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Archive for June, 2021

The most powerful argument for school choice is that children from poor families will be more likely to get a high-quality education. After all, these are the kids most likely to be trapped in failing government schools.

But there are lots of secondary arguments for school choice.

Today, we’re going to add to this list by considering the current controversy over whether “critical race theory” should be taught in schools.

I won’t bother trying to put forth my own definition of CRT.

But, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing if kids learn that the United States (like all nations) has an imperfect history, while it’s wrong if kids are brainwashed into believing that they are either oppressors or victims simply because of skin color.

But what about people who think differently? Should I decide what schools teach, or should other people make those choices?

The right answer is that we don’t need a one-size-fits-all approach. Either mine or anyone else’s.

In a column for Reason, J.D. Tuccille says school choice is a way of letting parents pick the schools that best reflect their values.

…some states are banning the teaching of CRT—an approach that threatens to turn advocates of the ideology into free speech martyrs fighting the entrenched establishment. …families that choose how their children learn—my own included—rather than defaulting to government-run institutions…have largely escaped these battles. By homeschooling, or micro-schooling, or picking private or charter schools, we can avoid curricula permeated with ideas we find toxic… Parents that…support CRT also have alternatives to battling over the content of schoolroom lessons. They can introduce their tykes to Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby Picture Book, marinate their kids in CRT-infused homeschooling, or send them to one of many private schools that offer willing families an education steeped in the ideology. …if that’s what they want their kids to learn, let them do so in peace, and without zero-sum arguments about what children are taught in shared institutions.

Amen.

Critical race theory won’t be nearly so controversial if we let parents choose the type of education that’s best for their kids.

And the same is true for other contentious issues, ranging from phonics to prayer.

No wonder more and more states are shifting in the right direction on this issue.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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The best referendum result of 2020 (indeed, the best policy development of the year) was when the people of Illinois voted to preserve their flat tax, thus delivering a crushing defeat to the Prairie State’s hypocritical governor, J.B. Pritzker.

The worst referendum result of 2020 was when the people of Arizona voted for a class-warfare tax scheme that boosted the state’s top tax rate from 4.5 percent to 8 percent.

In one fell swoop, Arizona became a high-tax state for investors, entrepreneurs, innovators, and business owners. That was a very dumb choice, especially since there are zero-income tax states in the region (Nevada, Texas, and Wyoming), as well as two flat-tax states (Utah and Colorado).

You can see Arizona’s problem in this map from the Tax Foundation. It’s great to be grey and good to be yellow, but bad to be orange (like Arizona), red, or maroon.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that lawmakers in have just approved a plan that will significantly lower tax rates and restore the state’s competitiveness.

The Wall Street Journal opined this morning about this positive development.

Arizona currently taxes income under a progressive rate structure, starting at 2.59% up to 4.5%. The ballot last November carried an initiative to add a 3.5% surtax on earnings above $250,000 for single filers. It narrowly passed, meaning the combined top rate was set to hit 8%, higher than all of Arizona’s neighbors except California. …Mr. Ducey’s budget will cut rates for all taxpayers. The Legislature can’t repeal the voter-approved surtax, so above the 2.5% flat rate, there will still be a second bracket on income over $250,000. But the budget also has a provision adjusting the flat tax downward for those Arizonans, so no one will pay a top rate above 4.5%. …the same as today. …No Arizonan will have to pay the threatened 8% rate, since the provisions forestalling it are immediate. …“Every Arizonan—no matter how much they make—wins with this legislation,” Mr. Ducey said. “It will protect small businesses from a devastating 77 percent tax increase…and it will help our state stay competitive so we can continue to attract good-paying jobs.” That’s worth celebrating.

A story from the Associated Press gave the development a much more negative spin.

After slashing $1.9 billion in income taxes mainly benefiting upper-income taxpayers and shielding them from higher taxes approved by voters in an initiative last year, the Republican-controlled House returned Friday and passed more legislation targeting Proposition 208. The House approved the creation of a new tax category for small business, trusts and estates that will eliminate even more of the money that the measure approved by voters in November was designed to raise for schools. The proposal passed despite unified opposition from minority Democrats. …The governor has expressed disdain for the voter-approved tax, saying it would hurt the state’s economy and vowing in March to see it gutted either though Legislation or the courts. …The budget-approved tax cuts set a flat 2.5% tax on all income levels that will be phased in over several years once revenue projections are met, with those subject to the new education tax paying 4.5% at most.

If nothing else, an amusing example of bias from AP.

I have two modest contributions to this discussion.

First, it’s not accurate to say that Arizona adopted a flat tax. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but a flat tax has to have only one rate. Arizona’s reform is praiseworthy, but it doesn’t fulfill that key equality principle.

Second, the main takeaway is not that lawmakers did something good. It’s more accurate to say that they protected the state from something bad.

I’ve updated this 2018 visual to show how the referendum would have pushed Arizona into Column 5, which is the worst category, but the reform keeps the state in column 3.

P.S. North Carolina made the biggest shift in the right direction in recent years, followed by Kentucky, while Kansas flirted with a big improvement and settled for a modest improvement. Meanwhile, Mississippi is thinking about making a huge positive jump.

P.P.S. Since Arizona voters made a bad choice and Arizona lawmakers made a wise choice, this is evidence for Prof. Garett Jones’ hypothesis that too much democracy is a bad thing.

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I’ve been arguing against Biden’s proposed increase in business taxation by pointing out that higher corporate taxes will be bad news for workers, consumers, and shareholders.

Everyone agrees that shareholders get hurt. After all, they’re the owners of the businesses. Higher corporate taxes directly reduce the amount of money available to be paid as dividends.

But we also should recognize that higher corporate taxes can be passed along to consumers, so they also lose. Even more important, we should recognize that higher tax burdens also reduce incentives for business investment, and this can have a negative impact on worker compensation.

A 2017 study from the Tax Foundation, authored by Steve Entin, thoroughly explored this question and included a table summarizing the academic research.

Alex Durante updated the Tax Foundation’s summary of the research in a just-released report.

Here are the results of two new studies.

In a large study of German municipalities over a 20-year period, Fuest et al. (2018) find that slightly more than half of the corporate tax burden falls on workers. …Baker et al. (2020) find that consumers could also be impacted by corporate tax changes. Looking at specific product prices with linked survey and administrative data at the state level, the authors found that a 1 percentage-point increase in the corporate tax rate increased retail prices by 0.17 percent. Combining this estimate with the wage response estimated in Fuest et al., the authors calculated that 31 percent of the corporate tax incidence falls on consumers, 38 percent on workers, and 31 percent on shareholders.

If you want more information about the German study, I wrote about it a couple of years ago. Solid research.

Here’s my two cents on the issue: Shareholders pay 100 percent of the direct costs of the corporate tax. But we need to also consider the indirect costs, most notably who bears the burden when there’s less investment and slower wage growth.

If you ask five economists for their estimates of indirect costs, you’ll probably get nine different answers. So it’s no surprise that there’s no agreement about magnitudes in the academic research cited above.

But they all agree that workers lose when corporate rates increase, and that’s a big reason why we can confidently state that Biden’s class-warfare agenda is bad for ordinary people.

The bottom line is that the person (or business) writing a check to the IRS isn’t the only person who suffers because of a tax.

And the lesson to learn is that we should be lowering the corporate, not increasing it.

P.S. Here’s my primer on the overall issue of corporate taxation.

P.P.S. Here’s some research about the link between corporate tax and investment.

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The private sector reacted quickly (when allowed by sluggish and inefficient government) to the coronavirus pandemic. We quickly got everything from vaccines to personal protective equipment.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that politicians also reacted quickly.

The crowd in Washington used the crisis as an excuse to spend money. Lots of money.

This predictably led to lots of waste, fraud, and abuse.

But did it also help the economy? In other words, did the pandemic spending “stimulate” the private sector, as Keynesian economists have long claimed?

In a new study, Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center and Professor Garett Jones of George Mason University examined whether government spending has a “multiplier effect” that leads to additional prosperity.

Here’s the issue they investigated.

Since March 2020, Congress and two successive administrations have passed and signed into law five COVID-19 pandemic relief bailouts…  That adds up to almost $6 trillion in “emergency” federal spending… designed to save jobs that would have been lost or create jobs that would have gone uncreated otherwise. …this perspective fails to acknowledge the limits that this type of government intervention has in achieving the goal of pulling the economy out of recession. …According to the best available evidence, there are no realistic scenarios where the short-term benefit of stimulus is so large that the government spending pays for itself. In fact, even when government spending crowds in some private-sector activity, the positive impact is small, and much smaller than economic textbooks suggest. …the COVID-19 recession was driven by supply constraints on growth, not a lack of aggregate demand. …Both history and Keynesian-influenced economic theory teach that extra government spending per se cannot do much to overcome the effects of a supply shock.

And here are some of their conclusions.

The possibility that higher government spending, rather than increasing the size of the private sector, results in the private sector shrinking, is often omitted from the Keynesian theories that students learn in textbooks. Nevertheless, this kind of result turns up routinely in recent data-driven research. …evidence from the past few decades has seriously weakened (though not entirely defeated) the argument that expanding the government is a path to growing the private sector. …The outpouring of academic interest into Keynesian fiscal multipliers has ultimately led researchers to the view that those effects are even smaller than earlier supposed. …So even during recessions, even during times of high unemployment, high-quality statistical analysis of US economic history shows that extra government spending shrinks the private sector, at least a little. …The Keynesian idea that short-term government spending can reboot a crashed economy has not proven useful. …it is more like a myth.

And it’s a myth with a history of failure in the real world.

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.

P.S. Here’s a bit of satire about Keynesian economics.

P.P.S. If you want to enjoy some cartoons about Keynesian economics, click here, here, here, and here. Here’s some clever mockery of Keynesianism. And here’s the famous video showing the Keynes v. Hayek rap contest, followed by the equally enjoyable sequel, which features a boxing match between Keynes and Hayek. And even though it’s not the right time of year, here’s the satirical commercial for Keynesian Christmas carols.

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Time for some more humor about America’s most lovable minority.

We’ll start with a guy who must have raided his friend’s “jewelry box.”

Next, libertarians were in favor of Juneteenth, and not just because slavery was an awful policy of government.

For our third item, the Babylon Bee has an amusing story about nine warning signs that your kid is becoming a libertarian. Here are the ones I especially liked.

You should be closely involved in your teen’s life to make sure he doesn’t suddenly start believing in freedom and personal responsibility. Make sure to constantly check for these…warning signs: …2. He asks for his allowance in Bitcoin. – Dogecoin can also be a red flag. …4. You check under his mattress and sure enough, he’s been hiding the worst thing imaginable: a copy of Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. – Talk to your kids about Sowell before it’s too late. …6. You catch him texting girls “Taxation is theft.” – Always check your kids’ electronic devices so you can be alerted to these telltale signs of libertarianism. …8. You get a call from school that he got thrown out of economics class again for arguing with his teacher about the unsustainability of the U.S. Dollar and the failure of Keynesian economics. – Trouble at school might mean he’s been radicalized by the Austrian school of economics. …9. He has no friends. – This is perhaps the surest sign of all.

Next, here’s why people who pay taxes should be libertarians.

By the way, this isn’t satire. I actually wrote about this example of foolish government back in 2017.

The only good news – at least for American readers – is that this example of waste is from Canada.

As usual, I’ve saved the best for last. Here’s a worried left-wing parent dealing with a potentially rebellious child.

There is a debate about Rand’s contribution to the cause of liberty. I’m not an Objectivist or a Randian, but I think everyone should read Atlas Shrugged.

In any event, there is some good Rand-themed humor.

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Yesterday’s column explained why Biden’s proposed global cartel for corporate taxation was a bad idea.

In this clip from a recent panel hosted by the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna, I speculated on whether the plan would become reality.

I encourage you to watch the 4-minute video, but all you really need to know is that there are lots of obstacles to a cartel. Most notably, countries with pro-growth business tax regimes (such as Ireland, Estonia, and Switzerland in Europe) have big incentives to say no.

And if legislation is required in the United States, I assume that won’t be an easy sell, at least for GOP members.

But, as I warn in the video, the other side has hundreds of bureaucrats at the OECD and various finance ministries and treasury departments. And these taxpayer-financed mandarins have both the time and patience to chip away until they achieve their goals.

So it is critical that economists such as myself do a good job of educating policy makers about the adverse consequences of a tax cartel.

Which is why people should read this column by Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center. Here are some key excerpts.

For several decades now, politicians around the world have tried to curtail tax competition to make it easier for them to increase the tax burdens on their citizens without them fleeing to other lower-tax jurisdictions. The best way to achieve their goal is to create a global high-tax cartel. …It’s no mystery why politicians don’t like tax competition. …The ability to shift residences and operations from country to country puts pressure on governments to keep taxes on income, investment, and wealth lower than politicians would like. Politicians in each country fear that raising taxes will prompt high-income earners and capital to move away. …Academic research shows that the imposition of higher corporate taxes is a highly destructive way to collect revenue because it lowers investment and, in turn, workers’ wages. It also increases consumer prices. Also, let’s face it, no nation has ever become wealthier and better through higher taxes and wealth redistribution.

This column for Prof. Bruce Yandle also is very informative. Here’s some of what he wrote.

It was with a feeling of deep disappointment…that I read Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is…pushing to form an international cartel of governments that would implement a minimum corporate income tax rate across borders. …Efforts to cartelize taxation among nations will…, all else equal, lead to a higher-cost world economy. …Instead of searching high and low for ways to raise costs in the hope that more federal revenue and spending will follow, we should hope that our national leaders work harder to find better, more efficient ways to govern and serve the people. Doing so will give more people a much better chance at prosperity.

Amen. Tax harmonization was most accurately described by a former member of the European Parliament, who said it was a “thieves’ cartel.”

P.S. One of the worst aspects of the proposed tax cartel is that it will make it more difficult for poor countries to use good policy to improve living standards for their people.

P.P.S. Click here for my primer on tax competition.

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When governments have to compete with each other, we get lower tax rates. That’s good for taxpayers and good for growth.

But politicians hate limits on their taxing power, which is why Biden has proposed a global tax cartel. Here are some of my remarks made yesterday on this topic.

If you don’t have time to watch the video, here are the key points I made when asked about the impact of Biden’s scheme.

  • The tax cartel is a naked grab for more revenue.
  • Higher taxes on businesses arguably are the worst way to collect more tax revenue. Indeed, both the IMF and OECD have research showing the destructive impact of higher corporate tax burdens.
  • The global minimum tax will lead to a couple of additional bad consequences. 1) The 15 percent rate will be increased, and 2) Cartels will be created for other taxes.

I was then asked about whether there are better ways of generating revenue, particularly by having economic policies that lead to more growth.

This presumably was an opportunity for me to pontificate about the Laffer Curve, but I decided to make a more fundamental point about how politicians should not have more money.

I closed my remarks by pointing out that the world enjoyed an era of falling tax rates, which began when Reagan and Thatcher slashed tax rates about 40 years ago.

The average top personal tax rate in the developed world dropped from nearly 70 percent to just a bit over 40 percent.

The average corporate tax rate in industrialized nations dropped from nearly 50 percent to less than 25 percent.

Other nations didn’t copy the U.S. and U.K. because politicians were reading my boring articles about marginal tax rates. Instead, they only did the right thing because they were worried about losing jobs and investment.

One point I forgot to make (particularly in response to the second question) is that I should have explained that tax revenues as a share of GDP did not fall when tax rates were reduced.

Indeed, OECD data shows that tax revenues on income and profits (as a share of GDP) actually have risen during the period of falling tax rates.

The bottom line is that we need tax competition to protect us from “stationary bandits” who would produce “goldfish government.”

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What’s the difference between a socialist and a communist?

If we’re using the technical definition of socialism (government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls), there’s no difference. At least with regards to economics.

But most people don’t use the technical definition. There are plenty of self-described socialists who simply want higher tax rates and a bigger welfare state.

I disagree with their preferred policies, but I don’t assume they are bad people.

By contrast, I automatically assume that self-described communists are despicable human beings. After all, what sort of person identifies with an ideology that has caused 100 million deaths?

Which is why socialism humor usually mocks the naivete of supporters while communism humor highlights the moral blindness of supporters.

Such as this meme.

There’s a special place in hell (much deserved) for the vapid young people who wear Che t-shirts.

Speaking of vapid young people, here’s an article from the Babylon Bee, the nation’s top site for political satire.

According to sources, local high-school senior and avowed radical communist Kazden McChitterly is “a bit unsettled” after discovering the hammer and sickle from the insignia he proudly wears on his t-shirts and knit hats represents hard physical labor. “Wait– that’s an actual hammer? Like the kind you swing?” said McChitterly nervously. …Witnesses say he grew even more uncomfortable when he found out about the sickle. “I thought it was just a weapon used to gloriously cut down our capitalist foes!” he exclaimed after discovering it was actually used to gather grain for the government during 20-hour workdays in the bitter cold. …He relaxed, however, after his history teacher explained that “democratic communism” hasn’t yet been tried and is way better than the old communism that involved a lot of work and starvation.

I’m not sure about the identity of this guy, but he’s probably a relative of this libertarian.

Needless to say, we shouldn’t actually be dropping communists from helicopters. Forcing them to live in a communist hellhole such as North Korea or Cuba would be a more appropriate punishment.

Here’s my favorite item from today’s collection, since it accurately captures one of the big internal contradictions of Marxism.

As I noted yesterday, people are imperfect. We tend to be greedy, for instance.

But capitalism at least channels greed productively. We have to serve others if we want wealth. With communism, however, ruling others (and impoverishing them) is the only source of wealth.

Heck, even voluntary forms of Marxism don’t work.

P.S. Here’s a quiz that tells you the extent to which you have communist thoughts (I was offended that I scored 6 percent).

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Last week, I shared Part I of my discussion with John Stossel about “capitalism myths.” Here’s Part II.

In the first video, we discussed three myths about free enterprise.

  • Myth #1 – Capitalists get rich by ‘taking’ money from others.
  • Myth #2 – The rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer.
  • Myth #3 – Monopolies destroyed the free market.

Here are the final four myths.

Myth #4: Free markets create unsafe workplaces.

Proponents of government intervention often claim that greedy capitalists will skimp on safety in order to get more profits. To support their argument, they cite data on how workplace deaths have declined since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created.

That data is accurate, bu what they fail to mention is that workplace deaths were falling at exactly the same rate before OSHA.

This is because wealthier societies, created by capitalism, have both the capacity and desire to invest more in safety.

Myth #5: Capitalism created evil Robber Barons.

During the 1800s, the United States experienced an “industrial revolution,” and many people became enormously wealthy (though only by the standards of that era).

The anti-capitalist crowd asserted that these people were “robber barons” who profited at the expense of ordinary people.

Yet this was the era when the nation evolved from agricultural poverty to middle-class prosperity, as shown by Oxford University’s Our World in Data.

Notice how per-capita economic output grew especially fast in the last half of the 1800s when the industrial revolution was in full swing.

Myth #6: Capitalism just isn’t good for us.

This myth is based on the stereotype that capitalism is a soulless and materialistic system.

And there certainly are some people who are so myopically fixated on their personal wealth that they don’t properly enjoy the intangible benefits of family, community, and leisure.

But that’s a failing of human nature, not of markets. There surely are plenty of materialistic and soulless people, after all, who use socialism to get wealthy.

The key difference, as the great Walter Williams noted, is that you have to serve other people to get wealthy in a capitalist society, whereas you use government coercion to get rich when government controls the economy.

Myth #7: Capitalism will eliminate our jobs.

It’s certainly true that jobs are destroyed by capitalism. As noted in the video, the personal computer destroyed typewriter jobs.

This is the process of “creative destruction” and we should all recognize that it can be very bad news for people who have careers that are upended by technological change (such as candle makers when the electric light bulb was invented).

What’s special about capitalism, though, is that this process is what makes all of us richer over time.

Even the children and grandchildren of people who lost their jobs.

The bottom line, as I said to conclude the video, is that, “No other system, anywhere in the world, has ever come close to capitalism’s ability to generate mass prosperity.”

 

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Politicians impose higher tax costs on tobacco because they want less smoking. And environmentalists want higher gas prices so there will be less driving.

And, as explained in this video, higher minimum wages for low-skilled labor will reduce employment.

For economists, none of this is surprising and none of this is newsworthy.

Minimum wage laws are a form of price controls, and we have centuries of evidence that bad things happen when politicians try to rig the market.

When I discuss this issue, people often respond by asserting that businesses will treat people like dirt in the absence of government intervention.

I answer them by agreeing with their premise (businesses would like to pay everyone as little as possible), but I then share this data, which shows that they’re wrong on facts. To be more specific, nearly 99 percent of workers make more than the minimum wage.

In other words, the free market leads to higher wages (which is why today’s workers earn so much more than previous generations).

And we’ll continue to enjoy economic progress, so long as politicians give the private sector enough breathing room to create more prosperity.

Which is why a mandate for higher minimum wages would be a bad idea.

Indeed, research published by the Harvard Business Review shows that the minimum wage even can be bad news for the workers who don’t lose their jobs.

Here is a description of the methodology used by the authors (Qiuping Yu, Shawn Mankad, and Masha Shunko).

…minimum wage policies…can influence firms’ behavior in a variety of complex, interrelated ways. In addition to changing employment rates, studies suggest that firms may strategically respond to minimum wage increases by changing their approaches in other areas, such as worker schedules. This can have significant implications for employee welfare… To address these challenges, we conducted a study in which we…looked at worker schedule and wage data from 2015 to 2018 for more than 5,000 employees at 45 stores in California — where the minimum wage was $9 in 2015, and has increased every year since then — and at 17 stores in Texas, where the minimum wage was $7.25 for the duration of our study. We then controlled for statewide economic and employment differences between California and Texas in order to isolate just the impact of increasing the minimum wage.

Here are some of their results.

For every $1 increase in the minimum wage, we found that the total number of workers scheduled to work each week increased by 27.7%, while the average number of hours each worker worked per week decrease by 20.8%. …which meant that the total wage compensation of an average minimum wage worker in a California store actually fell by 13.6%. This decrease in the average number of hours worked not only reduced total wages, but also impacted eligibility for benefits. We found that for every $1 increase in minimum wage, the percentage of workers working more than 20 hours per week (making them eligible for retirement benefits) decreased by 23.0%, while the percentage of workers with more than 30 hours per week (making them eligible for health care benefits) decreased by 14.9%. …our data suggests that the combination of reduced hours, eligibility for benefits, and schedule consistency that resulted from a $1 increase in the minimum wage added up to average net losses of at least $1,590 per year per employee — equivalent to 11.6% of workers’ total wage compensation.

Gee, is anybody surprised to see bad results from California?

But let’s focus on the minimum wage, not on the (formerly) Golden State.

Here’s the bottom line: I’ve explained that a higher minimum wage is theoretically bad.

And I’ve shown that it leads to higher unemployment.

But this new research is important because it shows that a higher minimum wage also backfires on the workers who don’t lose their jobs.

That’s an argument I’ve made before, but it needs to become a bigger part of the discussion.

The goal should be to help people climb the ladder of economic opportunity, which is why the minimum wage should be abolished rather than increased.

P.S. It’s disgusting that labor bosses push for a higher minimum wage to hurt low-skilled workers who compete with union members and it’s disgusting that big companies like Amazon push for a higher minimum wage to hurt small businesses that compete with them for customers

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When studying the economic of taxation, one of the most important lessons is that there should be low marginal tax rates on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

That’s also the core message of this video from Prof. John Cochrane.

I wrote a primer on marginal tax rates back in 2018. I wanted to help people understand that the incentive to engage in additional productive behavior is impacted by how much people get to keep if they earn additional income.

So what matters isn’t the tax on income that’s already been generated. The key variable is the marginal tax on the additional increment of income. As illustrated by the accompanying visual.

I’ve shared real-life examples of how the American tax system can result in very high marginal tax rates, especially when you include the extra layers of tax on income that is saved and invested (producing extremely high effective marginal tax rates).

For today’s column, let’s look at a real-world example from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The U.K.-based Telegraph has a story illustrating how marginal tax rates often can be much higher than the official statutory tax rate.

More than a third of a million people now face paying income tax at a rate of 60pc because of government stealth tax policies… 336,000 people earned between £100,000 and £125,000 in 2018-19, the last year for which data was available. …This group is meant to pay income tax at a rate of 40pc, but risks falling foul of a costly trap which results in their earnings being subject to effective income tax rates that are far higher. The trap is sprung once someone starts to earn more than £100,000, as this is the point at which the Government begins to withdraw the £12,570 tax-free personal allowance. For every £1 earned over £100,000, the state reduces the allowance by 50p. The result is that each additional £1 of income effectively incurs 60p of income tax… Once National Insurance is factored in, the true rate is even higher.

Here’s a chart that was part of the article.

It shows that anyone earning £50,000 or above is losing at least 40 percent to the tax authorities. That statutory rate is both punitive and excessive.

But you also can see how the marginal tax rate jumps to 60 percent once taxpayers hit £100,000 on income.

At the risk of understatement, high marginal tax rates are bad news for the economy.

That’s true in the United Kingdom, the United States, and everyplace else in the world.

To use economic jargon, “deadweight losses” grow exponentially as tax rates are increased.

In regular English, this simply means that class-warfare tax policy (ever-higher tax rates on the so-called rich) causes the most economic damage. Even the left-leaning OECD agrees with this analysis.

You may be wondering why a supposedly conservative government in the United Kingdom allows such a destructive policy.

Sadly, there is no good answer. As you can see from this excerpt, Boris Johnson’s government sounds a lot like what the U.K. would have experienced if Jeremy Corbyn won the last election.

The Government said it was aware of the effect of the 60pc tax trap but said it had to take a “balanced approach”. “We want to keep taxes low to support working people to keep more of what they earn, but it’s only fair that those with the broadest shoulders bear the biggest burden as we rebuild the public finances and fund public services,” a spokesman said.

P.S. If President Biden’s tax plan is any indication, our friends on the left seem to be motivated by spite and envy, so they don’t care that high tax rates have negative consequences.

P.P.S. A wealth tax could easily result in marginal tax rates of more than 100 percent.

P.P.P.S. The politicians in Washington also believe in very high implicit tax rates on low-income people.

P.P.P.P.S. The various plans for per-child handouts would create another big spike in marginal tax rates for a large cohort of American taxpayers.

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Back in 2009 and 2010, when I had less gray hair, I narrated a four-part series on the economic burden of government spending.

Here’s Part II, which discusses the theoretical reasons why big government reduces prosperity.

I provide eight examples to illustrate how and why government spending can hinder economic growth.

The last item is what I called the “stagnation cost,” which is the tendency of politicians and bureaucrats to throw good money after bad because there is no incentive to adapt.

When giving speeches, I usually refer to this as the “inertia cost.”

But, regardless of what I call it, I explain that every government program has a group of beneficiaries that are strongly motivated to keep their gravy train moving even if money is being wasted.

And since politicians like getting votes from those beneficiaries, it’s very difficult to derail programs.

In an article for National Review, Sean-Michael Pigeon offers one very plausible explanation for why this happens.

He says politicians fall victim to the fallacy of sunk costs.

…we need an understanding of government inefficiency… One reason government spending is so needlessly costly is somewhat paradoxical: The state is wasteful precisely because people are so concerned about wasting money. …This is a classic sunk-cost fallacy: Costs that can’t be recovered are “sunk,” and therefore irrelevant for future decision-making. But while this fallacy is well known in economics, sunk costs are a big deal in the practical world of politics. Nobody wants to waste money, and politicians don’t want to cause waste directly. No member of Congress wants to be publicly responsible for a half-built bridge, especially when they have to tell taxpayers they still have to foot the bill for it. …Congress’s unwillingness to cut the funding of poorly run projects is a significant reason government projects always spend too much. …Politicians are nervous about cutting ongoing projects because they don’t want to leave taxpayers empty-handed, but stomaching sunk costs is worth it. Not only is it economically sound to stop government agencies from bleeding money, but it also sets the precedent that shoddy work will be held accountable. …to save money, sometimes you have to lose money.

In other words, it would be good to stop the bleeding.

But that’s not politically easy. Mr. Pigeon has examples in his column, but he should have included California’s (supposed) high-speed rail project.

That boondoggle has been draining money from state and federal coffers for about a decade. Cost estimates have exploded (something that almost always happens with government projects), yet construction has barely started.

Yet now Biden wants to increase federal subsidies for that money pit, along with other long-distance rail schemes.

And you won’t be surprised that a big argument from supporters is that we’ve already wasted billions and billions of dollars on the project, so therefore we should continue to waste even more money (sort of like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer because it feels good when you stop).

The big-picture bottom line is that the burden of federal spending should be reduced so that politicians have less ability to waste money.

And that also means that Americans will be able to enjoy more growth and more prosperity.

The targeted bottom line is that we should get Washington out of infrastructure.

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The IRS played partisan politics during the Obama years by targeting taxpayer organizations such “Tea Party” groups. Now the IRS is at it again, this time leaking the tax returns of selected rich people to advance Biden’s class-warfare agenda.

There are two logical responses.

  1. Cut the IRS budget so the bureaucrats learn a very important lesson that corruption is bad.
  2. Reform the tax code with a simple and fair flat tax so the IRS can be dramatically downsized.

I suspect most Americans would select both options.

But the crowd in Washington has a different perspective. Most of them like the IRS because it’s the bureaucracy that generates the money that they use to buy votes.

Many of them want to reward the IRS with more money (including plenty of brain-dead Republicans), which is bad enough, but what’s really troubling is that some of them even want to turn the IRS budget into an entitlement.

In an article for Reason, Eric Boehm explains that Elizabeth Warren is leading the charge for this reckless proposal.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) says her plan to more than double the annual IRS budget would allow the federal government to collect an extra $1.75 trillion over the next 10 years. …her plan seems based on little more than a hunch and some bad math. …Warren’s “Restoring the IRS Act of 2021” would hike the agency’s budget from $11.9 billion to $31.5 billion. …It would also…move the IRS from the…federal budget’s discretionary side…to the mandatory portion of the budget, alongside Social Security and other programs that run on autopilot. …In practice, that means giving the IRS a big budgetary boost and giving the agency the authority to dig through bank accounts and transaction records.

The Wall Street Journal also is not impressed with the idea of rewarding a corrupt tax bureaucracy.

Here are some excerpts from its recent editorial, which notes that the Biden Administration also wants to turn IRS funding into an entitlement  .

The Internal Revenue Service leak of taxpayer returns to left-leaning media outlet ProPublica is a prime example of why Congress should refuse to give the tax agency more money and power. That includes President Biden’s little-noticed but politically consequential plan to put IRS funding on autopilot. …Like so much else in the Biden Presidency, this follows the Elizabeth Warren model. …The IRS would essentially become another mandatory budget program like Social Security and Medicare. …without the risk of having to answer to Congressional appropriators for its budget, the tax agency would have little to worry about. …Their plan would make sure the IRS doesn’t have to pay a price in the future for politically targeting taxpayers or leaking returns. The potential for abuse would grow since Mr. Biden’s plan would also give the IRS access to bank account inflows and outflows. …a tax collection agency shielded from Congressional budget supervision is one definition of tyranny.

All of this is true.

But let’s also remember that the case for more IRS funding (whether as appropriations or as an entitlement) is based on nonsensical and self-serving estimates of the supposed tax gap.

P.S. For those who want to understand the technical differences between entitlement spending and appropriated spending, click here.

P.P.S. Entitlement spending is America’s top long-run fiscal challenge, so it’s incomprehensibly foolish to expand such programs.

P.P.P.S. The bad news is that Senator Warren is an unreconstructed statist (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

P.P.P.P.S. The good news is that she is the impetus for some clever humor (see here, here, here, and here).

P.P.P.P.P.S. And she’s a hypocrite who doesn’t abide by her own policies.

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California is a fascinating state for people who follow public policy. It has some immense advantages, such as climate, coastline, and natural resources.

But it also has high taxes, absurd regulations, a bloated bureaucracy, and a costly welfare state.

The net result of all these factors is mixed. There are some sectors that are still thriving, such as high tech, but there’s also evidence that the Golden State is losing ground.

And the comparative data will probably get worse over time because many taxpayers and businesses are now fleeing to lower-tax states.

Since I specialize in public finance, I’m tempted to say bad fiscal policy is California’s biggest problem. And that may actually be the case.

But if someone asks me for an example of what’s wrong with the Golden State, I’m going to direct them to this story in the Los Angeles Times.

The California Legislature on Monday approved a $100-million plan to bolster California’s legal marijuana industry, which continues to struggle to compete with the large illicit pot market nearly five years after voters approved sales for recreational use. …State officials initially expected to license as many as 6,000 cannabis shops in the first few years, but permits have been issued only for 1,086 retail and delivery firms. In 2019, industry officials estimated there were nearly three times as many unlicensed businesses as ones with state permits. …The $100 million would go to local agencies with the most provisional licenses for growing, manufacturing, distribution, testing and retail operations. Some of the money can be used by cities offering equity funding to cannabis businesses owned by people of color.

Yes, you read correctly.

The state did a smart thing (removing legal prohibitions on marijuana), but did it in the worst possible way (burdening the sector with high taxes and red tape).

As a result, there’s still a very robust black market.

Here are some additional details about how politicians and bureaucrats have made it difficult to operate a legal business.

Many cannabis growers, retailers and manufacturers have struggled to make the transition from a provisional, temporary license to a permanent one renewed on an annual basis — a process that requires a costly, complicated and time-consuming review. …some face two to four years to get through the licensing process. Many would face the prospect of shutting down, at least temporarily, if they don’t get a regular license by current state deadlines, Kiloh said. …Supporters of legalization blame the discrepancy on problems that they say include high taxes on licensed businesses, burdensome regulations… A key requirement to convert from a provisional license is to conduct a CEQA review to indicate how pot farms and other cannabis businesses will affect the surrounding water, air, plants and wildlife, and to propose ways to mitigate any harms. However, Kiloh said, some cities are just setting up ordinances and staffing to process licenses, meaning many businesses cannot meet the looming deadline. …industry officials note the money will go to a small fraction of California cities, and only those that have already decided to allow cannabis businesses. …said Kiloh, owner of the Higher Path cannabis store in Sherman Oaks. “The real problem is CEQA analysis is a very arduous process,” he added. “I think it would be good to have more reform of the licensing system instead of just putting money to it.”

Wow, provisional licenses, permanent licenses, CEQA analysis, taxes, regulations, reviews, and ordinances.

Sounds like my regulatory obstacle course. No wonder so many buyers and sellers of pot prefer the black market.

And Mr. Kiloh is correct. The solution is to deregulate, not to dump more money into the system.

No wonder California is a mess.

P.S. The late (and great) Walter Williams joking speculated whether California should set up East German-style border controls to prevent taxpayers from escaping.

P.P.S. There is a pro-secession group in California, though they should be careful what they wish for.

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I was a big fan of (and occasional guest on) John Stossel’s TV show, and I’m now a big fan of his videos (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

So it was an honor to appear in his latest video about “Capitalism Myths.”

It’s a two-part series. In this first video, we discussed three myths about free enterprise.

Myth #1 – Capitalists get rich by ‘taking’ money from others.

Since voluntary exchange, by definition, is mutually beneficial, this is a truly absurd argument. Indeed, only the most vapid politicians and pundits suggest otherwise.

The most definitive research in this area came from Professor William Nordhaus of Yale, who estimated that, “innovators are able to capture about 2.2 percent of the total social surplus from innovation.”

Translated from economic jargon, that means the rest of society gets nearly 98 percent of the value created by rich entrepreneurs.

Myth #2 – The rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer.

This is an issue I’ve repeatedly addressed, showing how poverty was the natural state of humanity until capitalism appeared a few hundred years ago.

Now we are incomprehensibly rich by comparison. At least in market-oriented nations.

Focusing on more-recent data, I’ve shown that living standards have dramatically increased in the post-World War II era.

In the video, John and I also discussed the Census Bureau’s data showing that the middle class is shrinking, but only because more people are becoming rich.

Myth #3 – Monopolies destroyed the free market.

Supporters of government intervention commonly argue that capitalism produces monopolies, meaning big producers capture the market and exploit consumers.

This is a rather puzzling argument since monopolies almost always are the result of government favoritism.

Even if we go back to the days of the so-called Robber Barons, we find that the consumers were only exploited when politicians decided to prohibit competition.

P.S. Next week, the second video will look at four other myths about capitalism.

P.P.S. On a related note, I have a five-part series (Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV, and Part V) on “The Case for Capitalism.”

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Politicians and bureaucrats are (self-interested) conduits for taking money from one group of people and giving it to another group of people.

Milton Friedman famously explained that this is why they largely don’t care about how much money is spent or how effectively it is spent.

No wonder government programs, agencies, and departments waste so much money, year after year, decade after decade.

This observation about careless profligacy also applies to so-called emergency spending.

I’ve repeatedly written about the perverse impact of unemployment benefits that are so excessive that people have big incentives not to work.

But that’s just one problem with that program. Axios has a depressing report on how the turbo-charged benefits that were part of the coronavirus legislation triggered staggering levels of fraud.

Criminals may have stolen as much as half of the unemployment benefits the U.S. has been pumping out over the past year, some experts say. …fraud during the pandemic could easily reach $400 billion, according to some estimates, and the bulk of the money likely ended in the hands of foreign crime syndicates… Blake Hall, CEO of ID.me, a service that tries to prevent this kind of fraud, tells Axios that…50% of all unemployment monies might have been stolen… Haywood Talcove, the CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, estimates that at least 70% of the money stolen by impostors ultimately left the country, much of it ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates in China, Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere.

USA Today reported on one Nigerian scammer who feasted on American tax dollars.

Mayowa is an engineering student in Nigeria who estimates he’s made about $50,000 since the pandemic began. After compiling a list of real people, he turns to databases of hacked information that charge $2 in cryptocurrency to link that name to a date of birth and Social Security number. In most states that information is all it takes to file for unemployment. …“Once we have that information, it’s over,” Mayowa said. “It’s easy money.” …prepaid debit cards issued by some state unemployment offices paved the way for fraud this year, security experts said. …Asked whether he feels bad about stealing from unemployed Americans, Mayowa pointed out that 70% of his peers in school are working the scams as side hustles, too.

But it’s not just the unemployment benefits.

The government also has been sending out “stimulus” checks to people, even if they were employed all during the pandemic.

And they didn’t even need to be alive, according to a report from CNS.

The federal government sent nearly 1.2 million “economic impact payments” authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to people who were dead and, therefore, not qualified to receive them, according to a report published today by the Government Accountability Office. …On its website, the IRS describes individuals who are not eligible for an “Economic Impact Payment”… “Taxpayers likely won’t qualify for an Economic Impact Payment if any of the following apply: … You can be claimed a dependent on someone else’s return. … You are a nonresident alien. … An incarcerated individual. A deceased individual.”

Hundreds of foreigners also got handouts, as reported by the Washington Post.

Hundreds of people have cashed U.S. stimulus checks at Austrian banks in recent months. Some of them appeared puzzled by the unexpected payments or were ineligible for the payouts, according to bank officials and Austrian media reports. …He and his wife received $1,200 each, although neither is a U.S. resident or holds U.S. citizenship — key eligibility requirements. …Similar instances have been reported in other countries.

By the way, it’s not just Austrians who received handouts. NPR has a story featuring people all over the world who got $1200 checks from Uncle Sam.

And let’s not forget the PPP program, which was another big chunk of the coronavirus handouts.

The Wall Street Journal has a report on the rampant fraud in that program.

The federal government is swamped with reports of potential fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program, according to government officials and public data…the government allowed companies to self-certify that they needed the funds, with little vetting. The Small Business Administration’s inspector general, an arm of the agency that administers the PPP, said last month there were “strong indicators of widespread potential abuse and fraud in the PPP.” …The watchdog counted tens of thousands of companies that received PPP loans for which they appear to have been ineligible, such as corporations created after the pandemic began… Given the limited criteria Congress set for the program, he said, “The scandal is what’s legal, not what’s illegal.”

Reason also has a story about PPP waste.

…carmaker Lamborghini has benefitted from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)… Within days of receiving $1.6 million in PPP loans for his construction and logistics businesses, Lee Price III of Houston bought himself a 2019 Lamborghini Urus for $233,337, plus a $14,000 Rolex watch and close to $5,000 worth of entertainment at a strip club and various bars around town. …His scheme was audacious but hardly original. The DOJ had already brought similar fraud charges against Miami man David T. Hines, who had allegedly spent his ill-gotten PPP loans on a new $318,000 Lamborghini Huracán EVO. …Loan recipients include companies founded by members of Congress and prominent D.C. lobbying firms. Presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s family businesses, including their media and real estate concerns, received PPP loans, as did the clothing brand of rapper and aspiring president Kanye West.

We already knew that the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a bigger burden of government.

None of us should be surprised that we also wound up with record levels of waste.

P.S. Remember, “more government” is not the answer to any sensible question.

P.P.S. At some point, we will run out of “other people’s money.”

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The bad news is that federalism has declined in the United States as politicians in Washington have expanded the size and scope of the national government.

The good news is that some federalism still exists and this means Americans have some ability to choose the type of government they prefer by “voting with their feet.”

  1. They can choose states that tax a lot and spend a lot.
  2. They can choose states with lower fiscal burdens.

You won’t be surprised to learn that people generally prefer option #2.

Researchers have found a significant correlation between state fiscal policy and migration patterns.

And it’s still happening.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal a few days ago, Allysia Finley and Kate LaVoie discuss some research based on IRS data about taxpayer migration patterns.

Here’s some of what they wrote.

New IRS data compiled by research outfit Wirepoints illustrate the flight from high- to low-tax states. …Retirees in the Midwest and Northeast are flocking to sunnier climes. But notably, states with no income tax (Florida, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming) made up four of the 10 states with the largest income gains. On the other hand, five of the 10 states with the greatest income losses (NY, Connecticut, New Jersey, Minnesota, California) ranked among the top 10 states with the highest top marginal income tax rates. …Florida gained a whopping $17.7 billion in AGI including $3.4 billion from New York, $1.2 billion from California, $1.9 billion from Illinois, $1.7 billion from New Jersey and $1 billion from Connecticut. California, on the other hand, lost $8.8 billion including $1.6 billion to Texas, $1.5 billion to Nevada, $1.2 billion to Arizona and $700 million to Washington.

Here’s a very informative visual, showing the share of income that either left a state (top half of the chart) or entered a state (bottom half of the chart).

Our friends on the left say that this data merely shows that retirees move to states with nicer climates.

That is surely a partial explanation, but it doesn’t explain why California – the state with the nation’s best climate – is losing people and businesses.

Heck, I even have a seven-part series (March 2010February 2013April 2013October 2018June 2019, December 2020, and February 2021) on the exodus from California to Texas.

Let’s return to the Finley-LaVoie column, because there’s some additional data that deserves attention. They point out that states with better policy are big net winners when you look at the average income of migrants.

The average taxpayer who moved to Florida from the other 49 states had an AGI of $110,000… By contrast, the average taxpayer who left Florida had an AGI of just $66,000. In sum, high-tax states aren’t just losing more taxpayers—they are losing higher-income ones. Similarly, low and no income states are generally gaining more taxpayers who also earn more. …When blue states lose high earners, their tax base shrinks, but their cost base continues to grow due to rich government employee pay, pensions and other benefits. …The result is that low-tax states are getting richer while those that impose higher taxes are getting poorer.

As you can see, Florida is a big beneficiary.

And I shared data a few years ago showing that states such as Illinois are big net losers.

Let’s conclude by asking why some politicians, such as the hypocritical governor of Illinois, don’t care when they’re on the losing side of these trends?

I don’t actually know what they’re thinking, of course, but I suspect the answer has something to do with the fact that departing taxpayers probably are more libertarian and conservative. So if you’re a big-spending politician, you probably are not very upset when migration patterns mean your state becomes more left-leaning over time.

That’s a smart political approach.

Until, of course, those states no longer have enough productive people to finance big government.

In other words, every government is limited by Margaret Thatcher’s famous warning.

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Socialism has a track record of failure.

And that’s true whether we’re using the technical definition of socialism (government ownership of the means of production), the fascist version (nominal private ownership but government control), or the Bernie/AOC version (confiscatory taxation and pervasive redistribution).

But the silver lining to the policy disaster is that we get some amusing memes to augment our collection.

Such as this observation on voting habits.

And here’s a good depiction of those who realize government doesn’t do a good job at anything, but nevertheless think it should have more power.

Since socialism and big government have never produced a single example of success, I think this meme is spot on.

I almost didn’t include this joke because the idiots holding the sign incorrectly equate Trump with capitalism, but the applause from Mao and Stalin makes it worthwhile.

This next meme is also a good way of describing Keynesian economics.

I don’t know if this next claim is completely true since there are example of defecting spies, but it’s safe to say that the entire flow of ordinary people is away from socialism and toward (relative) capitalism

I mentioned at the start of this column that there are different definitions of socialism, at least from a policy perspective.

Well, here’s the common theme for all of them.

As usual, I’ve saved the best for last.

This one strikes home for me since I’ve dated some left-of-center women over the past couple of decades.

I confess I generally don’t try to convert them, especially early in a relationship.

Though I have eventually shared copies of Atlas Shrugged in hopes of turning them into future Margaret Thatchers.

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Between March 2020 and January 2021, I authored a five-part series (see here, here, here, here, and here) on how big government hindered a quick and effective response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In this discussion with Brad Polumbo, I summarize some of my key points.

While I criticized the dismal performance of the FDACDC, and WHO, I also explained that there are costs and benefits to any approach.

I largely focus on the deleterious impact of government regulation and intervention, but I mentioned in the discussion that a laissez-faire approach has potential downsides.

My argument is simply that markets, on balance, will produce better outcomes.

For instance, Brad and I discussed how government regulators at the Food and Drug Administration did something good many decades ago by prohibiting thalidomide (which led to birth defects), but we also mentioned that academic research shows that our regulatory apparatus – on net – leads to bad outcomes because of lengthy delays in life-saving and live-improving drugs.

And we shouldn’t forget that the current system makes drugs far more expensive.

There are two other parts of the interview that merit special attention.

  • First, I mention that private companies should be allowed to require “vaccine passports.” I’m not saying they should, but I believe in property rights so it’s not the role of politicians to interfere in that choice.
  • Second, politicians should have adopted a more hands-off approach to mandatory lockdowns. This is not an argument against social distancing, masking, and other prudent behaviors, but mandates were largely unnecessary (and, in the case of what stores were allowed to operate, pointlessly discriminatory).

And I should have mentioned that politicians often didn’t follow the rules that they imposed on the rest of us.

P.S. The silver lining to the pandemic’s dark cloud is that we got some clever humor (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

P.P.S. Actually, there’s a second silver lining. There’s been a lot of progress on school choice this year, which is partly a response to the self-serving actions of the government school monopoly during the pandemic.

P.P.P.S. There may even be a third silver lining. As mentioned in the discussion, I’m slightly hopeful that politicians and bureaucrats have learned that we need to set aside regulations and red tape, at least during emergencies. Heck, maybe they’ll even apply that lesson more broadly!

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Sometimes Bill Maher, the host of Real Time on HBO, says smart things and sometimes he says not-so-smart things.

His recent monologue on the “college scam” was an example of the former. It’s almost as if he was channeling Professor Daniel Lin.

Maher makes great points about how government subsidies for higher education are a backwards form of redistribution, taking money from lower-income people and giving it to higher-income people.

And I love what he says about credentialism, where people can’t climb the job ladder without getting useless degrees like masters in education.

But his monologue wasn’t perfect. He mentioned how tuition costs have exploded, but he didn’t make the should-be-obvious connection between rising costs and government subsidies.

To be more explicit, tuition expenses have skyrocketed because colleges and universities have raised prices to capture all the extra loot politicians are dumping into the system.

Which, by the way, is what happens in every sector of the economy (health care being an obvious example) where government tries to make things more affordable.

By the way, if you don’t want to trust Maher’s comments because he’s an entertainer rather than a policy expert, you may want to read a column in the Wall Street Journal by Tomas Philipson, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.

Here’s some of his analysis.

The student-loan crisis is rooted in government policy… The Biden administration’s American Families Plan is designed to perpetuate the cycle. The student-loan crisis has a long history but accelerated dramatically in 2010, when lawmakers moved the portfolio onto the Education Department’s balance sheet to “pay” for ObamaCare. …But Education Department bureaucrats, not experts in lending, didn’t bother with prudent practices, such as underwriting, that are routine in private credit markets. The result: A lender with the lowest cost of capital on the planet is now about $500 billion in the red. …And federal student loans are highly regressive. …The Brookings Institution found in April 2019 that Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s loan-forgiveness proposal would mainly help the rich, with families with income in the top 40% receiving about two-thirds of the benefits. …These policies reward professors and administrators who can then raise the price of their services. …Tuition rising as loan subsidies expand is no different. It isn’t a coincidence that education and health care, the industries in which government subsidies are most pervasive, took the highest price increases over the past 15 years—3.7% and 3.1% a year, compared with the 1.8% average across industries.

Amen, especially with regards to the final sentence. Student loans and other subsidies are the reason colleges and universities can get away with never-ending tuition increases.

And Joe Biden wants to make matters worse, as Bill Maher noted. Not that we should be surprised since that’s what Barack Obama wanted and what Hillary Clinton wanted.

The left is in favor of just about anything, other than the policy that would solve the problem.

P.S. There’s even academic research showing that government spending on higher education has a negative impact on economic performance.

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Back in 2016, I created a 2×2 matrix to illustrate the difference between redistributionism (tax Person A and give to Person B) and state planning (politicians and bureaucrats trying to steer the economy, either through direct ownership or industrial policy).

The main point of that column was to show that countries should try to be in the top-left section, where there is less redistribution and less government control.

But I also wanted to help people understand that redistributionism and socialism are not the same thing.

For instance, Sweden (in the bottom-left box) is a capitalist economy with a big welfare state, whereas China (in the top-right box) doesn’t have much redistribution but government has substantial control over economic activity.

From an American perspective, the good news is that the U.S. currently is in the top-left box.

The bad news is that President Biden wants the country in the bottom-left box. So, if we want to be technically accurate, we should not accuse him of socialism.

Instead, as Antony Davies and James Harrigan explained in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, the real threat to the nation is “transferism.”

Socialism is state control of the means of production. …By contrast, capitalism is simply private ownership of the means of production. …more than four in ten Americans think “some form of socialism” is a good thing. But what is “some form of socialism?” A society is either socialist or it isn’t. The state either owns the means of production or it doesn’t. There is no middle ground. …It appears that what Americans really have in mind when they think about socialism is not an economic system but particular economic outcomes. …they are advocating what we should really call “transferism.” Transferism is a system in which one group of people forces a second group to pay for things that the people believe they, or some third group, should have. Transferism isn’t about controlling the means of production. It is about the forced redistribution of what’s produced.

Davies and Harrigan are correct.

Moreover, they deserve credit for predicting the future since they wrote the column in 2019!

Now let’s consider whether redistributionism (or transferism) is a good idea.

I’ve previously explained that a big welfare state causes economic damage, even if a nation otherwise is very pro-capitalist.

Consider, for instance, the remarkable data showing how Swedish-Americans and Danish-Americans generate much more prosperity than Swedes and Danes who still live in Scandinavia.

Or consider the income data showing how average Americans enjoy much higher living standards than their European counterparts (either in Nordic nations or elsewhere).

What’s worrisome is that Biden wants a much bigger welfare state and he doesn’t seem to understand that European-sized government means anemic European-style economic performance.

This is the message that Bret Stephens shared in one of his recent columns for the New York Times.

He starts by describing Biden’s agenda.

President Biden charts a course toward the largest expansion of government since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. After signing a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill in March and proposing a $1.5 trillion discretionary budget in April (a 16 percent increase from this year, on top of what’s likely to be at least $3 trillion in mandatory spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid), the president wants $2.3 trillion more for infrastructure and $1.8 trillion for new social programs. That’s $7.5 trillion in discretionary spending. To put the number in perspective, we spent $4.1 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars over nearly four years to wage and win the Second World War. What will America get for the money?

He then points out the potential consequences.

…before the U.S. takes this leap into a full-blown American social-welfare state, moderates in Congress like Senator Joe Manchin or Representative Jim Costa ought to ask: What’s the catch? …The real catch is that massive government spending has hidden costs that are difficult to capture in numbers alone. Take another look at Europe. Why does R&D spending in the European Union persistently lag that in the U.S. …Why does Europe’s tech start-up scene…so notably lag its competitors…? Perhaps…social safety nets typically come at the expense of risk-taking and economic dynamism. And why is France, which, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, spends more on social welfare than any other nation in the developed world, such an unhappy place, with chronically high unemployment, endless labor unrest, a decades-old brain drain, rising political extremism, a wealth tax that failed and a medical system that was on the brink of collapse long before Covid struck? …Beyond the gargantuan cost, Congress should think very hard about the real catch: transforming America into a kinder, gentler place of permanent decline.

Amen.

Biden’s agenda inevitably will erode societal capital, leading to less work (because of lavish freebies such as per-child handouts) and lower levels of entrepreneurship (because of tax penalties on investment and risk-taking).

And this can lead to a tipping point, which is illustrated by my Theorem of Societal Collapse.

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I sometimes try to go easy on the IRS. After all, our wretched tax system is largely the fault of politicians, who have spent the past 108 years creating a punitive and corrupt set of tax laws.

But there is still plenty of IRS behavior to criticize. Most notably, the tax agency allowed itself to be weaponized by the Obama White House, using its power to persecute and harass organizations associated with the “Tea Party.”

That grotesque abuse of power largely was designed to weaken opposition to Obama’s statist agenda and make it easier for him to win re-election.

Now there’s a new IRS scandal. In hopes of advancing President Biden’s class-warfare agenda, the bureaucrats have leaked confidential taxpayer information to ProPublica, a left-wing website.

Here’s some of what that group posted.

ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. …ProPublica undertook an analysis that has never been done before. We compared how much in taxes the 25 richest Americans paid each year to how much Forbes estimated their wealth grew in that same time period. We’re going to call this their true tax rate. …those 25 people saw their worth rise a collective $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid a total of $13.6 billion in federal income taxes in those five years, the IRS data shows. That’s a staggering sum, but it amounts to a true tax rate of only 3.4%.

Since I’m a policy wonk, I’ll first point out that ProPublica created a make-believe number. We (thankfully) don’t tax wealth in the United States.

So Elon Musk’s income is completely unrelated to what happened to the value of his Tesla shares. The same is true for Jeff Bezos’ income and the value of his Amazon stock.*

And the same thing is true for the rest of us. If our IRA or 401(k) rises in value, that doesn’t mean our taxable income has increased. If our home becomes more valuable, that also doesn’t count as taxable income.

The Wall Street Journal opined on this topic today and made a similar point.

There is no evidence of illegality in the ProPublica story. …ProPublica knows this, so its story tries to invent a scandal by calculating what it calls the “true tax rate” these fellows are paying. This is a phony construct that exists nowhere in the law and compares how much the “wealth” of these individuals increased from 2014 to 2018 compared to how much income tax they paid. …what Americans pay is a tax on income, not wealth.

Some journalists don’t understand this distinction between income and wealth.

Or perhaps they do understand, but pretend otherwise because they see their role as being handmaidens of the Biden Administration.

Consider these excerpts from a column by Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times.

Jeff Bezos…added an estimated $99 billion in wealth between 2014 and 2018 but reported only $4.22 billion in taxable income during that period. Warren Buffett, who amassed $24.3 billion in new wealth over those years, reported $125 million in taxable income. …some of the wealthiest people in the United States essentially live under a different system of income taxation from the rest of us.

Mr. Appelbaum is wrong. The rich have a lot more assets than the rest of us, but they operate under the same rules.

If I have an asset that increases in value, that doesn’t count as taxable income. And it isn’t income. It’s merely a change in net wealth.

And the same is true if Bill Gates has an asset that increases in value.

Now that we’ve addressed the policy mistakes, let’s turn our attention to the scandal of IRS misbehavior.

The WSJ‘s editorial addresses the agency’s grotesque actions.

Less than half a year into the Biden Presidency, the Internal Revenue Service is already at the center of an abuse-of-power scandal. …ProPublica, a website whose journalism promotes progressive causes, published information from what it said are 15 years of the tax returns of Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and other rich Americans. …The story arrives amid the Biden Administration’s effort to pass the largest tax increase as a share of the economy since 1968. …The timing here is no coincidence, comrade. …someone leaked confidential IRS information about individuals to serve a political agenda. This is the same tax agency that pursued a vendetta against conservative nonprofit groups during the Obama Administration. Remember Lois Lerner? This is also the same IRS that Democrats now want to infuse with $80 billion more… As part of this effort, Mr. Biden wants the IRS to collect “gross inflows and outflows on all business and personal accounts from financial institutions.” Why? So the information can be leaked to ProPublica? …Congress should also not trust the IRS with any more power and money than it already has.

And Charles Cooke of National Review also weighs in on the implications of a weaponized and partisan IRS.

We cannot trust the IRS. “Oh, who cares?” you might ask. “The victims are billionaires!” And indeed, they are. But I care. For a start, they’re American citizens, and they’re entitled to the same rights — and protected by the same laws — as everyone else. …Besides, even if one wants to be entirely amoral about it, one should consider that if their information can be spilled onto the Internet, anyone’s can. …A government that is this reckless or sinister with the information of men who are lawyered to the eyeballs is unlikely to worry too much about being reckless or sinister with your information. …The IRS wields an extraordinary amount of power, and there will always be somebody somewhere who thinks that it should be used to advance their favorite political cause. Our refusal to indulge their calls is one of the many things that prevents us from descending into the caprice and chaos of your average banana republic. …Does that bother you? It should.

What’s especially disgusting is that the Biden Administration wants to reward IRS corruption with giant budget increases, bolstered by utterly fraudulent numbers.

Needless to say, that would be a terrible idea (sadly, Republicans in the past have been sympathetic to expanding the size of the tax bureaucracy).

*Financial assets such as stocks generally increase in value because of an expectation of bigger streams of income in the future (such as dividends). Those income streams are taxed (often multiple times) when (and if) they actually materialize.

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I’ve spent several decades trying to convince people that we should have free markets and small government in order to increase national prosperity.

Indeed, I’ve even pointed out how very small increases in annual growth can lead to big improvements in living standards over just a couple of decades.

But some folks on the left are not very receptive to this argument. They genuinely (but incorrectly) seem to think the economy is a fixed pie (which also explains, at least in part, why they are so focused on redistribution).

So let’s share some hard data in hopes of getting them to understand that more prosperity is possible.

We’ll start will this chart of inflation-adjusted per-capita economic output in the United States, which comes from Oxford University’s Our World in Data.

The obvious takeaway from this data is that Americans are much richer today than they were after World War II. Adjusted for inflation, we’re now about four times richer than our grandparents.

Some of our friends on the left may be thinking these numbers are distorted, that average output has only increased because the rich have gotten so much richer.

Well, it is true that the rich have gotten richer. But it’s also true that the rest of us have become richer as well.

Which is why I shared data earlier this year showing median living standards rather than mean (average) living standards.

Folks on the left may also suspect that the post-1950 data is an anomaly. In other words, maybe I’m guilty of cherry-picking data.

That’s a common practice in the world of policy, so I don’t blame people for being suspicious.

So take a look at this chart, which I also first shared earlier this year. It shows that the increase in living standards has been even more dramatic if you look at changes since 1820.

By the way, none of these observations are new. Back in 1997, Micahel Cox and Richard Alm wrote a must-read article for the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank’s Annual Report.

Here are some of their findings.

What really matters…isn’t what something costs in money; it’s what it costs in time. Making money takes time, so when we shop, we’re really spending time. The real cost of living isn’t measured in dollars and cents but in the hours and minutes we must work to live. …A pair of stockings cost just 25¢ a century ago. This sounds wonderful until we learn that a worker of the era earned only 14.8¢ an hour. So paying for the stockings took 1 hour 41 minutes of work. Today a better pair requires only about 18 minutes of work. …In calculating our cost of living, a good place to start is with the basics—food, shelter and clothing. In terms of time on the job, the cost of a half-gallon of milk fell from 39 minutes in 1919 to 16 minutes in 1950, 10 minutes in 1975 and 7 minutes in 1997. A pound of ground beef steadily declined from 30 minutes in 1919 to 23 minutes in 1950, 11 minutes in 1975 and 6 minutes in 1997. Paying for a dozen oranges required 1 hour 8 minutes of work in 1919. Now it takes less than 10 minutes, half what it did in 1950.

These two visuals from the article are very informative.

First, look at how consumer products went from rare luxuries early in the 20th century to everyday products by the end of the century.

Equally important, these products have become cheaper and cheaper over time.

As illustrated by this second visual from the article.

All the data in the Cox-Alm article is more than 20 years old, so the numbers would be even more impressive today.

Indeed, you can see some more up-to-date data from Mark Perry, Steve Horwitz, and James Pethokoukis.

Professor Don Boudreaux put these numbers in context a few years ago in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education. Here’s some of what he wrote.

What is the minimum amount of money that you would demand in exchange for your going back to live even as John D. Rockefeller lived in 1916? …Think about it. …If you were a 1916 American billionaire you could, of course, afford prime real-estate.  You could afford a home on 5th Avenue or one overlooking the Pacific Ocean…  But when you traveled from your Manhattan digs to your west-coast palace, it would take a few days, and if you made that trip during the summer months, you’d likely not have air-conditioning in your private railroad car. …You could neither listen to radio (the first commercial radio broadcast occurred in 1920) nor watch television. …Obviously, you could not download music. …Your telephone was attached to a wall.  You could not use it to Skype. …Even the best medical care back then was horrid by today’s standards: it was much more painful and much less effective. …Antibiotics weren’t available. …Dental care wasn’t any better. …You were completely cut off from the cultural richness that globalization has spawned over the past century. …I wouldn’t be remotely tempted to quit the 2016 me so that I could be a one-billion-dollar-richer me in 1916.  This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire.  It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller.

The bottom line is that we have become richer and we can continue to become richer.

But how fast things improve is partly a function of government policy. If we can impose some restraints on the size and scope of government, that will give the private sector some breathing room to grow and prosper.

In other words, we don’t need perfect policy, but it is important to at least have good policy.

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During the Obama years, I shared a cartoon strip that cleverly makes the point that some people will choose not to work if they can get enough goodies from the government.

That Wizard-of-Id parody has been viewed more than 56,000 times, which suggests many readers also thought it was worth sharing.

But it obviously hasn’t been shared often enough with the crowd in Washington. Politicians have created a welfare state that penalizes work and rewards dependency.

Especially now that there are bonus payments for staying unemployed. Which makes it hard to businesses to find workers.

Our friends on the left, however, think there’s a solution to this problem.

In his column for the New York Times, David Leonhardt says there is not a labor shortage because employers can simply raise wages.

The idea that the United States suffers from a labor shortage is fast becoming conventional wisdom. But before you accept the idea, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think it through. Once you do, you may realize that the labor shortage is more myth than reality. …one of the beauties of capitalism is its mechanism for dealing with shortages. In a communist system, people must wait in long lines when there is more demand than supply for an item. That’s an actual shortage. In a capitalist economy, however, there is a ready solution. …When a company is struggling to find enough labor, it can solve the problem by offering to pay a higher price for that labor — also known as higher wages. More workers will then enter the labor market. Suddenly, the labor shortage will be no more. …Sure enough, some companies have responded to the alleged labor shortage by doing exactly this. …companies that have recently announced pay increases include Amazon, Chipotle, Costco, McDonald’s, Walmart, J.P. Morgan Chase and Sheetz convenience stores.

Leonhardt is correct that businesses can lure workers back into the job market by boosting wages. I’m glad he recognizes how the price system works.

But he completely ignores the issue of whether some jobs will simply disappear because they’re not worth the amount of money that would be required to out-compete government handouts.

That’s the key argument from the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial on the topic.

…the U.S. labor market turned in its second disappointing result in a row in May, according to Friday’s Labor Department report. That’s what happens when government pays Americans not to work. Employers created 559,000 net new jobs in the month, which sounds great until you notice that 1.5 million fewer workers in May said they were unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic. …The civilian labor force shrank in May by 53,000, and the number of men over age 20 who were employed fell by 8,000. …What gives? The Occam’s razor explanation is that in March the Biden Administration and Congress ladled out another mountain of cash to Americans—work not required. The extra $300 a week in enhanced jobless benefits is one problem, since millions of Americans can make more staying on the couch. …This is on top of regular jobless benefits, plus new or extended cash payments such as the $3,000 per child tax credit, additional ObamaCare subsidies, and the $1,400 checks to individuals. Again, no work required.

For all intents and purposes, politicians in DC have been undoing the great achievement of welfare reform. That 1996 law was designed to push people from idleness into employment, and it was largely successful.

But over the past couple of decades, laws like Obamacare have given people goodies without any conditionality, which has resulted in many people deciding once again that they don’t need to work.

And if Biden’s per-child handouts are made permanent, expect the problem to get even worse.

Since we started with a cartoon, let’s close with another cartoon.

This gem from Henry Payne captures the problem facing many small businesses.

Big companies have enough financial depth that they can adapt. They have considerable ability to get rid of low-skilled jobs, invest in labor-saving technologies, and even give some raises to employees they retain.

Many small businesses, however, are simply out of luck. That’s one group of victims.

The other victims are the people who get goodies from politicians. Yes, the various handouts make their lives easier in the short run, but once they get trapped in the quicksand of government dependency, it’s very difficult to escape.

P.S. Because he said some sensible things about “basic income” back in 2017, I had hoped Biden would be better on this issue. I should have known better based on his track record.

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Biden’s tax agenda – especially the proposed increase in the corporate rate – would be very bad for American competitiveness.

We know this is true because the Administration wants to violate the sovereignty of other nations with a scheme that would require all nations to impose a minimum corporate tax rate of 15 percent.

Indeed, the White House openly says it wants to export bad policy to other nations “so that foreign corporations aren’t advantaged and foreign countries can’t try to get a competitive edge.”

Other big nations (the infamous G-7) just announced they want to participate in the proposed tax cartel.

I was just interviewed on this topic by the BBC World Service and I’ve extracted my most important quotes.

But I encourage you to listen to the full discussion, which starts with (predictably awful) comments from the French Finance Minister, followed by a couple of minutes of my sage observations.

For what it’s worth, “reprehensible” doesn’t begin to capture my disdain for what the politicians are trying to achieve.

What’s particularly irritating is that politicians want us to think that companies are engaging in rogue tax avoidance. Yet, as I noted in the interview, national governments already have the ability to reject overly aggressive forms of tax planning by multinational firms.

Here’s some of what was reported about the proposed cartel by the Associated Press.

The Group of Seven wealthy democracies agreed Saturday to support a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15%… U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the agreement “provides tremendous momentum” for reaching a global deal that “would end the race-to-the-bottom in corporate taxation…” The endorsement from the G-7 could help build momentum for a deal in wider talks among more than 135 countries being held in Paris as well as a Group of 20 finance ministers meeting in Venice in July. …The Group of 7 is an informal forum among Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States. European Union representatives also attend. Its decisions are not legally binding, but leaders can use the forum to exert political influence.

As you just read, the battle is not lost. Hopefully, the jurisdictions with good corporate tax policy (Ireland, Bermuda, Hong Kong, Cayman Islands, Switzerland, etc) will resist pressure and thus cripple Biden’s cartel.

I’ll close by emphasizing that the world needs tax competition as a necessary check on the greed of politicians. Without any sort of constraint, elected officials will over-tax and over-spend.

Which is why they’re trying to impose a tax cartel. They don’t want any limits on their ability to buy votes with other people’s money.

And we can see from Greece what then happens.

P.S. The Trump Administration also was awful on the issue of tax competition.

P.P.S. Here’s my most-recent column about the so-called “race to the bottom.”

P.P.P.S. As noted in the interview, both the IMF and OECD have research showing the destructive impact of higher corporate tax burdens.

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Biden campaigned for higher taxes and a bigger welfare state, so I haven’t been surprised by his misguided fiscal agenda.

That being said, I was modestly hopeful that he would move trade policy in the right direction after four years of Trump’s protectionism.

To be sure, I didn’t think he would do the right thing because of some long-hidden belief in sound economics. But I figured he might reduce trade barriers simply to do the opposite of his predecessor.

We should be so lucky. Regardless of the policy, we’ve been getting statism.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post is not impressed by Biden’s protectionism.

Several months after he left office, some of President Donald Trump’s most foolish economic policies remain in place: his sweeping trade restrictions. …Trump began waging a series of trade wars three years ago — not primarily with U.S. adversaries, mind you, but with friends. Among the dumbest and most self-sabotaging measures were global tariffs levied on nearly $50 billion of imported steel and aluminum. …the countries most affected by Trump’s move were our close economic and military allies, including the European Union, Canada and Japan. …Despite Trump’s claims otherwise, the cost of the tariffs was primarily passed through to American consumers and companies. Downstream firms that use steel or inputs made of steel, which employ about 80 times more workers than the steel industry does, faced higher costs. One estimate found that Trump’s steel tariffs alone cost U.S. consumers and businesses about $900,000 for every job created or saved.

Getting rid of taxes on imported steel and aluminum would be a positive step for the economy.

But the real goal should be getting rid of all Trump’s taxes on global trade. Garrett Watson from the Tax Foundation recently shared estimates of how this would benefit the American economy.

…repealing the tariffs imposed under President Trump’s administration would be one of the simplest ways policymakers could boost economic growth. …About $460 billion worth of goods were subject to the tariffs, raising prices for consumers. In fact, we estimated the tariffs were about an $80 billion annual tax increase, reducing consumer purchasing power. …According to the Tax Foundation model, repealing tariffs imposed since 2018 would raise long-run GDP by 0.1 percent, long-run incomes (gross national product) by 0.2 percent, and create about 83,000 full-time equivalent jobs. This growth would boost after-tax incomes by about 0.3 percent for people across the income spectrum, helping low-income and middle-class taxpayers. …Repealing the tariffs would be a simple option to boost growth because it can be done without congressional authorization by President Biden, and would provide timely relief to businesses and households.

The last sentence is key. Trump had lots of unilateral authority to impose bad trade policy, and Biden has lots of unilateral authority to undo bad trade policy.

The fact that he hasn’t exercised that authority makes him just as guilty of anti-market trade policy as Trump.

The next thing to watch for is whether he continues Trump’s bad policy of sabotaging the World Trade Organization.

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While Paul Krugman sometimes misuses and misinterprets numbers for ideological reasons (see his errors regarding the United States, France, Canada, the United States, Estonia, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom), he isn’t oblivious to reality.

At least not totally.

He’s acknowledged, for instance, that there is a Laffer Curve and that tax rates can become so onerous that tax revenues actually decline.

Now he’s had another encounter with the real world.

In a column that was mostly a knee-jerk defense of Biden’s class-warfare tax policy, Krugman confessed yesterday that big government ultimately means big tax increases for lower-income and middle-class people.

…is trying to “build back better” by taxing only the very affluent feasible? Is it wise? …There’s a good case that the kind of society progressives want us to become, with a very strong social safety net, can’t be paid for just by taxing the rich. A country like Denmark, for example, does have a high top tax rate… But Denmark also has very high middle-class taxation, in particular a 25 percent value-added tax, effectively a national sales tax. …the fact that even the Nordic countries feel compelled to raise a lot of money from the middle class suggests that there are limits…to how much you can raise just by taxing the rich. So if you want Medicare for all, Nordic levels of support for child care and families in general, and so on, just raising taxes on the 400K-plus elite won’t get you there.

It may not happen often, but Krugman is completely correct.

European-sized government requires European-style taxes on everyone. And that means a big value-added tax, as Krugman notes. And it almost certainly also means big energy taxes, higher payroll taxes, and much higher income tax rates on middle-class taxpayers.

This chart from Brian Riedl shows that government spending already was on track to become a bigger burden for the American economy, and Biden is proposing to go even faster in the wrong direction.

The growing gap between the blue lines and red lines implies giant tax increases. At the risk of understatement, there’s no way to finance that ever-expanding government by just pillaging upper-income taxpayers.

By the way, Krugman is right about big government leading to higher taxes on ordinary people, but he’s wrong about the desirability of that outcome.

He wants us to think that big government means a “better America,” but all the economic data tells a different story. A bigger fiscal burden means much lower living standards.

P.S. If you want another example of Krugman being right on a fiscal issue, click here.

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How should Nazism be classified, particularly when compared to socialism? Are these ideologies at opposite ends of a spectrum, or are they simply different sides of the same collectivist coin?

In my humble opinion, both views are correct, which is why I think this triangle is the best way to classify various ideologies.

Nazis are motivated by race hatred and the socialists are motivated by class hatred, so they basically are at opposite ends at the bottom of the triangle.

But both ideologies are against free markets and both put the state over the individual, so they are far away from libertarianism (or classical liberalism) when looking from top to bottom.

These different ways of looking at the issue explain why Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post created a controversy when he decided to “fact check” this statement from gadfly Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

According to Kessler, Greene deserved “four Pinocchios” for asserting that Hitler and the Nazis were socialists.

The full name of Hitler’s party was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. In English, that translates to National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But it was not a socialist party; it was a right-wing, ultranationalist party dedicated to racial purity, territorial expansion and anti-Semitism — and total political control. …the 1920 Nazi party platform…there are…passages denouncing banks, department stores and “interest slavery.” That could be seen as “a quasi-Marxist rejection of free markets. But these were also typical criticisms in the anti-Semitic playbook …Hitler adamantly rejected socialist ideas, dismantled or banned left-leaning parties and disapproved of trade unions. …We suggest Greene brush up on her history… She earns Four Pinocchios.

This is remarkable. The Nazis called themselves socialists, yet Kessler says Greene is lying for saying the same thing.

I’m not the only one to notice this bizarre example of media bias.

Professor Hannes Gissurarson from Iceland debunked Kessler’s hack analysis.

A ‘fact-checker’ at Washington Post, Glenn Kessler, asserts that a Republican Member of the House of Representatives is wrong in a recent comment on Hitler’s national socialism. It is not, as she had said, a branch of socialism. Kessler writes that the German Nazi Party, despite its name (the National-Socialist Workers’ Party), ‘was not a socialist party…’ In support of his case, Kessler quotes the first eight of the 25 points in the 1920 Nazi political programme… He lukewarmly concedes that in the Nazi programme there were also passages denouncing capitalism. But why does he not quote them as well? …It is hard not to discern the socialist overtones in these points. Why did the Washington Post fact-checker not quote them in full like the first eight? …according to Hayek national socialism could be considered to be the rebellious socialism of the lower middle class… Traditional socialists, democrats as well as communists, shared with Hitler’s national socialists the belief that conscious organisation had to replace the spontaneous order… Hayek is certainly right that there are strong family resemblances between traditional socialism and national socialism. Both are totalitarian creeds.

Professor David Henderson also eviscerated Kessler’s sloppy column.

Glenn Kessler, the Post‘s official fact checker, …analyzes various statements and claims to determine whether they are true. If he finds them false, he awards them Pinocchios, with the number of Pinocchios depending on the degree of falsehood. The highest number of Pinocchios he awards is 4. On May 29, Glenn Kessler earned his own Pinocchios. …Nazis…really were a socialist party. …Kessler attempts to buttress his case by listing the first 8 of 25 planks in the 1920 Nazi Party platform. Those planks do help his case that the Nazis were anti-Semitic (duh) and nationalists (ditto duh). But what about the other 17 planks? …pretty socialistic.

Here are some of those planks that Kessler conveniently omitted.

11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery. …

13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).

14. We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.

15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare. …

17. We demand a land reform suitable to our needs, provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purposes of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land.

Henderson also zings Kessler for using a misleading quote from Martin Niemoller.

By the way, the Nazis didn’t merely advocate for socialism in an early platform. They also implemented statist policies once they took power.

Back in 2007, Michael Moynihan wrote about the Nazi welfare state in a book review for Reason.

…the Nazis maintained popular support—a necessary precondition for the “final solution”—not because of terror or ideological affinity but through a simple system of “plunder,” “bribery,” and a generous welfare state. …Requisitioned Jewish property, resources stolen from the conquered, and punitive taxes levied on local businesses insulated citizens from shortages and allowed the regime to create a “racist-totalitarian welfare state.” …To understand Hitler’s popularity, …”it is necessary to focus on the socialist aspect of National Socialism.” …Adolf Eichmann viewed National Socialism and communism as “quasi-siblings,” explaining in his memoirs that he “inclined towards the left and emphasized socialist aspects every bit as much as nationalist ones.” As late as 1944, Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels publicly celebrated “our socialism,” reminding his war-weary subjects that Germany “alone [has] the best social welfare measures.” Contrast this, he advised, with the Jews, who were the very “incarnation of capitalism.” …Hitler implemented a variety of interventionist economic policies, including price and rent controls, exorbitant corporate taxes, frequent “polemics against landlords,” subsidies to German farmers…and harsh taxes on capital gains, which Hitler himself had denounced as “effortless income.”

The bottom line is that the Nazis are justifiably hated for reasons that have nothing to do with economic policy.

But it’s also true that their economic policy was a version of socialism (fascism involves government control rather than government ownership, but the result is the same).

Here are two videos from Prager University for those who want more information. First, we can learn about communism and Nazism.

Second, we can learn about the history of fascism.

Let’s wrap up by quoting George Will on the interrelated ideas of fascism, Nazism, and socialism.

Fascism…was a recoil against Enlightenment individualism: the idea that good societies allow reasoning, rights-bearing people to define for themselves the worthy life. …Mussolini, a fervent socialist until his politics mutated into a rival collectivism, distilled fascism to this: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” The Nazi Party — the National Socialist German Workers’ Party — effected a broad expansion of socialism’s agenda…

Last, but not least, here’s a reminder that we should be very wary of demagogues who promise goodies.

P.S. Kessler should have “fact checked” the last part of Rep. Greene’s statement. As much as I dislike “democratic socialism,” today’s Democrats are not trying to impose a totalitarian system.

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Looking at the dismal performance of the FDA, CDC, and WHO, the obvious takeaway from the pandemic is that big government doesn’t work very well.

Indeed, that was the point of a five-part series (see here, here, here, here, and here) on the topic.

One implication of all this analysis is that it’s almost always a good idea to let the private sector take the lead.

Which is why businesses rather than governments should decide whether to impose vaccine requirements.

Today’s column is motivated by two stories, the first of which is from ABC News. It involves a Texas hospital that is getting sued because it requires employees to be vaccinated.

Over 100 employees have joined a lawsuit against Houston Methodist hospital in Texas for requiring all employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The network, which oversees eight hospitals and has more than 26,000 employees, gave workers a deadline of June 7 to get the vaccine. If not, staffers risk suspension and termination, according to the lawsuit. …The complaint cited that forcing employees to get the vaccine violates Nuremberg Code, a medical ethics code which bans forced medical experiments and mandates voluntary consent. …Houston Methodist…released a statement in response to the lawsuit Friday, saying 99% of the network’s employees have been vaccinated. “It is unfortunate that the few remaining employees who refuse to get vaccinated and put our patients first are responding in this way.”

Our second story is from Florida.

Here are some excerpts from a Washington Post column about whether cruise ships operating out of Florida can exclude non-vaccinated passengers.

Cruise lines see vaccine requirements as their quickest path back to sailing from the United States. But Florida, home to the largest operators and busiest cruise ports in the world, has passed a law saying those companies are not allowed to ask passengers for proof of vaccination status. …Jim Walker, a maritime attorney..called the vaccine law “singularly the greatest impediment to the resumption of cruising in the state of Florida.” …DeSantis told reporters that he wanted cruise lines to operate and be able to make decisions about how they want to handle health and safety rules — within certain parameters. …he said even if some people were okay with the idea of having to prove that they were vaccinated to take a cruise, “it will not stop at that.”

Simply stated, I believe in property rights. The hospital should have the liberty to require vaccinations as a condition of employment and cruise ship companies should have the liberty to require vaccinations as a condition of taking a cruise.

It doesn’t matter, buy the way, whether I think the hospital or the cruise ship companies are making wise choices. I’m not a shareholder, so my opinion is irrelevant.

I do have the right, of course, to decide whether to seek a job at the hospital, or to choose to be a patient there. Likewise, I also have the right to choose whether go on a cruise, or whether to seek a job on a cruise ship.

In both cases, I can make my choices based on whether I like their vaccine policy. Or for any other reason.

I’m a free person and the people running companies also have freedom. If we don’t mutually agree to a transaction, it doesn’t happen.

It’s called “freedom of association,” and it’s a principle of a free society.

The bottom line is that there should be no philosophical objection to “vaccine passports” in the private sector.

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In the world of public finance, Ireland is best known for its 12.5 percent corporate tax rate.

That’s a very admirable policy, as will be momentarily discussed, but my favorite Irish policy was the four-year spending freeze in the late 1980s.

I discussed that fiscal reform in a video about 10 years ago, and I subsequently shared data on how spending restraint reduced the overall burden of government in Ireland and also lowered red ink.

It’s a great case study showing the beneficial impact of my Golden Rule.

Spending restraint also paved the way for better tax policy, and that’s a perfect excuse to discuss Ireland’s pro-growth corporate tax system. The Wall Street Journal opined last week about that successful supply-side experiment.

Democrats want a high global minimum tax that would end national tax competition and reduce the harm from their huge tax increase on U.S. business. But tax competition has been a boon to global growth and investment, as Ireland’s famous low-tax policy makes clear. Far from a “race to the bottom,” Ireland adopted policies that were ahead of their time and helped its economy grow from a backwater into a Celtic tiger. …in the late 1990s …an EU mandate led Dublin to…pioneer…a new strategy: Apply the same low tax rate to every business. Policy makers settled on 12.5%, which was a tax increase for some companies but a cut for others. This was a classic flat-tax reform… Ireland has reaped the benefits. Between 1986 and 2006, the economy grew to nearly 140% of the EU average from a mere two-thirds. Employment nearly doubled to two million, and the brain drain of the 1970s and 1980s reversed. …Oh and by the way: After Ireland slashed its rate and broadened the corporate-tax base, tax revenue soared. Except for the post-2008 recession and its aftermath, corporate-profits taxes in some years account for about 13% of total revenue and exceed 3% of GDP. That’s up from as low as 5% of revenue and less than 2% of GDP before the current tax rate was introduced.

That’s a lot of great information, particularly the last couple of sentences about how Ireland collected more revenue when the corporate tax rate was slashed.

Indeed, I discussed that remarkable development in Part II of my video series on the Laffer Curve (and it’s not just an Irish phenomenon since both the IMF and OECD have persuasive global data on lower corporate tax rates and revenue feedback).

Though higher revenue is not necessarily a good thing.

I complained back in 2011, for example, about how Irish politicians began to spend too much money once a booming economy began to generate a lot of tax revenue.

Which is a good argument for a Swiss-style spending cap in Ireland.

Let’s wrap up by considering some fiscal lessons from Ireland. Here are four things everyone should know.

  1. Spending restraint is a powerful tool to achieve smaller government..
  2. Lower tax rates on productive behavior lead to jobs and prosperity.
  3. Lower corporate tax rates can generate substantial revenue feedback.
  4. A spending cap is needed to maintain long-run fiscal discipline.

Good rules for Ireland. Good rules for any nation.

P.S. Ireland has definitely prospered in recent decades, but GNI data gives a more accurate picture than GDP data.

July 29, 2021 Addendum: This chart shows the growth Ireland has experienced since starting to adopt pro-market policies in the mid-1980s.

Even though the nation got hit hard by the financial crisis, it is still far ahead of where it was before reforms.

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