find in this Glenn Foden cartoon and this Michael Ramirez cartoon.

But maybe some leftist can answer one or both of the questions above and we can stop worrying about the ever-expanding welfare state.

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I’ve shared humor targeting particular bureaucracies, such as the Postal Service, IRS, TSA, Department of Energy, and National Park Service, but I don’t have nearly enough material mocking government bureaucrats in general.

I should have dozens of examples. However, looking through my archives, I found just a handful of examples: a joke about an Indian training for a government job, a slide show on how bureaucracies operate, a cartoon strip on bureaucratic incentives, a story on what would happen if Noah tried to build an Ark today, and a top-10 list of ways to tell if you work for the government.

I also found a good one-liner from Craig Ferguson, along with some political cartoons from Michael Ramirez, Henry Payne, and Sean Delonas.

Those are all funny, but it’s not nearly enough. So let’s add to the list.

Here’s some insight on what it’s like to get overpaid and underworked.

By the way, if this image looks familiar, it may be because it has the same look as this six-frame image about libertarians.

And if I haven’t exhausted your interest in anti-bureaucrat humor, here’s a related image.

And last but not least, here’s a new element discovered inside the bureaucracy, and a letter to the bureaucracy from someone renewing a passport.

Let’s close with one serious point.

We should probably be happy that many bureaucrats are lazy. Sure, it’s an inconvenience when you’re waiting in line at the Postal Service or DMV, or when you’re on hold trying to get a straight answer from some random bureaucracy.

But do you really want zealous and motivated people at the EPA, OSHA, EEOC, FDA, and IRS?

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People pay every single penny of tax that politicians impose on corporations.

The investors that own companies obviously pay (more than one time!) when governments tax profits.

The workers employed by companies obviously pay, both directly and indirectly, because of corporate income tax.

And consumers also bear a burden thanks to business taxes that lead to higher prices and reduced output.

Keep these points in mind as we discuss BEPS (“base erosion and profit shifting”), which is a plan to increase business tax  burdens being advanced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a left-leaning international bureaucracy based in Paris.

Working on behalf of the high-tax nations that fund its activities, the OECD wants to rig the rules of international taxation so that companies can’t engage in legal tax planning.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page is not impressed by this campaign for higher taxes on employers.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last week released its latest proposals to combat “base erosion and profit shifting,” or the monster known as BEPS. The OECD and its masters at the G-20 are alarmed that large companies are able to use entirely legal accounting and corporate-organization strategies to shield themselves from the highest tax rates governments try to impose. …The OECD’s solution to this “problem” boils down to suggesting that governments tax the profits arising from operations in their jurisdiction, regardless of where the business unit that earned those profits is legally headquartered. The OECD also proposes that companies be required to report to each government on the geographic breakdown of profits, the better to catch earnings some other country might not have taxed enough.

What’s the bottom line?

This is a recipe for investment-stifling compliance burdens and regulatory uncertainty…the result of implementing the OECD’s recommendations would be lower tax revenues and fewer jobs.

By the way, I particularly appreciate the WSJ’s observation that tax competition and tax planning are good for high-tax nations since they enable economic activity that otherwise wouldn’t tax place (just as I explained in my video on the economics of tax havens).

Existing tax rules have been a counterintuitive boon to high-tax countries because companies can shield themselves from the worst excesses of the tax man while still running R&D centers, corporate offices and the like—and hiring workers to staff them—in places like the U.S. and France.

The editorial also suggests the BEPS campaign against multinational firms may be a boon for low-tax Ireland.

All of which is great news for Ireland, the poster child for a low corporate tax rate.

The Ireland-based Independent, however, reports that the Irish government is worried that the OECD’s anti-tax competition scheme will slash its corporate tax revenue because other governments will get the right to tax income earned in Ireland.

The country’s corporation tax is under scrutiny due to the multinational companies locating here and availing of our low 12.5pc tax rate – or much lower rates in some cases. US politicians have accused Ireland of being a “tax haven”… The OECD, a body made up of 34 western economies, is drawing up plans to restrict the ability of multinationals to move their income around to minimise their tax bill. …a draft Oireachtas Finance Committee report on global taxation, seen by the Irish Independent, contains warnings that Ireland’s corporation tax revenues, which amount to €4bn every year, will be halved under the new system. …Tax expert Brian Keegan is quoted in the report as saying: “Some of the OECD proposals would undoubtedly, result in that €4bn being reduced to €3bn or €2bn. That is the threat.”

So which newspaper is right? After all, Ireland presumably can’t be a winner and a loser.

But both are correct. The Irish Committee report is correct since the BEPS rules, applied to companies as they are currently structured, would be very disadvantageous to Ireland. But the Wall Street Journal thinks that Ireland ultimately would benefit because companies would move more or their operations to the Emerald Isle in order to escape some of the onerous provisions contained in the BEPS proposals.

That being said, I think Ireland and other low-tax jurisdictions ultimately would be losers for the simple reason that the current BEPS plan is just the beginning.

The high-tax nations will move the goal posts every year or two in hopes of grabbing more revenue.

The end goal is to create a system based on “formula apportionment.”

Here’s what I wrote last year about such a scheme.

…the OECD hints at its intended outcome when it says that the effort “will require some ‘out of the box’ thinking” and that business activity could be “identified through elements such as sales, workforce, payroll, and fixed assets.” That language suggests that the OECD intends to push global formula apportionment, which means that governments would have the power to reallocate corporate income regardless of where it is actually earned. Formula apportionment is attractive to governments that have punitive tax regimes, and it would be a blow to nations with more sensible low-tax systems. …business income currently earned in tax-friendly countries, such as Ireland and the Netherlands, would be reclassified as French-source income or German-source income based on arbitrary calculations of company sales and other factors. …nations with high tax rates would likely gain revenue, while jurisdictions with pro-growth systems would be losers, including Ireland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Estonia, Luxembourg, Singapore, and the Netherlands.

Equally important, I also pointed out that formula apportionment would largely cripple tax competition for companies, which means higher tax rates all over the world.

…formula apportionment would be worse than a zero-sum game because it would create a web of regulations that would undermine tax competition and become increasingly onerous over time. Consider that tax competition has spurred OECD governments to cut their corporate tax rates from an average of 48 percent in the early 1980s to 24 percent today. If a formula apportionment system had been in place, the world would have been left with much higher tax rates, and thus less investment and economic growth. …If governments gain the power to define global taxable income, they will have incentives to rig the rules to unfairly gain more revenue. For example, governments could move toward less favorable, anti-investment depreciation schedules, which would harm global growth.

Some people have argued that I’m too pessimistic and paranoid. BEPS, they say, is simply a mechanism for tweaking international rules to stop companies from egregious tax planning.

But I think I’m being realistic.Why? Because I know the ideology of the left and I understand that politicians are always hungry for more tax revenue.

For example, from the moment the OECD first launched its campaign against so-called tax havens, I kept warning that the goal was global information sharing.

The OECD and its lackeys said I was being demagogic and that they simply wanted “upon request” information sharing.

So who was right? Click here to find out.

Not that I deserve any special award for insight. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take a genius, after all, to understand the nature of government.

Let’s close with some economic analysis of why the greed of politicians should be constrained by national borders.

P.S. The OECD, with the support of the Obama Administration, wants something akin to a World Tax Organization that would have the power to disallow free-market tax policy.

P.P.S. And the OECD also allied itself with the nutjobs in the Occupy movement in order to push class-warfare taxation.

P.P.P.S. Your tax dollars subsidize the OECD’s left-wing activism.

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We know the welfare state is good news for people inside government. Lots of bureaucrats are required, after all, to oversee a plethora of redistribution programs.

Walter Williams refers to these paper pushers as poverty pimps, and there’s even a ranking showing which states have the greatest number of these folks who profit by creating dependency.

But does anybody else benefit from welfare programs?

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation explains in the Washington Times that the War on Poverty certainly hasn’t been a success for taxpayers or poor people. Instead, it’s created a costly web of dependency.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty. …Since then, the taxpayers have spent $22 trillion on Johnson’s war. Adjusted for inflation, that’s three times the cost of all military wars since the American Revolution. Last year, government spent $943 billion providing cash, food, housing and medical care to poor and low-income Americans. …More than 100 million people, or one third of Americans, received some type of welfare aid, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient.

Here are some of the unpleasant details.

The U.S. Census Bureau has just released its annual poverty report. The report claims that in 2013, 14.5 percent of Americans were poor. Remarkably, that’s almost the same poverty rate as in 1967, three years after the War on Poverty started. How can that be? …When Johnson launched the War on Poverty, he wanted to give the poor a “hand up, not a hand out.” He stated that his war would shrink welfare rolls and turn the poor from “tax-eaters” into “taxpayers.” Johnson’s aim was to make poor families self-sufficient — able to rise above poverty through their own earnings without dependence on welfare. The exact opposite happened. For a decade-and-a-half before the War on Poverty began, self-sufficiency in America improved dramatically. For the past 45 years, though, there has been no improvement at all.

The final two sentences of that excerpt are the most important words in Robert’s column.

We were making lots of progress in the fight against poverty in the 1950s. That’s because we relied on the private economy and self sufficiency, as seen on the right side of this Chuck Asay cartoon..

But once politicians decided government was responsible for fighting poverty, progress ceased.

Why did progress stop? Because, as Robert explains, the welfare state creates a dependency trap and enables self-destructive behavior.

The culprit is, in part, the welfare system itself, which discourages work and penalizes marriage. …The welfare state is self-perpetuating. By undermining the social norms necessary for self-reliance, welfare creates a need for even greater assistance in the future. President Obama plans to spend $13 trillion over the next decade on welfare programs that will discourage work, penalize marriage and undermine self-sufficiency.

By the way, being “poor” in America rarely means material deprivation.

Most Americans who live in “poverty” have much higher living standards that people elsewhere in the world.

The actual living conditions of households labeled as poor by Census are surprising to most people. According to the government’s own surveys, 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning; nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television; half have a personal computer; 40 percent have a wide-screen HDTV. Three-quarters own a car or truck; nearly a third has two or more vehicles. Ninety-six percent of poor parents state that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food. …As a group, poor children are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children, and in most cases is well above recommended norms. …the average poor American has more living space than the typical nonpoor individual living in Sweden, France, Germany or the United Kingdom.

By the way, don’t be surprised by the final sentence in that excerpt. Most people have no idea that Americans have far higher living standards than their cousins in Europe.

For more information on how best to help the poor, watch this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

Bono actually agrees that capitalism is the best approach to fighting poverty. Too bad the Pope lacks the same insight.

P.S. Here’s a map showing which states have the biggest welfare benefits.

P.P.S. If you want to see an utterly dishonest approach to public policy, read how the OECD tried to exaggerate poverty in the United States, so much so that it even tried to imply that there was more poverty in America than Greece.

P.P.P.S. Thomas Sowell has wise thoughts on how the welfare state hurts the less fortunate.

P.P.P.P.S. Some libertarians have suggested a “basic income” to replace the dozens of inefficient and failed welfare programs in Washington. For what it’s worth, I think there’s a better alternative.

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I’m a big advocate of the Laffer Curve.

Simply stated, it’s absurdly inaccurate to think that taxpayers and the economy are insensitive to changes in tax policy.

Yet bureaucracies such as the Joint Committee on Taxation basically assume that the economy will be unaffected and that tax revenues will jump dramatically if tax rates are boosted by, say, 100 percent.

In the real world, however, big changes in tax policy can and will lead to changes in taxable income. In other words, incentives matter. If the government punishes you more for earning more income, you will figure out ways to reduce the amount of money you report on your tax return.

This sometimes means that people will choose to be less productive. Why bust your derrière, after all, if government confiscates a big chunk of your additional earnings? Why make the sacrifice to set aside some of your income when the government imposes extra layers of tax on saving and investment? And why allocate your money on the basis of economic efficiency when you can reduce your taxable income by dumping your investments into something like municipal bonds that escape the extra layers of tax?

Or people can decide to hide some of the money they earn from the grasping claws of the IRS. Contractors can work off the books. Workers can take wages under the table. Business owners can overstate their expenses in order to reduce taxable income.

To reiterate, people respond to incentives. And that means you can’t estimate what will happen to tax revenues simply by looking at changes in tax rates. You also need to look at what’s happening to the amount of income people are willing to both earn and report.

Which is why I’m interested in some new research from two Canadian economists, one from the University of Toronto and one from the University of British Columbia. They looked at how rich people in Canada responded when their tax rates were altered.

Here are some excerpts from the study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In this paper we estimate the elasticity of reported income using the sub-national variation across Canadian provinces. …Comparing across provinces and through time, we find that elasticities are large for incomes at the top of the income distribution… The provincial tax rates for high earners vary strongly across the country, ranging from a low of 10 percent in Alberta to a high of 25.75 in Quebec. …at the top of the income distribution…these taxpayers have access to substantial financial advice that may facilitate tax avoidance. …We pay particular attention to the categories for $250,000 and those that report income between $150,000 and $250,000 as that income range is the closest to the P99 cutoff on which we focus.

Interestingly, the economists state that upper-income taxpayers should be less sensitive to tax rates today because less of their income is from investments.

…the source of incomes among those at the top has shifted substantially over the last half century from capital income toward earned income. All else equal, this change would tend to make income shifting or tax avoidance more difficult now than in earlier times.

Yet their results suggest that the taxable income of highly productive Canadians (those with incomes in the top 1 percent or the top 1/10th of 1 percent) is very sensitive to changes in tax rates.

The third column has the results for the bottom nine tenths of the top one percent, P99 to P99.9. Here, the estimate is a positive and significant 0.364. Finally, the top P99.9 percentile group shows an elasticity of 1.451, which is highly significant and large. …our estimate of 0.689 for P99 is high, and 1.451 for P99.9 very high.

And because rich people can raise or lower their taxable income in response to changing tax rates, this has big Laffer Curve implications.

According to the research, the revenue-maximizing tax rate for the top 1 percent is 44.4 percent and the revenue-maximizing tax rate for the even more successful top 1/10th of 1 percent is 27.5 percent!

The magnitude of our estimates can be put into context by calculating the revenue-maximizing tax rate τ∗, which is the rate corresponding to the peak of the so-called ‘Laffer Curve’. At this point, an incrementally higher rate will raise no further net revenue as the mechanical effect of the tax increase will be completely offset by the behavioural response of lower taxable income. …Plugging a = 1.81 and e = 0.689 into equation (8) yields an estimate for τ∗ of 44.4 percent. In Figure 1, four provinces have a top marginal tax rate for 2013 under 44.4 percent and six provinces are higher. Using the P99.9 estimate of 1.451, the revenue maximizing tax rate τ∗ would be only 27.5 percent. If true, this would suggest all provinces could increase revenue by lowering the tax rate for those in income group P99.9.

By the way, you read correctly, the revenue-maximizing tax rate for the super rich is lower than the revenue-maximizing tax rate for the regular rich.

This almost certainly is because very rich taxpayers get a greater share of their income from business and investment sources, and thus have more control over the timing, level, and composition of their earnings. Which means they can more easily suppress their income when tax rates go up and increase their income when tax rates fall.

That’s certainly what we see in the U.S. data and I assume Canadians aren’t that different.

But now it’s time for a big caveat.

I don’t want to maximize revenue for the government. Not from the top 1/10th of 1 percent. Not from the top 1 percent. I don’t want to maximize the amount of revenue coming from any taxpayers. If tax rates are near the revenue-maximizing point, it implies a huge loss of private output per additional dollar collected by government.

As I’ve repeatedly argued, we want to be at the growth-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve. And that’s the level of tax necessary to finance the few legitimate functions of government.

That being said, the point of this blog post is to show that Obama, Krugman, and the rest of the class-warfare crowd are extremely misguided when they urge confiscatory tax rates on the rich.

Unless, of course, their goal is to punish success rather than to raise revenue.

P.S. Check out the IRS data from the 1980s on what happened to tax revenue from the rich when Reagan dropped the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent.

I’ve used this information in plenty of debates and I’ve never run across a statist who has a good response.

P.P.S. I also think this polling data from certified public accountants is very persuasive.

I don’t know about you, but I suspect CPAs have a much better real-world understanding of the impact of tax policy than the bureaucrats at the Joint Committee on Taxation.

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If you ask me about the most wasteful department in the federal government, I’ll state that there are lots of good choices, but if forced to identify the best candidate for elimination, I’ll go with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If you ask me about the entitlement program most in need of reform, I’m tempted to say all of them, but ultimately I’ll argue that we should first fix Medicaid by devolving it to the states, accompanied by block grants as a transitional funding mechanism.

But if you ask me to identify the most evil and despicable thing that government does, I have no hesitation in picking asset forfeiture, which is the horrifying practice of bureaucrats stealing private property simply because they think the owners may have some connection with criminal activity.

*Such as when the government wanted to steal someone’s truck because a different person was arrested for drunk driving.

*Such as when the government tried to steal the bond money a family has collected to bail out a relative.

*Such as when the government seized nearly $400,000 of a business owner’s money because it was in the possession of an armored car company suspected of wrongdoing.

*Such as when the government sought to confiscate an office building from the owner because a tenant was legally selling medical marijuana.

*Such as when the government killed a man as part of an anti-gambling investigation undertaken in hopes of using asset forfeiture to steal the gamblers’ cash.

*Such as when the government tried to steal $17,000 from a motorist even though they never charged him with a crime, much less convicted him of any offense.

If you click the links and read those disgusting examples of thieving government, you’ll agree that all decent and human people should be libertarians.

And if you need more evidence that asset forfeiture should be eliminated, John Yoder and Brad Cates, the first two directors of the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Office, have a column in today’s Washington Post, and they unambiguously disown the bureaucracy they created and the evils it has spawned.

As two people who were heavily involved in the creation of the asset forfeiture initiative at the Justice Department in the 1980s, we find it particularly painful to watch as the heavy hand of government goes amok. …Asset forfeiture was conceived as a way to cut into the profit motive that fueled rampant drug trafficking by cartels and other criminal enterprises, in order to fight the social evils of drug dealing and abuse. Over time, however, the tactic has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits.

They then describe how the program metastasized.

The idea seemed so simple: Seize the ill-gotten gains of big-time drug dealers and remove the financial incentive for their criminality. After all, if a kingpin could earn $20 million and stash it away somewhere, even a decade in prison would have its rewards. Make that money disappear, and the calculus changes. Then, in 1986, the concept was expanded to include not only cash earned illegally but also purchases or investments made with that money, creating a whole scheme of new crimes that could be prosecuted as “money laundering.” The property eligible for seizure was further expanded to include “instrumentalities” in the trafficking of drugs, such as cars or even jewelry. Eventually, more than 200 crimes beyond drugs came to be included in the forfeiture scheme.

I’m especially glad they include the government’s foolish and costly anti-money laundering laws as they discuss government run amok.

A big problem is that these laws create perverse incentives for abusive behavior by bureaucracies.

This all may have been fine in theory, but in the real world it went badly astray.  …As time went on and states got into the forfeiture game, the uses became more personally rewarding for law enforcement. …Law enforcement agents and prosecutors began using seized cash and property to fund their operations, supplanting general tax revenue, and this led to the most extreme abuses: law enforcement efforts based upon what cash and property they could seize to fund themselves, rather than on an even-handed effort to enforce the law. …the old speed traps have all too often been replaced by forfeiture traps, where local police stop cars and seize cash and property to pay for local law enforcement efforts. This is a complete corruption of the process, and it unsurprisingly has led to widespread abuses.

Here’s the bottom line.

…civil forfeiture is fundamentally at odds with our judicial system and notions of fairness. It is unreformable. …our forfeiture laws turn our traditional concept of guilt upside down. Civil forfeiture laws presume someone’s personal property to be tainted, placing the burden of proving it “innocent” on the owner. What of the Fourth Amendment requirement that a warrant to seize or search requires the showing of probable cause of a specific violation? Defendants should be charged with the crimes they commit. Charge someone with drug dealing if it can be proved, but don’t invent a second offense of “money laundering” to use as a backup or a pretext to seize cash. …Civil asset forfeiture and money-laundering laws are gross perversions of the status of government amid a free citizenry. …it is unacceptable that a citizen should have to “prove” anything to the government. …if the government has proof beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt, let that guilt be proclaimed by 12 peers.

Amen. Our Founding Fathers gave us a Constitution to protect us against this kind of petty tyranny. Our presumption of innocence shouldn’t be eroded just because some bureaucrats are greedy to steal private property.

For more information, here’s a must-watch video on asset forfeiture from the Institute for Justice.

And here’s my video on intrusive and pointless anti-money laundering laws.

And there’s another video at this link if you want to see a horror story that combines asset forfeiture and anti-money laundering nonsense.

Moral of the story: These laws should be repealed as soon as possible.

P.S. A few days ago, I predicted the Scots would vote against independence by a 56-44 margin. The final results were 55.3-44.7 against independence. That’s almost as good as my prediction for the 2010 mid-term elections.

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People sometimes think I’m strange for being so focused on the economic harm that results from third-party payer. But bear with me and we’ll see why it’s a very important issue.

If you’re not already familiar with the term, third-party payer exists when someone other than the consumer is paying for something. And it’s a problem because people aren’t careful shoppers when they have (proverbially) someone else’s credit card.

Moreover, sellers have ample incentive to jack up prices, waste resources on featherbedding, and engage in inefficient practices when they know consumers are insensitive to price.

I’ve specifically addressed the problem of third-party payer in both the health-care sector and the higher education market.

But I’ve wondered whether my analysis was compelling. Is the damage of third-party payer sufficiently obvious when you see a chart showing that prices for cosmetic surgery, which generally is paid for directly by consumers, rise slower than the CPI, while other health care expenses, which generally are financed by government or insurance companies, rise faster than inflation?

Or is it clear that third-party payer leads to bad results when you watch a video exposing how subsidies for higher education simply make it possible for colleges and universities to increase tuition and fees at a very rapid clip?

That should be plenty of evidence, but I ran across a chart that may be even more convincing. It shows how prices have increased in various sectors over the past decade.

So what make this chart compelling and important?

Time for some background. The reason I saw the chart is because David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner shared it on his Twitter feed.

I don’t know if he added the commentary below, or simply passed it along, but I’m very grateful because it’s an excellent opportunity to show that sectors of our economy that are subsidized (mostly by third-party payer) are the ones plagued by rising prices.

It’s amazing to see that TVs, phones, and PCs have dropped dramatically in price at the same time that they’ve become far more advanced.

Yet higher education and health care, both of which are plagued by third-party payer, have become more expensive.

So think about your family budget and think about the quality of PCs, TVs, and phones you had 10 years ago, and the prices you paid, compared with today. You presumably are happy with the results.

Now think about what you’re getting from health care and higher education, particularly compared to the costs.

That’s the high price of third-party payer.

P.S. This video from Reason TV is a great illustration of how market-based prices make the health care sector far more rational.

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It’s difficult to promote good economic policy when some policy makers have a deeply flawed grasp of history.

This is why I’ve tried to educate people, for instance, that government intervention bears the blame for the 2008 financial crisis, not capitalism or deregulation.

Going back in time, I’ve also explained the truth about “sweatshops” and “robber barons.”

But one of the biggest challenges is correcting the mythology that capitalism caused the Great Depression and that government pulled the economy out of its tailspin.

To help correct the record, I’ve shared a superb video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity that discusses the failed statist policies of both Hoover and Roosevelt.

Now, to augment that analysis, we have a video from Learn Liberty. Narrated by Professor Stephen Davies, it punctures several of the myths about government policy in the 1930s.

Professors Davies is right on the mark in every case.

And I’m happy to pile on with additional data and evidence.

Myth #1: Herbert Hoover was a laissez-faire President – Hoover was a protectionist. He was an interventionist. He raised tax rates dramatically. And, as I had to explain when correcting Andrew Sullivan, he was a big spender. Heck, FDR’s people privately admitted that their interventionist policies were simply more of the same since Hoover already got the ball rolling in the wrong direction. Indeed, here’s another video on the Great Depression and it specifically explains how Hoover was a big-government interventionist.

Myth #2: The New Deal ended the depression – This is a remarkable bit of mythology since the economy never recovered lost output during the 1930s and unemployment remained at double-digit levels. Simply stated, FDR kept hammering the economy with interventionist policies and more fiscal burdens, thwarting the natural efficiency of markets.

Myth #3: World War II ended the depression – I have a slightly different perspective than Professor Davies. He’s right that wars destroy wealth and that private output suffers as government vacuums up resources for the military. But most people define economic downturns by what happens to overall output and employment. By that standard, it’s reasonable to think that WWII ended the depression. That’s why I think the key lesson is that private growth rebounded after World War II ended and government shrank, when all the Keynesians were predicting doom.

By the way, Reagan understood this important bit of knowledge about post-WWII economic history. And if you want more evidence about how you can rejuvenate an economy by reducing the fiscal burden of government, check out what happened in the early 1920s.

P.S. If you want to see an economically illiterate President in action, watch this video and you’ll understand why I think Obama will never be as bad as FDR.

P.P.S. Since we’re looking at the economic history of the 1930s, I strongly urge you to watch the Hayek v Keynes rap videos, both Part I and Part II. This satirical commercial for Keynesian Christmas carols also is very well done.

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This Thursday, Scottish voters decide whether they want to break away from the United Kingdom and reclaim their independence.

Do advocates of economic liberty in America have a dog in this fight?

Well, there’s very solid academic evidence from economic historians that Europe originally became rich precisely because power was decentralized among lots of small jurisdictions that had to compete with each other.

Moreover, I’ve argued that we’d get better policy if Belgium split into two nations.

So would the same be true if Scotland broke off from the United Kingdom?

Niall Ferguson, born in Scotland, is opposed.

Scotland regained its own Parliament in 1999, following an earlier referendum on so-called devolution, which significantly increased the country’s autonomy. Since 2007, there has been a Scottish government, which is currently run by the Scottish National Party. So much power has already been devolved to Edinburgh that you may well ask why half of adult Scots feel the need for outright independence. The economic risks are so glaring… What currency will Scotland use? The pound? The euro? No one knows. What share of North Sea oil revenues will go to Edinburgh? What about Scotland’s share of Britain’s enormous national debt? …Petty nationalism is just un-Scottish. And today’s Scots should remember the apposite warning of their countryman the economist Adam Smith about politicians who promise “some plausible plan of reformation” in order “to new-model the constitution,” mainly for “their own aggrandizement.”

I’m sure that many pro-independence politicians in Scotland are looking out for themselves, so that’s a compelling argument.

And David Frum is similarly skeptical, arguing that the United States should worry about an independent Scotland.

A vote in favor of Scottish independence would hurt Americans…a ‘Yes’ vote would immediately deliver a shattering blow to the political and economic stability of a crucial American ally and global financial power. The day after a ‘Yes’ vote, the British political system would be plunged into a protracted, self-involved constitutional crisis. …a ‘Yes’ vote would lead to a longer-term decline in Britain’s contribution to global security. The Scottish separatists have a 30-year history of hostility toward NATO.  …a ‘Yes’ vote would embitter English politics and empower those who wish to quit the European Union.  …The United States has traditionally preferred an EU that includes the U.K. …a ‘Yes’ vote would aggravate the paralysis afflicting the European Union.

Since I’m not a fan of the European Union and I think NATO is a bureaucracy that has lost its purpose, some of these arguments don’t move me. However, I do believe the world is a better place because of the United Kingdom, so David’s core argument shouldn’t be dismissed.

But there are other voices that have a more optimistic assessment.

Here’s Ewan Watt, one of the few Scotsmen I personally know, arguing in the Daily Caller that independence will force his statist countrymen to rein in their big-government impulses.

I’ve often been asked to try and summarize the tortuous Scottish independence campaign from a libertarian perspective to an American audience. …this nicely sums up the independence campaign: Scots and other Scots fighting over who can further spread the specter of socialism, inhibit individual liberty, and, ultimately, ruin Scotland. Both sides have strived to out-promise each other on more public spending, greater economic centralization, and cradle-to-grave public services.

Statists fighting for more statism? Sort of like Bush v Obama? That doesn’t sound like someone who thinks independence will produce good results.

But keep reading.

And yet…, independence could ultimately provide a boon to the movement and rejuvenate classical liberal ideas in the land that helped give them life. Given that Scotland lacks the tools that even a U.S. state possesses to attract external investment, it’s little surprise that at times it’s been nothing but a laboratory for successive socialist experiments. …Under independence Scotland will be forced to create an economic environment that can compete with both the lure of London and Ireland’s 12.5 percent corporation tax, while also avoiding the very government largesse and fragile financial system that the Bank of England has been able to artificially prop up. Far from becoming a socialist utopia, the conditions of independence will not only force Scotland to live under strict fiscal discipline, but embrace the very free-market philosophy that she helped export to prosperous nations around the world.

And my Cato colleague David Boaz also thinks an amicable divorce will lead to more economic freedom.

Here’s some of what he wrote for USA Today.

…whatever the benefits of union might have been in 1707, surely they have been realized by now. And independence for any country ought to appeal to Americans. So herewith a few arguments for independence. …England and Scotland are both nations with history and culture. They need not be combined in one state. …There’s some evidence that small countries enjoy more freedom and prosperity than larger countries. …Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and the likely first prime minister of an independent Scotland, may be a socialist, but he’s not an idiot. He knows that a tax hike in Scotland wouldn’t work. Asked in a televised debate, he responded, “We don’t have proposals for changing taxation. We certainly are not going to put ourselves at a tax disadvantage with the rest of the UK.” …With a top British tax rate of 45 percent, and 41 percent in Ireland, Salmond doesn’t want to raise the Scottish rate to 50 percent and push out top earners. …An independent Scotland would have to create its own prosperity, and surely the people who produced the Enlightenment are smart enough to discover the failures of socialism pretty quickly if they become free, independent, and responsible for their own future. …Scotland had a successful independent monetary system from 1716 to 1845,… So maybe it doesn’t need the pound sterling.

By the way, the independent monetary system David mentions was based on competitive currencies and it is perhaps the best example of a free-market monetary policy. But that’s a topic for another day.

Back to the issue of Scottish independence, a former Cato Institute expert, Patrick Basham, also writes that an independent Scotland will have no choice other than capitalism.

Scotland is an anachronistic place where leftist thinking remains in vogue. Scots strongly dislike, for example, the UK government’s introduction of market forces and fiscal discipline into the provision of health care, education, and welfare. …Although the Scots are ideologically to the left of their English neighbors, in practice their semiautonomous government is comparatively frugal. For example, Scotland has a lower deficit and lower public spending relative to GDP than the UK. …Given that Scotland’s top parties, the nationalists and Labor, are left-wing, it’s also possible that an independent Scotland will tax, spend, and regulate itself into an economic tailspin. That would be a travesty for many individual Scots, but not a national tragedy. Hitting the economic wall without a UK-size safety net would teach an invaluable lesson. It would rapidly cure Scotland’s entitlement culture, as a critical mass of taxpayers learned the true cost of fiscally unsustainable statism. …Ultimately, such a self-reliant, market-friendly political culture may transform Scotland into an international center of commerce and finance, such as Hong Kong, or perhaps into a tax haven, such as Guernsey or Jersey. The bottom-line is that, if Scotland decides to go it alone, it will become a very different place. An even better place.

I’m very sympathetic to sentiments in these columns, though I’m not as optimistic about an independent Scotland.

What happens, after all, if a newly independent Scotland goes through a five-year learning period of statism before it becomes clear that big government doesn’t work?

Does that mean Scottish voters will suddenly become libertarians? I hope so, but what if a non-trivial number of productive people emigrate during that period and the majority of those left still vote for handouts and dependency?

For instance, I certainly don’t expect the hundreds of thousands of people who get paychecks from government to turn into overnight libertarians.

On the other hand, maybe they’ll have no choice, sort of like the piglets in this Chuck Asay cartoon.

If you’re undecided on the issue, there is a very good role model for independence. Writing for the Washington Post, Professor Ilya Somin of George Mason University’s Law School adds a very persuasive argument in favor of secession.

One relevant precedent is the experience of the “Velvet Divorce” between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, whose success is sometimes cited by Scottish independence advocates as a possible model for their own breakup with Britain. Like many Scottish nationalists, advocates of Slovak independence wanted to break away from their larger, richer, partner, in part so they could pursue more interventionist economic policies. But, with the loss of Czech subsidies, independent Slovakia ended up having to pursue much more free market-oriented policies than before, which led to impressive growth. The Czech Republic, freed from having to pay the subsidies, also pursued relatively free market policies, and both nations are among the great success stories of Eastern Europe. Like Slovakia, an independent Scotland might adopt more free market policies out of necessity. And the rump UK (like the Czechs before it), might move in the same direction. The secession of Scotland would deprive the more interventionist Labor Party of 41 seats in the House of Commons, while costing the Conservatives only one. The center of gravity of British politics would, at least to some extent, move in a more pro-market direction, just as the Czech Republic’s did relative to those of united Czechoslovakia. If the breakup of the UK is likely to resemble that of Czechoslovakia, this suggests that free market advocates should welcome it, while social democrats should be opposed.

Ilya is right. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have better policy as separate nations. And I say that even though I’m very disappointed that both nations recently repealed their flat tax systems.

Last but not least, let’s add a bizarre voice to the debate.

It seems that the crazies from North Korea support an independent Scotland.

North Korea is quietly backing the Yes vote in Scotland and would be keen to increase trade with a newly independent Edinburgh, according to officials of the Pyongyang regime. “I think that independence would be a very positive thing for Scotland,” Choe Kwan-il, managing editor of the Choson Sinbo newspaper, told The Telegraph. …”I believe that every person has the right to be a member of an independent nation, to have sovereignty, to live in peace and to enjoy equality,” he said. “And I believe that a majority of Scots feel the same and will vote for independence.”

There’s nothing objectionable in those words, but they come from someone who almost surely is a puppet of one of the most malignant regimes on the planet, so you can’t trust him or his statements.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Scottish independence is a bad idea, to be sure, but I surely would understand if an undecided person voted no simply because North Korea wants a yes.

But now let’s see what a true public policy expert has to say about the topic. Here’s Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons.

And since I’m sharing videos, here are the Scots in a very un-European display of patriotism. Gives these Americans a run for the money.

That’s almost enough to make me think they’ll vote yes. But my prediction, for what it’s worth, is that Scottish voters will get cold feet and vote no by a 56-44 margin.

And if my prediction is right, I’ll offer my two cents on what should happen next. The U.K.’s politicians should agree on a plan of radical decentralization. Sort of what’s already been happening, but on a much bigger scale.

The national government should maintain the military, but almost every other function of government should be devolved. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales should each decide how much to tax and how much to spend.

Sort of like Switzerland, but even better. And what I’ve already recommended for Ukraine.

And if it works in these places, maybe we can reclaim our constitutional heritage and do it in America!

P.S. Walter Williams argues we should resuscitate the concept of secession in the United States.

P.P.S. If you’re intrigued by Walter’s idea, you’ll probably enjoy this bit of humor about a national divorce in the United States.

P.P.P.S. The tiny nation of Liechtenstein is comprised of seven villages and they have an explicit right to secede if they become unhappy with the central government in Vaduz.

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I’ve complained over and over again that America’s tax code is a nightmare that undermines competitiveness and retards growth.

Our aggregate fiscal burden may not be as high as it is for many of our foreign competitors, but high tax rates and poor design mean the system is very punitive on a per-dollar-raised basis.

For more information, the Tax Foundation has put together an excellent report measuring international tax competitiveness.

Here’s the methodology.

The Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index (ITCI) measures the degree to which the 34 OECD countries’ tax systems promote competitiveness through low tax burdens on business investment and neutrality through a well-structured tax code. …No longer can a country tax business investment and activity at a high rate without adversely affecting its economic performance. In recent years, many countries have recognized this fact and have moved to reform their tax codes to be more competitive. However, others have failed to do so and are falling behind the global movement. …The competitiveness of a tax code is determined by several factors. The structure and rate of corporate taxes, property taxes, income taxes, cost recovery of business investment, and whether a country has a territorial system are some of the factors that determine whether a country’s tax code is competitive.

And here’s how the United States ranks.

The United States provides a good example of an uncompetitive tax code. …the United States now has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world. …The United States places 32nd out of the 34 OECD countries on the ITCI. There are three main drivers behind the U.S.’s low score. First, it has the highest corporate income tax rate in the OECD at 39.1 percent. Second, it is one of the only countries in the OECD that does not have a territorial tax system, which would exempt foreign profits earned by domestic corporations from domestic taxation. Finally, the United States loses points for having a relatively high, progressive individual income tax (combined top rate of 46.3 percent) that taxes both dividends and capital gains, albeit at a reduced rate.

Here are the rankings, including scores for the various components.

You have to scroll to the bottom to find the United States. It’s embarrassing that we’re below even Spain and Italy, though I guess it’s good that we managed to edge out Portugal and France.

Looking at the component data, all I can say is that we should be very thankful that politicians haven’t yet figured out how to impose a value-added tax.

I’m also wondering whether it’s better to be ranked 32 out of 34 nations or ranked 94 out of 100 nations?

But rather than focus too much on America’s bad score, let’s look at what some nations are doing right.

Estonia – I’m not surprised that this Baltic nations scores well. Any country that rejects Paul Krugman must be doing something right.

New Zealand – The Kiwis can maintain a decent tax system because they control government spending and limit government coercion.

Switzerland – Fiscal decentralization and sensible citizens are key factors in restraining bad tax policy in Switzerland.

Sweden – The individual income tax is onerous, but Sweden’s penchant for pro-market reform has helped generate good scores in other categories.

Australia – I’m worried the Aussies are drifting in the wrong direction, but any nations that abolishes its death tax deserves a high score.

To close, here’s some of what the editors at the Wall Street Journal opined this morning.

…the inaugural ranking puts the U.S. at 32nd out of 34 industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). With the developed world’s highest corporate tax rate at over 39% including state levies, plus a rare demand that money earned overseas should be taxed as if it were earned domestically, the U.S. is almost in a class by itself. It ranks just behind Spain and Italy, of all economic humiliations. America did beat Portugal and France, which is currently run by an avowed socialist. …the U.S. would do even worse if it were measured against the world’s roughly 190 countries. The accounting firm KPMG maintains a corporate tax table that includes more than 130 countries and only one has a higher overall corporate tax rate than the U.S. The United Arab Emirates’ 55% rate is an exception, however, because it usually applies only to foreign oil companies.

The WSJ adds a very important point about the liberalizing impact of tax competition.

Liberals argue that U.S. tax rates don’t need to come down because they are already well below the level when Ronald Reagan came into office. But unlike the U.S., the world hasn’t stood still. Reagan’s tax-cutting example ignited a worldwide revolution that has seen waves of corporate tax-rate reductions. The U.S. last reduced the top marginal corporate income tax rate in 1986. But the Tax Foundation reports that other countries have reduced “the OECD average corporate tax rate from 47.5 percent in the early 1980s to around 25 percent today.”

This final excerpt should help explain why I spend a lot of time defending and promoting tax competition.

As bad as the tax system is now, just imagine how bad it would be if politicians didn’t have to worry about jobs and investment escaping.

P.S. If there was a way of measuring tax policies for foreign investors, I suspect the United States would jump a few spots in the rankings.

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I’m very depressed that my beloved Georgia Bulldogs lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks. So instead of writing about a serious topic, we’re going to enjoy some laughs today by reviewing some new anti-libertarian humor.

I’m a libertarian, of course, as are all decent and humane people.

But I appreciate clever humor, even when I’m the target. This video about Somalia being a libertarian paradise, for instance, is an excellent example of political satire. It takes a stereotype and milks it for some great laughs.

And this image of libertarian utopia also is very amusing.

It’s misleading, of course, since libertarians either have no problem with local paramedic services or they believe in private contracting of such services. But for purposes of humor, this image is great satire since it combines the stereotype of libertarians being all about profit and the stereotype of no basic government services in a libertarian world.

If you liked the above image, here’s some additional anti-libertarian satire that is similarly amusing.

Now let’s look at some anti-libertarian humor that falls flat.

As I suggested above, political humor effective is effective when it seizes on something that is true and then applies that stereotype to an absurd situation.

But this next image makes no sense. It implies that there will be more violent, drug-related crime in the absence of prohibition.

But there’s lot of violence surrounding marijuana and other drugs precisely because they are illegal and that creates lucrative opportunities for sellers in the black market.

Simply stated, if you end drug prohibition, then criminal gangs and cartels will lose their markets.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why there was lots of violence during the Al Capone era in the 1920, whereas you don’t see Heineken and Anheuser-Busch engaging in shoot outs today.

Or let’s look at the issue from another perspective. What if the lifestyle fascists banned cigarettes. Right now, with cigarettes being legal, there’s no violence between Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. But imagine what would happen if cigarettes went underground and their distribution was controlled by thugs? Of course there would be violence.

I’m not trying to turn this post into a lecture on drug prohibition, so I’ll stop here. But I did want to expose the intellectual vapidity of the person who put together the second image.

By the way, some of my libertarian friends complain when I share anti-libertarian humor. I have three responses.

1. I share lots of humor mocking statists and regular readers know that advocates of bigger government are my main targets.

2. Self-confident people should have the ability to laugh at themselves and libertarians (thanks in part to Obama) have ample reason to be confident of their ideas.

3. I’m more than happy to share pro-libertarian humor. The only problem is that I’ve only found a handful of examples.

Libertarian Jesus scolding modern statists.

This poster about confused statists.

The libertarian version of a sex fantasy.

So feel free to send any new material my way. All (good) political humor is appreciated.

July 30, 2019 Addendum: The original ambulance image vanished from the site I linked, so I created my own version.

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America’s health care system is a mess, and we can assign almost all the blame on government. Simply stated, we don’t have functioning and efficient markets because Medicaid, Medicare, tax-code distortions, and other forms of regulation and intervention have created a system that is crippled by a third-party payer crisis.

There’s no logical reason to expect consumers to be smart shoppers, after all, when they’re only responsible for directly paying just 11 cents for every $1 of health care they consume. And providers have little reason to be efficient when they know that consumers are largely insensitive to price.

Let’s now apply these insights to the political controversy over birth control. Except, as I explained in July, there is no fight over birth control. As far as I’m aware, nobody is trying to ban birth control.

The real fight is whether the government should mandate that health insurance plans include coverage for birth control (and certain abortifacients).

Writing for Bloomberg, Megan McArdle explains that Obamacare’s birth control mandate is silly because a modest and routine expense shouldn’t be covered by insurance at all.

I am not very patient with the political fights over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. …Generic birth-control pills are a cheap, regular expense used by many millions of people, exactly the sort of thing that insurance is not designed for. All this does is spread the cost around a bit while adding administrative overhead for your policy.

Moreover, the better policy is to allow birth control to be purchased without a prescription.

In other words, address the issue by reducing government regulation rather than imposing a mandate!

…make birth-control pills available over-the-counter rather than a prescription item. This is an excellent idea. It was an excellent idea before Obamacare passed, and it will remain a fine policy even if Obamacare somehow vanishes into dust. Physicians assess the danger of giving you birth control by asking simple questions you can ask yourself: Are you over 35, a smoker or troubled by a family history of early stroke?

Seems like a good idea, right? Particularly since it should appeal to Republicans that want less regulation and also appeal to Democrats that want easier access to birth control.

The Republicans are on board, as Byron York reports.

…the GOP has a new policy response… The idea is to make the birth control pill available over the counter, to all, 24/7, without a prescription. It’s becoming a trend among Republican candidates in Senate races around the country. In North Carolina, GOP candidate Thom Tillis recently embraced it. So has Ed Gillespie in Virginia. Mike McFadden in Minnesota. Gardner in Colorado. And one of the leading proponents of the move is a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. …Gardner first rolled out the proposal in a Denver Post op-ed in June. The birth control pill has safely been in use since it was first approved 44 years ago, Gardner argued. “When other drugs have that kind of track record, we approve them for purchase without a prescription,” he wrote. “Name-brand drugs like Advil, Pepcid, Claritin, Prilosec and many others were once sold by prescription only, but moved to over-the-counter sale once they’d been proven safe and unlikely to be abused.”

But some Democrats are hostile.

Indeed, a columnist for the Denver Post is very upset that some GOPers are supporting over-the-counter access to birth-control pills.

Following the lead of Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner, a handful of Republicans in midterm races across the country are now embracing over-the-counter sales of birth control pills without a prescription. Don’t be fooled. It’s a disingenuous move that could actually make the pill more expensive for women… But women already pay for those pills as part of the health care coverage they purchase through employers. Why would we want to pay for them twice? …What happens, however, if birth control pills are sold over the counter? Insurance companies will likely stop covering them. That means women will keep paying health insurance premiums, plus an additional out-of-pocket fee for pills. …And free doctor visits to discuss birth-control risks could also be replaced with fee-based pharmacy consults to determine whether women have risk factors like smoking, hypertension or migraines that prevent safe use of the pill, reports the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That’s hardly a “cheaper and easier” alternative — which is why Politifact rates Gardner’s claim as “mostly false.”

I strongly suspect that the author simply wanted to make a partisan attack on the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado. After all, more substantive and serious people on the left, including those at both Vox and Think Progress, favor over-the-counter access to birth control.

But let’s assume she really believes what she wrote. In which case she would get an F from any economics professors because health insurance companies obviously include predicted costs when pricing their policies. So if the mandate disappears and birth control is available without a prescription, then insurance companies will be able to lower the cost of the policies they sell.

In other words, women wouldn’t be paying twice. Indeed, they’ll pay less, though that will only be obvious to those who understand that employer-provided health plans are part of overall employee compensation.

There is another reason, other than partisanship, for some on the left to oppose Republican proposals to allow birth control to be sold over the counter. And you won’t be surprised to learn that self interest is playing a role.

Writing for The Federalist, Ben Domenech notes that Planned Parenthood wants to retain the current prescription-only approach.

You may think Ben made a big mistake, or that I misinterpreted. After all, isn’t that contrary to the organization’s ostensible mission of reducing unwanted pregnancies?

Well, Ben points out that Planned Parenthood may be more interested in maximizing handouts than it is in reducing pregnancies.

…interestingly enough, Planned Parenthood is pushing back on over-the-counter contraception. Why is this? Why would Planned Parenthood want to decrease the availability of contraception, and require women to see a doctor in order to get it? That seems awfully paternalistic of them. …birth control is a major lead generator for Planned Parenthood, to the degree that they can’t afford to lose their existing purpose as a source of prescribed contraception without it hurting their status as an institution. …Now you can understand why they wouldn’t want potential customers to be free to go to CVS or Walgreens or Rite Aid instead of heading to Planned Parenthood – providing those and other services is worth a lot of taxpayer money, $540 million in FY 2012 alone. And if you don’t provide those services, you can’t bill the taxpayers for them. …That’s why they want to keep the government’s ban on over-the-counter birth control intact.

Here’s a chart from Ben’s article that shows “what percentage of Planned Parenthood’s “services” are related to contraception.” As he notes, “it’s over a third of their activity.”

So I guess it makes sense – at least from an amoral perspective – that the organization wants to limit access to over-the-counter birth control.

By the way, the GOP plan for easier access to birth control is not a move to uncharted territory.

Here’s a map from a pro-reform left wing group that shows that over-the-counter birth control pills are easily available to most of the world’s women.

Let’s close by sharing one final – and very persuasive – piece of information from the experts at Reason.

Women already have over-the-counter access to Plan B, which involves larger doses of the hormones that are present in birth control pills.

…the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been considering making oral contraceptives available over-the-counter (OTC) for more than twenty years. “Plan B,” an emergency contraceptive, became available OTC last year. That one-step pill is simply a more potent dose of the same hormones that make up regular birth control pills. There’s no good medical justification for the differentiation. Yet in America, regular birth control pills remain stubbornly behind the pharmacy counter and behind the times.

In other words, the usual pro-regulation argument is that prescriptions are necessary because consumers can’t be trusted to make their own decisions with strong doses of medicine.

But the government already has made Plan B available over the counter while blocking similar access to birth control pills. Go figure.

P.S. Planned Parenthood is not the only interest group that has behaved in a disreputable and dishonorable fashion.

P.P.S. If you want to know what happens to healthcare in the absence of pervasive third-party payer, check out this remarkable chart.

P.P.P.S. Since today’s topic was birth control, let’s use this opportunity to revisit our collection of Sandra Fluke humor. Just in case you don’t remember, she was the 30-year old college student who got her 15 minuted of fame by demanding that other people pay for her expenses. Anyhow, if you want to laugh, check out this great Reason video, this funny cartoon, and four more jokes here.

P.P.P.P.S. On a separate topic, I added my two cents late last year to a debate inside libertarian circles over whether America’s plethora of welfare programs should be replaced by a single “basic income” grant that would be given to all Americans. Sort of a guaranteed minimum income.

I acknowledged that the current system is a mess, but I suggested that decentralization was a better approach.

…it seems that nothing could be worse than the current system. …But what about the idea of trashing what we have today and instead offering everyone some sort of basic income? …I agree, but only sort of. I like the idea of radical reform, but I think there’s a better road to Rome. It’s called federalism.

But what if someone held a gun to my head and said federalism wasn’t an option and demanded that I choose between the “basic income” and the status quo?

There’s not an obvious right answer, but I suspect I would prefer the devil I know because of fears that we might get more redistribution and even bigger government.

And I’m not the only one to have that opinion. Here’s what a proponent of more redistribution wrote about the concept.

Basic Income, unlike the programs we have now, will be politically easy to raise once it’s in place. …if you have one big, high-profile redistribution program, you can get enough popular support to overcome the concentrated opposition of the rich people footing the bill. …by endorsing Basic Income, libertarians are walking right into a trap. Anti-redistributionists’ great fear has always been that the masses will use the power of majority rule to simply vote themselves more money. As things stand, the fragmentation of our redistribution programs makes it easier for the anti-redistributionists to punch holes in the safety net. If the fragmented system were replaced with one universal, high-profile program, the result would be a huge political gift to redistributionists.

But maybe I’m just a pessimist. Tyler Cowen has a different perspective.

…let’s say a historical accident swept Basic Income proponents into power for a term and they passed that legislation.  Over time those income transfers would prove larger, more visible, and they would at least appear superficially more anti-work than the public stomach for them.  I predict they would be restricted along a number of possible dimensions, starting with (partial) work requirements for the able-bodied. Under most plausible assumptions about the Basic Income level, most people would not be recipients, nor would they expect to be potential net gainers from the program. …So I think the “why send money to people who aren’t working?” intuition will crowd out the “I want to think of myself as someone who helps other people” feeling.

I guess it depends on how the “basic income” is designed. If the government sends checks to everybody (as some are proposing), then Tyler’s “plausible assumption” about recipients would be wrong.

Which reinforces in my mind that my original idea was right. Let’s go with federalism and get Washington out of the business of redistribution.

The decentralized approach has been very successful in Switzerland and its also the system that’s consistent with the Constitution.

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I’m very worried about the burden of government spending.

Moreover, I’m quite concerned that poorly designed entitlement programs will lead to fiscal disaster.

And I’m especially irked that Obama made the problem worse by ramming through yet another misguided and costly health care entitlement.

Given this background, you can imagine that I was very interested (and depressed) to see that Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center put together some very important charts and analysis based on new fiscal policy projections.

After crunching the new numbers from CBO, here’s her bottom line conclusion.

…data from the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) recently released update to its Budget and Economic Outlook to show the trends and components of projected revenue and outlay increases. …growing entitlement obligations and net interest payments are projected to push outlays (spending) to grow faster than revenues over much of the next decade.

She also produced a chart showing the ever-rising burden of both taxes and spending. Pay close attention to how the numbers get worse at a rapid rate over the next 10 years.

There are two important takeaways from this data.

First, it should be abundantly clear that Washington is not suffering from inadequate tax revenue. Receipts are projected to rise in nominal dollars, in inflation-adjusted dollars, and as a share of GDP.

In other words, America’s long-run fiscal problems are solely a result of a rising burden of government spending.

Second, on the topic of government spending, it’s important to understand that the problem is overwhelmingly caused by entitlement programs. Social Security is part of the problem, but the real issue is government-run healthcare.

The President claimed Obamacare would “bend the cost curve.” But he wasn’t truthful since the White House implied the legislation would bend the curve down rather than up.

Here’s a second chart showing the breakdown of various spending categories.

As you can see, the problem is entitlements. And the healthcare entitlements deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

If this chart isn’t sufficiently depressing, then keep in mind that the numbers get even worse after 2024.

Simply states, the United States is doomed to become another Greece in the absence of genuine entitlement reform.

But let’s focus just on the next 10 years. Ms. de Rugy adds some detail.

…CBO projects three large budget categories—major health care programs (consisting of Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and subsidies for health insurance), Social Security, and net interest payments on the debt—will account for 85 percent of the total increase in outlays from 2014 to 2024. Total outlays are projected to increase from roughly $3.5 trillion in 2014 to $5.8 trillion in 2024, for a total increase of $2.3 trillion. Major health care programs are projected to grow by $816 billion, which accounts for 32 percent of the total. Social Security spending will grow by $654.9 billion over the next decade, which constitutes 28 percent of the total increase in outlays.

Let’s close, though, with some good news.

The numbers in the previous charts are all based on what happens if government policy is left on autopilot.

But what happens if politicians impose a modest bit of spending restraint?

According to the latest CBO forecast, inflation is supposed to average almost 2 percent over the next 10 years. So if some sort of spending cap is imposed and outlays “only” grow by a commensurate amount, it turns out that there’s a remarkably quick change in America’s fiscal profile.

As seen in this chart, there’s a budget surplus by 2019. And more important, government spending by 2024 is about $1.5 trillion lower than it would be with the budget left on autopilot.

Here’s a video from a few years ago. The numbers are out of date, but the underlying analysis is still completely appropriate. Simply stated, it’s very easy to balance the budget if politicians simply follow the Golden Rule of spending restraint.

P.S. Since this was a somewhat depressing topic, let’s close with some humor.

A few years ago, I shared a satirical application form for bailout money from Uncle Sam. Well, the New Yorker has an application quiz for Syrian rebels seeking American dollars.

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Why is President Obama so fixated on a class-warfare agenda of higher taxes on the rich and government dependency for the poor?

Is it because a tax-the-rich agenda is good politics, as determined by clever pollsters who have tapped into the collective mind of American voters (and as demonstrated by this cartoon)?

Or is the President ideologically committed to a redistributionist mindset, meaning that he will pursue class-warfare policies even if they rub voters the wrong way?

Since I can’t read the President’s mind, I’m not sure of the answer. I suspect he’s a genuine ideologue, but your guess is as good as mine.

But I can say with more confidence that his pursuit of class-warfare doesn’t resonate with voters.

Or, to be more specific, the American people aren’t susceptible to the politics of hate and envy so long as they’re offered a better alternative.

Let’s look at some new polling data on this topic.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, William Galston explains that anemic growth is making it harder and harder for households to increase their living standards.

Over the next decade, there is one overriding challenge—recreating an economy in which growth works for everyone, not just a favored few.  …Recent reports underscore the extent of the challenge. …long-term trends continued to point in the wrong direction. The employment-to-population ratio is lower than it was at the official end of the Great Recession in mid-2009. The labor-force participation rate dropped to 62.8%, the lowest since the late 1970s. …from 2010 to 2013 median family income corrected for inflation declined by 5%, even as average family income rose by 4%. Only families at the very top of the income distribution saw gains during this period. Family incomes between the 40th and 90th percentiles stagnated, while families at the bottom experienced substantial declines.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the American people understand that class warfare and redistribution is not a route to a better life.

They are much more supportive of policies that increase the size of the economic pie.

Americans have strong views about the economic course policy makers should pursue. Surveys of 3,000 Americans conducted between January and March of 2014 by the Global Strategy Group found that fully 78% thought that it was important for Congress to promote an agenda of economic growth that would benefit all Americans. …Strategies to spread wealth more evenly and reduce income inequality received the least support; 53% believe that fostering economic growth is “extremely important,” compared with only 30% who take that view about narrowing income inequality. …These views have political consequences. By 59% to 37%, Global Strategy Group found that Americans prefer a candidate who focuses on economic growth to one who emphasizes economic fairness. By a remarkable margin of 64 percentage points (80% to 16%), they opt for a candidate who focuses on more economic growth to one who emphasizes less income inequality.

What makes these results especially notable, as pointed out by another WSJ columnist, is that the Global Strategy Group is a Democrat-connected polling firm.

Here’s some of what James Freeman wrote.

Now here’s something you don’t see every day. A prominent Democratic polling firm has found that voters don’t view reducing income inequality as a top priority. Instead, they want economic growth. …The results were released in April but until now have received almost no attention in the press. No doubt the findings would have rudely interrupted the months-long media celebration of Thomas Piketty and his error-filled and widely unread book on income inequality. And the survey data suggest that the core message of President Obama and his political outfit Organizing for Action is off target.the Obama economic message is all about redistributing wealth, not creating it. But as the liberals at Global Strategy Group felt compelled to observe, “Growth-focused candidates appeal to many more voters.”

I’m very encouraged by these numbers.

For decades, I’ve been telling folks in Washington that growth trumps fairness. And I’ve made that argument based on policy and politics.

The policy part is easy. All you have to do is compare, say, France to Hong Kong if you want evidence that pro-growth policy is how you help the less fortunate.

But since I worry that America’s social capital is eroding, I’m also concerned that people might be more sympathetic to redistribution. In other words, maybe a growth message no longer is effective when trying to get votes.

According the Global Strategy Group data, though, voters still understand that it’s better for politicians to focus on growing the pie.

In this same spirit, here’s an interview I did earlier in the week for Blaze TV. The early part of the discussion is about a new Harvard report on the economy. But since the report didn’t say anything, skip to the relevant part of the interview, which starts at about 3:15. I explain that economic growth is the only viable way of boosting the well being of lower-income Americans.

And if you want more information on why growth is better for the poor than redistribution, click here.

P.S. For a humorous explanation of why the dependency agenda is so destructive, here’s the politically correct version of the fable of the Little Red Hen.

And the socialism-in-the-classroom example, which may or may not be an urban legend, makes a similar point.

But I think this pizza analogy may be the best way of showing that redistribution doesn’t help the poor.

P.P.S. I still think Margaret Thatcher has the best explanation of why the left is wrong on inequality. And if you want to see a truly disturbing video of a politicians with a different perspective, click here.

P.P.P.S. We have yet another update (updating yesterday’s update, which updated previous stories) on horrific IRS abuse.

Take a look at this video, which features the big Democratic donor who was made head of the IRS by Obama, and get a load of his cavalier attitude about the IRS obeying the law.

If you watch the entire exchange, I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Koskinen wasn’t saying that the IRS shouldn’t obey the law. But his flippant response, combined with the Obama Administration’s repeated decisions to arbitrarily ignore and/or change existing law, certainly shows that the ruling class isn’t very serious about the rule of law.

And that’s not a good sign for America’s future.

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When asked about the most worrisome statistic for a nation, I don’t say it’s the top marginal tax rate, even though I think class-warfare taxation is very poisonous for long-run economic performance.

Nor do I say it’s the burden of government spending relative to private economic output, even though the size of the public sector gives us a good idea of the degree to which labor and capital are being poorly allocated.

I don’t even say that a nation’s score in the Economic Freedom of the World index is the most important number, even though that’s the best and most comprehensive measure of the quality of a country’s economic policy.

My answer, for what it’s worth, is that a nation is doomed when a majority of its people decide that it is morally and economically okay to live off the labor of others and want to use the coercive power of government to make it happen.

For lack of a better term, we can call this a country’s Dependency Ratio, and it’s a measure of eroding social capital. To what degree, in other words, has the entitlement mentality replaced the work ethic and the spirit of self reliance?

But before continuing further, I want to provide two important caveats.

1) The Dependency Ratio is not the percentage of households that get money from the government. That’s an important number, to be sure, but it includes people who get money but don’t have an entitlement mentality. A good example is that Social Security recipients in America get checks from Uncle Sam, but only because they had no choice but to pay into the system and did not have the freedom to use that money instead for a personal retirement account. In many if not most cases, they don’t see themselves as part of a “takers” coalition.

2) From a practical perspective, the Dependency Ratio is a good concept, but I’m not aware of a methodologically sound way to calculate a nation’s entitlement mentality. And there’s definitely not good data for purposes of doing international comparisons (though this polling data suggests that the problem is much more severe in nations such as France than it is in the United States). So you have to rely on imperfect proxy measures, such as the share of households getting payments, the size and cost of the bureaucracy, and overall social welfare spending.

I’ve shared all these thoughts because they give the necessary background for today’s main topic, which is South Africa’s dismal economic future.

Take a look at this very depressing chart that appeared in my Twitter feed. It shows what has happened over the past five years in South Africa’s labor market.

This isn’t good news. The number of bureaucrats has risen dramatically while there’s been no growth in the number of people working in the economy’s productive sector.

If this trend continues, it’s only a matter of time before South Africa suffers economic collapse. You can’t have an ever-growing class of people living off a non-growing pool of taxpayers.

However, I realize that the chart only shows five years of data, so it could present a misleading view of trends in the country, particularly if there are policy reforms in other areas that might offset the damage of expanding bureaucracy.

So let’s look at other economic sources to confirm whether South Africa is moving in the wrong direction.

I mentioned above that the Economic Freedom of the World has the best data on the quality of a nation’s economic policy. Here’s South Africa’s performance.

The good news is that South Africa enjoyed a big jump in economic freedom between 1990 and 2000, which isn’t too surprising since the morally abominable Apartheid regime relied on heavy levels of government intervention. Ending that system was a key step in economic liberalization.

But the bad news is that there’s been no improvement since that time. Indeed, South Africa’s score has declined. The fall in the absolute score is minor, but bigger problem is that the nation’s relative score has suffered a big drop. If you look at the blue bars on the bottom, you can see that South Africa had the world’s 36th-freest economy in 2003, but it’s now down to having the world’s 88th-freest economy.

In other words, other nations have moved policy in the right direction while South Africa has been stagnant.

Since I’m a fiscal policy economist, I also looked at what’s been happening to the burden of government spending in South Africa.

As you can see, this chart (based on IMF data) shows that government outlays (left axis) have jumped significantly since the turn of the century.

And since government grew faster than the private sector (violating the Golden Rule), the overall burden of government spending increased (right axis) even when measured as a share of economic output.

I don’t know if the additional spending has been used to pay for additional bureaucrats, social welfare programs, infrastructure, education, or the military.

I suspect all of the above, which helps to explain why South Africa’s fiscal policy score from Economic Freedom of the World has dropped from 6.45 to 5.45 (on a 1-10 scale) since 2000.

More important, I also suspect that the net result is to have lured lots of additional people into government dependency.

That doesn’t bode well for South Africa’s future.

P.S. On a different topic, we have a couple of updates on the politicized and corrupt behavior at the IRS.

First, we have another case of misplaced email messages. Here’s an excerpt from an AP report.

On Friday, the IRS issued a report to Congress saying the agency also lost emails from five other employees related to the probe, including two agents who worked in a Cincinnati office processing applications for tax-exempt status. …The IRS blamed computer crashes for all the lost emails.

Gee, how convenient.

I wonder if the IRS will allow me to claim lost data next time I have a tax dispute?

Second, it’s understandable that the IRS is anxious to hide its internal communication because what does get released shows a partisan and malevolent bureaucracy.

The day that former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner publicly apologized for using “inappropriate criteria” to delay tax exemptions for Tea Party groups, she told her colleagues that they were being “beaten up by the press for all the wrong reasons.” …The documents show Lerner’s efforts to persuade Treasury auditors that there was no institutional bias at the IRS, the agency’s attempts to head off a damaging investigation with a pre-emptive apology, and Lerner’s pep talk to her staff after the apology. …The idea for a public apology to head off the audit came at least a month before. Lerner was set to give a speech at Georgetown University and was “begging” for some newsworthy information, IRS chief of staff Nikole Flax said in an e-mail. “We may want to use it to burst a bubble,” said then-acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller in response. He later joked that Lerner could use the speech to “apologize for undermanaging.”

Amazing. The bureaucrats laughed about their efforts to terrorize people and distort the political process.

The only real solution is sweeping tax reform so the IRS loses almost all its power.

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I periodically try to explain that there’s a big difference between being pro-market and pro-business.

Simply stated, policy makers shouldn’t try to penalize businesses with taxes, mandates, and regulations.

But neither should politicians seek to subsidize businesses. That’s why I’m against bailouts, subsidies, and other distortions that provide special favors for politically connected companies.

I have nothing against companies earning money, to be sure, but I want them to earn their profits in the marketplace rather than lining their pockets by using the coercive power of government to rig the rules of the game.

But I don’t just have disdain for companies that stick their snouts in the public trough. I also have little regard for the politicians that enable this sordid type of business by trading campaign cash for corporate welfare.

I realize that’s a strong assertion, but I can’t think of any legitimate reason to support handouts for big companies. And I get especially angry when giveaways are facilitated by politicians who claim to support free markets.

Let’s look at two examples, the Export-Import Bank and the Obamacare bailout for big insurance corporations.

I’ve previously argued that the Export-Import Bank is a squalid example of corruption and I’ve shared a video that explains why it’s economically foolish to subsidize a handful of big exporters.

To augment those arguments, here’s some of what Professor Jeffrey Dorfman of the University Georgia recently wrote in a column for Real Clear Markets. He correctly warns that certain GOP politicians are to blame if the Export-Import Bank stays alive.

The Export-Import Bank is everything that Republicans should stand against. It is crony capitalism at its worst. It is corporate welfare, taxing American families to boost corporate profits. It ever forces firms to potentially subsidize a competitor. There is simply no need for this government agency. Republicans in Congress should make a stand and show voters that Republicans believe in free markets and small government, even if some big businesses complain. The Ex-Im Bank should not be reauthorized. …Over the last decade or so, the Democrats have increasingly become the party of big business, stealing that crown away from Republicans because of the Democrats’ willingness to engage in crony capitalism and actively pick winners and losers in our economy. While Republicans are still thought of as the pro-business party, and other actions by the Democrats are clearly anti-business (Obamacare, environmental over-regulation), large multinational corporations like Boeing and GE have donated money to Democrats and generally profited from their political alliances with them. If Republicans want to make gains among (lower) middle-class voters, one of the things that could help is to convince voters that they are on the side of the people and not big corporations. The Ex-Im Bank reauthorization is a perfect opportunity to do just that. …Income redistribution is wrong especially when the money is going to big and profitable companies.

Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform agrees. Writing for Forbes, he looks at both the policy and politics of Export-Import Bank handouts.

The ExIm bank is an export subsidy program, giving money to certain companies…in the hopes that gives them a leg up in international trade.  It’s been criticized for decades by free traders and those who simply oppose corporate welfare spending out of Washington. …the ExIm bank will sunset on its own on September 30th.  All Congress has to do is let nature take its course, and this corporate welfare program simply goes away forever.

Sounds like we should have a guaranteed victory from free markets over intervention, right?

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.  Ryan explains that Republicans may shoot themselves in the foot by trying to rescue this reprehensible example of cronyism.

Charging in at the last minute to save ExIm only makes the House GOP look beholden to K Street.  It also looks like they are flip-flopping from where they were back in the summer.  …ExIm reauthorization…is likely to take a GOP grassroots focused on President Obama’s failures and full of midterm election intensity, and turn them inward toward criticism of the House GOP leadership instead. If things go badly with this CR gambit, the House GOP will have given themselves a self inflicted wound just as they are trying to get out of town and not screw up what should be a good year for their candidates.

How nauseating.

I realize that the Export-Import Bank is a relatively minor issue and that I should mostly care about whether politicians do the right think on big topics such as entitlement reform. After all, that’s what really counts if we want to avoid fiscal catastrophe.

But I can’t stop myself from foaming at the mouth when self-proclaimed supporters of free markets undermine the argument for economic liberty with cronyist deals.

Obamacare is another example of big business being against free markets. We already know that the big pharmaceutical firms cut a special deal with the Obama White House.

The big insurance companies also had their snouts in the trough. Not only did they get legislation that mandated the purchase of their products, but they also got language that provides bailouts if they aren’t able to profit from Obamacare.

What’s really amazing, though, is that some Republicans are willing to go along with Obamacare bailouts for those major companies.

The good news is that Florida Senator Marco Rubio is in the right side. Here’s some of what he wrote about bailouts for health insurance companies for Fox News.

 …section 1342 of the ObamaCare law…established so-called “risk corridors”. According to this provision, taxpayers will make up the difference for health insurance companies whose plans lose money under ObamaCare. Last November, as it became clearer what this section of the law actually meant, I introduced legislation repealing it and protecting taxpayers from being forced to cover insurers’ ObamaCare losses. …In recent weeks, the public has learned that senior White House officials have been working closely with insurers behind the scenes to make sure that their earlier bailout deal, which helped assure ObamaCare’s passage in 2010, would stand and that a taxpayer-funded bailout was still, in fact, on the table. …On this ObamaCare bailout, as with so many issues, Washington politicians are misleading average Americans and planning to stick them with the bill. This is government favoritism and corporate cronyism at its worst. …It’s time to repeal and replace it, but at the very least, we should make it the law of the land that health insurers won’t be bailed out by taxpayers.

I’ll also add a moral argument.

As far as I’m concerned, I want the health insurance companies to suffer major losses. I want the business community to see that it’s a mistake to get in bed with big government.

Though I guess I’m actually making a practical argument. I may be motivated by morality, but the companies hopefully will do a cost-benefit analysis and decide that it’s too risky to strike deals with the political class.

By the way, Republicans often do the wrong thing because they’re afraid that voters favor the statist agenda of dependency.

But that’s not the case for Obamacare bailouts for health insurances companies. Here’s some polling data on the issue that showed up on my Twitter feed.

Let’s close by sharing some of what the editors at National Review wrote about both the Obamacare bailout and Export-Import Bank subsidies.

Congressional Republicans keep saying they oppose Obamacare. Yet they’re refusing to take the simplest and easiest action against it. …Some Republicans say that the insurance companies should not be penalized for the defects of the law. Why not? They have freely chosen to participate in the exchanges, and they should bear the risks of that decision — which include the risk that Congress might decide not to shovel tax dollars at them. The alternative, after all, is to punish taxpayers. …The debate over the Export-Import Bank is one test of Republican sincerity about ending corporate welfare. These taxpayer subsidies are another: If Republicans can’t take on corporate welfare when doing so advances one of their party’s most popular and basic commitments, when will they?

Amen. Both of these issues are tests for the GOP.

Actually, they should get added to a long list of issues that tell us whether Republicans have any sincerity (or brains) in the fight against statism.

o No tax increases, since more money for Washington will encourage a bigger burden of government and undermine prosperity.

o To stop bailouts for Europe’s decrepit welfare states, no more money for the International Monetary Fund.

o Reform the biased number-crunching methodology at the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation.

o No more money from American taxpayers to subsidize the left-wing bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for some dark humor, here’s the federal government’s satirical bailout application form.

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I’m a pessimist about public policy for two simple reasons:

1) Seeking power and votes, elected officials generally can’t resist making short-sighted and politically motivated choices that expand the burden of government.

2) Voters are susceptible to bribery, particularly over time as social capital (the work ethic, spirit of self reliance, etc) erodes and the entitlement mentality takes hold.

Actually, let me add a third reason.

The first two reasons explain why countries get into trouble. Our last reason explains why it’s oftentimes so hard to then fix the mess created by statism.

3) Once a nation adopts big government, reform is difficult because too many voters are riding in the wagon of dependency and they reflexively oppose good policy.

Or they’re riding in the party boat, but you get the idea.

Now that I’ve explained why I’m a Cassandra, let me try to be a Pollyanna.

And I’m going to be Super Pollyanna, because my task is to explain how Greece can be saved.

I’ll start by pointing out that government spending has actually been cut in recent years. And we’re talking about genuine spending cuts, not the make-believe cuts you find in Washington, which occur when spending doesn’t grow as fast as previously planned.

This chart, based on IMF data, shows that the budget increased dramatically in Greece from 1980-2009. But once the fiscal crisis started and Greek politicians no longer had the ability to finance spending with borrowed money, they had no choice but to reduce the burden of government spending.

This seems like great news, but there’s one minor problem and one major problem.

The minor problem is that there hasn’t been nearly enough structural reform of the welfare state in Greece. For long-run fiscal recovery, it’s very important to save money by reducing handouts that create dependency, while also shrinking the country’s bloated bureaucracy. By comparison, it’s less important (or perhaps even harmful) to save money by letting physical infrastructure deteriorate.

The major problem is that controlling government spending is just one piece of the puzzle. There are five major factors that determine economic performance, with experts assigning equal importance to fiscal policy, trade policy, regulatory policy, monetary policy, and rule of law.

Moreover, not only is fiscal policy just 20 percent of the puzzle, it’s also important to understand that spending is just part of that 20 percent. You also have to consider the tax burden.

And the progress Greece has made on the spending side of the budget has been offset by a bunch of destructive tax increases.

But there is a glimmer of hope because Greek politicians apparently realize that this is a problem.

Here are some excerpts from the Wall Street Journal’s coverage.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised tax-relief measures to help jump-start the country’s economy and boost the government’s popularity as it faces a series of political challenges in the months ahead. “The overtaxation has to end,” Mr. Samaras said Saturday during a speech.

It’s easy to see why there’s a desire to boost economic performance.

Since entering recession in 2008, Greece’s economy has shrunk by more than a quarter… This year, however, the country is expected to emerge from recession and post growth of 0.6%. But the recovery has yet to trickle down to ordinary Greeks who continue to face a jobless rate of more than 27% and higher taxes imposed during the past few years.

However, don’t get too excited. The Premier isn’t talking about sweeping reforms.

Instead, it appears that the proposed changes will be very minor.

In his remarks, the Greek premier announced a number of tax changes, including a 30% reduction in the levy on home heating oil and amendments to a new unified property tax that has been so far marred by errors and miscalculations in implementation.

Geesh, talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Indeed, at least one of the tax cuts may be designed to bring in more money for the government. The New York Times, for instance, reports that the energy tax didn’t generate any extra tax revenue.

That levy, which was introduced in 2012, raised the tax on heating oil 450 percent. But it has failed to bring in additional revenue and has led to environmental damage as Greeks turned to burning wood for heat.

I guess it’s progress that both the Greek government and the New York Times are acknowledging the Laffer Curve, but this is a perfect example of why it’s important to be on the growth-maximizing point of the curve rather than the revenue-maximizing point.

So why am I expressing a tiny sliver of optimism when the Greek government’s tax agenda is so timid?

Well, there’s at least some hope of bigger and more pro-growth reforms.

He also announced a reduction to a so-called solidarity tax on income, the size of which is to be determined when the state budget for 2015 is drafted in October. The changes would be part of a “road map” for lowering taxation with cuts to the property tax, income tax and corporate tax to come later, he said. “Overtaxation may have been necessary, but now it must stop,” he said.

And the Greek press is reporting further details indicating that the government wants to reduce marginal tax rates

Samaras said that it his ultimate aim to reduce the top income tax rate to 32 percent and for business to pay no more than 15 percent.

If these policies actually took place, then I suspect Greece’s economy would enjoy robust growth.

Particularly if policy makers also dealt with the major problem of excessive regulation (see here and here to get a flavor of the awful nature of red tape in Greece).

In other words, any nation can prosper if good policy is adopted.

Including Greece, though I must admit in closing that I suspect that there’s a less-than-15-percent chance that my optimistic scenario will materialize. And if you read this Mark Steyn column, you’ll understand why the pessimistic scenario is much more likely.

P.S. Click here and here for two very funny (or sad) cartoons about Obama and Greece. And here’s another cartoon about Greece that’s worth sharing.

P.P.S. Click here and here for some amusing Greek policy humor.

P.P.P.S. The IMF also has admitted that Greece is on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve.

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Since I spend considerable time defending tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy, people sometimes think I can give competent advice on how best to protect one’s income from the IRS.

Hardly. Like most people in Washington, I’m all theory and no practice.

Besides, when people ask me about the ideal tax haven for an American citizen, I generally don’t have good news.

I explain that they are already living in a very successful tax haven, but then given them the bad news that only nonresident foreigners can take advantage of America’s tax haven policies. Though we should still be happy about being a haven since the favorable tax rules for foreigners have attracted lots of investment.

With the erosion of financial privacy, the IRS has considerable ability to track your money around the world, so moving your money to an overseas tax haven may not work. Even Switzerland, for example, has been bullied into weakening its human rights laws so that they no longer protect the privacy of nonresident investors.

Physically moving (your body and your money) to a foreign fiscal paradise such as Bermuda, Monaco, or the Cayman Islands doesn’t provide much value since the United States has the world’s most aggressive and punitive worldwide tax system. You’re basically treated by the IRS like you’re living stateside.

You can join thousands of other people and give up your American passport. But even that step has big downsides since the IRS imposes very nasty exit taxes, notwithstanding the fact that the United States is a signatory to international agreements that supposedly protect the right to emigrate without undue hassle.

But there is still one legal and effective way of dramatically reducing your federal tax burden.

Here are some details from a Bloomberg report on the relatively unknown tax haven of Puerto Rico.

Struggling to emerge from an almost decade-long economic slump, the Puerto Rican government signed a law in early 2012 that creates a tax haven for U.S. citizens. If they live on the island for at least 183 days a year, they pay minimal or no taxes, and unlike Singapore or Bermuda, Americans don’t have to turn in their passports. ……Under Puerto Rico’s new rules, an individual who moves to the island pays no local or federal capital-gains tax — capital gains are charged based on your tax home rather than where you earn them — and no local taxes on dividend or interest income for 20 years. …Moving to the island won’t kill all taxes: U.S. citizens still have to pay federal taxes on dividend or interest income from stateside companies.

And there are even some tax benefits for companies.

The government gives a tax break for businesses that move to Puerto Rico and provide services outside the country, perfect for a hedge fund with clients in New York and London. These firms pay only a 4 percent corporate tax, compared with 35 percent on the mainland. About 270 companies have applied for this incentive, according to officials.

Here are some real-world examples of rich people engaging in fiscal self defense.

About 200 traders, private-equity moguls and entrepreneurs have already moved or committed to moving, according to Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce, and billionaire John Paulson is spearheading a drive to entice others to join them. …Schiff, who runs Westport, Connecticut-based brokerage Euro Pacific Capital Inc., relocated his $900 million asset management arm from Newport Beach, California, to San Juan in 2013. He plans to move to the island within the next several years. But the savings can be extraordinary, especially given the effects of compounding, says Alex Daley, chief technology investment strategist at Casey Research, a firm that publishes reports for investors. Late last year, Daley moved from Stowe, Vermont, to Palmas del Mar, about 45 minutes from San Juan. …Robb Rill, 43, managing director of private-equity firm Strategic Group PR, relocated with his wife to Puerto Rico from Florida in February 2013. He started the 20/22 Act Society, named for the tax laws designed to encourage people and businesses to set up shop here, to help educate fellow expatriates and serve as a networking group.

So what’s the catch? Well, it depends on your lifestyle preferences. Some people are willing to pay extra so they can live in a big metropolis like New York City. Others are willing to cough up a lot of their money to enjoy California’s climate.

But the folks in Puerto Rico say they have a lot to offer besides big reductions in federal taxation.

The real challenge, she says, is convincing people they can replicate their life. Will they have well-traveled, well-educated friends? Are there decent schools for their kids? Are there charities that wives can join? Is crime an issue? She takes her clients to dinner at outdoor cafes to show them it’s safe at night, and she organizes luncheons to introduce newcomers to native Puerto Ricans. …Puerto Rico isn’t just about low taxes. It has white-sand beaches and temperatures in the 80s year-round. There’s an art museum with a world-renowned pre-Raphaelite collection. It has luxury apartment buildings, over-the-top resorts such as Dorado Beach, and a handful of private international schools that send their graduates to Ivy League colleges. It has restaurants with award-winning chefs. It’s a four-hour flight to New York. And the island operates under U.S. law.

I don’t have money, so it’s not an issue for me. But if I did, my first questions would be about the prevalence of fast food and softball leagues.

But I admit that I’m a bit of a rube.

Anyhow, the New York Times also has figured out that rich people can escape class-warfare taxes by moving to Puerto Rico.

After a slow start, Puerto Rico’s status as a tax haven is beginning to catch on, and some are betting big bucks that the trickle of buyers moving there will soon become a stream. …“I take at least five calls a day from new people considering moving here,” said Gabriel Hernandez, a tax partner with the San Juan office of BDO Puerto Rico. When the law was first passed, Mr. Hernandez advised two people who relocated to Puerto Rico from the mainland United States; last year that number rose to about 15, and so far this year, he has helped more than 80 people make the move and is advising another 60 who are considering it. …As of July, 115 people — nearly all of them United States citizens — have applied and been granted the tax exemption, with another 135 forecast to make the move before the end of the year, according to Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce. Last year, 151 people were granted the tax-exempt status.

The real reason to share the NYT story, though, is a particularly laughable excerpt.

The reporter wants us to believe that escaping high taxes is “distasteful.”

While there is much to recommend Puerto Rico as a tax haven — it has better beaches than Switzerland, no immigration hassles like Ireland and is a lot closer than Singapore — there are the undeniably distasteful politics of fleeing New York to save on taxes.

If escaping high taxes in New York is “distasteful,” then lots of people with lots of money already have decided to be distasteful.

P.S. If you’re a rich person, but you don’t want to move to Puerto Rico, there are some relatively simple and fully legal steps you can take to deprive the politicians of tax revenue.

P.P.S. In other words, politicians can impose high tax rates, but that doesn’t necessarily mean high tax revenue. Which is why I’m still hoping President Obama reads what I wrote for him on the Laffer Curve.

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Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute looks at the topic of infrastructure spending and I’m left with mixed feelings.

Some of what he writes is very good.

Yes, the claims of an “infrastructure crisis” by President Obama, many liberals…are exaggerated. …yes, existing laws and regulations turn infrastructure projects into boondoggles that take an order of magnitude longer to complete than necessary and cost more than they should.

Amen, particularly with regard to the absurd notion that America is suffering some sort of crisis. The International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, publisher of the World Competitiveness Yearbook, puts the United States in first place when ranking nations on the quality of infrastructure.

Moreover, the just-released Global Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum puts the United States in 12th place for infrastructure, which also is a rather high score (if you want to know where the United States does lag, we’re in 73rd place for wastefulness of government spending, 82nd place for burden of government regulation, and 102nd place for the total tax rate on profits).

And I also agree with his second point about infrastructure programs being very vulnerable to waste (see here and here for jaw-dropping examples).

But I’m nervous that he nonetheless wants to a new program of infrastructure investment.

…conservatives should put that skepticism aside and proceed — as always, with apprehension and great prudence — with a program of infrastructure investment.

Though maybe this isn’t a bad idea. After all, he specifically says that the new government spending would be based on what generates a good rate of return.

We shouldn’t follow the left’s approach to infrastructure stimulus, calculating the number of jobs we’d like to create. …a conservative approach to infrastructure would begin with a question: What are some projects that we actually need to fund? We all know by now that “shovel ready” projects are rare. So we should take some time to actually figure out which projects offer the highest value to society.

Sounds like he’s wised up since he wrote in favor of Keynesian “stimulus” earlier this year.

Unfortunately, later in his most recent article, he does use failed Keynesian theory to justify his call for more infrastructure spending.

A multi-year program will help growth and employment over the next few years, when the economy will probably still need a boost.

But let’s set that aside. If there are sound economic reasons to build a road, I’m not going to be opposed simply because Keynesians support the spending for the wrong reason.

Indeed, I don’t even necessarily object that he entitled his article, “How the government can spend billions of dollars on a new policy and still win conservative support.”

My one real problem with Strain’s column is that he wants Washington to be involved. He specifically refers to:

…the federal government’s share of the money to pay for these infrastructure projects.

Sigh.

We should be eliminating the Department of Transportation, not giving it more money to waste. That’s the answer I give when some people want a higher federal gas tax to fund more transportation spending. And it’s the answer I give when others whine about a supposed deficit in the federal highway trust fund.

The answer is federalism, not more centralization.

Want some very timely evidence in support of my position? Here are some excerpts from a new Wall Street Journal report on how infrastructure programs are ridiculously wasteful.

The most expensive train station in the U.S. is taking shape at the site of the former World Trade Center…the terminal connecting New Jersey with downtown Manhattan has turned into a public-works embarrassment. …How could such a high-profile project fall eight years behind schedule and at least $2 billion over budget? An analysis of federal oversight reports viewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with current and former officials show a project sunk in a morass of politics and government. …When completed in 2015, the station is on track to cost between $3.7 and $4 billion, more than double its original budget of $1.7 billion to $2 billion. …“the station is a national symbol for government waste…,” Mr. LaVorgna said.

So why am I citing a boondoggle project in New York City when I want to disagree with Strain’s call for more federal spending?

Because thanks to existing federal handouts, I’m paying for a big chunk of it!

…the Federal Transit Administration…is funding $2.87 billion of the train station project.

And when Uncle Sam is paying part of the tab, state and local politicians are more than happy to squander money in hopes of memorializing themselves.

The terminal’s delays and cost overruns were “certainly unfortunate,” said Mr. Pataki, a driving force in the early years of the World Trade Center redevelopment. “But I think 50 years from now, people are going to say, ‘Wow, they did it the right way.'”

But let’s ignore headline-seeking and glory-hunting politicians. What we should care about it getting good value when the government spends our money.

My point is that we’re more likely to get acceptable results (not great results since I realize that waste isn’t limited to Washington) when state and local governments are raising and spending their own money.

When other people pick up the tab, by contrast, you get absurd examples of waste.

P.S. I also heartily recommend this National Review column on getting the federal government out of the infrastructure business.

P.P.S. And don’t forget that the private sector should play a bigger role in building and operating roads.

P.P.P.S. I’m in Mexico City, having just spoken to the Society of Trust and Estate Professionals on the latest developments in the campaign by high-tax nations to cripple tax competition.

They had a nice gala dinner last night, which was the favorite part of the trip for the Princess of the Levant.

photo1

Since I’m a policy dork, I was much more enthusiastic about rallying opposition to bad policies such as FATCA and a global network of tax police.

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It’s time to add to our collection of horror stories from the U.K.’s government-run healthcare system (previous examples can be found here, herehereherehereherehereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

What makes today’s story different, though, is that the bureaucracy not only is denying care to a small child, but also seeking to prevent the family from seeking treatment elsewhere.

Check out these excerpts from a blood-chilling story in USA Today.

The parents of a child suffering from a severe brain tumor signaled Monday they would defy efforts to force them to return to Britain, days after their family fled.

So why did they feel the need to escape a presumably civilized nation?

It seems government-run healthcare isn’t exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to life-saving treatments.

The family had fled to Spain in hopes of selling a property to obtain enough cash for a new treatment in the Czech Republic or the United States they hope will help their child. Police pursued them and issued an arrest warrant on suspicion of neglect after Southampton General Hospital realized their patient — Ashya King, 5 — was gone, without their consent. British authorities have made no apology for the warrant.

I can’t resist interrupting the main focus of the story at this point because the story then includes this line.

The case has riveted Britain, which is proud of a health service that offers universal care.

Maybe Brits are proud of their NHS, which would be a poor reflection on the collective IQ of the nation, but it certainly doesn’t offer universal care.

Unless, of course, you include neglect and torture in your definition of care.

Now back to our main story.

…the saga has…raised volatile questions of how much power authorities should have in interfering in some of the most sensitive of questions — and whether it has the right to insist that treatment dictates be followed. …Television images have shown the Kings being loaded into a Spanish squad car in handcuffs. When asked by the BBC on their views, the couple told the reporter they are just trying to help their child. …The family has criticized Britain’s health care system, saying he has a serious tumor that needs an advanced treatment option called proton beam therapy and that it wasn’t being made available to him. …Unlike other types of cancer treatment, it doesn’t indiscriminately kill surrounding healthy tissue, so there could be fewer long term effects.

But fear not. If little Ashya can somehow hold on until 2018, maybe the bureaucrats will be able to help.

Britain’s health department announced in 2011 it will build two treatment centers to make proton beam therapy available in London and Manchester from 2018. Until those facilities open, Britain will pay for patients eligible for the therapy to go to the USA and Switzerland for treatment. It wasn’t immediately clear why health care officials didn’t make this option available to Aysha.

As a parent, I know I would break the law if faced with the same situation.

It’s outrageous and disgusting, though, that such laws even exist.

P.S. I don’t mean to pick on the United Kingdom. We also have horror stories about government-run healthcare in the United States.

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Maybe I’m biased because I mostly work on fiscal policy, but it certainly seems feasible to come up with rough estimates for the damage caused by onerous taxes and excessive spending.

On a personal level, for instance, we have a decent idea of how much the government takes from us and we know the aggravation of annual tax returns. And we tend to have some exposure to government bureaucracies, so we’re familiar with the concept of wasteful spending.

But how do you quantify the cost of regulation and red tape? Well, here are some very large numbers to digest.

Americans spend 8.8 billion hours every year filling out government forms.

The economy-wide cost of regulation is now $1.75 trillion.

For every bureaucrat at a regulatory agency, 100 jobs are destroyed in the economy’s productive sector.

The Obama Administration added $236 billion of red tape in 2012 alone.

In other words, the regulatory burden is enormous, but I worry that these numbers lack context and that most of us don’t really grasp how we’re hurt by government intervention.

So let’s look at some additional data.

If nothing else, this video from the Mercatus Center will help you appreciate just how vast the regulatory state has become.

The video mentions a report with additional data. Well, here’s some of what’s in that report.

A recent study published in the Journal of Economic Growth found that between 1949 and 2005 the accumulation of federal regulations slowed US economic growth by an average of 2 percent per year. Had the amount of regulation remained at its 1949 level, 2011 gross domestic product (GDP) would have been about $39 trillion—or three and a half times—higher, which translates into a loss of about $129,300 for every person in the United States.

A 2005 World Bank study found that a 10-percentage-point increase in a country’s regulatory burdens slows the annual growth rate of GDP per capita by half a percentage point. Based on this finding, an increase in regulatory burdens can translate to thousands of dollars in lost GDP per capita growth in less than a decade.

Other economists have estimated that a heavily regulated economy grows two to three percent slower than a moderately regulated one.

According to a World Bank study, moving from the 25 percent most burdensome to the 25 percent least burdensome regulatory environment (as measured by the World Bank’s Doing Business index) can increase a country’s average annual GDP per capita growth by 2.3 percentage points.

Hopefully all those numbers drive home the point that our economy is weaker and our incomes are lower because of needless red tape.

And never forget that even small differences in growth add up to big differences in living standards after a few decades.

Want more evidence? This chart, also from Mercatus, gives us a good idea. Industries that are heavily regulated had far lower levels of productivity compared to industries with less red tape.

And remember that labor productivity helps determine wages, so both workers and investors suffer.

By the way, if you’re interested in the methodology, here’s some of the explanatory text that accompanied the graph.

Regulatory burden is measured using RegData, a text analysis tool that counts the number of binding words—“shall,” “must,” “may not,” “prohibited,” and “required”—that appear in the Code of Federal Regulations and cross-references those word counts with the industries to which they apply. Comparing this data to production-efficiency measures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that industries that are subject to less regulation have significantly higher production-efficiency measures than industries that are subject to more regulation.

And here are some sobering numbers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. They show that regulatory compliance costs are now larger than the costs – for both households and businesses – of obeying the income tax.

Maybe now you can fully appreciate this Nate Beeler cartoon.

Let’s close with some specific examples of regulation run amok.

First, Kevin Williamson of National Review writes about the deadly (no hyperbole) decision by the Food and Drug Administration to block additional patients from receiving a promising treatment for the Ebola virus.

When you are infected with Ebola, you are not very much worried about the possibility that you might get sick — you are sick, horrifyingly so, and mortally so in more than half of all cases. Worrying that your health might take an additional turn for the worse after you’ve been infected with Ebola is like noticing that your car’s check-engine light has come on a half-second after you’ve driven it over the rim of the Grand Canyon. And so the controversy over giving experimental Ebola drugs to two American aid workers, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, and whether to extend the same option to dying people in Africa, is a strange one. …the drugs should be released, but the World Health Organization is hearing none of it. The experimental Ebola serum, which has shown promise in tests on monkeys but has not been through human trials, may very well have saved the two aid workers’ lives. The serum, called ZMapp, is a project of Mapp Pharmaceutical of San Diego — one of those wicked pharmaceutical companies that are a favorite whipping-boy of health-care reformers while they are quietly working to save the world — in collaboration with Dreyfus Inc. and U.S. and Canadian health agencies. Mapp seems ready and willing to get moving: “Mapp and its partners are cooperating with appropriate government agencies to increase production as quickly as possible,” the firm said in a statement. But use of ZMapp remains “under the regulatory guidelines of the FDA.” An American firm with a potentially life-saving drug is allowed to administer it to two Americans, while 1,600 or more Africans are denied… Ebola experts including Peter Piot, the discoverer of the virus, argue that African doctors and patients should be given the same choice that was given to Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. He’s right.

The Ebola episode, isn’t an isolated example.

It isn’t just Africa, of course. Every year, Americans in the late stages of terminal illnesses are denied access to experimental treatments by the FDA, on the theory that untested drugs might make these dying people sick. The agency’s “compassionate use” program, which gives some leeway in the use of unapproved drugs, is cumbrous and narrow, and, like most regulatory programs, is much more oriented toward the FDA’s institutional interests than those of the sick and dying people the program allegedly is there to serve. The FDA is not there to look after Americans’ health; the FDA is there to look after the FDA.

And that can have deadly consequences for sick people.

Here’s a story, from Washington’s Freedom Foundation, about the Forest Service using its regulatory power to abuse a disabled veterans.

The story began about four years ago, when a small rock slide covered the entrance portal to Nicholas’ mine and, based on Forest Service rules and bureaucratic obstruction, he was forbidden to clear the slide debris with heavy equipment.  In addition to inventing new excuses and red tape to delay Nicholas’ rightful access to his claim, the agency also decided to seize his trailer and related equipment located at his mine, valued at $68,000.  …The USFS managers were very capable of inventing new justifications, excuses and delays to pick on Nicholas, and they apparently had plenty of time and energy to do this.

Fortunately, we have a happy ending.

While the Forest Service was denying Nicholas the ability to access his equipment with a backhoe because it might disturb spotted owls or cause some other imaginary terrible event, they admitted they could not prevent Nicholas from removing the small debris slide by hand. The bureaucrats appeared to think this was amusing because they knew Tony was disabled, and he wasn’t physically able to move these rocks.  They never considered that his neighbors would come to Nicholas’ aid and move tons of rocks for him.  This is exactly what happened in late June when – led by Manweller, 50 volunteers showed up at the Liberty Café in Cle Elum, drove up to Nicholas’ mine claim and moved many of the rocks.

I’m glad things worked out, but who would have thought the Forest Service would behave so poorly?

Then again, we recently learned that the Park Service was filled with spiteful bureaucrats.

Here’s one final example of ludicrous regulation, this time from Nebraska.

Massage a horse, go to jail. That’s the absurd fate Karen Hough could face if she wants to continue her business in Nebraska. A certified instructor, Karen has been massaging horses for years. …Earlier this year, she applied for a license in equine massage but was told only veterinarians can become licensed. A 2007 memo from Nebraska’s Board of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery asserted that “no health professional other than licensed veterinarians and licensed veterinary technicians may perform services/therapies on animals.” This means Karen would need to spend thousands of dollars and seven years of her life just to acquire a government permission slip to do what she’s been doing for years. A few weeks later, she received a letter from Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services ordering her to “cease and desist” from the “unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine.” In Nebraska, continuing to operate a business without a license after getting a cease and desist letter is a Class III felony. So Karen could face up to 20 years in prison and pay a $25,000 fine. By comparison, that’s the same penalty for manslaughter in the Cornhusker State. What’s worse, under Nebraska state law, she can’t even give out advice on how to massage horses: “They told me I couldn’t give massages for money; I couldn’t do it for free and I couldn’t even tell friends how to do it. That last one really got to me. To me, that is restricting my free speech.”

I confess that horse massaging sounds as odd as getting a psychologist for your cat, but maybe I’m behind the times.

Regardless, it’s absurd that you could get thrown in jail for rubbing a horse!

Or for selling milk. Or transporting a bagpipe.

As Joe Biden said, it’s time to take back America.

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I hate to sound like a broken record, but the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is once again pushing for bigger and more intrusive in the United States. The international bureaucracy’s “Economic Survey” of the United States reads like it was produced by some interns at the Democratic National Committee.

Since the OECD is based in Paris, I suppose it’s not very surprising that it has a statist agenda. But it’s still offensive because American taxpayers finance the biggest portion of the bureaucracy’s budget.

In other words, I’m subsidizing the people who are interfering with America’s domestic policy in hopes of making America more like France!

Moreover, the OECD’s transformation into a pro-statism organization is disappointing since, as I wrote back in 2011 when reviewing some academic analysis of the organization’s left-wing drift, “the OECD initially was designed to be a relatively innocuous bureaucracy that focused on statistics. Indeed, it was even viewed as a free-market counterpart to the Soviet Bloc’s Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.”

Yet today, the OECD behaves as if the West lost the Cold War.

But enough complaining on my part. Let’s look at what the OECD recommended in its Economic Survey.

We’ll start with the (sort of) good news. The bureaucrats actually recognize that America’s economy is suffering from a very anemic recovery and expansion (some of us have been making this point for years).

Here are a couple of charts from the report looking at economic output and employment. As you can see, even bureaucrats from Paris acknowledge that Obamanomics has generated dismal results.

Here’s the chart looking at GDP.

And here’s the chart looking at employment.

So did the bureaucrats look at these grim numbers and conclude that bigger government isn’t working?

Nope. They basically suggested that America should double down on statism.

I’m not joking. Here are some of the specific suggestions from the report.

The OECD suggested that the United States should “Cut the marginal corporate income statutory tax rate.” You might think that’s a pro-growth recommendation, but the bureaucracy simultaneously recommended that politicians “broaden the tax base, notably by phasing out tax allowances” and also advised them to “take measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting.” In other words, the OECD embraced Obama’s rearrange-the-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic proposal.

The OECD urged that politicians “Make the personal tax system more redistributive.” This is an astounding proposal given that the United States already has the most “progressive” tax system of all developed nations (primarily because we have much lower taxes on poor and middle-income taxpayers). The only silver lining to this black cloud is that the OECD wants to further penalize the rich “by restricting regressive income tax expenditures” rather than by raising tax rates. Maybe Francois Hollande gave them some advice on being merciful?

The OECD is a big fan of redistribution, so it’s not surprising to read that the bureaucracy suggests “expanding the ETIC,” regardless of all the fraud. But I confess that I’m surprised that the organization also endorsed “a higher minimum wage.” I understand that the organization see its role as being supportive of Obama, but you would think that the economists at the OECD would have enough self respect and human decency to block a proposal to harm poor people.

The OECD not only wants to make it hard for low-skilled people to get jobs, it also wants to encourage discrimination against younger women. At least that’s the only logical conclusion after reading that the bureaucrats embraced the White House’s scheme for “paid family leave nationally.” As you might imagine, businesses respond to incentives and will be less likely to higher women of childbearing age if the law makes them liable for paying workers who aren’t on the job.

The OECD unsurprisingly reiterates its support for Obama’s global-warming agenda, suggesting that U.S. politicians should be “putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions.” Translated from jargon, this would mean a big tax on energy consumption. And speaking of energy taxes, the bureaucrats also say that government in America should be “capturing some of the resource rent” of energy production. That’s another jargon-laden way of saying that politicians should make it more expensive for people to drive their cars and heat their homes (makes you wonder if they hacked the IMF computers to come up with those bad ideas).

The OECD also thinks the federal government should be more involved in raising kids. The report recommends “Expanding effective targeted interventions – such as Head Start, Early Head Start.” Apparently we’re supposed to applaud good intentions and ignore the fact that even government-sponsored research finds that these programs don’t benefit kids.

There are more bad policies, but this is getting repetitive, so let’s close with some additional charts from the report.

I think you’ll agree that the selection of material and the presentation of the charts (particularly the headings) make it obvious that the OECD is endorsing more statism.

After all, nobody likes their country to be “low” when compared to other nations.

And who want to have “fallen behind”?

And if “fallen behind” is bad, then “lags behind” may be even worse!

Sigh. In every case, the clear implication is that government should spend more and intervene more.

Gee, I guess I’m supposed to be embarrassed that the United States is “behind” all the wonderful and socially conscious European nations.

Except we’re not behind, at least when it comes to the data that really matter. Just click here, here, and here before deciding whether Americans should listen to the OECD and copy Europe’s welfare states.

P.S. Don’t forget that the OECD’s misguided analysis and recommendations were developed with your tax dollars. Sort of makes you wonder why GOPers don’t eliminate the handouts that facilitate such nonsense.

P.P.S. Just in case you wonder whether this report is an anomaly, here are a few other examples of OECD work.

*It has allied itself with the nutjobs from the so-called Occupy movement to push for bigger government and higher taxes in the United States.

*The bureaucrats are advocating higher business tax burdens, which would aggravate America’s competitive disadvantage.

*The OECD is pushing a “Multilateral Convention” that is designed to become something akin to a World Tax Organization, with the power to persecute nations with free-market tax policy.

*It supports Obama’s class-warfare agenda, publishing documents endorsing “higher marginal tax rates” so that the so-called rich “contribute their fair share.”

*The OECD advocates the value-added tax based on the absurd notion that increasing the burden of government is good for growth and employment.

*It even concocts dishonest poverty numbers to advocate more redistribution in the United States.

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I very rarely feel sorry for statists. After all, these are the people who think that their feelings of envy and inadequacy justify bigger and more coercive government.

And I get especially irked when I think about how their authoritarian policies will hurt the most vulnerable in society.

But I nonetheless feel sorry for statists when I see them fumble, stumble, duck, and weave when asked why global evidence contradicts them.

In other words, it’s almost painful to watch when they are asked  why nations with varying degrees of statist policy – such as Venezuela, France, the United States (under Obama), Argentina, and Greece – suffer from economic stagnation and decline.

And it’s equally uncomfortable to watch them struggle and squirm when they’re asked to explain why jurisdictions with more pro-market policies – such as Bermuda, Estonia, Switzerland, the United States (under Reagan), Chile, and Singapore – tend to enjoy growth and rising living standards.

However, I can’t help adding to their discomfort. Let’s look at more evidence.

Here’s some of what Richard Rahn wrote for the Washington Times about Hong Kong’s economic miracle.

Hong Kong is about as close to the ideal free-market capitalist model that you can find on the planet — which came about largely by accident. …The British basically left Hong Kong to fend for itself… here was no foreign aid and no welfare state — but there was a competent government that kept the peace, ran an honest court system with the rule of law, provided some basic infrastructure, and little more. Also, Hong Kong had economic freedom — for the last several decades, Hong Kong has been ranked as the freest economy in the world (according to Economic Freedom of the World Index). Economic freedom allowed the people to create an endless number of productive enterprises, and because they had free trade, they could import necessary goods and services to fuel these enterprises. …average real income has gained parity with the United States, and it will probably be double that of France in a couple of years.

By the way, if you don’t believe the last sentence in that excerpt, check out this remarkable chart.

But the big takeaway is that free markets and small government have made the people of Hong Kong very rich. Gee, it’s almost as if there’s a recipe to follow if you want prosperity.

Let’s look at another example. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, former Senator Phil Gramm and Michael Solon compare economic policy and outcomes in Ukraine and Poland.

They explain that statist policies in Ukraine have stymied growth in a nation that otherwise could be very prosperous.

There is no better modern example of the power of an economic triumph than the experience of Ukraine and Poland in the post-Cold War era. …Ukraine has largely squandered its economic potential with pervasive corruption, statist cronyism and government control. …The per capita income of Ukraine, in U.S. dollar equivalence, has grown to only $3,900 in 2013 from a base of $1,570 in 1990. …Ukraine should be a wealthy country. It has world-class agricultural land, it is rich in hydrocarbons and mineral resources, and it possesses a well-educated labor force. Yet Ukraine remains poor, because while successful Central European nations have replaced their central-planning institutions with market-based reforms, Ukraine has never been able to break the crippling chains of collectivism.

Poland was in the same position as Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet empire, but it followed better policy and is now several times richer.

By employing free-market principles and unleashing the genius of its people, Poland has triggered an economic triumph as per capita GDP, in U.S. dollar equivalence, soared to more than $13,432 by 2013 from $1,683 in 1990. Today Poland is the fastest-growing economy in Europe. …The man largely responsible for Poland’s transformation is Leszek Balcerowicz, the former finance minister who was later governor of Poland’s Central Bank. …The Balcerowicz Plan was built around permitting state firms to go bankrupt, banning deficit financing, and maintaining a sound currency. It ended artificially low interest rate loans for state firms, opened up international trade and instituted currency convertibility. …A miracle transition was under way and the rest is history.

Since I’ve also compared Ukraine and Poland, you can understand why I especially liked this column.

One final point. Today’s post looks at just a couple of nations, but I’m not cherry picking. There are all sorts of comparisons that can be made, and the inevitable conclusion is that markets are better than statism.

Here are some previous iterations of this exercise.

I’ve compared South Korea and North Korea.

The data for Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela is very powerful.

I’ve shown how Singapore has eclipsed Jamaica.

Here’s a comparison of Sweden and Greece.

And we can see that Hong Kong has caught up with the United States.

So hopefully you can understand why I have a tiny (very tiny) degree of sympathy for my left-wing friends. It can’t be easy to hold views that are so inconsistent with global evidence.

P.S. When presented with this kind of evidence, leftists oftentimes will counter by saying that many nations in Europe are rich by global standards, while also having large governments. True, but it’s very important to understand that they became rich nations when they had small governments. Moreover, some of them have wisely compensated for large public sectors by maintaining ultra-free market policy in other areas.

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I’ve already shared a bunch of data and evidence on the importance of low tax rates.

A review of the academic evidence by the Tax Foundation found overwhelming support for the notion that lower tax rates are good for growth.

An economist from Cornell found lower tax rates boost GDP.

Other economists found lower tax rates boost job creation, savings, and output.

Even economists at the Paris-based OECD have determined that high tax rates undermine economic performance.

And it’s become apparent, with even the New York Times taking notice, that high tax rates drive away high-achieving people.

We’re going to augment this list with some additional evidence.

In a study published by a German think tank, three economists from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark look at the impact of high marginal tax rates on Danish economic performance.

Here’s what they set out to measure.

…taxation distorts the functioning of the market economy by creating a wedge between the private return and the social return to a reallocation of resources, leaving socially desirable opportunities unexploited as a result. …This paper studies the impact of taxation on the mobility and allocation of labor, and quantifies the efficiency loss from misallocation of labor caused by taxation. …labor mobility responses are fundamentally different from the hours-of-work responses of the basic labor supply model… Our analysis builds on a standard search theoretic framework… We incorporate non-linear taxation into this setting and estimate the structural parameters of the model using employer-employee register based data for the full Danish population of workers and workplaces for the years 2004-2006. The estimated model is then used to examine the impact of different changes in the tax system, thereby characterizing the distortionary effects of taxation on the allocation of labor.

They produced several sets of results, including a look at the additional growth and output generated by moving to a system of lump-sum taxation (which presumably eliminates all disincentive effects).

But even when they looked at more modest reforms, such as a flat tax with a relatively high rate, they found the Danish economy would reap significant benefits.

…it is possible to reap a very large part of the potential efficiency gain by going “half the way”and replace the current taxation with a ‡at tax rate of 30 percent on all income. This shift from a Scandinavian tax system with high marginal tax rates to a level of taxation in line with low-tax OECD countries such as the United States increases total income by 20 percent and yields an efficiency gain measured in proportion to initial income of 10 percent. …a transition from a Scandinavian system with high marginal taxes to a system along the lines of low-tax OECD countries such as the United States. This reduces the rate of non-employment by around 10 percentage points, increases aggregate income by almost 20 percent (relative to the Scandinavian income level), and gives an efficiency gain measured in proportion to income of 9.9 percent. Thus, almost 80 percent of the efficiency loss from marginal taxation (9.7% divided by 12.4%) would be eliminated by shifting from a Scandinavian tax system to the system of a low-tax OECD country according to these estimates.

The authors also confirmed that lower tax rates would generate revenue feedback. In other words, the Laffer Curve exists.

We may also use the reform experiment to compute the marginal excess burden of taxation as described above. When measured in proportion to the mechanical loss of tax revenue, we obtain an estimate of 87 percent. …this estimate also corresponds to the degree of self-financing of the tax cut. Thus, the increase in tax revenue from the behavioral response is 87 percent of the mechanical loss in tax revenue.

Too bad we can’t get the Joint Committee on Taxation in Washington to join the 21st Century. Those bureaucrats still base their work on the preposterous assumption that taxes have no impact on overall economic performance.

Since we just looked at a study of the growth generated by reducing very high tax rates, let’s now consider the opposite scenario. What happens if you take medium-level tax rates and raise them dramatically?

The Tax Foundation looks at precisely this issue. The group estimated the likely results if lawmakers adopted the class-warfare policies proposed by Thomas Piketty.

Piketty suggests higher taxes on the wealthiest among us. He calls for a global wealth tax, and he recommends establishing a top income tax rate of 80 percent, with a next-to-top income tax rate of 50 or 60 percent for the upper-middle class. …This study…provides quantitative estimates of what his proposed tax rates would mean for capital formation, jobs, the level of income, and government revenue. This study also estimates how Piketty’s proposed income tax rates would affect the distribution of income in the United States.

Piketty, of course, thinks that even confiscatory levels of taxation have no negative impact on economic performance.

Piketty claims people (or at least the upper-income people he would tax so heavily) are totally insensitive to marginal tax rates. In his world view, upper-income taxpayers will work and invest just as much as before even if dramatically higher taxes reduce their after-tax rewards to a fraction of what they were previously. …Piketty’s vision of the world strains credulity.

When the Tax Foundation crunched the numbers, though, its experts found that Piketty’s proposal would be devastating.

Under Piketty’s 55 and 80 percent tax brackets, people in the new, ultra-high tax brackets will work and invest less because they will be able to keep so little of the reward from the last hour of work and the last dollar of investment. …As the supplies of labor and capital in the production process decline, the economy’s output will also contract. Although it is only people with upper incomes who will directly pay the 55 and 80 percent tax rates, people throughout the economy will indirectly bear some of the tax burden. For example, the average person’s wages will be lower than otherwise because middle-income workers will have less equipment and software to enhance their productivity, and wages depend on productivity. Similarly, people throughout the economy will have fewer employment opportunities and will lose desirable goods and services, because businesses will grow more slowly and be less innovative.

The magnitude of the damage would depend on whether the higher tax rates also applied to dividends and capital gains. Here’s what the Tax Foundation estimated would happen to the economy if dividends and capital gains were not hit with Piketty-style tax rates.

These are some very dismal numbers.

But now look at the results if tax rates also are increased on dividends and capital gains. The dramatic increase in double taxation (dwarfing what Obama wanted) would have catastrophic consequences for overall investment (the “capital stock”). This would lead to a big loss in jobs and a dramatic reduction in overall economic output.

The Tax Foundation then measures the impact of these policies on the well-being of people in various income classes.

Needless to say, upper-income taxpayers suffer substantial losses. But the rest of us also suffer as well.

…the poor and middle class would also lose. They would suffer a large, but indirect, tax burden as a result of the smaller economy. Their after-tax incomes would fall over 3 percent if capital gains and dividends retain their current-law tax treatment and almost 17 percent if capital gains and dividends are taxed like ordinary income.

And since I’m sure Piketty and his crowd would want to subject capital gains and dividends to confiscatory tax rates, the 17 percent drop is a more realistic assessment of their economic agenda.

Though, to be fair, Piketty-style policies would make society more “equal.” But, as the Tax Foundation notes, some methods of achieving equality are very bad for lower-income people.

…a reasonable question to ask is whether a middle-income family is made better off if their income drops 3.2 percent while the income of a family in the top 1 percent drops 21.0 percent, or their income plummets 16.8 percent while the income of a family in the top 1 percent plummets 43.3 percent.

Of course, if Margaret Thatcher is correct, the left has no problem with this outcome.

But for those of us who care about better lives for ordinary people, this is confirmation that envy isn’t – or at least shouldn’t be – a basis for tax policy.

Sadly, that’s not the case. We’ve already seen the horrible impact of Hollande’s Piketty-style policies in France. And Obama said he would be perfectly content to impose higher tax rates even if the resulting economic damage is so severe that no additional revenue is collected.

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