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Archive for October, 2016

Sweden punches way above its weight in debates about economic policy. Leftists all over the world (most recently, Bernie Sanders) say the Nordic nation is an example that proves a big welfare state can exist in a rich nation. And since various data sources (such as the IMF’s huge database) show that Sweden is relatively prosperous and also that there’s an onerous fiscal burden of government, this argument is somewhat plausible.

A few folks on the left sometimes even imply that Sweden is a relatively prosperous nation because it has a large public sector. Though the people who make this assertion never bother to provide any data or evidence.

I have five responses when confronted with the why-can’t-we-be-more-like-Sweden argument.

  1. Sweden became rich when government was small. Indeed, until about 1960, the burden of the public sector in Sweden was smaller than it was in the United States. And as late as 1970, Sweden still had less redistribution spending than America had in 1980.
  2. Sweden compensates for bad fiscal policy by having a very pro-market approach to other areas, such as trade policy, regulatory policy, monetary policy, and rule of law and property rights. Indeed, it has more economic freedom than the United States when looking an non-fiscal policies. The same is true for Denmark.
  3. Sweden has suffered from slower growth ever since the welfare state led to large increases in the burden of government spending. This has resulted in Sweden losing ground relative to other nations and dropping in the rankings of per-capita GDP.
  4. Sweden is trying to undo the damage of big government with pro-market reforms. Starting in the 1990s, there have been tax-rate reductions, periods of spending restraint, adoption of personal retirement accounts, and implementation of nationwide school choice.
  5. Sweden doesn’t look quite so good when you learn that Americans of Swedish descent produce 39 percent more economic output, on a per-capita basis, than the Swedes that stayed in Sweden. There’s even a lower poverty rate for Americans of Swedish ancestry compared to the rate for native Swedes.

I think the above information is very powerful. But I’ll also admit that these five points sometimes aren’t very effective in changing minds and educating people because there’s simply too much information to digest.

As such, I’ve always thought it would be helpful to have one compelling visual that clearly shows why Sweden’s experience is actually an argument against big government.

And, thanks to the Professor Deepak Lal of UCLA, who wrote a chapter for a superb book on fiscal policy published by a British think tank, my wish may have been granted. In his chapter, he noted that Sweden’s economic performance stuttered once big government was imposed on the economy.

Though the Swedish model is offered to prove that high levels of social security can be paid for from the cradle to the grave without damaging economic performance, the claim is false (see Figure 1). The Swedish economy, between 1870 and 1950, grew faster on average than any other industrialised economy, and the country became technologically one of the most advanced and richest in the world. From the 1950s Swedish economic growth slowed relative to other industrialised countries. This was due to the expansion of the welfare state and the growth of public – at the expense of private – employment.57 After the Second World War the working population increased by about 1 million: public employment accounted for c. 770,000, private accounted for only 155,000. The crowding out by an inefficient public sector of the efficient private sector has characterised Sweden for nearly half a century.58 From being the fourth richest county in the OECD in 1970 it has fallen to 14th place. Only in France and New Zealand has there been a larger fall in relative wealth

And here is Figure 1, which should make clear that what’s good in Sweden (rising relative prosperity) was made possible by the era of free markets and small government, and that what’s bad in Sweden (falling relative prosperity) is associated with the adoption and expansion of the welfare state.

But just to make things obvious for any government officials who may be reading this column, I augment the graph by pointing out (in red) the “free-market era” and the “welfare-state era.”

As you can see, credit for the chart actually belongs to Professor Olle Krantz. The version I found in Professor Lal’s chapter is a reproduction, so unfortunately the two axes are not very clear. But all you need to know is that Sweden’s relative economic position fell significantly between the time the welfare state was adopted and the mid 1990s (which presumably reflects the comparative cross-country data that was available when Krantz did his calculations).

You can also see, for what it’s worth, that Sweden’s economy spiked during World War II. There’s no policy lesson in this observation, other than to perhaps note that it’s never a good idea to have your factories bombed.

But the main lesson, which hopefully is abundantly clear, is that big government is a recipe for comparative decline.

Which perhaps explains why Swedish policymakers have spent the past 25 years or so trying to undo some of those mistakes.

Addendum on November 3, 2016: A Swedish researcher kindly sent me a clear copy of Professor Kranz’s chart, so the axes are now very clear.

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While the overall issue of immigration is highly controversial and emotional, I’ve explained before that everyone should be able to agree that it’s a very good idea to bring in people who can be expected to increase per-capita economic output.

The good news is that we have some policies designed to make this happen, including the H-1B visa for skilled workers and the EB-5 visa for job-creating investors. And if the data on median income for certain immigrant groups is any indication, we’re getting some good results.

Today, motivated in part by the fact that I’ll be participating next month in a conference in London on the topic of “economic citizenship” and therefore having to prepare for that discussion,  let’s take a closer look at the EB-5 policy and why it’s a smart approach (by the way, I’m allowed to share a few discounted registrations since I’m a speaker, so contact me if you’re interested in the London event).

To put things in context, we’ll begin by reviewing a four-author study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that looks at the growing effort by many nations to attract highly productive and capable immigrants.

Highly skilled workers play a central and starring role in today’s knowledge economy. Talented individuals make exceptional direct contributions—including breakthrough innovations and scientific discoveries—and coordinate and guide the actions of many others, propelling the knowledge frontier and spurring economic growth. In this process, the mobility of skilled workers becomes critical to enhancing productivity. …In the 2013 World Population Policies report, 40 percent of countries reported policies to raise immigration of high-skilled workers, a large increase from 22 percent in 2005. …For recipient countries, high-skilled immigration is often linked to clusters of technology and knowledge production that are certainly important for local economies and are plausibly important at the national level. …When it comes to talented foreigners, a number of countries…implement recruiting programs. …Canada has been very active in targeting skilled migrants who are denied or frustrated by the H-1B visa system in the United States, even taking out ads on billboards in the United States to attract such migrants.

By the way, I can’t resist observing that the authors recognize that highly talented (and therefore highly compensated) people are very important for economic growth. Based on the tax policies they advocate, that’s something politicians such as Hillary Clinton have a hard time understanding. Heck, upper-income taxpayers are the ones who finance the lion’s share of big government, so you’d think leftist politicians would be slapping them on their backs rather than across their faces.

But I digress. Let’s look at what the study says about migration by those most capable of producing growth.

Observed migration flows are the result of a complex tangle of multinational firms and other employers pursuing scarce talent, governments and other gatekeepers trying to manage these flows with policies, and individuals seeking their best options given the constraints imposed upon them. …The number of migrants with a tertiary degree rose nearly 130 percent from 1990 to 2010, while low skilled (primary educated) migrants increased by only 40 percent during that time. A pattern is emerging in which these high-skilled migrants are departing from a broader range of countries and heading to a narrower range of countries—in particular, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. …More than half of the high-skilled technology workers and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are foreign-born. …host countries may end up with high concentrations of high-skilled immigrants in particular occupations. For example, immigrants account for some 57 percent of scientists residing in Switzerland, 45 percent in Australia, and 38 percent in the United States (Franzoni et al. 2012). In the United States, 27 percent of all physicians and surgeons and over 35 percent of current medical residents were foreign born in 2010. Immigrants also accounted for over 35 percent of recent enrollments in STEM fields, with very high proportions in specific areas like Electrical Engineering (70 percent), Computer Science (63 percent) and Economics (55 percent)… The global migration of inventors and the resulting concentration in a handful of countries have been particularly well documented. …the global migration rate of inventors in 2000 stood at 8.6 percent, at least 50 percent greater in share terms than the average for high-skilled workers as a whole. Figure 4 builds on WIPO global patent filings from 2001-2010. The United States has received an enormous net surplus of inventors from abroad.

The authors then consider the policies that different nations adopt in their search for GDP-enhancing immigrants.

…we then review the “gatekeepers” for global talent flows. At the government level, we compare the points-based skilled migration regimes as historically implemented by Canada and Australia with the employment-based policies used in the United States through mechanisms like the H-1B visa program. …The exceptional rise in the number of high-skilled migrants to OECD countries is the result of several forces, including increased efforts to attract them by policymakers as they recognize the central role of human capital in economic growth, positive spillovers generated by skill agglomeration, declines in transportation and communication costs, and rising pursuit of foreign education by young people. Among the resulting effects are the doubling of the share of the tertiary-educated in the labor force and fierce competition among countries hoping to attract talent. …One can explain certain aspects of current high-skilled migration patterns using this model. For example, the United States has a very wide earnings distribution and low tax levels and progressivity, especially compared to most source countries, including many high-income European countries. As a result, we can see why the United States would attract more high-skilled migrants…relative to other high-income countries.

By the way, I can’t resist making one minor correction. While we generally have lower taxes than other developed nations, we actually have a very “progressive” tax system. But US-style progressivity is the result of very low taxes on lower- and middle-income workers (no value-added tax, for instance), not unusually steep taxes on higher-income workers.

Returning to our main topic , the authors explain that developed nations either use a points-based system or an employment-based system when seeking to facilitate more high-skilled immigration.

Here’s how the the points-based system works.

Canada and Australia are prominent examples of countries that implement points-based systems for skilled migration. These programs select individuals based upon their observable education, language skills, work experience, and existing employment arrangements. …In the Canadian example, migrants need to collect 67 points across six categories. In terms of education, for example, 15 points are awarded for one-year post-secondary diploma, trade certificate or apprenticeship, compared to 25 for a doctorate degree. With regards work experience, six or more years of applicable experience receive 15 points, compared to 9 points for just one year of experience.

And here’s information on the employment-based approach, with the US being an obvious example.

The United States is the most cited example of a country that uses an employer-driven program for highskilled immigration, with the H-1B and L1 visas as primary categories (Kerr et al. 2015a). The H-1B visa allows US companies to temporarily employ skilled foreigners in “specialty occupations,” defined to be those demanding application of specialized knowledge like engineering or accounting. …Virtually all H-1B holders have a bachelor’s degree or higher and about 70% of the visas in recent years went to STEM-related occupations. India is by far the largest source country, accounting for about two-thirds of H-1B recipients in recent years. …most real-world regimes combine different features of points-based and employment-driven systems.

But the study notes that America also has a special system for bringing in ostensible superstars. Sort of a points system for the super talented.

Superstar talent rarely competes for H-1B visas, for example, but instead gains direct access to the United States through O1 temporary visas for extraordinary ability and direct green card applications of the EB-1 level for those with even more exceptional talent. …In effect, the US operates a points system for individuals with truly exceptional talents such as Nobel Prize winners, superstar athletes and musicians.

Now let’s turn the EB-5 program, which is another way that the United States seeks to attract those capable of making big economic contributions.

In part because the natural inefficiency of government creates opportunities for corruption in implementation, the EB-5 program has become very controversial. Some lawmakers even want the entire program to lapse when its authorization expires in December.

At the risk of understatement, I hope they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The Brookings Institution notes that Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) want to impose stricter rules and micro-manage how the investment occurs.

It also raises the minimum investment amount to $800,000 within a [targeted employment area] and $1.2 million otherwise. Most important for reaching the program’s economic development goals, however, are the bill’s new rules on defining TEAs. …The bill would revise the TEA definition to include rural areas, closed military bases, or single census tracts within metro areas with an unemployment rate at 150 percent of the national average. To further increase the effect of EB-5 financing, at least 50 percent of the job creation would have to be within the metro area, or within the county in which a rural TEA is located.

The business community doesn’t object to some stricter standards, as reported by The Hill, but wants the program to remain and wants it made permanent.

A coalition of business groups is pushing Congress to permanently renew a controversial investor visa program before it expires in September. …In a letter shared with The Hill on Thursday, those groups called on lawmakers to renew the EB-5 investor visa program with bolstered security and anti-fraud checks, adjustments to highly criticized investment incentives and streamlined visa processing. “Congress must not let this important job-creating program lapse, in large measure because of the immediate negative consequences to U.S. businesses and projects counting on EB-5 investment to create jobs for Americans,” wrote the groups to the Senate and House Judiciary committees. …The EB-5 program is responsible for more than $15 billion in investment and 100,000 jobs between 2005 and 2010, the coalition says.

Ike Brannon, writing for the Weekly Standard, worries that politicians will undermine the positive impact of the program with some back-door central planning.

That EB-5 program has succeeded at its intended purpose is not in dispute: A Brookings Institution study estimated that the program has created nearly 100,000 jobs along with over $5 billion of new investment since its inception. The current EB-5 program technically consists of two different pieces: The first is the original EB-5 visa program, which Congress enacted in 1990. Its intent was to help American business compete for foreign investment with countries like Canada and Australia, which had similar investor programs in place. …The overriding intent of the program has always been about job creation, anywhere and everywhere. Senator Paul Simon, a sponsor of the original EB-5 program, took care to emphasize that its purpose was first and foremost to attract entrepreneurs and spur job creation, noting that “neither the Senate nor the House bill established any sort of criteria about the type of business investment…As long as the employment goal is met, it is unnecessary to needlessly regulate the type of business or the character of the investment.”

But politicians love the “needlessly regulate,” so the EB-5 system has lots of red tape and Ike fears it may get even more.

Congress nonetheless attempted to spur some sort of geographic balance-cum-urban development with the creation of Target Employment Areas [TEAs], which consist of areas with high unemployment rates or rural areas outside the boundary of any city or town with a population over 20,000. In a TEA, the necessary investment need only be $500,000, so long as it creates the requisite number of jobs. …The problem with a federal top-down approach of this sort is that such a constraint could limit the efficacy of the program. …imposing a new rule that restricts how states designate Targeted Employment Areas will only make EB-5 more of a political football than it already is. Creating a welter of restrictions about where such investment can and cannot go would likely dampen the economic impact of the program.

A columnist for Forbes explains why the program should continue.

The EB-5 immigration visa may be the best immigration program the U.S. has to offer. Foreign investors…are putting up a minimum of $500,000 to renew and rebuild rundown urban areas and create jobs. It’s a legal way in for the kind of immigrant, a fortunate one, that tends to contribute to the neighborhood by bringing in money and jobs. …“EB-5 has economic benefits that doesn’t stop at the five hundred thousand dollars they need to invest to participate,” says Julian Montero, a partner in the Miami law office of Arnstein & Lehr. “It’s just the beginning of a more significant investment that will be made by these families when the come here. They’re going to private schools. They’re making good income. They’re paying taxes. And most of them start other businesses once here.” …The EB-5 has become a way for developers to attract foreign capital at low, project finance-style structured interest rates because the people giving the money are getting a prize: the right to live, work and study in the United States.

Perhaps most notably, even the International Monetary Fund recognizes the advantages of this type of program.

…economic residency programs were recently launched across a wide range of (generally much larger) European countries, including Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Almost half of EU member states now have a dedicated immigrant investor route. Also known as golden visa programs, these arrangements give investors residency rights…some advanced economies, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have had immigrant investor programs since the late 1980s or early 1990s, offering a route to citizenship in exchange for specific investment conditions… The inflows of funds to countries from these programs can be substantial, with far-reaching macroeconomic implications for nearly every sector.

The IMF article includes a helpful summary of nations that have programs to attract investors.

The bottom line is that there are many high-income and high-wealth people in the world (including the “super-entrepreneurs“) who would like to move to places that offer more stability, security, and opportunity. This creates a potential win-win situation for both the people migrating and the recipient nations.

The United States is already a big beneficiary of economic-based migration, but we could reap even greater benefits with a more sensible, streamlined, and expanded EB-5 system.

P.S. Zooming out to the broader issue of immigration and whether people want to come to the United States for the wrong reason, Professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University has a very intriguing proposal to have open immigration with nations such as Denmark that have bigger welfare states than America.

P.P.S. Today’s column is about economic-based immigration. There’s also the issue of economic-based emigration. Sadly, the United States policy on allowing people to leave is even worse than France’s system.

P.P.P.S. If you want to enjoy some migration-related humor, we have a video about Americans emigrating to Peru and a story about American leftists escaping to Canada.

P.P.P.P.S. Remember to contact me if you’re interested in the London conference.

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Since I’ve referred to the International Monetary Fund as both “the Dumpster Fire of the Global Economy” and “the Dr. Kevorkian of Global Economic Policy,” readers can safely conclude that I’m not a fan of the international bureaucracy. My main gripe is that senior bureaucrats routinely make the mistake of bailing out profligate governments (often as a back-door way of bailing out banks that foolishly lent to those governments), and they compound that mistake by then insisting on big tax hikes.

But as I’ve noted when writing about international bureaucracies, the professional economists who work for these organizations often produce very good work.

And that’s true even for the IMF. The bureaucracy published a study a few years ago entitled “The Size of Government and U.S.–European Differences in Economic Performance” and it has some useful and interesting conclusions. Here are some excerpts, along with my observations. We’ll start with the question the authors want to answer.

How much of a drag is the modern welfare state on economic performance? … One standard approach has been to estimate the disincentive effects of taxes and deduce that lower taxes would imply higher welfare. However, in the context of modern democracies, this argument begs the question why voters prefer an inferior economic outcome (a higher tax burden) instead of voting for parties that would minimize taxes.

Actually, we don’t need to “beg the question.” We get bad policy because voters get seduced into voting for politicians who promise to pillage the “rich” and give goodies to everyone else. And since voters generally don’t understand that this approach leads to “an inferior economic outcome,” the process can continue indefinitely (or until the ratio between those pulling the wagon and those riding in the wagon gets too imbalanced).

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the main focus of the study. The authors note that Europe isn’t converging with the United States, which is what standard economic theory says should be happening.

The academic debate over the long-term failure of European countries to catch up with U.S. economic performance also points to the need for a better assessment of the economic effects of large governments. Over the last three decades, European countries have not made inroads in closing a gap in per capita income vis-à-vis the US. …This paper focuses on…the role of the size of the public sector… The literature studying the impact of government on economic performance is large. Theory has focused on welfare effects—stressing the distortionary impact of taxation and government spending… observed government sizes generally tend to be too large, thus depressing welfare in many countries, or actual policies depart from allocationally optimal ones, especially in the “Rhineland-model” European economies.

And here are some of the results.

… a higher tax wedge results in lower hours worked. Moreover, the equation can be used to predict hours worked as a function of the tax wedge. …based on these calibrations, and using the welfare measure described in Appendix II, the steady-state welfare effects of varying the size of government can be analyzed. Table 2 provides the results of two such thought experiments: (i) to cut the marginal tax rate by five percentage points and (ii) to adopt U.S. taxation levels (in both accompanied by offsetting changes in spending), with the welfare change measured in the incremental consumption equivalent of the tax cuts. For example, had Belgium between 1990–99 cut marginal income tax rates by five percentage points, it would have reaped a welfare gain equivalent to 7⅓ percent of aggregate consumption (or of 21 percent if it had adopted US tax levels). These are large potential welfare gains from cutting back government.

Here’s a table from the study showing the theoretical gains from lowering tax rates, either by 5-percentage points, or all the way down to American levels.

But the authors note that their model is incomplete, with some countries doing better than what’s implied by their fiscal systems.

The basic model has considerable difficulties in accounting for labor supply in very high-tax countries, which it frequently underpredicted (e.g., the Nordic countries, excluding Norway…). …One group comprising Sweden and Denmark… Both countries are often singled out as countries with large government, but, as seen in the previous, both also have higher than predicted labor supply in the baseline model.

The study tries to explain such differences by considering whether some governments spend money in an effective manner on “active labor market policies” that produce higher levels of labor supply.

Perhaps that’s a partial explanation, but I think there’s a much simpler way of making sense of the data. The Nordic nations, as I’ve repeatedly written, have strongly pro-market policies once fiscal policy is taken out of the equation.

So if you just look at fiscal policy, they should be way behind the United States. But since they are more market-oriented than America in other areas (trade, rule of law, regulation, and monetary policy), that shrinks the gap.

That being said, I’m not going to be too critical of the IMF study since it does reach a very sensible conclusion.

…the size of government does play a significant role in explaining lower European labor supply…the size of European governments appears to imply large welfare costs. …Moreover, government policies that do not directly increase the size of government, e.g., regulation, are observed to also impart significant costs.

By the way, don’t assume this IMF study is an outlier. When economists at international bureaucracies are free to do real research without interference by their political masters, it’s not uncommon for them to produce sensible results.

Last but not least, here’s the video I narrated on the “Rahn Curve” and the growth-maximizing size of government.

Now if we could just get Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to understand this research, we’ll be in good shape (actually, since those two are poster children for the theory of Public Choice, who am I kidding?).

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One interesting feature of this election is that many voters, grappling with the unpalatable choice of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are dealing with the feelings of dismay and despair that libertarians experience almost every election.

All I can say is, “welcome to my world.”

Though I admit our experiences aren’t the same. Ordinary voters presumably are agitated by Hillary’s corruption and Donald’s buffoonery.

As a free-market policy wonk, by contrast, I’m more concerned that both Clinton and Trump are statists. Heck, I’d tolerate some unseemly behavior and sleaze if a politician actually reduced the burden of government (hence, my bizarre ex post facto fondness for Bill Clinton’s presidency).

But since Hillary isn’t Bill and Trump isn’t Reagan, the dark cloud that we’re facing doesn’t have any silver lining.

Unless, of course, you’re a fan of political humor. In which case the 2016 election is Nirvana.

And since I’m a fan (even when libertarians are the intended target), I’m greatly enjoying each and every time that Clinton and Trump are mocked.

And the best of all worlds is when there’s some humor that nails both of them at the same time. So it’s easy to see why I like this bit of satire that combines the controversy over Trump’s undisclosed tax returns and the controversy over Clinton’s illegal (and vulnerable) email server.

Here’s another example of this genre.

Here’s an amusing image showing what might happen if Trump was capable of time travel.

And this anti-Hillary image obviously is satire, though I think it makes a very sensible point about the dangers of interventionism.

Indeed, to be momentarily serious, the moral of the story is that Hillary’s recklessness is likely to create more risk for America, whereas the libertarian approach (illustrated by George Will, Barack Obama (in theory but not practice), and Mark Steyn is based on prudence and a Bastiat-like appreciation for unintended consequences.

Let’s get back to the funny stuff.

Did your parents ever say “America is great because anyone can grow up to be President”? Well, as you can see, that’s not such a good idea.

Last but not least, this cartoon captures the outcome of the election, regardless of which major-party candidate prevails.

Though Libertarians say you can escape this dilemma by choosing with “The Johnson.”

P.S. Since Putin made an appearance in our first item, it reminded me that he featured in a couple of amusing bits of satire (here and here) mocking Obama.

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The great contribution of western civilization is the notion that the power of government must be constrained by laws.

This doesn’t mean that all laws (or even most laws) are good. But, as explained in this video, if the choice is between the “rule of man” (the arbitrary and capricious exercise of power) and the “rule of law,” there’s no contest.

This is why issues related to the rule of law account for 20 percent of a nation’s grade in the rankings from Economic Freedom of the World.

And it’s why some people get very upset when, for instance, the Obama Administration chooses to unilaterally change – or simply chooses to not enforce – certain laws that are inconvenient to the President’s agenda.

But while the rule of law has been eroding in the United States, the good news is that we still rank in the top 20 in a new ranking from the World Justice Project.

Here’s how the WJP describes the importance of the rule of law.

Effective rule of law reduces corruption, combats poverty and disease, and protects people from injustices large and small. It is the foundation for communities of peace, opportunity, and equity – underpinning development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights. …The Index is the world’s most comprehensive data set of its kind and the only to rely solely on primary data, measuring a nation’s adherence to the rule of law from the perspective of how ordinary people experience it. These features make the Index a powerful tool that can help identify strengths and weaknesses in each country, and help to inform policy debates, both within and across countries, that advance the rule of law

And here’s a map showing the 113 nations that are included in the rankings.

All you need to know is that it’s good to be light-colored and bad to be dark-colored (though the map is a bit confusing since nations that aren’t ranked – much of Africa, for instance – also appear as light-colored).

One of the obvious conclusions is that the western world (Europe, North America, some nations in the Pacific Rim) does the best on protecting, observing, and maintaining the rule of law.

Simply stated, western civilization is superior.

But what can we learn by specifically examining the rule of law in developed nations?

What’s immediately apparent, if you look at the ranking of high-income nations, is that Nordic nations score very well. This is one of the reasons, I’ve explained, that they have a higher ability to tolerate and endure a large welfare state.

Germanic and Anglo-Saxon nations win the proverbial silver and bronze medals.

Looking at the rest of the world, I’m also not surprised to see strong scores for free-market success stories such as Singapore, Estonia, Hong Kong, and Chile.

Let’s close by taking a closer look at the data for the United States.

Among high-income nations, America gets a decent score, but it’s nothing to celebrate. Indeed, we actually do poorly when compared to other Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions.

In the above excerpt, I included the list of eight categories that are used to rank nations. Now let’s look at how America scores in those areas.

At the risk of oversimplifying, we do well in two areas. There are reasonably strong constraints on government powers and a reasonable degree of openness and transparency.

On the other hand, we don’t do very well (particularly when compared to other high-income nations)  for areas related to the judicial system.

Though I shudder to contemplate the scores America will receive after four or eight years of Hillary Clinton.

P.S. Is anybody surprised that Venezuela is in last place? Though I suppose I should repeat my caveat from earlier in the month that hellholes such as Cuba and North Korea would probably rank lower if they were included in the rankings.

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The polls are not looking good for Donald Trump. Indeed, I suspect my most recent prediction for the 2016 race gives him too many states.

With time running out, he now faces pressure to come up with some new idea or a new narrative to change the likely outcome.

Which may explain why he just unveiled a new plan to “drain the swamp” in Washington with new ethics rules. Such initiatives tend to be popular with voters, who view Washington as a corrupt mess. And an ethics-reform agenda may be an effective way of reminding voters that Hillary Clinton has major problems with corruption.

But let’s consider whether his plan actually would work. Taken directly from his campaign website, here’s what Trump is proposing.

As you can see, he basically wants to make it harder for Washington insiders to go through the revolving door.

And to augment his lobbying restrictions, Trump also has embraced congressional term limits.

Donald Trump added a new proposal to his recently unveiled ethics reforms package on Tuesday, promising to pursue a constitutional amendment that would impose term limits on members of Congress should he win the election on Nov. 8. …Establishing term limits at the federal level would help “break the cycle of corruption” that has plagued Washington and “give new voices to change so that we can have a government that works again and can function properly,” Trump argued.

For what it’s worth, I suspect many voters will like what Trump is saying.

If you look at Chapman University’s “Survey of American Fears,” the most commonly cited concern is “corruption of government officials.”

For people in the political world, the obvious follow-up issue is whether a popular issue/agenda actually will attract voters. In other words, will people concerned about Washington corruption rally to Trump simply because he highlights the issue.

Beats me.

I’m much more concerned with a different follow-up issue, which is whether his five points (six if you include term limits) would actually work if they were adopted.

To be blunt, I’m not holding my breath. And the reason for my concern is that Trump isn’t proposing to actually drain the swamp. There’s rampant sleaze in Washington because politicians and bureaucrats have massive powers to give undeserved wealth to those with political connections.

In other words, the “swamp” is big government. And since Trump isn’t proposing to shrink the size and scope of Washington, the incentives that currently exist to get unearned wealth via government coercion will still remain.

If you look at Trump’s proposals, what he’s really talking about is a plan to make it somewhat more difficult for certain people to wade into the swamp.

I have no objection, by the way, to additional rules that hinder the ability of politicians, congressional staffers, and presidential appointees to cash in on the connections they’ve made.

But I’m also not naive enough to think that this will reduce Washington sleaze. The policies that Trump is proposing are like pressing down on one part of a balloon and somehow hoping that other parts of the balloon won’t expand. Indeed, that’s the message of my video on the very strong link between the size of government and the amount of corruption.

P.S. Let me add a technical point that is very important in this discussion. Lobbying occurs when someone asks a politician to vote “yes” or “no” on a piece of legislation. It’s not lobbying, however when someone tells a politicians that an idea is good or bad (which is what I often do as part of my job).

But if Trump can change the definition of lobbying for former government officials (the third point in his five-point plan), that might disrupt the status quo for certain people (assuming it could be effectively enforced).

But so long as the size and scope of government isn’t curtailed, that kind of change won’t eliminate the incentive of interest groups to hire people who are allowed to lobby. The only way to reduce corruption is to reduce government.

P.P.S. By the way, restrictions on campaign donations also won’t work.

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My main problem with bureaucrats is that there are too many of them (because government is too big) and that they are paid too much (almost twice the level of compensation as workers in the private sector).

But even the government was the proper size (America’s Founders had the right idea on that issue) and even if pay levels were more reasonable, that wouldn’t solve all problems. There’s also the issue of making sure that bureaucrats work hard and don’t cause trouble, something that is a big problem in government agencies and departments because of policies that make it virtually impossible to fire anybody.

I recently explored the issue of how to deal with bad bureaucrats and noted that civil service rules have the effect of shielding ” slackers, trouble makers, and other undesirable employees.”

We have an example from Oklahoma that is a perfect (in a rather disturbing way) illustration of this phenomenon.

A community is wondering why a teacher who is accused of lewd acts with a child is still getting paid. State agents arrested 48-year-old Shelley Jo Duncan, accusing her of having inappropriate contact with a 14-year-old boy. …messages detail the pair’s plans for future sexual encounters, including Duncan allegedly texting the boy she would give him “oral sex with a cough drop in her mouth.” ….The Tishomingo Public Schools Superintendent Ken Duncan, who is Duncan’s husband, said that she is entitled to her pay while she is suspended. “The district has been instructed by legal counsel, per the Teacher Due Process Act governed by Oklahoma statute, that the teacher is entitled to compensation during her suspension,” Duncan reportedly said during the meeting.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Why isn’t sexual contact with a child an immediate cause for termination? I can’t imagine that private employers would have any tolerance for this kind of behavior.

To be sure, the rule of law is vitally important. If there are legal procedures for dealing with bad bureaucrats, they should be followed. So, in this specific case, perhaps Ms. Duncan’s husband is correct and that she should be paid.

But this is why I wrote earlier this month that “there needs to be a much tougher approach when contract negotiations take place.” Simply stated, politicians like to curry votes from powerful interest groups, so contract negotiations between governments and government unions generally are a sham. All too often, the politicians and unions conspire against taxpayers.

This is why pay levels for bureaucrats tend to be exorbitant. It’s why pensions are so extravagant (and a fiscal nightmare, as I wrote just yesterday). And it’s why civil service rules protect deadbeats and sketchy people.

Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between identifying a problem and solving a problem. It doesn’t really matter if we can identify the “public choice” incentives that lead to bad decisions in government if we can’t then figure out the policies that counteract those bad incentives.

Yes, this is why a no-tax-increase position should be a no-brainer. And this is another piece of evidence why the natural profligacy of all governments should be constrained by spending caps. But even I will admit that those are macro-type solutions that only indirectly make it harder for politicians and bureaucrats to misbehave.

On that depressing note, I guess all that’s left is for us to decide whether Ms. Duncan deserves to be in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame. For what it’s worth, I think we have to wait before making that decision. If she (and perhaps her husband) can manipulate the rules and get paid for 12 months while doing nothing, even though she was caught red-handed (or perhaps we should say Altoid-mouthed) for misbehaving with a child, she’ll deserve membership. And if you think that’s asking too much, don’t forget that a bureaucrat in India managed to get paid for more than two decades even though he stopped showing up for work.

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