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Archive for March, 2021

I wrote one week ago about a big victory for education in West Virginia. The Mountain State arguably now has the most extensive system of school choice in the country.

This will be great for parents and children.

There’s a lot of research showing better educational outcomes when families have options other than low-performing, monopoly-based government schools.

Now we have some additional good news.

Kentucky legislators have just overridden the governor’s veto, meaning that students in the state will now have expanded educational opportunities. Eric Boehm of Reason has some of the details.

The new law, originally House Bill 563, allows students in Kentucky public schools to switch school districts, and it creates a new tax-advantaged education savings program for families to use for private school tuition, to pay for tutoring, or to cover other educational expenses. The most controversial part of the proposal was the creation of a $25 million scholarship fund—to be filled by donations from private businesses, for which they would receive state tax credits—that students in Kentucky’s largest counties can tap to help pay for private school tuition. …With the passage of the first school choice bill in state history, Kentucky is now the 28th state with some form of school choice.

Speaking of other states, the Wall Street Journal editorialized about the beginning of a very good trend.

The pandemic has been a revelation for many Americans about union control of public schools… That awakening is helping to spur some welcome reform progress as several state legislatures are moving to expand school choice. One breakthrough is in West Virginia, where the Legislature passed a bill creating the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program. …Meanwhile in Georgia, the House passed a bill last week that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program for special-education students. The Senate, which had already passed the legislation, voted to approve House amendments on Monday and the bill is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. In South Dakota this month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to students already enrolled in private schools. …in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill last week that would establish a new tax-credit scholarship program. But the state legislature voted late Monday to override the veto… Nearly 50 school-choice bills have been introduced this year in 30 states. It’s a testament to how school shutdowns have made the advantage of education choice more evident, and its need more urgent.

By the way, school choice has existed for a long time in Vermont. Yes, the state that regularly reelects Crazy Bernie has dozens of small towns that give vouchers to students. Laura Williams explains in an article for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Vermont’s “tuition towns”…distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. If the school doesn’t perform up to parents’ expectations, they can take their children, and the tuition dollars they control, elsewhere. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …parents have the ability to put their kids in school anywhere, to buy the educational experience best suited to each child. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. …Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead.

Rhode Island is another unexpected example. That deep-blue state recently expanded charter schools in Providence.

That’s not as good a genuine school choice, but it gives parents some ability to escape traditional government schools. The Wall Street Journal opined last year on this development.

…this particular hell may have frozen over, as last week the state’s education council voted to expand and open more charter schools to rescue students in the district. About 13% of Providence’s 30,000 students attend 28 charter schools, some in other districts. But demand far exceeds supply. Only 18% of the 5,000 or so charter school applicants were offered a seat this school year, according to the state education department. …The state education council last week gave preliminary approval for more than 5,700 new charter seats in Providence and other districts. Three of four new charters that applied got a green-light to open, pending final approval in the spring, and three existing charters (two of which serve Providence) are expanding. …The teachers union isn’t happy. In a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten complained… This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control.

Let’s now add to our collection of evidence about the benefits of school choice.

In an article for National Review, James Piereson and Noami Schaefer Riley discuss the track record of the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

Children’s Scholarship Fund enables low-income children to attend private schools — and thrive. …parents who receive financial aid from the organization…send their children to inner-city private (mostly Catholic) schools. …When it came to how satisfied they were with their children’s education, almost 90 percent graded their school a 4 or 5 out of 5. …Since its inception in 1998, the fund has helped more than 180,000 children attend private schools. CSF’s high-school graduation and college matriculation rates far surpass those of the urban public schools that surround them. In Philadelphia, for instance, 96 percent of CSF eighth-graders graduated from high school on schedule — compared with Philadelphia’s public-school graduation rate of only 62 percent. A study of CSF in Baltimore found that 84 percent of scholarship recipients were enrolled in college five to ten years after completing eighth grade, compared with fewer than half of students from local public schools. Nor are these high-priced private schools. The average tuition at these schools is about $5,300 per year, and the average scholarship award is $2,200.

Why do even low-cost private schools out-perform expensive government schools?

Because they have to deliver a good product. Either that, or parents will take their money elsewhere.

It’s a simple question of incentives, as illustrated by this meme about why private schools have been much better than government schools during the pandemic.

While the obvious argument for school choice is that it delivers better educational outcomes (and at lower cost), it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of secondary benefits.

As explained by W. Bradford Wilcox in an article for the American Enterprise Institute, private schools produce better families.

The public debate surrounding the efficacy of private versus public schools tends to revolve around their relative success in boosting test scores, graduation rates, and college admissions. …But there is more to life than excelling at school and work. For instance, there is the opportunity to be formed into a woman or man of good character, a good citizen, or a good partner and parent. …Until now, however, we have known little about how different types of schools are linked to students’ family life as adults. …In this report, we examine how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools is associated with different family outcomes later in life. …Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. They are also about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have a child out of wedlock. …Compared with public-school attendees, ever-married adults who attended a secular private school are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced. Catholic-school attendees are about 30% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.

And Corey CeAngelis notes in this tweet that school choice reduces segregation.

And the Wall Street Journal editorialized last December about school choice improving mental health.

Teachers unions have pushed to shut down schools during the pandemic no matter the clear harm to children, just as they oppose charters and vouchers. Now comes a timely study suggesting school choice improves student mental health. Several studies have found that school choice reduces arrests and that private-school students experience less bullying. One reason is that charter and private schools enforce stricter discipline than traditional public schools. …The new study in the journal “School Effectiveness and School Improvement” is the first to…analyze the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades. They find that states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private-school voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers. …The researchers also looked for any correlation between students who attended private school as teenagers and their mental health as adults. …individuals who attended private schools were two percentage-points less likely to report a mental health condition when they were roughly 30 years old.

Let’s conclude with some excerpts from a strong editorial from National Review. The magazine points out that teacher unions wield power in blue parts of the nation and schools are run for their benefit rather than for the best interests of children.

…the interests of children and their families take a distant second place to the desires of the public-sector unions that dominate Democratic politics around the country and run the show practically unopposed in California. …unionized teachers…have turned up their noses at the children they are supposed to be serving and looked instead to their own two-point agenda: (1) not going to work; (2) getting paid. Randi Weingarten exercises more real practical political power than any senator or cabinet secretary, and her power is exercised exclusively in the interest of public-sector workers and the Democratic Party, which they effectively control. Perhaps it is time for Americans to take back some of that power.

And what’s the way to take back power?

It’s possible to reform labor laws so teachers don’t have out-sized influence. That sort of happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker.

But that’s difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain.

The best long-run answer is to have school choice so parents are in charge rather than union bosses.

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Since more than 100 million people have been killed by communist regimes, should we conclude that Karl Marx is the worst person in world history?

To address that question, let’s start with this video from Prager University, which is narrated by Professor Paul Kengor of Grove City College.

At the risk of understatement, the video is a damning indictment of Marx’s legacy.

His political ideas provided the justification for the genocides of dictators such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

His economic ideas led to policies that produced mass deprivation, starvation, and immense human suffering.

Now let’s take a closer look at Marx rather than just his ideas.

Was he a good person who simply had some horribly misguided ideals?

Hardly. Everything we know suggests he was a sickeningly despicable excuse for a human being.

Professor Richard Ebeling has some of the sordid details in an article for Intellectual Takeout.

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the Rhineland town of Trier. …he was generally a lazy and good-for-nothing student. …Marx’s only real jobs during his lifetime were as occasional reporters for or editors of newspapers and journals most of which usually closed in a short period of time… He had sex enough times with the family maid that she bore him an illegitimate son… He often used racial slurs and insulting words to describe the mannerisms or appearance of his opponents in the socialist movement.  …In Marx’s mind, the Jew in bourgeois society encapsulated the essence of everything he considered despicable in the capitalist system… Marx’s caricaturing description of the asserted “Jewish mindset” rings amazingly similar to those that were later written by the Nazi “race-scientists” of the 1930s.

All told, it appears that Marx lacked a single redeeming feature. He was a very bad person with very bad ideas.

Indeed, it’s safe to assume that the best thing he did in his life occurred on March 14, 1883.

P.S. For those seeking more economic analysis, Marx advocated for the pure version of socialism, meaning government ownership of the means of production (state factories, collective farms, etc).

P.P.S. It’s disgusting that there’s a statue of Marx in his birth city and it’s equally disgusting that the former President of the European Commission went there to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

P.P.P.S. Marx gets featured frequently in my collection of jokes mocking communism.

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I get asked why I frequently criticize Republicans.

My response is easy. I care about results rather than rhetoric. And while GOP politicians often pay lip service to the principles of limited government, they usually increase spending even faster than Democrats.

Indeed, Republicans are even worse than Democrats when measuring the growth of domestic spending!

This is bad news because it means the burden of government expands when Republicans are in charge.

And, as Gary Abernathy points out in a column for the Washington Post, Republicans then don’t have the moral authority to complain when Democrats engage in spending binges.

President Biden is proposing another $3 trillion in spending… There are objections, but none that can be taken seriously. …Republicans had lost their standing as the party of fiscal responsibility when most of them succumbed to the political virus of covid fever and rubber-stamped around $4 trillion in “covid relief,”… With Trump out and Biden in, Republicans suddenly pretended that their 2020 spending spree happened in some alternate universe. But the GOP’s united opposition to Biden’s $1.9 trillion package won’t wash off the stench of the hypocrisy. …I noted a year ago that we had crossed the Rubicon, that our longtime flirtation with socialism had become a permanent relationship. Congratulations, Bernie Sanders. The GOP won’t become irrelevant because of its association with Trump, as some predict. It will diminish because it is bizarrely opposing now that which it helped make palatable just last year. Fiscal responsibility is dead, and Republicans helped bury it. Put the shovels away, there’s no digging it up now.

For what it’s worth, I hope genuine fiscal responsibility isn’t dead.

Maybe it’s been hibernating ever since Reagan left office (like Pepperidge Farm, I’m old enough to remember those wonderful years).

Subsequent Republican presidents liked to copy Reagan’s rhetoric, but they definitely didn’t copy his policies.

  • Spending restraint was hibernating during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.
  • Spending restraint also was hibernating during the presidency of George W. Bush.
  • And spending restraint was hibernating during the presidency of Donald Trump.

I’m not the only one to notice GOP hypocrisy.

Here are some excerpts from a 2019 column in the Washington Post by Fareed Zakaria.

In what Republicans used to call the core of their agenda — limited government — Trump has been profoundly unconservative. …Trump has now added more than $88 billion in taxes in the form of tariffs, according to the right-leaning Tax Foundation. (Despite what the president says, tariffs are taxes on foreign goods paid by U.S. consumers.) This has had the effect of reducing gross domestic product and denting the wages of Americans. …For decades, conservatives including Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan preached to the world the virtues of free trade. But perhaps even more, they believed in the idea that governments should not pick winners and losers in the economy… Yet the Trump administration…behaved like a Central Planning Agency, granting exemptions on tariffs to favored companies and industries, while refusing them to others. …In true Soviet style, lobbyists, lawyers and corporate executives now line up to petition government officials for these treasured waivers, which are granted in an opaque process… On the core issue that used to define the GOP — economics — the party’s agenda today is state planning and crony capitalism.

Zakaria is right about Republicans going along with most of Trump’s bad policies (as illustrated by this cartoon strip).*

The bottom line is that Republicans would be much more effective arguing against Biden’s spending orgy had they also argued for spending restraint when Trump was in the White House.

P.S. It will be interesting to see what happens in the near future. Will the GOP be a small-government Reagan party or a big-government Trump party?

Or maybe it will go back to being a Nixon-type party, which would mean bigger government but without mean tweets. And there are plenty of options.

If they make the wrong choice (anything other than Reaganism), Margaret Thatcher has already warned us about the consequences.

*To be fair, Republicans also went along with Trump’s good policies. It’s just unfortunate that spending restraint wasn’t one of them.

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According to data on jobs and growth, President Obama’s so-called stimulus was a failure.

But at least politicians and bureaucrats were able to concoct new and clever ways to waste money. Including research grants to interview people about their sexual histories and to study erectile dysfunction.

In other words, stimulus spending on stimulus (though at least we did get some clever humor in exchange for nearly $1 trillion of wasted money).

Now we’re wasting nearly $2 trillion on Biden’s spending spree.

And we’re getting more stimulus spending on stimulus.

But not the economic kind of stimulus. Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner reports that people are using handout cash for interesting purchases.

An analysis of spending on Amazon following the distribution of the latest coronavirus stimulus, a massive $1.9 trillion package, suggests that people are using it to let off some steam. The global e-commerce firm Pattern said that the biggest surges in sales were for the PlayStation 5 and a female sex toy called the “Rose Flower Sex Toy.” …Rose’s sales (check Amazon for the description) shot up 334%. …“Distribution of stimulus checks on Wednesday, March 17…may have represented an opportunity for some retail therapy,” said the company.

I’m sure there’s probably some interesting social commentary to make about guys playing video games and neglecting their wives and girlfriends.

But I’m a policy nerd, so I’m focused on how we’re now saddled with a bigger burden of government spending.

The problem is much bigger than the humorous/irritating example discussed above.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Brad Polumbo shares some big-picture data on how politicians have squandered our money.

Whenever the government spends money, a significant portion is lost to bureaucracy, waste, and fraud. But the…unprecedented scope of federal spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—an astounding $6 trillion total—has led to truly unthinkable levels of fraud. Indeed, a new report shows that the feds potentially lost $200 billion in unemployment fraud alone. …More than $200 billion of unemployment benefits distributed in the pandemic may have been pocketed by thieves… To put that $200 billion figure in context, it is equivalent to $1,400 lost to fraud per federal taxpayer. (There goes your stimmy check!) Or, comparing it to the $37 billion the federal government spent on vaccine and treatment development, it’s more than five times more lost to fraud than went to arguably the most crucial COVID initiative of all. That’s just scratching the surface. According to the American Enterprise Institute, “unemployment fraud” now ranks as the 4th biggest federal COVID expenditure out of more than 17 different categories.

If you’re a taxpayer, hundreds of billions of dollars in fraud sounds like a bad outcome.

But if you’re a Keynesian economist, it’s not a problem. All they care about is having the government borrow and spend a bunch of money. They think that making government bigger automatically generates benefit for the economy, even if the money goes to thieves and crooks.

I’m not joking. This is why people like Paul Krugman said a fake attack by space aliens would be good for the economy because Washington would spend a bunch of money in response.

And it’s why Nancy Pelosi actually said the economy benefits if we subsidize joblessness.

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In Part I of this series, I explained why it’s absurd to think illegal immigration can be stopped by sending foreign aid to less-developed countries, such as many of those in Central America.

Simply stated, government-to-government handouts have never been a successful strategy for turning poor nations into rich nations. Indeed, aid actually discourages countries from following the recipe that does deliver prosperity.

In today’s column, let’s address Milton Friedman’s famous dilemma about the incompatibility of open borders and welfare.

Like most libertarians, I want to solve the problem by getting rid of the welfare state.

Immigrants are a big net plus so long as they are coming to work and be productive.

Indeed, because of their entrepreneurial skills and work ethic, immigrants from many nations wind up earning more than native-born Americans.

That’s something to celebrate. The American Dream in action!

But will that story of success continue if the welfare state is expanded?

Two advocates of increased immigration are worried. First, Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal recently explained that Biden’s agenda is a recipe for immigrant dependency.

…it is a growing belief on the political left that people should be allowed to enter the U.S. on their terms rather than ours, and that it is our collective responsibility to take care of them if they can’t take care of themselves. Milton Friedman said that open immigration and large welfare states are incompatible, and today’s progressives in Congress and the White House are eager to test that proposition. …Another concern is the left’s determination to sever any connection between work and benefits, something all the more worrisome since it is occurring while destitute foreign nationals with little education are being lured here en masse. …Earlier this month, the Biden administration quietly announced that it would no longer enforce a policy that limited the admission of immigrants who were deemed likely to become overly dependent on government benefits. What could go wrong? …In countries like Italy and France, generous aid programs have attracted poor migrants who are more likely than natives to be heavy users of welfare and less likely to be working. It’s a mistake to think it can’t happen here.

In a column last year for Reason, Shikha Dalmia warned that welfare programs undermine support for immigration.

…economists Alberto Alesina, Armando Miano, and Stefanie Stantcheva…administered online questionnaires to 24,000 respondents in six countries: U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. The explicit aim was to study attitudes toward legal, not illegal, immigration. …restrictionists have succeeded most spectacularly is in depicting immigrants as welfare queens. …In America, over 25 percent of respondents said the person with the  ..immigrant-sounding name would pay less in taxes than he collected in welfare… The study’s findings pose a particular dilemma for Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), who wants to combine grandiose welfare schemes like free health care, pre-K, and college for everyone with generous immigration policies, because the mere mention of immigration reduces support for such schemes. Respondents who were asked about immigration became less concerned about inequality and less supportive of soak-the-rich schemes. …as long as immigrants are seen as succeeding through their own grit, natives may have no real objection to them. What is most likely to sour the public on immigration are the grandiose universal freebies… Immigrants should be wary of Democrats bearing gifts.

Both Riley and Dalmia raise good points.

My modest contribution to this discussion is to provide a practical example.

In his so-called American Rescue Plan, Joe Biden included a huge giveaway program that will shower $3,000-$3,600 to non-rich households for every kid they have.

This is a one-year, one-time handout, but many Democrats (and some Republicans!) want to make these enormous per-child payments a permanent part of America’s welfare state.

If that happens, the incentive to move to the United States almost surely will skyrocket.

Here’s a map I made, showing the annual handout for two children in the United States and the average per-capita income in some nearby nations.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there will be a huge incentive to migrate to America – but not for the right reasons. And my little example doesn’t include the value of any of the dozens of other redistribution programs in Washington.

The bottom line is that we shouldn’t have a welfare system that rewards dependency, whether for people in the country legally or illegally.

And if you like immigration in theory, you should be especially opposed to handouts that will undermine public support for newcomers in practice.

P.S. It’s much better to have immigration policies such as the ones proposed by former Congressman Jared Polis and current George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen.

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I’ve authored a five-part series about coronavirus and the failure of big government (hereherehere, here, and here), as well as columns specifically highlighting the failures of the FDA, CDC, and WHO bureaucracies.

Today, let’s look at how free enterprise came to the rescue when government barriers were reduced. Starting with this video.

To elaborate on this message, millions of lives are now being saved because pharmaceutical companies have produced multiple vaccines.

I even got my first shot yesterday before leaving town for a softball tournament.

Will this save my life? I like to think I’m reasonably healthy and would have survived if I caught the virus, but I’m very happy to now put that possibility in the rear-view mirror.

So I’m feeling very happy that I live in a nation where private companies, in their pursuit of profits, have had a big incentive to produce vaccines.

Yes, I realize the government dumped a bunch of taxpayer money into vaccine production, so I don’t want to pretend Uncle Sam played no role. But I also have great faith that the profit motive would have led to vaccines being developed regardless.

And we would have had the vaccines even sooner if the FDA was even better about getting out of the way.

Allysia Finley celebrated capitalism’s key role in a recent column for the Wall Street Journal. Here’s some of what she wrote about the decades of research and investment that enabled pharmaceutical companies to deliver miracles for humanity.

Large corporations are political villains, derided on the left and right. Yet the main, and perhaps only, reason the Covid-19 scourge is easing is vaccines developed by Big Pharma. …There are…lessons for those who think capitalism is merely about rapacious profit. “We would never be in the position where we are today if we had not invested billions of dollars over decades so that we could respond,” Mr. Gorsky, 60, says in an interview… J&J’s vaccine is the third to obtain FDA approval, but preliminary results from trials on AstraZeneca and Novavax suggest they are also highly effective. All these Covid-19 vaccines use innovative technologies that have been developed and tested over decades on other diseases. …The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines inject the virus’s genetic code via mRNA… It seems like an incredible stroke of luck and science that we have so many Covid-19 vaccines so soon. But it’s more than that. Credit years of research and investment by drug makers… “I think this is a golden moment, not only for Johnson & Johnson, but the biopharmaceutical industry,” he says. “We fundamentally believe that having a market-based, innovation-based, biopharmaceutical as well as a medical-technology environment, is critical long term to produce the best overall outcomes for healthcare.”

There are a couple of big lessons for today.

The first lesson, as shown in the video, is that we can save lives by permanently reducing bureaucratic red tape at bureaucracies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

The second lesson is that we should celebrate the profit motive. The desire to make a buck is what drives companies to produce goods and services that make our lives better.

And one takeaway of that second lesson is that we should reject short-sighted policies such as European-style price controls on drug companies. Such an approach would undermine our ability to deal with future pandemics and also reduce the likelihood of new and improved treatments for things such as cancer, dementia, and heart disease.

P.S. I like pharmaceutical companies when they are being honest participants in a free market. I don’t like them when they get in bed with big government.

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Illegal immigration is again becoming a big issue, which always leaves me with mixed feelings.

The combination of these conflicting factors helps to explain why I rarely write on this topic.

But sometimes there are aspects of the immigration debate that are so foolish that I feel compelled to comment. And high on that list is the anti-empirical notion that foreign aid can produce more prosperity in foreign countries.

How is this connected to the immigration debate, you may be wondering?

In a column for the Washington Post, Greg Sargent writes that putting Kamala Harris in charge of immigration policy is “a big deal” because she will use foreign aid to improve Central American economies and thus discourage migration to the United States.

President Biden has assigned Vice President Harris the task of overseeing the administration’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants at the Mexican border… Here’s why this could prove to be a big deal. …it could help shift part of the conversation…and focus it on the deeper causes of these migrations. …The real challenge…entails addressing problems in Central America to reduce “push factors,” i.e., conditions that spur these migrations in the first place — such as…poverty… Which is where Harris comes in. …“A large part of her portfolio will be to develop strategies regarding root causes that generate migrants and refugees,” Sharry continued… The Biden reading of the problem is that push factors matter. …The Biden plan would invest billions in improving economic conditions, combating corruption and strengthening democracy in Central America.

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar makes the same argument in a column for the New York Times.

…the real crisis is not at the border but outside it, and that until we address that crisis, this flow of vulnerable people seeking help at our doorstep will not end anytime soon. …Overwhelmingly and consistently, Central American refugees tell stories of fleeing…calamitous economic conditions in their countries. …The good news is that we now have an administration willing to work on the issue. …reinstating aid…is a good start.

I actually agree with Congresswoman Escobar on one point. It’s true that “reinstating aid…is a good start.”

But it’s only a good start if your goal, perversely, is to undermine prosperity in poor nations.

The bottom line is that we know the recipe for growth and prosperity.

And we also know that government-to-government handouts make that recipe less likely.

Let’s close with three simple questions for those who want to believe that foreign aid will help.

  1. Can you identify one country that has gone from poverty to prosperity thanks to foreign aid rather than capitalism?
  2. Is there any evidence that Kamala Harris understands the policies needed for a poor country to become a rich country?
  3. Do you really think politicians in developing countries will use aid dollars to help their people rather than themselves?

P.S. I’m not being partisan. I made this exact argument two years ago when a Republican was in the White House.

P.P.S. Some developing nations have sought bribes to curtail migration.

P.P.P.S. If you want some migration-themed humor, click here or here.

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As a public finance economist, I’m a huge fan of fiscal reforms such as a spending cap or a flat tax.

But, if asked to pick the reform that would have the biggest positive impact for the United States, I’d be very tempted to pick school choice.

Largely because of the pernicious effect of teacher unions, government schools are doing a poor job of educating children. Especially considering the record amounts of money that’s being dumped into the system.

Which is why I’m very excited that we’re about to see a massive expansion of school choice in West Virginia.

The state legislature has enacted and the governor is expected to sign (fingers crossed!) legislation creating education savings accounts (ESAs) providing $4,600 per child.

These accounts, called Hope Scholarships, will be available to all families with kids in government schools (and every single new kindergarten student). Parents then can use the funds for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and a range of other approved items.

The state’s leading think tank, the Cardinal Institute, has a primer on the issue.

ESAs allow parents to apply for eligible students to receive the state portion of education funds into a personal, parent-controlled account. Parents are then empowered to customize an education experience that meets the individual needs of their child, using their account to pay for approved services like tuition, therapy, tutoring, textbooks, and more. …the bill would extend ESAs to students who are enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school… parents will only be able to purchase approved items and services. This makes ESAs as—if not more—transparent than any other form of education spending. …The key aspect that distinguishes ESAs from vouchers is parent control and customization. Instead of the state sending funds directly from the state to a specific private school, the state instead deposits funds into a parent-controlled account. These funds can then be spent on wide array of approved education services, not only tuition

Corey DeAngelis and Neal McCluskey address some of the hot-button issues in an article for Reason.

West Virginia’s public schools spend an average of $12,644 per child per year, while the estimated amount of funding that would follow the child under HB 2013 would be about $4,600. If the legislation becomes law, public schools would keep large amounts of funding for children even after they left, meaning they would end up with more money per child. …choice opponents in the state also are claiming that $4,600 is too low to cover private school tuition. But do those same people oppose Pell Grants just because they don’t cover the full cost of attending many universities? …And $4,600 would actually go a long way in West Virginia as the average private school tuition in the state is just $6,068 and the average elementary school cost is $4,890. …The worst thing about anti-school choice myths is that they disproportionately prevent the least advantaged from access to much-needed education options.

Amen to the last point.

School choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century since black and brown kids are the biggest victims of the government school monopoly.

I’ll close by observing that teacher unions traditionally have done a very good job of protecting their monopoly. Every time I think a state is poised to make progress on school choice (most recently in Pennsylvania and Colorado), the unions dump tons of money into campaigns so they can maintain their privileges.

Assuming West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, doesn’t betray children by unexpectedly vetoing the legislation, the union win streak will have ended.

P.S. Here’s a video explaining the benefits of school choice.

P.P.S. There’s international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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I’ve been warning that the United States should not copy Europe’s fiscal policy, largely because living standards are significantly lower in nations with large welfare states.

That’s true if you look at average levels of consumption in different nations, but the most compelling data is the fact that lower-income people in the United States generally enjoy living standards that are equal to or even higher than those for middle-class people in most European countries.

A bigger burden of government is not just a theoretical concern. President Biden has already pushed through a $1.9 trillion spending bill that includes some temporary provisions – such as per-child handouts – that, if made permanent, could add several trillion dollars to the burden of government spending.

And the White House has signaled support for $3 trillion of additional spending for items such as infrastructure, green energy, and other boondoggles.

This doesn’t even count the cost of other schemes, such as the “public option” that would strangle private health insurance and force more people to rely on an already-costly-and-and bankrupt government program.

So what will it mean for America if our medium-sized welfare state morphs into a European-style large welfare state?

The answer to that question is rather unpleasant, at least if some new research from the Congressional Budget Office is any indication. The study, authored by Jaeger Nelson and Kerk Phillips, considers the impact on growth based on six different scenarios (based on how much the spending burden increases and what taxes are increased).

If permanent spending is financed by new or increased taxes, then those taxes influence people’s decisions about how much to work and save. Those decisions then affect how much the economy produces and businesses invest and, ultimately, how much people can consume. Different types of taxes have different economic effects. Taxes on labor income reduce after-tax wages, so they reduce the return on each additional hour worked. …Higher taxes on capital income, such as dividends and capital gains, lower the average after-tax rate of return on private wealth holdings (or the return on investment), which reduces the incentive to save and invest and leads to reductions in saving, investment, and the capital stock. …we compare the effects of raising additional revenues through three illustrative tax policies: a flat tax on labor income, a flat tax on all income (including both labor and capital income), and a progressive tax on all income. The additional revenues generated by these policies are in addition to the revenues raised by taxes that already exist and are used to finance two specific increases in government spending. The two increases in government spending are set to 5 percent and 10 percent of GDP in 2020.

Here are some of the key results, as illustrated by the chart.

The least-worst result (the blue line) is a decline in GDP of about 3 percent, and that happens if the spending burden expand by 5-percentage points of GDP and is financed by a flat tax.

The worst-worst result (dashed red line) is a staggering decline in GDP of about 10 percent, and that happens if the spending burden climbs by 10-percentage points and is financed by a progressive tax.

Here’s some additional analysis, including a description of why progressive taxes impose the most damage.

This paper shows that flat labor and flat income tax policies have similar effects on output; labor taxes reduce the labor supply more, and income taxes reduce the capital stock more. For all three policies, the decline in income contracts the tax base considerably over time. As a result, to continuously generate enough revenues to finance the increase in government spending in each year, tax rates must steadily increase over time to account for the decline in the tax base. Moreover, labor and capital taxes put upward pressure on interest rates by reducing the capital-to-labor ratio over time… The largest declines in economic activity among the financing methods considered occur with the progressive tax on all income. Those declines occur because high-productivity workers reduce their hours worked and because higher taxes on asset income reduce the incentive to save and invest relatively more than under the two flat taxes.

There’s lots of additional information in the study, but I definitely want to draw attention to Table 4 because it shows that lower-income people will suffer big reductions in living standards if there’s an increase in the burden of government spending (circled in red).

What makes these results especially remarkable is that the authors only look at the damage caused by higher taxes.

Yet we know from other research that the economy also will suffer because of the higher spending burden. This is because of the various ways that growth is reduced when resources are diverted from the productive sector to the government.

For background, here’s a video on the theoretical reasons why government spending hinders growth.

And here’s a video with some of the scholarly evidence.

P.S. The CBO study also points out that financing new spending with a value-added tax wouldn’t avert economic damage.

…by reducing the cost of time spent not working for pay relative to other goods, a consumption tax could reduce hours worked through a channel like that of a tax on labor.

For what it’s worth, even the pro-tax International Monetary Fund agrees with this observation.

P.P.S. It’s worth noting that the CBO study also shows that young people will suffer much more than older people.

…older cohorts, on average, experience smaller declines in lifetime consumption than younger cohorts

Which raises an interesting question of why millennials and Gen-Zers don’t appreciate capitalism and instead are sympathetic to the dirigiste ideology that will make their lives more difficult.

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As part of a video debate last year (where I also discussed wealth taxation, poverty reduction, and the inadvisability of tax increases), I pontificated on the negative economic impact of class-warfare taxation.

To elaborate, I’m trying to help people understand why it is a mistake to impose class-warfare taxes on high-income taxpayers.

Back in 2019, I shared data from the Internal Revenue Service confirming that rich taxpayers get the vast majority of their income from business activity and investments.

And since it’s comparatively easy to control the timing, level, and composition of that income, class-warfare taxes generally backfire.

Heck, well-to-do taxpayers can simply shift all their investments into tax-free municipal bonds (that’s bad for the rest of us, by the way, since it’s better for growth if they invest in private businesses rather than buying bonds from state and local governments).

Or, they can simply buy growth stocks rather than dividend stocks because politicians (thankfully) haven’t figured out how to tax unrealized capital gains.

Some of my left-leaning readers probably think that my analysis can be ignored or dismissed because I’m a curmudgeonly libertarian.

But I’m simply recycling conventional economic thinking on these issues.

And to confirm that point, let’s review a study on taxes and growth that the International Monetary Fund published last December. Written by Khaled Abdel-Kader and Ruud de Mooij, there are passages that sound like they could have been written by yours truly.

Such as the observation that taxes hinder prosperity by reducing economic output (what economist refer to as deadweight loss).

…public finance…theories teach us some important lessons about efficient tax design. By transferring resources from the private to the public sector, taxes inescapably impose a loss on society that goes beyond the revenue generated. …deadweight loss (or excess burden) is what determines a tax distortion. Efficient tax design aims to minimize the total deadweight loss of taxes. The size of this loss depends on two main factors. First, losses are bigger the more responsive the tax base is to taxation. Second, the loss increases more than proportionately with the tax rate: adding a distortion to an already high tax rate is more harmful than adding it to a low tax rate. Two prescriptions for efficient tax policy follow: (i) it is efficient to impose taxes at a higher rate if things are in inelastic demand or supply; and (ii) it is best to tax as many things as possible to keep rates low. …empirical studies on the growth impact of taxes…generally find that income taxes are more distortive for economic growth than taxes on consumption.

There are several parts of the above passage that deserve extra attention, such as the observation about elasticity (similar to the point I made in the video about why higher tax rates on upper-income taxpayers are so destructive).

But the most important thing to understand is what the authors wrote about how “the [deadweight] loss increases more than proportionately with the tax rate.”

In other words, it’s more damaging to increase top tax rates.

This observation, which is almost certainly universally recognized in the economics profession, tells us why class-warfare taxes do the most economic damage, on a per-dollar-collected basis.

The IMF study also has worthwhile observations on different types of taxes, such as why it’s a good idea to have low income tax rates on people.

Optimal tax theory emphasizes the trade-off between equity and efficiency. …This requires balancing the revenue gain from a higher marginal top PIT rate at the initial base against the revenue loss induced by behavioral responses that a higher tax rate would induce—such as reduced labor effort, avoidance or evasion—measured by the elasticity of taxable income. …high marginal rates cause other adverse economic effects, e.g. on innovation and entrepreneurship, and thus create larger economic costs than is sometimes assumed.

Very similar to what I’ve written.

And low income tax rates on companies.

Capital income—interest, dividends and capital gains—is used for future consumption so that taxes on it correspond to a differentiated consumption tax on present versus future consumption—one that compounds if the time horizon expands. Prudent people who prefer to postpone consumption to later in life (or transfer it to their heirs) will thus be taxed more than those who do not, even though they have the same life-time earnings. This violates horizontal equity principles. Moreover, it causes a distortion by encouraging individuals to substitute future with current consumption, i.e. they reduce savings. The tax is therefore also inefficient. A classical result, formalized by Chamley (1986) and Judd (1985), is that the optimal tax on capital is zero.

Once again, very similar to what I’ve written.

Indeed, the study even asks whether there should be a corporate income tax when the same income already is subject to dividend taxation when distributed to shareholders.

…capital income taxes can be levied directly on the people that ultimately receive that income, i.e. shareholders and creditors. So: why is there a need for a CIT? It is hard to justify a CIT on efficiency grounds. As explained before, the incidence of the CIT in a small open economy falls largely on workers, not on the firm or its shareholders. Since it is more efficient to tax labor directly than indirectly, the optimal CIT is found to be zero. …CIT systems…in most countries…create two major economic distortions. First, by raising the cost of capital on equity they distort investment decisions. This hurts economic growth and adversely affects efficiency. Second, by differentiating between debt and equity, they induce a bias toward debt finance. This not only creates an additional direct welfare loss, but also threatens financial stability. Both distortions can be eliminated by…cash-flow taxes, which allow for full expensing of investment instead of deductions for tax depreciation

Also similar to what I’ve written.

And I like the fact that the study makes very sensible points about why there should not be a pro-debt bias in tax codes and why there should be “expensing” of business investment costs.

I’ll close by noting that the IMF study is not a libertarian document.

The authors are simply describing the economic costs of taxation and acknowledging the tradeoffs that exist when politicians impose various types of taxes (and the rates at which those taxes are imposed).

But that doesn’t mean the IMF is arguing for low taxes.

There are plenty of sections that make the (awful) argument that it’s okay to impose higher tax rates and sacrifice growth in order to achieve more equality.

And there are also sections that regurgitate the IMF’s anti-empirical argument that higher taxes can be good for growth if politicians wisely allocate the money so it is spent on genuine public goods.

Politicians doing what’s best for their countries rather than what’s best for themselves? Yeah, good luck with that.

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My Eighth Theorem of Government is very simple.

If someone writes and talks about poverty, I generally assume that they care about poor people. They may have good ideas for helping the poor, or they may have bad ideas. But I usually don’t doubt their sincerity.

But when someone writes and talks about inequality, I worry that they don’t really care about the less fortunate and that they’re instead motivated by envy, resentment, and jealousy of rich people.

And this concern probably applies to a couple of law professors, Michael Heller of Columbia and James Salzman of UCLA. They recently wrote a column for the Washington Post on how the government should grab more money from the private sector when rich people die.

They seem particularly agitated that states such as South Dakota have strong asset-protection laws that limit the reach of the death tax.

Income inequality has widened. One…way to tackle the problem. Instead of focusing only on taxing wealth accumulation, we can address the hidden flip side — wealth transmission. …The place to start is South Dakota… The state has created…wealth-sheltering tools including the aptly named “dynasty trust.” …Congress can…plug holes in our leaky estate tax system. One step would be to tax trusts at the passage of each generation and limit generation-skipping tax-exempt trusts. A bigger step would be to ensure that appreciated stocks…are taxed… Better still, let’s start anew. Ditch the existing estate tax and replace it with an inheritance tax

There’s nothing remarkable in their proposals. Just a typical collection of tax-the-rich schemes one might expect from a couple of academics.

But I can’t resist commenting on their article because of two inadvertent admissions.

First, we have a passage that reveals a twisted sense of morality. They apparently think it’s a “heist” if people keep their own money.

America’s ultra-wealthy have pulled off a brilliantly designed heist, with a string of South Dakota governors as accomplices.

For all intents and purposes, the law professors are making an amazing claim that it’s stealing if you don’t meekly surrender your money to politicians.

Apparently they agree with Richard Murphy that all income belongs to the government and it’s akin to an entitlement program or “state aid” if politicians let you keep a slice.

Second, the law professors make the mistake of trying to be economists. They want readers to think the national economy suffers if money stays in the private sector.

Nearly no one in South Dakota complains, because the harm falls on the national economy… We all suffer high and hidden costs…getting less in government services. …South Dakota locks away resources that could spark entrepreneurial innovation.

According to their analysis, a nation such as Singapore must be very poor while a country such as Greece must be very rich.

Needless to say, the opposite is true. Larger burdens of government spending are associated with less prosperity and dynamism.

I’ll offer one final observation. Professors Heller and Salzman obviously want more and more taxes on the rich.

But I wonder what they would say if confronted with the data showing that the United States already collects a greater share of tax revenue from the rich than any other OECD country.

P.S. The reason the U.S. collects proportionately more taxes from the rich is that other developed countries have bigger welfare states, and that necessarily leads to much higher tax burdens on lower-income and middle-class taxpayers (as honest folks on the left acknowledge).

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Libertarians have a reputation for being principled, albeit a bit quirky. Maybe even dorky. And that creates opportunities for satire, even if we’re making fun of ourselves. Like in this video.

Our second item captures the mindset of libertarians.

I don’t know if Ms. Dehbozorgi is a libertarian, but she definitely knows how to make some libertarians feels guilty.

I actually have some libertarian-minded friends in the bowels of various bureaucracies (and they all admit they are overpaid and most acknowledge their comfy jobs shouldn’t exist).

Some of them are even out of the closet. I gather they don’t care about irritating their colleagues for the simple reason that libertarians rarely get too worked up about what others think.

As reflected in this next meme.

This next item would have been more appropriate last month, but it’s still worth sharing (at the risk of triggering a squabble with the Randians).

And here’s my favorite item from today’s collection.

It’s almost like taking the 24 types of libertarians, combining them into one, and then doing a brain scan.

P.S. But it’s not quite me, most notably because I have zero interest in the blunts and I worry about spending rather than debt.

P.P.S. Here’s my entire collection of libertarian humor, both pro and con.

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Socialism may be a miserable failure, everywhere and anywhere it is tried, but at least it provides comic relief.

Such as this Remy video.

Speaking of miserable failure, we have an example of Crazy Bernie trying to teach economics.

Though that could also be a depiction of spending policy under Trump and Biden.

This next meme is for the head-in-the-sand types who want us to believe that “real socialism has never been tried.”

This next meme should be shared with all deluded young people.

My favorite item from today’s collection is this bit of satire about redistribution from Arthur Chrenkoff. But not tax-and-spend redistribution.

…generations of radicals, socialists and progressives inspired by his vision have fought for a better world animated by egalitarian values; a classless world without the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, where from each it is taken according to their ability and to each given according to their needs. …but in its pursuit the Marxists have seemingly overlooked and done nothing about the even more glaring inequalities between men and women and the hot and the not. Sure, the control of the means of production is important, but what about the means of reproduction? …Shall we tolerate this outrageous situation where some people monopolise the attention and attraction of the opposite sex (or the same sex – we, progressives, don’t judge) while the great majority fight for scraps? Surely, it is not just and it is not equitable that a small minority of those with an unearned privilege (the good looks) should lord it over the aesthetically poor masses. …I now call for the redistribution from the few to the many. …the distinctions between the attractive and those less so will be abolished forever. Everyone will have an equal access to attention and love and everyone will be expected to be attracted to everyone else, without distinctions and discrimination.

Very clever. And akin to this mockery of Elizabeth Warren class warfare.

But there’s a serious point to be made. As noted by Prof. Robin Hanson, there is a great deal of attractiveness inequality yet nobody seriously (at least so far!) is proposing government-coerced redistribution of sex.

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Here are four things to understand about poverty and dependency.

Now let’s add a fifth item.

  • The United States adopted welfare reform in the mid-1990s.

Today’s column examines whether this was a bad development or good development.

We’ll start with a harsh critic.

In his column for the New York Times, Charles Blow wants Democrats to repeal Clinton’s welfare reform.

Clinton’s record, particularly with respect to Black and brown Americans and the poor, was marked by catastrophic miscalculation. …the welfare reform bill, …Clinton promised would “end welfare as we know it.” One of its central provisions was block-grant assistance to the states. …the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out in 2020, the block grant to states “has been set at $16.5 billion each year since 1996; as a result, its real value has fallen by almost 40 percent due to inflation.” …With the passage of the “American Rescue Plan,” the Democrats, alone, took another major step away from the mistakes of the Clinton legacy by increasing aid to families with children and to workers.

Reading the column, it seems like blacks must have suffered immensely because of the 40 percent reduction in the block grant.

But now let’s consider whether welfare reform was a good thing.

According to the data, the answer is yes. This chart, based on the Census Bureau’s data (specifically Table B-5), shows that the poverty rate for African Americans has declined since welfare reform was enacted.

To be sure, one could argue that the post-welfare reform decline was simply a continuation of a positive trend. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s certainly no evidence that the 1996 legislation led to bad results.

Moreover, research from the Brookings Institution makes a persuasive case that welfare reform deserves credit for some of the post-1996 progress.

Why? Because it sent a message – both practically and rhetorically – that permanent dependence on Uncle Sam was a bad thing. As a result, more people entered the workforce and poverty dropped.

That seems like a result that should be celebrated.

Unfortunately, Biden’s so-called American Rescue Plan contains big per-child handouts that are not dependent on being in the workforce.

The only silver lining to that dark cloud is that the handouts are only for 2021.

But the pro-redistribution crowd already is clamoring to make that provision a permanent giveaway. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, they want to “restore welfare as we knew it.”

P.S. Based on what I’ve read in his columns, Charles Blow is a hard-core leftist on economic issues. But he’s semi-reasonable on gun rights, so that’s one point in his favor.

P.P.S. Welfare reform is just one example of the good policies that were enacted during the Clinton years.

P.P.P.S. We can learn lessons about welfare and dependency by looking at data from Europe and Canada.

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Thanks to globalization (as opposed to globalism), jobs and investment are now very mobile. This means the costs of bad policy are higher than ever before, and it also means the benefits of good policy are higher than ever before.

Which is why it’s very useful to look at various competitiveness rankings, most notably the ones that are comprehensive (most notably Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom).

But since my specialty is public finance, I’m also interested in measures of fiscal competitiveness (best tax system, worst tax system, costliest welfare state, etc).

Today, let’s narrow our focus and look at business tax competitiveness. This is an area where the United States traditionally has lagged, both because we used to have one of the world’s highest corporate tax rates and because onerous tax rules put U.S.-based companies at an added disadvantage.

Trump lowered the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, which definitely helped, but now Biden wants to push the rate back up to 28 percent.

What will that mean for U.S. competitiveness?

It’s not good news.

The Tax Foundation calculated the combined tax rate on business income (including the double tax on dividends) for various developed nations.

As you can see, America will have the most onerous tax regime if Biden is successful.

What if we look only at the corporate tax rate? And what if we consider every jurisdiction in the world?

Professor Robert McGee pulled together all the numbers and ranked nations from #1 to #223.

The United States currently is in the bottom half, which isn’t good since we’re below average. But you can see from these two tables that Biden will drop America to the bottom 10 percent.

Needless to say, it’s not good to rank below France.

But let’s think of the glass as being 1/10th full rather than 9/10ths empty. At least the U.S. beats Venezuela!

The bottom line is that it will not be good news if Biden’s plan is enacted.

P.S. From Professor McGee’s study, here are the jurisdictions tied for 1st place.

P.P.S. Needless to say, politicians from high-tax nations resent the 15 jurisdictions that don’t have a corporate income tax.

Indeed, that’s why many of those politicians are pushing the “global minimum tax” that I wrote about yesterday.

Those politicians basically want to turn back the clock and reverse the progress depicted in this set of charts from the Tax Foundation.

P.P.S. This is why it’s important to defend the liberalizing process of tax competition.

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For the past couple of decades, I’ve been warning (over and over and over and over again) that politicians want to curtail tax competition so that it will be easier for them to increase tax burdens.

They’ve even been using an international bureaucracy – the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – in an effort to create a global high-tax cartel. Sort of an “OPEC for politicians.”

All of which would lead to “goldfish government.” Though “predatory government” also would be an accurate term.

The Obama Administration did not have a good track record on this issue, and neither did the Trump Administration.

Now the Biden Administration wants to be even worse. Especially if Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen continues to play a major role.

Here are some excerpts from a story in today’s Washington Post by Jeff Stein.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is working with her counterparts worldwide to forge an agreement on a global minimum tax on multinational corporations, as the White House looks for revenue… A key source of new revenue probably will be corporate taxes… Biden has said he would aim to raise potentially hundreds of billions more in revenue from big businesses. …tax experts…say raising the rate could damage U.S. competitiveness. …Yellen is working…through an effort at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in which more than 140 countries are participating. The goal is for countries to agree in principle to a minimum corporate tax rate… “A global minimum tax could stop the destructive global race to the bottom…,” Yellen told U.S. senators during her confirmation process. …The impact of the falling international tax rate has hit the United States as well, constraining lawmakers’ ambitions to approve new domestic programs.

Needless to say, any type of tax harmonization is a bad idea, and it is an especially bad idea to impose a minimum rate on a tax that does so much economic damage.

Here are four points that deserve attention.

  1. Higher corporate tax burdens will be bad news for workers, consumers, and investors.
  2. Regarding the so-called race to the bottom, even the IMF and OECD have admitted that lower corporate tax rates have not led to lower corporate tax revenue.
  3. Once politicians impose a global agreement for a minimum corporate tax rate, they will then start increasing the rate.
  4. Politicians also will then seek agreements for minimum tax rates on personal income, capital gains, and dividends.

I also want to cite one more passage from the article because it shows why the business community will probably lose this battle.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it supports a “multilateral” approach to the problem but is “extremely concerned”.

I don’t mean to be impolite, but the lobbyists at the Chamber of Commerce must be morons to support the OECD’s multilateral approach. It was obvious from the beginning that the goal was to grab more revenue from companies.

I’m tempted to say the companies that belong to the Chamber of Commerce deserve to pay higher taxes, but the rest of us would suffer collateral damage. Instead, maybe we can come up with a special personal tax on business lobbyists and the CEOs that hire them?

Let’s wrap this up. The Wall Street Journal opined on the issue this morning.

As you might expect, the editors have a jaundiced view.

Handing out money is always popular, especially when there appear to be no costs. Enjoy the moment because the costs will soon arrive in the form of tax increases. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen put that looming prospect on the table… The Treasury Secretary is also floating a global minimum tax on corporations, which would reduce the tax competition among countries that is a rare discipline on political tax appetites.

Amen. The WSJ understands that tax competition is a vital and necessary constraint on the greed of politicians.

P.S. Even OECD economists have acknowledged that tax competition helps to curtail excessive government.

P.P.S. Though an occasional bit of good research does not change the fact that the OECD is a counterproductive international bureaucracy that advocates for statist policy.

P.P.P.S. To add insult to injury, American taxpayers finance the biggest portion of the OECD’s budget.

P.P.P.P.S. To add insult upon insult, OECD bureaucrats get tax-free salaries while pushing for higher taxes on everyone else.

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There are several false narratives about economic history, involving topics ranging from the recent financial crisis to 19th-century sweatshops.

But probably the biggest falsehood, as explained in this video by Prof. Lee Ohanian, is the notion that big government saved us from the Great Depression.

The only shortcoming of Ohanian’s video is that he’s analyzing just one of President Roosevelt’s mistakes.

Yes, it is very important to explain why FDR’s corporatism was profoundly misguided, but we also should recognize that he had terrible fiscal policy as well.

Roosevelt had two competing camps of advisers on the budget, one of which wanted to borrow and spend, while the other wanted to tax and spend. Sadly, both groups enjoyed plenty of victories.

With so many policy mistakes, we shouldn’t be surprised that the economy remained mired in a depression for an entire decade.

What’s tragic is that most of that suffering could have been avoided if FDR and his appointees simply remembered how President Harding a dozen years earlier had cut taxes and spending to rescue the economy from a deep downturn.

Let’s look at some additional analysis.

Writing for CapX, Tim Worstall explains how FDR’s blundering made things worse, especially compared to what happened in the United Kingdom.

…what caused the Great Depression was a series of bad political choices… The British…government cut spending and things turned out rather better than that in the US. …the much worse American experience was a direct result of the huge expansion of government. Far from saving the US economy, Roosevelt’s various interventions actually prolonged the agony. …The Depression was over in the UK by 1934. …the American disaster toiled on rather longer. So, what were the big differences? …the UK cut state spending… FDR boosted the role of the federal government in many ways. …the National Recovery Administration, which was a disastrous attempt at managing prices. …the imposition of cartels upon both business and agriculture. This suite of ill-advised measures delayed the recovery.

The only good news is that we didn’t get a resuscitation of those policies after World War II, which meant the economy had a chance to finally recover.

So what’s the moral of the story?

As Larry Reed wrote for the Foundation for Economic Education, the Great Depression was caused by a series of foolish interventions by politicians in Washington, and we need to remember that lesson so we don’t repeat the mistakes of history.

The history of the Great Crash and subsequent Depression provides a sad litany of policy blunders in Washington. Altogether, they needlessly caused and prolonged the pain; roller coaster monetary policy, sky-high tariff hikes, massive tax increases, government-supervised destruction of foodstuffs, gold seizures, price-fixing regulations, soaring deficits and debt, special favors to organized labor that stifled investment and boosted unemployment. …myths and misconceptions about our most calamitous economic episode abound. Fortunately, recent scholarship is slowly changing that. The simplistic, error-filled assumption that free markets failed and government rescued us—once conventional “wisdom”—no longer gets by unquestioned.

For further information on the Great Depression and bad government policy, you can watch other videos here and here.

P.S. Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell both have written on the issue as well.

P.P.S. With regards to economic policy, FDR was an awful president. And he would have been even worse had he succeeded in pushing through his plan for a 100 percent top tax rate and his proposal for a so-called economic bill of rights.

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Over the years, I’ve shared many amusing memes and cartoons about minimum wage laws.

But this one, based on a skit from The Eric Andre Show, may be the best of all.

Not because it’s making a different point than the others, but because what has just happened in Southern California.

Local politicians in a couple of cities recently mandated higher wages (labeled “hero pay”) for workers in grocery stores.

The immediate consequences of that legislation provide a clear-cut example of why it is so foolish for politicians to mandate levels of pay that make it unprofitable to operate a business.

Let’s look at a couple of news reports.

We’ll start with a story from the local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. Here are some excerpts.

Kroger is closing three more of its stores in Los Angeles after the city passed a “hero pay” ordinance mandating a $5 pay bump for grocery and pharmacy workers. …“It’s never our desire to close a store, but when you factor in the increased costs of…an extra pay mandate that will cost nearly $20 million over the next 120 days, it becomes impossible to operate these three stores,” Kroger said in a statement.

The same thing is happening in nearby Long Beach.

Ralphs and Food 4 Less recently announced that they will be closing two…stores in Long Beach after Mayor Robert Garcia approved a city ordinance that would impose a $4 “hero pay” salary boost… “As a result of the City of Long Beach’s decision to pass an ordinance mandating Extra Pay for grocery workers, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close long-struggling store locations in Long Beach,” said a company spokesperson. …The permanent closures will happen on April 17 for long-struggling locations and will impact nearly 200 employees between the two locations.

What happened in Los Angeles and Long Beach is obviously a lesson in economics.

But it’s also a lesson in politics.

I’m guessing that most of the local politicians knew that they would be throwing many people into the unemployment line when they mandated “hero pay,” but they simply didn’t care.

What mattered to them is that they got headlines for “caring” when they enacted the legislation. They don’t care about the unintended (but very predictable) consequences.

Which is yet another reason we should have a very low opinion of politicians.

P.S. If you want more memes and cartoons about the minimum wage, click here, here, here, here, and here.

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Two years ago, I shared a study from three scholars that investigated whether membership in the European Union (EU) is associated with better economic performance.

Before reading that study, I assumed that EU membership was bad news for rich countries with decent economic policy (hence my support for Brexit), but I figured it was a good idea for poor countries with not-so-good policy.

I may have been wrong about the latter. The authors found that “EU membership has no impact on economic growth” and that “EU entry seems to have reduced economic growth.”

Ouch.

But I’m always interested in seeing new research on this topic.

So I was delighted to read a new report published by the European Liberal Forum.* Written by Constantinos Saravakos, Emmanuel Schizas, Mara Vidali, Angela De Martiis, and Giorgio Vernoni, it also seeks to ascertain if there is a link between EU membership and economic liberty.

…this publication seeks to examine whether a trajectory towards EU membership is a driver for more economic freedom. The key research question is if European Union economic policies promote economic freedom. The answer in this question is essential…because an economic environment based on market economy has a positive relationship with several prosperity outcomes. …Taking into account the huge EU enlargement that took place since 2004, when 13 countries have accessed the Union, and the on process enlargement with several formal or informal candidates, the analysis focuses on whether the structural reforms required for a country to become a member of EU contribute to economic freedom, covering the period from 2000 to 2017. …our research considers the relationship between a country’s Economic Freedom of the World index score (and sub-index scores) and its progress along the EU accession process.

Contrary to the study I wrote about two years ago, they find that countries have benefited from membership.

…as a country approaches EU membership status, then economic freedom, as proxied by the proximity to the EFW frontier, increases by at least 0.2, and this effect is associated with the process of accession…the main channel by which EU accession might contribute positively to a candidate or member state’s economic freedom is by boosting the freedom to trade… The present study provides empirical evidence of a link between the EU accession process and the aim of promoting economic freedom.

Here’s a chart from the report, which certainly suggests that something good is happening in the European Union.

Economic freedom, on average, has increased for the 28 nations of the EU since 2000 (based on a 1-10 scale).**

But when I looked at that chart, I wondered what we were really seeing.

Most notably, I was curious what we would find if we looked at the the nations of Western Europe, the ones that used to be known as the EU-15 before the bloc was enlarged (13 new countries have joined this century, mostly from Eastern Europe).**

So I went to the same source, Economic Freedom of the World, to measure what’s happened in those countries. Lo and behold, the average level of economic liberty has declined (which didn’t surprise me since I found something similar when I crunched some data back in 2016).

This doesn’t mean we should necessarily conclude that EU membership is bad for prosperity, but I’m not optimistic.

When I talk to pro-EU friends, here are some questions I ask:

  • Would Eastern European nations have liberalized their economies without becoming part of the EU?
  • Since Western European nations wield most of the power inside the EU, is it worrisome that they are becoming more statist in their orientation?
  • What are the implications for EU nations of demographic change (aging populations and falling birthrates)?
  • Will the EU’s nascent transfer union lead to more economic liberalization or less economic liberalization?

The bottom line is that I don’t think there are encouraging answers to these questions. Which is why we can expect that Europe will continue to fall behind the United States (which makes it rather odd that President Biden wants to make the USA more like the EU).

*In Europe, liberal means pro-market “classical liberalism” rather than the entitlement-based American version.

**The United Kingdom has now escaped the EU, but it was part of the bloc during the periods being measured.

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Government schools in America are a national disgrace.

Every year, we throw more money into the system and every year we get back mediocre results.

The numbers are especially depressing when you compare how other nations get better outcomes while having significantly lower levels of per-pupil spending.

Given this grim situation, I’m always on the lookout for analysis that can help us figure out how to make things better.

Though some people seemingly want to make things worse.

In an article for the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan reveals how elite private schools have become high-pressure pathways for entrance to elite colleges. It’s a fascinating – and even disturbing – look at the life of people (mostly) in the top-1 percent.

But what grabbed my attention was her conclusion. She accurately observes that government schools do a crappy job, but then suggests that high-performing private schools are the problem.

In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item. …We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle. …Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken. In my own state of California, only half of public-school students are at grade level in reading, and even fewer are in math. …Shouldn’t the schools that serve poor children be the very best schools we have?

At the risk of understatement, this point of view (the article’s headline in the print edition is “Private Schools Are Indefensible”) is utterly perverse.

If we know that private schools do a better job (and not just the super-elite schools discussed in the article), then the ethical answer should be to get rid of the government school monopoly and adopt a system of school choice so that the children of non-rich families also have an opportunity to get a quality education.

That would be good for kids and it would be good for taxpayers (we’re spending record amounts of money on the failed government school monopoly, so turning that money into vouchers would provide enough funding for families to afford the vast majority of private schools).

But this brings up another issue. What if leftists aren’t just against private education? What if they also object to any sort of system where better students get better outcomes?

Chester Finn of the Hoover Institution wrote a column last November for the Wall Street Journal about the efforts to undermine the tiny handful of high-performing government schools.

Nationwide, selective-admission public schools, also known as “exam schools,” are under attack… Much like elite universities, critics allege, these schools have been admitting far too many whites and Asians and not nearly enough blacks and Latinos. …in New York, …admission…is governed by the eighth-grader’ scores on a specialized admission test. …there’s no denying that they’re full of Asian and white kids, many from low-income and middle-class families. …Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor have recently pushed to make the admissions process more “equitable.” They want to…abolish the entry exam…[i]nstead of repairing the elementary and middle schools attended by poor and minority kids… Consider another furor in Virginia, over admission to the esteemed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, regularly ranked the country’s top high school by U.S. News. Thomas Jefferson is in such demand that it can accept fewer than 1 in 6 applicants. …The Fairfax County superintendent and board last month moved to abolish the qualification exam… the remedies being sought in every case are wrongheaded. …School systems…have to face the reality that some kids are smarter and more motivated than others, no matter their color. That’s anathema to “progressive” reformers, who prefer to abolish accelerated classes for high achievers. …The progressive assault on education in the name of equity ends up denying smart kids from every background the kind of education that will assist them to make the most of their abilities.

I’m almost at a loss for words.

For all intents and purposes, our friends on the left would rather have everyone be mediocre than allow some students to succeed.

  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending private school.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending so-called exam schools.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by taking accelerated classes.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending charter schools.
  • They don’t want some kid to succeed by being home-schooled.

This hostility to achievement is reprehensible.

Part of it is probably motivated by a cynical attempt to appease teacher unions.

And part of it is presumably the ideological belief in equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, even if the net result is that all students are worse off (the same perverse instinct that leads them to support economic policies that hurt the poor so long as the rich get hurt more).

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Exactly one month ago, I declared that Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley deserved an award for the “world’s most economically illiterate statement” because of her claim that “poverty is not naturally occurring.”

In reality, poverty has been the norm throughout history. As documented by Professors Deirdre McCloskey and Don Boudreaux, it was only the development of capitalism (starting a few hundred years ago in Europe) that enabled humanity to enjoy amazing and unprecedented increases in living standards.

Moreover, Ms. Pressely was trying to argue that redistribution was the proper way to address poverty, and I concluded my column by noting “that part of her statement also is wrong, according to both U.S. data and global data.”

Today, I want to debunk another preposterous assertion.

David Smith of the U.K.-based Guardian wrote a column yesterday claiming that Biden’s so-called stimulus should be celebrated since it marks an end to forty years of Reaganomics.

…he will…be on a mission to restore faith in government. Confidence in it “has been plummeting since the late 60s to what it is now”, Biden noted in his remarks last week. His legislation, called the American Rescue Plan, can correct that with the biggest expansion of the welfare state in decades. …Biden knows better than anyone what that means. When he was born, in 1942, the president was Franklin Roosevelt, architect of the New Deal… When Biden was a student at the University of Delaware, Lyndon Johnson embarked on his project of the “Great Society”… Then came Ronald Reagan and his famous quip: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” …He described Johnson’s “Great Society” as a fundamental wrong turn and set about dismantling it. …This orthodoxy held and dominated the political centre ground. …Biden’s could hardly be more of a polar opposite. …All the more reason to enjoy his victory lap and celebrate that four decades of Reaganism and “trickle down” economics are at an end.

Some of that political analysis is reasonable. FDR’s failed New Deal did expand government, as did LBJ’s failed War on Poverty.

And it’s also true that Reagan challenged their big-government orthodoxy and was somewhat successful in reining in the welfare state (“dismantling it” is a huge exaggeration, however).

But the author’s claim that there were “four decades of Reaganism” is breathtaking nonsense.

  • George H.W. Bush expanded the burden of government.
  • George W. Bush expanded the burden of government.
  • Barack Obama expanded the burden of government.
  • Donald Trump expanded the burden of government.

That’s 24 years of statist policies after Reagan left office.

If Mr. Smith actually knew the subject matter and wanted to write an honest article, he could have made an argument about 16 years of Reaganism because we also benefited from a net reduction in the burden of government during Clinton’s eight years in office.

But the 21st century has been nothing but bad news for proponents of free markets. If you peruse Economic Freedom of the World, you’ll find that America’s level of economic freedom peaked in 2000 with a score of 8.67 (on a 1-10 scale).

Now the score for the United States has dropped to 8.22.

By the way, that’s not catastrophically bad. There’s no immediate risk of America becoming another Greece. And we’ll presumably never turn into Venezuela, no matter how hard Biden tries (it wouldn’t even happen if Vice President Harris took over).

That being said, what we’ve endured over the past two decades definitely is not Reaganism. The “Washington Consensus” is just a distant memory.

P.S. David Smith’s article is an example of sloppy journalism at a left-wing newspaper, but I’ll always have a bit of fondness for the Guardian because of the unintended compliment it bestowed upon me back in 2009.

P.P.S. For younger readers who did not experience the Reagan years, here’s my assessment of his record and here are some videos of some of his iconic remarks (and here’s a bonus video).

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Two days ago, I shared data showing that people in the big nations of Western Europe only have about 75 cents of income for every $1 that Americans earn.

That’s a remarkable gap, and it’s getting larger rather than smaller, even though theory says that shouldn’t happen.

But what’s even more shocking is that a poor person in the United States would be middle class in most European nations.

And a low-income person in America is better off than the average European.

When I see numbers like this (and lots of other data I have shared over the years, all of which tells the same story), I have two reactions.

  • First, I want to laugh at anyone who thinks Europeans have a better distribution of income.
  • Second, I want to scream at anyone who things we should copy the European economic policy.

But my laughing and screaming obviously has no effect because Washington politicians are poised to enact a giant expansion of the welfare state.

And there’s plenty of support for this risky concept from both Democrats and Republicans.

On the GOP side, Senator Mitt Romney has proposed a big tax increase to pay for a big increase in redistribution spending in the form of universal handouts for families with children, an idea that I criticized early last month.

And Oren Cass, a former campaign aide for Romney, has a slightly different plan to impose higher taxes to fund handouts for families with children. I recently critiqued that plan in an article co-authored with Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center. Here’s some of what we wrote.

…the proposal for a Family Income Supplemental Credit (Fisc) from Oren Cass and Wells King is misguided, mostly because it would raise tax rates and expand the burden of government spending. …the Fisc would cost $200 billion annually. …$80 billion per year, would be financed with tax increases. …this fact alone should make the Fisc a non-starter as a matter of fiscal policy. …Income tax rates already are too high, and President Biden wants to raise them further. Self-styled conservatives should not be aiding and abetting the push for class-warfare taxation by adding to the collection of proposed tax-rate increases on workers, investors, entrepreneurs, and business owners. …it would be desirable for families to have more economic opportunity and financial security. However, it doesn’t follow that conservatives should support subsidizing child-bearing and -rearing. We do not think copying Europe and imposing more redistribution is the right approach. Americans enjoy far-higher living standards than people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, thanks in part to our smaller fiscal burden.

As you might expect, folks on the left are very excited about expanding the welfare state.

Biden’s so-called stimulus plan also contains a big one-time handout to households with children (with proponents hoping the lure of free cash will lead those households to demand that Washington make such giveaways a permanent part of American life).

Scott Winship of the American Enterprise Institute pours cold water on all the above proposals. Except he focuses not on fiscal policy, but on the fact that these schemes will subsidize dependency and encourage out-of-wedlock births – thus undermining the very successful welfare reform of the 1990s.

A child allowance would send unconditional cash benefits to nearly all families on a per-child basis.Child allowances run a very real risk of encouraging more single parenthood and more no-worker families, both of which could worsen entrenched poverty in the long run—an overreliance on government transfers, poverty over longer stretches of childhood, intergenerational poverty, and geographically concentrated poverty. …Poverty among the children of single parents fell from 50 percent in the early 1980s to 15 percent today, with an especially sharp decline during the 1990s. This was a period in which policy reforms encouraged work, by imposing time limits and work requirements on receipt of cash welfare and expanding benefits to low-income workers. …We should strive to reduce child poverty further, but it matters how we do so. Reducing this year’s poverty while exacerbating entrenched poverty and reversing the progress we have made since welfare reform would be a hollow victory indeed. So much the worse if a child allowance leads to irresistible calls for a universal basic income, which would also increase nonwork among the childless.

Michael Barone is similarly perplexed that lawmakers are so intent on reversing the progress of welfare reform.

When public policies have produced disastrous results, and when alternative policies have resulted in immediate, seemingly miraculous improvement, why would anyone want to go back to the earlier policies? …births to unwed mothers and welfare dependency rose…from 1965 to 1975, violent crime and welfare dependency, both heavily concentrated among blacks, nearly tripled — tripled. For two more decades, crime and welfare dependency remained at the same high levels, sometimes zooming higher. …Reform, first by Thompson in Wisconsin and then by Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton in the 1996 welfare bill, required mothers to work. Social workers’ focus was changed from handing out more checks to helping moms get and hold jobs. The results: Welfare rolls plummeted; teen births plunged; kids raised by working moms did better in school and in life. Liberals have tried to stealthily roll back the reforms. They’ve been joined by some cultural conservatives, worried about population decline… These include Sen. Mitt Romney, who supports a child allowance that is fully refundable — which is to say that government will send a check to parents, married or unmarried… A version of this, limited to one year, has been inserted in the “COVID relief” bill of President Joe Biden’s administration. A single parent with two kids, working or not, could qualify for $7,200 a year plus $6,400 in food stamps. …Mickey Kaus…argues that…”(A) large subset of recipients will go from one worker to zero workers.” That means “millions of kids growing up in fatherless homes, where nobody goes into the labor force, where the mainstream world of employment is a foreign country.” Past experience says he’s right and that…the people most hurt will be black Americans.

So is there a real danger that per-child handouts will become law?

The obvious answer is yes since they are included in Biden’s faux stimulus.

But that’s just a one-year giveaway. It’s unclear whether households will get addicted to that free cash and thus demand that the handouts get extended (based on my Second Theorem of Government, I’m pessimistic).

Robert VerBruggen has some polling data on this topic.

Here’s how he characterized the results.

So, what does the average person think…? The 2019 American Family Survey, a poll covering 3,000 adults from the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, tested four different child tax credit proposals… The results give us a sense of how the public—and some key segments of it—see the issue. Interestingly, none of the ideas had majority support… Nearly half of Americans can support a credit sold as tax relief that’s either broad-based (CTC1) or targeted to the lower-income (CTC3), but an across-the-board handout to parents just for being parents (CTC4) can’t even garner one-third support. …the major takeaways are these: 1) The child tax credit, in general, is not as popular as one might think — even in questions that don’t mention the taxes needed to pay for it, it never manages a majority; and 2) despite some energy on the pro-family intellectual right for flat, universal child allowances (CTC4), Republicans and even independents among the general public are really not fond of the idea.

This data is semi-encouraging. I’m definitely glad people are suspicious of big per-child handouts. And I suspect opposition will grow when people learn about the European-style taxes that would be needed to finance such a huge giveaway.

But it doesn’t help the fight for sensible policy when some self-styled conservatives advocate for big expansions of the welfare state – especially when such ideas inevitably will erode societal capital.

P.S. As indicated by the above excerpt, Scott Winship’s article concludes with a warning that universal per-child handouts could be the camel’s nose under the tent for a “basic income,” which is the crazy notion that government should give everyone money. That’s an additional reason to reject the idea, as even Joe Biden once realized.

P.P.S. Some proponents use the term “child tax credit” to describe per-child handouts, but that’s disingenuous at best. A handout doesn’t magically become a tax cut just because the recipient happens to pay tax. Moreover, the handouts in these proposals generally are “refundable,” which is simply fiscal jargon for handouts that also go to people who don’t pay any tax.

P.P.P.S. The real-world evidence casts considerable doubt on the notion that per-child handouts will increase birthrates.

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We have decades of real-world experience with Keynesian economics. The results are not pretty.

It’s also worth pointing out that Keynesians have been consistently wrong with predicting economic damage during periods of spending restraint.

  • They were wrong about growth after World War II (and would have been wrong, if they were around at the time, about growth when Harding slashed spending in the early 1920s).
  • They were wrong about Thatcher in the 1980s.
  • They were wrong about Reagan in the 1980s.
  • They were wrong about Canada in the 1990s.
  • They were wrong after the sequester in 2013.
  • They were wrong about unemployment benefits in 2020.

This story needs to be told, again and again, especially since we’re now going to have another real-world test case thanks to President Biden’s so-called American Rescue Plan.

I just wrote a column on Biden’s proposal for the Foundation for Economic Education, and it is co-authored by Robert O’Quinn, who most recently served as the Chief Economist at the Department of Labor.

We started by pointing out that Biden is basically copying Trump’s big-spending approach, but with a different justification (Keynesianism instead of coronavirus).

Mr. Biden is bringing a new twist to the profligacy. Instead of trying to justify the new spending by saying it is needed to compensate households and businesses for government-mandated lockdowns, he is making the Keynesian argument that the new spending is a way of stimulating the economy. The same approach was used when he was Vice President, of course, but did not yield positive results. …Mr. Biden and his team apparently think the anemic results were a consequence of not spending enough money. Hence, the huge $1.9 trillion price tag for his plan. Will his approach work? …We can learn about economic recovery today by reviewing what happened during the Great Recession earlier this century and what happened at the end of World War II.

We explain the causes of the previous recession and point out that Obama’s so-called stimulus didn’t work.

…the Great Recession…was the result of an unsustainable housing bubble caused by overly accommodative monetary policy from the Federal Reserve and misguided housing policies. …it took years to clean up the mess from the bursting of the housing bubble. Households slowly rebuilt their savings and cleaned up their balance sheets. …Banks had to work out problem loans and rebuild their capital… Obama’s stimulus did not drive that healing process and spending more money would have done little to accelerate it.

And we also point out that the economy recovered very quickly after World War II, even though the Keynesians predicted disaster in the absence of a giant new package such as Truman’s 21-Point Program (his version of FDR’s horrible vision of an entitlement society).

Keynesians feared that demobilization would throw the US economy into a deep depression as federal spending was reduced. Paul Samuelson even wrote in 1943 that a failure to come up with alternative forms of government spending would lead to “the greatest period of unemployment and industrial dislocation which any economy has ever faced.” …President Harry Truman proposed “a 21-Point Program for the Reconversion Period” shortly after the war ended. But his plan, which was basically a reprise of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, was largely ignored by Congress. Did the economy collapse, as the Keynesians feared? Hardly. …Spared a repeat of FDR’s interventionism, the economy enjoyed strong growth. One of the big tailwinds for growth is that the forced savings accumulated during the war years allowed consumers to go on a peacetime buying binge.

That last sentence in the above excerpt is key because 2021 is a lot like 1945. Back then, households had lots of money in the bank (wartime rationing and controls meant there wasn’t much to buy), which helped trigger the post-war boom.

Something similar is about to happen, as we explain in the column.

The current economic conditions are somewhat reminiscent of the ones that existed after World War II. The limited ability to spend money during the pandemic has helped boost the personal saving rate…  In aggregate terms, personal saving soared from $1.2 trillion in 2019 to $2.9 trillion in 2020. …pent-up demand funded with more than $1 trillion in excess savings will resuscitate…GDP.

So what does all this mean? Well, the good news is that 2021 is going to be a very good year for the economy. That’s already baked into the cake.

The bad news is that Biden is taking advantage of the current political situation to increase the burden of government spending.

…the economy prospered after World War II despite (or perhaps because of) the failure of Mr. Truman’s 21-point proposal. President Biden’s team is either unaware of this history, or they simply do not care. Perhaps they simply want to take advantage of the current environment to reward key constituencies. Or they may be trying to resuscitate the tattered reputation of Keynesian economics by spending a bunch of money so they can take credit for an economic recovery that is already destined to happen.

Since I gave the good news and bad news, I’ll close with the worse news.

There’s every reason to expect very strong growth in 2021, but Biden’s spending binge means that future growth won’t be as robust

  • Especially since the economy also is saddled with lots of wasteful spending by Bush, Obama, and Trump.
  • And especially if Biden is able to push through his agenda of higher taxes on work, saving, and investment.

The bottom line is that the United States is becoming more like Europe and the economic data tells us that means less prosperity and lower living standards.

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I periodically write about the importance of long-run growth and about the importance of convergence (whether poorer countries are catching up with richer countries, as suggested by theory).

This is because such data, especially over decades, teaches us very important lessons about the policies that are most likely to generate prosperity.

I’m revisiting these issues today because John Cochrane, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former professor of economics at the University of Chicago, recently wrote a column that contains a must-see chart showing how some of the major European nations have been losing ground to the United States over the past several decades.

The main thing to understand is that European nations were catching up to the United States after World War II, which is what one would expect.

But that trend came to a halt about 40 years ago and now these nations are suffering divergence instead of enjoying convergence.

Here’s some of Cochrane’s analysis.

…the US is 54% better off than the UK.. France…50% less than US. …the US is 96% better off than Italy. …And it’s been getting steadily worse. France got almost to the US level in 1980. And then slowly slipped behind. The UK seems to be doing ok, but in fact has lost 5 percentage points since the early 2000s peak. And Italy… Once noticeably better off than the UK, and contending with France, Italy’s GDP per capita is now lower than it was in 2000. GDP per capita is income per capita. The average European is about a third or more worse off than the average American, and it’s getting worse.

What’s most remarkable, as I wrote about back in 2014, is that the gap between the United States and Europe is “getting worse.”

Cochrane wonders if this is evidence against the European Union’s free-trade rules.

This should be profoundly unsettling for economists. Everyone thinks free trade is a good thing. The European union, one big integrated market, was supposed to ignite growth. It did not. The grand failure of the world’s biggest free trade zone really is a striking fact to gnaw on. Sure, other things are not held constant. Perhaps what should have been the world’s biggest free trade zone became the world’s biggest regulatory-stagnation, high-tax, welfare-state disincentive zone. Still, “it would have been even worse” is a hard argument to make.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s “a hard argument to make”. I’ve pointed out – over and over again – that Europe’s reasonably good policies in some areas are more than offset by really bad fiscal policy.

Think of the different types of economic policy as classes for a student. If a kid flunks one class, that’s going to produce a sub-par grade point average even if there was good marks in all the other classes.

That’s what has happened on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Europe is suffering the consequences of a stifling tax burden and an onerous burden of government spending.

Besides, I suspect some of the benefits of free trade inside the European Union are offset by the damage of the E.U.’s protectionist barriers against trade with the rest of the world.

P.S. Some people may wonder why Germany was not included in Cochrane’s chart. I assume that’s because the reunification of West Germany and East Germany about 30 years ago creates a massive discontinuity in the data. For those interested, Germany is slightly better off than France and the U.K., according to the Maddison data, but still lagging well behind the United States.

P.P.S. Speaking of Germany, the divergence between East Germany and West Germany teaches an obvious lesson.

P.P.P.S. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that America started out-performing Europe after Reaganomics was implemented.

P.P.P.P.S One obvious takeaway from Cochrane’s data (though not obvious to President Biden) is that the United States should not be copying Europe. Unless, of course, one wants ordinary Americans to be much poorer.

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I mostly mock socialism, but its authoritarian cousin also is a good target for satire.

So here are some additions to our collection of communism humor.

I’m among the small minority of people who have never watched Game of Thrones, so I don’t know the backstory on these characters, but this meme has a very appropriate message about the nuclear-level naivete needed to believe Marx’s nonsense.

Though maybe the first frame should say “Readers of Teen Vogue.”

Next, we have a contribution from Babylon Bee.

It’s bad news that we’re suffering from a coronavirus that has killed several million people globally, but there’s another virus that has butchered 100 million people.

This next image reminds me of the joke about communism and electricity.

Per my tradition, here’s my favorite item from today’s collection.

I’m always very impressed by the people who are clever enough to create these Venn diagrams, and this one is better than most.

Though I’m tempted to ask who is worse, the soulless Marxist who rambles and can’t be reasoned with, or the people who rationalize, glorify, and justify Marxism?

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Two days ago, the Congressional Budget Office released its latest long-run fiscal forecast. The report focuses – incorrectly – on the growth of red ink.

And most of the people who have written about the report also have focused – incorrectly – on the rising levels of debt.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the report also contains lots of data on the variables – the spending burden and the tax burden – that should command our attention.

Here are four visuals from the report. We’ll start with Figure 7, which shows what will happen to spending and taxes over the next three decades. I’ve highlighted in red the most important numbers.

The right-most column gives you the big picture. The main takeaway (and it’s been this way for a while) is that more than 100 percent of America’s long-run fiscal problem is driven by the fact that government spending (“total outlays”) will consume a much greater share of our economic output.

The top-left of Figure 7 shows the growth of entitlement programs (which captures the fiscal problems of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid).

So lot’s look at Figure 9, which presents the same data in a different way.

The moral of the story is that America desperately needs genuine entitlement reform.

Why did I write above that government spending is responsible for “more than 100 percent of America’s long-run fiscal problem”?

Because, as depicted in Figure 11, there’s a built-in tax increase over the next three decades.

In other words, the fiscal mess in Washington is not the result of inadequate tax revenue.

Last but not least, Figure 13 is worth sharing because it shows how small differences in some variables can make a big difference over time. I’m especially interested in the top chart, which shows how slight differences in productivity (which determines the all-important variable of per-capita growth) have a big impact on long-run debt.

It would be preferable, of course, if the CBO report showed how greater productivity impacts both revenue and spending. We would see that faster growth generates more tax revenue (without raising tax rates) and reduces spending (people with good jobs are less likely to be dependent on government redistribution programs).

P.S. Yes, government debt matters. It matters in the short run because it’s a measure of how much private saving is being diverted to finance government. And it matters in the long run because excessive red ink can trigger a fiscal crisis when investors decide that a government no longer can be trusted to pay back lenders (see Greece, for instance). But we should never forget that it is excessive spending that drives the debt. Cure the disease of excessive spending and it is all but certain that you eliminate the symptom of red ink.

P.P.S. For what it’s worth, the United States is not Greece. At least not yet.

P.P.P.S. But we will be if there’s not some long-run spending restraint (an approach that worked in the 1800s), which almost certainly would require a spending cap.

P.P.P.P.S. There is zero evidence that tax increases would be successful. Indeed, that approach would make matters worse if history is any guide.

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Two years ago, I wrote about how two former Prime Ministers in the United Kingdom, David Cameron and Theresa May, did a very good job of restraining spending.

On average, spending increased by only 1.8 percent per year last decade, which helped to substantially reduce the fiscal burden of government relative to the private economy.

That was an impressive result, and it adds to the collection of success stories showing what happens when governments obey fiscal policy’s Golden Rule.

That was the good news.

The bad news is that spending restraint evaporated once the pandemic began.

The worse news is that the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has no intention of restoring fiscal discipline now that the coronavirus is fading away.

The Wall Street Journal opined on the new budget that was just released by the supposedly conservative government.

London has spent some £407 billion ($568 billion) on pandemic relief since last year… This has blown a hole in public finances, with the fiscal deficit expected to be around 10% of GDP this year. …Britain’s political class, and especially the governing Conservative party, …faces pressure to “pay for” all this relief. …an increase to the corporate profits tax rate to 25% from 19%…freezing previously announced increases in the thresholds for personal income-tax brackets. This tax hike on the sly is estimated to raise an additional £18 billion starting next year from beleaguered households who discover inflation pushing them into higher brackets. A holiday on the stamp duty on property purchases will expire in October, walloping households as the recovery is meant to begin. …The government’s Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that by 2026 tax revenue as a share of GDP will be 35%, the highest since 1969. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank, estimates that the additional £29 billion in annual revenue expected by 2026 amounts to the largest tax increase in any budget since 1993. …This Tory government came to power promising to unleash Britain’s entrepreneurial businesses for a post-Brexit growth spurt, and freeing those animal spirits is even more important after the pandemic. A super-taxing budget is a huge gamble.

The WSJ focused on all the tax increases.

Allister Heath’s column in the Daily Telegraph informs us that the bad news on taxes is a predictable and inevitable consequence of being weak on spending restraint.

For the past 50 years, the Tory party had believed that high tax rates, especially on income and profits, were bad for the economy and had strived to cut them. Today, this is no longer true… The Tory taboo on increasing direct rates of taxation…is over… Britain will continue its shift to the Left on economics, sinking ever-deeper into a social-democratic, low growth, European-style model… Johnson, sadly, is planning to increase spending permanently by two percentage points of GDP and taxes by one. He is a big-government Conservative… the main problem facing the public finances longer-term isn’t the economic scarring from the pandemic, but the fact that the Tories are determined to keep increasing spending as if Covid never happened. …Reaganomics is over in Britain, dead and buried, as is much of the economic side of Thatcherism.

Here’s a chart from the U.K.’s Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), which shows both taxes and spending as a share of gross domestic output (GDP).

I’ve added some text to show that there was fiscal progress under Thatcher, Cameron, and May, along with fiscal profligacy under Blair (and during the coronavirus, of course).

I also used OBR data to construct this chart, which shows inflation-adjusted spending over the past five decades, as well as projections until 2025.

The most worrisome part of the chart (and the biggest indictment of Boris Johnson) is the way spending climbs at a rapid rate in the final four years.

P.S. Because of my strong support for Brexit, I was very happy that Boris Johnson won a landslide victory in late 2019. And he then delivered an acceptable version of Brexit, so that worked out well. However, it definitely doesn’t look like he will fulfill my hopes of being a post-Brexit, 21st century version of Margaret Thatcher.

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The 2021 edition of the Index of Economic Freedom was released today (as I’ve repeatedly stated, it’s my favorite annual publication from the Heritage Foundation).

There are five things that merit attention

1. Hong Kong is no longer in first place. Indeed, it’s no longer even part of the rankings because the authors have determined that Hong Kong no longer has real sovereignty.

So that means Singapore is now the world’s most laissez-faire jurisdiction, followed by New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland.

Here are the top 30 nations.

I assume nobody will be surprised to learn that Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea are the three most economically repressive regimes.

2. Most Nordic nations rank above the United States. I highlighted Denmark’s better economic policy when writing about last year’s Index, but Iceland and Finland also rank ahead of America. And Sweden is just one spot behind the USA. Only Norway, cushioned by oil wealth, trails by a meaningful margin.

The United States has better fiscal policy than these countries, but that variable gets too much attention. In areas such as trade and red tape, the Nordic nations are generally more market oriented.

3. More economic freedom means more national prosperity. I’ve repeatedly made this point, but some people never seem to learn. Nonetheless, I’ll share this graph in hopes that data eventually triumphs over ideology.

4. I’m impressed by Taiwan and surprised by Spain. It’s obviously easy for a nation to improve when it starts with a low score. But it’s not easy to make a big jump if a country starts with a high score. So Taiwan’s appearance on the below list is an additional reason to be impressed by that nation’s pro-market orientation.

And, given my recent criticism of Spain, I’m surprised to see that nation made a big jump. I dug into the details and the improvements are in areas other than fiscal policy.

It’s good news, but not overly impressive, to see improvements by nations that start with very low scores.

5. Donald Trump did not deliver more economic liberty. When I point out Trump’s mixed performance, some people accuse me of being a curmudgeonly libertarian who unrealistically demands perfection.

Well, I am curmudgeonly and I am a libertarian, but I’m not alone in noticing Trump’s shortcomings. As you can see from the Heritage Foundation’s data for the United States, we have less economic liberty now than when Trump took office.

The bottom line is that Trump was no Ronald Reagan. On economic issues, he wasn’t even a Bill Clinton.

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Other than some clever examples of gallows humor, the only silver lining to coronavirus pandemic is that more people now understand that teacher unions are an obstacle to quality education.

This video hopefully will make that lesson apparent to everyone.

What a reprehensible person.

Needless to say, I don’t blame Mr. Meyer for putting his kid in a private preschool. And I won’t blame him if he then sends her to a private elementary school and a private high school.

After all, teachers in government schools presumably are very aware that private schools do a much better job than government schools.

But it’s total hypocrisy for him to take advantage of in-person schooling for his daughter while fighting to deny that option for parents who have no choice but to rely on government schools.

Sort of like Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton wanting higher taxes on the rest of us while coming up with a clever tax strategies to protect their money from the IRS.

But I’m digressing (which is understandable since our friends on the left can be very hypocritical).

Let’s get back to our main topic. The Daily Caller has an article about Mr. Meyer’s despicable hypocrisy.

Viral video footage shows a California teachers union president who led school closures dropping his daughter off at a private school. …“Meet Matt Meyer. White man with dreads and president of the local teachers’ union,” the group tweeted Saturday. “He’s been saying it is unsafe for *your kid* to be back at school, all the while dropping his kid off at private school.” …The video was filmed by Berkeley area parents who did not give their names out of fear of retaliation… The video sparked a backlash among parents who want their children to return to in-person learning as soon as possible.

A total hypocrite.

Just like Gregory Hutchings. Just like Elizabeth Warren. Just like Barack Obama. Just like Dan McCready. Just like Arne Duncan. Just like…well, you get the point.

Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with all of them opting to send their kids to private schools. Indeed, it’s what they should be doing given the subpar track record of government schools.

But it’s disgusting that they want to deny that same opportunity for parents who don’t have the same financial resources. Especially since minority children are the ones who suffer most.

P.S. It’s worth pointing out that this column is an attack on teacher unions, not teachers. For what it’s worth, the main argument for school choice is that it would be better for students. That being said, good teachers also would prosper in a choice-based system.

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The class-warfare crowd and tax lawyers don’t have a lot in common, but both groups oppose the flat tax. An even stranger unholy alliance involves the War on Drugs, which has the support of both the activists who despise drugs and the criminals who get rich selling drugs in the black market.

Professor Bruce Yandle explains this “bootleggers and baptists” phenomenon.

Professor Yandle, who is at Clemson University, even has a book on this topic, co-authored with Professor Adam Smith of Johnson & Wales University (no relation to has namesake, the author of The Wealth of Nations, at least to my knowledge).

One message of the book is that politicians often have noble-sounding reasons for the things they do, but closer investigation usually reveals that interest groups are the real beneficiaries.

In other words, the phenomenon of bootleggers and baptists is run-of-the-mill government corruption, an example of “public choice” in action.

What’s motivated me to write about this issue is a story from Petaluma, California. As reported by Axios, the city wants to ban new gas stations for the supposed purpose of fighting climate change.

Petaluma, California, has voted to outlaw new gas stations, the first of what climate activists hope will be numerous cities and counties to do so. …Expect more such ordinances, particularly in liberal towns. Grassroots groups are popping up with the mission of spreading this type of ban… “This is not a ban on the existing gas stations, which are providing all the gas currently needed,” Matt Krogh, U.S. oil and gas campaign director for the environmental group Stand.earth, tells Axios. …The city councilor who introduced the measure, D’Lynda Fischer, is quoted as saying: “The goal here is to move away from fossil fuels…” A Seattle-based group called Coltura, which aims to phase out gasoline altogether, is working on the issue locally and nationally. …In the 2020s, this is not the time to be expanding fossil fuel infrastructure,” Woody Hastings, co-coordinator of CONGAS, tells Axios. …He says his group has succeeded in blocking three applications to build new stations in Sonoma.

Given my views of climate activists, I don’t want to say this effort is noble. But I’m sure the average person might say this is a well-meaning crusade.

But let’s take a jaundiced look at what’s really happening. At the risk of being the skunk at a garden party, I’ll state that what’s happening, either in the town of Petaluma or in Sonoma County, will have zero impact on the climate.

But it could have a big impact on the owners of existing gas stations. They now have no reason to worry about new competitors. Which makes their gas stations more valuable and gives them greater leeway to raise prices.

Mr. Hastings, the climate activist quoted in the above excerpt, even acknowledged in the story that a ban would help existing stations.

“The problem with allowing new gas stations is we don’t really need them and they’re putting existing gas stations out of business.”

The bottom line is that consumers will lose because the government is limiting competition.

Which is good news for the bootleggers (the owners of gas stations that already exist) and the baptists (the green activists who feel good because they think they’re saving the planet).

P.S. There are countless examples of bootleggers and baptists working together in Washington.

The moral of the story is that it’s almost always insiders who benefit when politicians do something.

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