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Whenever there’s a fight over raising the debt limit, the political establishment gets hysterical and makes apocalyptic claims about default and economic crisis.

For years, I’ve been arguing that this Chicken-Little rhetoric is absurd. And earlier this week I testified about this issue before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee.

By the way, when I first showed up, my placard identified me as Ms. Mitchell.

Since I work at a libertarian think tank, I reckon nobody would object if I wanted to change my identity. But since I’m the boring rather than adventurous kind of libertarian, I guess it’s good that I wound up being Dr. Mitchell.

More important, here’s some elaboration and background links to some of the information from my testimony.

America’s long-run fiscal problem isn’t debt. That’s just a symptom. The real challenge is a rising burden of government spending, largely because of demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs.

Measured as a share of economic output, the tax burden already is above historical levels. Moreover, taxes are projected to rise even further, so there is zero plausible evidence for the notion that America’s future fiscal crisis is the result of inadequate tax revenue.

International bureaucracies such as the IMF, BIS, and OECD show America in worse long-run shape than Europe, but the U.S. is actually in a better position since a spending cap easily would prevent the compounding levels of debt that are driving the terrible long-run outlook in the United States.

It’s good to have debt limit fights today if such battles enhance the possibility of averting a future Greek-style economic calamity.

Arguments against using the debt limit as an action-forcing event usually are based on the bizarre claim that an inability to borrow more money would cause a default and wreck the “full faith and credit” of the United States. Nonsense. Treasury would be able to avoid default in the absence of a higher debt limit for the simple reason that tax receipts are far greater than what’s needed to pay interest on the debt.

This last point is worth some extra attention. I’ve been arguing for years that debt limit fights are harmless since there’s no risk of default. I even explained to the Senate Budget Committee a few years ago that it would be easy for the Treasury Department to “prioritize” payments to ensure that bondholders would never be adversely impacted.

The Obama Administration routinely denied that it was sufficiently competent to engage in “prioritization” and even enlisted the then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to dishonestly fan the flames of economic uncertainty.

Well, thanks to the good work of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, we now have a report outlining how the White House was prevaricating. Simply stated, of course there were and are contingency plans to prioritize in the event of a standoff on the debt limit.

By the way, I didn’t get the chance to mention it in my oral testimony, but my full written testimony addressed the silly assertion that any delay in a government payment is somehow a “default.”

I will close by noting the utterly disingenuous Administration tactic of trying to…make it seem as if delaying payments of things like crop subsidies and Medicaid reimbursements is somehow equivalent to default on interest payments.

One final point. Let’s imagine that we’re four years in the future and political events somehow have given us a Republican president and a Democratic Congress. Don’t be surprised if the political parties then reverse their positions and the GOPers argue for “clean” debt limits and make silly claims about default and Democrats argue the opposite.

That’s why I’m glad I’m at the Cato Institute. I can simply tell the truth without worrying about partisanship.

P.S. Here are some jokes about the debt limit, and you can find some additional humor on the topic here and here.

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The Index of Economic Freedom, my favorite Heritage Foundation publication, was released today.

As one might predict, Hong Kong once again ranks as the jurisdiction with the most liberty to engage in mutually beneficial exchange, followed by Singapore. Other highly ranked nations include New Zealand, Switzerland, and Australia.

Chile deserves special attention since it is the highest-ranked nation from its region and also the highest-ranked nation from what is considered to be the developing world. Estonia also deserves plaudits for being the highest-ranked nation to emerge from the former Soviet Empire.

The United States, sadly, isn’t in the top 10.

Now let’s look at some of the details from the report, starting with the important observation that good policy produces good results.

…lasting prosperity is a result of a persistent commitment to limited government, strong private property rights, openness to global trade and financial flows, and sensible regulation. Together, these interrelated factors have been proven to empower the individual and induce dynamic entrepreneurial activity. …nations that have focused on improving their competitiveness and opening their societies to new ideas, products, and innovations have done a much better job of achieving the high levels of social progress.

Looking at specific data, the good news from a global perspective is that there’s never been more economic freedom.

…economic freedom has advanced for the fourth year in a row. The world average economic freedom score for 178 economies…recorded an overall average improvement of 0.3 point from the previous year. The global average economic freedom score of 60.7 is the highest recorded in the 22-year history of the Index.

To be sure, a global average of less than 61 percent means a barely passing grade. But that’s better than a failing grade.

Moreover, there’s been some noteworthy improvement in selected countries.

Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Australia…earned the designation of “free” with scores above 80. …Ninety-seven countries, the majority of which are less developed, gained greater economic freedom over the past year; 32 countries, among them Burma, Germany, India, Israel, Lithuania, the Philippines, Poland, and Vietnam, achieved their highest economic freedom scores ever in the 2016 Index. …Score improvements in eight countries were significant enough to merit upgrades in the countries’ economic freedom status in the Index. Notably, Latvia became a “mostly free” economy for the first time.

But we also have some bad news.

Declining economic freedom was reported in 74 countries, including 19 advanced economies such as the United States, Japan, and Sweden. …Within the top five freest economies, Switzerland is the only economy whose overall score did not decline in the 2016 Index.

Indeed, I’m worried that Hong Kong’s score fell by a full point and Singapore tied for the 5th-biggest decline with a drop of 1.6 points. Those two jurisdictions are supposed to be role models!

And if you’re an American reader, you probably won’t be happy to learn that the United States has never had a lower score.

The United States continues to be mired in the ranks of the “mostly free,” the second-tier economic freedom category into which the U.S. dropped in 2010. Worse, with scores in labor freedom, business freedom, and fiscal freedom notably declining, the economic freedom of the United States plunged 0.8 point to 75.4, matching its lowest score ever.

You can see from this chart how policy has been moving in the wrong direction.

I don’t want to be overly glum. Only 10 nations rank above the United States and more than 160 jurisdictions get lower scores. And being “mostly free” is better than being “moderately free” or “mostly unfree.” Or, Heaven forbid, being a “repressed” nation such as Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, or North Korea.

That being said, the trend is not in the right direction. Heck, America is only 1/10th of a point ahead of Denmark (though, to be fair, Bernie Sanders would be horrified to learn that the Danes have very pro-market policies once you get past their awful fiscal system).

One final comment. The much-vaunted BRICS have hit a speed bump.

Progress among the so-called BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) has stalled, except in India, which improved by 1.6 points. Russia plunged 10 places in the rankings to 153rd, with its score deteriorating by 1.5 points. The rankings of the other BRICS countries—South Africa, Brazil, and China—declined to 80th, 122nd, and 144th, respectively.

By the way, India’s improvement is welcome news, but don’t break out the champagne. It still only ranks #123 in the world, which is not a recipe to become an Asian Tiger.

Indeed, the big lesson from the BRICS (as I’ve explained in my analyses of Brazil, South Africa, and China) is that a little bit of economic liberalization is a good thing and  can help save a huge number of people from destitution. But you don’t become a rich nation with “mostly unfree” policy.

P.S. While I’m a big fan of the Index of Economic Freedom, I’m an even bigger fan of Economic Freedom of the World. But both tell a very similar story about the relationship between good policy and good outcomes.

For more information, here’s the video I narrated on the recipe for growth and prosperity.

P.P.S. Even though my 2012 predictions for the Iowa Caucus were less than stellar, some folks have emailed to ask what I think will happen this evening.

For what it’s worth, here’s my best guess.

For the GOP:

Cruz                  28
Trump               27
Rubio                19
Carson               8
Paul                    7
Bush                   4
Christie               2
Santorum           2
Fiorina                1
Kasich                 1
Huckabee           1

For the Dems:

Hillary               55
Bernie               45

But don’t place any bets on this basis. After my near-perfect 2010 prediction (at least for the House), my predictions for the 2012 and 2014 elections were decent at best.

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There is some very good news to share. The income tax will disappear in April.

But there’s also some bad news. The income tax is only being abolished in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, and there’s little reason to think that America’s awful internal revenue code will disappear anytime soon.

Nonetheless, we should celebrate this development because it shows that fiscal mistakes can be reversed.

A report from Caribbean News Now has some of the highlights.

The people of Antigua and Barbuda will from April receive tax relief when the government plans to abolish personal income tax (PIT).  PIT, introduced by the now opposition United Progressive Party upon coming into office in 2004, imposes a tax of 8% on residents earning an income above $3,500 and 15% on those earning an income above $25,000. …Prime Minister Gaston Browne…noted that previous Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party administrations governed Antigua and Barbuda successfully for 27 years without personal income tax. He said that the cost of collecting PIT, the difficulty of enforcement, and its unfairness, make it sensible to remove the PIT from the books.

Wow, the Antigua and Barbuda version of the Labour Party obviously is much better than the crazed British version.

But let’s not get sidetracked. Here are some additional details from a story in the Jamaica Observer.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne yesterday announced that, effective April, personal income tax will be abolished in its entirety. …”Abolishing personal income tax is an important reform. Not only will it put more money in the pockets of the people, so that they can save or spend more for the benefit of the economy as whole, it will help to re-establish our country as one of the most competitive in the Caribbean and beyond.” …He noted that with this move, Antigua and Barbuda will be a location that is competitive and also the choice of retirees.  “Antigua and Barbuda will become a competitive location to attract the headquarters of companies and for professionals to relocate, thereby creating more jobs. Retirees will choose Antigua and Barbuda as their retirement home; Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) investors will invest and choose Antigua and Barbuda over our competitors,” said the prime minister. …”taxing income is destructive to investment, savings and consumption. Also, it penalises entrepreneurship.”

For a politician, Mr. Browne has a good understanding of economics. I don’t like the “money in the pockets” rhetoric because it implies a bit of Keynesianism, but everything else he said is based on solid, microeconomic observations about incentives. Very reminiscent of JFK.

And I also like his point about wanting to be a “competitive location.” Yet another example of why tax competition is such a wonderful force for good policy. It encourages governments to do the right thing even when they don’t want to.

I bet, for instance, that the good reform in Antigua and Barbuda will put an end to the suicidal talk of an income tax in the Cayman Islands.

But what about the United States? Is there any chance that good policy in the Caribbean will encourage tax reform in the United States?

Unfortunately, most politicians couldn’t find Antigua and Barbuda on a map, much less care about that nation’s fiscal policy. So I’m not holding my breath that we’ll reverse the horrid mistake that was made in 1913.

But maybe, just maybe, we can at least figure out a less corrupt and less destructive way for the politicians to grab our money.

P.S. Antigua and Barbuda is a beautiful place, but I’ve noted before that government always has the ability to turn Heaven into Hell.

P.P.S. By the way, because of our awful worldwide tax system, American citizens can’t move to Antigua and Barbuda and benefit from that nation’s good tax policy. But there is a Caribbean island where you can legally slash your tax burden.

P.P.P.S. For those who follow Caribbean tax policy, we also enjoyed a fiscal victory a few years ago when a value-added tax was rejected in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

P.P.P.P.S. On an unrelated topic, I want to augment my observations on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by citing some very important analysis by Reason‘s Shikha Dalmia. While a wasteful and incompetent local government caused the mess, she explains that state officials deserve some blame because they wanted to “create jobs” with an infrastructure project instead of accepting a good water deal from Detroit.

…the debacle is the result of Snyder’s efforts to stimulate the local economy—the exact opposite of the liberal line. …the then DWSD Director Susan McCormick presented two alternatives to Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz that slashed rates for Flint by nearly 50 percent, something that made Detroit far more competitive compared to the KWA deal. …Genesee County and Flint authorities saw the new water treatment as a public infrastructure project to create jobs… And neither Snyder nor his Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz nor the state treasurer Andy Dillon had the heart to say “no,” especially since to hand Flint to DWSD would have made the whole project less viable. …the Flint water crisis is the result of a Keynesian stimulus project gone wrong.

Hmmm…, statists make silly claims about terrorism being caused by climate change or inequality. Maybe I can be equally silly and now argue that stimulus schemes cause poisonous water!

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If everyone has a cross to bear in life, mine is the perplexing durability of Keynesian economics.

I thought the idea was dead when Keynesians incorrectly said you couldn’t have simultaneously rising inflation and unemployment like we saw in the 1970s.

Then I thought the idea was buried even deeper when the Keynesians were wrong about simultaneously falling inflation and unemployment like we saw in the 1980s.

I also believed that the idea was discredited because Keynesian stimulus schemes didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s. They didn’t work for Japan in the 1990s. And they didn’t work for Bush or Obama in recent years.

Last but not least, I figured Keynesian economics no longer would pass the laugh test because of some very silly statements by Paul Krugman.

He stated a couple of years ago that it would be good for growth if everyone thought the world was going to be attacked by aliens because that would trigger massive military outlays.

He also asserted more recently that a war would be very beneficial to the economy.

Equally bizarre, he really said that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center would “do some economic good” because of the subsequent money spent on rebuilding.

Wow. I guess the moral of the story is that we should destroy lots of wealth because it’s good for prosperity. Just like we should eat more cheeseburgers to lose weight.

So you can see why I’m frustrated. It seems that evidence and logic don’t matter in this debate.

But maybe this latest example of Keynesian malpractice will finally open some eyes. The International Monetary Fund recently published a study asserting that higher spending on refugees would be good for European economies.

I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from that report.

In the short term, the macroeconomic effect from the refugee surge is likely to be a modest increase in GDP growth, reflecting the fiscal expansion associated with support to the asylum seekers… In the short term, additional public spending for the provision of first reception and support services to asylum seekers, such as housing, food, health and education, will increase aggregate demand. …Relative to the baseline, the level of GDP is lifted by about 0.05, 0.09, and 0.13 percent for 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively (solid line in the chart below, representing the response of EU GDP as a whole). For the first year, the output impact is entirely due to the aggregate demand impact of the additional fiscal spending.

To understand the implications of what the IMF is claiming, let’s review some basic facts, all of which presumably are uncontroversial.

First, we know that economic output is the result of capital and labor being mixed together to produce goods and services.

Second, we know that growth occurs when the amount of output increases, which implies increases in the quantity and/or quality of labor and capital.

Third, we know that the influx of migrants to Europe will lead governments to divert additional resources from the private sector to finance various programs.

Now let’s think about the IMF’s assertion. The bureaucrats are basically arguing that letting governments take a bigger slice of the pie somehow is going to increase the size of the pie.

If you’re wondering how this makes sense, welcome to the club.

The only way this analysis possibly could be true is if governments finance the additional spending by borrowing from foreigners. But even that’s not really right because all that’s increasing is domestic consumption, not domestic output.

In other words, it’s like running up your credit card to live beyond your means when the real goal should be increasing your income.

But maybe you don’t want to believe me, so let’s look at some other voices.

The top economist of Germany’s Finance Ministry, Ludger Schuknecht, writes in the Financial Times about the perils of never-ending Keynesianism.

…after decades of attempts to fine-tune the economic cycle by running fiscal deficits and cutting interest rates at times of weak demand, many economies are fragile. …Government deficits and private-sector debt are at high levels in emerging markets, and many western ones too. Ageing populations are weighing on public finances. …Traders gamble on continued bailouts. …Yet this lesson goes largely unheeded; policymakers are urged to pile more debt on the existing mountain. …The work of repairing public sector balance sheets has ground to a halt almost everywhere. …Public debt in many countries is now well above 100 per cent of gross domestic product. …nations lacking resilience increasingly rely on support from others… This creates a new form of moral hazard: since countries that behave recklessly will be bailed out, they have little incentive to reform. …talk of global safety nets is futile, and focusing…on stimulus is outright frivolous.

I’m not a huge fan of German fiscal policy. Tax rates are too high and the burden of government spending is excessive. Heck, they’ve even figured out how to use parking meters to tax prostitutes!

But at least the Germans aren’t big believers in Keynesian pixie dust (and you won’t be surprised to learn Krugman goofed when trying to claim Germany was a Keynesian success story).

In any event, Schuknecht realizes that there’s a point beyond which more spending and more so-called stimulus is simply impractical.

Which is basically the main point in a column by Daniel Finkelstein in the U.K.-based Times. He’s writing about the attacks on “austerity” and is unimpressed by the financial literacy (or lack thereof) on the part of critics.

If I went to…buy a new sweater and decided not to get one because it was too expensive, would I be making an ideological statement about shopping? …Or would I just be, like, putting up with my old sweater for the time being while I saved up a bit of money? …Apparently my innocent view that it is a good idea to be able to pay for the goods you purchase makes me a small-state neo-liberal Tory free market fundamentalist. Which seems quite a complicated description for just wanting things to add up. …Between 2000 and 2006, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair engaged in a structural increase in public spending without a matching increase in taxation. You cannot do this for ever. …one thing is clear. Two plus two has to equal four. However unpopular that is.

By the way, if you read the entire piece, it’s rather obvious that Mr. Finkelstein is not a “small-state…free market fundamentalist.”

He simply understands that an ever-expanding public sector simply doesn’t work.

Which reminds me of a very wise observation by Tyler Cowen.

…at the popular level, there is a confusion between “austerity is bad” and “the consequences of running out of money are bad.”

In other words, this issue is partly about the putative value of Keynesian economics and partly about whether nations get to the point where Keynesian policy simply isn’t practical.

To cite an example, Switzerland or Hong Kong have what’s called “fiscal space” to engage in Keynesianism, while Greece and Italy don’t.

Of course, one of the reasons that Greece and Italy don’t have any flexibility is that politicians in those nations have rationalized ever-larger public sectors. And now, they’ve finally reach the point Margaret Thatcher warned about: They’ve run out of other people’s money (both in terms of what they can tax and what they can borrow).

Meanwhile, Hong Kong and Switzerland are in good shape because they generally have avoided Keynesian stimulus schemes and definitely have policies to constrain the overall size of the public sector.

For further information, here’s my video on Keynesian economics.

P.S. But if you want more cartoons about Keynesian economics, click here, here, here, and here.

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I spend a lot of time mocking statists, and with good reasons.

But since I’m an economist, maybe I should be careful about throwing stones.

Especially since, based on a fairly miserable track record, my profession lives in a big glass house.

So let’s take a closer look to see whether Shakespeare was wrong about which profession most deserved extermination.

We’ll start with a story from The Economist, which informs us that the IMF has a perfect record of failure when predicting recessions.

“The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable,” John Kenneth Galbraith, an irreverent economist, once said. …The IMF publishes forecasts for 189 countries twice a year, in April and October, for the year in question and the following one. The Economist has conducted an analysis of them from 1999 to 2014… Over the period, there were 220 instances in which an economy grew in one year before shrinking in the next. In its April forecasts the IMF never once foresaw the contraction looming in the next year. …Our random-number generator correctly forecast the start of a recession 18% of the time.

I’d also add that the IMF has a near-perfect record of trying to undermine countries by recommending tax increases, but that’s a separate issue.

And I don’t mean to pick on the IMF. I’m sure that the forecasts from the Federal Reserve, the Congressional Budget Office, and private entities would show similarly dismal forecasting results.

Especially if their models are based on Keynesian theory, as shown in the cartoon in this post.

If an inability to forecast was the worst thing you could say about economists, that wouldn’t be too awful. But it seems that we also have shady ethical values.  Consider some findings from a recent academic study.

The present article analyzes the differences between economists and non‐economists with respect to observed corruption behavior… For this purpose, I analyzed real world data of relating to the 109th–111th US Congress between 2005 and 2009, including 695 representatives and senators. I show that those who hold a degree in economics are significantly more prone to corruption than ‘non‐economists’. These findings hence support the widespread, but controversial hypothesis in the ‘economist vs. non‐economist literature’ that economists lack what Frey and Meier (2004) call ‘social behavior’.

Wow, we’re “significantly more prone to corruption” because we lack “social behavior.” That doesn’t sound good.

No wonder fraudsters can easily pass themselves off as economists.

Though maybe that data simply shows that economists with bad morals go into politics, whereas those of us with good character work at places such as the Cato Institute.

Or maybe it’s just evidence that there are too many left-wing economists, as reported in another article from The Economist (though at least the profession isn’t totally dominated by statists, like in anthropology).

A survey conducted in 2003 among practitioners of six social sciences found that…left-leaning economists outnumbered right-leaning ones by three to one, compared with a ratio of 30:1 in anthropology.

In any event, if you want to argue that the world would be better off without economists, the real clincher is that we even have the ability to make sex less fun. At least indirectly, as pointed out in this Quartz article.

Does more sex make people happier? Or do happy people just do it more? A gaggle of economists and statisticians lead by Carnegie Mellon University’s George Loewenstein, a well-known behavioral economist, have done their best to find out. Their study, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, finds that more sex doesn’t always make people happier—especially if the increase is the result of taking part in an economics experiment. …So is more sex now a bad thing? Probably not. The findings seem to indicate that “the instruction to have more sex leads to a decline in wanting for sex and in enjoyment of sex.” … at least we know conclusively whether participation in behavioral economics studies is the best way for married couples to spice things up. The answer is no.

Let’s consider the tally so far.

Economists are 100 percent wrong, they’re crooks, and they even ruin sex for other people.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

But as every good economist will tell you, it’s the real world that’s messed up, not our theories.

And for some economists, that’s not just a joke.

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Because I don’t like their plans for a value-added tax, some people seem to think that I am politically opposed to Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

That’s not true. Both Senators are generally strong proponents of free markets and limited government, so the fact that they have one bad policy position shouldn’t a disqualifying characteristic.

But since I’m a policy wonk (and because I work at a non-profit think tank), it’s not my role to tell people how to vote anyhow. Instead, my niche in life is to analyze policy proposals. And if that means I say something nice about a politician who is normally bad, or something critical of a politician who is normally good, so be it.

In other words, nothing I write is because I want readers to vote for or vote against particular candidates. I write to educate and inform.

With all those caveats out of the way, let’s look at the federal government’s odious handouts for the ethanol industry, a very important issue where Rand Paul and Ted Cruz unambiguously are on the side of the angels.

My colleague Doug Bandow summarizes the issue nicely in a column for Newsweek.

Senator Ted Cruz has broken ranks to criticize farmers’ welfare. …Senator Rand Paul also rejects the conventional wisdom…the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires blending ethanol with gasoline, operates as a huge industry subsidy. Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute figured the requirement cost drivers more than $10 billion since 2007. …Ethanol has only about two-thirds of the energy content of gasoline. Given the energy necessary to produce ethanol—fuel tractors, make fertilizer and distill alcohol, for instance—ethanol actually may consume more in fossil fuels than the energy it yields. The ethanol lobby claims using this inferior fuel nevertheless promotes “energy independence.” However, …the price of this energy “insurance” is wildly excessive. …”By creating an artificial energy demand for corn—40 percent of the existing supply goes for ethanol—Uncle Sam also is raising food prices. This obviously makes it harder for poor people to feed themselves, and raises costs for those seeking to help them.” Nor does ethanol welfare yield an environmental benefit, as claimed. In fact, ethanol is bad for the planet. …Ethanol is a bad deal by any standard. Whomever Iowans support for president, King Ethanol deserves a bout of regicide.

Here’s some of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on the topic.

Mr. Cruz does deserve support in Iowa for…his…lonely opposition to the renewable fuel standard that mandates ethanol use and enriches producers in the Hawkeye State. The Senator refused to bow before King Ethanol last year, and he’s mostly held fast even though Iowa is where anti-subsidy Republicans typically go to repent. …the Texan is right that ethanol is one of America’s worst corporate-welfare cases. The mandate flows in higher profits to a handful of ethanol producers and keeps the price of corn artificially high, all other demand being equal. This raises the price of food. Al Gore and the greens once supported ethanol but gave up on it when studies showed it did nothing for the environment because of the energy expended in its production. So for those of you keeping track of this outsider feud on your establishment scorecards, mark ethanol as one for Mr. Cruz. In this case he’s standing on principle.

Not only does it raise the price of food, Washington’s mandate for ethanol use (the “renewable fuels standard”) means higher prices for motorists.

Here are the key findings on the topic from the Congressional Budget Office.

While Senators Cruz and Paul are fighting on the right side, Donald Trump is cravenly bowing to the special interests that want continued ethanol handouts. Jillian Kay Melchior explains for National Review.

One of the most destructive environmental subsidies in the United States has found an enthusiastic supporter in Donald Trump. “The EPA should ensure that biofuel . . . blend levels match the statutory level set by Congress,” he said yesterday in Iowa, adding that he was “there with you 100 percent” on continuing federal support for ethanol. …federal support for ethanol is a bum deal for Americans. Under the 2007 Independence and Security Act, Congress mandated that the United States use 36 billion gallons of biofuels, including corn ethanol and cellulosic biofuel, by 2022. And the federal government not only requires the use of ethanol; it also subsides it. Tax credits between 1978 and 2012 cost the Treasury as much as $40 billion. Moreover, numerous other federal programs, spanning multiple agencies, allot billions of dollars to ethanol in the form of grants, loan guarantees, tax credits, and other subsidies. …Ethanol-intensive fuel blends can wreak havoc on car, lawnmower, and boat engines. In fact, many vehicle manufacturers will no longer offer warranties when ethanol comprises 10 percent or more of fuel; engine erosion simply becomes too common. …perhaps it’s not surprising that Trump likes federal support of ethanol. After all, the real-estate mogul’s business model has historically hinged on using tax abatements and other subsidies to make his building projects profitable. …Trump’s support for ethanol belies his populist Main Street rhetoric. In reality, he’s just another rich, East Coast politician who would prop up special interests at the expense of the taxpayer.

The bottom line is that ethanol handouts are one of the most notoriously corrupt subsidies that are dispensed by Washington.

They also violate my Bleeding-Heart Rule by imposing costs on lower- and middle-income people to reward politically connected fat cats with deep pockets.

Policy makers who oppose ethanol deserve praise, especially when they are willing to say and do the right thing in a state (like Iowa) that has a lot of recipients of this execrable form of corporate welfare.

P.S. I will get really excited if a candidate goes to Iowa and explains that we should get rid of the entire Department of Agriculture.

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This isn’t intentional, but there’s been a European theme to this week’s posts. I wrote yesterday about economic chaos in France, and the previous day I wrote about the grim consequences of Italian statism.

Today, we’re going to look at Greece. In the past, I’ve explained that Greece is special, albeit in a bad way. But I’ve also asserted that Greece could be rejuvenated and could deal with its debt with the right reforms.

Heck, Greece could even renege on its debt and still enjoy an economic renaissance if it adopted the right policies. That’s the message of this short video narrated by Garett Jones of George Mason University

So the $64 question (actually, the $231,199,453,552 question according to the latest projection of Greek debt) is whether Greece will do the right kind of reform.

Unfortunately, it appears that all the bailouts have subsidized bad policy. Writing for National review, a journalist from Greece explains that his government is adding more and more taxes onto an overburdened private sector.

…the new austerity measures, which are often amusingly termed reforms, are for the most part tax increases — which may not be popular, but which conform to SYRIZA’s ideological creed. The new package agreed to by SYRIZA and Greece’s creditors is about 90 percent new taxes or tax increases and 10 percent reforms. The tax increases have the benefit of protecting SYRIZA’s core constituency, which is the public-sector employees. Despite the collapse of public revenue and the overall dismal economic outlook, the SYRIZA government plans to increase the salaries of public-sector employees (by as much as 8 percent) and carry on with 45,000 new hires in 2016. Meanwhile, in the private sector, SYRIZA has increased taxes on all sorts of things and is planning to double the taxation of farmers. It has increased business taxes and also demanded the pre-payment of business taxes. It has increased the VAT on almost all goods, and it is defining affluence down so as to increase income taxes for a greater number of taxpayers. And although Greece has probably the highest social-security contributions in Europe, SYRIZA is planning to increase these contributions even more, despite the fact that pensioners now outnumber those who are still employed in the private sector.

More pensioners that private-sector employees?!?

Wow, even I’m shocked by that factoid. There definitely are far more people riding in the wagon than pulling the wagon when you add up pensioners, bureaucrats, and welfare recipients.

So you can understand why Greece is almost surely doomed.

Especially when you consider that many of the people leaving Greece are the productive ones (i.e., those who normally would be pulling the wagon). Here are some passages from a story in the New York Times from last year.

From 2010 to 2013, about 218,000 Greeks emigrated, according to an estimate from the Greek statistics agency. Nearly half of them went to Germany. …Resentments against Germany — Greece’s most powerful creditor — quickly fade when it comes to the prospect of a regular paycheck. Many of those leaving Greece are highly educated professionals and scientists seeking greater opportunity and better pay. An estimated 135,000 Greeks with post-secondary degrees have left since 2010 and are working abroad, according to Lois Labrianidis, an economic geographer and official in Greece’s Economy Ministry. “We think this is human capital that is crucial for the development of the country,” Mr. Labrianidis told me recently, calling the departures a “major blow.” …While much of the attention on recent Greek emigration has focused on the highly educated, I’ve been surprised by the number of working-class Greeks I’ve met who left due to financial desperation.

But there’s one group of people who aren’t leaving.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that they are the bureaucrats. As noted in this report from the U.K.-based Telegraph, their privileged position is zealously protected by vote-buying politicians.

The other thing most people in the area seem to agree on is that the biggest impediment to progress is the size of Greece’s public sector. The country has a population of 10 million, of which 2.5 million are pensioners, one million are government employees and two million work in the private sector. A further 1.7 million are unemployed. The rest are children or students. “So you can see why the current situation is unsustainable,” says Tryfon. “The only solution is for the public sector to be cut back. But every government since the crisis has chosen to raise taxes, while doing little to stimulate the private sector because they only want to protect votes.” “…Public sector employees and pensioners are the first to get paid and the only ones to get paid on time. We need investment into the private sector, but there is no motivation for companies to come to Greece…” a company would be nuts to invest in a politically unstable country, creaking under debt and crippled by an incredibly punitive tax regime. “What business will invest in a Greece when it takes six months to set up a company compared to Cyprus where it takes 15 minutes?” asks Dimitris Karkavitsas, an investment banker-turned-strawberry farmer. …the young engineer, says everyone who tries to make it in the private sector gets strangled. “The tax is killing us,” he says. …In the meantime, the public sector remains a massive beast.

Moreover, when you set up a company in Cyprus, there’s never a risk that you’ll be required to provide disgusting forms of DNA  as part of bureaucratic requirements.

Yet rather than be outraged by overpaid and meddlesome bureaucrats, I suspect most Greeks probably think how they can get on that gravy train. Which explains why, in an interview, I said the Greeks shouldn’t be allowed to “loot and mooch their way through life.”

Until and unless they learn that lesson, the nation is doomed to societal collapse.

P.S. Another sign of Greece’s moral and fiscal bankruptcy is that pedophiles can get disability payments.

P.P.S. To offset the grim message of today’s column, let’s also enjoy some Greek-related humor.

This cartoon is quite  good, but this this one is my favorite. And the final cartoon in this post also has a Greek theme.

We also have a couple of videos. The first one features a video about…well, I’m not sure, but we’ll call it a European romantic comedy and the second one features a Greek comic pontificating about Germany.

Last but not least, here are some very un-PC maps of how various peoples – including the Greeks – view different European nations.

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