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I have a confession. I miss Obama. On the issue of guns, at least.

He was so wrong, yet so ineffective, that it was almost funny.

Heck, it was funny.

Fortunately, he’s decided to make an encore performance. So there’s a new opportunity to puncture his pious pronouncements.

Writing for the Federalist, Ryan Cleckner debunks Obama’s fatuous statements about gun control at a recent speech in Brazil.

On May 30, former president Barack Obama was a keynote speaker at an event in Brazil. …During a conversation with a host on stage during the digital innovation event, Obama took the opportunity to speak negatively about U.S. gun laws. He said, “Our gun laws in the United States don’t make much sense. Anybody can buy any weapon, any time, without much, if any, regulation. They can buy [guns] over the internet, they can buy machine guns.” His statement to a foreign audience includes six lies about our gun laws.

Here are Obama’s six lies, with the concomitant corrections.

1. Anybody Can Buy a Firearm

There are three major federal restrictions on who may purchase firearms in the United States… The first category of persons who may not purchase firearms under federal law is based on age.  Persons under 21 years of age may not purchase handguns from a gun dealer, and persons under 18 years of age may not purchase rifles nor shotguns. The second category of persons who may not purchase firearms under federal law are referred to as “prohibited persons.” This category includes, among others…Felons, Those convicted of domestic violence, Unlawful users of controlled substances, Illegal aliens, Those subject to certain restraining orders, Those adjudicated as mental defectives or committed to mental institutions, Fugitives, and Veterans with dishonorable discharges… The third major category includes non-U.S. citizens.

2. Any Firearm Can Be Purchased

Under federal law, machine guns made after 1986 may not be purchased by civilians (more on this under lie No. 5 below). Also, the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) regulates other firearms which may be purchased, but clearly not in the way insinuated by Obama’s comments (more on this under lie No. 3 below).

3. A Firearm Can Be Purchased at Any Time

When purchasing a firearm from a federally licensed gun dealer (FFL), background-check requirements must be satisfied. In most cases, this includes a background check being run through the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). …Federal background checks may only be run between 8 a.m. and 1 a.m. Eastern… Within the statement that a firearm can be purchased at any time is also the inference that a firearm may be purchased anywhere. This is also false. For example, handguns many only be purchased in a person’s state of residence. Therefore, if a person wants to purchase a handgun while he out of his home state, that is a time at which he is not permitted to purchase a firearm. For the class of firearms covered by the NFA, such as short-barreled rifles, a purchaser must wait until certain paperwork is approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). This wait time is often up to 10 months.

4. Firearms Can Be Purchased with Few Regulations

…the United States has many regulations on the purchase and possession of firearms.

5. Firearms Can Be Purchased Over the Internet

It seems clear that Obama wants people to think that a gun can be purchased online and shipped straight to a purchaser’s home like any other online purchase. This is not true. It is technically true that firearms may be purchased online. However, when a person purchases a firearm online from an out-of-state retailer, the firearm must first be shipped to a local FFL, where the purchaser must appear in person to fill out the federally required paperwork and satisfy the background check requirements.

6. Anyone Can Purchase a Machine Gun

…machine guns made after 1986 may not be purchased nor possessed by an ordinary civilian. These machine guns may only be purchased or possessed by FFLs or government entities. Machine guns made before 1986 are still NFA firearms and may only be purchased after the extensive paperwork and wait times that accompany all NFA firearm purchases. Additionally, some local laws outright ban the possession of any machine guns.

It’s unclear whether Obama actually knew he was lying.

I suspect he actually thinks he was being truthful. After all, he lives in a bubble and probably never hears any voices other than those from the leftist echo chamber.

Regardless, what makes this episode especially amusing is that Brazil is moving in the right direction on civil rights for gun owners.

Here are some excerpts from a CNN report in May.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has signed an executive order relaxing gun rules in the country, making it easier to import guns and increasing the amount of ammunition a person can buy in a year. Bolsonaro announced the signing of the decree at a Tuesday news conference, arguing “it is an individual right of the one who may want to have a firearm or seek the possession of a firearm… obviously respecting and fulfilling some requirements.”The conservative provocateur…appears to delivering on his campaign promise to loosen gun laws. …Among the other changes, it simplifies the procedure to transfer the ownership of a firearm, and eases import restrictions on firearms,”allowing free initiative, stimulating competition, rewarding quality and safety, as well as economic freedom, so privileged by the Lord,” the Brazilian government wrote in a statement. …Bolsonaro had previously signed a decree in January making it easier to own a gun in the South American country.

I’m glad that law-abiding people in Brazil now have a better chance of protecting themselves from criminals.

Combined with the spending cap adopted a few years ago, there’s some small reason to hope that Brazil could become the next Chile.

Though we’ll have to wait and see if the country enacts some desperately needed pension reform.

In the meantime, kudos to Bolsonaro for doing the right thing on guns.

And too bad nobody in Brazil asked Obama why Brazil wasn’t following his empty advice.

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I started my end-of-year “best and worst” series back in 2013, but didn’t begin my start-of-year “hopes and fears” series until 2017.

In that first year, I got part of what I hoped for (some tax reform and a bit of regulatory easing) and part of what I feared (no Medicaid and Medicare reform), but I mostly felt relieved that some of my fears (border-adjustment tax and an infrastructure boondoggle) weren’t realized.

For 2018, none of my hopes (government collapse in Venezuela and welfare reform) became reality, but we dodged one of my fears (Trump killing NAFTA) and moved in the wrong direction on another (a bad Brexit deal).

Time for third edition of this new tradition. It is the first day of the year and here are my good and bad expectations for 2019.

We’ll start with things I hope will happen in the coming year.

  • Hard Brexit – There is a very strong long-run argument for the United Kingdom to have a full break with the European Union. Unfortunately, the political establishment in both London and Brussels is conspiring to keep that from happening. But the silver lining to that dark cloud is that the deal they put together is so awful that Parliament may vote no. Under current law, that hopefully will lead to a no-deal Brexit that gives the U.K. the freedom to become more free and prosperous.
  • Supreme Court imposes limits of Washington’s power – I didn’t write about the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court because I don’t know if he believes in the limits on centralized power in Article 1, Section 8. But I’m semi-hopeful that his vote might make the difference in curtailing the power of the administrative state. And my fingers are crossed that he might vote with the Justices who want to restore the Constitution’s protection of economic liberty.
  • Gridlock – Some people think gridlock is a bad thing, but it is explicitly what our Founders wanted when they created America’s separation-of-powers system. And if the alternative to gridlock is politicians agreeing to bad policy, I will cheer for stalemate and division with great gusto. I will be perfectly content if Trump and House Democrats spend the next two years fighting with each other.
  • Maduro’s ouster – For the sake of the long-suffering people of Venezuela, I’m going to keep listing this item until it eventually happens.
  • Limits on the executive branch’s power to impose protectionism – Trade laws give a lot of unilateral power to the president. Ideally, the law should be changed so that any protectionist policies proposed by an administration don’t go into effect unless also approved by Congress.
  • Chilean-style reform in Brazil – Brazil recently elected a president who is viewed as the Trump of Latin America. But he might be the good kind of populist who uses his power to copy Chile’s hugely successful pro-market reforms.

Here are the things that worry me for 2019.

  • Trump – The President does not believe in small government, so I’m concerned we may get the opposite of gridlock. In my nightmare scenario, I can see him rolling over to Democrat plans for a higher minimum wage, infrastructure pork, wage subsidies, and busting (again) the spending caps.
  • Recession-induced statism – If there’s an economic downturn this year, then I fear we might get an Obama-style Keynesian spending orgy in addition to all the things I just mentioned.
  • More protectionism – Until and unless there are limits on the president’s unilateral power, there is a very real dangers that Trump could do further damage to global trade. I’m particularly concerned that he might pull the U.S. our of the very useful World Trade Organization and/or impose very punitive tariffs on auto imports.
  • Fake Brexit – This is the flip side of my hope for a hard Brexit. Regardless of the country, it’s not easy to prevail when big business and the political elite are lined up on the wrong side of an issue.

Sadly, I think my fears for 2019 are more likely than my hopes.

And I didn’t even mention some additional concerns, such as what happens if China’s economy suffers a significant downturn. I fear that is likely because there hasn’t been much progress on policy since the liberalization of the 1980s and 1990s.

Or the potential implications of anti-market populism in important European nations such as Germany, Sweden, and Italy.

Last but not least, we have a demographic sword of Damocles hovering over the neck of almost every nation.

That was a problem last year, it’s a bigger problem this year, and it will become an even-bigger problem in future years.

We know the right answer to this problem, but real solutions are contrary to the selfish interests of politicians.

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Brazil appears to be a tragic example of what happens when societal capital erodes (or never gets established in the first place) and too many people in the country see government as a vehicle for redistribution.

That environment leads to statist policies.

Which presumably helps to explain why Brazil is ranked #144 in Economic Freedom of the World. That’s not as low as some of its neighbors, such as last-place Venezuela (#162) or close-to-last Argentina (#160), but it’s still miserable. The country definitely deserves to be in the “Least Free” group.

Today’s question is whether Brazil also belongs in the “give up hope” group. In other words, has the country passed a “tipping point” of big government?

I’ve previously speculated whether the United States eventually may reach that point, and I definitely think it’s a relevant issue for states like Illinois and nations such as Greece.

A few weeks ago, I would have put Brazil in the same category. But the nation just elected Jair Bolsonaro, a right-populist who promises to shake things up when he takes power.

Mauricio Bento of Brazil’s Instituto Mercado Popular explains that Bolsonaro won in part because of a weak economy.

Most of the coverage from international media has been simplistic and is mostly repeating cliches, such as calling him the “Brazilian Trump”…you might have read about how “terrible” Bolsonaro is, and you might be wondering how he managed to win by such a wide margin. …In the last four years, Brazil has been in a deep economic crisis, suffering from double-digit unemployment rates and a lack of confidence that a recovery is coming.

And in part because his opponent, Fernando Haddad, wanted to undo a handful of recent pro-growth reforms and make Brazil more like Venezuela.

Michel Temer…passed some important reforms, such as the spending cap amendment and the labor law reform… Haddad sought to repeal Temer’s reforms and increase government spending and taxes. This made many business owners and investors support Bolsonaro.

Since I am a big fan of the spending cap that was approved in late 2016, I’m glad that Haddad didn’t win.

But should anybody be happy that Bolsonaro won? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it looks like Brazil is about to have a very good Finance Minister.

The UK-based Financial Times has an encouraging report.

For Brazil’s new finance minister Paulo Guedes, the government of far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro could represent a “Pinochet” moment for Latin America’s largest economy.  Mr Bolsonaro, who won elections last Sunday, ending almost 15 years of leftwing rule, will take over a moribund economy burdened by a bloated public sector when he assumes office on January 1. …The Chilean dictator’s solution was a dose of Milton Friedman-style free market economics from University of Chicago-trained academics. Mr Bolsonaro is considering the same medicine in the form of Mr Guedes, who has a doctorate from Chicago… For supporters of Mr Bolsonaro, the 69-year-old Mr Guedes’ uncompromisingly free market view of the world is the only answer. “Liberals know how to do it,” Mr Guedes once said.

Since pro-market reforms turned Chile into the “Latin Tiger,” let’s hope Guedes is serious.

He definitely has a pro-growth agenda.

Mr Guedes — who first considered joining Mr Bolsonaro’s campaign only last year — has repeatedly said his priority is to end Brazil’s 7 per cent fiscal deficit through privatisations of the country’s 147 state-owned enterprises. ..Mr Guedes’ other plans include a radical simplification of Brazil’s tax system, one of the world’s most convoluted, and reforming the country’s costly pension system, which is threatening to overwhelm the budget.

Sounds like Guedes has the right ideas. Assuming Bolsonaro does what is right for his country (such as much-needed pension reform), Guedes could be the Jose Pinera of Brazil.

Here’s a chart from Economic Freedom of the World. It shows how economic liberalization produced a dramatic increase in freedom between 1975 and 1995. Chile is now ranked #15 for economic liberty. Brazil, by contrast, has slowly lost ground since a period of pro-market reform between 1985 and 2000.

I’ll close with a video that was released before the recent Brazilian election.

It’s directed to mushy-headed young people in America, but it neatly summarizes how Brazil go in trouble.

A great video. I especially appreciate the indirect endorsement of my Golden Rule. The criticisms of former President Lula also are spot on, though I once expressed perverse admiration for him.

In any event, let’s hope President-Elect Bolsonaro give Mr. Guedes free rein to bring economic liberty to Brazil.

P.S. Bolsonaro is good on gun rights, so that’s a positive sign.

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When I write about poorly designed entitlement programs, I will warn about America’s Greek future. Simply stated, we will suffer the same chaos and disarray now plaguing Greece if we don’t engage in serious reform.

Ideally sooner rather than later.

But when I write about state governments, perhaps it would be more appropriate to warn about a Brazilian future. That’s because many American states have made unaffordable and unfunded promises to give lavish benefits to retired bureaucrats, a topic that I’ve addressed on numerous occasions.

And why does that mean a Brazilian future? Because as Greece is already suffering the inevitable consequences of a bloated welfare state, Brazil is already suffering the inevitable consequences of a pension system that treats bureaucrats as a protected and cossetted class. Here are some excerpts from a sobering report in the Wall Street Journal.

Twenty years before Michel Temer became president of Brazil, he did something millions of his compatriots do, at great cost to the country’s coffers: He retired at age 55 and started collecting a generous pension. Delaying that moment until age 65 is at the center of Mr. Temer’s proposed economic overhaul. …making that happen is seen as a make-or-break test of whether the government can get its arms around mounting economic problems like rising debt, low investment and a stubborn recession now entering its third year. New pension rules are considered central to fixing an insolvent system.

It’s easy to understand why the system is bankrupt when you read the details.

…some retirees receive pensions before age 50 and surviving spouses can receive full pensions of the deceased while still drawing their own. The generosity of Brazil’s pension system is legendary—and, economists say, troubling as the country’s fertility rate plummets and life expectancy climbs. João Mansur, a long-time state legislator in Paraná state, served as interim governor there for 39 days in 1973, a stint that qualified him to retire with a $8,000 monthly pension. …Other former public workers who retire not only reap nearly the same income they got while on the job, but also see their checks get bumped up whenever those still working in the same job category get raises. …Retirement outlays will eat up 43% of the $422-billion national budget this year. …Demographics are playing against a generous system created in great part to bridge Brazil’s infamous social gap. Official statistics say there are 11 retirees for every 100 working-age Brazilians; that will rise to 44 per 100 by 2060.

Fixing this mess won’t be easy.

Brazil’s constitution must be amended to allow its pension system to be restructured… Mr. Temer has already been forced to make a series of major compromises, including exempting state and local government employees from the overhaul. …legislators have sought to further water down Mr. Temer’s proposals, by for instance maintaining the lower retirement ages for women and dragging out the transition from the old social-security regime to the new one.

In other words, Brazilian politicians are in the same position Greek politicians were in back in 2003. There’s a catastrophically bad fiscal forecast and the only issue is whether reforms will happen before a crisis actually begins. If you really want to be pessimistic, it’s even possible that Brazil has passed the tipping point of too much government dependency.

In any event, it appears that legislators prefer to kick the pension can down the road – even though that will make the problem harder to solve. Assuming they ever want to solve it.

Which is exactly what’s happening at the state level in America.

Consider these passages from a recent Bloomberg column.

Unfunded pension obligations have risen to $1.9 trillion from $292 billion since 2007. Credit rating firms have begun downgrading states and municipalities whose pensions risk overwhelming their budgets. New Jersey and the cities of Chicago, Houston and Dallas are some of the issuers in the crosshairs. …unlike their private peers, public pensions discount their liabilities using the rate of returns they assume their overall portfolio will generate. …Put differently, companies have been forced to set aside something closer to what it will really cost to service their obligations as opposed to the fantasy figures allowed among public pensions. …many cities and potentially states would buckle under the weight of more realistic assumed rates of return. By some estimates, unfunded liabilities would triple to upwards of $6 trillion if the prevailing yields on Treasuries were used.

But this looming disaster will not hit all states equally.

Here’s a map from the Tax Foundation which shows a tiny handful of states actually have funded their pensions (in other words, they may provide extravagant benefits, but at least they’ve set aside enough money to finance them). Most states, though, have big shortfalls.

The lighter the color, the bigger the financing gap.

To get a sense of the states that have a very good economic outlook, look for a combination of zero income taxes and small unfunded liabilities.

South Dakota (best tax system and negative pension liability!) gets the top marks, followed by Tennessee and Florida. Honorable mention for the state of Washington.

And is anyone surprised that Illinois is tied for last place? Or that Connecticut and New Jersey are near the bottom? Kentucky’s awful position, by contrast, is somewhat unexpected.

P.S. Brazil’s government may kick the can down the road on pension reform, but at least they added a spending cap to their constitution.

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There was some genuinely good news in 2016, which is more than I can say for 2015 (my “best” development for that year was some polling data, followed by some small-ball tinkering).

Though the good news for 2016 was mostly overseas. Here are the four things from around the world that made me happy this year.

And while we didn’t have any major positive developments in the United States, there was a bit of good news. Yes, it’s “small-ball tinkering,” but I’m always glad for any progress.

So those are the noteworthy good things that happened this year. Now let’s look at the other side of the ledger. What was the bad news of 2016?

Well, the good news (so to speak) is that there was not a lot of bad news. At least if we’re focusing on actual policy changes.

But there are three developments that cause me to worry about the future.

Tomorrow I will write about my hopes and fears for 2017.

Let’s close today’s column with a few special categories.

If there was an award for the most disgusting news of 2016, the NAACP would be the clear winner for their decision to sacrifice black children in order to collect blood money from teacher unions.

And if we also had a prize for most moronic leftist in 2016, there would be another easy winner. Trevor Noah inadvertently showed why gun control doesn’t work even though he wanted to make the opposite point.

Last but not least, if there was a category for surprising news in 2016, there’s no question that Paul Krugman would win that prize for writing something sensible about tax policy.

P.S. My most popular post in 2016 (which also set the all-time record) was the very clever image showing that the enemies of liberty are looters, regardless of their economic status.

P.P.S. My most surreal moment in 2016 was getting attacked on the front page of the Washington Post. I must be doing something right.

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What could be more fun than to spend the day before Christmas reading about fiscal policy?

I realize there are probably endless ways to answer that question, particularly since normal people are probably more concerned about the rumor that the feds are going to arrest Santa Claus.

But America’s fiscal future is very grim, so hopefully some of you will be interested in some relevant new research on spending caps.

My buddy Sven Larson has a scholarly article about deficits and the Swiss Debt Brake that has just been published by the Journal of Governance and Regulation.

The first half of his article is a review of the academic debate on whether deficits are good (the Keynesians) or bad (the austerity crowd). This literature review is necessary for that sort of article, though I think it’s a distraction because deficits are merely a symptom. The real problem is excessive government.

Sven then gets to the meat of his article, which considers whether the Swiss Debt Brake (which imposes a cap on annual spending increases) is a better approach because it isn’t focused on annual budget deficits (which are susceptible to big swings because income tax revenues can dramatically increase or decline based on the economy’s performance).

…the Swiss Debt Brake…focuses primarily on the non-cyclical, i.e., structural part of the deficit in Switzerland (Geier 2011). By focusing on the long-term debt outlook rather than the short-term or annual ebbs and flows, the debt brake allows the economy to move through a business cycle without disruptive fiscal-policy incursions. …Since it was introduced in 2003 it appears to have worked as intended. Beljean and Geier (2013) present evidence suggesting that the brake has ended a long period of sustained government deficits.

Sven then cites my Wall Street Journal column on the Debt Brake, which is nice, and he then shares some new evidence about the economic benefits of the Swiss spending cap.

The Swiss economy grew faster in the first decade after the brake went into effect than in the decade immediately preceding its enactment.

And, in his conclusion, he speculates that the United States could reap similar economic benefits with a spending cap.

Should Congress manage to pass and comply with an adapted version of the Swiss debt brake, it is reasonable to expect…stronger economic growth. As an indication of the potential macroeconomic gains, a real growth rate of three percent as opposed to two percent over a period of ten years would add more than $2.3 trillion in annual economic activity to the U.S. GDP.

The degree of additional growth that would be triggered by a spending cap is an open question, of course, but if we could get even half of that additional growth, it would be a boon for American living standards.

Let’s now shift to an article with a much more hostile view of spending caps.

I wrote very recently about the adoption of a spending cap in Brazil. This new system will limit government spending so that it can’t grow faster than inflation. Sounds very reasonable to me, but Zeeshan Aleem has a Vox column that is apoplectic about the supposed horrible consequences.

Americans worried that Donald Trump will try to shred the nation’s social welfare programs can take some grim comfort by looking south: No matter what Republicans do, it will pale in comparison with the changes that are about to ravage Brazil. On Thursday, a new constitutional amendment goes into effect in Brazil that effectively freezes federal government spending for two decades. Since the spending cap can only increase by the rate of inflation in the previous year, that means that spending on government programs like education, health care, pensions, infrastructure, and defense will, in real terms, remain paused at 2016 levels until the year 2037.

Since the burden of government spending in Brazil has been rising far faster than the growth of the private sector (thus violating fiscal policy’s Golden Rule), I view the spending cap as a long-overdue correction.

Interesting, Aleem admits that the policy is being welcomed by financial markets.

As far as inspiring faith from investors, the amendment appears to be working. Brazil’s currency and stocks rose during December in part because of the passage of the measure.

But the author is upset that there won’t be as much redistribution spending.

…the spending cap…places the burden of reining in government spending entirely on beneficiaries of government spending — all Brazilians, but especially the poor and the vulnerable.

Instead, Aleem wants big tax increases.

…the amendment does a great deal to limit the expenditure of government funds, it doesn’t do anything to directly address how to generate them directly: taxes. “The major cause of our fiscal crisis is falling revenues,” Carvalho says… Carvalho says taking an ax to spending is coming at the expense of discussing “taxing the very rich, who do not pay very much in taxes, or eliminating tax cuts that have been given to big corporations.”

Wow, methinks Professor Carvalho and I don’t quite see things the same way.

I would point out that falling revenues in a deep recession is not a surprise. But that’s an argument for policies that boost growth, not for big tax hikes.

Especially since the long-run fiscal problem in Brazil is a growing burden of government spending.

And it’s worth noting that overall impact of the spending cap, even after 10 years, will be to bring the size of the public sector back to where it was in about 2008.

Let’s close by reviewing an article by Charles Blahous of the Mercatus Center. Chuck starts by noting that we have a spending problem. More specifically, the burden of government is expanding faster than the private economy.

…to say we have a problem with deficits and debt is an oversimplification. What we have instead is an overspending problem, and the federal debt is essentially a symptom of that problem. …federal spending has grown and will grow (under current projections) faster than our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The solution, he explains, is a procedural version of a spending cap.

To solve this, future federal budgets in which spending grows as a percentage of GDP from one year to the next should require a congressional supermajority (e.g., three-fifths or two-thirds) to pass. Only if spending in the budget does not rise as a percentage of GDP from one year to the next could it be passed with a simple majority.

Chuck explains why there should be a limit on spending increases.

…we cannot permanently continue to allow federal spending to grow faster than America’s production. …as government spending growth exceeds GDP growth, we all lose more control over our economic lives. As individuals we will have less of a say over the disposition of each dollar we earn, because the government will claim a perpetually-growing share.

And higher taxes are never a solution to a spending problem.

…this problem cannot be solved by raising taxes. Raising taxes…does not avoid the necessity of keeping spending from rising faster than our productive output. Raising taxes may even have the downside of deferring the necessary solutions on the spending side.

The last sentence in that abstract is key. I’ve written about why – in theory – I could accept some tax increases in order to obtain some permanent spending reforms. In the real world of Washington, however, politicians will never adopt meaningful spending restraint if there’s even the slightest rumor that higher taxes may be an option.

He concludes that current budget rules need to be updated.

…budget rules apply no procedural barriers to continuing unsustainable spending growth rates, while legislative points of order protect baseline fiscal practices in which both federal spending and revenues grow faster than the economy’s ability to keep pace.

I certainly agree, though it would be nice to see something much stronger than just changes in congressional procedures.

Perhaps something akin to the constitutional spending caps in Hong Kong and Switzerland?

Now that would be a nice Christmas present for American taxpayers.

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The good thing about being a libertarian (above and beyond respecting the rights and liberties of other people) is that you can always say “I told you so” when government intervention leads to bad results. Obamacare is a very good (albeit very painful) example.

The bad thing about being a libertarian is that you don’t win many victories. No matter how much evidence is on your side, politicians usually do the wrong thing. Not because they are necessarily evil. They’re simply responding to “public choice” incentives.

Indeed, the only big victory that I’ve had in recent years was the sequester. And even that victory has been tarnished by the 2013 and 2015 deals that weakened the caps on discretionary outlays.

So I’m delighted to report that Brazil has actually amended its constitution to impose a spending cap. I was somewhat hopeful that this might happen when I wrote about the issue back in October, but never allowed myself to think it would actually happen.

The Wall Street Journal reports on this remarkable development.

Brazil’s Senate approved a measure capping public spending, delivering a victory to embattled President Michel Temer, who is struggling to close a massive budget deficit and revive the nation’s moribund economy. In an unusually rapid session with little discussion, lawmakers on Tuesday voted 53 to 16 to approve a constitutional amendment limiting the country’s annual spending growth to the previous year’s inflation rate. The move was a drastic shot of discipline for Brazil’s government, whose public debt and deficits have expanded at rates so worrisome that three major credit agencies have downgraded the nation’s credit rating to junk status. Several economists and analysts praised the constitutionally enforced limits as the only way for Brazil’s government to live within its means and restore investor confidence.

It’s remarkable that Brazil’s politicians were willing to tie their own hands, but they presumably had no choice because the nation’s finances deteriorated to the point that drastic measures were necessary.

The spending cap applies to the federal budget starting in 2017, except for education and health costs, which will be subject to the limits starting in 2018. It was the centerpiece of austerity measures proposed by Mr. Temer to shore up Brazil’s shaky public finances. Brazil’s budget deficit was a hefty 8.3% of gross domestic product in October, after growing almost steadily from 1.8% of GDP in July 2011. Gross debt was 70.3% of GDP in October, up from its more recent low of 51% of GDP in December 2012.

As you might expect, there was opposition.

..the measure drew the ire of opposition politicians, labor unions and citizens concerned that spending limits could harm Brazil’s troubled health-care and education systems.

So it is impressive that the this constitutional reform received supermajority support for two votes in the Brazilian House, followed by supermajority support for two votes in the Brazilian Senate.

I would like to think I played at least a tiny role in this development. I’ve crunched numbers showing that nations get very good results when spending is restrained for multi-year periods.

I’ve written extensively on the successful spending caps in Switzerland and Hong Kong, both of which are part of those nations’ constitutions.

And I’ve highlighted the fact that international bureaucracies, when they investigate the efficacy of various fiscal rules, always conclude that spending caps are the only effective approach.

I also wrote an article for the Brazilian media back in October.

But even if I had no impact on the debate, I’m still very happy about the outcome.

Assuming, of course, that Brazil doesn’t have a Supreme Court Justice like John Roberts who will somehow make a politicized decision and sabotage the new spending cap!

P.S. I seem to have more success overseas than in the United States. I did help defeat the income tax in the Cayman Islands a few years ago, and I also hope that my recent trip to Vanuatu will lead to a similar outcome.

But since I’m a patriot (in the proper sense) who wants the United States to be a beacon of liberty for the world, it sure would be nice to win a few battles here at home.

P.P.S. Brazil may be on the cusp of other pro-market reforms, in part because of a vibrant libertarian movement in the country.

Here’s a video from Reason on this positive development.

Jeff Tucker of the Foundation for Economic Education has a very upbeat assessment.

I went on a three-city speaking tour in Brazil. …I found an amazingly well-educated crowd of students, young professionals, professors, media personalities, and digital activists, all dedicated to using the upheaval to the advantage of freedom itself. Organizations like Mises Brazil, and many others that have spun off from Students for Liberty and other organizations, have spent years translating and distributing books and articles, holding seminars, and cultivating young people for a life of activism. …The libertarians in Brazil seem to understand that ideological slogans and promises for change mean nothing so long as states are huge, invasive, and offer a bounty to anyone who gains power.

Let’s hope this is right and Brazil becomes a star reformer. Chile (and, in recent years, Peru) have been lonely outposts of good policy in South America.

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