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Archive for the ‘Clinton’ Category

The best feature of libertarians is that we are very principled and look at everything through the lens of the non-aggression principle.

By contrast, the worst feature of politics, as explained by the Ninth Theorem of Government, is that it encourages people look at everything through the lens of partisanship.

In other words, there’s a desire to always make your team look good and the other team look bad, even if you have to torture data.

Here’s an example.

In a column for the New York Times, Michael Tomasky asserts that Democratic presidents have a much better track record on the economy than their Republican counterparts.

Mr. Biden and his party’s No. 1 job between now and Election Day: Make it clear that Democrats have been better stewards of the economy — for decades, and by far. Many people don’t believe this. …But it’s true. …the country has done better for decades under Democrats, by nearly every major economic measure. From John Kennedy through Barack Obama — 56 years during which, as it happens, we had a Democratic president for 28 years and a Republican president for 28 — we saw more than 50 million jobs created under Democrats and just 24 million jobs created under Republicans. Even the stock market has performed better under Democratic presidents. …just toting up numbers by the months each party had in power is imprecise. But there’s no better way to do it.

Any decent social scientist will quickly identify are all sorts of problems with Tomasky’s methodology.

  • What about the impact of which party has full or partial control of Congress?
  • Is it right to blame (or credit) presidents for what happens in their first year or two, before they’ve had a chance to enact and implement new policies?
  • Should other variables be measured, such as median household income or labor force participation?

But let’s set aside these concerns, as well as others that can be listed, and accept Tomasky’s numbers. Does this mean that the economy does better when Democrats are in the White House?

That’s certainly a possible interpretation, but it’s far more accurate to say that the economy does better when a president – regardless of party – adopts good policy (or, to be more accurate, if good policy is implemented during their presidency).

I’ve previously ranked presidents based on what happened to the burden of government spending during their tenures. And one thing that stands out is that Republicans seem to be even worse than Democrats – even when looking at what happened to domestic spending (with Reagan and Johnson being the only two exceptions).

And I’ve also graded many of the modern presidents (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama) based on their overall record on economics. If you peruse their performances, you’ll see there’s no obvious connection between good policy and partisan affiliation.

But I’ve never put together a best-to-worst list, so here’s my ranking of every president since Kennedy.

Let me elaborate – and also add some caveats.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s good modern-quality data on JFK (or, to be more accurate, I’ve never searched for it), but I included him since he’s part of Tomasky’s analysis. That being said, he may be ranked too low. Yes, he spent too much money and implemented some bad policies, but he also lowered tax rates and pushed for free trade.

I also think it’s too early to grade Trump, but I included him since I know that will be of interest to readers. As you might imagine, I like what he’s done on taxes and red tape, but his record on other issues is bad – and getting worse. I’m especially concerned about the consequences and impact of the Fed’s easy-money policy, an approach Trump certainly supports.

Johnson and Nixon are unambiguously terrible, while Reagan is the star performer.

Clinton was surprisingly good (feel free to give the credit to Newt Gingrich if you want, but we didn’t need veto overrides to get the good policies of the 1990s).

The rest of the presidents were generally bad. I put them in reverse chronological order since I didn’t see any logical way of differentiating between them.

I can’t resist citing one more segment from Tomasky’s column.

Republican failures are not an unhappy coincidence. They’re a result of conservative governing practice. Republicans no longer fundamentally believe in the workings of government, so they don’t govern well. Their contempt for government is a result of conservative economic theory.

This is nonsense, as should be obvious from what I’ve already written. Republicans do not have a track record of “conservative governing.”

With one exception. We had relatively competent governance from the one GOP president who did have a “contempt for government” (actually, just contempt for big government).

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Steve Moore and Art Laffer are the authors of Trumponomics, a largely favorable book about the President’s economic policy.

I have a more jaundiced view about Trump.

I’m happy to praise his good policies (taxes and regulation), but I also condemn his bad policies (spending and trade).

And as you might expect, some people are completely on the opposite side from Moore and Laffer.

Writing for New York, Jonathan Chait offers a very unfriendly review of the book. He starts by categorizing Steve and Art (as well as Larry Kudlow, who wrote the foreword) as being fixated on tax rates.

The authors of Trumponomics are Larry Kudlow (who left in the middle of its writing to accept a job as director of the National Economic Council), Stephen Moore, and Arthur Laffer. The three fervently propound supply-side economics, a doctrine that holds that economic performance hinges largely on maintaining low tax rates on the rich. …Kudlow, Moore, and Laffer are unusually fixated on tax cuts, but they are merely extreme examples of the entire Republican Establishment, which shared their broad priorities.

For what it’s worth, I think low tax rates are good policy. And I suspect that the vast majority of economists will agree with the notion that lower tax rates are better for growth than high tax rates.

But Chait presumably thinks that Larry, Steve, and Art overstate the importance of low rates (hence, the qualification about “economic performance hinges largely”).

To bolster his case, he claims advocates of low tax rates were wrong about the 1990s and the 2000s.

In the 1990s, the supply-siders insisted Bill Clinton’s increase in the top tax rate would create a recession and cause revenue to plummet. The following decade, they heralded the Bush tax cuts as the elixir that had brought in a glorious new era of prosperity. …The supply-siders have maintained absolute faith in their dogma in the face of repeated failure by banishing all doubt. …they have confined their failed predictions to the memory hole.

If Chait’s point is simply that some supply-siders have been too exuberant at times, I won’t argue. Exaggeration, overstatement, and tunnel vision are pervasive on all sides in Washington.

Heck, I sometimes fall victim to the same temptation, though I try to atone for my bouts of puffery by bending over backwards to point out that taxation is just one piece of the big policy puzzle.

Which is why I want to focus on this next excerpt from Chait’s article. He is very agitated that the book praises the economic performance of the Clinton years and criticizes the economic performance of the Bush years.

A brief economic history in Trumponomics touts the gains made from 1982 to 1999, and laments “those gains stalled out after 2000 under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.” Notice, in addition to starting the Reagan era in 1982, thus absolving him for any blame for the recession that began a year into his presidency, they have retroactively moved the hated leftist Bill Clinton into the right-wing hero camp and the beloved conservative hero George W. Bush into the failed left-wing statist camp.

Well, there’s a reason Clinton is in the good camp and Bush is in the bad camp.

As you can see from Economic Freedom of the World (I added some numbers and commentary), the U.S. enjoyed increasing economic liberty during the 1990s and suffered decreasing economic liberty during the 2000s.

For what it’s worth, I’m not claiming that Bill Clinton wanted more economic liberty or that George W. Bush wanted more statism. Maybe the credit/blame belongs to Congress. Or maybe presidents get swept up in events that happen to occur when they’re in office.

All I’m saying is that Steve and Art are correct when they point out that the nation got better overall policy under Clinton and worse overall policy under Bush.

In other words, Clinton’s 1993 tax increase was bad, but it was more than offset by pro-market reforms in other areas. Likewise, Bush’s tax cuts were good, but they were more than offset by anti-market policies in other areas.

P.S. Chait complained about Moore and Laffer “starting the Reagan era in 1982, thus absolving him for any blame for the recession that began a year into his presidency”.

Since I’m a fan of Reaganomics, I feel compelled to offer three comments.

  • First, the recession began in July 1981. That’s six months into Reagan’s presidency rather than one year.
  • Second, does Chait really want to claim that the downturn was Reagan’s fault? If so, I’m curious to get his explanation for how a tax cut that was signed in August caused a recession that began the previous month.
  • Third, the recession almost certainly should be blamed on bad monetary policy, and even Robert Samuelson points out that Reagan deserves immense praise for his handling of that issue.

P.P.S. Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike didn’t produce the budget surpluses of the late 1990s. If you don’t believe me, check out the numbers from Bill Clinton’s FY1996 budget.

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I’ve learned that it’s more important to pay attention to hard numbers rather than political rhetoric. Republicans, for instance, love to beat their chests about spending restraint, but I never believe them without first checking the numbers. Likewise, Democrats have a reputation as big spenders, but we occasionally get some surprising results when they’re in charge.

President Obama was especially hard to categorize. Republicans automatically assume he was profligate because he started his tenure with a Keynesian spending binge and the Obamacare entitlement. But after a few years in office, some were arguing he was the most frugal president of modern times.

Or, to be more accurate, what I basically discovered is that debt limit fights, sequestration, and government shutdowns were actually very effective. Indeed, the United States enjoyed a de facto spending freeze between 2009 and 2014, leading to the biggest five-year reduction in the burden of federal spending since the end of World War II. And it’s unclear that Obama deserves any of the credit since he was on the wrong side of those battles.

Anyhow, I’ve decided to update the numbers now that we have 8 years of data for Obama’s two terms.

But first, a brief digression on methodology: All the numbers you’re about to see have been adjusted for inflation, so these are apples-to-apples comparisons. Moreover, all my calculations are designed to show average annual increases. I also made sure that the “stimulus” spending that took place in the 2009 fiscal year was included in Obama’s totals, even though that fiscal year began (on October 1, 2008) while Bush was President.

We’ll start with a look at total outlays. On this basis, Obama is actually the most conservative President since World War II. And Bill Clinton is in second place.

But total outlays doesn’t really capture a President’s track record because interest payments are included, which effectively means they get blamed for all the debt run up by their predecessors.

So if we remove payments for net interest, we get a measure of what is called primary spending (total outlays minus net interest). As you can see, Obama is still in first place and Reagan jumps up to second place.

I would argue that one other major adjustment is needed to make the numbers more accurate.

There have been two major financial bailouts in the past 30 years, the savings & loan bailout in the late 1980s and the TARP bailout at the end of last decade. Those bailouts created big one-time expenses, followed by an influx of money (from asset sales and repaid loans) that actually gets counted as negative spending.

Those bailouts added a big chunk of one-time spending at the end of the Reagan years and at the end of the George W. Bush years, while then producing negative outlays during the early years of the George H.W. Bush Administration and Obama Administration.

So if we take out the one-time effects of those two bailouts (which I categorize as “non-TARP” for reasons of brevity), we get a new ranking.

Reagan is now in first place, followed by Clinton and Obama.

By the way, Lydon Johnson has been in last place regardless of how the numbers are calculated, and George W. Bush has had the second-worst numbers.

For all intents and purposes, the above numbers are how a libertarian would rank the various Presidents since both domestic spending and military spending are part of the calculations.

So let’s close by looking at how a conservative would rank the presidents, which is a simple exercise because all that’s required is to remove military spending. Here are the numbers showing the average inflation-adjusted increase in overall domestic outlays for various Presidents (still excluding the one-time bailouts, of course).

By this measure, Reagan easily is in first place. Though it’s worth noting that three Democrats occupy the next positions (though Obama’s numbers are no longer impressive), while Republicans (along with LBJ) get the worst scores.

The bottom line is that Reaganomics was a comparative success. But should we also conclude that Obama was a fiscal conservative?

I don’t think he deserves credit, but I won’t add anything to what I wrote above. Instead, I’ll simply note that Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute has a good analysis of Obama’s fiscal record. Here’s his conclusion.

It is important to recognize that Obama did not stop trying to expand government after 2010. The president’s eight annual budget requests gradually upped their 10-year revenue demands from $1.3 trillion to $3.4 trillion, while proposing an average of $1.0 trillion in new program spending over the next decade. His play, in short, was to gradually trim the budget deficit by chasing large spending increases with even larger tax increases. The Republican Congress stopped him. My assessment: Obama’s most important fiscal legacy was a sin of omission. Despite promising to confront Social Security and Medicare’s unsustainable deficits, the president refused to endorse any plan that would come close to achieving solvency. This surrendered eight crucial years of baby-boomer retirements while costs accelerated. With baby boomers retiring and a national debt projected to exceed $90 trillion within 30 years, this was no small surrender.

In other words, the relatively good short-run numbers were in spite of Obama. And the long-run numbers were bad – and still are bad – because he chose to let the entitlement problem fester. But he was still better (less worse) than Bush I, Bush II, and Nixon.

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I’ve written before about Hillary Clinton’s unethical and (presumably) illegal actions, both in terms of her email server and the Clinton Foundation.

We’ve probably only seen the tip of the iceberg, but one thing that can be said with confidence is that there is strong scent of corruption, cronyism, and insider dealing that surrounds Mrs. Clinton.

Every day seems to bring new evidence. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel puts it in blunt terms.

A Hillary Clinton presidency will be built, from the ground up, on self-dealing, crony favors, and an utter disregard for the law. This isn’t a guess. …It comes in the form of a memo written in 2011 by longtime Clinton errand boy Doug Band, who for years worked simultaneously at the Clinton Foundation and at the head of his lucrative consulting business, Teneo. It is astonishingly detailed proof that the Clintons do not draw any lines between their “charitable” work, their political activity, their government jobs or (and most important) their personal enrichment. Every other American is expected to keep these pursuits separate, as required by tax law, anticorruption law and campaign-finance law. For the Clintons, it is all one and the same—the rules be damned. …Any nonprofit lawyer in America knows the ironclad rule of keeping private enrichment away from tax-exempt activity, for the simple reason that mixing the two involves ripping off taxpayers. Every election lawyer in the country lives in fear of stepping over the lines governing fundraising and election vehicles. The Clintons recognize no lines. Here’s the lasting takeaway: The Clintons…know the risks. And yet they geared up the foundation and these seedy practices even as Mrs. Clinton was making her first bid for the presidency. They continued them as she sat as secretary of state. They continue them still, as she nears the White House. This is how the Clintons operate. They don’t change. Any one who pulls the lever for Mrs. Clinton takes responsibility for setting up the nation for all the blatant corruption that will follow.

Let’s look at some examples.

And we’ll start with the example of a Swiss bank that was being wrongfully persecuted by the American government for the supposed crime of protecting the privacy of clients (i.e., for following Swiss law inside Switzerland).

In other words, I’m very sympathetic to the bank. But I’m not a big fan of the Clintons using the bank’s legal woes as an opportunity to raise a bunch of money in exchange for a favorable disposition. Yet that’s exactly what happened, as reported by the U.K.-based Guardian.

In February 2009, the IRS sued UBS and demanded that it disclose the names of 52,000 possible American tax evaders with secret Swiss bank accounts. …On 19 August 2009, it was announced that UBS would pay no fine and would provide the IRS with information about 4,450 accounts within a year. Since the deal was struck, disclosures by the foundation and the bank show the donations by UBS to the Clinton Foundation growing “from less than $60,000 through 2008 to a cumulative total of about $600,000 by the end of 2014”… The bank also teamed up with the foundation on the Clinton Economic Opportunity Initiative, creating a pilot entrepreneur program through which UBS offered $32m in loans to businesses, the newspaper reported. Other UBS donations to the Clinton Foundation include a $350,000 donation from June 2011 and a $100,000 donation for a charity golf tournament. Additionally, UBS paid more than $1.5m in speaking fees to Bill Clinton between 2001 and 2014, the newspaper reported.

James Freeman, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, cites two other examples of Clinton-style pay-to-play. The first example deals with Morocco.

We now know from emails published by WikiLeaks that before Mrs. Clinton formally launched her campaign, she arranged for the king of Morocco to donate $12 million to Clinton Foundation programs. What’s significant about the Morocco case is that for years the Clintons peddled the fiction that donors write checks simply to support wondrous acts of Clintonian charity. But that cover story isn’t available here. Mrs. Clinton’s trusted aide Huma Abedin put it in writing: The Moroccans agreed to the deal on the condition that Mrs. Clinton would participate at a conference in their country. Panicked Clinton-campaign aides persuaded Mrs. Clinton to avoid such a trip before launching her candidacy—and the foundation got the king to settle for Bill and Chelsea Clinton. But the record is clear. The king wanted the access, influence and prestige that all strongmen crave from legitimate democracies.

The second example comes from Kazakhstan.

This wasn’t the first time the Clintons satisfied such a desire while collecting megadonations. When it comes to human rights, Kazakhstan’s dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, makes Morocco’s king look enlightened. In power since 1991 and never freely elected, Mr. Nazarbayev must have enjoyed the sensation of Mr. Clinton endorsing him to lead an international election-monitoring group in 2005. The Kazakh strongman knows how to return a favor, and he granted valuable mining concessions to Clinton Foundation donors. The donors then built a global uranium powerhouse that was eventually sold to the Russians in a deal that required the 2010 approval of a U.S. government committee that included Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.

There’s a lot more material I could share, but the purpose of today’s column isn’t to demonstrate Hillary’s recent unethical behavior.

Instead, I want to show how she has a decades-long pattern of using government for self-advancement and self-enrichment. And I’ll follow by drawing (what should be) a very obvious lesson about public policy.

To keep today’s column manageable, let’s review just two examples.

First, let’s go back more than 20 years to the early days of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Peggy Noonan explains Hillary’s attempt to replace the career professionals at the White House travel with cronies from Arkansas.

Why don’t people like Hillary Clinton? …Why, when some supposed scandal breaks and someone says she’s hiding something, do people, including many of her supporters, assume it’s true? …the scandals stretch back…all the way to her beginnings as a national figure. …It was early 1993. …It was the first big case in which she showed poor judgment, a cool willingness to mislead, and a level of political aggression that gave even those around her pause. It was after this mess that her critics said she’d revealed the soul of an East German border guard.

Let’s look at what happened.

On May 19, 1993, less than four months into the administration, the seven men who had long worked in the White House travel office were suddenly and brutally fired. The seven nonpartisan government workers, who helped arrange presidential trips, served at the pleasure of the president. But each new president had kept them on because they were good at their jobs. A veteran civil servant named Billy Dale had worked in the office 30 years and headed it the last 10. He and his colleagues were ordered to clear out their desks and were escorted from the White House, which quickly announced they were the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI. They were in shock. So were members of the press, who knew Mr. Dale and his colleagues as honest and professional. A firestorm ensued. Under criticism the White House changed its story. They said that they were just trying to cut unneeded staff and save money. Then they said they were trying to impose a competitive bidding process. They tried a new explanation—the travel office shake-up was connected to Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review. (Almost immediately Mr. Gore said that was not true.) The White House then said it was connected to a campaign pledge to cut the White House staff by 25%. Finally they claimed the workers hadn’t been fired at all but placed on indefinite “administrative leave.”

Noonan continues.

Why so many stories? Because the real one wasn’t pretty. It emerged in contemporaneous notes of a high White House staffer that the travel-office workers were removed because Mrs. Clinton wanted to give their jobs—their “slots,” as she put it, according to the notes of director of administration David Watkins—to political operatives who’d worked for Mr. Clinton’s campaign. And she wanted to give the travel office business itself to loyalists. There was a travel company based in Arkansas with long ties to the Clintons. There was a charter travel company founded by Harry Thomason, a longtime friend and fundraiser, which had provided services in the 1992 campaign.

Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Clinton lied about her efforts to turn the travel office into a goodie for a crony.

All along Mrs. Clinton publicly insisted she had no knowledge of the firings. Then it became barely any knowledge, then barely any involvement. When the story blew up she said under oath that she had “no role in the decision to terminate the employees.” She did not “direct that any action be taken by anyone.” In a deposition she denied having had a role in the firings, and said she was unable to remember conversations with various staffers with any specificity. A General Accounting Office report found she did play a role. But three years later a memo written by David Watkins to the White House chief of staff, recounting the history of the firings, suddenly surfaced. (“Suddenly surfaced” is a phrase one reads a lot in Clinton scandal stories.) It showed Mrs. Clinton herself directed them.

By the way, the most disgusting part of this scandal is the way Hillary sicced the government on Mr. Dale.

The White House pressed the FBI to investigate, FBI agents balked—on what evidence?—but ultimately there was an investigation, and an audit. …Billy Dale was indicted on charges including embezzlement. The trial lasted almost two weeks. …The jury acquitted him in less than two hours.

In other words, expect to see more Lois Lerner-type scandals if Hillary reaches the White House. There should be little doubt that she will use the power of government to attack her political opponents.

Now let’s go back even further in time, to the late 1970s when Hillary Clinton somehow managed to turn a $1,000 “investment” into $100,000 is less than one year. The New York Times reported on this rather implausible story back in 1994.

…in 1978 Hillary Rodham Clinton invested $1,000 in commodities futures and that the investment grew in 10 months of trading in the notoriously volatile market into a gain of nearly $100,000. Seeking to dispel suggestions that the trades were risk-free and improperly arranged by an Arkansas lawyer who represents one of the state’s most powerful companies, the White House issued a statement this afternoon that said the First Lady had put up her own money and that she bore all of the financial risks in a marketplace where three out of four investors lose money. The officials also released a year’s worth of brokerage statements from one of Mrs. Clinton’s two accounts. …Mrs. Clinton based her trades on information in The Wall Street Journal.

In other words, we’re supposed to believe that Mrs. Clinton, a complete novice, with no experience in the private sector or the investment business, suddenly decided to sink money into a very complex type of speculation.

And we’re supposed to believe that she made a series of very clever market-timing decisions and turned small amount of money into a big pile of money.

Needless to say, even the reporter for the New York Times couldn’t help but express skepticism and doubt. Particularly since nobody was willing to back up Mrs. Clinton’s story.

The White House insisted today that Mrs. Clinton received no improper financial assistance on the trades from the lawyer, James B. Blair, a close friend who at the time was the top lawyer for Tyson Foods of Springdale, Ark., the nation’s biggest poultry company. Mr. Blair has said that he had suggested that she get into the commodities market, and that he used his knowledge of trading to guide her along the way. During Mr. Clinton’s tenure as Governor, Tyson benefited from several state decisions, including favorable environmental rulings, $9 million in state loans, and the placement of company executives on important state boards. …brokers in the Springdale office of Refco where Mrs. Clinton executed the trades, including the one she describes as her personal broker, said in interviews in recent weeks that they have no recollection of ever talking with her about the trades. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Blair have said that they used Robert L. (Red) Bone, the broker who founded the Springdale office of Refco, a Chicago commodities firm, to execute the trades. But Mr. Bone, who worked at Tyson for 13 years until 1973, insisted in several interviews this month that he has no recollection of ever trading for Mrs. Clinton or talking to her about commodities trades.

Here’s the bottom line. Back when this scandal surfaced in the 1990s, I talked to several people in the financial markets, every one of whom was 99.99 percent certain that Hillary was the beneficiary of a gift (if they were favorable to her) or a bribe (if they were unfavorable to her). And they all agreed that somebody on the inside arranged to give her, after the fact, the winning side of trades in order to make it look like she was simply a good investor.

Moreover, every single Democrat that I talked to admitted (but only off the record) that she was the recipient of a gift or a bribe.

And she hasn’t changed in the past 38 years. Government is a vehicle for personal advancement and personal enrichment.

Now let’s conclude by bring public policy into the discussion. Corrupt politicians are able to amass lots of power and money because government is big and powerful.

And I’m not making a partisan argument. Indeed, here are the same bullet points I used when pointing out the empty futility of Trump’s plan to “drain the swamp” and end DC corruption.

All I’m saying is that Hillary Clinton both supports big government and profits from big government. And as the public sector gets larger, don’t be surprised when you find out that Hillary and her cronies have figured out additional ways of feathering their own nests.

P.S. By the way, I do recognize that there’s an infinitesimally small possibility that Hillary’s story about cattle futures is accurate.

I also recognize, for what it’s worth, that there’s a greater-than-zero possibility that aliens will invade the earth tomorrow.

But neither of these hypotheses is remotely plausible (though if I had to pick, I’d go with the alien invasion for the simple reason that it would bring great joy to Paul Krugman).

P.P.S. Plenty of Republicans will get rich as well as Hillary expands government. If you don’t believe me, just consider how many of them collect campaign cash in exchange for votes in favor of ethanol and the Export-Import Bank.

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Back in 2009, I shared some academic research showing the unsavory link between lobbying expenditures and bailout cash from TARP.

Just in case anybody naively thinks that such distasteful favor-swapping no longer occurs, here’s some more evidence. A column in the International Business Times summarizes some new scholarly research, once again showing the corrupt nexus between big government and the financial sector.

…analysis from London Business School professors Ahmed Tahoun and Florin Vasvari analyzed how the personal finances of congressional lawmakers changed once they were appointed to the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Banking Committee or the House Financial Services Committee. It also evaluated how their finances compared with other lawmakers who are not on those panels. …the researchers found that finance committee members’ personal borrowing tended to jump in the first year they were appointed to the panels — a trend not seen for other lawmakers who were given seats on other powerful committees. Similarly, the data show that upon joining the finance panels, lawmakers tended to be given 32 percent more time — or on average 4 and a half years more — to pay back those new debts than loans they previously had and that other members of Congress have. The study found that lawmakers also “report more favorable debt terms when they join the finance committee, relative to other years and to the terms other congressional members obtain including those on other powerful committees.”

Needless to say, the companies aren’t giving special treatment to these politicians because of altruism. For every quid, there’s a quo.

…the influence may operate in the other direction, too. Looking at which particular financial institutions are lending to lawmakers, the researchers found that underperforming banks provided new — and bigger — loans to more finance committee members than to other Members of Congress. They say that because those firms could face more regulatory scrutiny and financial instability from new federal policies, they are more reliant on strong political connections than competitors that are in better shape.

In other words, if you can’t succeed by competing in the marketplace, then curry favor with politicians so that you can be propped up by big government.

Though companies presumably have learned from the Countrywide scandal to be more cautious about disguising the fact that they are dispensing goodies.

…mortgage industry titan Countrywide Financial created a “VIP loan unit” that gave lower mortgage rates and expedited loan processing services to lawmakers that oversaw legislation affecting the firm. …Democratic U.S. Senators Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad were cleared by the ethics committee, which said they did not knowingly seek the perks. The committee, though, told the lawmakers they “should have exercised more vigilance in your dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a senator.”

By the way, I’m not exactly shocked that the congressional ethics committee (wow, talk about an oxymoron) didn’t even bother slapping the wrists of the politicians who got the favors. After all, imagine how much harder it would be to raise campaign cash if politicians couldn’t use the coercive power of government to swap favors with interest groups.

But the folks on Capitol Hill are amateurs compared to Bill and Hillary Clinton. The Wall Street Journal explains that the charity they set up has basically been a scam to advance their personal and political interests.

The foundation served for years as a conduit for corporate and foreign cash to burnish the Clinton image, pay for their travel expenses for speeches and foreign trips, and employ their coterie in between campaigns or government gigs. Donors could give as much as they wanted because the foundation is a “charity.” …the foundation promised the White House when Mrs. Clinton became Secretary of State that the foundation would restrict foreign donations and get approval from the State Department. It turned out the foundation violated that pledge, specifically when accepting $500,000 from Algeria. The foundation also agreed to disclose donor names but failed to do so for more than 1,000 foreign donors until the failure was exposed by press reports.

Some readers may think it doesn’t matter where the money came from. What really counts is that the Clinton Foundation used the money to make the world a better place, right?

Um, not exactly. Only pennies on the dollar were used for charitable purposes.

The rest of the money was a slush fund to finance the Clinton family’s political machinery.

If you think this sounds unfair to the Clinton Foundation, you may change your mind after reading this article from the Daily Caller. Here are some excerpts.

Clinton Foundation officials have ignored virtually all of the “best practices” urged by good governance organizations for public charities… Most glaringly, for example, the foundation’s insular board of directors…are among President Bill and Hillary Clinton’s closest and richest friends. The “good governance” movement in the nonprofit field has been gathering strength for two decades, but it clearly has yet to reach the Clinton Foundation. …Good governance groups also encourage well-managed non-profits to create dedicated oversight committees… The Clinton Foundation has none of those committees, according to its Internal Revenue Service 990 tax filings. …the Clinton Foundation spent $12.6 million on Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday party. The foundation recorded the expense as “fundraising expenses.” …In December 2014 the board approved a $395,000 pay package for Braverman to become the new CEO.  But the next month he abruptly resigned. Politico reported that Clinton’s insular staff were appalled at Braverman’s attempts at reforms. Braverman never explained the reasons for his departure. But Politico believes it was a backlash from Bill and Hillary’s hardened loyalists and “mega-donors” who chafed at the notion of more openness and transparency.

If the Clinton Foundation was a truly private organization, it wouldn’t be anybody’s business whether how it operated.

Moreover, it would be hypocritical for me to make that accusation. After all, I’m on the Board of the pro-tax competition Center for Freedom and Prosperity and the other Board members are long-time friends. And we don’t have a bunch of oversight committees since CF&P’s annual budget has averaged less than $200,000, which means such things don’t seem necessary (though we’ve managed to do a lot with a little, even earning a front-page attack from the Washington Post).

The real issue, however, is whether a nonprofit organization is genuinely private. In the case of the Clinton Foundation, ” the organization seemingly operated as a “pay-to-play” gatekeeper for goodies from the State Department?

Consider these blurbs from a column in the Wall Street Journal.

…more than two dozen companies and groups and one foreign government paid former President Bill Clinton a total of more than $8 million to give speeches around the time they also had matters before Mrs. Clinton’s State Department, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Fifteen of them also donated a total of between $5 million and $15 million to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the family’s charity… In several instances, State Department actions benefited those that paid Mr. Clinton.

Here’s one of the examples discussed in the column.

…the capital of the United Arab Emirates asked for a facility to clear travelers for U.S. entry before they boarded planes so they could avoid delays when arriving in the U.S. …U.S.-based airlines, which have no direct flights between Abu Dhabi and the U.S., opposed the idea as a giveaway to the government-owned airline, Etihad Airways. …While Mrs. Clinton’s State Department and the Department of Homeland Security were working out a “letter of intent” with Abu Dhabi for the facility, Mr. Clinton sought permission to give a paid speech in Abu Dhabi. …On Dec. 6, 2011, U.S. officials signed the letter of intent. One week later, Mr. Clinton gave a 20-minute talk on climate change to the Abu Dhabi government environmental gathering. He collected $500,000, his wife’s disclosure report shows. In December 2012, Mr. Clinton sought approval for another speech in Abu Dhabi before the World Travel and Tourism Council…the speech was sponsored by three Abu Dhabi tourism agencies, all owned by the government. …Mr. Clinton gave a keynote address on the value of tourism. He was paid $500,000, his wife’s disclosure filings say. One week later, the U.S. and Abu Dhabi signed the final agreement for the facility. …Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman said it was “farcical” to suggest any connection between the speeches and the facility’s opening.

The “farcical” part of this is the notion that a) Bill Clinton is an expert on the “value of tourism”, and b) that his supposed expertise on the topic is worth $500,000.

Though I have to give Bill Clinton credit for getting good deals. When I give a speech, I’m content with simply getting the organizer to pay for a coach ticket and a hotel room.

But the L.A. Times reveals that Bill Clinton gets much better treatment, not even counting the giant piles of money funneled to the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton changed the rules of political speech-making for cash. He would push not just corporate hosts but also nonprofits and universities to pay fees well beyond what they were accustomed to. …He and Hillary Clinton would become so skilled at churning profits out of their lectures that they would net more than $150 million from speaking alone after he left the White House. …refusing questions that were not screened by his staff in advance. There is the nearly $1,400 bill for a day’s worth of phone calls from San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel and the $700 dinner for two. …Clinton would demand in his contract to be shuttled by private jet from San Francisco to UC Davis, where he spoke at the Mondavi Center. The center had to appeal to its network of donors to find someone able to fly him the 70 miles, something it had never done and hasn’t since.

By the way, I don’t object to Bill Clinton being treated far better than me. But I do get agitated if he’s getting goodies because some interest group is participating in a pay-for-play scam based on favors from government.

And that does come out of my pocket, as well as from the pockets of every other taxpayer, consumer, and worker.

Speaking of pay-to-play, here’s a story from the Washington Examiner about some unseemly behavior from the Clinton Foundation.

A Clinton Foundation official asked an aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if the government would allow the well-connected charity to accept a donation from an oil company with extensive ties to Iran. …The email shows Petronas, a Malaysian state-owned oil company, wanted to send CEO Shamsul Azhar bin Abbas to a Clinton Global Initiative event as a paying member. …Two months earlier, the State Department highlighted a $150 million contract between Petronas and General Electric in Malaysia. …David Bossie, president of Citizens United, said the timeline of the State Department’s announcement of the deal with GE should raise questions. “A month after the announcement, the Clinton Foundation staff is contacting the State Department saying, ‘Hey, we want to shake down the CEO, essentially, of Petronus, is that ok?’…,” Bossie said. “That is political crony capitalism — that’s the definition of it, is using your political contacts and your political achievements for financial gain for the foundation,” he continued. “Clearly, [there was] a conflict of interest.”

The only good news is that the proposed shakedown of Petronas apparently didn’t happen, though it’s unclear from the records whether this was because the company said no or because the idea was so over-the-top corrupt that it was rejected by the State Department.

Let’s close with a really nauseating example of Clintonian sleaze. A story in National Review exposes how the family’s Foundation victimized the people of Haiti.

Their story goes back to 2010, when a massive 7.0 earthquake devastated the island, killing more than 200,000 people, leveling 100,000 homes, and leaving 1.5 million people destitute. The devastating effect of the earthquake on a very poor nation provoked worldwide concern and inspired an outpouring of…some $10.5 billion in aid, with $3.9 billion of it coming from the United States.

But all this money hasn’t helped the poor people of Haiti.

…very little of this aid money actually got to poor people in Haiti. …Port-au-Prince was supposed to be rebuilt; it was never rebuilt. Projects aimed at creating jobs proved to be bitter disappointments. Haitian unemployment remained high, largely undented by the funds that were supposed to pour into the country. Famine and illness continued to devastate the island nation.

Why didn’t all the money have a positive impact?

Part of the answer is that foreign aid generally ineffective. Another part of the answer is that Haiti has statist policies that inhibit growth and prosperity.

But a final part of the answer is that a bunch of grifters diverted the money to their own pockets.

Where did it go? …Bill Clinton was the designated UN representative for aid to Haiti. …his wife Hillary was the United States secretary of state. She was in charge of U.S. aid allocated to Haiti. …an interesting pattern involving the Clintons and the designation of how aid funds were used. …a number of companies that received contracts in Haiti happened to be entities that made large donations to the Clinton Foundation. …For example, the Clinton Foundation selected Clayton Homes, a construction company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, to build temporary shelters in Haiti. Buffett is an active member of the Clinton Global Initiative who has donated generously to the Clintons as well as the Clinton Foundation. …the contract was never competitively bid for. Clayton offered to build “hurricane-proof trailers” but what they actually delivered turned out to be a disaster. The trailers were structurally unsafe, with high levels of formaldehyde and insulation coming out of the walls. There were problems with mold and fumes. The stifling heat inside made Haitians sick and many of them abandoned the trailers because they were ill-constructed and unusable.

Here’s another example of pay-to-play favoritism.

The Clintons also funneled $10 million in federal loans to a firm called InnoVida, headed by Clinton donor Claudio Osorio. …Normally the loan approval process takes months or even years. …InnoVida had not even provided an independently audited financial report that is normally a requirement for such applications. This requirement, however, was waived. On the basis of the Clinton connection, InnoVida’s application was fast-tracked and approved in two weeks. The company, however, defaulted on the loan and never built any houses. An investigation revealed that Osorio had diverted company funds to pay for his Miami Beach mansion, his Maserati, and his Colorado ski chalet.

Gee, isn’t government a great racket!

Here’s one final oleaginous example.

In 2011, the Clinton Foundation brokered a deal with Digicel, a cell-phone-service provider seeking to gain access to the Haitian market. The Clintons arranged to have Digicel receive millions in U.S. taxpayer money to provide mobile phones. The USAID Food for Peace program, which the State Department administered through Hillary aide Cheryl Mills, distributed Digicel phones free to Haitians. Digicel didn’t just make money off the U.S. taxpayer; it also made money off the Haitians. When Haitians used the phones, either to make calls or transfer money, they paid Digicel for the service. Haitians using Digicel’s phones also became automatically enrolled in Digicel’s mobile program. By 2012, Digicel had taken over three-quarters of the cell-phone market in Haiti. Digicel is owned by Denis O’Brien, a close friend of the Clintons. O’Brien secured three speaking engagements in his native Ireland that paid $200,000 apiece. These engagements occurred right at the time that Digicel was making its deal with the U.S. State Department. O’Brien has also donated lavishly to the Clinton Foundation, giving between $1 million and $5 million sometime in 2010–2011. Coincidentally the United States government paid Digicel $45 million to open a hotel in Port-au-Prince.

If you’re not thoroughly nauseated, read the entire article for many more examples of pay-to-play sleaze.

By the way, I’m not merely picking on the Clintons. Yes, they seem to be remarkably amoral in their approach to politics, but the underlying problem is that big government enables corruption regardless of who is in charge.

That’s the moral of the story.

P.S. Don’t forget that the Clinton Foundation easily got approved by the IRS while innocuous Tea Party groups were stonewalled. Another typical example of government in action.

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My main problem with Hillary Clinton is that she not only supports the bloated and enervating welfare state that already exists, but she wants to make it even bigger. Indeed, there’s only a very small gap between her and crazy Bernie Sanders when you examine their voting records.

There’s only a trivially small difference…between Hillary Clinton’s lifetime rating of 10.6 from the National Taxpayers Union and Bernie Sanders’ lifetime rating of 9.4. They both earned their failing grades by spending other people’s money with reckless abandon.

That being said, I’m disgusted and outraged by her dishonest and corrupt behavior.

The rule of law is one of the most important building blocks of a just and prosperous society, so it’s both morally nauseating and economically destructive when members of the elite enjoy special treatment.

Josh Barro definitely isn’t a member of the vast right wing conspiracy, so his list of Hillary’s ethical lapses should carry extra weight.

It’s possible that Clinton and Lynch were just catching up — “a social meeting,”… Similarly, it’s possible foreign governments donated to the Clinton Foundation because they viewed it as the most efficient available philanthropic opportunity, without regard for the favorable impression it might make on Bill and Hillary Clinton. It’s possible Goldman Sachs paid Hillary Clinton $675,000 for three speeches because they thought she would be really interesting, not because they thought the payment might help the bank make a favorable impression on a potential future president. It’s possible a major Clinton donor ended up on a State Department nuclear advisory board for perfectly innocent reasons, and that there were no untoward effects from top Clinton staffers being simultaneously on State Department and private payrolls. …The list goes on and on. …the Clintons have no apparent concern for appearances of impropriety, as long as they believe their actions cannot get them in trouble with the law.

And the Clintons get away with things that would land ordinary Americans in jail, so you have to give them credit for knowing how to exploit their political connections and power.

And that has a lot of people legitimately upset. The Washington Examiner opined about Hillary’s free pass from the FBI.

The Founding Fathers embraced principles that transcended their own human weaknesses and those of their posterity. They created a system in which process and law could check base personal ambition, favoritism and other low and common temptations. The idea was to put in place a system that would survive incompetent and corrupt leaders. …the public witnessed what happens when the system fails. Special people receive special treatment. Equal protection under the law turns out to be a fancy fiction. Some people are more equal than others. …An average government official who spent five years breaking the rules to frustrate the Freedom of Information Act, and who recklessly compromised classified information (more than 100 times), including top secret information (eight times), would serve time in federal prison. But Hillary Clinton is almost certain to suffer no consequences at all.

But what about Hillary supposedly having no bad intent, as the FBI Director offered up as a distraction?

This is bunk. Intention is something this law does not require. “Gross negligence” alone is sufficient grounds for prosecution because the officials to which it applies are entrusted with secrets that bring greater obligations than average citizens must bear. Precisely because of that greater risk of prosecution, high-ranking government officials who handle classified information, including Clinton, sign agreements that spell out their legal jeopardy.

Jacob Sullum of Reason also addresses this topic.

…one of the statutes guiding the FBI’s investigation, 18 USC 793, makes it a felony to “mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way” (emphasis added), as Comey himself notes… Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, …who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York during the Reagan administration, says Comey’s description of Clinton’s behavior plainly qualifies as a violation of 18 USC 793(f). …Giuliani told NBC’s Brian Williams yesterday, “because he clearly found a direct violation of 18 United States Code, Section 793, which does not require intent. It requires only gross negligence in the handling of anything relating to the national defense. …The definition of gross negligence under the law is extreme carelessness. It’s the first definition that comes up in the law dictionary. …So that is a clear, absolutely unassailable violation of 18 United States Code, Section 793, which is not a minor statute. It carries 10 years in prison.”

For those who think Rudy Giuliani is perhaps exaggerating because of his support for Trump, then consider the views of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who is part of the #neverTrump camp.

It is a felony for anyone entrusted with lawful possession of information relating to national defense to permit it, through “gross negligence,” to be removed from its proper place of custody and disclosed. “Gross negligence” rather than purposeful conduct is enough. …As an example of the kind of information at stake, he described seven email chains classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level. These were the emails that the government had said earlier are so sensitive that they will never be disclosed publicly. …To be “extremely careless” in the handling of information that sensitive is synonymous with being grossly negligent.

Needless to say, ordinary Americans would never get this kind of preferential treatment.

David French, a former military officer, explains what would happen to someone in the armed forces who treated national security with the same degree of disdain.

I served ten years as an Army lawyer, and one of my responsibilities was advising the command on matters of military justice, including incidents where soldiers mishandled classified information. And if Hillary Clinton was a soldier, she would lose her security clearance, face administrative action, and face the specter of criminal prosecution. I’ve not only seen the pattern, I’ve also participated in the process. …If Hillary were Captain Clinton instead of the presumptive Democratic nominee and wife of a disbarred former president, the following things would occur, more or less simultaneously. First, the command would immediately suspend her security clearance. …Next, her commander would probably draft an administrative reprimand. …a career-killer if placed in an officer’s permanent file…Finally, the command would consider criminal charges. …the officer would in all likelihood not only violate the Espionage Act (the same statute at issue in Clinton’s case) but also the Uniform Code of Military Justice. …In other words, her actions would have ended her military career, and she would have been fortunate to resign in lieu of enduring a court-martial. In her post-military civilian life, she would have been unemployable in any serious government position… To say that Hillary Clinton is unfit to be commander-in-chief is to give her too much credit. It implies that she might be fit for other positions of responsibility. She’s not fit to be POTUS, and she’s not fit to be a private.

But there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of Hillary favoritism.

We can enjoy some dark humor while the rule of law is further eroded.

The clever folks at Reason TV put together this video showing how Hillary Clinton has blatantly lied about her actions.

By the way, Hillary’s negligence and disdain for national security is just the tip of the iceberg.

She already has engaged in countless other shady acts, such as allowing her top aide, Huma Abedin, to be on the government payroll while simultaneously getting payoffs as an influence peddler.

Or consider the Clinton Foundation. Investor’s Business Daily makes a compelling case that it’s nothing but a racket.

…the Clinton Foundation gathered some $100 million from a variety of Gulf sheikhs and billionaires, not to mention taking in millions of “donations” from private businesses that later benefited from their supposed “charitable” largesse. Some of those who gave big bucks to the Clintons had interests that were, to put it mildly, not in keeping with U.S. interests. …now comes a more serious, far-reaching question: Is the entire Clinton Foundation so full of conflicts of interest and questionable dealings that it amounts to little more than a massive fraud intended solely to enrich its presidential namesake and his family? Charles Ortel, a Wall Street financial analyst, who pored over the Clinton Foundation’s books, filings and records, thinks so. He concluded that “a substantial portion of Clinton Foundation activities is certainly not ‘charitable’ or ‘tax-exempt’ in the accepted legal senses…” the nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator removed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation from its list of charities because of its “atypical business model.” …Getting rich isn’t a crime. But it might be if you did it in the guise of being a tax-free humanitarian charity, interested only in the betterment of humankind.

The Washington Examiner also has looked at the Clinton Foundation’s dodgy finances and activities.

The Clinton Global Initiative has a curious record of leaving its projects unfinished, despite receiving multiple large donations from foreign interests that could benefit if Hillary Clinton is elected president (and may have already benefited from her service at the State Department). …the initiative has completed fewer than half of the commitments made since 2005. Thirty-six percent of them are listed as being “in progress.” Many others are listed as “stalled,” “unfulfilled,” or haven’t had any progress reported in at least two years. This may just be a sign of bad timing or ineffective philanthropy, but when combined with the rest of the information available about the Clintons’ philanthropic activities, it hints at something more sinister. …accepted a great deal of money in donations from businesses and foreign governments that had a lot to gain from her help.

Here one of the examples that certainly seems tawdry, if not sinister.

In one well-known case, a group of Canadian mining magnates made millions in undisclosed donations to the Clinton Foundation, and a Russian bank closely linked to the Kremlin paid Bill Clinton $500,000 to give a single speech in Moscow. All of these parties involved in funneling money to the Clintons and their enterprises were part of a large mining deal that required approval from a government panel on which Clinton sat.

We also have the Clintonian equivalent of Trump University, as outlined by Professor Jonathan Turley.

Donald Trump has been rightfully criticized and sued over his defunct Trump University. There is ample support for claiming that the Trump University was fraudulent in its advertisements and operations. However, the national media has been…sidestepping a scandal involving the Clintons that involves the same type of fraud allegations. The scandal involves a dubious Laureate Education for-profit online college (Walden) and entails many of the common elements with other Clinton scandals: huge sums given to the Clintons and questions of conflicts with Hillary Clinton during her time as Secretary of State.

Here are some of the sordid details.

Laureate Education was sued over its Walden University Online offering, which some alleged worked like a scam designed to bilk students of tens of thousands of dollars for degrees. Students alleged that they were repeatedly delayed and given added costs as they tried to secure degrees, leaving them deeply in debt. …The respected Inside Higher Education reported that Laureate Education paid Bill Clinton an obscene $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014 to serve as an honorary chancellor for Laureate International Universities. …Various sites have reported that the State Department funneled $55 million in grants during Hillary Clinton’s tenure to groups associated with Laureate’s founder.  That would seem a pretty major story… The Wall Street Journal reported that Laureate was able to “skirt” regulations on reporting “gainful employment” due to its large number of schools and students outside of the country… Laureate has come up in the Clinton email scandal.  In her first year as Secretary of State, Clinton is quoted as directly asking that Laureate be included in a high-profile policy dinner — just months before the lucrative contract was given to Bill Clinton. …the size of the contract to Clinton, the grants from State and the complaints over alleged fraud should warrant a modicum of attention to the controversy.

Let’s close with one final example of Clintonesque sleaze. She apparently thinks insider trading is a good idea so long as the insiders are members of her family.

In 2012, Mezvinski, the husband of Chelsea Clinton, created a $325 million basket of offshore funds under the Eaglevale Partners banner through a special arrangement with investment bank Goldman Sachs. The funds have lost tens of millions of dollars predicting that bailouts of the Greek banking system would pump up the value of the country’s distressed bonds. …newly released emails from 2012 show that she and Clinton Foundation consultant, Sidney Blumenthal, shared classified information about how German leadership viewed the prospects for a Greek bailout. Clinton also shared “protected” State Department information about Greek bonds with her husband at the same time that her son-in-law aimed his hedge fund at Greece. …sharing such sensitive information with friends and family would have been highly improper. Federal regulations prohibit the use of nonpublic information to further private interests or the interests of others. The mere perception of a conflict of interest is unacceptable. …monitoring Greece was part of Clinton’s job description, but, ethically, that does not mean that a family member should make bets that depend upon the actions of another family member.

The point of all this is not that Hillary Clinton is sleazy and corrupt, though that’s one obvious conclusion.

Instead, as I’ve demonstrated over and over again, the real lesson is that Washington is filled with people like her.

And the reason that sleazy people gravitate to Washington is that we have Leviathan-sized government that enables politically well-connected people to obtain vast amounts of unearned and undeserved wealth.

Including lots of Republicans, so this isn’t a partisan argument.

Moreover, the problem almost certainly won’t get solved by electing different people. The only real solution is shrinking the size of government so there’s less opportunity for graft.

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It’s not easy being a libertarian, especially in election years.

  • Do you choose not to vote because you either reject your choices or even the entire principle of majoritarianism?
  • Do you vote for the Libertarian Party even though that historically is nothing more than an ineffective way of sending a message?
  • Or do you strategically cast a vote for a major-party candidate, fully aware that such a person inevitably will be a disappointment in office?

If you’re normally in the last category, 2016 will be especially difficult.

Let’s start with Trump. On the positive side, he’s proposed a good package of tax cuts. And he’s…….ummm……..errrr……well……(scratch head)……

Actually, in terms of specifics rather than rhetoric, the tax cut is about the only market-oriented policy he’s embraced.

On the negative side, he’s a big fan of protectionism, and that’s definitely not a recipe for prosperity. And he’s rejected much-need reforms to entitlement programs, which therefore makes his big tax cut totally unrealistic.

But mostly it’s impossible to know what he really thinks for the simple reason that he probably doesn’t have deep thoughts about public policy (look at his flailing response to the question of debt). Even when he’s been specific, does anyone think he’s philosophically committed to what he has said while campaigning?

So my assessment, as explained in this interview with Neil Cavuto, is that Trump is a grenade that will explode in an unpredictable fashion.

So if you’re a libertarian and you choose to vote for Trump, just be forewarned that you’ll probably be standing next to the grenade when it explodes.

So what about the alternative? Is there a libertarian argument for Hillary Clinton (other than the fact that she’s not Trump)? Can a politician who has spent decades promoting cronyism and redistributionism actually deliver good policy?

Her husband actually did a good job when he was in the White House, but you can probably sense from this debate with Juan Williams on the Stossel show, I’m not overflowing with optimism that she also would preside over a shift to better policy.

Here are a few additional thoughts on my debate with Juan.

Keynesian economics doesn’t work, either in theory or in reality. And it’s laughable that the excuse for Keynesian failure is always that politicians should have spent more money.

Entitlements will cripple America’s economy if left on auto-pilot. I’ve repeatedly made the point that we’re like Greece 10 or 15 years ago. By claiming at the time that there was no crisis, Greek politicians ensured that a crisis eventually would occur. The same thing is happening here.

I’m skeptical about the claim that climate change is a crisis, but a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the most sensible approach if action genuinely is required. But the left prefers sure-to-fail (but very lucrative to cronies) industrial policy.

Government can help create conditions for prosperity by providing core public goods like rule of law, but that only requires a very small public sector, not the bloated Leviathans that exist today.

I’d be delighted to have a woman as President if she had the same principles and judgement as Margaret Thatcher. To be colloquial, that ain’t a description of Hillary Clinton.

Last but not least, I was rhetorically correct but technically wrong about welfare dependency in Hong Kong. I said fewer than 3 percent of Hong Kong residents get public assistance when I should have said that Hong Kong spends less than 3 percent of GDP on redistribution. That’s an amazingly small welfare state, but it does ensnare about 5.5 percent of the population. Which if far lower than the share of the population getting handouts in America, so my point was still very much correct.

Not that any of this matters in the short run since there’s a 99.9 percent probability that America’s next President will be perfectly content to let the country sink further into the swamp of statism.

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I wouldn’t be completely distraught to have Clinton in the White House in 2017. But before concluding that I’ve lost my mind, I’m thinking of Bill Clinton, not his far more statist (though similarly dodgy) spouse.

You’ll see what I mean below.

In a column for National Review, Deroy Murdock has some fun by pointing out that Bill Clinton just unintentionally attacked Barack Obama.

Bill Clinton…unsealed an indictment against Obama’s economy. …Hillary’s “secret weapon” told Granite State voters Monday, “I think this election is about restoring broadly shared prosperity, rebuilding the middle class, giving kids the American Dream back.”

Why is this an attack against Obama?

For the simple reason that we haven’t had “broadly shared prosperity” during the Obama years.

…a far-left Democrat has been president for the past seven years. The economic stagnation that Clinton critiqued is Obama’s. In Obama’s first or second year, Clinton might have managed to blame Baby Bush’s massive spending, red tape, and nationalizations for America’s economic woes and middle-class anxieties. But in Obama’s seventh year, this excuse has rusted. Obamanomics has narrowed prosperity, dismantled the middle class, and snatched the American Dream from America’s kids.

Deroy then compared the economic recovery America enjoyed under Reagan with the far-less-robust recovery taking place today.

In the 25 quarters since the Great Recession, Obama’s average, inflation-adjusted annual Gross Domestic Product growth has limped ahead at 2.2 percent. During Ronald Reagan’s equivalent interval, which began in the fourth quarter of 1982, such GDP growth galloped at 4.8 percent. …The total-output gap between Reagan and Obama is a whopping $10.6 trillion. …Under Reagan, private-sector jobs expanded 23.6 percent, versus the average recovery’s 17.0 percent, and 11.6 percent under Obama — less than half of Reagan’s performance. If Obama had equaled Reagan, America would enjoy some 12.9 million additional private-sector jobs. …Under Reagan, real after-tax income per person grew 3.1 percent, compared with 2.5 percent growth in an average recovery, and 1.2 percent under Obama. Had Obama delivered like Reagan, every American would have accumulated an extra $21,306 since June 2009.

All of this analysis is music to my ears and echoes some of the points I’ve made when comparing Reagan and Obama.

But I want to augment this analysis by adding Bill Clinton to the mix.

And I want to make this addition because there’s a very strong case to be made that we actually had fairly good policy during his tenure. Economic freedom increased because the one significantly bad piece of policy (the failed 1993 tax hike) was more than offset by lots of good policy.

Here’s a chart I put together showing the pro-market policies that were adopted during the Clinton years along with the one bad policy. Seems like a slam dunk.

At this point, I should acknowledge that none of this means that Bill Clinton deserves credit for the good policies. Most of the good reforms – such as 1990s spending restraint – were adopted in spite of what he wanted.

But at least he allowed those policies to go through. Unlike Obama, he was willing to be practical.

In any event, what matters is that we had better policy under Clinton than under Obama. And that’s why it’s useful to compare economic performance during those periods.

The Minneapolis Federal Reserve has a very interesting and useful webpage (at least to wonks) that allows users to compare various recoveries on the basis of GDP growth and job creation.

I’ve used this data to compare Reagan and Obama, so now let’s add the Clinton years to the mix. The following two charts from the Minneapolis Fed show the post-1981 recovery in blue, the post-1990 recovery in yellow, and the post-2007 recovery in red.

These numbers don’t match up exactly with when presidents took office, but it’s nonetheless apparent that we got the best performance under Reagan, and also that Clinton was much better than Obama.

Here’s the chart with the job numbers.

And here are the numbers for gross domestic product.

Here’s the bottom line.

Party labels don’t matter. Policy is what counts.

When the burden of government expands, like we saw with Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama on the Democrat side, but also with Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush on the Republican side, the economy under-performs.

Similarly, when the burden of government is reduced, like we saw under Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, the economy enjoys relative prosperity.

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A couple of radical Islamists murdered a bunch of people in California and, even before any details were available, some politicians sought – once again – to exploit a tragedy.

Here’s a short excerpt from USA Today about Hillary Clinton’s response.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton took to Twitter on Wednesday to…call for stricter gun control measures.

And Huffington Post reports that President Obama also seized the opportunity to push his gun control agenda.

President Barack Obama commented Wednesday on the shooting in San Bernardino, California… “there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently, common-sense gun safety laws, stronger background checks,”

This is nonsense. Terrorists obviously don’t care whether there are laws against guns.

Heck, just look at the evidence from Europe, where there are very restrictive laws, yet radical Islamists obviously are able to get weapons on the black market.

So the net effect of these laws is to make it just about impossible for law-abiding people to defend themselves. Even if they are being targeted by the terrorists!

Fortunately, there’s a growing recognition that it is absurd to disarm good people and make it easier for evil people to wreak havoc. And the government officials who are in charge of stopping mass shootings are among those who are now pushing for a common-sense approach.

The Detroit News reports that the city’s police chief has a very sensible attitude about how to discourage bad people.

The city’s police chief said he believes violent extremists would be reluctant to target Detroit, as they had Paris last month, for fear armed citizens would shoot back. “A lot of Detroiters have CPLs (concealed pistol licenses), and the same rules apply to terrorists as they do to some gun-toting thug,” Chief James Craig said. “If you’re a terrorist, or a carjacker, you want unarmed citizens.”

A local professor also has the same sensible viewpoint.

Oakland University criminal justice professor Daniel Kennedy agreed that terrorists would be reluctant to attack armed citizens.

I hope Prof. Kennedy already has tenure since he may get targeted by leftist students who might accuse him of common sense, which is a “microagression” that makes them feel “unsafe.”

In any event, terrorists surely would have an incentive (if they’re capable of passing my IQ test for criminals and liberals) to seek out a “gun-free zone” if launching an attack in Detroit.

More than 30,000 Detroit residents are legally armed, according to Michigan State Police. There were 6,974 concealed-pistol licenses issued to residents in 2013, more than double those in 2009, and 7,584 issued in 2012, the state police said. …Starting Tuesday, Michigan is making it easier for citizens to get concealed gun permits. …The National Rifle Association has said the new rules will eliminate licensing delays and arbitrary denials. Craig praised the new state law, and said they will help citizens fight back against criminals and terrorists. …“If you’re sitting in a restaurant, and you aren’t allowed to have a gun, what are you supposed to do if someone comes in there shooting at you? Throw a fork at them?”

Which, of course, is why gun-free zones are so foolish. The only people who obey are the law-abiding people. Yet those are precisely the people who could be helpful if some nutjob launched an attack.

After all, terrorists wouldn’t get the chance to do much damage if they tried to shoot up this neighborhood.

So kudos to Chief Craig.

But he’s not the only senior law-enforcement official who recognizes that it’s time to put aside empty political correctness.

Amazingly, the Chief of Police in Washington, DC, also has decided that common sense should triumph. Here’s some of what was reported by the Washington Post.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier is urging that civilians confronted by an active shooter in some cases try to stop the gunman before law enforcement authorities arrive, saying quick action could save lives. …“I always say if you can get out, getting out’s your first option, your best option. If you’re in a position to try and take the gunman down, to take the gunman out, it’s the best option for saving lives before police can get there.” …“For a major city police chief to say that is breaking new ground,” said Chuck Wexler, who runs the Police Executive Research Forum… “if you’re dealing with suicide bombers or terrorists, it’s a completely different dynamic,” Wexler said. “I think that because so much can happen in so few seconds, intervention by citizens can make a big difference.”

Remember, though, that an effective response by citizens is only possible if they’re armed.

So the top cop in DC is basically acknowledging that gun control empowers the bad guys.

The chief acknowledged that advising confrontation is “kind of counterintuitive to what cops always tell people.” Cooper said, “You’re telling them that now though?” Lanier answered: “We are.”

By the way, the Sheriff of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin also believes armed citizens are necessary and desirable.

And regular cops overwhelmingly agree that gun control doesn’t deter bad people.

For further information, I invite you to peruse some serious articles on gun control, featuring scholars such as John Lott and David Kopel, along with some very persuasive information from an actual firearms expert.

Most of all, though, I recommend you read what Jeffrey Goldberg and Justin Cronin wrote about guns. They’re both self-confessed leftists, but they also decided that rationality and common sense should take precedence over anti-2nd Amendment ideology.

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I’ve explained, over and over and over again, that big government is the mother’s milk of corruption.

Simply stated, a convoluted tax code, bloated budget, and regulatory morass create endless opportunities for well-connected insiders to obtain unearned and undeserved wealth.

Is this evidence that Washington is broken?

In a column for Real Clear Politics., Mike Needham of Heritage Action suggests that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Washington actually works very well, but not for the American people.

Washington isn’t broken. It is a well-oiled machine that works for the well-connected and responds to the well-heeled. This corrupt nexus of favoritism and cronyism tends to leave hardworking Americans behind. …as we’ve seen with Obamacare, the bigger the government, the bigger the Bigs become.

Is he right? Well, let’s look at some evidence. We already know Obamacare has been a boon for hacks from the Democratic Party.

But did you know that lots of GOP insiders also are cashing in because of Obamacare?

Let’s not limit our analysis to Obamacare.

There are many other examples of how the folks in Washington live on Easy Street at our expense. For instance, they enjoy lavish junkets. Here’s what the Washington Post reported back in September.

As Congress returned Tuesday…, some 14 House members were resting up from a week-long trip to Hawaii. …It sounded like a fine journey via military jet (business class) to stay at the oceanfront Sheraton Waikiki in Honolulu. Dinners were planned at the famous Hy’s Steak House — the superb porterhouse is always worth the $88.95 — and the upscale Roy’s Hawaii with its great fusion menu. (We hope they tried the lobster pot stickers.) …The schedule thoughtfully included substantial “executive time” in the afternoons. This, as Loop Fans know, is often a thinly veiled euphemism for some fine lounging at the pool, or exploring beautiful Hawaii.

This boondoggle was especially irksome to me since I was in Hawaii at the same time. But I had to pay my own way! And my hotel was right next to Hy’s Steak House, which had a very appealing menu, but I didn’t go because taxpayers weren’t financing my meals.

Speaking of integrity in D.C., here’s a story from the Washington Post that belongs in the is-anyone-actually-surprised category.

The Honest Tea firm, which makes organic iced tea, set up a stand offering bottles of its tea at 27 cities throughout the country, including D.C., and used the honor system by asking people to leave $1 in a box when they took a tea. But in the District’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, someone stole money from the box. Executives at Honest Tea wouldn’t say exactly how much was in the box but said it ranged between $5 to $20. The theft happened in the early morning, officials believe, and they did not report it to police. It was the first time in the six years that the company has been doing its experiment that someone has actually stolen money from the collection box, officials with Honest Tea said.

By the way, Dupont Circle is a ritzy part of town, not a low-income ghetto.

I’m guessing the thief is a lobbyist or bureaucrat, someone who already has a track record of taking other people’s money.

But if you really want to see Washington at its most unseemly, the Clinton machine symbolizes the corrupt nexus of big government and cronyism. Here are some passages from a report by Politico.

A spring 2012 email to Hillary Clinton’s top State Department aide, Huma Abedin, asked for help winning a presidential appointment for a supporter of the Clinton Foundation, according to a chain obtained by POLITICO. The messages illustrate the relationship between Clinton’s most trusted confidante and the private consulting company that asked for the favor, Teneo — a global firm that later hired Abedin. Abedin signed on with the company while she still held a State Department position, a dual employment that is now being examined by congressional investigators. …Abedin also worked as an adviser to the Clinton Foundation, the nonprofit founded by former President Bill Clinton.

This is amazing. Working for an influence-peddling company while on the government payroll as well?!?

And speaking of influence peddling, check out these excerpts from another Politico story.

Campaigns are required to file reports detailing registered lobbyists who round up donations, but that number is only a small slice of the fundraisers who work in some capacity in Washington’s vast influence industry… A quarter of the “Hillblazers” who bundled $100,000 or more for Clinton work at lobbying firms or public affairs agencies lobby at the state level or otherwise make their living from influencing the government on behalf of special interests… Clinton received at least $5.4 million from professional influencers, compared with $3.2 million from registered lobbyists disclosed to the FEC. For Bush, the equivalent figures are $1.02 million and just under $408,000.

The Hill also has a story about D.C. insiders flocking to Hillary Clinton.

K Street is banking on Hillary Clinton, with more than twice as many Washington lobbyists donating to the former secretary of State’s presidential campaign than any other candidate.  Clinton — the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination — received at least $625,703 from 316 registered lobbyists and corporate PACs during the first half of the year, according to disclosure forms. …Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ranks as a distant second in the influence industry, collecting $444,500 from 140 lobbyists.

And why are lobbyists coughing up cash?

For the simple reason that they want access. And with access to politicians, that means they get access to other people’s money.

…support from K Street can not only help boost a candidate, but also put lobbyists in good standing with the candidate in the event he or she takes the White House. …lobbyists have hedged their bets by supporting several candidates, sometimes at the request of clients, they told The Hill, asking for anonymity.

Though keep in mind that Ms. Clinton and her cronies are just the tip of the iceberg.

She’s more guilty than most for the simple reason that she actively wants to expand government, which would create even more opportunities for mischief.

Let’s also be fair in acknowledging that this problem exists in other countries. Indeed, it’s probably worse elsewhere.

Vote buying in India, for instance, can be especially challenging. Check out these passages from a Reuters report.

Village bachelors in northern India are demanding brides for votes in state polls next month because of a shortage of women after decades of illegal abortions of female fetuses, the Mail Today reported on Thursday.

Though it appears that some Indian politicians actually are willing to say no to voters.

Politicians have dismissed the demand, the report said.

Of course, it’s quite possible that the politicians are saying no in public and then somehow trying arrange brides behind the scenes.

Time to conclude with some excerpts from a story about our ruling class in Washington.

Thousands of clients using the affair-oriented Ashley Madison website listed email addresses registered to the White House, top federal agencies and military branches, a data dump by hackers revealed. The detailed data, released Tuesday, will likely put Washington, D.C., on edge. The nation’s capital reportedly has the highest rate of membership for the site of any city. Indeed, more than 15,000 of the email addresses used to register accounts were hosted on government and military servers.

The key words above are “highest rate of membership.” Yup, these are the people who think they should tell us how to live our lives. These are the clowns who think they can spend our money better than we can. These are the buffoons who want to direct and control the private economy.

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Defenders of Social Security often make a point of stating that the retirement system is a form of “social insurance” because people become eligible for benefits by paying into the system.

Welfare programs, by contrast, give money to people simply as a form of income redistribution.

Proponents of the status quo are right. Sort of.

Social Security is an “earned benefit.” The payroll taxes of workers are somewhat analogous to a premium payment and retirement benefits are somewhat analogous to a monthly annuity payment.

But “somewhat analogous” isn’t the same as real insurance. Money isn’t invested and set aside to pay benefits. Instead, Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program, which means the payroll taxes of current workers are paying for the benefits paid to current retirees.

If a private insurance company did the same thing, its owners would be arrested for operating a Ponzi Scheme.

But the government can get away with this kind of system because it can coerce younger workers to participate.

Or, to be more accurate, the government can get away with this approach so long as there are a sufficient number of new workers who can be forced into the program.

The problem, of course, is that the combination of longer lifespans and fewer births means that Social Security is promising far more than it can deliver.

And we’re talking real money, even by Washington standards. According to the Social Security Trustees, the cash-flow deficit over the next 75 years is approaching $40 trillion. And that’s after adjusting for inflation!

So how can this mess be solved?

At the risk of over-simplifying, there are four options.

1. Do Nothing. Some politicians want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend there isn’t a problem. They argue that the “Trust Fund” can finance promised benefits until the early 2030s. But the so-called Trust Fund has nothing but IOUs, which means that benefits can only be paid by additional government borrowing. As you can imagine, that doesn’t bother most politicians since they don’t think past the next election cycle. But this red-ink approach isn’t a solution because the IOUs will run out in less than 20 years. So what happens at that point? Retirees would have their benefits automatically reduced.

2. Personal Retirement Accounts. The reform solution would allow younger workers to shift their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts. This “funded” approach is working very well in nations such as Australia, Chile, and the Netherlands. Since there would be less payroll tax revenue going to government, there would be a “transition cost” of financing promised benefits to current retirees and older workers. But this approach would be less expensive than trying to deal with the unfunded liabilities of the current system.

3. Limit Benefits. For those that recognize the problem but don’t want genuine reform, that leaves only two other possible choices. One of those choices is to reduce benefits by modest amounts today to preempt large automatic benefit reductions when there no longer are any IOUs in the Trust Fund. Raising the retirement age would be one way of reducing outlays since people would have to spend more time working and less time collecting benefits in retirement. Another option is means-testing, which means taking away benefits from people whose income from other sources is considered too high.

4. Increase Taxes. The other option for non-reformers is to generate more tax revenue. An increase in the payroll tax rate is a commonly cited option. Politicians have already done that many times, with the payroll tax having climbed from 3 percent when the program started to 12.4 percent today. Another option would be to bust the “wage base cap” and impose the payroll tax on more income. Under current law, because the program is supposed to be analogous to private insurance, there’s a limit on how much income is taxed and a limit on how much benefits are paid. Imposing the tax on all income would break that link and turn the program into an income-redistribution scheme, but it would generate more money.

Now take a guess which of the four options is getting the most interest from Hillary Clinton?

As reported by the Washington Post, Hillary Clinton is signalling that she wants to change Social Security so it is less of a social insurance program and more akin to welfare.

At a town hall here Tuesday, she said she’d be open to a Social Security tax increase proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), her radical rival in the primary. During the 2008 campaign, Clinton had flatly rejected such an increase. Her comments this week could suggest that she has warmed to the idea, or that she is responding to a broader shift to the left among Democrats. …Clinton…described an approach similar to Sanders’s — raising taxes only on the wealthiest earners to avoid an increase for people who consider themselves upper middle class. “We do have to look at the cap, and we have to figure out whether we raise it or whether we raise it a little and then jump over and raise it more higher up,” Clinton said. …Sanders’s proposal — increasing payroll taxes, but only for the wealthiest earners — resembles the one President Obama laid out as a candidate in 2008. …At the time, Clinton opposed the idea. “I’m certainly against one of Senator Obama’s ideas, which is to lift the cap on the payroll tax,” she said in a Democratic primary debate then.

So Hillary’s original position was the do-nothing approach, but now she feels pressured to go with the class-warfare tax-hike approach.

As a side note, I think it’s noteworthy that the article acknowledges that the current “wage base cap” exists because there’s also a cap on benefits.

…the wealthy don’t pay taxes on their earnings above a certain amount each year, it’s important to keep in mind that they also don’t receive benefits on those earnings later on.

But I suspect this kind of detail doesn’t matter to Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and the rest of the class-warfare crowd.

They simply want to maintain (or even expand!) the social welfare state in America. Vive la France!

For more information, here’s a video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

And here’s a link to my video on why personal retirement accounts are the ideal option.

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I’ve had several reporters ask me to comment on the philosophical and policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

I’m always happy to oblige, yet I don’t think any of them have included my comments in their stories because I always give what seems to be a very unsatisfactory response.  My standard line is that Sanders and Clinton are two peas in a statist pod.

Yes, I realize that Sanders has a more aggressive us-vs-them approach, while Hillary is calculated and cautious, but those are merely differences in rhetoric and style.

What matters is action. And if you look at the Senate voting records of Sanders and Clinton, there’s almost no difference between them (or, for that matter, between them and Obama).

Let’s look at some of their policy proposals. Here are some excerpts from a Townhall column on Sanders’ statist agenda.

According to Bernienomics, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would prevent greedy capitalists from exploiting their workers and paying below a “living wage.” …Sanders…is…fighting for European style “free college”…Sanders supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s CO2 emission standards, even though these will raise the costs of energy and manufacturing. Sanders also supported allowing the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the internet as public utility… Sanders wants to raise taxes on the rich as much as possible…he has stated his desire to tax the rich at more than a 50 percent income tax rate. Sanders also recently proposed a massive increase in the estate tax… Sanders believes that Social Security is the “most successful government programs in American history,” so it only makes sense that he wants to expand it. …Sanders is also a major proponent of a single-payer health care system.

In other words, a typical statist agenda.

What about Hillary? Well, she’s must more guarded in what she says, but you can get a sense for her ideological mindset by looking at her new scheme to boost the capital gains tax.

Here’s some of what Ryan Ellis wrote for Americans for Tax Reform.

Hillary Clinton today proposed the most complex and Byzantine capital gains tax rate regime in history. …Under the Clinton plan, there would be six – yes, six — capital gains tax rates for those whose total taxable income puts them in the top 39.6 percent bracket. …or taxpayers not in the 39.6 percent bracket, we already have a graduated capital gains structure on assets held longer than a year. For taxpayers in this range, the rates could be 0, 15, 18.8, 20, or 23.8 percent. …her plan actually creates 10 different tax rates on capital gains, not counting those gains taxed as ordinary income due to their shorter duration of ownership. By anyone’s definition that’s really stupid tax policy. It will only serve to distort capital markets as investors will buy and sell not based on rational market signals, but on exogenous, arbitrary tax holding period considerations.

Not to mention that higher tax rates on investment will discourage risk-taking and entrepreneurship. And let’s not forget that it’s not a smart idea, from the perspective of competitiveness, to have the world’s highest capital gains tax rate. Or to pursue policies that will depress capital formation and thus lead to lower wages.

Now let’s get back to the main question. Is there a difference between Sanders and Clinton?

One could argue that Sanders has a more robust left-wing agenda. But that doesn’t make Clinton a moderate. Indeed, I challenge anyone to identify a single position she holds that would result in smaller government or less intervention.

The bottom line, as illustrated by this cartoon prepared by Jonathan Babington-Heina, is that Sanders and Clinton only differ in how fast they want to travel in the wrong direction.

P.S. This is the second cartoon from Jonathan I’ve shared. He also put together a superb cartoon that depicts the senseless damage caused by double taxation.

P.P.S. You also can get a sense of Hillary’s leftist mindest by looking at some of the crazy things she’s said over the years.

And to be balanced, Bernie also says crazy things. Let’s close with this example of political humor I saw on Twitter.

And here’s some more Hillary humor if you still haven’t received your recommended daily allowance.

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It’s not often that I disagree with the folks who put together the Wall Street Journal editorial page. For instance, they just published a great editorial on that cesspool of cronyism and corruption that is otherwise known as the Export-Import Bank.

Isn’t it great that the voice of capitalism actually supports genuine free markets!

That being said, a recent editorial rubs me the wrong way.

It’s about the presumably quixotic presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders. These excerpts will give you a flavor of what the WSJ wrote.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed independent Socialist, has decided to run for the Democratic presidential nomination… He thinks the American economy is fundamentally unfair, and that government must tax and spend even more heavily… He thinks Social Security should increase benefits, no matter that it is heading toward insolvency. Higher taxes can make up the difference. …He wants single-payer health care, though his own state gave up the experiment as too expensive.

So what’s my disagreement?

I realize I’m being a nit-picker, but I don’t like the fact that the WSJ editorial is entitled “An Honest Socialist.”

My gripe is that Sanders isn’t honest. A genuine socialist believes in government ownership of the means of production. In other words, nationalized factories, government-run businesses, and collective farms. If Sanders believes in these policies, he’s remarkably reluctant to share his perspective.

In reality, Sanders is like Obama. You can call him a statist, a corporatist, or even (as Tom Sowell correctly notes) a fascist.

In other words, lots of redistribution and lots of back-door government control of the private sector, but not a lot of People’s Factory #58 or People’s Farm #91.

Though it is true that Sanders wants the government to directly run the healthcare system (akin to the horrifying U.K. approach), but at most that means he’s a “partial socialist” (or, to modify the WSJ‘s title, a “mostly dishonest socialist”).

Moreover, he doesn’t bring anything new to the presidential race, at least from a policy perspective.

There’s only a trivially small difference, for instance, between Hillary Clinton’s lifetime rating of 10.6 from the National Taxpayers Union and Bernie Sanders’ lifetime rating of 9.4. They both earned their failing grades by spending other people’s money with reckless abandon.

Though it’s worth noting that both Clinton and Sanders are “more frugal” than Barack Obama, who earned a lifetime rating of 9.0. I guess this is why the phrase “damning with faint praise” was invented.

The only difference between Hillary, Obama, and Sanders is tone. Here’s some of what Charles Cooke wrote for National Review.

Sanders does not play games with words…he steadfastly refuses to pretend that he represents moderation. …Sanders is to public policy and professional politicking what Joe Biden is to personality. He is open, blunt, unapologetic, compelling, ready to debate.

Which is in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton’s pabulum.

…the Democratic primary is being dominated by a corrupt, controlling, soulless, cynical, entitled, and mostly synthetic avatar named Hillary Clinton, and, in consequence, it is almost entirely devoid of ideas. …Hillary and her team stick to meaningless and saccharine banalities, almost all of which, one presumes, have been poll-tested within a fraction of an inch. …At no time does she stake out a vision. At no time does she adopt a controversial or momentous position. Instead, she hides behind corporately assembled strings of mawkish, semi-literate tosh.

So the difference between Clinton and Sanders is that he’s proud of his statism and she wants to hide her radical agenda.

But it doesn’t matter what they say or what they call themselves, the bottom line is that their policies are destructive, both economically and morally.

P.S. Since Senator Sanders is from Vermont, it’s both amusing and ironic that the Green Mountain State’s government-run healthcare system self destructed.

P.P.S. Since we’re on the topic of socialism, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus wasn’t in that camp. Though I’m not sure we can say the same thing about the Pope.

P.P.P.S. Heck, Jesus may have been a libertarian.

P.P.P.P.S. If you like socialism humor, click here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Switching to another topic (and one where there’s zero humor), you may remember that I wrote a few days ago about the horror of so-called civil asset forfeiture.

This happens when the government arbitrarily seizes your money and/or property without convicting you of a crime. Or even without charging you with a crime.

Well, here’s a video from the Institute for Justice about a new tragic example of theft by government.

If this doesn’t get you angry, you probably need counseling. This story reminds me of the Michigan family that was similarly victimized.

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Looking through my archives, Hillary Clinton rarely has been the target of political humor. I did share a quiz last year that definitely had a snarky tone, but the main goal was to expose her extremist views.

Similarly, I mocked both her and her husband that same year for plotting to minimize their tax burden, but I was simply calling attention to their gross hypocrisy.

The only pure Hillary-focused humor I could find was from 2012 and it wasn’t exactly hard hitting.

Well, it’s time to correct this oversight. Thanks to the bubbling email scandal, we have lots of material to share.

Let’s start with a video from the clever folks at Reason TV.

Needless to say, cartoonists also have had lots of fun with the former Secretary of State’s dodgy behavior.

Here’s Steve Kelley’s contribution.

And here’s how Dana Summers assessed the situation.

And Ken Catalino reminds us that Email-gate is just the tip of the iceberg when looking at Hillary scandals.

And since we’re have some fun with Mrs. Clinton, here’s someone’s clever photoshop exercise, calling attention to her habit of extorting huge payments for platitude-filled speeches.

And here’s a bit of humor that has a PG-13 rating, so in keeping with my tradition, it’s minimized so only folks who enjoy such humor will go through the trouble of clicking on the icon. The rest of you can continue below.

P.S. Hillary Clinton is portrayed as the “establishment candidate” for the Democrats. Some people interpret that to mean she’s a moderate, particularly when compared to a fraudster like Elizabeth Warren. But if you check out these statements, you’ll see that she’s a hard-core statist on economic issues. Indeed, there’s every reason to think she’s as far to the left as Obama.

P.P.S. Bill Clinton, by contrast, did govern from the center.

Sure, his reasonable (and in some cases admirable) track record almost certainly was a result – at least in part – of having a GOP Congress, but you’ll notice that Obama hasn’t moderated since GOPers took control on Capitol Hill.

For more evidence, check out this interesting (albeit complex) graph put together by Professor Steve Hanke. You’ll notice that Bill Clinton’s pro-market record generated results similar to what Reagan achieved (and Michael Ramirez makes the same point in this cartoon).

Needless to say, I fear that Hillary Clinton would be more like Obama and less like her husband.

P.P.P.S. In addition to his decent performance in office, Bill Clinton also has been the source of lots of enjoyable humor. You can enjoy my favorites by clicking here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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I wouldn’t be too upset about Hillary Clinton winning the White House in 2016, but only if I somehow could be assured that we would get the kind of policies we got when her husband was President.

After all, economic freedom increased during the 1990s, largely because of a smaller burden of government spending and less intervention.

Unfortunately, I suspect Hillary isn’t a “Clinton Democrat.”

Indeed, it’s worth noting that she was a doctrinaire statist when she was in the Senate. Here’s what the National Taxpayers Union revealed about her performance in her last year in office.

Sen. Hillary Clinton…received a score of 4 percent and the title of “Big Spender” in 2008 — a slight increase from her 2007 rating of 3 percent.

The good news, if you have the ability to detect very small silver linings, is that her score did increase in her final year.

And it doesn’t appear that she’s learned anything since she left the Senate. Consider some of the bizarre statements she has made in the past few years.

Now she’s added to the list. Here’s what she said the other day about job creation.

Wow. I’m not even sure what to say, other than I wish somebody would ask her where jobs do come from, the Tooth Fairy? Santa Claus?

I’m pretty sure, if pressed, she would use the same argument as her potential 2016 rival, Elizabeth Warren, and claim that government enables all the jobs by providing infrastructure and other public goods.

But there are roads and police in places such as Cuba and North Korea, yet we don’t see jobs there.

Or, to use more reasonable examples, France, Italy, and Greece have lots of roads and cops, yet all of those countries have very weak labor markets.

Maybe, just maybe, you also need some breathing room for private enterprise if you want robust job creation.

An editorial in the Washington Examiner correctly observed that Hillary Clinton’s comments demonstrate ignorance of basic economic principles.

…the private sector accounts for 84 percent of American jobs. But one must remember that the private sector also accounts for 100 percent of the wealth America creates. Meanwhile, government is funded exclusively through various taxes on private production and accumulation of this wealth — and that includes any taxes that fall upon the portion of privately created wealth that government collects and then uses to pay its own employees. This insight should be brought to Clinton’s attention, because Americans cannot afford to have one of their two major political parties reject basic economic principles.

I also like that the editorial explains that even public goods wouldn’t be possible if the private sector wasn’t creating the wealth to finance them.

P.S. Yes, I realize that many of the good policies America enjoyed in the 1990s were driven by Congress. I’m not saying the Bill Clinton deserves credit for those policies. Instead, I am merely pointing out that they were implemented during his presidency.

P.P.S. That being said, it’s worth noting that Bill Clinton seems much more rational than either his wife or the current President.

P.P.P.S. Since I mentioned statist heroine Elizabeth Warren, this is a good opportunity to recycle some humor. Here’s some mockery of her make-believe Indian ancestry, and here’s a clever application of her philosophy to dating choices for attractive women.

P.P.P.P.S. Here are some additional Hillary quotes as part of an amusing quiz.

P.P.P.P.P.S. One final point. I’m not sure who deserves the credit, but somebody in the Clinton household believes in proper (albeit hypocritical) tax planning.

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I haven’t paid much attention to Hillary Clinton. Looking through my archives, I found a few posts criticizing her statist inclinations on issues such as taxation, geography, economics, the War on Drugs, class warfare, and financial privacy.

Compared to other major political figures, that’s a pretty meager list.

Moreover, to the best of my recollection, other than a few cartoons, I’ve never shared any Hillary humor (whereas Bill is a never-ending source of material).

That needs to change, and thanks to a quiz that was showed up in my inbox, that change happens today.

The quiz provides a series of quotes and asks the reader to identify the author (unlike the quizzes I usually share, which allow readers to decide how they feel on various issues).

Anyhow, here’s the quiz, taken verbatim from my inbox.

=====================================

Answer all the questions (no cheating) before looking at the answers.

Who said it?

1) “We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.”

A. Karl Marx
B. Adolph Hitler
C. Joseph Stalin
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above

2) “It’s time for a new beginning, for an end to government of the few, by
the few, and for the few……and to replace it with shared responsibility,
for shared prosperity.”

A. Lenin
B. Mussolini
C. Idi Amin
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above

3) “(We)…..can’t just let business as usual go on, and that means
something has to be taken away from some people.”

A. Nikita Khrushev
B. Josef Goebbels
C. Boris Yeltsin
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above

4) “We have to build a political consensus and that requires people to give
up a little bit of their own … in order to create this common ground.”

A. Mao Tse Dung
B. Hugo Chavez
C. Kim Jong Il
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above

5) “I certainly think the free-market has failed.”

A. Karl Marx
B. Lenin
C. Molotov
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above

6) “I think it’s time to send a clear message to what has become the most
profitable sector in (the) entire economy that they are being watched.”

A. Pinochet
B. Milosevic
C. Saddam Hussein
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above

Scroll down for the answers

Answers
(1) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton – 6/29/2004
(2) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton – 5/29/2007
(3) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton – 6/4/2007
(4) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton – 6/4/2007
(5) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton – 6/4/2007
(6) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton – 9/2/2005

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Actually, this isn’t humor. It’s horror. The last thing America needs is another statist president. Bush and Obama already have done enough damage.

Though many of the quotes are taken out of context in order to make Hillary look radical. For what it’s worth, the leftists at Politifact rate the email quiz as a pants-on-fire lie. I think “significant exaggeration” would be more accurate.

Let’s not forget that she cavalierly dismissed the likely economic damage of her 1993 healthcare scheme, asserting that “”I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America.”

P.S. This quiz is somewhat similar to the infamous Al Gore-Unabomber quiz. For what it’s worth, I flunked that quiz with a score of only 42 percent.

P.P.S. Speaking of Gore, I’m also surprised I have so little humor with him as the target. All I could find was this video and a couple of one-liners from Leno and Conan. He also played a cameo role in this joke featuring Monica Lewinsky.

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I wrote a post several years ago contrasting a good initiative by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and a statist proposal by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

There was no connection between the two ideas, but I thought the comparison helped show the difference between someone who instinctively wants more freedom and someone who reflexively thinks there should be more government control.

Let’s do the same thing, but this time highlight a difference between Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton, particularly since the two of them may be rivals in 2016.

First, let’s look at what Rand Paul recently said about corporate inversions, which is what happens when an American company decides to re-domicile in another jurisdiction (generally through a cross-border merger).

Senator Rand Paul told Futures magazine that the rush of American companies moving operations outside of the nation is due to failed authors of the U.S. tax code. …“I blame the tax code and those who wrote the tax code,” said Senator Paul regarding the record number of inversions by U.S. companies. …Senator Paul said that antiquated tax laws have made the U.S. uncompetitive against countries in North America and Europe and called for Members of Congress to take a moment to recognize their faults. “…we should’ve brought a big mirror, so [Congress] could look in the mirror and see where the problem is. The problem arose from legislators who wrote a crummy tax code. The problem arises from having a corporate tax cut that is twice what Canada’s is and nearly three times what it is in Ireland. Money goes where it’s welcomed, and money has been flowing overseas. I don’t fault corporations for doing what they’re supposed to do, which is maximize their profit.”

This isn’t the first time Senator Paul has made wise observations about the taxation of multinational companies. He also was one of the few lawmakers who defended Apple for the tax strategies the company used to protect the interests of workers, shareholders, and consumers.

Now let’s look at Hillary Clinton’s recent contribution to the tax discussion.

In a recent interview, she basically bragged that she and Bill paid a larger share of their earnings to the IRS than the average household with similar income.

She argued to the Guardian that her family’s wealth would not injure her ability to talk about income inequality on any hypothetical campaign trails. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem, because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.” …are they truly paying more taxes than your average multi-millionaire, as she suggested? The Clintons last released their tax returns during Hillary’s 2008 presidential run. From 2000 to 2007, they paid $33.8 million in federal taxes, or 31 percent of their adjusted gross income — which was $109 million. At the time, the IRS said that taxpayers making $10 million or more — i.e. the people safely in 1 percenter territory — were paying 20.8 percent of their adjusted gross income in federal taxes.

Wow, bragging about paying above-average taxes.

In other words, assuming that she actually plans to run for President, she thinks that an inability to properly and intelligently manage her own finances is a reason to let her manage the nation’s finances.

Though at least she’s being philosophically consistent. After all, folks on the left act as if getting to keep any of our own money is some sort of special favor from Washington.

P.S. I can’t resist noting that Hillary thinks giving speeches is “hard work.” Since I occasionally get paid to give speeches (though only a tiny, tiny fraction of the $200,000-plus that she receives), allow me to state for the record that it is the easiest money to earn.

But I guess if you’re a former politician, it seems like “hard work” to actually go through even a modest bit of effort in exchange for money.

P.P.S. I also can’t resist pointing out that the Clintons are going through a lot of effort to minimize their exposure to the death tax, so even they have a limit when it comes to needlessly giving money to government.

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I actually have a perverse fondness for Bill Clinton.

This is both because we got better policy while he was President (whether he deserves credit is a separate question) and because he single-handedly generated a lot of quality political humor.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a typical politician. And the same is true for his wife.

Indeed, they are strong candidates for the Hypocrisy-in-Government Award.

That’s because they want to subject other people to the death tax, but they’re taking aggressive steps to make sure they aren’t subject to this punitive and immoral form of double taxation.

Here’s some of what Bloomberg is reporting on the issue.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have long supported an estate tax… That doesn’t mean they want to pay it. To reduce the tax pinch, the Clintons are using financial planning strategies befitting the top 1 percent of U.S. households in wealth. These moves, common among multimillionaires, will help shield some of their estate from the tax that now tops out at 40 percent of assets upon death. The Clintons created residence trusts in 2010 and shifted ownership of their New York house into them in 2011, according to federal financial disclosures and local property records.

But you have to give the Clintons credit for chutzpah.

They have tens of millions of dollars in assets, but Hillary said they were “dead broke.”

The Clintons’ finances are receiving attention as Hillary Clinton tours the country promoting her book, “Hard Choices.” She said in an interview on ABC television that the couple was “dead broke” and in debt when they left the White House in early 2001. …The Clintons’ finances are receiving attention as Hillary Clinton tours the country promoting her book, “Hard Choices.” She said in an interview on ABC television that the couple was “dead broke” and in debt when they left the White House in early 2001. …Since she left the government last year, Hillary Clinton, 66, has been giving speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Bill Clinton, 67, also makes paid speeches and appearances, receiving $200,000 each in October 2012 from Vanguard Group Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG, according to Hillary Clinton’s disclosures.

Geesh, I wish I was “dead broke” the same way.

Political cartoonists certainly aren’t impressed. Here’s Gary Varvel’s take on the topic.

Michael Ramirez, winner of my cartoon contest, also is unimpressed.

By the way, Hillary was quoted in the Bloomberg story as being in favor of a meritocracy.

Which makes you wonder whether she opposed the special sweetheart deal that her daughter received to work at NBC News.

Chelsea Clinton earned an annual salary of $600,000 at NBC News before switching to a month-to-month contract earlier this year, sources with knowledge of the agreement told POLITICO. …As special correspondent, Clinton worked on service-related feature assignments for NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams” until the show’s cancellation in June 2013. Clinton has since worked on packages for NBC Nightly News. …When Clinton joined NBC, many media critics chafed at the network’s decision to employ a former first daughter with no experience in journalism. The New York Post referred to Clinton as “just another spoiled, aimless child of rich, successful parents chauffeured through adulthood by Mommy and Daddy’s connections.”

I have nothing against parents helping their kids and using their connections. I surely would help my kids if I had any influence in a hiring or pay decision.

But this smells of cronyism. Let’s not forget that NBC is owned by General Electric, and GE is infamous for getting in bad with politicians in exchange for handouts and subsidies.

In other words, it’s quite likely that Chelsea was given an extremely lucrative contract precisely because the company figured it was a good way of earning some chits with the then-Secretary of State and possible future President.

I’m not aware of any smoking gun to confirm my suspicion, but it would take heroic naiveté to assume that Chelsea’s parents had nothing to do with NBC’s decisions.

So, for their hypocrisy on both the death tax and meritocracy, the Clinton’s could win the Hypocrisy Award.

But there are plenty of other worthy candidates.

Such as the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which advocates higher tax for everyone else while providing gold-plated tax-free salaries and benefits to its own employees.

Such as the leftist political types who say tax havens are bad and immoral while simultaneously utilizing these low-tax jurisdictions to protect and grow their own wealth.

Such as the politicians and congressional staffers who decided to coerce others into Obamacare while seeking special exemptions for themselves.

Such as the rich leftists who advocate higher taxes for other people even though they refuse to send more of their own money to Washington.

Such as Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, who preaches coerced sacrifice for ordinary people even though his “carbon footprint” would be in the top 1 percent.

Such as the statists who fight against school choice for poor families while sending their own kids to pricey private schools for the elite.

Such as the Canadian politician who supports government-run healthcare for his constituents but comes to America for private treatment when he’s sick.

As you can see, the Clintons face some very tough competition.

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Two years ago, there was a flurry of excitement because some guy named Rex Nutting crunched annual budget numbers and concluded that Barack Obama was the most fiscally conservative President since at least 1980.

I looked at the data and found a few mistakes, such as a failure to adjust the numbers for inflation, but Nutting’s overall premise was reasonably accurate.

As you can see from the tables I prepared back in 2012, Obama was the third most frugal President based on the growth of total inflation-adjusted spending.

And he was in first place if you looked at primary spending, which is total spending after removing net interest payments (a reasonable step since Presidents can’t really be blamed for interest payments on the debt accrued by their predecessors).

So does this mean Obama is a closet conservative, as my old – but misguided – buddy Bruce Bartlett asserted?

Not exactly. A few days after that post, I did some more calculations and explained that Obama was the undeserved beneficiary of the quirky way that bailouts and related items are measured in the budget.

It turns out that Obama supposed frugality is largely the result of how TARP is measured in the federal budget. To put it simply, TARP pushed spending up in Bush’s final fiscal year (FY2009, which began October 1, 2008) and then repayments from the banks (which count as “negative spending”) artificially reduced spending in subsequent years.

So I removed TARP, deposit insurance, and other bailout-related items, on the assumption that such one-time costs distort the real record of various Administrations.

And that left me with a new set of numbers, based on primary spending minus bailouts. And on this basis, Obama’s record is not exactly praiseworthy.

Instead of being the most frugal President, he suddenly dropped way down in the rankings, beating only Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Which explains why I accused him in 2012 of being a big spender – just like his predecessor.

But the analysis I did two years ago was based on Obama’s record for his first three fiscal years.

So I updated the numbers last year and looked at Obama’s record over his first four years. And it turns out that Obama did much better if you look at the average annual growth of primary spending minus bailouts. Instead of being near the bottom, he was in the middle of the pack.

Did this mean Obama moved to the right?

That’s a judgement call. For what it’s worth, I suspect that Obama’s ideology didn’t change and the better numbers were the result of the Tea Party and sequestration.

But I don’t care who gets credit. I’m just happy that spending didn’t grow as fast.

2014 Spending TotalI’m giving all this background because I’ve finally cranked the most-recent numbers.  And if we look at overall average spending growth for Obama’s first five years and compare that number to average spending growth for other Presidents, he is the most frugal. Adjusted for inflation, the budget hasn’t grown at all. That’s a very admirable outcome.

But what about primary spending? By that measure, we have even better results. 2014 Spending PrimaryThere’s actually been a slight downward trend in the fiscal burden of government during the Obama years.

This doesn’t necessarily mean, to be sure, that Obama deserves credit. Maybe the recent spending restraint in Washington is because of what’s happened in Congress.

I’ve repeatedly argued, for instance, that sequestration was a great victory over the special interests. And Obama vociferously opposed those automatic budget cuts, even to the point of making himself a laughingstock.

But don’t forget that TARP-type expenses can mask important underlying trends. So now let’s look at the numbers that I think are most illuminating. 2014 Spending Primary Minus BailoutsHere’s the data for average inflation-adjusted growth of primary spending minus bailouts.

As you can see, Obama no longer is in first place. But he’s jumped to third place in this category, which is an improvement over prior years and puts him ahead of every Republican other than Reagan. Given that all those other GOPers were statists, that’s not saying much, but it does highlight that party labels don’t necessarily mean much.

My Republican friends are probably getting irritated, so I’ll share one last set of numbers that may make them happy.

I cranked the numbers for average spending growth, but subtracted interest payments, bailouts, and defense outlays. What’s left is domestic spending, and here are the rankings based on those numbers.

2014 Spending Primary - Defense - Bailouts

Reagan easily did the best job of restraining overall domestic discretionary and entitlement outlays. Bill Clinton came in second place, showing that Democrats can preside over reasonably good results. And Richard Nixon came in last place, showing that Republicans can preside over horrible numbers.

Obama, meanwhile, winds up in the middle of the pack. Which is probably very disappointing for the President since he wanted to be a transformational figure who pushed the nation to the left, in the same way that Reagan was a transformational figure who pushed the nation to the right.

Instead, Obama’s only two legacies may turn out to be a failed healthcare plan and a tongue-in-cheek award for being a great recruiter for the cause of libertarianism.

P.S. Historical numbers sometimes change slightly because the government’s data folks massage and re-measure both inflation and spending. Though I confess I’m not sure why the 2013 calculation for Nixon’s primary spending minus bailouts is somewhat different from the 2012 and 2014 numbers. Perhaps I screwed up when copying some of the numbers, which has been known to happen. But since Nixon’s performance isn’t the focus of this post, I’m not going to lose any sleep about the discrepancy.

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Time for some weekend humor.

A friend sent me an example of three naval ships.

The first is an aircraft carrier named after Ronald Reagan.

Regular readers know I’m a big fan of the Gipper, and I’ve shared several inspirational Reagan videos (see here, here, and here). So I’m understandably appreciative of the USS Reagan.

SS Reagan

Next, we have a ship named after Bill Clinton.

We’re obviously entering make-believe territory, and I would have preferred this joke to target Jimmy Carter because Clinton actually turned out to be a pretty good President. Or, to be more precise, we got reasonably good policy during the Clinton years.

In any event, I can certainly see the humor in this image.

Though I’m surprised there isn’t a reference to coed bunks.

Or interns.

Or cigars.

Or…well, you get the point.

SS Clinton

By the way, if you like Bill Clinton humor, you can enjoy my favorites by clicking here, here, here, here, and here.

Last but not least, we have a new naval vessel that captures the Obama Administration.

SS Obama

I’m surprised there’s not also a reference to a website, but maybe this set of images was put together before the cluster-you-know-what of Obamacare.

To close, let’s share some more Obama mockery. We have this t-shirt, this Pennsylvania joke, this Reagan-Obama comparison, this Wyoming joke, this Bush-Obama comparison, this video satire, and this bumper sticker.

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I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Bill Clinton. In part, that’s because economic freedom increased and the burden of government spending was reduced during his time in office.

Partisans can argue whether Clinton actually deserves the credit for these good results, but I’m just happy we got better policy. Heck, Clinton was a lot more akin to Reagan that Obama, as this Michael Ramirez cartoon suggests.

Moreover, Clinton also has been the source of some very good political humor, some of which you can enjoy here, here, here, here, and here.

Most recently, he even made some constructive comments about corporate taxation and fiscal sovereignty.

Here are the relevant excerpts from a report in the Irish Examiner.

It is up to the US government to reform the country’s corporate tax system because the international trend is moving to the Irish model of low corporate rate with the burden on consumption taxes, said the former US president Bill Clinton. Moreover, …he said. “Ireland has the right to set whatever taxes you want.” …The international average is now 23% but the US tax rate has not changed. “…We need to reform our corporate tax rate, not to the same level as Ireland but it needs to come down.”

Kudos to Clinton for saying America’s corporate tax rate “needs to come down,” though you could say that’s the understatement of the year. The United States has the highest corporate tax rate among the 30-plus nations in the industrialized world. And we rank even worse – 94th out of 100 countries according to a couple of German economists – when you look at details of how corporate income is calculated.

And I applaud anyone who supports the right of low-tax nations to have competitive tax policy. This is a real issue in Europe. I noted back in 2010 that, “The European Commission originally wanted to require a minimum corporate tax rate of 45 percent. And as recently as 1992, there was an effort to require a minimum corporate tax rate of 30 percent.” And the pressure remains today, with Germany wanting to coerce Ireland into hiking its corporate rate and the OECD pushing to undermine Ireland’s corporate tax system.

All that being said – and before anyone accuses me of having a man-crush on Bill and/or of being delusional – let me now issue some very important caveats.

When Clinton says we should increase “the burden on consumption taxes,” that almost surely means he would like to see a value-added tax.

This would be a terrible idea, even if at first the revenue was used to finance a lower corporate tax rate. Simply stated, it would just be a matter of time before the politicians figured out how to use the VAT as a money machine to finance bigger government.

Indeed, it’s no coincidence that the welfare state in Europe exploded in the late 1960s/early 1970s, which was also the time when the VAT was being implemented. And it’s also worth noting that VAT rates in recent years have jumped significantly in both Europe and Japan.

Moreover, Clinton’s position on fiscal sovereignty has been very weak in the past. It was during his tenure, after all, that the OECD – with active support from the Clinton Treasury Department – launched its “harmful tax competition” attack against so-called tax havens.

In other words, he still has a long way to go if he wants to become an Adjunct Fellow at the Cato Institute.

P.S. Just in case anyone want to claim that the 1993 Clinton tax hike deserves credit for any of the good things that happened in the 1990s, look at this evidence before embarrassing yourself.

P.P.S. There’s very little reason to think that Hillary Clinton would be another Bill Clinton.

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It can be very frustrating to work at the Cato Institute and fight for small government.

Consider what’s happened the past couple of days.

Congressman Paul Ryan introduces a budget and I dig through the numbers with a sense of disappointment because government spending will grow by an average of 3.4 percent annually, much faster than needed to keep pace with inflation.

But I don’t even want government to grow as fast as inflation. I want to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

“Can’t they shut down even one department?”

I want to shut down useless and counterproductive parts of Leviathan, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, etc, etc…

I want to restore limited and constitutional government, which we had for much of our nation’s history, with the burden of federal spending consuming only about 3 percent of economic output.

So I look at the Ryan budget in the same way I look at sequestration – as a very modest step to curtail the growth of government. Sort of a rear-guard action to stem the bleeding and stabilize the patient.

But, to be colloquial, it sure ain’t libertarian Nirvana (though, to be fair, the reforms to Medicare and Medicaid are admirable and stem in part from the work of Cato’s healthcare experts).

But my frustration doesn’t exist merely because the Ryan budget is just a small step.

I also have to deal with the surreal experience of reading critics who assert that the Ryan budget is a cut-to-the-bone, harsh, draconian, dog-eat-dog, laissez-faire fiscal roadmap.

If only!

To get an idea of why this rhetoric is so over-the-top hysterical, here’s a chart showing how fast government spending is supposed to grow under the Ryan budget, compared to how fast it grew during the Clinton years and how fast it has been growing during the Bush-Obama years.

Ryan Clinton vs Bush Obama

I vaguely remember taking the SAT test in high school and dealing with questions entitled, “One of these things is not like the others.”

Well, I would have received a perfect score if asked to identify the outlier on this chart.

Bush and Obama have been irresponsible big spenders, while Clinton was comparatively frugal.

And all Paul Ryan is proposing is that we emulate the policy of the Clinton years.

Now ask yourself whether the economy was more robust during the Clinton years or the Bush-Obama years and think about what that implies for what we should do today about the federal budget.

At the very least, we should be copying what those “radical” Canadians and other have done, which is to impose some genuine restraint of government spending.

The Swiss debt brake, which is really a spending cap, might be a good place to start.

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I wrote about the Ryan budget two days ago, praising it for complying with Mitchell’s Golden Rule and reforming Medicare and Medicaid.

But I believe in being honest and nonpartisan, so I also groused that it wasn’t as good as the 2011 and 2012 versions.

Now it’s time to give the same neutral and dispassionate treatment to the budget proposed by Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget Committee.

But I’m going to focus on a theme rather than numbers.

One part of her budget got me particularly excited. Her Committee’s “Foundation for Growth” blueprint makes a very strong assertion about the fiscal and economic history of the Clinton years.

The work done in the 1990s helped grow the economy, create jobs, balance the budget, and put our government on track to eliminate the national debt.

As elaborated in this passage, the 42nd President delivered very good results.

President Bill Clinton entered office in 1993 at a time when the country was facing serious deficit and debt problems. The year before, the federal government was taking in revenue equal 17.5 percent of GDP, but spending was 22.1 percent of the economy—a deficit of 4.7 percent. …The unemployment rate went from 7 percent at the beginning of 1993 to 3.9 percent at the end of 2000. Between 1993 and 2001, our economy gained more than 22 million jobs and experienced the longest economic expansion in our history.

And the Senate Democrats even identified one of the key reasons why economic and fiscal policy was so successful during the 1990s.

…federal spending dropped from 22.1 percent of GDP to 18.2 percent of GDP.

I fully agree with every word reprinted above. That’s the good news.

So what, then, is the bad news?

Well, Senator Murray may have reached the right conclusion, but she was wildly wrong in her analysis. For all intents and purposes, she claims that the 1993 tax hike produced most of the good results.

President Clinton’s 1993 tax deal…brought in new revenue from the wealthiest Americans and…our country created 22 million new jobs and achieved a balanced budget. President Clinton’s tax policies were not the only driver of economic growth, but our leaders’ ability to agree on a fiscally sustainable and economically sound path provided valuable certainty for American families and businesses.

First, let’s dispense with the myth that the 1993 tax hike balanced the budget. I obtained the fiscal forecasts that were produced by both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget in early 1995 because I wanted to see whether a balanced budget was predicted.

As you can see in the chart, both of those forecasts showed perpetual deficits of about $200 billion. And these forecasts were made nearly 18 months after the Clinton tax hike was implemented.

So if even the White House’s own forecast from OMB didn’t foresee a balanced budget, what caused the actual fiscal situation to be much better than the estimates?

The simple answer is that spending was restrained. You can give credit to Bill Clinton. You can give credit to the GOP Congress that took power in early 1995. You can give the credit to both.

But regardless of who gets the credit, the period of spending restraint that began at that time was the change that produced a budget surplus, not the tax hike that was imposed 18 months earlier and which was associated with perpetual red ink.

But spending restraint tells only part of the story. With the exception of the 1993 tax hike, the Clinton years were a period of shrinking government and free market reform.

Clinton RecordTake a look at my homemade bar chart to compare the good policies of the 1990s with the bad policies. It’s not even close.

You may be thinking that my comparison is completely unscientific, and you’re right. I probably overlooked some good policies and some bad policies.

And my assumptions about weighting are very simplistic. Everything is equally important, with a big exception in that I made the government spending variable three times as important as everything else.

Why? Well, I think reducing the burden of government spending during the Clinton years was a major achievement.

But maybe we shouldn’t rely on my gut instincts. So let’s set aside my created-at-the-spur-of-the-moment bar chart and look at something that is scientific.

This chart is taken directly from Economic Freedom of the World, which uses dozens of variables to measure the overall burden of government.

As you can see, the United States score improved significantly during the Clinton years, showing that economic freedom was expanding and the size and scope of government was shrinking.

In other words, Patty Murray is correct. She is absolutely right to claim that Bill Clinton’s policies “helped grow the economy, create jobs, balance the budget.”

Now she needs to realize that those policies were small government and free markets.

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Triggered by an appearance on Canadian TV, I asked yesterday why we should believe anti-sequester Keynesians. They want us to think that a very modest reduction in the growth of government spending will hurt the economy, yet Canada enjoyed rapid growth in the mid-1990s during a period of substantial budget restraint.

I make a similar point in this debate with Robert Reich, noting that  the burden of government spending was reduced as a share of economic output during the relatively prosperous Reagan years and Clinton years.

Being a magnanimous person, I even told Robert he should take credit for the Clinton years since he was in the cabinet as Labor Secretary. Amazingly, he didn’t take me up on my offer.

Anyhow, these two charts show the stark contrast between the fiscal policy of Reagan and Clinton compared to Bush..

Reagan-Clinton-Bush Domestic Spending

And there’s lots of additional information comparing the fiscal performance of various presidents here, here, and here.

For more information on Reagan and Clinton, this video has the details.

Which brings us back to the original issue.

The Keynesians fear that a modest reduction in the growth of government (under the sequester, the federal government will grow $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion) will somehow hurt the economy.

But government spending grew much slower under Reagan and Clinton than it has during the Bush-Obama years, yet I don’t think anybody would claim the economy in recent years has been more robust than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

And if somebody does make that claim, just show them this remarkable chart (if they want to laugh, this Michael Ramirez cartoon makes the same point).

So perhaps the only logical conclusion to reach is that government is too big and that Keynesian economics is wrong.

I don’t think I’ll ever convince Robert Reich, but hopefully the rest of the world can be persuaded by real-world evidence.

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I shared a remarkable chart last year exposing Obama’s terrible record on job creation.

It showed that the economy enjoyed big employment increases during the Reagan and Clinton years, but it also revealed anemic data for the Obama years.

That’s not a surprise since Reagan was the most pro-freedom President since World War II and Clinton almost surely comes in second place.

Yes, Clinton did raise tax rates in his first year, but he put together a very strong record in subsequent years. He was particularly good about restraining the burden of government spending and overall economic freedom expanded during his reign.

He was no Reagan, to be sure, and the anti-government Congress that took power after the 1994 elections may deserve much of the credit for the good news during the Clinton years. Regardless, we had good economic performance during that period – unlike what we’ve seen during the Obama years.

Which makes this Michael Ramirez cartoon both amusing (in a tragic way) and economically accurate.

Obama v Reagan + Clinton

Since we’ve had relatively weak numbers for both jobs and growth this entire century, it would have been even better if the cartoon showed Bush and Obama both trying to raise the bar.

The real lesson is that big government is bad for jobs and growth, regardless of whether politicians have an “R” or “D” after their names.

P.S. Interestingly, now that the election is over, even the Washington Post is willing to publish charts confirming that Obama’s economic track record is miserable.

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Every so often, I come across some statement by President Obama that is either jaw-droppingly misguided or unintentionally revealing, and I place it in my is-this-the-worst-thing-he-ever-said file.

His “spread the wealth” comment to Joe the Plumber is the most famous example, but that was before I started this blog. Previous entries on my list include.

But our Secretary of State also likes saying odd things.

Now we have another Hillary Clinton quote, as reported by the Guardian.

There are rich people everywhere, and yet they do not contribute to their growth of their own countries.

Wow, that’s remarkable. She’s actually claiming that rich people somehow get a lot of money without boosting growth, even though they obviously provided some value and benefit in order get people to voluntarily pay money for whatever it is that made the person wealthy.

But that’s not the most offensive part of her statement. What really stuns me is the assertion that growth will be enhanced if these successful people give a greater share of their money to a corrupt and venal political class.

For all intents and purposes, she is asserting that government in these nations is too small, even though the evidence from western nations shows that small governments were very conducive to growth. Moreover, we’re supposed to believe that high tax rates won’t discourage productive economic behavior.

Which leads me to ask a simple question: Can anybody show me a poor nation that became a rich nation while imposing high tax rates and having a bloated public sector?

P.S. Even though Mrs. Clinton wasn’t making any distinction, allow me to stipulate that there are some rich people who got money dishonestly. I addressed this issue in a post last year and I suspect that some politicians think rich people are sleazy crooks because the rich people they hang out with are sleazy crooks.

P.P.S. Click here to get the answer to the question about nations that became rich with high tax rates and big government.

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Even though it seems he would be an easy target, I haven’t posted much Bill Clinton humor.

All that comes to mind is this reference to Colombian prostitutes, this R-rated Monica Lewinsky joke, and this bonding moment with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But let’s add this image to the mix.

While I firmly believe all politicians should be mocked, and am perfectly happy to take some shots at Clinton, it’s time for a serious point.

America’s 42nd President actually did a pretty good job. Or, to be more accurate, we got good results during his tenure, particularly when looking at the burden of government spending.

Which is why I have openly stated on TV that I would go back to Bill Clinton’s tax rates if it also meant we could have the lower levels of spending and regulation that existed when he left office.

P.S. Time for a confession. This image, which I received from a British ex-pat living in the Caribbean, originally said the crowd was waiting for a Tony Blair statue to be unveiled. But since that reference wouldn’t resonate for most readers, I took the liberty of substituting the spiritual leader of the New Democrats for the spiritual leader of New Labor. But if you’re hungry for some negative commentary on the United Kingdom, you’ll enjoy this, this, and this.

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Back in April, I explained that I would accept a tax increase if “the net long-run effect is more freedom, liberty, and prosperity.”

I even outlined several specific scenarios where that might occur, including giving the politicians more money in exchange for a flat tax or giving them additional revenue in exchange for real entitlement reform.

But I then pointed out that all of those options are unrealistic. And I’ve expanded on that thesis in a new article. Here’s some of what I wrote for The Blaze.

The no-tax pledge of Americans for Tax Reform generates a lot of controversy. With record levels of red ink, the political elite incessantly proclaims that all options must be “on the table.” This sounds reasonable. And when some Republicans say no tax hikes under any circumstances, there’s a lot of criticism about dogmatism. Theoretically, I agree with the elitists.

So does that make me a squish, the fiscal equivalent of Chief Justice John Roberts?

Nope, because I’m tethered to the real world. I know that there is zero chance of getting a good agreement. Once you put taxes “on the table,” any impetus for spending restraint evaporates.

But even though I’m theoretically open to a tax hike, I am a de facto opponent of tax increases for the simple reason that we will never get a good deal. We won’t get sustainable spending cuts. Not even in our dreams. We won’t get real entitlement reforms. Even if we hold our breath ‘til we turn blue. And we won’t get the “Simpson-Bowles” tax reform swap, where taxpayers give up $2 of deductions in exchange for $1 of lower tax rates. Let’s not kid ourselves. In other words, reality trumps theory. Yes, there are tax-hike deals that would be good, but they’re about as realistic as me speculating on whether I’d be willing to play for the New York Yankees, but only if they guarantee me $5 million per year.

I then point out that a budget deal inevitably would lead to bad policy – just as we saw in 1982 and 1990.

Here’s the bottom line: There is no practical way to get a good deal from either the Democrats in the Senate or the Obama Administration. Notwithstanding the good intentions of some people, any grand bargain would be a failure that leads to higher spending and more red ink, just as we saw after the 1982 and 1990 budget deals. The tax increases would not be relatively benign loophole closers. Instead, the economy would be hit by higher marginal tax rates on work, savings, investment, and entrepreneurship. And the entitlement reform would be unsustainable gimmicks rather than structural changes to fix the underlying programs. Ironically, when a columnist for the New York Times complained that Republicans were being unreasonable for opposing tax hikes, she inadvertently revealed that the only successful budget deal was the one in 1997 – the one that had no tax hikes!

The last sentence is worth some additional commentary. As I explained in a previous post, the only bipartisan budget agreement that generated a balanced budget was the 1997 pact – and that deal lowered taxes rather than increasing them.

Some people try to argue that Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike deserves some of the credit, but I previously showed that the Administration’s Office of Management and Budget admitted – 18 months later! – that the nation would have triple-digit budget deficits for the foreseeable future.

What changed (and this is where Bill Clinton deserves credit) is that the nation enjoyed a multi-year period of spending restraint in the mid-1990s.

And when policy makers addressed the underlying disease of too much government spending, they solved the symptom of red ink.

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A couple of weeks ago, I debunked the myth that Obama is a fiscal conservative by showing how TARP masks his real record.

I then followed up that post by showing that Obama is a traditional leftist who spends on social welfare programs, but also did a final post showing that Bush was similarly profligate.

Now we have some additional research confirming these points. Art Laffer and Steve Moore investigate Obama’s claim in today’s Wall Street Journal.

They start with an acknowledgement that the burden of spending declined during the Clinton years.

Here’s the picture. In the chart nearby we’ve plotted federal government spending on a National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) basis as a share of total U.S. GDP from 1990 to the present. …The stories the chart tells are amazing. …The first is how much government spending fell during President Bill Clinton’s eight years in office and how low it was when he left office. When he became president in 1992, government spending was 23.5% of GDP, and when he left in 2001 it was 19.5% of GDP. President Clinton, in conjunction with a solid Republican Congress, cut government spending by more than any other president in modern times, and oversaw one of the greatest periods of economic growth and prosperity in U.S. history.

Since I’ve done a video highlighting the good fiscal record of both Reagan and Clinton, this is music to my ears.

Unfortunately, policy moved in the wrong direction once Bush got to the White House – and Laffer and Moore specifically highlight the negative impact of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

 …the biggest surge in government spending came during the last two years of President George W. Bush’s eight years in office (2007-2008). A weakened Republican president dealing with a strident Democratic Congress, led by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, resulted in an orgy of spending. Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress capitulated to and even promoted each and every government bailout and populist redistribution canard put before them. It’s a long list, starting with the 2003 trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug benefit and culminating with the actions taken to stem the 2008 financial meltdown—the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bailout of insurance giant AIG and government-sponsored lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the ill-advised 2008 $600-per-person tax rebate, the stimulus add-ons to 2007’s housing and farm bills, etc.

Needless to say, Obama decided to double down on Bush’s failed policies.

After taking office in 2009, with spending and debt already at record high levels and the deficit headed to $1 trillion, President Obama proceeded to pass his own $830 billion stimulus, auto bailouts, mortgage relief plans, the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and the $1.7 trillion ObamaCare entitlement (which isn’t even accounted for in the chart).

Adding injury to injury, the so-called stimulus didn’t work. And the authors are right about the looming fiscal nightmare of Obamacare.

It’s also worth noting that Keynesian spending didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt back in the 1930s, and Laffer and Moore also explain how those two supporters of statism exacerbated the damage with class-warfare tax policy.

Like President Obama, President Hoover proposed massive tax increases. Unlike Mr. Obama, Hoover was successful. The highest marginal income tax rate jumped to 63% from 24% on Jan. 1, 1932. That November, Hoover lost the election to Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide. As if Hoover’s tax increases weren’t enough, on Jan. 1, 1936, FDR raised the highest marginal income tax rate to 79% with further rate increases up to 83% coming later. Estate and gift taxes, taxes on retained earnings, state and local taxes were also raised. This is why the Great Depression was the Great Depression—massive deficit spending and tax rate increases.

But that’s a separate issue. The key takeaway from the Laffer/Moore column is that government spending undermines prosperity.

…the most amazing feature of the nearby chart, which is rarely ever noted, is that when spending declined sharply the economy boomed under President Clinton, and when spending soared under Presidents Bush and Obama, the economy tanked.

P.S. For those who appreciated a more humorous look at Obama’s record, here are two amusing cartoons.

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A financial columnist named Rex Nutting recently triggered a firestorm of controversy by claiming that Barack Obama is not a big spender.

Here’s the chart he prepared, which certainly seems to indicate that Obama is a fiscal conservative. Not only that, it shows that Republicans generally are the big spenders, while Democrats are frugal with other people’s money.

In some ways, these numbers don’t surprise me. I’ve explained before that Bush bears a lot of blame for the big expansion in the burden of government this century, and I’ve specifically pointed out that he deserves the blame for most of the higher spending from the 2009 fiscal year (which began October 1, 2008).

That being said, Nutting’s numbers seemed a bit nutty. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Nutting’s numbers actually seem accurate, including the fact that he decided that Obama should be responsible for $140 billion of the spending in Bush’s last fiscal year (a number he may have taken from one of my posts).

But sometimes accurate can be misleading, so I decided to dig into the data.

I went to the Historical Tables of the Budget from the Office of Management and Budget, and I calculated all the numbers for every President since LBJ (with the exception of Gerald Ford, whose 2-year reign didn’t seem worth including).

But I corrected a big mistake in Nutting’s analysis. I adjusted the numbers for inflation, using OMB’s GDP deflator.

As you can see, this changes the results. My chart isn’t as pretty, but based on the inflation-adjusted average annual growth of outlays, it shows that Clinton was the most frugal president, followed by the first President Bush and Obama.

With his guns-n-butter Keynesianism, it’s no big surprise that LBJ ranks last. And “W” also gets a very low grade.

But then I figured we should take interest payments out of the budget and focus on inflation-adjusted “primary spending.” After all, Presidents shouldn’t be held responsible for the national debt that existed before they took office.

Looking at these numbers, it turns out that Obama does win the prize for being the most fiscally conservative president in recent memory. Reagan jumps to second place. Clinton is in third place, which won’t surprise people who watched this video, while W and LBJ again are in last place.

But I don’t want my Republican friends to get too angry with me, so let’s expand our analysis. Just as we don’t want to blame Presidents for net interest payments on debt that was accrued before their tenure, perhaps we should make sure they don’t get credit or blame for defense outlays that often are dictated by external events.

There’s obviously room for disagreement, but most people will agree that the Cold War and 9/11 meant higher defense spending, regardless of which party controlled the White House. Similarly, the collapse of the Soviet Empire inevitably meant lower military expenditures, regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge.

So let’s now look at primary spending after subtracting defense outlays (still adjusting for inflation, of course). All of a sudden, Reagan jumps to the top of the list by a comfortable margin. LBJ and W continue to score poorly, but Nixon takes over last place.

But it’s also worth noting that Obama still scores relatively well, beating Clinton for second place. Inflation-adjusted domestic spending (which is mostly what we’re measuring) has grown by 2.0 percent annually during his three years in office.

So does that mean Obama deserves re-election? Well, before you answer, I want to make one final calculation. Just as there are good reasons to exclude interest payments because they’re not something a president can control, we also should take a look at what spending would be if we don’t count the cost of bailouts.

To be sure, these types of expenditures can be controlled, but if we go with the assumption that the federal government was going to re-capitalize the banking system (whether using the good FDIC-resolution approach or the corrupt TARP approach), then it seems that Presidents shouldn’t get arbitrary blame or credit simply because some financial institutions failed during their tenure.

So let’s take the preceding set of numbers and subtract out the long-run numbers for deposit insurance, as well as the TARP outlays since 2009. And keep in mind that repayments of TARP monies (as well as deposit insurance premiums) show up in the budget as “negative spending.”

As you can see, this produces a remarkable result. All of a sudden, Obama drops from second to second-to-last.

This is because there was a lot of TARP spending in Bush’s last fiscal year (FY2009), which created an artificially high benchmark. And then repayments by banks during Obama’s fiscal years counted as negative spending.

When you subtract out the big TARP spending surge, as well as the repayments, then Bush 43 doesn’t look quite as bad (though still worse than Carter and Clinton), while Obama takes a big fall.

In other words, Obama’s track record does show that he favors an expanding social welfare state. Outlays on those programs have jumped by 7.0 percent annually. And that’s after adjusting for inflation! Not as bad as Nixon, but that’s not saying much since he was one of America’s most statist presidents.

Allow me to conclude with some caveats. None of the tables perfectly captures what any president’s fiscal record. Even my first table may be wrong if you want to blame or credit presidents for the inflation that occurs on their watch. And there certainly are strong arguments that bailout spending and defense spending are affected by presidential policies rather than external events.

And keep in mind that presidents don’t have full power over fiscal policy. The folks on Capitol Hill are the ones who actually enact the bills and appropriate the money.

Moreover, the federal government is akin to a big rusty cargo ship that is traveling in a certain direction, and presidents are like tugboats trying to nudge the boat one way or the other.

But enough equivocating. The four different tables at least show more clearly which presidents presided over faster-growing government or slower-growing government. More importantly, the various tables provide a good idea of where most of the new spending was taking place.

We can presumably say Reagan and Clinton were comparatively frugal, and we can also say that Nixon, LBJ, and Bush 43 were relatively profligate. As for Obama, I think his tugboat is pushing in the wrong direction, but it’s only apparent when you strip out the distorting budgetary impact of TARP.

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