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Archive for the ‘Donald Trump’ Category

My major long-run project during Obama’s presidency was to educate Republicans in Washington about the need for genuine entitlement reform. I explained to them that the United States was doomed, largely because of demographics, to suffer a Greek-style fiscal future if we left policy on autopilot.

Needless to say, I didn’t expect any positive reforms while Obama was in the White House.

Instead, I proselytized for fiscal sanity in hopes that the GOP might be willing to fix our fiscal mess if they had total control of the White House and Congress after the 2016 election.

And it seemed like things were moving in the right direction.

After they took power in 2010, House Republicans repeatedly voted for budget resolutions that included meaningful changes to Medicaid, Medicare, and Obamacare, as well as reductions in wasteful pork-barrel spending. And after the 2014 GOP landslide, Senate Republicans also voted for a budget resolution that assumed good reform.

Then we got the unexpected Trump victory in 2016 and Republicans held all the levers of power starting in 2017.

Sounds like good news for advocates of spending restraint, right?

That may be true in some alternative universe, but that’s definitely not the case in Washington.

As I warned before the election, President Trump is a big-government Republican. And a majority of congressional GOPers, after years of chest beating about the importance of spending restraint, suddenly have decided that the swamp is really a hot tub.

In 2017, my main gripe was that Republicans committed a sin of omission. They had power and didn’t adopt good reforms.

In 2018, they shifted to a sin of commission, voting to bust the spending caps as part of an orgy of new spending.

And guess what they want to do for an encore?

In the ultimate add-insult-to-injury gesture, Republicans (at least the ones in the House) are hoping voters will overlook their profligacy because they’re going to have a symbolic vote on a poorly drafted version of a balanced budget amendment.

The House is slated to vote next week on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution… The decision to bring the measure — which would require Congress not to spend more than it brings in — to the floor comes just weeks after the passage of a $1.3 trillion spending package that is projected to add billions to the deficit. …The measure has virtually no chance of becoming law as it would need Democratic support in the Senate and ratification from the majority of states.

This is insulting.

These clowns vote to expand the burden of spending and now they want to hoodwink voters with a sham vote for something that has no chance of happening (an amendment requires two-thirds support from both the House and Senate, and then would require ratification from three-fourths of state legislatures).

Do they really think we’re that stupid?!?

To make matters worse, they’re not even proposing a good version of an amendment. Here’s the core provision of H.J. Res 2.

Section 1. Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific excess of outlays over receipts by a rollcall vote.

Sound reasonable and innocuous, but I’ve been telling folks on Capitol Hill this is the wrong approach. I pointed out that 49 out of 50 states have some form of balanced budget requirement, yet that doesn’t stop states such as Illinois, California, and New Jersey from over-taxing and over-spending, or from accumulating more debt.

I also explained that the so-called Maastricht rules in the European Union operate in a similar fashion, yet that hasn’t stopped nations such as Greece, France, and Italy from over-taxing and over-spending, or from accumulating more debt.

The problem, I explained, is that anti-deficit rules simply give politicians an excuse to raise taxes (which leads to more spending and more red ink, but I don’t think that causes many sleepless nights for elected officials).

If Republicans are going to go through the trouble of having a phony and symbolic vote, they should at least craft a good amendment. In other words, they should rally behind some sort of spending cap modeled after what exists in Switzerland and Hong Kong. They could even use Representative Kevin Brady’s widely praised MAP Act as a template.

A spending cap is far superior to a balanced-budget rule for two reasons.

  1. A spending cap puts the focus on the real problem of excessive growth of government. And if you impose some sort of cap that complies with the Golden Rule, you simultaneously address the real problem of too much spending and the symptom of red ink.
  2. A spending cap is much easier to enforce since politicians know that spending can only increase each year by, say 2 percent. A balanced-budget rule, by contrast, is inherently unstable and unworkable because annual revenues can jump or fall significantly depending on economic conditions.

And it’s not just me saying this. Even left-leaning international bureaucracies such as the International Monetary Fund (twice), the European Central Bank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (twice) have acknowledged that spending caps are the only effective fiscal rule.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Republican politicians are behaving in a despicable fashion.

So you can understand my caustic and frustrated responses in this recent interview with Charles Payne. I’m upset because it’s quite likely that Trump’s spending splurge eventually is going to lead to higher taxes.

I pointed out in the interview that Trump was in a position of power. He could have won the budget fight if he was willing to play hardball with a shutdown.

And I also explained that there shouldn’t be a Washington infrastructure plan for the simple reason that we shouldn’t have a federal Department of Transportation.

Let’s conclude with some sarcasm. I don’t know if the former leader of Tanzania ever uttered this quote I saw on Reddit‘s Libertarian Meme page. But if he did say it, he was spot on.

And here’s a clever bit of humor that I saw on Reddit‘s Libertarian page.

Except the image is unfair. I’ve crunched the numbers. Democrats generally don’t increase spending as fast as Republicans.

With one impressive exception.

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I explained last month that the World Trade Organization’s dispute-resolution mechanism is the best way of discouraging China from short-sighted mercantilist and cronyist trade policies.

The Trump Administration, though, thinks that the best response to bad Chinese trade policy is to adopt bad American trade policy.

In this interview, I fret that tit-for-tax protectionism is bad, and might even lead to a 1930s-style trade war.

The Wall Street Journal also is concerned, opining this morning about Trump’s self-destructive protectionism.

Stocks have given up their earlier gains since the President unveiled his protectionist trade agenda…the main policy concern is the new uncertainty from rising trade tension. China slapped punitive tariffs on 128 categories of American goods on Monday in retaliation for the Trump Administration’s national-security levies on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) imports last month. …it sends a pointed message that a larger trade war would hurt American businesses, farmers in particular. …China’s retaliation is best understood as an economic and political demonstration, hitting a small number of products to signal where future blows could fall if the Trump Administration imposes punitive tariffs on $60 billion in Chinese goods to punish the theft of intellectual property. It’s notable that both Republican-leaning and Democratic states were hit. Tariffs on America’s biggest exports to China, such as soybeans and Boeing aircraft, were held in reserve. But don’t be surprised if they’re on the list if the President imposes Section 301 tariffs as he has vowed to do. …there will be significant collateral damage to innocent business bystanders, American consumers, and the overall U.S. economy. Mr. Trump risks undermining the policy gains from tax reform and deregulation that have teed up the economy for faster growth.

Amen, especially that last sentence.

As I warned in the interview, Trump is sabotaging the progress he made on tax policy and regulation.

Not a smart move since he likes to use the stock market as a report card on his performance. Live by the Dow Jones, die by the Dow Jones. Though, in this case, his protectionism means he wants to commit suicide by the Dow Jones.

Speaking of report cards, here’s a mock report card I created for the President. It’s not as amusing as the mock college transcript from Obama’s time at Columbia, but it highlights how bad policy – on spending as well as trade – is offsetting good policy.

It’s a bit different from the grades I gave on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, but more time has passed.

P.S. In the section for “teacher comments,” I suggested that the President needs extra tutoring to understand that a capital surplus (the flip side of a trade deficit) is generally a very positive indicator.

P.P.S. Let’s not forget that Trump is also threatening to deep-six NAFTA, so there are multiple threats to open global trade.

P.P.P.S. Makes me miss the Gipper even more. Heck, makes me miss Clinton, since he was in office and played a positive role when NAFTA and the WTO were ratified.

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Ever since there was a deal to bust the budget caps back in February, I knew it was just a matter of time before Congress and the White House responded with an odious orgy of new spending.

Some people told me I was being too pessimistic.

After all, the President’s Office of Management and Budget has a big banner on the budget webpage. It boldly states that President Trump is going to “reverse the trend of rising government spending.”

But I’ve learned to discount the rhetoric of politicians. It’s more important to look at the actual budget numbers in legislation that the President signs into law.

And that’s what Trump did yesterday, giving his approval to a bill that funds the parts of the budget included in annual appropriations.

So did he “reverse the trend”?

The good news is that the answer is yes. But the bad news is that he reversed the trend by increasing spending faster than Obama.

I’m not joking. Courtesy of the Committee for a Responsible Budget, here are the year-over-year numbers for various parts of the bill.* This table tells you everything you need to know about the grotesque recklessness of Washington.

An overall increase of 12.9 percent!

But maybe spending is climbing so rapidly because the cost of living has suddenly jumped?

Nope, that’s not an excuse. The CRFB put together a list of the major inflation projections. As you can see, there’s not the slightest sign of a spike in prices in either 2018 or 2019.

Indeed, it turns out that the Republican Congress and the Republican President decided to increase spending six times faster than needed to keep pace with inflation. Six times.

Yes, we can definitely say the spending trend has been reversed. Just not in a good way.

So who should be blamed, congressional Republicans or Trump?

The simple answer is both.

Trump is responsible because he could veto budget-busting bills. All he would need to do is tell the crowd on Capitol Hill that he is perfectly happy to close down the non-essential parts of the federal government until he gets some responsible legislation. Sooner or later, the pro-spending crowd would have to cave.

That being said, congressional GOPers also deserve blame. It’s a failure by the Republicans on the Appropriations Committee who are motivated by a desire to spend the maximum amount of money. It’s a failure of GOP leadership for not removing members from that Committee if they don’t agree to some level of spending restraint. It’s also a failure of leadership that they don’t get conservatives and moderates in a room and hammer out a common approach that would restrain the growth of Leviathan. And it’s a failure of the individual Senators and Representatives for not upholding the Constitution and not doing what’s right for the country.

But this also brings me back to Trump. If the President credibly drew a line in the sand and said “I’ll veto any spending bill that is over X”, that would change behavior on Capitol Hill. But Members of Congress believe (correctly, it seems) that Trump has no interest in fiscal restraint. So without any leadership from the White House, you get an every-man-for-himself, grab-as-much-pork-as-you-can attitude among lawmakers that makes it virtually impossible for leadership to pursue an effective strategy.

The net result is that politicians win, the special interests win, and the bureaucracy wins.

And who loses? Well, look in the mirror for the answer.

*The data in the CRFB table is for “budget authority” rather than “budget outlays.” These are closely related concepts, but technically different. When Congress approves “budget authority,” it is basically giving money to an agency. When the agencies then spend the money, it is “budget outlays.”

P.S. I’m a big fan of spending caps, but I confess that they aren’t very helpful if politicians simply change the law whenever they want more spending. The ultimate answer is to have constitutional spending limits, like Switzerland and Hong Kong, but amending the Constitution is hardly as easy task. So my best guess is that we’ll become Greece at some point.

P.P.S. Some people tell me not to worry because the real problem is entitlement spending rather than appropriated spending. They’re right that entitlements are the biggest long-run problem. But I point out that if GOPers aren’t willing to tackle the low-hanging fruit of pork-filled appropriations, that doesn’t fill me with optimism that they will ever adopt genuine entitlement reform.

P.P.P.S. The same people also claim that at least Republicans will hold the line on taxes. I think they’re hallucinating. If we don’t get control of spending, sooner or later we’ll get massive tax hikes. Which will make our fiscal problems worse, needless to say. But that’s our grim future because of GOP irresponsibility today.

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I’ve been very critical of Trump’s protectionism. I explained why he was wrong before the 2016 election and I’ve continued to argue he is misguided ever since he became President.

Most recently, I even expressed hope that Congress would overturn his new taxes on American consumers.

Some people are arguing, however, that the situation isn’t quite so bad because Trump may have a clever plan to use tariffs as a tool to force other nations to reduce their trade barriers.

I very much hope that’s the case, as I noted in this interview with Fox Business, but I’m not holding my breath for a favorable outcome.

I’m not the only one who is skeptical.

In her column for the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady pours cold water on the hypothesis that Trump is playing a very clever game.

President Trump’s practice of staking out extreme positions on trade as a negotiating tactic is a sign of his brilliance. Or so we’re told. But that theory took on water last week, when Mr. Trump had to backtrack on a promise to hit Mexico and Canada with a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum, without any concessions from either Mexico City or Ottawa. …Mr. “Art of the Deal” figured out that his opening tariff bid was on track to blow up the two best foreign markets for American-made steel and significant markets for American-made aluminum. It’s a good bet that the same producers who are lobbying for protection asked the president to back off the neighbors. The gaffe exposes the Trump administration’s failure to grasp the complexity of the supply chains that interconnect the global economy.

Well said.

By the way, I’m not just picking on Trump. I’ve criticized other Presidents for protectionist policies, most notably Hoover.

And I even dinged Saint Ronald for trade barriers (though I also noted Reagan’s good policies regarding NAFTA and the GATT).

Unsurprisingly George W. Bush also belongs on the list. Professor Vernon Smith relates a story about Bush’s protectionism in the Wall Street Journal.

I was one of nine American Nobel laureates invited to visit the White House Nov. 19, 2002, by President George W. Bush. Each of us had a few minutes to speak privately with the president… Mr. Bush congratulated me on my award in economics. …I added: “You must be doing some things right, but you did two things wrong—your steel tariff proposal and the farm bill.” I startled him, but our exchange was not over. …Later in the Lincoln Room, Mr. Bush was talking with a group of my colleagues from George Mason University. Seeing me nearby, he raised his voice in a friendly retort: “Earlier, your laureate friend gave me a hard time about the steel tariff. I’m thinking that he should handle the economics, and I’ll take care of the politics.”

Professor Smith points out, however, that Bush was wrong on the politics as well as the economics (a lesson the GOP should have learned from Reagan).

His proposal collided with a widespread political backlash at home and abroad, and with retaliation from our foreign trading partners. The Bush steel tariff, imposed in 2002, was rescinded in 2003. It was not feasible. He recognized its unreality, and backed off.

Hopefully Trump will retreat as well.

The last thing the world needs is a repeat of the 1930s.

But if that happens, be prepared for very bad news. Here’s a report on how trade taxes would undermine America’s economy.

A full-blown trade war would erase any economic benefits from the Republican tax cuts passed last year, according to an analysis by the University of Pennsylvania. …The Penn Wharton Budget Model, a research center at the university, imagined the worst case — no US imports or exports crossing borders tariff-free. The United States has free trade agreements with 20 nations. Wharton’s model assumes those all disappear. Such a trade war would make US economic output 0.9% lower than otherwise by 2027, according to the analysis. …Over the longer term, the costs of a trade war would heavily outweigh the benefits of the tax cut. By 2040, the US would lose 5.3% of economic output in the worst trade-war scenario, compared with a 1.6% increase from the tax cuts, the university found. Put another way, a full-blown trade war would cost the economy $200 billion over 10 years, and $1.4 trillion by 2040. American wages would decline, too, falling 1.1% over the next 10 years.

Last but not least, Mark Perry recently shared three videos from Khan Academy on international trade and economics. All of them are worth watching if you really want to understand the issue.  But here’s the one that I think everyone should watch.

And Mark adds this chart, which reinforces the point from the video – and something I’ve also tried to explain – about a capital surplus being the necessary and automatic flip side of a trade deficit.

In other words, when foreigners get dollars, they oftentimes think the best use of that money is to invest in America’s future. That’s a sign of strength, not weakness.

P.S. If you think protectionism is a good idea, please review these five charts.

P.P.S. Though I’m willing to go back to 19th-century tariffs – assuming we roll back all the government that has accumulated since then.

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I wrote last month about the risk of Trump harming American workers, consumers, and producers by pulling the United States out of NAFTA.

That’s still a danger to the U.S. economy, but it’s been pushed to the back burner by a more immediate threat – the President’s unilateral decision to impose big tax increases on steel and aluminum imports.

American trade law (specifically the Trade Expansion Act of 1962) does give Trump the authority to impose such taxes, but it’s worth noting that Congress has the power to change the law and negate the President’s short-sighted actions.

To be sure, such a change presumably would require two-thirds support to override a Trump veto. And I have no idea how many congressional Republicans are loyal to free markets rather than Trump, and I also don’t know how many congressional Democrats would vote against Trump’s protectionism, either because they support trade or because they simply don’t like the President.

But I do know that there would be lots of support. In today’s Washington Post, Charles Koch makes a principled case for open trade and condemns the President’s protectionism.

Countries with the freest trade have tended to not only be the wealthiest but also the most tolerant. Conversely, the restriction of trade — whether through tariffs, quotas or other means — has hurt the economy and pitted people against each other. Tariffs increase prices, limit choices, reduce competition and inhibit innovation. Equally troubling, research shows that they fail to increase the number of jobs overall. …History is filled with examples of administrations that have implemented trade restrictions with devastating results. At the dawn of the Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act raised U.S. tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods, which accelerated our decline instead of correcting it. More recently, President George W. Bush’s 30 percent steel tariff led to increased consumer costs and higher unemployment. And President Barack Obama’s 2009 decision to raise tariffs on Chinese tires ultimately burdened consumers with $1.1 billion in higher prices. The cost per job saved was nearly $1 million , not considering all the lost jobs that went unmeasured.

And he specifically condemns the new trade taxes Trump has imposed.

The administration’s recent decision to impose major steel and aluminum tariffs — on top of higher tariffs on washing machines and solar panels — will have the same harmful effect. …those who can least afford it will be harmed the most. Having just helped consumers keep more of their money by passing tax reform, it makes little sense to take it away via higher costs.

Mr. Koch also observed that we’ve become richer during a period when trade taxes fell.

It is no coincidence that our quality of life has improved over the years as the average U.S. tariff on imported goods has fallen — from nearly 20 percent in 1932 to less than 4 percent in 2016.

This is an under-appreciated point. I’ve argued – and shared evidence – that trade liberalization played a key role in offsetting the damage of higher fiscal burdens in the post-WWII era. Yet Trump wants to reverse some or all of this progress.

The Wall Street Journal also opined on this issue.

President Trump could reduce the benefits of his tax cuts and regulatory rollback with protectionism. This risk became more serious after the Commerce Department…recommended broad restrictions on aluminum and steel imports that would punish American businesses and consumers. …the wide-ranging economic damage from restricting imports would overwhelm the narrow benefits to U.S. steel and aluminum makers.

The protectionists try to justify tariffs on the basis of national defense, but this is a silly argument since we’re not relying on potential enemies.

Canada accounts for 43% of aluminum imports—more than twice as much as China and Russia combined. Steel imports are also diversified with Canada (17%), South Korea (12%) and Mexico (9%) accounting for three of the top four foreign sources. China accounts for about 2% of steel and 10% of aluminum imports.

The WSJ then lists some of the harmful effects of trade taxes.

About 16 times more workers are employed today in U.S. steel-consuming industries than the 140,000 American steelworkers. Economists Joseph Francois and Laura Baughman found that more U.S. workers lost jobs (200,000) due to George W. Bush’s 2002 steel tariffs than were employed by the entire steel industry (187,500) at the time. …Raising the cost of steel and aluminum inputs would impel many manufacturers to move production abroad to stay competitive globally. Does Mr. Trump want more cars made in Mexico? …Oh, and don’t forget that other countries could retaliate with trade barriers that hurt American exporters. …Why would Mr. Trump undercut his achievements with trade barriers that harm American workers and consumers?

Irwin Stelzer, writing for the Weekly Standard, also is quite critical.

…the president doesn’t like trade deficits—job killers as he sees it—and so he has put tariffs on washing machines and solar panels and now is deciding what costs and restrictions to place on imports of steel and aluminium. …Never mind that such measures will raise the costs of steel and aluminum-using industries such as autos, making them less competitive with imports that can keep their costs down by buying cheaper, un-tariffed metals. One economic study after George W. Bush imposed tariffs on steel in 2002 concluded that job losses in steel-consuming industries exceeded the number that would have been lost had the entire American steel industry gone out of business. …if that causes job losses scattered among a lot of other industries and states, then so be it. Trump figures that those voters won’t make the connection between the job losses and the steel tariffs.

Last but not least, Tom Mullen eviscerates protectionism in a piece for CapX.

When Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, it…was to refute the kinds of protectionist ideas championed by conservatives like Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton in Smith’s day, Abraham Lincoln eighty years later, and Trump today. Bastiat remade Smith’s case in 1848. Henry Hazlitt did so again in 1946. …What is unseen is the money American consumers no longer have when the tariffs are put in place. For example, the tariff may result in them paying $200 for the same pair of sneakers they previously paid $100 for. That means they no longer have $100 they previously had after buying the sneakers, which they could spend on other products. Whatever jobs they were supporting with that $100 are now lost. …When the ledger is balanced, Americans, in general, are far better off without the tariff.

Here’s more on the economic poison of protectionism.

The lower prices Americans pay for automobiles, clothing, Apple iPhones, and Bobcats allow them to patronise those American industries which operate more efficiently than their overseas competitors. That’s called “comparative advantage,” something else free market advocates since Adam Smith have been educating people about. …No matter what spurious arguments special interests make in favour of tariffs, they are, at the end of the day, just another tax. …And don’t forget, all the unseen, negative consequences of tariffs apply equally to foreigners. If they are taxing imports on automobiles, their citizens have less money to spend on other products. Their businesses that use imported materials must raise their prices and become less competitive. Any advantage they appear to gain in one sector, they lose in another, with the same overall net loss as we experience.

Amen.

Protectionism is a no-win game. Politicians in Country A take aim at businesses in Country B, but the main casualties are inside their own borders. Consumers lose, taxpayers lose, and all the upstream and downstream businesses in the supply chain lose.

Which is why researchers inevitably find that trade barriers are associated with net job losses. In other words, the “unseen” losses are far larger than the “seen” gains.

Which is exactly what Bastiat warned about more than 150 years ago.

P.S. Shifting gears, I’ve periodically complained about the immoral and amoral actions of large corporations. Simply stated, big businesses oftentimes are perfectly happy to use the coercive power of government to grab unearned wealth.

Koch Industries is a noble exception. Here’s another excerpt from Charles Koch’s Washington Post column.

One might assume that, as the head of Koch Industries — a large company involved in many industries, including steel — I would applaud such import tariffs because they would be to our immediate and financial benefit. But corporate leaders must reject this type of short-term thinking, and we have. …We only support policies that are based on equality under the law and that help people improve their lives. This is why we successfully lobbied to end direct ethanol subsidies, despite being one of the largest ethanol producers in the United States. It is why we fought against the inclusion of a border adjustment tax in the tax-reform package, even though it would have greatly increased our profits by increasing costs to consumers.

I’m obviously pleased that the folks at Koch are on the right side of the ethanol and BAT issues, but that’s a secondary matter. What’s praiseworthy is that the company rejects all cronyism. Even when it would benefit.

If more businesses acted that way, there would be a lot more support for free enterprise.

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I sometimes sardonically comment about Democratic politicians playing Santa Claus, but Republicans can play that game as well.

Trump and his allies in Congress recently agreed on a big-spending budget deal that lavishes more money on both the Pentagon and domestic programs, and that was only a few weeks after agreeing on a tax reform plan that lower taxes (though only for nine years).

Even if I like part of what’s been happening, that kind of populist approach at some point becomes unsustainable. And when the D.C. swamp ultimately has to choose between lower taxes or higher spending, they’ll go with the latter and make things even worse by jacking up the tax burden.

My frustration is apparent in this recent interview.

And I’m not the only one who sees the long-run dangers.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Professor Edward Lazear of Stanford explores the economic damage of ever-expanding government.

The budget deal President Trump signed earlier this month will send federal spending and the deficit skyrocketing. On top of this spending explosion, the administration now plans to add a $500 billion infrastructure bill. …over time high spending necessitates high taxes, and high taxes reduce work and restrain growth. Economic trends in developed nations consistently show that low taxes and hard work are linked to robust growth.

He looks at some of the cross-country evidence.

European countries trail the U.S. in working hard and controlling taxes, and their economies have lagged in comparison. France has a tax-to-GDP ratio of about 44%, and in Italy it’s 43%. The French and Italians work almost 30% fewer hours per person than Americans. Notably, the French economy has flatlined since 2010 while Italy’s has contracted. …Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that a 1% increase in a nation’s tax rate is associated with a 1.4% decrease in hours worked per person in the working-age population.

Here’s the part that resonated with me. It’s excessive spending that ultimately is the problem.

…taxes are ultimately dictated by spending. Countries can borrow to finance short-run spending, but they must eventually levy taxes to repay the loans. Whether a government raises taxes now or later to pay for expenditures is a minor consideration compared with its decision to spend in the first place. …Higher spending goes hand in hand with higher taxes, higher deficits, fewer worked hours and less growth. The international comparisons suggest that a 4% increase in spending is associated with a decrease of roughly 0.5 percentage point in the average annual growth rate. Furthermore, it is spending—rather than the deficit—that correlates with sluggish growth. …Deficits often coincide with low growth because deficit increases are usually caused by heightened spending, not reduced taxes. Raising taxes, or keeping them high without lowering spending, stifles growth.

Heck, even the OECD has produced research on the negative impact of government spending on economic performance.

And this approach can lead to a downward spiral.

To the extent that government spending goes to programs such as welfare that directly discourage work, it has an additional growth-reducing effect. When fewer people work, those who do must be taxed even more to cover public expenses. These heightened taxes on labor discourage work in turn, pushing more potential workers toward government support.

In other words, if we stay on this path, we’ll eventually become Greece. Not a good idea, to put it mildly.

Since we’re on the topic, let’s look at some additional evidence. Three economists from Australia and the United Kingdom did a meta-analysis of studies on the relationship between government spending and economic growth. Here are some of the findings.

One of the most contentious issues in economics is whether ‘big government’ is good or bad for economic growth. …Theoretically, big government can have both negative and positive effects on growth. …In this study, we include all effect-size estimates reported by empirical studies that examine the direct effect of government size on growth.

Here’s what they found.

… findings indicate that: (i) total government expenditures have a medium and adverse effect on per-capita income growth in developed countries only; (ii) the effect of government consumption on per-capita income growth is also medium in developed countries and in developed and LDCs pooled together; and (iii) neither total expenditures nor government consumption has a significant effect on per-capita income growth in LDCs.

I’m not surprised that they didn’t find a strong link in poor nations. The data show that those countries are generally too mismanaged and corrupt to collect much revenue. Therefore, as I noted in my recent analysis of Indian economic policy, they can’t spend much.

What’s primarily holding back those countries is weak rule of law, excessive regulation, and protectionism.

But I’m digressing. The study also acknowledges the Rahn Curve, though they call it the Armey Curve.

…government size tends to have a negative effect on per-capita income growth as the level of income increases. This finding ties in with the Armey curve hypothesis (Armey, 1995), which posits an inverted-U relationship between government size and economic growth. The theoretical argument here is that government size may be characterised by decreasing returns. Another theoretical argument relates to the distortionary nature of taxes, which is minimal for low levels of taxation, but beyond a certain threshold, they grow rapidly and become extremely large.

Quite true.

Sadly, some people mistakenly conclude that if a little bit of government is associated with more prosperity, then a bloated public sector must be even better.

On a related note, Professor Alexander Salter dismisses the assertion (pushed by international bureaucracies) that big government is a pre-condition for prosperity. Here’s some of what he wrote.

Why are Western countries like the United States and Germany so much richer today than other countries around the world? …One explanation for the success of the West is, in a word, liberty. Over the last few hundred years, classical liberal ideas such as the rights of man and the rule of lawput constraints on European governments’ power, which resulted in a strong protection of private property rights. This resulted in meteoric economic growth, which delivered the modern cornucopia of wealth. …Free countries get rich; unfree countries stay poor.

But there’s a competing theory.

…another explanation — state capacity…is the idea that economic development requires strong, centralized states to uphold the rule of law and provide crucial public goods. …The state capacity literature in economics…places heavy emphasis on a single, strong, central legal authority. In this framework, the fractured and decentralized legal authorities in medieval and early modern Europe are now seen as antithetical to economic development.

Salter is skeptical of the second theory.

…it is undeniable that economic growth in the West did not take off until the rise of modern nation-states. … While governance institutions obviously began centralizing at the beginning of the modern era, …that’s insufficient as a causal explanation. …the state capacity literature has a hard time dealing with a very troubling counterexample: the totalitarian states of the 20th century: like the USSR and China. These states had plenty of capacity, as evidenced by their ability to murder millions of their own citizens… Needless to say, these kinds of things aren’t conducive to economic development.

So he concludes that the first theory must be the answer, at least in part.

…whatever is “doing the work” of promoting economic growth, it is upstream of the creation of states. …State capacity may or may not be a valuable steppingstone to an explanation, but it is not itself an explanation that social scientists should accept. …it seems the old hypothesis — that the big ideas of classical liberalism created Western economic growth — is worth another look!

My bottom line, for what it’s worth, is that the classical-liberalism approach is the necessary condition, but that doesn’t automatically make it a sufficient condition.

In a column last year on the emerging micro-state of Liberland, I tried to square the circle. Here’s some of what I wrote after looking at the literature on state capacity.

…the key to prosperity is having a state strong enough and effective enough to provide rule of law, but to somehow constrain that state so that it doesn’t venture into destructive redistribution policies. This is why competition between governments played a key role in the economic development of the western world. When governments have to worry about productive resources escaping, that forces them to focus on things that help an economy (i.e., rule of law) while minimizing the policies that hinder prosperity (i.e., high taxes and spending). …America’s Founding Fathers dealt with the same issues… Their solution was a constitution that explicitly limited the size and scope of the federal government. …that system worked reasonably well until the 1930s.

I find this issue fascinating, but I suspect most people are more concerned about the real-world consequences rather than the theoretical underpinnings.

So I’ll end on a pessimistic note by observing that we normally get bad fiscal policy from Democrats and worse fiscal policy from Republicans (Reagan being the only modern-era exception).

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Since I called Trump a big-government Republican during the 2016 campaign and just condemned his capitulation to a spendaholic budget deal, it goes without saying that I’m not a huge fan of the President.

Heck, I also recently criticized his protectionism, warning that additional barriers to trade could offset the pro-growth effect of lower tax rates.

But I like to think I’m fair in my criticisms. I stay away from the personal stuff (other than for humor purposes) and and simply focus on whether liberty is increasing or decreasing.

Today, though, I want to quasi-defend Trump because a professor from the University of Richmond wrote a really strange column for the Washington Post with a very bizarre assertion about Juan Perón, the populist post-World War II president of Argentina.

It’s en vogue for enraged liberals to compare Trumpism to Argentine Peronism, wielding the analogy as a warning about the potential apocalypse that they fear is about to engulf us. …Like so many familiar historical cliches, however, this one is incomplete, if not downright wrong.

The professor who wrote the piece, Ernesto Semán, wants us to believe Perón is someone to admire, sort of the Argentine version of Bernie Sanders.

…the core of Peronism was a vision that is the exact opposite of Trumpism. Peronism led a process of expanding economic equality, collective organization and political enfranchisement. …Juan Perón presided over a process of massive wealth redistribution on behalf of the emerging working classes. …his government increased its intervention in the economy and provided…free public health care and education for everyone, as well as a wide array of union-managed social services. Peronism enacted strong regulations on private capital… Argentina’s social transformations resembled in some ways those that took place in the United States during the New Deal. Perón certainly thought so…in 1946 quoted entire paragraphs from President Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural address.

And he says that today’s Democrats should embrace Perón’s policies.

…comparison of Trumpism to Peronism…ignores how in fundamental ways the two are polar opposites… Instead of fearing Latin American populism, …Democrats should look to it as offering a potential path forward for a more equal and fair country.

Wow. This isn’t quite as bizarre as arguing that Venezuela should be a role model (looking at you, Bernie Sanders, Joe Stiglitz, and others), but it’s close.

Here’s everything you need to know about Peronism, from a 2014 article in the Economist.

The country ranked among the ten richest in the world…its standing as one of the world’s most vibrant economies is a distant memory… Its income per head is now 43% of those same 16 rich economies… As the urban, working-class population swelled, so did the constituency susceptible to Perón’s promise to support industry and strengthen workers’ rights.

Takes a look at this chart from the article showing Argentina’s per-capita GDP relative to other nations. As you can see, the country used to be much richer than Brazil and considerably richer than Japan. And all through the first half of the 20th century, Argentina was not that far behind the United States and other wealthy nations. But then look at the lines starting after Perón came to power in the late 1940s.

In other words, Peronist policies reduced the comparative prosperity of the ordinary people.

Just like similar policies have reduced the comparative prosperity of ordinary people in Venezuela.

What makes these numbers especially powerful is that convergence theory assumes that the gap between rich nations and poor nations should shrink. Yet statist policies are causing the gap to widen.

I put together a chart back in 2011 showing the relative rankings of both Argentina and Hong Kong. As you can see, Argentina used to be one of the world’s richest nations. Indeed, it was the world’s 10th-richest country when Perón took over. And Hong Kong was relatively poor. But look at what’s happened over time. Perón’s statist policies produced a steady decline while Hong Kong’s laissez-faire approach has now made it one of the richest jurisdictions on the planet.

Yet Mr Semán says we should copy Perón. Go figure.

Let’s conclude by circling back to Trump. Semán is upset because some people are equating Trump (who he despises) with Perón (who he admires).

I’m vaguely sympathetic to part of his argument. He’s right that Trump’s version of populism is not the same as Perón’s left-wing version of populism (basically the Bernie Sanders agenda).

But since I care about the less fortunate, I have nothing for disdain for Semán’s assertion that Perón’s policies should be adopted in America.

P.S. Given his remarkable level of  economic illiteracy, you won’t be surprised to learn that Pope Francis was influenced by Peronism.

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