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Archive for July, 2020

I wrote last month about “anarcho-capitalists” who think we don’t need any government because markets can provide everything.

Most people, though, think that there are certain things (such as national defense and the rule of law) that are “public goods” because they won’t exist if they’re not provided by government.

Academics tell us, if we want to be rigorous, that there are two characteristics that define public goods.

  1. They are goods that people won’t buy because they can reap the benefit without paying (economists say this means the good is “non-excludable” while normal people refer to this as the free-rider problem).
  2. They are goods that can be universally shared since one person’s consumption of the good doesn’t limit another person’s consumption of the good (economists say such goods are “non-rival”).

That’s a bit wonky, so let’s consider the example of national defense.

In a world with bad countries (or, to be more accurate, a world with nations governed by bad people), there’s a risk or external aggression. Since most people wouldn’t want to be conquered – and presumably mistreated – by foreign aggressors, national defense is valuable.

But how would it be provided in the absence of government? Maybe Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos would have an incentive to cough up some cash since they have a lot of wealth to protect, but most people (including most rich people) might figure that someone else would cover the cost and they could enjoy protection for free.

This two-part series from Marginal Revolution University explains public goods, using the example of asteroid defense. Here’s an introductory video.

And here’s a follow-up version that has a bit more detail.

I’m writing about this wonky issue because the debate over public goods, at least in some quarters, also is a debate about the size of government.

Consider this image of supposed public goods.

It shows all sorts of activities where governments today play a role, but most of those things aren’t actually public goods since they can be – and sometimes are – privately provided (see examples for fire protection, money, roads, education, health, air traffic control, and parks).

In other words, as Professor Tabarrok noted in the second video, something isn’t a public good just because it’s currently being handled by government.

Indeed, let’s look at the classic example of lighthouses, which often are cited as an example of something that absolutely must be provided by government. Yet scholars have found that the private sector led the way (before being supplanted by government).

For a more prudent view of public goods, Ronald Reagan’s FY1987 budget included a set of principles to help guide whether the federal government should play a role in various areas.

Those six principles could even be boiled down to one principle: Always opt for the private sector whenever possible.

I’ll close by identifying the bureaucracies in Washington that provide genuine public goods. As you can see, much of the federal government (Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, etc) doesn’t qualify.

To be sure, I’m using a broad-brush approach with this image. Some of the bureaucracies that I crossed out do a few things that qualify as public goods (such as nuclear weapons research at the Department of Energy), and the bureaucracies that didn’t get crossed out do lots of things (such at veterans health care) that should be in the private sector.

The bottom line is that much of the federal government isn’t needed, based on what’s a genuine public good. And for much of America’s history, at least prior to the 1930s, Washington was only a tiny burden because it was only involved in a few areas, such as national defense.

Though it’s worth noting that government could – and should – be much smaller even using an expansive definition of public goods and the role of government.

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Because of changing demographics and poorly designed entitlement programs, the burden of government spending in the United States (in the absence of genuine reform) is going to increase dramatically over the next few decades.

That bad outlook will get even worse thanks to all the coronavirus-related spending from Washington.

This is bad news for America since more of the economy’s output will be consumed by government, leaving fewer resources for the private sector. And that problem would exist even if all the spending was magically offset by trillions of dollars of unexpected tax revenue.

Many people, however, think the nation’s future fiscal problem is that politicians will borrow to finance  that new spending. I think that’s a mistaken view, since it focuses on a symptom (red ink) rather than the underlying disease (excessive spending).

But regardless of one’s views on that issue, fiscal policy is on an unsustainable path. And that means there will soon be a fight between twho different ways of addressing the nation’s grim fiscal outlook.

  • Restrain the growth of government spending.
  • Divert more money from taxpayers to the IRS.

Fortunately, we now have some new evidence to help guide policy.

A new study from the Mercatus Center, authored by Veronique de Rugy and Jack Salmon, examines what actually happens when politicians try to control debt with spending restraint or tax increases.

Here’s what the authors wanted to investigate.

Fiscal consolidation can take two forms: (1) adopting a debt-reduction package driven primarily by tax increases or (2) adopting a package mostly consisting of spending restraint. …What policymakers might not know is which of these two forms of consolidation tend to be more effective at reining in debt levels and which are less harmful to economic performance: tax-based (TB) fiscal consolidation or expenditure-based (EB) fiscal consolidation.

Here’s their methodology.

Our analysis focuses on large fiscal consolidations, or consolidations in which the fiscal deficit as a share of GDP improves by at least 1.5 percentage points over two years and does not decrease in either of those two years. …A successful consolidation is defined as one in which the debt-to-GDP ratio declines by at least 5 percentage points three years after the adjustment takes places or by at least 3 percentage points two years after the adjustment. …Episodes in which the consolidation is at least 60 percent revenue increases are labeled TB, and episodes in which the consolidation is at least 60 percent spending decreases are labeled EB.

And here are their results.

…of the 45 EB episodes, more than half were successful, while of the 67 TB episodes, less than 4 in 10 were successful. …The results in table 2 show that while in unsuccessful adjustments most (74 percent) of the changes are on the revenue side, in successful adjustments most (60 percent) of the changes are on the expenditure side. In successful adjustments, for every 1.00 percent of GDP increase in revenues, expenditures are cut by 1.50 percent. By contrast, in unsuccessful adjustments, for every 1.00 percent of GDP increase in revenues, expenditures are cut by less than 0.35 percent. From these findings we conclude that successful fiscal adjustments are those that involve significant spending reductions with only modest increases in taxation. Unsuccessful fiscal adjustments, however, typically involve significant increases in taxation and very modest spending reductions.

Table 2 summarizes the findings.

As you can see, tax increases are the least effective way of dealing with the problem. Which makes sense when you realize that the nation’s fiscal problem is too much spending, not inadequate revenue.

In my not-so-humble opinion, I think the table I prepared back in 2014 is even more compelling.

Based on IMF data, it shows nations that imposed mutli-year spending restraint and how that fiscally prudent policy generated very good results – both in terms of reducing the spending burden and lowering red ink.

When I do debates at conferences with my left-wing friends, I almost always ask them to show me a similar table of countries that achieved good results with tax increases.

Needless to say, none of them have ever even attempted to prepare such a list.

That’s because nations that repeatedly raise taxes – as we’ve seen in Europe – wind up with more spending and more debt.

In other words, politicians pull a bait-and-switch. They claim more revenue is needed to reduce debt, but they use any additional money to buy votes.

Which is why advocates of good fiscal policy should adamantly oppose any and all tax increases.

Let’s close by looking at two more charts from the Mercatus study.

Here’s a look at how Irish politicians have mostly chose to restrain spending.

And here’s a look at how Greek politicians have mostly opted for tax increases.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that the Greek approach has been very unsuccessful.

P.S. For fiscal wonks, one of the best parts of the Mercatus study is that it cites a lot of academic research on the issue of fiscal consolidation.

Scholars who have conducted research find – over and over again – that spending restraint works.

In a 1995 working paper, Alberto Alesina and Roberto Perotti observe 52 efforts to reduce debt in 20 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries between 1960 and 1992. The authors define a successful fiscal adjustment as one in which the debt-to-GDP ratio declines by at least 5 percentage points three years after the adjustment takes place. In successful adjustments, government spending is reduced by almost 2.2 percent of gross national product (GNP) and taxes are increased by less than 0.5 percent of GNP. For unsuccessful adjustments, government expenditure is reduced by less than 0.5 percent of GNP and taxes are increased by almost 1.3 percent of GNP. These results suggest that successful fiscal adjustments are those that cut spending and include very modest increases in taxation.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists John McDermott and Robert Wescott, in a 1996 paper, examine 74 episodes of fiscal adjustment in which countries attempted to address their budget gaps. The authors define a successful fiscal adjustment as a reduction of at least 3 percentage points in the ratio of gross public debt to GDP by the second year after the end of an adjustment. The authors then divide episodes of fiscal consolidation into two categories: those in which the deficit was cut primarily (by at least 60 percent) through revenue increases, and those in which it was reduced primarily (by at least 60 percent) through expenditure cuts. Of the expenditure-based episodes of fiscal consolidation, almost half were successful, while of the tax-based episodes, less than one out of six met the criteria for success.

Jürgen von Hagen and Rolf Strauch observe 65 episodes in 20 OECD countries from 1960 to 1998 and define a successful adjustment as one in which the budget balance stands at no more than 75 percent of the initial balance two years after the adjustment period. …it does find that successful consolidations consist of expenditure cuts averaging more than 1.2 percent of GDP, while expenditure cuts in unsuccessful adjustments are smaller than 0.3 percent of GDP. The opposite pattern is true for revenue-based adjustments: successful consolidations consist of increases in revenue averaging around 1.1 percent, while unsuccessful adjustments consist of revenue increases exceeding 1.9 percent.

American Enterprise Institute economists Andrew Biggs, Kevin Hassett, and Matthew Jensen examine over 100 episodes of fiscal consolidation in a 2010 study. The authors define a successful fiscal adjustment as one in which the debt-to-GDP ratio declines by at least 4.5 percentage points three years after the first year of consolidation. Their study finds that countries that addressed their budget shortfalls through reduced spending burdens were far more likely to reduce their debt than countries whose budget-balancing strategies depended upon higher taxes. …the typical successful adjustment consists of 85 percent spending cuts and just 15 percent tax increases.

In a 1998 Brookings Institution paper, Alberto Alesina and coauthors reexamined the research on the economic effects of fiscal adjustments. Using data drawn from 19 OECD countries, the authors assess whether the composition of fiscal adjustments results in different economic outcomes… Contrary to the Keynesian view that fiscal adjustments are contractionary, the results of this study suggest that consolidation achieved primarily through spending reductions often has expansionary effects.

Another study that observes which features of fiscal adjustments are more or less likely to predict whether the fiscal adjustment is contractionary or expansionary is by Alesina and Silvia Ardagna. Using data from 20 OECD countries during 1960 to 1994, the authors label an adjustment expansionary if the average GDP growth rate in the period of adjustment and in the two years after is greater than the average value (of G7 countries) in all episodes of adjustment. …The authors conclude, “The composition of the adjustment appears as the strongest predictor of the growth effect: all the non-expansionary adjustments were tax-based and all the expansionary ones were expenditure-based.”

French economists Boris Cournède and Frédéric Gonand adopt a dynamic general equilibrium model to compare the macroeconomic impacts of four debt reduction scenarios. Results from the model suggest that TB adjustments are much more costly than spending restraint when policymakers are attempting to achieve fiscal sustainability. Annual consumption per capita would be 15 percent higher in 2050 if consolidation were achieved through spending reductions rather than broad tax increases.

In a review of every major fiscal adjustment in the OECD since 1975, Bank of England economist Ben Broadbent and Goldman Sachs economist Kevin Daly found that “decisive budgetary adjustments that have focused on reducing government expenditure have (i) been successful in correcting fiscal imbalances; (ii) typically boosted growth; and (iii) resulted in significant bond and equity market outperformance. Tax-driven fiscal adjustments, by contrast, typically fail to correct fiscal imbalances and are damaging for growth.”

Economists Christina and David Romer investigated the impact of tax changes on economic activity in the United States from 1945 to 2007. The authors find that an exogenous tax increase of 1 percent of GDP lowers real GDP by almost 3 percent, suggesting that TB adjustments are highly contractionary.

…the IMF released its annual World Economic Outlook in 2010 and included a study on the effects of fiscal consolidation on economic activity. The results of studying episodes of fiscal consolidation for 15 OECD countries over three decades…reveals that EB fiscal adjustments tend to have smaller contractionary effects than TB adjustments. For TB adjustments, the effect of a consolidation of 1 percent of GDP on GDP is −1.3 percent after two years, while for EB adjustments the effect is just −0.3 percent after two years and is not statistically significant. Interestingly, TB adjustments also raise unemployment levels by about 0.6 percentage points, while EB adjustments raise the unemployment rate by only 0.2 percentage points.

…a 2014 IMF study…estimates the short-term effect of fiscal consolidation on economic activity among 17 OECD countries. The authors of the IMF study find that the fall in GDP associated with EB consolidations is 0.82 percentage points smaller than the one associated with TB adjustments in the first year and 2.31 percentage points smaller in the second year after the adjustment.

Focusing on the fiscal consolidations that followed the Great Recession, Alesina and coauthors…find that EB consolidations are far less costly for economic output than TB adjustments. They also find that TB adjustments result in a cumulative contraction of 2 percent of GDP in the following three years, while EB adjustments generate very small contractions with an impact on output not significantly different from zero.

A study by the European Central Bank in 2018…finds that macroeconomic responses are largely caused by differences in the composition of the adjustment plans. The authors find large and negative multipliers for TB adjustment plans and positive, but close to zero, multipliers for EB plans. The composition of adjustment plans is found to be the largest contributor to the differences in economic performance under the two types of consolidation plans.

The bottom line is that nations enjoy success when they obey fiscal policy’s Golden Rule. Sadly, that doesn’t happen very often because politicians focus mostly on buying votes in the short run rather than increasing national prosperity in the long run.

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My view of the U.S. economic policy often depends on whether I’m writing about absolute levels of laissez-faire or relative levels of laissez-faire.

If my column is about the former, I generally complain about excessive spending, punitive taxation, senseless red tape, easy-money monetary policy, and trade protectionism.

But if I’m writing about relative levels of economic liberty, I often turn into a jingoistic, pro-American flag-waver.

That because – with a few exceptions such as Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Switzerland – the United States enjoys more economic freedom than other nations.

And because of the relationship between policy and prosperity, this means that Americans tend to have much higher living standards than their counterparts in other nations. Even when compared to people in other developed countries.

(Which is why it’s so disappointing that many American politicians want to make the U.S. more like Europe.)

Let’s examine some data. In a column for National Review, Joseph Sullivan compares recent increases in living standards for major nations.

If you want to answer questions about how economic wellbeing for individuals in a country has evolved, the actual change in the value of real GDP per capita may tell you more than the rate of its change. Why? Individuals buy goods and services with dollars and cents — not the rates of change that economists, politicians, and pundits tend to focus on when it comes to growth. …By this metric, between 2016 and 2019, economic growth in the U.S. was the best in its class. …The U.S. surpasses…its peers…by no small margin. It bests the silver medalist in this category, Finland, by $1,100. That is almost as big as the $1,160 that separates the runner-up from the peer country that comes in dead last, Sweden.

Here’s the chat from his article.

The key takeaway is that Americans started the period with more per-capita GDP and the U.S. lead expanded.

That’s one way of looking at the data.

A 2017 report from the Pew Research Center also has some fascinating numbers about the relative well-being of the middle class in different nations.

…the middle class in a country consists of adults living in households with disposable incomes ranging from two-thirds to double the country’s own median disposable household income (adjusted for household size). This definition allows middle-class incomes to vary across countries, because national incomes vary across countries. …That raises a question: What shares of adults in Western European countries have the same standard of living as the American middle class? …When the Western European countries the Center analyzed are viewed through the lens of middle-class incomes in the U.S., the share of adults who are middle class decreases in most of them. …In most Western European countries studied, applying the U.S. standard shrinks the middle-class share by about 10 percentage points… Applying U.S. incomes as the middle-class standard also boosts the estimated shares of adults who are in the lower-income tier in most Western European countries… Overall, regardless of how middle class fortunes are analyzed, the material standard of living in the U.S. is estimated to be better than in most Western European countries examined.

The main thing to understand is that there’s a big difference between being middle class in a rich country and being middle class in a not-so-rich country.

And if you peruse the chart from the Pew Report, you’ll notice that a lot of middle-class Europeans would be lower-income if they lived in the United States.

And if you looked at the issue from the other perspective, as I did last year, many poor Americans would be middle class if they lived in Europe.

Let’s augment that analysis by looking at a graphic the Economist put together several years ago. It’s based on the OECD’s Better-Life Index, which is a bit dodgy since it includes measures such as the Paris-based bureaucracy’s utterly dishonest definition of poverty.

That being said, notice that the bottom 10 percent of Americans would be middle class (or above!) if they lived in other nations.

I’ll close with the data on Actual Individual Consumption from the OECD, which are the numbers that (I believe) most accurately measure relative living standards between nations (indeed, I shared data from this source in 2010, 2014, and 2017).

As you can see, the United States easily surpasses other industrialized nations, with a score of 145.9 in 2017 (compared to the average of 100).

My final observation is that all this data is contrary to traditional convergence theory, which assumes that poor nations should grow faster than rich nations.

In other words, Europe should be catching up to the United States.

Indeed, that actually happened for a couple of decades after World War II, but then many European nations expanded welfare states in the 1960s and 1970s, while the U.S. for more economic freedom under both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the 1980s and 1990s.

And since policies diverged, convergence stalled.

The bottom line is that rich nations can consistently out-perform poor nations if they have allow more economic freedom.

P.S. Not only do ordinary Americans have a big edge over their European counterparts, they also enjoy much lower taxes.

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Back in 2011, the Center for Freedom and Prosperity released this video citing four nations – Canada, Ireland, Slovakia, and New Zealand – that achieved very good results with multi-year periods of genuine spending restraint.

Today, let’s focus on what’s been happening with government spending in Canada.

As explained in the video, America’s northern neighbor enjoyed a five-year period in the 1990s when government spending increased by an average of just 1 percent annually, with most of that progress occurring when the Liberal Party was in charge.

This fiscal probity – an example of my Golden Rule before I even invented the concept – paid big dividends.

The overall burden of government spending, measured as a share of economic output, declined substantially.

And because Canadian lawmakers dealt with the underlying problem of too much spending, that automatically solved the symptom of red ink.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Canada’s current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has been spending a lot of money.

Jon Hartley, in an article for National Review, looks at his fiscal policy.

In June, Fitch downgraded Canada’s sovereign debt, revoking its prized AAA status. …Canadian finance minister Bill Morneau recently revealed that Canada’s projected 2020 deficit is now C$343 billion, a whopping 16 percent of GDP. …The Trudeau government now finds itself in a quandary over how to get to grips with its increased government spending. …This won’t be the first time that Canada has had to wrestle with its federal debt… Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been speculation that the Trudeau government is now looking to institute a controversial federal housing-equity tax on primary residences… Canada now has high middle-class tax rates and, if federal and provincial taxes are combined, a top marginal tax rate of over 53 percent in the most populous province, Ontario. …Simply printing money to pay for Canadian sovereign debt is probably not on the cards either. …What’s lacking for now is any obvious policy path to return the country to economic normality and restore a semblance of control to the nation’s finances.

This is helpful analysis, especially when thinking about how Canada will try to climb back out of the fiscal hole caused by the coronavirus.

But I think it’s more revealing to see Trudeau’s track record before the virus.

So I went to the database for the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, which was released late last year before the disease wreaked havoc with government finances.

Here’s the data showing the spending burden has grown almost twice as fast under Trudeau (2016-2020) as it did in the previous five years (2011-2015).

Since Canada has a federal system, this data includes spending increases by sub-national governments. So it’s not clear how much Trudeau should be blamed compared to his predecessor.

But surely we can conclude that fiscal policy has deteriorated during his reign.

Also, the IMF data for the Trudeau years is preliminary. But since we want to see what was happening before the coronavirus, these numbers are actually the ones we want to use.

The bottom line is that Canada was moving in the wrong direction before the coronavirus and the spending burden has jumped dramatically since the disease hit.

This does not bode well for Canada’s long-run economic health.

P.S. Notwithstanding fiscal deterioration under Trudeau, Canada is still a surprisingly pro-market country, ranked #8 in the world. Moreover, it has some very sensible policies involving school choice, welfare reformcorporate tax reform, bank bailoutsregulatory budgeting, the tax treatment of saving, and privatization of air traffic control.

P.P.S. Here’s my early assessment (from 2016) of Trudeau’s agenda, and here’s what I wrote last year about his misguided tax policy.

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Way back in January of 2017, I predicted for a French TV audience that Donald Trump would be a big spender like George Bush instead of a small-government conservative like Ronald Reagan.

Sadly, I was right.

I crunched the numbers earlier this year and showed that Trump has been a big spender, no matter how the data is sliced.

Perhaps most shocking, he’s even allowed domestic spending to increase faster than it did under Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.

That’s a terrible track record, especially compared to Reagan’s impressive performance (by the way, these calculations were made before all the coronavirus-related spending, so updated numbers would make Trump look even worse by comparison).

Anyhow, I’m looking at this issue today because of a recent story in the Washington Post.

The Reagan Foundation just told the Trump people to stop using the Gipper’s likeness in their fundraising appeals.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, which runs the 40th president’s library near Los Angeles, has demanded that President Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC) quit raising campaign money by using Ronald Reagan’s name and likeness. …What came to the foundation’s attention — and compelled officials there to complain — was a fundraising email that went out July 19… The solicitation offered, for a donation of $45 or more, a “limited edition” commemorative set featuring two gold-colored coins, one with an image of Reagan and one with an image of Trump. …Proceeds from the coin sales went to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising operation that benefits both the Trump campaign and the RNC. …In the 1990s, both Reagan and his wife Nancy signed legal documents that granted the foundation sole rights to their names, likenesses and images. …the RNC accepted the foundation’s demand regarding the fundraising emails.

It’s unclear why the Reagan Foundation made the request.

For what it’s worth, I hope officials were motivated at least in part by disappointment with Trump’s anti-conservative record on government spending (and also on trade).

Simply stated, Trump is no Reagan.

While I’m a big fan of the Gipper, I don’t pretend he had a perfect track record. But I think it’s correct to say that his goal was to advance liberty by shrinking government, even if there were occasional detours.

For instance, Holman Jenkins noted in his Wall Street Journal column that Reagan always had the right long-run goals even when he made short-run comprises on trade that were unfortunate.

Reagan slapped import quotas on cars, motorcycles, forklifts, memory chips, color TVs, machine tools, textiles, steel, Canadian lumber and mushrooms. There was no market meltdown. Donald Trump hit foreign steel and aluminum, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 600 points… The real difference is that Reagan’s protectionist devices were negotiated. They were acts of cartel creation… This was unattractive but it wasn’t a disaster, and Reagan’s protectionism quickly fell away when a global upswing began. …Mr. Trump wants a spectacle with himself at the center. …His confused and misguided ideas about trade are one of his few long and deeply held policy commitments.

And if you need more evidence, look at what Reagan said about trade here, here, and here.

Can you imagine Trump giving such remarks? Or even understanding the underlying principles?

There are also important differences in the populism of Trump and Reagan, as explained by Jonah Goldberg of the American Enterprise Institute.

…there are different kinds of conservative populism. Until recently, right-wing populism manifested itself in the various forms of the tea party, which emphasized limited government and fiscal restraint. That populism…is very different from Trump’s version. …Reagan’s themes and rhetoric were decidedly un-Trumpian. The conservative populist who delivered “A Time for Choosing” used broadly inclusive language, focusing his ire at a centralized government that reduced a nation of aspiring individuals to “the masses.” …Reagan’s populist rhetoric was informed by a moderate, big-hearted temperament, a faith in American exceptionalism… He warned of concentrated power that corrodes self-government.

I’ll close with the observation that Trump has enacted some good policies, especially with regard to taxes and red tape.

The bottom line is that I’m not trying to convince anyone to vote for Trump or to vote against Trump.

Instead, I simply want people to be consistent and principled advocates of economic liberty instead of blind partisans.

As explained in my Ninth Theorem of Government.

In other words, I don’t care if you’re an enthusiastic supporter of Trump. Just don’t let that support lead you to somehow rationalize that wasteful spending and protectionism are somehow good ideas.

And I don’t care if you’re an enthusiastic never-Trumper. Just don’t let that hostility lead you to somehow decide that tax cuts and deregulation are bad ideas.

P.S. In my speeches over the past few years, I’ve run into many people who tell me that Trump must be good because the media hates him the same way they hated Reagan. It’s certainly true that the establishment press has visceral disdain for both of them. I’ll simply point out that media hostility is a necessary but not sufficient condition for determining whether a Republican believes in smaller government.

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When I write about socialism, I often point out that there’s a difference between how economists define it (government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls) and how normal people define it (lots of taxes, redistribution, and intervention).

These definitions are blurry, of course, which is why I created a “socialism slide” to show how countries oftentimes are an odd mix of markets and government.

But one thing that isn’t blurry is the evidence on what works. Simply stated, there is less prosperity in nations with big government compared to nations with small government.

And it doesn’t matter whether socialism is the result of democracy or tyranny.

Kristian Niemietz is with the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. He explained for CapX that mixing democracy with socialism doesn’t fix anything.

Mention the economic failures of the former Eastern Bloc countries, or Maoist China, or North Vietnam, or today, of Cuba or Venezuela or North Korea, and the answer will invariably be: “But that was a dictatorship! That’s got nothing to do with me, I’m a democratic socialist!” …“[S]ocialism means ‘economic democracy’… But the…economic failures of socialism never had anything to do with a lack of democracy. Democratisation improves many things, and is desirable for many reasons. But it does not, in and of itself, make countries richer. …The empirical literature on this subject finds no relationship either way between economic development, and the system of government. …If socialists want to make the case that democracy was the magic missing ingredient… How exactly would democracy have closed the economic gap between East and West Germany, or North and South Korea, or Cuba and Puerto Rico, or Maoist China and Taiwan, or the People’s Republic of Angola and Botswana, or Venezuela and Chile?

Meanwhile, Kevin Williamson pointed out in National Review that post-war socialism in the United Kingdom failed for the same reason that socialism fails anywhere and everywhere it is tried.

History counsels us to consider the first adjective in “democratic socialist” with some skepticism. …the socialism that reduced the United Kingdom from world power to intermittently pre-industrial backwater in the post-war era was thoroughly democratic. …In the United States, we use the word “democratic” as though it were a synonym for “decent” or “accountable,” but 51 percent of the people can wreck a country just as easily and as thoroughly as 10 percent of them. …The problems of socialism are problems of socialism — problems related to the absence of markets, innovation, and free enterprise… Socialism and authoritarianism often go hand in hand (almost always, in fact), but socialism on its own, even when it is the result of democratic elections and genuinely democratic processes, is a bottomless well of misery. …rights — property rights and the right to trade prominent among them — also find themselves on the wrong side of majorities, constantly and predictably. But they are…necessary for a thriving and prosperous society. Socialism destroys societies by gutting or diminishing those rights. Doing so with the blessing of 50 percent plus one of the population does not make that any less immoral or any less corrosive.

Thankfully, Margaret Thatcher saved the United Kingdom from socialism.

But other nations haven’t been so lucky. Democratically elected governments adopted socialism in Greece and Argentina, but neither country found a savior to restore economic liberty (or maybe voters didn’t want to reverse the failed policies).

What about the United States? Will we vote ourselves into socialism?

Given the wretched track records of Wilson, Hoover, FDR, Nixon, Obama, etc, I’m tempted to say that we’ve been doing that for more than 100 years.

But I don’t want to be unduly pessimistic. America hasn’t slid too far down the socialism slide. Indeed, we’re actually ranked #6 in the world for economic liberty.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are lots of proposals for additional bad policy and plenty of politicians clamoring to move in the wrong direction.

To see what that might mean, I’ll close with some polling data that the Washington Examiner shared earlier this year. Here are things that might happen if socialists (however defined) get power in the United States.

And here are things that the American people say would qualify as socialism.

Ugh, that’s a recipe for the Venezuela-fication of the U.S. economy.

P.S. For what it’s worth, notwithstanding his statist platform, I think Joe Biden only intends to incrementally go down the slide (whereas Bernie Sanders would have greased the slide for a rapid descent).

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I recently speculated whether Seattle should be considered the worst-governed city in the country.

Though there’s lots of competition for that honor from places like San Francisco, Detroit, New York City, and Chicago. And John Stossel makes a compelling case for Minneapolis in this new video.

As I’ve previously noted, statist policies are never a good idea, but they’re especially foolish when adopted by local or state governments.

Why? Because it’s relatively easy for productive people to escape bad policy by moving across borders.

And that happens. A lot.

Yet the folks in Minnesota – at least if the anti-capitalism comments in the video are any indication – must not care whether the geese with the golden eggs fly away.

To learn more, let’s take a look at the Washington Post story referenced in the Stossel video.

Authored by Tracy Jan, it looks at all the big-government policies imposed by local and state government.

The Twin Cities…and…progressive policies… Taxes, for decades, have been redistributed from wealthy suburbs to poorer communities to combat inequality — an effort bolstered in recent years by raising state income taxes on the rich. The result: more money for schools, affordable housing and social services in lower-income neighborhoods. …Minnesota’s progressive reputation was cemented nearly five decades ago… Gov. Wendell Anderson…worked with the Republican-controlled legislature to pass…a redistributive tax policy introduced in 1971 that required wealthy communities in the Twin Cities region to share their commercial property tax revenue with the poorest areas. Income and sales tax revenue from rich suburbs across the state also was shared with less-affluent cities and rural communities to fund schools, police and housing. …It would be the beginning of a suite of policies that over subsequent decades increased investments in housing, schools and small businesses in disadvantaged communities. …more state aid poured into poor communities in 2013, when then-Gov. Mark Dayton raised taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans. The Democrat…campaigned to “Tax the Rich!” — saying everyone should pay their “fair share” to keep society “functional.” The income tax rate, already fairly high for top income earners compared with other states, increased from 7.85 percent to 9.85 percent for individuals making more than $150,000.

I fully agree with Stossel that the story’s headline is hopelessly biased, though that’s usually the fault of editors rather than reporters.

But let’s set that aside and focus on the details in the report.

What conclusions are warranted? The reporter can’t resist making a silly assertion that growth isn’t part of the solution (she’s obviously not familiar with Census Bureau data).

Those enduring disparities…highlight the flawed premise…that economic prosperity is a remedy for racial inequality.

Though she does acknowledge that the mess in Minneapolis poses a challenge for the left’s argument that big government is the answer.

…progressive policies ha[ve] not translated into economic equality. Instead, the wealth gap between Minneapolis’s largely white population and the city’s black residents has deepened, producing some of the nation’s widest racial disparities in income, employment and homeownership. …The shortcomings have given rise to an urgent debate about where Minneapolis went wrong and what measures would bring better results. …The typical black family in the Twin Cities earned $39,851 in 2017, lower than the median income for African Americans nationally… A quarter of black households lived in poverty, five times the poverty rate for white households. …the outcome for black residents in Minneapolis and St. Paul…undercuts the liberal argument that spending on progressive policies can create systemic change. …Black residents…are worse off today by some measures than they were 20 and 30 years ago, even as the fortunes of their white counterparts held steady or improved, according to census data. …Despite a slew of programs to help first-time home buyers, only a quarter of black residents in the Twin Cities own their homes…much lower than the national black homeownership rate of 42 percent.

I’ll make four points in response to this story.

First, there is no substitute for growth, and – as Stossel observed in the video, but as Ms. Tan doesn’t seem to appreciate – we shouldn’t care if some groups get rich faster than other groups.

Second, stronger growth not only explains why average living standards in the United States are higher than in other nations, but also why the average low-income person in America does better than the average middle class person in many other countries.

Third, the only effective and successful way to achieve long-run growth is with free markets and small government, but Minnesota doesn’t fare well in rankings of economic liberty (see here, here, and here) and Minneapolis scores poorly when cities are ranked.

Fourth, the redistribution programs from both local and state governments doubtlessly have trapped many poor residents in dependency, especially since there are high implicit marginal tax rates if they seek self-sufficiency and financial independence.

The bottom line is that Minneapolis has poor governance, as does the entire state of Minnesota, but the politicians will have to try harder to achieve worst-in-nation status.

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I participated in a debate yesterday on “tax havens” for the BBC World Service. If you read last month’s two-part series on the topic (here and here), you already know I’m a big defender of low-tax jurisdictions.

But it’s always interesting to interact with people with a different perspective (in this case, former Obama appointee David Carden and U.K. Professor Rita de la Feria).

As you might imagine, critics generally argue that tax havens should be eliminated so politicians have greater leeway to increase tax rates and finance bigger government. And if you listen to the entire interview, that’s an even bigger part of their argument now that there’s lots of coronavirus-related spending.

But for purposes of today’s column, I want to focus on what I said beginning at 49:10 of the interview.

I opined that it’s reasonably to issue debt to finance a temporary emergency and then gradually reduce the debt burden afterwards (similar to what happened during and after World War II, as well as during other points in history).

The most important part of my answer, however, was the discussion about how revenues didn’t decline when tax rates were slashed beginning in 1980.

Let’s first take a look at what happened to top tax rates for 24 industrialized nations from North America, Western Europe, and the Pacific Rim. As you can see, there’s been a big reduction in tax rates since 1980.

In the interview, I mentioned OECD data about taxes on income and profits, which can be found here (specifically data series 1000). So let’s see what happened to revenues during the period of falling tax rates.

Lo and behold, it turns out that revenue went up. Not just nominal revenues. Not just inflation-adjusted revenues. Tax revenues even increased as a share of gross domestic product.

In part, this is the Laffer Curve in action. Lower tax rates meant better incentives to engage in productive behavior. That meant higher levels of taxable income (the variable that should matter most).

For what it’s worth, I suspect that the lower tax rates – by themselves – did not cause tax revenue to rise. After all, there are many policies that determine the overall vitality of an economy.

But there’s no question that there’s a lot of “revenue feedback” when tax rates are changed.

The bottom line is that the folks advocating higher tax rates shouldn’t expect a windfall of tax revenue if they succeed in imposing class-warfare tax policy.

P.S. For the folks on the left who are motivated by spite rather than greed, it doesn’t matter if higher tax rates generate more money.

P.P.S. Interestingly, both the IMF and OECD have admitted, at least by inference, that lower corporate tax rates don’t result in lower tax revenues.

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There are many reasons to be depressed about Italy.

Bad policy is part of the problem, of course, but this chart shows that the country also is facing a demographic crisis. The blue lines show that there are now more deaths than births.

The chart comes from a Bloomberg column by Flavia Rotondi and Giovanni Salzano, and they explain some of the adverse consequences of this demographic change.

Italy isn’t just in an economic slump, its population is also sagging, pushing the country into its biggest demographic crisis in more than a century. The number of people in the country fell for a fifth year in 2019, and deaths exceeded births by almost 212,000, the biggest gap since 1918. …Italy already has huge long-term economic challenges, and the population trends, if they continue, are going to make surmounting them even harder. Italy won’t have enough young workers, and funding a rapidly aging population will strain an already stretched fiscal situation. Pension costs now amount to almost 17% off the economy. …“With an aging population and a consistent decrease of workers who pay taxes, our retirement system may go haywire” said Pietro Reichlin, a professor of economics.

Politicians naturally will want to compensate for these changes by raising the tax burden.

But Italy already is at a breaking point because of punitive taxation. Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, Daniel Di Martino discusses his nation’s dirigiste system.

Italy’s problem, similar to many of its southern European neighbors, is an oppressively high tax burden, irresponsible welfare programs that encourage high measured unemployment and increase the debt, and high levels of regulation. …the share of average wages collected by the Italian government via income and social security taxes is 48 percent, among the highest in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In addition, Italy imposes a value-added tax of 22 percent on most goods and services, one of the highest in Europe. Plus, Italy’s corporate, capital gains, gift, and myriad other taxes are passed on to individuals and borne directly by workers. …At the same time, Italy’s complex regulations are a barrier to starting or continuing productive activities. A study by economist Raffaela Giordano of the Bank of Italy concluded that the main reason behind Italy’s underperformance was burdensome regulations and corrupt and inefficient government structure.

Adam O’Neal makes similar points about bad policy in a column for the Wall Street Journal.

Even before the pandemic, Italy hadn’t recovered fully from the 2008-09 financial crisis. Unemployment hovered around 10% in 2019. Adjusting for inflation, the average Italian worker earned the same as he did 20 years ago. Italian banks were Europe’s weakest. …What ails Italy? …Italy’s greatest challenge is a gargantuan government that destroys wealth as efficiently as the private economy creates it. …In 2018 government revenue was 42% of GDP, nearly 8 points above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average. Yet profligate outlays—Rome spent 16.2% of GDP on public pensions in 2015—brought debt to about 135% of GDP last year.

The net effect of all this misguided policy is that Italy’s economy is moribund.

In his column for Bloomberg, Professor Tyler Cowen summarizes the problem.

One striking fact about Italy is that, over the last 20 years, growth in per capita income has been close to zero. …a zero-growth environment cannot be stable forever. …If the pie doesn’t grow, eventually it becomes harder to sustain productive activity… Aging is another reason economic growth is necessary. …many countries (including Italy) have expensive pension systems. Someone has to pay the bill, and without innovation and economic growth, taxes will have to rise. That in turn discourages work, pushing people into untaxed black-market activity, necessitating higher tax rates, and the vicious cycle starts again.

And when you combine bad demographics and bad policy, that not only means stagnation in the short run, it also could mean fiscal crisis in the long run.

Except “long run” may be just around the corner.

Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute warns that an Italian fiscal crisis will make the mess in Greece seem trivial by comparison.

…markets are displaying remarkable complacency toward a rapidly deteriorating Italian political and economic situation. They are doing so in a manner that is painfully reminiscent of how complacent they were in 2009 on the eve of the Greek sovereign debt crisis. This could have major consequences for global financial markets considering that the Italian economy…has around 10 times as much public debt as Greece had at the time of its crisis. …One has to hope that while markets might be turning a blind eye to Italy’s deteriorating economic and political fundamentals, global economic policymakers are not. As experience with the Greek sovereign debt crisis reaffirmed, crises often take a lot longer than one would have thought to occur, but when they do occur they do so at a very much faster rate than one would have expected.

Some people argue that a fiscal crisis can be avoided if the European Central Bank buys up Italy’s government debt.

That certainly can avert a panic, at least for a while, but this approach can cause a different set of problems.

Joseph Sternberg opines for the Wall Street Journal that the European Central Bank’s easy-money policy has backfired by giving politicians in Rome the leeway to postpone desperately needed reforms.

If the ECB had not stepped in as a buyer of government debt, Rome long since would have faced fiscal catastrophe. Only a miracle—or €365 billion in ECB purchases of Italian sovereign debt since 2015—can explain how in recent years a country whose debt has ballooned to 130% of gross domestic product paid nearly the same interest rate as Germany… Even after selling so many sovereign bonds to the central bank, Italy’s banks continue to be large holders of their government’s debt. Such bonds constitute around 10% of Italian bank assets, nearly three times the eurozone average. …Mr. Draghi hoped his interventions would give wayward governments such as in Rome breathing room to overhaul the supply side of their economies—deregulating markets, privatizing state assets, trimming welfare programs and the like. But Rome has mainly slid backward.

While intervention by the European Central Bank isn’t the solution to Italy’s problems (and may actually make problems worse), this is also a good opportunity to make the related point that the euro currency also shouldn’t be blamed for the nation’s stagnation.

I’m not a big fan of the European Union and the crowd in Brussels, but Italy’s challenges overwhelmingly are the fault of policies adopted by Italian politicians.

Indeed, if you look at the data from the most-recent edition of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World, you can see monetary policy isn’t a problem. Instead, the nation’s big impediment to prosperity (highlighted in red) is terrible fiscal policy.

To put this data in perspective, Italy has the next-to-lowest-ranked economy in Western Europe, with only Greece having less economic liberty.

The numbers from the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom tell a very similar story.

If you peruse the data from the most-recent edition of that publication, you’ll see that Italy gets weak scores for its approach to labor issues, the judiciary, and taxes.

But it gets an utterly dismal score (highlighted in red) for government spending.

Sadly, there’s no political party in Italy that wants to solve the problem of excessive spending – even though I explained how it could be done while in Milan many years ago. And without spending restraint, that means it’s almost impossible to adopt pro-growth tax reform.

P.S. No wonder some people in Sardinia want to secede from Italy and instead become part of Switzerland.

P.P.S. Amazingly, a New York Times’ columnist actually argued that the United States should be more like Italy.

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New York is ranked dead last for fiscal policy according to Freedom in the 50 States.

But it’s not the worst state, at least according to the Tax Foundation, which calculates that the Empire State is ranked #49 in the latest edition of the State Business Tax Climate Index.

Some politicians from New York must be upset that New Jersey edged them out for last place (and the Garden State does have some wretched tax laws).

So in a perverse form of competition, New York lawmakers are pushing a plan to tax unrealized capital gains, which would be a form of economic suicide for the Empire State and definitely cement its status as the place with the worst tax policy.

Here are some excerpts from a CNBC report.

The tax, part of a new “Make Billionaires Pay” campaign by progressive lawmakers and activists, would impose a new form of capital gains tax on New Yorkers with $1 billion or more in assets. …“It’s time to stop protecting billionaires, and it’s time to start working for working families,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said… Currently, taxpayers pay capital gains tax on assets only when they sell. The new policy would tax any gain in value for an asset during the calendar year, regardless of whether it’s sold. Capital gains are taxed in New York at the same rate as ordinary income, so the rate would be 8.8%.

Given her track record, I’m not surprised that Ocasio-Cortez has embraced this punitive idea.

That being said, the proposal is so radical that even New York’s governor understands that it would be suicidal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said raising taxes on billionaires and other rich New Yorkers will only cause them to move to lower-tax states. …“If they want a tax increase, don’t make New York alone do a tax increase — then they just have the people move… Because if you take people who are highly mobile, and you tax them, well then they’ll just move next door where the tax treatment is simpler.”

Actually, they won’t move next door. After all, politicians from New Jersey and Connecticut also abuse and mistreat taxpayers.

Instead, they’ll be more likely to escape to Florida and other states with no income taxes.

In a column for the New York Post, E.J. McMahon points out that residents already have been fleeing.

…there were clear signs of erosion at the high end of New York’s state tax base even before the pandemic. Between 2010 and 2017, according to the Internal Revenue Service, the number of tax filers with incomes above $1 million rose 75 percent ­nationwide, but just 49 percent in New York. …Migration data from the IRS point to a broader leakage. From 2011-12 through 2017-18, roughly 205,220 New Yorkers moved to Florida. …their average incomes nearly doubled to $120,023 in 2017-18, from $63,951 at the start of the period. Focusing on wealthy Manhattan, the incomes of Florida-bound New Yorkers rose at the same rate from a higher starting point— to $244,936 for 3,144 out-migrants in 2017-18, from $124,113 for 3,712 out-migrants in 2011-12.

What should worry New York politicians is that higher-income residents are disproportionately represented among the escapees.

And the author also makes the all-important observation that these numbers doubtlessly will grow, not only because of additional bad policies from state lawmakers, but also because the federal tax code no longer includes a big preference for people living in high-tax states.

These figures are from the ­period ending just before the new federal tax law temporarily virtually eliminated state and local tax deductions for high earners, raising New York’s effective tax rates higher than ever. …soak-the-rich tax sloganeering is hardly a welcome-home signal for high earners now on the fence about their futures in New York.

The bottom line is that it’s a very bad idea for a country to tax unrealized capital gains.

And it’s a downright suicidal idea for a state to choose that perverse form of double taxation. After all, it’s very easy for rich people to move to Florida and other states with better tax laws.

And since the richest residents of New York pay such a large share of the tax burden (Investor’s Business Daily points out that the top 1 percent pay 46 percent of state income taxes), even a small increase in out-migration because of the new tax could result in receipts falling rather than rising.

Another example of “Revenge of the Laffer Curve.”

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In its early days, the European Union increased economic liberty since it largely existed as a free-trade pact for member nations.

Unfortunately, it has subsequently shifted to a more statist approach, with countries like France and Germany pushing for ever-increasing levels of harmonization, bureaucratization, and centralization.

Indeed, the E.U. has just taken a big step in the wrong direction. Notwithstanding very clear language in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, politicians from member countries just approved a big bailout for some of the bloc’s most poorly governed nations.

The Washington Post, in a report by Michael BirnbaumQuentin Ariès, and Loveday Morris, has the details of the redistribution plan.

European leaders on Tuesday morning agreed to a vast spending plan to rescue the economies of coronavirus-hit countries…The negotiations had been bogged down by the objections of a handful of rich, northern countries on the scope of the fund and the strings attached to it. But…they hammered out a compromise. …The final agreement earmarks $859 billion in loans and grants to largely be spent over the next four years. …The main disagreement between the leaders of a handful of self-dubbed “frugal” countries — the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Finland — and their peers was about how much money to ship to hard-hit countries such as Italy and Spain and how much oversight donor countries ought to have over how the funds are spent. …The others didn’t, offering a vision that would be a small step closer to a federal European Union…some analysts dubbed it Europe’s “Hamiltonian moment” — a burst of centralization that would forever hand more power to Brussels. “It’s an upgrading of supranational institutions’ role and power. It’s really upgrading them in a very significant way,” said Rosa Balfour, the director of the Brussels office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank. …Italy, Spain and Poland would be the biggest beneficiaries of the plan.

I can’t resist the observation that both the first sentence and the headline are examples of either explicit or implicit media bias. Fair and knowledgeable reporters would have added words such as “supposed” or “alleged” rather than naively accepting the spin from Brussels that a bailout would “rescue the economies” of recipient nations.

But let’s set that aside and focus on the policy problem, which is that the agreement expands the size and scope of government in countries that already are suffering from statist policies.

Even worse, the new pact means more power for Brussels, thus opening the door for much greater levels of European-wide redistribution.

Some call this Europe’s Hamiltonian moment, in reference to the deal to have the federal government in the United States assume the debts that states incurred during the Revolutionary War, but that’s nonsense. The new agreement is akin to the proposals to have Uncle Sam provide bailouts of poorly governed states such as California, New Jersey, and Illinois.

The Dutch took the lead in fighting the E.U.’s new scheme, but ultimately capitulated.

Dutch leaders and their allies said countries such as Italy and Spain are to blame for pre-pandemic economic difficulties that left them struggling to pay their way out of the current crisis. They said they do not want to send money to those countries if they have no guarantees of economic reform in return. The Netherlands wants “truly enforcing reforms in exchange for loans,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Monday. “And if loans still have to become subsidies, then these reforms must really be enforceable” by allowing E.U. leaders to have oversight, he said.

The Dutch made very sound arguments. The E.U. scheme will reward nations with bad policy.

Here’s a look at the average level of economic liberty for the countries that resisted the bailout compared to the average for the three nations that will get the biggest shares of bailout money.

For what it’s worth, it’s a mistake to provide bailouts, especially if there are no strings attached to force recipients to fix bad policies.

But an ever-bigger problem, as noted in the excerpt above, is that the agreement could set the stage for a “burst of centralization that would forever hand more power to Brussels.”

P.S. British voters were very wise to approve “Brexit” so they won’t have to pay for this foolish scheme.

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Back in 2017, the Center for Freedom and Prosperity released this video, which shows that free markets and small government are the best recipe for poor nations that want to become rich nations.

The CF&P video was motivated in part by a need to debunk international bureaucracies such as the OECD and IMF, which abandoned the “Washington Consensus” for economic liberalization and instead have been making the odd argument that prosperity can be achieved with higher taxes and a bigger burden of government spending.

Needless to say, neither of these international organizations has bothered to explain how such dirigiste policies produce more growth.

But the politicians who fund and control such bureaucracies doubtlessly appreciate the message.

You probably won’t be surprised that the United Nations also is on the wrong side of this issue.

A recent report from the New York City-based group regurgitates the anti-market viewpoint.

The argument that pro-market policies automatically benefit the poor is likewise at odds with the evidence. Traditional pro-growth polices, such as lower corporate tax rates, labor ‘reforms,’ deregulation, austerity-driven cuts to services, and privatization can have devastating effects on the well-being of poor people and the state’s capacity to reduce poverty. …There are various ways to reduce extreme inequality, but redistribution is an essential element. …Significant redistribution is indispensable. …Fair and equitable taxation can lay the foundations for a society that respects and promotes well-being for all. …Low tax revenue has hobbled the capacity of governments to undertake redistributive policies. …The time has come to take social protection seriously.

For those who don’t follow these issues closely, “social protection” is the buzz phrase to describe an ever-bigger welfare state.

As you might imagine, the report doesn’t provide any evidence to justify the assertion that higher taxes and bigger government will lead to less poverty and deprivation.

Which is an excuse to recycle my “never-answered question” since I’m still waiting for someone to show me a nation that became rich with the types of statist policy that the U.N. has embraced.

The most remarkable part of the report is buried toward the end. The United Nations actually argues that the poor will be better off if there is less economic growth.

A ‘pro-poor’ growth scenario necessitates a far smaller increase in global GDP and eradicates poverty much sooner. If every country reduced its Gini index by 1 percent per year, it would have a larger impact on global poverty than increasing each country’s annual growth one percentage point above current forecasts.

This is bad math, bad logic, and terrible economics.

And it assumes politicians can deftly re-slice a shrinking pie so that poor somehow get more than they have now (while ignoring Thomas Sowell’s sage warning that wealth can only be redistributed one time).

I’d like the United Nations (or any person or group) to show me a single example – at any point in world history – where less growth has improved conditions for poor people.

For what it’s worth, I can show lots of evidence that growth is the best recipe for helping the less fortunate, even though folks on the left may not be happy since rich people also benefit from economic growth.

I can’t resist pointing out one additional passage from the report. And this one was on the first page.

Poverty is a political choice.

In reality, poverty is the normal state of human existence (an observation that Tim Worstall also made in his CapX column criticizing the U.N. report).

What’s unusual – as explained in videos by Don Boudreaux and Deirdre McCloskey – is that parts of the world became rich beginning a couple of hundred years ago thanks to a new approach called capitalism.

(Though I suppose those five words from the U.N. report can be viewed as accurate. After all, governments perpetuate poverty by failing to copy the good policies of places such as Hong Kong and Singapore. But that’s not what the report means. Instead, we’re supposed to believe that politicians are allowing poverty by not choosing big government.)

P.S. If there was a contest for worst analysis from an international bureaucracy, I still think the IMF deserves to win since it has explicitly embraced the crazy notion that it’s okay to hurt the poor so long as the rich are hurt even more.

P.P.S. Indeed, the report I’m writing about today isn’t even the U.N.’s worst publication. That “honor” belongs to the 2018 report that blatantly lied about the prevalence of poverty in the United States.

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The coronavirus has been horrible news, most obviously because of death and suffering. But the disease has also wreaked havoc with the economy and given politicians an excuse to push counterproductive policies.

But if you want to find a silver lining to that dark cloud, the virus may be putting pressure on America’s government school monopoly. For instance, John Stossel explains that it may lead to more homeschooling.

Given the large amount of evidence showing superior outcomes for home-schooled students, this is definitely a much-needed bit of good news.

Matthew Hennessey, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, also opined about how the coronavirus may produce a permanent expansion of home schooling.

Most students will return to traditional classrooms when the crisis passes. But some families—perhaps many—will…decide that homeschooling is not only a plausible option, but a superior one. …An economy of high-quality online educational materials has sprouted in the past decade. All you need is a laptop, headphones and a quiet corner of the house, and your kid can study everything from calculus to ancient Greek. …Education has managed to stave off innovation for a variety of reasons. Inertia is one—most people have a hard time reimagining something as basic as school. …Teachers unions are politically strong and uninterested in anything that threatens their power. But now the pandemic…can shake up the established order… If more Americans come to see the viability and value of home education, it could be a silver lining in a very dark cloud.

Private schools also provide a superior alternative to the government’s monopoly system.

That was true before the coronavirus, and it’s even more true today. This report from the New York Times has some details.

Public schools plan to open not at all or just a few days a week, while many neighboring private schools are opening full time. …the ways in which private schools are reopening show it can be done with creative ideas…reopening plans are just another way the pandemic has widened gaps in education. Private schools were able to offer much more robust online learning last spring, and research suggests that school closures have widened achievement gaps. …Independent schools don’t have all the same regulations for the curriculum or facilities that public schools have, and teachers generally aren’t unionized.

Writing for Reason, Corey DeAngelis highlights the more competent response of private schools.

A nationally representative survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs found that private and charter schools were substantially more likely to continue providing students with meaningful education services during the lockdown than traditional public schools. …Private and charter schools were about 20 percent more likely to introduce new content to their students during the lockdown. …Another national survey…found…students were more than twice as likely to connect with their teachers each day, and about 1.5 times as likely to attend online classes during the closures. …Parents of children in private and charter schools were at least 50 percent more likely to report being “very satisfied” with the instruction provided during the lockdown than parents of children in traditional public schools. …Private schools can adapt to change more effectively because they are less hampered down by onerous regulations than their government-run counterparts. …Private and charter schools know that their customers—families—can walk away and take their money with them if they fail to meet their needs.

Unsurprisingly, defenders of the status quo often claim that the government monopoly does a poor job because of inadequate money.

This is utter nonsense. I periodically share a chart put together by the late Andrew Coulson which shows how per-pupil spending in government schools has skyrocketed (with zero improvement in educational outcomes).

Perhaps even more relevant, it costs more, on average, for kids to attend government schools than it does for them to attend private schools.

And that assumes government schools are actually being honest about their true costs.

Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. Researchers who have investigated the numbers have discovered pervasive under-counting (or non-counting) of big expenses such as building costs and pension obligations).

Adam Schaeffer narrated a video on this topic about ten years ago. Here’s a screenshot of the official numbers from various local governments compared to the actual costs.

What’s the bottom line? Instead of throwing good money after bad by rewarding under-performing government schools with bigger budgets, the right answer is comprehensive school choice.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChile, Canada, and the Netherlands shows good results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Gun Control Humor

I shared some gun control humor in December and then again in April, so it’s probably time to add to the collection.

We’ll start with a bit of cost-benefit analysis.

The serious point to be made, of course, is that bad people are less likely to engage in criminal behavior if the potential costs of such misbehavior are higher.

Speaking of which, this guy obviously doesn’t understand cost-benefit analysis.

Next we have an amusing exchange of text messages between an unhappy voter and a representative from Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s reelection campaign.

Once again, there’s a serious point to be made, in this case about the importance of private gun ownership when local governments are too incompetent to protect life, liberty, and property.

Next we have an amusing depiction of why gun-free zones are absurd.

Though let’s not forget that there are real – indeed, deadly – consequences when governments impose policies that only disarm law-abiding people.

Last but not least, here’s a good way to make sure a leftist doesn’t find your revolver.

I suppose you could also store all your weapons in a closet and then slap a label on the door that says “job applications.”

If you enjoy this kind of humor, there’s an entire collection to peruse.

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There are lots of millionaires in the world. About 20 million of them, including about 6 million of them in the United States.

I’d like those numbers to increase, which is why I’m always advocating pro-market policies. Capitalism is not only superior to socialism, it’s also better than other alternatives (social justice, redistributionism, state planning, etc).

As Walter Williams reminds us, capitalism is a wonderful system in part because people can only become rich by providing value to others.

That means investment, entrepreneurship, innovation, competition and other behaviors that make the rest of us better off – even if we never become millionaires ourselves.

Remember, the normal state of humanity is grinding poverty and material deprivation. It’s only in the past few hundred years that many of us have escaped that fate – thanks to a system of free enterprise that channeled human greed in a productive direction.

The bottom line is that I don’t hate rich people or resent their success. Indeed, I applaud them for improving my life.

Though there are 83 exceptions, at least according to this BBC report.

Some of the world’s richest people have urged governments to raise taxes on the wealthy to help pay for measures aimed at tackling the coronavirus pandemic. A group of 83 millionaires called for “permanent” change… Signatories include heiress Abigail Disney and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield. The letter says: “…we do have money, lots of it. Money that is desperately needed now and will continue to be needed in the years ahead… Government leaders must take the responsibility for raising the funds we need and spending them fairly.”

I’ve actually gone on TV in the past to debate “neurotic” and “guilt-ridden” rich people like this.

My best suggestion is that if they they have too much money, they give their excess cash to me.

But since that doesn’t seem to be a persuasive argument, I now remind them that they don’t have to wait for politicians to impose a tax increase.

They Treasury Department actually has a website for people who want to voluntarily give extra money to Washington.

So they can put their money where their mouths are.

Though you probably won’t be surprised to learn that they don’t take advantage of that opportunity, even when people have shown them exactly how it can be done.

P.S. While they’ve made similar arguments in the past, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates did not sign the letter. It’s unclear if this is a sign they’re becoming more rational.

P.P.S. Leftist politicians may be even worse than guilt-ridden rich people. Not only do they fail to voluntarily pay higher taxes, they do everything they can to minimize their tax burdens. Just look at the Clintons. And John Kerry. And Obama’s first Treasury Secretary. And Obama’s second Treasury Secretary. And Governor Pritzker of Illinois.

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Not all bad city governments are alike. In places like Chicago, local politicians generally impose bad policy because they’re buying votes (especially the votes of bureaucrats), not because they’re motivated by ideology.

But as you can see from this video, some Seattle politicians are genuinely crazy.

And those crazy local lawmakers are very serious about their class-warfare tax agenda.

The Wall Street Journal recently opined on the proposed tax hike in Seattle.

Seattle’s…City Council has decided this is the perfect moment to slap businesses with a large new tax on employment. …Recall that in 2018 Seattle passed a $47 million annual “head tax,” only to repeal it after a furious public realized it penalized job creation. No matter, the socialists who dominate the City Council passed a new iteration this week that’s more than four times bigger and punishes employers for paying good wages. Beginning next year, some 800 businesses with a payroll over $7 million will pay a tax of between 0.7% and 2.4% on all salaries over $150,000. …Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda says the tax will create a “more robust and resilient economy,” but how taxing job creation accomplishes that is a mystery. The tax will stifle economic upward mobility, since employers will have an incentive not to raise pay above $150,000. …the new tax has veto-proof support on the City Council, which passed it 7-2.

What’s especially absurd, as explained by Brad Polumbo in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, is that Seattle’s politicians want to exempt government bureaucrats from the tax.

…the tax could seriously hurt the economy… “As the region enters a deep recession and faces near-record job losses, the city council will be sending tax bills to companies across multiple sectors that have their doors closed and have been forced to layoff employees,” the business organization Downtown Seattle Association said… in an infuriating but sadly typical twist, the Seattle City Council exempted all government employees from their new tax. That’s right: The supposedly benevolent socialist city officials who thrust this upon their constituents made sure to carve out a giant exception for their peers on the taxpayer dime. …the city council’s new tax is…imposed on working people by politicians who made sure to spare the government class from sharing any of the burden.

By the way, this is a repeat fight.

Seattle lawmakers tried to impose a similar tax back in 2018 but were thwarted by opposition from private-sector workers and businesses (it’s also unclear whether such a tax would survive a legal challenge since the state’s constitution bars taxes on income).

If the tax ultimately is approved and implemented, it’s easy to predict the consequences. Businesses and workers will migrate to surrounding communities without the tax.

Not all of them, of course, but enough to make a difference. And that difference will get bigger with the passage of time.

What Ms. Mosqueda and Ms. Sawant don’t understand is that this cartoon only partially explain why socialism doesn’t work.

To be fully accurate, it also needs a door called “Escape” for the geese that fly away with their golden eggs.

I realize this is a perverse thought, but part of me wants this tax hike to be implemented just so we’ll have some powerful new evidence about why statism is a bad idea.

P.S. The proposed tax hike is just one reason why investors, entrepreneurs and business owners should be leery about creating jobs in Seattle. There’s also the big increase in the minimum wage and the recent (failed) experiment in autonomous socialism.

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Two days ago, I looked at top income tax rates for the various states.

Yesterday, I shared the data for the states on sales tax rates.

The big takeaway from those two sources of data is that California politicians are very greedy.

But are they the greediest politicians in the country? What if we also measure other sources of tax revenue (property taxes, excise taxes, severance taxes, etc)?

And what about the various fees and charges that also are imposed by state and local governments?

To account for all these factors, we obviously need a comprehensive measure. And since the real cost of government is how much it is spending (regardless of whether the outlays are financed by taxes or borrowing), the most accurate approach is to calculate the relative spending burdens imposed by state and local governments.

The Census Bureau actually collects that data (albeit with a lag, so the most-recent data is for 2017).

But you don’t simply want to look at total spending by state and local governments. You also want to adjust for population (specifically, the population data for 2017) so we can calculate the per-capita burden of state spending.

Moreover, it’s also important to understand that some states have varying levels of income (for historic reasons, policy reasons, and difference in the cost of living). So if you want to calculate the economic burden of state and local spending, you also need data on state personal income for 2017.

So I put all these numbers into an excel file and crunched the numbers to see how the 50 states (plus Washington, DC) compare based on these two ways of showing fiscal burdens.

The following table shows the good states, at least relatively speaking. I’m amazed to see Connecticut and New Jersey in the top 10 for spending as a share of personal income. This merits further investigation, but one obvious takeaway is that it’s good to be a high-income state.

The goal, of course, should be to appear on both lists. On that basis, Idaho, Florida, and Nevada deserve praise.

But this three-part series isn’t designed to highlight the good states.

We want to know which states have the greediest politicians. And greed is being measured by their propensity to buy votes by spending other people’s money.

Once again, we’ll show the spending data both as a share of personal income and as a per-capita calculation. On this basis, Alaska is terrible (the politicians spend oil money with reckless abandon), as is the District of Columbia.

Wyoming also is a state with profligate politicians. It has no income tax and a modest sales tax, but lawmakers (just like in Alaska) can’t resist buying votes with all the money generated by energy taxes (which is why I penalized the state when writing about good state tax systems back in 2015).

This explains why North Dakota is on both lists as well.

If we focus on states that don’t get lots of money from energy taxes, than New York and Oregon deserve special scorn for appearing in both columns.

P.S. One area that requires further exploration (partially explained by the Third Theorem of Government) is the impact of 1,386 federal transfer programs that subsidize/encourage more spending by state and local governments.

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Yesterday, in Part I of our series about greedy state politicians, we looked at top income tax rates.

The worst state, not surprisingly, was California with a top tax rate of 13.3 percent.

This onerous tax rate, combined with low-quality government and absurd levels of red tape, helps to explain why so many people have fled the Golden State.

(And because California’s problems are self-inflicted, that’s the biggest reason why the state should not get a bailout from Uncle Sam.)

Today, we’re going to look at another major source of tax revenue for state politicians.

Here are some excerpts from the Tax Foundation’s report on sales tax rates.

While graduated income tax rates and brackets are complex and confusing to many taxpayers, sales taxes are easier to understand; consumers can see their tax burden printed directly on their receipts. In addition to state-level sales taxes, consumers also face local sales taxes in 38 states. These rates can be substantial, so a state with a moderate statewide sales tax rate could actually have a very high combined state and local rate compared to other states. This report provides a population-weighted average of local sales taxes… Five states do not have statewide sales taxes: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. Of these, Alaska allows localities to charge local sales taxes. The five states with the highest average combined state and local sales tax rates are Tennessee (9.55 percent), Arkansas (9.53 percent), Louisiana (9.52 percent), Washington (9.23 percent), and Alabama (9.22 percent). The five states with the lowest average combined rates are Alaska (1.76 percent), Hawaii (4.44 percent), Wyoming (5.34 percent), Wisconsin (5.43 percent), and Maine (5.50 percent). California has the highest state-level sales tax rate, at 7.25 percent.

Here’s the map that accompanied the report.

It’s good to be gray. By contrast the states with the darkest colors have the most onerous rates.

As noted in the excerpt above, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Washington have the greediest politicians, at least measured by sales tax rates.

But this is the point where it makes sense to merge today’s map with yesterday’s map. Because Tennessee and Washington don’t impose income taxes, while Louisiana and Arkansas both make that mistake.

And if you combine the tax rates from both maps, you’ll find that Tennessee and Washington are relatively low-tax states while Louisiana and Arkansas are relatively high-tax states.

So one of the lessons to be learned is that it’s never a good idea to give politicians multiple sources of revenue (something to remember every time greedy officials in D.C. broach the idea of a value-added tax).

But let’s keep our focus on the main topic, which is identifying the state with the greediest politicians?

If we continue with the methodology of combining the numbers from both maps, California easily ranks as the worst state, with a combined rate of 21.98 percent.

Indeed, it has a huge lead compared to the next-worst states (New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota), all of which have combined rates of between 17-18 percent.

What’s the best state?

Depends on the approach. If you count only wages and salaries, then New Hampshire wins with a combined rate of 0.0 percent. But if you include New Hampshire’s unfortunate policy of imposing income tax on interest and dividends, then Alaska wins with a combined rate of 1.76 percent.

Wyoming, South Dakota, and Florida also deserve applause. Those states are ranked #3, #4, and #5 because they have no income taxes and also manage to keep sales taxes at semi-reasonable levels.

P.S. Alaska and Wyoming both collect large amounts of energy taxes, so their good scores don’t necessarily reflect a commitment to low overall tax burdens.

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When considering which state has the greediest politicians, the flippant (but understandable) answer is to say “all of them.”

A more serious way of dealing with that question, though, is to look at overall rankings of economic policy.

According to the Fraser Institute, we can assume that Delaware apparently has the worst politicians and New Hampshire has the best ones.

According to comprehensive calculations in Freedom in the 50 States, New York’s politicians seem to be the worst and Florida’s are the best.

But what if we just want to know the state where politicians squeeze the most money from taxpayers? In other words, which state has the worst tax system?

The Tax Foundation gives us part of the answer in their review of state income tax burdens.

Individual income taxes are a major source of state government revenue, accounting for 37 percent of state tax collections. …Forty-one tax wage and salary income… Of those states taxing wages, nine have single-rate tax structures… Conversely, 32 states levy graduated-rate income taxes… Top marginal rates range from North Dakota’s 2.9 percent to California’s 13.3 percent.

Here’s the accompanying map.

It’s very good to live in a gray state (no income tax!) and you definitely don’t want to live in a red or maroon state.

Unsurprisingly, California is the worst of the worst, with a top tax rate of 13.3 percent. No wonder productive people have been escaping the not-so-Golden State.

Hawaii and New Jersey are the next worst states, followed by Oregon and Minnesota. Though it’s definitely worth noting that there’s a local income tax in New York City, which would put the residents of that unfortunate community (if NYC was a state) in second place after California.

P.S. The disadvantage of living in a high-tax jurisdiction is especially significant now that there’s no longer a loophole in the federal tax code that subsidizes state profligacy.

P.P.S. The maroon and red states are obviously among the worst places to be an entrepreneur, investor, or business owner, though people with lots of unrealized capital gains fortunately don’t have to worry (yet!) about punitive tax laws.

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As a libertarian who focuses on public finance, the 21st century hasn’t been fun.

  • Bush made government bigger.
  • Obama made government bigger.
  • Trump is making government bigger.
  • And I fully expect that Biden will make government bigger.

To be sure, we still have a long way to go on the “socialism slide” before the United States becomes Greece, or some other nation that might be considered socialist (however defined).

That being said, I don’t like the current trend. Which is why, in addition to my serious columns about the failure of socialism, I also like mocking that evil ideology.

Here are three new additions to the satire collection.

Our first example is partly based on the “not-real-socialism” excuse.

Next we have some satire about the left doesn’t learn any lessons from grocery stores in capitalist societies (to be fair, an American supermarket did change at least one mind).

As usual, I’ve saved my favorite item for last.

Venezuela is a tragic case study of what happens when economic liberty is smothered, But at least we get some clever humor.

I am surprised, for what it’s worth, that I haven’t seen more Venezuela-themed humor (here’s my only other example).

And I’ll close with the serious observation that I’m genuinely mystified that so many (especially young people) are attracted to an ideology with a wretched track record. Makes me genuinely worried that statism is on the winning side of history.

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I’ve already written that state governments shouldn’t get a bailout from Washington.

Today, let’s specifically focus on California, a beautiful state that – as explained in this video – is being ruined by an even-worse-than-average collection of politicians.

This video was produced in 2018, so it goes without saying that California is in even worse shape today, in part because of a coronavirus-caused economic downturn.

But the Golden State also is in trouble because the politicians in Sacramento have been spending like drunken sailors (with apologies to drunken sailors for that unfair comparison).

That’s only part of the problem. California also imposes onerous taxes, an approach that is causing a steady exodus of households and business to states with better policy.

And when you consider other policies, the net result is that the Golden State is ranked only #48 out of 50 for overall economic freedom.

Should this bad track record be rewarded?

Writing yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Gerald Parsky is willing to give a bailout if strings are attached.

California is facing a $54 billion budget deficit… To help address the shortfall, Gov. Gavin Newsom wants billions of federal dollars. Not so fast. Any bailout should come with strings attached. Washington should tie assistance to tax reform… California’s finances are too dependent on the personal income tax, which is the most volatile form of taxation. California’s revenues from personal income taxes amount to about 67% of all state revenues (up from 11% in 1950). Moreover, less than 1% of taxpayers contribute more than 50% of the tax revenue. The result is that when the economy softens and people earn less—or move out of the state—tax revenue plunges. …A survey of California residents showed that 53% of them are considering leaving.

Here’s Mr. Parsky’s specific proposal.

…these developments underscore the need for dramatic tax reform. …the California Legislature created a bipartisan commission, which I chaired… The commission recommended that California reduce its dependence on the personal income tax by…dropping the top rate from 9.3% to 6.5% and reducing or eliminating many deductions. The commission also recommended eliminating the corporate and sales-and-use taxes, replacing them with a broad new “business net receipts tax.” …A few years later, Gov. Jerry Brown and state policy makers did the opposite…they put forward a statewide initiative that raised the top marginal rate to 13.3%, thus making state revenues even more dependent on a volatile tax and California’s income-tax rate the highest in the nation. …there is an opportunity for the Trump administration to link any federal assistance to an overhaul of the way California taxes its residents.

For all intents and purposes, the author wants to extort California into adopting better (or less-worse) tax policy.

And if Trump (being a big spender) decided to bail out the states, it would be good to attach requirements so that there would be a silver lining to that dark cloud.

But here’s a better approach: Tell the politicians in Sacramento that they caused the mess and it’s their responsibility to fix it. Taxpayers elsewhere in America shouldn’t have to cough up cash to keep California from committing suicide.

Especially since it would simply be a matter of time before the Golden State’s politicians reneged on the deal and re-imposed class-warfare tax policy.

The bottom line, as illustrated by this cartoon from Michael Ramirez, is that California is on a downward trajectory and I don’t see any feasible way of reversing the trend.

P.S. Ramirez has a comfortable lead (as of today) in the best-political-cartoonist contest.

P.P.S. Paul Krugman attacked me a few years ago for being pessimistic about California. He was wrong then and he’s even more wrong today.

P.P.P.S. Some leftists in California have advocated for secession. I wonder if they still have that view.

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It doesn’t get as much attention as basket-case nations such as Venezuela, North Korea, Zimbabwe, or Cuba, but Argentina is one of the world’s worst-governed nations.

Though the most damning indictment, in my humble opinion, is that Argentina in the late 1940s used to be one of the world’s 10-richest nations.

But beginning in 1946 under Juan Peron’s statist presidency (much beloved by Pope Francis for inexplicable reasons), policy shifted to the left and Argentina become one of the world’s least market-oriented nations.

Not surprisingly, the country’s relative living standards then began a steady decline, thus providing us with a painful lesson that rich nations that adopt bad policy don’t remain rich.

Recent history hasn’t made things better. Populist-left governments were in charge from 2003-2015, followed by an ineffective right-reformist government (akin to Nixon-Bush-Trump-style Republicanism) from 2015-2019, and now the left is back in charge.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that Argentina has bloated, corrupt, and ineffective government.

Here are some details from a column that wrote last September for Project Syndicate.

Argentina has fallen back into crisis for the simple reason that not enough has changed since the last debacle. …Argentinian authorities succumbed to the same temptation that tripped up their predecessors. In an effort to compensate for slower-than-expected improvements in domestic capacity, they permitted excessive foreign-currency debt, aggravating what economists call the “original sin”: a significant currency mismatch between assets and liabilities, as well as between revenues and debt servicing. …Undeterred by Argentina’s history of chronic volatility and episodic illiquidity – including eight prior defaults – creditors gobbled up as much debt as the country and its companies would issue… The search for higher yields has been encouraged by unusually loose monetary policies… Then there is the IMF, which readily stepped in once again to assist Argentina… So far, Argentina has received $44 billion under the IMF’s largest-ever funding arrangement.

This latest bailout is a classic case of throwing good money after bad, which seems to be the IMF’s primary purpose – especially with regards to Argentina.

Later that same month, Anne Krueger weighed in with another column for the same publication.

Argentina is…chronically overspending and over-regulating until it is forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a new round of treatment. In 2001, the country suffered a major crisis, and…entered into an IMF loan program. But its debt restructuring was messy, and policies to address its underlying structural problems – lowering trade barriers, allowing public-utility prices to rise – were pursued halfheartedly or not at all. …government spending and fiscal deficits began to increase once again. Consolidated public expenditures rose from a low of 22.9% of GDP in 2002 to 30.1% of GDP in 2008, and to 42.2% in 2015. …For an economy as distorted as Argentina’s, there is no medicine that can prevent a period of painful adjustment. …By early 2018, Argentina was in another crisis. …in June 2018 the IMF approved a $50 billion loan program, the largest in the Fund’s history. …The problem, once again, is that the medicine was not strong enough. At the patient’s insistence, the measures were too mild to be effective, and more difficult structural reforms were delayed. …the country needs structural reforms, especially a further reduction in the size of the government sector, starting with pensions. More gradualism will only prolong the pain and allow political opposition to mount.

Ms. Krueger is correct. Only good policy will cure Argentina’s woes.

Sadly, bailouts actually undermine that goal give the country’s awful politicians an excuse to postpone necessary reforms.

Though there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of Argentine statism. James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out earlier this year that we now has a real-world example of democratic socialism.

…the Nordic nations are “firmly rooted in capitalism and free markets,” wrote Michael Cembalest of JP Morgan Asset Management in a note last summer… The closest Cembalest could find to a true democratic socialist state, at least by his definition, is Argentina, “which has defaulted 7 times since its independence in 1816, which has seen the largest relative standard of living decline in the world since 1900, and which is on the brink of political and economic chaos again in 2019.” …Argentina met most of the following criteria: a) higher personal and corporate tax rates, and higher government spending; b) more worker protections restricting the ability of companies to hire and fire, and less flexibility for companies to set wages based on worker productivity and/or to hire foreign labor; c) more reliance on regulation, more constraints on real estate development; d) more anti-trust enforcement and more state intervention in product markets; and a shift away from a shareholder-centric business model; e) protections for workers and domestic industries through tariff and non-tariff barriers, and more constraints on capital inflows and outflows.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of so-called democratic socialism.

If you prefer hard data, this chart shows that Argentina has the world’s worst economic performance over the past 100 years.

And I imagine the country would look even worse if 1945 was the base year.

Let’s close with this recently tweeted video from Human Progress, which shows relative levels of per-capita economic output over a 100-year period for 16 different nations.

Pay specific attention to how high Argentina was ranked in the late 1940s if you want to appreciate the awful consequences of Peronist statism.

P.S. Also make sure to note that Chile was in last place in the 1970s and then significantly improved in the rankings by liberalizing the economy and reducing the burden of government in the 1980s. Yet another reminder that the world is a laboratory and every experiment tells us the same thing: Statism produces bad results and markets deliver good results.

 

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I know pro-market people who plan on voting to re-elect Trump because they like his record on taxes or regulation. I also know pro-market people who plan on voting against Trump because they don’t like his record on spending or trade.

I understand their motives. What baffles me, however, are people who have decided – because of their views on Trump – to change their views on policy issues. Which is one of the clever aspects of this amusing video from Ryan Long.

By the way, this is not a new phenomenon.

During the 2001-2008 period, I constantly interacted with people who were against proposals for bigger government when Bill Clinton was in the White House, but then decided to rationalize George Bush’s profligacy and interventionism.

There’s a word for this: Hypocrisy.

This accusation certainly applies to politicians, who face pressure to “be a team player” when a member of their party is in the White House and issuing foolish proposals.

But it also applies to ordinary people. And this Ninth Theorem of Government is dedicated to both groups.

I’ll close by revisiting what I wrote about understanding the motives of pro-market people who are either voting for Trump or against Trump.

That being said, I don’t the pro-Trump voters to suddenly decide that it’s a good idea to squander money or impose trade taxes. I want them to vote for Trump in spite of those bad policies.

And I don’t want the anti-Trump voters to decide that it’s a a good idea to oppose pro-growth tax cuts and deregulation.  I want them to vote against Trump in spite of those good policies.

This analysis also applies to folks who are motivated by other issues (immigration, foreign policy, guns, judges, decorum, etc). Simply stated, put principles first.

P.S. Here are the eight previous Theorems of Government.

  • The “First Theorem” explains how Washington really operates.
  • The “Second Theorem” explains why it is so important to block the creation of new programs.
  • The “Third Theorem” explains why centralized programs inevitably waste money.
  • The “Fourth Theorem” explains that good policy can be good politics.
  • The “Fifth Theorem” explains how good ideas on paper become bad ideas in reality.
  • The “Sixth Theorem” explains an under-appreciated benefit of a flat tax.
  • The “Seventh Theorem” explains how bigger governments are less competent.
  • The “Eighth Theorem” explains the motives of those who focus on inequality.

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I periodically share tweets that have some sort of remarkable feature, either good or bad.

Clever counter-tweets are especially appreciated. I even started giving recognition to the most brutally effective response each year.

But I may have been too quick to assign a winner for this year.

That’s because a Twitter account called @architecturpic published this tweet yesterday.

While it’s accurate to point out that highway exits don’t produce scenic architecture, is this an indictment of capitalism?

Not if you compare it to the slums of socialism, which is the message in this devastating response from @BrentCochran1.

Ouch. As the announcers might say at a tennis tournament, “game, set, and match for Brent Cochran.”

Suffice to say that there will have to be co-winners for the best counter-tweet of 2020.

By the way, it’s normally quite easy to find both nice and ugly architecture in any nation.

So to add a bit of hard data to today’s column, I’ll simply note that the average poor American has more spacious housing than the average middle-class person in Europe.

That doesn’t mean the housing will be architecturally significant, but it does indicate that people are better off in countries with smaller government and more economic liberty (indeed, it’s also worth noting that the average poor American enjoys higher overall living standards than middle-class folks in most other industrialized nations).

Which is why any tweet comparing socialism and capitalism has a foregone conclusion.

P.S. At some point, I’ll probably set up a special page for “Remarkable Tweets.” But since that hasn’t yet happened, here are the other tweets that I found to be noteworthy.

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I certainly don’t intend to do this for everyone who has made it to the White House, but I have produced big-picture economic assessments of several presidents.

Today, let’s go back farther in history and take a look at Woodrow Wilson.

At the risk of understatement, he did a very bad job. Indeed, it’s quite likely that he ranks as America’s worst president, at least when judging economic policy. His mistakes were either huge or disgusting.

Creating the income tax – The internal revenue code began when Wilson signed into law an income tax on October 3, 1913. The initial tax wasn’t overly onerous – with a top rate of just 7 percent – but it predictably evolved into the punitive levy that currently plagues America.

Creating the Federal Reserve – You don’t have to be a libertarian-minded advocate of competitive currencies to conclude that the central bank – also signed into law by Wilson in 1913 – has caused immense damage with its erratic, boom-bust approach to monetary policy.

Segregating the federal government – Wilson was a reprehensible racist. To make matters worse, he turned that personal moral failing into a big policy mistake by overseeing rampant (and costly) discrimination and segregation in the federal government.

Those are just the highlights – though lowlights would be a more accurate word to describe Wilson’s policies.

The Encyclopedia Britannica has a description of some additional forms of intervention imposed during his tenure.

…he took up and pushed through Congress the Progressive-sponsored Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. It established an agency—the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—with sweeping authority. …because his own political thinking had been moving toward a more advanced Progressive position—Wilson struck out upon a new political course in 1916. He began by appointing Louis D. Brandeis, the leading critic of big business and finance, to the Supreme Court. Then in quick succession he obtained passage of a rural-credits measure to supply cheap long-term credit to farmers; anti-child-labour and federal workmen’s-compensation legislation; the Adamson Act, establishing the eight-hour day for interstate railroad workers; and measures for federal aid to education and highway construction.

Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education put together a damning indictment of Wilson.

1913…was a disastrous year that we’re still paying a hefty, annual price for… Wilson, arguably the worst president…ordered the segregation of all departments within the executive branch and appointed ardent segregationists to high positions. …He locked up political dissidents right and left as he trampled on the Constitution’s guarantees of speech, assembly, and press freedoms. His wartime economic controls were hideously stupid and counterproductive. …the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was…Strongly supported by Wilson… Subsequent legislation set the top rate at a mere 7 percent. …When Wilson left office eight years later, the top rate was more than ten times higher. …Wilson’s signature enshrined into law the Federal Reserve Act, creating a central bank and more economic mischief than any other federal initiative or institution in the last 100 years. …In American history, 1913 should go down as a year that will live in infamy.

It’s also worth noting that Wilson was a believer in global governance, which adds to his awful legacy.

In a review of a biography about Wilson for the Claremont Review of Books, David Goldman mentions that unpalatable feature of his presidency.

So utterly utopian was Wilson’s vision that it is unfair to characterize the internationalism of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush as “Wilsonian.” Clinton and Bush threw America’s weight around after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they did not propose—as Wilson did—to replace America’s sovereign decision-making with a global council. …He wanted to compromise American sovereignty and most of the Senate did not. …Wilson would have liked to impose a legal obligation from a foreign body upon the United States, but could not say so openly. …His obsession was the creation of a supranational agency able to dictate policy to national governments, an obsession that grew out of his lifelong hostility to the American political system… To make sense of his grand overreach in 1919, historians will need to give more attention to his rancor at the U.S. Constitution… The constitution in Wilson’s reading had become a relic of a bygone era. He proposed to jettison this putatively archaic document in favor of a government less burdened by checks and balances. …The same utilitarian criteria that Wilson applied to the Constitution guided his judgment about capitalism and socialism. …As economists Clifford Thies and Gary Pecquet have observed, “Wilson believed that the difference between socialism and democracy was a matter of means rather than ends.” …He eschewed mass expropriation of industry only because he thought it inefficient. …Although Wilson’s dudgeon came from the Deep South, his Progressivism came from Princeton and the Social Gospel.

Wilson’s hostility to the Constitution was part of the so-called progressive era. Unlike America’s Founders, proponents of this approach viewed the federal government as a positive force rather than something to be constrained.

The idea that government or “the community,” has “an absolute right to determine its own destiny and that of its members” is a progressive one. The difference between the Founders’ and progressive’s visions can be summarized this way: The Founders believed citizens could best pursue happiness if government was limited to protecting the life, liberty, and property of individuals. …Unlike the framers of the Constitution, progressives believed that…“communities” have rights, those rights are more important than the personal liberty of any one individual in that community. …they believed…government-sponsored programs and policies as well as economic redistribution of goods from the rich to the poor. …Wilson, who served as president from 1913-1919, advocated what we today call the living Constitution, or the idea that its interpretation should adapt to the times. …Wilson oversaw the implementation of progressive policies such as the introduction of the income tax and the creation of the Federal Reserve System to attempt to manage the economy.

Bre Payton, in an article for the Federalist, opined about Wilson and the changes during the progressive era.

…to understand The New Deal and how American life and government  changed in the twentieth century and beyond, it is vital to understand the Progressive Era… FDR cited progressive-minded presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as his intellectual inspirations. …Progressives believed restricting government to only protecting citizens’ life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness was simplistic. …Thus people should not fear the ever-expanding role of government… Wilson went on to say that modern European thinkers had declared that men were defined not by their individuality, but by their society. And one’s rights come from government.

Hostility to the Constitution and limited government was just one problem with the progressives.

Their views of minorities also were very troubling.

In a column for National Review, Paul Rahe documented not only Wilson’s racism, but also his use of government power to harm the economic prospects for black Americans.

Wilson, our first professorial president, was…the very model of a modern Progressive…he shared the conviction, dominant among his brethren, that African-Americans were racially inferior to whites. …Prior to the segregation of the civil service in 1913, appointments had been made solely on merit as indicated by the candidate’s performance on the civil-service examination. Thereafter, racial discrimination became the norm. …The existing work force was segregated. Many African-Americans were dismissed. …Jim Crow had not been the norm before 1890, even in the deep South. …it became the norm there only when it received sanction from the racist Progressives in the North. …For similar reasons, Wilson was hostile to the constitutional provisions intended as a guarantee of limited government. The separation of powers, the balances and checks, and the distribution of authority between nation and state distinguishing the American constitution he regarded as an obstacle.

This article from the New Republic covers the same ground, starting with his time as head of Princeton University, but from a left-wing perspective.

Wilson not only refused to admit any black students, he erased the earlier admissions of black students from the university’s history.Elected president in 1912, …Wilson appeared to be the quintessential Progressive Era leader. …the progressive ideology of the era was in many ways quite racist. …it quickly became known that the Wilson administration was instituting a major modification in the treatment of black workers throughout the federal government from what had been the case under postwar presidents. …the Civil Service began demanding photographs to accompany employment applications for the first time. It was widely understood that the only purpose of this requirement was to weed out black applicants. …He insisted that the segregation policy was for the comfort and best interests of both blacks and whites.

There’s more bad news about Wilson.

In a column for the Washington Post, Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, writes about his authoritarianism as well as his racism.

His most disgraceful flaw was his racism. …Wilson especially stood out in his white supremacy. He was not a man of his time but a throwback. …Wilson, who preened as a civil libertarian, persuaded Congress to pass the Espionage Act, giving him extraordinary power to retaliate against Americans who opposed him and his wartime behavior. That same law today enables presidents to harass their political adversaries. Wilson’s Justice Department also convicted almost a thousand people for using “disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language” against the government, the military or the flag. Wilson is an excellent example of how presidents can exploit wars to increase authoritarian power and restrict freedom.

All things considered, definitely one of America’s worst chief executives.

This tweet is an apt summary of Wilson’s presidency.

For readers who are interested in the quirks of history, Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education bemoans the fact that an untimely death in 1899 probably led to the unfortunate election of Wilson.

Garret Augustus Hobart—known to his friends as “Gus”—was America’s 24th vice president. He served under William McKinley for two years and eight months until his death in office in November 1899 at the age of 55. With Hobart’s untimely passing, President William McKinley had to find a new running mate for the election of 1900. That man turned out to be Theodore Roosevelt, who became president upon McKinley’s assassination only six months into his second term. …Teddy…enter the presidential race in 1912 as a third-party nominee. That split the Republican vote and handed the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Wilson won with just 42% of the popular tally and went on to become arguably the very worst of our 45 chief executives. …I greatly lament the sad fact that Gus Hobart wasn’t around to run again with McKinley in 1900. If he had lived, he instead of Teddy would have become our 26th President when McKinley died. And if there had been no Teddy Roosevelt presidency, there might never have been a philandering, racist, “progressive” Wilson in the White House to royally screw up the country with an income tax, a Federal Reserve, entry into World War I, and other mischievous adventures in statism.

In keeping with my traditional practice, here’s a visual depiction of the good and bad policies of the Wilson Administration.

And although it’s hard to measure, Wilson belongs in the presidential Hall of Shame because his administration was a turning point in America’s tragic evolution from Madisonian constitutionalism to modern statism.

For instance, Wilson almost surely paved the way for FDR’s ill-fated New Deal.

P.S. Now readers will hopefully understand why I wrote that Obama (who largely had a forgettable legacy) wasn’t nearly as bad at Wilson.

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Having written more than 5000 columns over the past ten-plus years, I’ve learned that policy analysis doesn’t “go viral.”

But I got a small taste of what that would be like when I shared an image in 2016 showing that the right kind of class warfare pits productive people (earners, entrepreneurs, and protectors) against looters (predators, cronies, and rent-seekers).

In other words, rich vs poor is the wrong way to divide society.

Today, I have another image that also has a very powerful message. I don’t know if it will go viral, but it has a very appropriate and accurate message.

For instance, America is now dealing with a lot of controversy regarding occasional police misbehavior and sometimes-violent protests, but it’s hopefully accurate to say that most cops and most protestors are good people

And the same is true for clergy and doctors, even though both groups have a few bad apples.

But notice the group at the bottom.

In part, this image is designed for humorous purposes (and it’s always fun to mock politicians).

But there’s also a serious point. Why are there so many bad and corrupt people in government? There are two possible explanations.

  1. Shallow, insecure, and power-hungry people are drawn to politics because they want to control the lives of others.
  2. Good people run for political office, but then slowly but surely get corrupted because of “public choice” incentives.

Needless to say, it’s possible for both answers to be partially accurate.

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I don’t know whether I’ll live 3 more years or 30 more years.

But I’m increasingly convinced that my “Never-Answered Question” will still be unanswered when I kick the bucket.

One of the reasons for my confidence is that folks on the left have remarkably shoddy arguments on economic issues.

For instance, in a column for the New York Times, Mehrsa Baradaran condemns the “neoliberal” revolution in the United States.

A law professor from the University of California, Irvine, Ms. Baradaran is unhappy that this modern version of classical liberalism resulted in more economic freedom.

…an ideological coup quietly transformed our society over the last 50 years… The roots of this intellectual takeover can be traced to a backlash against socialism… Austrian School economist Friedrich A. Hayek was perhaps the most influential leader of that movement, decrying governments who chased “the mirage of social justice.” Only free markets can allocate resources fairly and reward individuals based on what they deserve, reasoned Hayek. The ideology — known as neoliberalism — …leapt from economics departments into American politics in the 1960s, where it fused with conservative anti-communist ideas and then quickly spread throughout universities, law schools, legislatures and courts. By the 1980s, neoliberalism was triumphant in policy, leading to tax cuts, deregulation and privatization.

Since I’m a big fan of Prof. Hayek, I like this part of Professor Baradaran’s column.

And it is true that the United States became more “neoliberal” during the Reagan and Clinton years (though it’s definitely a huge exaggeration to think that pro-market ideas were dominant in “universities, law schools, legislatures and courts”).

Indeed, the entire world moved in the direction of free markets during the last two decades of the 20th century, thanks is part to the “Washington Consensus” for more economic liberty.

Ms. Baradaran, however, does not approve of these developments.

And she specifically doesn’t like some of the folks on Wall Street.

The private equity industry embodies the neoliberal movement’s values, while exposing its inherent logic. Private equity firms use money provided by institutional investors like pension funds and university endowments to take over and restructure companies or industries. …In the last decade, private equity management has led to approximately 1.3 million job losses due to retail bankruptcies and liquidation.

I have no idea whether there’s any validity to the specific estimate of 1.3 million job losses as a result of private equity investors over the past 10 years (an average of 130,000 jobs per year).

But it certainly is true that lots of jobs are lost every year as a result of “creative destruction.” Indeed, 130,000 jobs are just a tiny fraction of the total losses.

Here’s a chart taken directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that more than 10 million jobs are lost – on average – every single year.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that average job gains have been even higher over the past decade, averaging more than 12 million per year.

Call me crazy, but this seems like a ringing endorsement of “neoliberalism.” Especially when you consider that Americans enjoy much higher living standards than their counterparts in European nations with bigger burdens of government.

There are two additional excerpts from her column that merit some attention.

First, she regurgitates the myth that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by free markets and deregulation.

An examination of the recent history of private equity disproves the neoliberal myth that profit incentives produce the best outcomes for society. …Faith in market magic was so entrenched that even the 2008 financial crisis did not fully expose the myth: We witnessed the federal government pick up all the risks that markets could not manage and Congress and the Federal Reserve save the banking sector ostensibly on behalf of the people. Neoliberal deregulation was premised on the theory that the invisible hand of the market would discipline risky banks without the need for government oversight.

At the risk of understatement, the Federal Reserve, along with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

Also, she closes her column by embracing genuine socialism (i.e., government owning and operating parts of the economy).

Federal or state agencies can provide essential services like banking, health care, internet access, transportation and housing at cost through a public option. …we can move beyond the myths of neoliberalism…we should choose flourishing communities over profits.

At the risk of understatement, I don’t want more of our economy to be like the Post Office or DMV. I prefer private businesses, which face pressure to please consumers, rather than government-run businesses, which care mostly about pleasing politicians.

And I also think Ms. Baradaran needs a lesson from Walter Williams so she learns that profits make flourishing communities possible.

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Exactly nine years ago, I crafted a “Declaration of Dependence” for my left-leaning friends.

I thought it was reasonably clever, at least for something produced by a policy wonk.

But I’ll never reach the standards of the nation’s top satire site, Babylon Bee, which has a story about how Biden, Pelosi, and other politicians will be celebrating today.

Every year on July 4, Democrats celebrate the high holy day where they thank the government for its gracious gifts. “It’s good to pause every year and think about how we are completely and utterly dependent on the government for everything,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. …”This good and benevolent government was given to us by, you know, the thing,” said Joe Biden. …The DNC’s official Twitter account tweeted, “Let’s take a moment to think about everything we owe the government this Dependence Day.” …The celebrations conclude with the reading of the Communist Manifesto and the singing of “Imagine”.

Here’s the make-believe tweet that accompanied the story.

Though maybe it’s not fake.

After all, some of us remember “Julia,” the mythical moocher created by the Obama-Biden campaign in 2012 to show how government could subsidize every aspect of a person’s life.

In any event, there is academic research showing that traditional July 4 celebrations help Republicans, so it’s understandable that Democrats would want to change the focus.

P.S. My two cents is that we should be celebrating today the words of Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan.

P.P.S. Given the BLM protests, I would be remiss if I didn’t call attention to the words I shared last July 4 from one of the Tuskegee Airmen.

P.P.P.S. And since I wrote recently about the (hopeful) death of gun control, I’ll also share this polling data from 2014 about how even 35 percent of Democrats agree that owning a gun is a form of patriotism.

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Back in 2014, I wrote about “The Unsavory History of Gun Control” to document how many of the first gun control laws in the United States were used as a tool to oppress blacks.

Today, let’s take a closer look at this issue.

And since we have a lot of material, we’ll follow a chronological outline, first addressing some of the history of the 2nd Amendment, followed by some historical data on gun control, and closing with a look at growing support for gun rights in the African-American community.

Regarding the 2nd Amendment, I’ve written a couple of columns about the Constitution’s right to keep and bear arms.

But not everyone views that part of the Bill of Rights favorably.

Indeed, some people actually view gun rights as being a legacy of racism. Here’s a tweet from Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times.

This is historically inaccurate.

Writing for National Review, David Harsanyi debunks the notion that the 2nd Amendment was created to help slaveowners.

There’s no historical evidence to suggest that the Second Amendment was “created to ensure Southern slaveowners the right to maintain & arm slave patrols to put down insurrections amongst the enslaved,” even if southerners subsequently used guns for their nefarious purposes. …The right to self-defense, in fact, is incompatible with the idea of slavery — it runs counter to the arguments made by the Founders, even if some of them were hypocrites… The animating ideas of the Second Amendment — both as personal and communal protection — are predicated on natural rights and English common law. And while nearly every intellectual, political, and military leader of the Founding generation stressed the importance of the right to bear arms as a means of preserving liberty, some of its most vociferous champions were against slavery. …The first American effort to codify and guarantee the right to bear arms was made in Pennsylvania, under a conference run by Benjamin Franklin, also president of the colony’s antislavery society. The second colony to do so was Vermont, where there were few slaves and no fear of a revolt. …What’s most ironic about Jones, who names herself after 19th-century civil-rights leader Ida B. Wells, is that the historic figure was a champion of the Second Amendment. She maintained…“that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

And David Kopel of the Independence Institute explains that gun control historically has been a tool used by racists.

If the Times’ project is historically accurate, then it will explain that America’s unique arms culture predates slavery, and historically developed in opposition to slavery. By contrast, American gun control had a close connection with slavery and the maintenance of a racial caste system. …Unlike American gun culture, gun control in America did grow out of slavery. …South of the Mason-Dixon line, various laws were enacted against unauthorized arms possession by slaves, and sometimes against free blacks as well. In the South, slave patrols searched slave quarters to look for unauthorized arms. …some people believe a bogus theory that the Second Amendment was created for the sole purpose of suppressing slave insurrections. But this can’t explain the ardent support for arms rights in Massachusetts, where slavery had already been abolished by 1791, or in Pennsylvania, where slavery was rare and already on its way to extinction. …former slave states quickly enacted laws banning firearms possession by blacks, or allowing such possession only with a government license. The Reconstruction Congress responded vigorously. The Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, the Civil Rights Act, and then the Fourteenth Amendment were all enacted with the express purpose of wiping out southern gun control.

Moving to the post-Civil War period, Tho Bishop explains, in an article for the Mises Institute, that the real legacy of racism is with those who want to curtail gun rights.

Prior to the passing of the 14th Amendment, eight states​ had gun control legislation that criminalized the possession of fire arms by non-white free citizens. Virginia required such individuals to receive government permission. Three additional states​ had constitutional language that specified that gun rights were reserved exclusively for white men. In order to maintain the horrific institution of slavery, the state had to disarm those most likely to empathize with its victims. While the “peculiar institution” was ended as a result of the Civil War, racially motivated gun control laws were not. While the 14th Amendment prevented states from explicitly mentioning race in legislation, state governments still managed to find ways to disarm black citizens. …these included laws that banned pistols that were not used by former Confederate officers, severe racial discrepancies in the penalty for unlawfully concealed carrying, as well as gun licensing requirements  that, in the words of a future Florida Supreme Court Justice, were “passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers” and “was never intended to apply to the white population.”

And this becomes even clearer as we advance to the 1950s and 1960s.

Charles Cobb wrote an entire book about gun ownership and the civil rights movement. Here are some excerpts from the Amazon webpage.

Like King, many ostensibly “nonviolent” civil rights activists embraced their constitutional right to self protection—yet this crucial dimension of the Afro-American freedom struggle has been long ignored by history. In This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, civil rights scholar Charles E. Cobb Jr. describes the vital role that armed self-defense played in the survival and liberation of black communities in America during the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s. In the Deep South, blacks often safeguarded themselves and their loved ones from white supremacist violence by bearing—and, when necessary, using—firearms. In much the same way, Cobb shows, nonviolent civil rights workers received critical support from black gun owners in the regions where they worked. Whether patrolling their neighborhoods, garrisoning their homes, or firing back at attackers, these courageous men and women and the weapons they carried were crucial to the movement’s success. …Drawing on his firsthand experiences in the civil rights movement and interviews with fellow participants, Cobb provides a controversial examination of the crucial place of firearms in the fight for American freedom.

Writing for Reason, Thaddeus Russell reviews Cobb’s book and explains how armed blacks helped topple the racist laws imposed by Dixiecrats.

I have a dream that one day children in seventh grade will…read about people like C.O. Chinn. …Chinn was a black man in Canton, Mississippi, who in the 1960s owned…a large collection of pistols, rifles, and shotguns with which he threatened local Klansmen and police when they attempted to…intimidate civil rights activists working to desegregate Canton and register black residents to vote. …Although the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were formally committed to nonviolence, when their volunteers showed up in Canton they happily received protection from Chinn and the militia of armed black men he managed. …According to Charles E. Cobb’s revelatory new history of armed self-defense and the civil rights movement, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, Canton and the rest of the South could not have been desegregated without people like C.O. Chinn… the original civil rights leadership publicly believed that, as Frederick Douglass put it in 1867, “a man’s rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.” …the Ku Klux Klan, whose primary mission was to disarm ex-slaves and thus was one of the first gun-control organizations in the United States. …Williams established an all-black chapter of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and used his NRA connections to procure “better rifles” and automatic weapons for his constituents. …the Monroe City Council banned Klan motorcades and, according to Williams, the KKK “stopped raiding our community.”

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, wrote for Huffpost about MLK and guns.

Martin Luther King Jr…kept firearms for self-protection. In fact, he even applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon. …King had armed supporters take turns guarding his home and family. He had good reason to fear that the Klan in Alabama was targeting him for assassination. William Worthy, a journalist who covered the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reported that once, during a visit to King’s parsonage, he went to sit down on an armchair in the living room and, to his surprise, almost sat on a loaded gun. Glenn Smiley, an adviser to King, described King’s home as “an arsenal.” …One lesson the gun advocates took was from the early King and his more aggressive followers: If the police can’t (or won’t) to protect you, a gun may be your last line of defense.

Makes this tweet from Iowahawk especially noteworthy.

Now let’s shift to modern times and consider how African-Americans are now more appreciative of the 2nd Amendment.

Here are excerpts from a story in the New York Times by Lela Moore.

…more than 100 people who responded when we asked black gun owners to tell us about their interactions with law enforcement, other authorities and the general public. …A quarter of black men and women in a 2017 Pew survey said they own guns. Some of those who wrote us said they have had no issues with authorities or the general public. Others said they have faced fearful store owners and had confrontations with law enforcement over guns they carried legally.

Here’s a sampling of responses from the article.

  • I moved to Pocatello, Idaho, (a place where guns are very popular) from St. Louis, Mo., about eight years ago. I decided to purchase a firearm so that my 2-year-old son can learn to treat firearms with respect and know that they aren’t a toy. …since purchasing the gun, I’ve experienced a sense of camaraderie with a lot of conservatives who are deep in gun culture. — Andrew Casey, 32, Pocatello, Idaho. Gun owner for two years.
  • At times, I’ve felt out of place when I’m one of the few people of color at shooting events or gun shows, but I’ve also been heartened to see other Americans of African descent and people of color there. People have been welcoming and willing to share information. …The Second Amendment is for everyone. I am the “good guy with a gun.” I’m just like you. — L. Kenton Dunn, 40, Charlotte, N.C. Gun owner for two years.
  • I am black and transgender. …I tend to not discuss guns with fellow liberals anymore. They have shown they lack the capacity to discuss the issue with integrity, maturity and nuance. — Naomi Daniels, 33, Houston. Gun owner for two years.
  • Law-abiding black people are just as motivated to defend themselves, their families and their homes as any other racial group. The right to bear arms has played a vital role in the lives of blacks for generations, and it will continue to do so. — Damon D. Colbert, 42, Alexandria, Va. Gun owner for 18 years.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Jon Miltimore opines on the growing support for firearms ownership in the black community.

Americans have the right to protect themselves and their property from violence, and some African-Americans are saying it’s past time that people of color embraced their constitutional right to arm themselves against threats. Rapper Michael Render (better known by his stage name “Killer Mike”) recently challenged the black community to reject the stigmatization of legal gun ownership and to find fresh solutions to preventing violence. …Nor is Render alone. Appearing on MSNBC in May following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man fatally shot in Georgia, Charlamagne tha God said owning a firearm was a reasonable means of self-defense for African Americans. …”I would also tell all my brothers and sisters out there to go buy yourself a legal firearm and learn how to use it so you can protect yourself and your family.” …Render makes a similar observation. “I put this statement out because the police cannot always get to you on time, and the world is not a just place,” he writes.

Some black gun owners recently held a rally in Oklahoma, as reported by KFOR.

Over a hundred people marched with their firearms in a Black gun owners rally to bring awareness to their Second Amendment rights. They started at the Ralph Ellison Library and made their way to the Governor’s Mansion. “It’s time that we let everybody know, especially those that may not be aware, that you can carry your weapons too and that you can protect yourself by any means necessary,” Michael Washington, the organizer, said. …“We’re trying to get Black people to understand the Second Amendment does not only apply to a certain ethnic group, that the Second Amendment applies to everybody.” Omowale said.

In his Boston Globe column, Jeff Jacoby celebrated expanding minority firearms ownership.

The gun control crowd isn’t having a good year. Americans have been buying firearms at a phenomenal pace. …First-time buyers have accounted for an estimated 40 percent of gun purchases in 2020,…and of those new gun owners, 40 percent have been women. …Black Americans in particular have been getting a pointed lesson in the value of their Second Amendment right to bear arms, and translating that lesson into action. …The National African American Gun Association, which began in 2015 with a single chapter in Atlanta, now comprises more than 100 chapters with 40,000 members — 10,000 of whom joined within the past five months. …Black gun ownership is as essential today as it was in 1892, when Ida B. Wells wrote that “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

In a piece for the New York Times, Tiya Miles rethinks the issue of gun control.

I am an African-American historian and, on the matter of guns and most other political issues, decidedly liberal. …I am anti-gun and support strict gun control laws. But…walking the floors where the Haydens and their compatriots had plotted what turned out to be the roots of a political revolution to overturn slavery, pried ajar a little door in my mind. …“Black abolitionists, especially those involved in the abolitionist underground and Vigilance Committees, tended to arm themselves … fugitive slaves, often resorted to armed self-defense when confronted by slave catchers and law enforcement.” The Underground Railroad activist Harriet Tubman was said to carry a revolver and did not hesitate to point it… In the tumultuous civil rights era of the 1950s and ’60s, black activists and community organizers openly took up arms. And not just those in the more explicitly militant Black Power movement. Martin Luther King Jr., several N.A.A.C.P. officials and other leaders perceived as much more dovish, still carried or stored weapons to defend their households and communities from potential attacks. …Maj Toure, founder of Black Guns Matter…is a former member of the N.R.A., and he told me in a phone interview that…he is critical of the N.R.A. for not doing more for urban Americans, he sees the group as an important civil rights organization. …Philip Smith founded the National African-American Gun Association in Georgia. …Mr. Smith stresses. “We have black Republicans, Democrats, gay, straight.” In what may come as a surprise to some, black women make up 60 percent of the association’s membership.

Kim Trent opines for USA Today about growing support for gun ownership in the black community.

African-American gun advocates argue that guns also preserved our ancestors’ peace when they were menaced by racists in the antebellum South and the divided North. …Kenyatta, co-founder of Detroit’s Black Bottom Gun Club,..believes that gun control measures are often a  response to black Americans’ attempts to exercise their Second Amendment rights. He points to Michigan’s adoption of gun ownership restrictions after Ossian Sweet, a black physician who bought a house in a heretofore white Detroit neighborhood in 1925, used a shotgun to protect his family against an angry white mob. …on May 2, 1967, 30 or so fierce-looking members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense clad in leather coats entered the California Capitol toting loaded pistols and long guns. The Panthers were protesting proposed legislation they believed was targeting black militants’ right to use guns to protect themselves… They declared loudly that their right to carry the weapons was enshrined in the Second Amendment.  …“Gun control has a racist past and present,” says Kenyatta.

Let’s close today’s lengthy column with some very good videos.

Here’s a video about black firearms ownership from the New York Times.

Here’s a video from the recent protests against gun control in Virginia.

This may be my favorite because the guy says everything I would say, but does it even better.

Here’s a video reviewing some of the history we discussed above.

In this clip, Condoleezza Rice shares a first-person story about gun ownership helping blacks resist oppression.

And here’s a feel-good tweet showing people protecting their property with firearms.

If you like feel-good stories (and assuming you’re not Michael Bloomberg), click here.

P.S. Here’s a family I’d like to have as neighbors.

P.P.S. For what it’s worth, while the intellectual case for gun control is dead, I fully expect Biden (assuming he wins in November) to push gun control next year. The silver lining to that dark cloud is that Americans of all races will engage in widespread civil disobedience.

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In an interview with an economic organization from India last month, I discussed many of the economic issues associated with coronavirus (fiscal fallout, excess regulation, subsidized unemployment, etc).

But I want to highlight this short clip since I had an opportunity to explain how the “New Deal” made the Great Depression deeper and longer.

For newcomers to this issue, “New Deal” is the term used to describe the various policies to expand the size and scope of the federal government adopted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a.k.a., FDR) during the 1930s.

And I’ve previously cited many experts to show that his policies undermined prosperity. Indeed, one of my main complaints is that he doubled down on many of the bad policies adopted by his predecessor, Herbert Hoover.

Let’s revisit the issue today by seeing what some other scholars have written about the New Deal. Let’s start with some analysis from Robert Higgs, a highly regarded economic historian.

…as many observers claimed at the time, the New Deal did prolong the depression. …FDR and Congress, especially during the congressional sessions of 1933 and 1935, embraced interventionist policies on a wide front. With its bewildering, incoherent mass of new expenditures, taxes, subsidies, regulations, and direct government participation in productive activities, the New Deal created so much confusion, fear, uncertainty, and hostility among businessmen and investors that private investment, and hence overall private economic activity, never recovered enough to restore the high levels of production and employment enjoyed in the 1920s. …the American economy between 1930 and 1940 failed to add anything to its capital stock: net private investment for that eleven-year period totaled minus $3.1 billion. Without capital accumulation, no economy can grow. …If demagoguery were a powerful means of creating prosperity, then FDR might have lifted the country out of the depression in short order. But in 1939, ten years after its onset and six years after the commencement of the New Deal, 9.5 million persons, or 17.2 percent of the labor force, remained officially unemployed.

Writing for the American Institute for Economic Research, Professor Vincent Geloso also finds that FDR’s New Deal hurt rather than helped.

…let us state clearly what is at stake: did the New Deal halt the slump or did it prolong the Great Depression? …The issue that macroeconomists tend to consider is whether the rebound was fast enough to return to the trendline. …The…figure below shows the observed GDP per capita between 1929 and 1939 expressed as the ratio of what GDP per capita would have been like had it continued at the trend of growth between 1865 and 1929. On that graph, a ratio of 1 implies that actual GDP is equal to what the trend line predicts. …As can be seen, by 1939, the United States was nowhere near the trendline. …Most of the economic historians who have written on the topic agree that the recovery was weak by all standards and paled in comparison with what was observed elsewhere. …there is also a wide level of agreement that other policies lengthened the depression. The one to receive the most flak from economic historians is the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). …In essence, it constituted a piece of legislation that encouraged cartelization. By definition, this would reduce output and increase prices. As such, it is often accused of having delayed recovery. …other sets of policies (such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the National Labor Relations Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act)…were very probably counterproductive.

Here’s one of the charts from his article, which shows that the economy never recovered lost output during the 1930s.

In a column for CapX, Professor Philip Booth adds some interesting evidence on how the United Kingdom adopted a smarter approach in the 1930s.

…the UK had a relatively good Great Depression by international standards. There was an extremely conservative fiscal policy (much more so than during the so-called austerity after 2008) and yet the economy bounced back. In the period 1930-1933, the average public sector deficit was just 1.1% of GDP. And there were only two years of negative GDP growth (1930 and 1931). By 1938, GDP growth had been sufficiently rapid, that the country had returned to trend national income as if the Great Depression had never happened. …In the UK, we had a stable regulatory environment, a liberalised market for land for building purposes and fiscal austerity. …though Roosevelt is often regarded as the great saviour, he is nothing of the sort. …taking the period 1929-1939 as a whole, real GDP growth was only 1% per annum. There was no return to trend national income levels. …unemployment in the US was much higher than in the UK. For the economy to be operating at those levels of unemployment for so long requires some very bad policies. …Arbitrary regulation damaged business and created “policy uncertainty” and top marginal tax rates were raised.

For what it’s worth, I also think it’s worth comparing what happened in the 1930s with the genuine economic recovery from the deep recession in 1920-21.

Or, look at how the economy boomed after World War II even though the Keynesians predicted the economy would fall back into depression without a massive expansion of domestic spending.

Nonetheless, as illustrated by this cartoon, some people still want to blame capitalism for problems caused by government.

P.S. FDR not only wanted a 100-percent tax rate, he actually tried to impose it without legislative approval.

P.P.S. FDR also wanted an “Economic Bill of Rights” that would have created a far-reaching entitlements to other people’s money.

P.P.P.S. This video summarizes the awful policies of Hoover and FDR.

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