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Archive for the ‘Election’ Category

When Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton agree on things, it’s always bad news for taxpayers.

Now they both agree that it’s somehow the federal government’s job to subsidize child care, though they’ve each concocted different ways of implementing this new form of redistribution.

The Wall Street Journal opines on this fiscally incontinent bidding war.

…both candidates [are] offering multiple subsidies for raising kids. This will end up raising prices and it won’t address the real reason parents feel squeezed: a decade of slow or no economic growth. Donald Trump on Tuesday proposed a tax deduction that would let families write off the average cost of child care for up to four children, among other ideas. Hillary Clinton has already promised to limit care expenses to 10% of income; raises for caretakers; universal pre-K; an increase in the $1,000 per child tax credit; a new program for student parents, and more.

Looking at the details, Trumps plan would exacerbate the EITC problem.

Here’s the dirty detail: Mr. Trump proposed an up to $1,200 child-care tax rebate for low-income families that would be delivered by expanding the earned-income tax credit. But the credit would inevitably phase out as income increases and disappears at $31,200. The result would be a higher inframarginal tax cliff—when people are discouraged from earning more income because they lose more in benefits than they can gain in wages. This disincentive to advancement is already steep.

He’s also proposing a new subsidy for savings accounts.

Mr. Trump also proposes savings accounts for child care to add to the tax-free destinations for retirement, health care, college and more. This new benefit, worth up to $2,000 a year, would make tax reform more difficult. The government would also match parental contributions at 50% up to $1,000 a year for low-income families. That’s a wonky way of unveiling a new $500 transfer payment.

And Trump even wants to engage in a no-win bidding war with Hillary Clinton to create a new European-style entitlement for paid maternity leave (even though, as a columnist for the New York Times even admitted, this type of scheme will backfire against women by making them less attractive to employers).

Then there’s six weeks of paid maternity leave that Mr. Trump says he would guarantee through unemployment insurance. He claims he’ll pay for this by cleaning out fraudulent payments, though this is his funding mechanism for every proposal. Mr. Trump will nonetheless lose the family bidding war with Mrs. Clinton, who wants 12 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and fathers.

The Clinton plan, meanwhile, is a predictably statist prescription for more intervention and subsidies.

And the WSJ‘s editorial correctly points out that is a recipe for ever-higher costs.

Mrs. Clinton raises the Trump offer in every regard, from more Head Start funding to salary support for day-care workers. And if you think care is expensive now, wait until Mrs. Clinton wades in. She likes to say that child care can be more expensive than college tuition, which is false. The irony is that her day-care blowout would recreate what has made college notoriously expensive—large subsidies for the provider and buyer. Day-care centers and pre-Ks could raise prices, confident that government will cover the increase.

The fact that Hillary Clinton wants bigger government is not the most shocking revelation in the world.

Her voting record as a Senator was almost identical to Bernie Sanders’.

And every single proposal in her big economic speech last month required a larger burden of government.

But it’s rather odd to find the Republican nominee being the statist Tweedledee to match the statist Tweedledum.

In an article for Commentary, Noah Rothman looks at Trump’s overall approach to fiscal policy.

Donald Trump…is a self-described Republican who has cast aside the austere facade of fiscal conservatism in favor of any and every spending proposal that crosses his transom. Promising the electorate the world in the campaign with every intention of working out the details after the election is hardly a new phenomenon, but it used to be one that Republicans rejected. Today, under Trump’s corrupting umbra, the GOP has become the party of wild assurances and cascading spending proposals with no intention of ever making good on them.

Actually, I fear the spending promises would be fulfilled if Trump got to the White House. Though I agree that Trump personally doesn’t care if they are either adopted or forgotten.

Here are just a few of the spending promises Trump has made.

Trump promised to augment the Pentagon’s budget by repealing the portions of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (aka, “Sequester”) that imposed limits on defense spending. …Trump has called for “more funding” for the Department of Veterans Affairs to augment job training, research on traumatic stress, brain injury, and suicide prevention, and to hire more service providers at VA hospitals. The Republican nominee promised a massive $500 billion public works program that you dare not call a “stimulus,” which he proudly boasted would spend more than double what Hillary Clinton has pledged to refurbish America’s infrastructure. …He has attacked as cold-hearted the idea that America’s entitlement state must be curtailed and reformed—a massive expenditure that already consumes nearly two-thirds of the nation’s annual outlays.

In other words, Trump is a big-government, Nixon-style Republican.

Which means advocates of limited government are not exactly thrilled about November.

P.S. Other Republican presidential candidates have boosted the burden of government when they took office (President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush are two dismal examples of this phenomenon). But they at least pretended to be vaguely in favor of smaller government during their respective campaigns. The fact that Trump doesn’t even fake it during the campaign suggests that economic policy would be very bad if he ever got to the White House.

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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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At this stage, it’s quite likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee. Conventional wisdom suggests that this means Democrats will win in November. On the other hand, conventional wisdom also told us that Trump would never get this far.  So it’s unclear what will happen in the general election, particularly given the ethical cloud surrounding the presumptive Democratic nominee.

So let’s contemplate what a potential Trump Administration would mean for economic liberty and American prosperity. Would the United States become more like Hong Kong, with a smaller burden of government and less intervention? Or more like France, with higher taxes and spending, along with additional cronyism and red tape?

The honest answer is that I don’t know. He has put forth a giant tax cut that is reasonably well designed, so that implies more prosperity, but is he serious about the plan? And does he have a plan for the concomitant spending reforms needed to make his tax proposal viable?

He also has lots of protectionist rhetoric, including a proposal for a 45 percent tax on Chinese products, which implies harmful dislocation to the American economy. Is he actually serious about risking a global trade war, or is his saber rattling just a negotiating tool, as some of his defenders claim?

And what about entitlement programs, which arguably represent the greatest long-term threat to America’s economy? Trump certainly gives the impression that he thinks Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid don’t need to be reformed. Is he really serious when he makes this claim?

If we take what he says seriously, Trump is more statist than every Republican who sought the GOP nomination but less statist than both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Though I confess I’m basing that opinion solely on whether I agreed with the candidates, as measured by the I-Side-With political quiz.

So let’s see what others have to say.

My colleague David Boaz, writing for National Review, is not impressed.

Without even getting into his past support for a massive wealth tax and single-payer health care, his know-nothing protectionism, or his passionate defense of eminent domain, I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan.

Speaking of National Review, Kevin Williamson argues that Trump represents the worst of cronyism.

The Tea Party’s fundamental complaint, which was the same complaint put forward by Occupy Wall Street minus the Maoist daydreaming, is that there exists a corrosive and distasteful relationship between certain politically connected businesses and the politicians who are both their patrons and their clients. Donald Trump is the face of that insalubrious relationship, a lifelong crony capitalist who brags about buying political favors.

Last but not least, my former UGA economics professor Paul Rubin (now at Emory), in a column for the Wall Street Journal, explains that Trump (and Sanders) incorrectly thinks the economy is a fixed pie.

Messrs. Trump and Sanders have been led astray by zero-sum thinking, or the assumption that economic magnitudes are fixed when they are in fact variable. If the world is zero-sum, then the number of jobs is fixed, as is gross domestic product. In Mr. Trump’s mind, if there are more Mexican workers in the U.S., then American workers must lose their jobs. In the real, positive-sum world where Mr. Trump doesn’t live, Mexican workers also consume, thus increasing GDP and creating new jobs. …Similar arguments apply to Mr. Trump’s analysis of Chinese imports. In a world of fixed GDP and prices, imports of goods from China merely replace goods that otherwise would have been produced by American workers. In the real world, imports reduce prices and increase GDP, so workers, who are also consumers, benefit from imports of lower-cost goods and increase their consumption of other goods. …Zero-sum thinking persists because it is superficially appealing. Mr. Trump’s policies would in theory benefit Americans and increase jobs. …In the actual, positive-sum world we live in, their policies…would, if adopted, lead to an economic depression that would make the 1930s look prosperous.

I actually think Prof. Rubin overstates his conclusion. It took a lot of truly awful policies by Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to produce the Great Depression.

Barack Obama didn’t come close to Hoover and Roosevelt with his bad policies and I suspect even the bad version of Donald Trump would (thankfully) fall short as well.

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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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With all of the GOP presidential candidates proposing varying plans to reduce the tax burden and reform the tax system, I’m constantly asked which one is best.

But that’s hard to answer because all of the proposals have features I like…as well as some features that leave me underwhelmed, or perhaps even worried.

My fantasy proposal is to have no income tax, or any broad-based tax, because we shrink the federal government to less than 5 percent of economic output (which is what existed for much of our nation’s history).

But since most of my fantasies won’t happen (at least in the near future), my intermediate goal is to junk the current tax system and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax, which would mean a low tax rate, no double taxation, and no corrupt and distorting tax preferences.

The bad news is that there hasn’t been a stampede by candidates to embrace this type of fundamental tax reform. But the good news is that they all want to move in that direction.

The best site for seeing what the various candidates are proposing is the Tax Foundation, and you can click here to learn everything that you need to know about their plans. There’s less detail, but the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget also has a helpful summary that can be perused here.

Conservative Review put together some useful graphs to compare the major plans. Here’s the tax rate structure for households.

Though this is not very accurate since the value-added taxes in the plans put forth by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz mean the real tax rates on labor income would actually be 29 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

And here’s the degree of double taxation in the major plans.

What stands out in this chart is the fact all the candidates want to reduce double taxation, but Marco Rubio’s plan gets rid of that pernicious practice completely.

There are lots of additional metrics. Most of the candidates abolish the death tax, which is a very damaging form of double taxation.

They all lower or eliminate the corporate income tax.

Most of the candidates also replace depreciation with expensing, thus ensuring the proper treatment of business investment.

And the candidates generally scale back on favoritism in the tax code, particularly the deduction for state and local taxes.

To summarize, the plans have lots of good features, but none of them are perfect. Which is why they all get similar grades. Here’s my back-of-the-envelope assessment (with apologies to John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, etc, since I imposed my own arbitrary cutoff on which candidates merited close consideration).

Ben Carson gets the best grade because he says he wants a pure flat tax. But he doesn’t get an A because there are no details. In theory, you don’t need a lot of details because the plan is so simple, but the fact that he hasn’t even pinned down the rate (it was 10 percent, but is now 15 percent) leaves me uncertain. Moreover, he hasn’t put forth many details on how to reduce the burden of government spending, which would be necessary to make a low-rate flat tax viable.

By the way, Carly Fiorina would probably get a grade similar to Carson since she’s talked generically about a pure flat tax, and Rick Santorum’s more detailed support for a not-quite-pure flat tax also merits applause.

Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are almost identical (and John Kasich probably would be in the same category) because they make good progress (but not great progress) in almost all areas of the tax code.

Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are more aggressive taking big steps in the right direction, but the value-added tax is a very worrisome feature of their plans.

Donald Trump has the biggest net tax cut, but seems to have no interest in controlling the burden of government spending. He also is the only candidate (to my knowledge) who doesn’t want to replace America’s anti-competitive worldwide tax system with a territorial tax regime.

And Marco Rubio is unique in that his plan is great on double taxation, but is a bit of a dud with regards to tax rates.

Last but not least, Mike Huckabee’s support for replacing the income tax with a national sales tax is theoretically appealing, but it’s either impractical (because there aren’t enough votes to repeal the 16th Amendment) or too risky (because the crowd in Washington would adopt a sales tax without completely repealing the income tax).

P.S. For those who really care about these issues, there’s a debate tomorrow morning (December 8th) between representatives of the Cruz, Paul, Bush, Rubio, and Kasich campaigns.

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Washington is a horribly corrupt city. The tax code is riddled with special favors for politically powerful interest groups. The budget is filled with handouts and subsidies for well-connected insiders. The regulatory apparatus is a playground for cronyism.

I’ve previously explained that shrinking the size and scope of government is the most effective way of curtailing corruption. Simply stated, people won’t try to get favors and politicians won’t have the ability to sell favors if government doesn’t have power to redistribute income and dictate behavior.

To be sure, this isn’t a recipe for zero corruption. There doubtlessly was corruption in the 1700s and 1800s when Washington was just a tiny fraction of its current size. But it’s a matter of scale. A smaller government means less opportunity for mischief.

Some folks argue that campaign finance laws would be an effective way of curtailing sleaze in Washington. And there are some compelling arguments for this approach.

After all, would we have unsavory examples of corruption like the Export-Import Bank if wealthy insiders from big companies weren’t able to generate buckets of campaign cash for politicians?

But let’s be realistic. So long as politicians have the power to provide subsidies for big business, they’ll have an incentive to offer those handouts. And companies will have an incentive to seek those handouts.

Campaign finance laws might cut back on one pathway to buy and sell favors, but the incentive to cut deals will still exist. Sort of like pressing down on one part of a balloon simply causes another part of the balloon to expand.

But, you may ask, isn’t it worth taking such steps in hopes of at least creating some roadblocks to graft in Washington.

Perhaps in theory, but let’s not forget that it’s very naïve to think that politicians will enact laws that reduce their power or weaken their chances of being reelected. That’s about as likely as burglars being in favor of armed homeowners.

As such, we actually should be concerned that new laws and rules somehow would be structured to make things worse rather than better.

That’s the message of this superb video from Prager University. Narrated by George Will, the video explains why so-called campaign finance rules are not the answer (unless, of course, the question is “how can we give more power to the entrenched political class?”).

Let me add something that wasn’t addressed in the video. Incumbent politicians like the idea of limiting campaign contributions because they start each election cycle with a giant advantage. They already are well known in their states or districts. They’ve already curried favor with voters by engaging in taxpayer-financed “constituent service.” They already get themselves in front of cameras at every opportunity when there’s a ribbon cutting for a new bridge or road project. And they’ve already built relationships with the power brokers in each community.

Challengers, for all intents and purposes, need to spend a lot of money – potentially millions of dollars depending on the electorate – simply to create a level playing field. But if there are laws that limit total spending or restrict contribution amounts, it makes it a lot harder to conduct a credible campaign.

No wonder incumbent politicians so often pontificate about “getting money out of politics.” What they’re really saying is “let’s make it impossible for anybody to threaten my reelection.”

The bottom line is that limits on campaign contributions and other restrictions on political speech make elections less fair.

And they don’t solve the bigger issue of graft, corruption, and sleaze. No wonder they’re willing to impose dozens – if not hundreds – of laws governing public malfeasance and campaign finance. They know that such rules are largely ineffective because much of what happens in Washington is legalized forms of corruption.

Which brings us back to the real issue. If you want less sleaze in Washington, reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

Everything else is window dressing.

P.S. The most pervasive form of corruption in Washington (and, sadly, in many other parts of America) is the moral corruption that exists when people think it’s perfectly acceptable to steal from their neighbors so long as 51 percent of the people approve of the theft. That’s why social capital is very important.

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One of the great things about being a libertarian is that you have no desire for government sanctions against peaceful people who are different than you are, and that should be a very popular stance.

You can be a libertarian who is also a serious fundamentalist, yet you have no desire to use the coercive power of government to oppress or harass people who are (in your view) pervasive sinners. For instance, you may think gay sex is sinful sodomy, but you don’t want it to be illegal.

Likewise, you can be a libertarian with a very libertine lifestyle, yet you have no desire to use the coercive power of government to oppress and harass religious people. It’s wrong (in your view) to not cater a gay wedding, but you don’t want the government to bully bakers and florists.

In other words, very different people can choose to be libertarian, yet we’re all united is support of the principle that politicians shouldn’t pester people so long as those folks aren’t trying to violate the life, liberty, or property of others.

And when you’re motivated by these peaceful principles, which imply a very small public sector and a very big private sector and civil society, it’s amazing how many controversies have easy solutions.

Consider, for example, the legal fights about transgendered students.

Writing for Reason, Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune highlights a controversy in Illinois.

…in Palatine, Illinois,…the public school district had to decide how to handle a transgender student who was born male but lives as a female. …The school district has largely accepted her identification, letting her play on a girls’ sports team and use the girls’ restrooms. But it draws the line at the locker room, where it says other students must be protected. Its solution is to provide a private space this student must use to change clothes.

This seems like a reasonable compromise, but some bureaucrats in Washington aren’t happy.

This remedy doesn’t satisfy the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education, which this week decided that restricting locker room access to “Student A” is a violation of Title IX, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs.

But Steve says the bureaucrats are actually being reasonable.

The feds’ solution is a sensible compromise. It suggests that the district provide curtained changing areas, available to all, without forcing anyone to use them.

And this issue isn’t a rare as one might think. Here are some passages from a CNN report, which also agrees that the issue boils down to the provision of privacy curtains in locker rooms.

In 2013,…California became the first state to allow transgender students to choose which bathrooms and locker rooms to use. …a negotiated solution by putting up privacy curtains in the girls’ locker room. Similar arrangements have kept schools from running afoul of anti-discrimination violations. At Township High School District 211, however, the line between accommodation and discrimination came down to this: whether the student would be able to choose to use the privacy curtains, or whether the school could force her to do so.

And here are some excerpts from a separate CNN story from Missouri.

The 17-year-old Hillsboro High School senior wears skirts, makeup and a long wig styled with bobby pins. She even started using the girls’ locker room to change for gym class, despite the school’s offer of a single-occupancy restroom. …it became clear she was not welcome in the locker room. Because Perry has male anatomy, many students simply see her as a boy in a wig changing in the girls’ locker room — and that makes them uncomfortable. …the guidance is pretty clear as far as the federal government and LGBT advocacy groups are concerned: Transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom and changing room that accords with their gender identity.

And if every student has a private changing area, which is what Steve Chapman suggested, there shouldn’t be a problem. Heck, you wouldn’t even need a boy’s locker room and girl’s locker room.

But Steve wasn’t being sufficiently libertarian because there’s an even better solution. Why not simply engage in real education reform, give all families vouchers, and then let them choose schools on the basis of many different factors (academics, convenience, cultural programs), one of which might happen to be how they deal with transgendered students.

Some schools presumably will be very accommodating while others may be rather unwelcoming, and parents can take that information into account when deciding where to send their kids.

Here’s another controversy that could be easily solved with the application of libertarian principles. Voters in Houston recently rejected a law that would have mandated (among many other things) that people could choose bathrooms based on their preferred gender.

Here’s some of what was reported by the New York Times.

…voters easily repealed an anti-discrimination ordinance that had attracted attention from the White House, sports figures and Hollywood celebrities. The City Council passed the measure in May, but it was in limbo after opponents succeeded, following a lengthy court fight, in putting the matter to a referendum. The measure failed by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. Supporters said the ordinance was similar to those approved in 200 other cities and prohibited bias in housing, employment, city contracting and business services for 15 protected classes, including race, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. …In Houston, the ordinance’s proponents…accused opponents of using fearmongering against gay people, and far-fetched talk of bathroom attacks, to generate support for a repeal. The ordinance, they noted, says nothing specifically about whether men can use women’s restrooms. …Opponents of the measure…said the ordinance was so vague that it would make anyone who tried to keep any man from entering a women’s bathroom the subject of a city investigation and fine.

Scott Shackford of Reason explains that opponents used emotional arguments against the referendum instead of making a principled libertarian case against government intervention.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO)…ordinance also includes sexual orientation, genetic information, and gender identity. …HERO…is more broad than federal laws, which don’t include sexual orientation and gender identity and have a much more restrictive view of what counts as a public accommodation. …Opponents of HERO warn that if the referendum passes, men will claim to be women to hide in bathrooms and assault your little girls. …There’s no argument suggesting that individual and business freedom of association is being hampered by the law. There’s no argument that we have so many more ways to culturally apply pressure to fight bigoted behavior in the private marketplace that Houston doesn’t need additional laws.

And Shackford makes the key libertarian argument that private companies and private individuals shouldn’t be coerced by the government.

…it’s a shame the ordinance lumps in both government and private behavior. Government shouldn’t discriminate in employment and accommodations for any of these categories, and if that’s all the law did, it would be great. But for private businesses and for private restrooms, leave it to citizens to work out the issues on their own.

In other words, the entire controversy disappears (at least in the private sector) because people would have freedom of association. They could decide to have unisex bathrooms. They could decide to have traditional bathrooms. Or they could be like Facebook and have dozens of bathroom options based on categories I don’t even understand.

P.S. If you want to figure out whether you’re libertarian, there are several tests, ranging from very simple exercises (here and here), to ones that will take 5-10 minutes, or ones that require answers to dozens of questions.

P.P.S. Before answering any of those tests, you may want to read this.

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More than 100 years ago, George Santayana famously warned that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

At the time, he may have been gazing in a crystal ball and looking at what the Obama Administration is doing today.That’s because the White House wants to reinstate the types of housing subsidies that played a huge role in the financial crisis.

I’m not joking. Even though we just suffered through a housing bubble/collapse thanks to misguided government intervention (with all sorts of accompanying damage, such as corrupt bailouts for big financial firms), Obama’s people are pursuing the same policies today.

Including a bigger role for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two deeply corrupt government-created entities that played such a big role in the last crisis!

Here’s some of what the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about this crazy approach.

Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt has one heck of a sense of humor. How else to explain his choice of a Las Vegas casino as the venue for his Monday announcement that he’s revving up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to enable more risky mortgage loans? History says the joke will be on taxpayers when this federal gamble ends the same way previous ones did. …unlike most of the players around a Mandalay Bay poker table, Mr. Watt is playing with other people’s money. He’s talking about mortgages that will be guaranteed by the same taxpayers who already had to stage a 2008 rescue of Fannie and Freddie that eventually added up to $188 billion. Less than a year into the job and a mere six years since Fan and Fred’s meltdown, has he already forgotten that housing prices that rise can also fall? …We almost can’t believe we have to return to Mortgage 101 lessons so soon after the crisis. …Come the next crisis, count on regulators to blame everyone outside of government.

These common-sense observations were echoed by Professor Jeffrey Dorfman of the University of Georgia, writing for Real Clear Markets.

The housing market meltdown that began in 2007 and helped trigger the recent recession was completely avoidable. The conditions that created the slow-growth rush into housing did not arise by accident or even neglect; rather, they were a direct result of the incentives in the industry and the involvement of the government. Proving that nothing was learned by housing market participants from the market meltdown, both lenders and government regulators appear intent on repeating their mistakes. …we have more or less completed a full regulatory circle and returned to the same lax standards and skewed incentives that produced the real estate bubble and meltdown. Apparently, nobody learned anything from the last time and we should prepare for a repeat of the same disaster we are still cleaning up. Research has shown that low or negative equity in a home is the best predictor of a loan default. When down payments were 20 percent, nobody wanted to walk away from the house and lose all that equity. With no equity, many people voluntarily went into foreclosure because their only real loss was the damage to their credit score. …The best way to a stable and healthy real estate market is buyers and lenders with skin in the game. Unfortunately, those in charge of these markets have reversed all the changes… The end result will be another big bill for taxpayers to clean up the mess. Failing to learn from one’s mistakes can be very expensive.

Though I should add that failure to learn is expensive for taxpayers.

The regulators, bureaucrats, agencies, and big banks doubtlessly will be protected from the fallout.

And I’ll also point out that this process has been underway for a while. It’s just that more and more folks are starting to notice.

Last but not least, if you want to enjoy some dark humor on this topic, I very much recommend this Chuck Asay cartoon on government-created bubbles and this Gary Varvel cartoon on playing blackjack with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

P.S. Now for my final set of predictions for the mid-term elections.

On October 25, I guessed that Republicans would win control of the Senate by a 52-48 margin and retain control of the House by a 246-189 margin.

On October 31, I put forward a similar prediction, with GOPers still winning the Senate by 52-48 but getting two additional House seats for a 249-187 margin.

So what’s my final estimate, now that there’s no longer a chance to change my mind? Will I be prescient, like I was in 2010? Or mediocre, which is a charitable description of my 2012 prediction?

We won’t know until early Wednesday morning, but here’s my best guess. Senate races are getting most of the attention, so I’ll start by asserting that Republicans will now have a net gain of eight seats, which means a final margin of 53-47. Here are the seats that will change hands.

For the House, I’m also going to move the dial a bit toward the GOP. I now think Republicans will control that chamber by a 249-146 margin.

Some folks have asked why I haven’t made predictions about who will win various gubernatorial contests. Simply stated, I don’t have enough knowledge to make informed guesses. It would be like asking Obama about economic policy.

But I will suggest paying close attention to the races in Kansas and Wisconsin, where pro-reform Republican Governors are facing difficult reelection fights.

And you should also pay attention to what happens in Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts, all of which are traditionally left-wing states yet could elect Republican governors because of voter dissatisfaction with tax hikes.

Last but not least, there will be interesting ballot initiatives in a number of states. Americans for Tax Reform has a list of tax-related contests. I’m particularly interested in the outcomes in Georgia, Illinois, and Tennessee.

There’s also a gun-control initiative on the ballot in Washington. And it has big-money support, so it will be interesting if deep pockets are enough to sway voters to cede some of their 2nd Amendment rights.

Returning to the main focus of the elections, what does it mean if the GOP takes the Senate? Well, not much as Veronique de Rugy explains in a column for the Daily Beast.

Republicans are projected to gain control of Congress this time around, worrying some Democrats that major shifts in policies, cutbacks in spending, and reductions in the size and scope of government are right around the corner. I wish! Rest assured, tax-and-spend Democrats have little to fear. Despite airy Republican rhetoric, they are bona fide big spenders and heavy-handed regulators…. Republicans may complain about bloated government and red tape restrictions when they’re benched on the sidelines, but their track record of policies while in power tells a whole different story—and reveals their true colors. …When in power, Republicans are also more than willing to increase government intervention in many aspects of our lives. They gave us No Child Left Behind, protectionist steel and lumber tariffs, Medicare Part D, the war in Iraq, the Department of Homeland Security and its intrusive and inefficient Transportation Security Administration, massive earmarking, increased food stamp eligibility, and expanded cronyism at levels never seen before. The massive automobile and bank bailouts were the cherries on top.

Veronique is right, though I would point out that there’s a huge difference between statist Republicans like Bush, who have dominated the national GOP in recent decades, and freedom-oriented Republicans such as Reagan.

We’ll perhaps learn more about what GOPers really think in 2016.

In the meantime, policy isn’t going to change for the next two years. Remember what I wrote last week: Even assuming they want to do the right thing, Republicans won’t have the votes to override presidential vetoes. So there won’t be any tax reform and there won’t be any entitlement reform.

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It’s time to extend the tradition of sharing politics-related Halloween humor on October 31.

Though this is only my fourth year, so maybe it’s not quite a tradition yet.

Nonetheless, we’ve had some good material.

There were two Halloween posts in 2011, including a cartoon about what happens when kids trick-or-treat at a statist’s house, as well as a comic’s very clever and amusing analysis of taxes and Halloween.

In 2012, I shared several Halloween-themed cartoons, mostly about Obama’s spendaholic tendencies.

Last year, Obamacare was the unifying theme in the cartoons I shared.

This year, we have six more political cartoons.

The first bunch focuses on scary political figures.

We’ll start with a cartoon from Henry Payne, who suggests that Democrats are the ones who are most fearful of Obama.

Larry Wright, meanwhile, warns children that some costumes won’t produce much candy.

But Obama isn’t the only hobgoblin scaring people. Here’s Hillary Clinton, courtesy of Ken Catalino.

The following Halloween cartoons all share a common theme, which is that Obamacare is generating much higher prices for health insurance.

Here’s Steve Breen’s contribution. Democrats are scared, to be sure, but consumers are the real victims.

Lisa Benson weighs in. I particularly like the candy bar in the cartoon.

Last but not least, Gary Varvel has a similarly amusing perspective.

Thought there is a serious point to make about this last cartoon.

The White House appears to be hiding some of the negative effects of Obamacare until after the election. Here’s some of what the U.K.-based Daily Mail has reported.

The open enrollment period for federal Obamacare plans will begin more than a month later than it did last year, with this year’s start date coming after the midterm elections. …the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services have said politics aren’t at play. …Still, the move has the added convenience of allowing insurers to keep next year’s rates a secret until voters have already cast their ballots for or against Democrats who voted for or support the health care law.

Gee, that’s convenient…if you’re a Democratic political operative.

Not surprisingly, some folks are skeptical.

In a statement released last Friday Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips claimed, ‘the President sold ObamaCare to the American people on the false promise that it would make health care more accessible and more affordable for those who needed it most. ‘Sadly, ObamaCare has actually put affordable health care even further out of reach for millions of Americans,’ the conservative non-profit head claimed.The administration’s decision to withhold the costs of this law until after Election Day is just more proof that ObamaCare is a bad deal for Americans.’

For what it’s worth, I share these concerns. By arbitrarily deciding what parts of Obamacare to enforce and when to enforce them, the White House already has made a mockery of the rule of law.

So what’s another politically motivated change in the rules, a la Argentina?

P.S. Now let’s shift to the elections. A few days ago, I made my initial projections for the House and Senate elections that will take place on Tuesday.

I predicted that Republicans would control the Senate 52-48 and the House 246-189.

Having looked over some of the polling data, I’m going to stick with my Senate prediction.

Though I’ve made a change. I still think the GOP will win the same 8 seats that I projected last time, but now I’m predicting that Republicans will hold on to their seat in Georgia while losing a seat they hold in Kansas.

So still a net gain of 7 seats for the GOP.

Here are the Senate seats that will change hands.

2014 Senate Elections

I also admitted last time that I’m not overly confident in my predictions and that the final outcome could be anywhere between 52-48 Democrat control and 55-45 Republican control.

In other words, I thought there were a bunch of races that could go in either direction.

For what it’s worth, I think the trend is against the Democrats, so I’ll now predict that the final results will be somewhere between a 50-50 split (in which case Biden casts the tie-breaking vote) and 56-44 GOP control.

In the House of Representatives, the pro-Republican trend leads me to predict the GOP ultimately will have 248-187 control, which would be the most Republicans since 1930.

P.P.S. Just as I warned last time, don’t hold your breath waiting for big changes in policy if the GOP winds up in control of both chambers of Congress.

Even assuming they want to do the right thing, Republicans won’t have the votes to override presidential vetoes. So there won’t be any tax reform and there won’t be any entitlement reform.

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I sometimes think that working at the Cato Institute and trying to change Washington must be akin to working at a church in the middle of Amsterdam’s red light district.

In both cases, you’re wildly outnumbered by people with a different outlook on life. And it’s not that easy to save misguided souls.

The crowd in Washington, for instance, benefits enormously from a complicated tax system, a Byzantine regulatory regime, and a bloated budget.

All of these factors create big opportunities for unearned income for bureaucrats, cronies, politicians, contractors, lobbyists, and other insiders.

Telling those people they should back away from the public trough is not exactly a way to make friends in DC.

To cite just one example, look at how the Washington establishment is trying to defend the Export-Import Bank, a grotesque example of corporate welfare that is opposed by honest people on the right and left of the political spectrum.

Or, if you want to be partisan, what about the Democratic insiders who are getting rich from Obamacare?

Conversely, what about the Republican insiders who also get rich from big government?

But maybe all these examples are too indirect. So today’s column will give specific examples of people who get undeserved wealth thanks to influence peddling in Washington.

Here are some passages from a brutal expose written by Michelle Malkin for the Washington Examiner. She starts by looking at how Vice President Biden’s son got special treatment, first when he was handed a plum spot as a public relations hack in the Navy Reserve and then after he got tossed out after failing a drug test.

Everything you need to know about Beltway nepotism, corporate cronyism and corruption can be found in the biography of Robert Hunter Biden. …The youngest son of Vice President Joe Biden made news last week after the Wall Street Journal revealed he had been booted from the Navy Reserve for cocaine use. …Papa Biden loves to tout his middle-class, “Average Joe” credentials. But rest assured, if his son had been “Hunter Smith” or “Hunter Jones” or “Hunter Brown,” the Navy’s extraordinary dispensations would be all but unattainable. …Despite the disgraceful ejection from our military, Hunter’s Connecticut law license won’t be subject to automatic review. Because, well, Biden.

But special treatment apparently is nothing new for Biden’s son. And a lifetime of insider deals has been greased by the favor factory of big government.

Skating by, flouting rules and extracting favors are the story of Hunter’s life. Hunter’s first job, acquired after Joe Biden won his 1996 Senate re-election bid in Delaware, was with MBNA. …Hunter zoomed up to senior vice president by early 1998 and then scored a plum position in the Clinton administration’s Commerce Department, specializing in “electronic commerce” before returning to MBNA three years later as a high-priced “consultant.” While he collected those “consulting” (translation: nepotistic access-trading) fees, Hunter became a “founding partner” in the lobbying firm of Oldaker, Biden and Belair in 2002. …Hunter lobbied for drug companies, universities and other deep-pocketed clients to the tune of nearly $4 million billed to the company by 2007. …Continually failing upward, Hunter snagged a seat on the board of directors of taxpayer-subsidized, stimulus-inflated Amtrak, where he pretended not to be a lobbyist, but rather an “effective advocate” for the government railroad system serving the 1 percenters’ D.C.-NYC corridor. …Hunter joined Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings — owned by a powerful Russian government sympathizer who fled to Russia in February — this spring. The hypocritical lobbyist-bashers at the White House deny he will be lobbying and deny any conflict of interest.

At this point, some readers may be thinking that Democrats are the party of big-government corruption.

I’ll agree, but then I’ll add a very important caveat. It’s possible that this description applies to more than one political party.

Let’s look at the sordid details of a story about GOP lobbyists and political hacks taking dirty money to push for big government.

First, some background. For those of you who haven’t heard about “Obamaphones,” you’ll be delighted to learn that our bloated federal government has an entitlement program for cell phones.

The Federal Communications Commission program…charges a dollar or two per line on every American’s phone bill. The revenue generated by the “Universal Service Fund fee” is then used to pay select phone companies $9.25 per month for each poor person they sign up for a free phone. …its cost doubled in five years to $1.75 billion in 2011, and in some states, the number of phones given out exceeded the total eligible population. …The company that has received the most income from the Lifeline program is TracFone, whose CEO, F.J. Pollak, was an Obama campaign fundraiser. The company spent nearly $1 million on lobbying last year.

While an Obama donor is making big bucks off this federal handout, there also are a number of Republicans who are willing to agitate for wasteful spending so long as they get their pieces of silver as well.

Mary Cheney and prominent Republican consultants linked to Karl Rove, Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee are working to expand or protect the Obamaphone entitlement program, apparently on behalf of the telecom companies that make millions on it. …The strategy is aimed at convincing congressional Republicans…to back off of their opposition to the Obamaphone program, which has no connection to veteran status and is more commonly associated with welfare. …The FCC paperwork also lists the names Patti Heck, who is president of Crossroads Media, and Main Street Media Group, a Crossroads affiliate. Crossroads Media has ties to Rove’s American Crossroads…and shared an office used by several political shops employed by Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that these Republican influence peddlers are willing to engage in loathsome demagoguery.

The ad’s voiceover says “some in Congress want to take away his phone,” implying that not having it would endanger him because of his cancer. …Bennett unabashedly defended the Obamaphone and other entitlement programs. “Of course I support these programs, because I don’t hate poor people,” he told the Examiner.

Yup, if you don’t support a federal cell-phone entitlement program, you want veterans to die of cancer and you hate poor people. How do these people sleep at night?!?

Ugh, I want to take a shower after having read both of these stories. Now you see why I always say that Washington is a racket for insiders to get rich at our expense.

Fortunately, the article does quote some other people who are disturbed by this philosophical corruption.

Bill Allison, a lobbying expert at the Sunlight Foundation, said the fact that major Republican consultants are promoting an entitlement program shows that “in Washington’s mercenary culture, there are few principles that stand in the way of a payday.” …“Wow. Just wow. Big government money ensnares a lot of people,” said David Williams, president of the taxpayers group, when told of Jansen’s new client.

By the way, this doesn’t mean everybody in Washington is sleazy. And even the ones that are corrupt on some issues may be principled on others.

But the incentives to “play the game” are enormous. As I explain in this video, big government is inherently corrupting.

P.S. Folks are emailing me to ask me predictions for the 2014 mid-term elections.

I’m not sure why anyone should care. Yes, I did a good job in 2010, but my 2012 predictions were not very impressive.

That being said, I’m happy to oblige. We’re 10 days from the election, so I’ll make a set of predictions today, then another set of predictions with five days to go, then a final set of predictions the day before the election.

For the House of Representatives, I can say with near-100 percent certainty that Republicans will maintain control. Indeed, I suspect they’ll pick up some seats and have a bigger majority.

How big? Let’s go with 246-189, the biggest GOP margin since the late 1940s.

But what about the Senate? The race for partisan control on the upper chamber is getting all the attention.

In the for-what-it’s-worth department, I think Republicans will take control by a 52-48 margin, meaning a net gain of seven seats. Here’s a map showing the seats that will change hands, though I confess Iowa, Colorado, and Georgia could go either way.

 

It’s also possible that Republicans could lose Kansas, while the Democrats could lose North Carolina and New Hampshire.

In other words, the final results could be anywhere between 55-45 Republican control or 52-48 Democratic control.

P.P.S. If Republicans take control, don’t hold your breath waiting for big changes in policy. Even if they don’t get corrupted (like the Obamaphone-loving GOPers described above), the White House will still be controlled by Democrats.

So there won’t be any tax reform and there won’t be any entitlement reform.

Though there may be some fights in the next two years that help determine whether those things can happen after the 2016 election.

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The establishment fervently believes that more money should come to Washington so that politicians have greater ability to buy votes.

That’s why statists from both parties are so viscerally hostile to Grover Norquist’s no-tax-hike pledge. They view it as an obstacle to bigger government.

And it also explains why politicians who raise taxes are showered with praise, especially when they are Republicans who break their promises and betray taxpayers.

Which is why President George H.W. Bush was just awarded a “profiles in courage” award for raising taxes and breaking his read-my-lips promise by the crowd at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Here’s some of what was reported by the Dallas News.

Former President George H.W. Bush was honored Sunday with a Kennedy “courage” award for agreeing to raise taxes to confront a spiraling deficit, jeopardizing his presidency that ended after just one term. …The budget deal enacted “responsible and desperately needed reforms” at the expense of Bush’s popularity and his chances for re-election, Schlossberg said. “America’s gain was President Bush’s loss, and his decision to put country above party and political prospects makes him an example of a modern profile in courage that is all too rare,” he said.

I’m not surprised, by the way, that Mr. Schlossberg praised Bush for selling out taxpayers.

But I am disappointed that the Dallas News reporter demonstrated either incompetency or bias by saying that Bush raised taxes to “confront a spiraling deficit.”

If you look at the Congressional Budget Office forecast from early 1989, you’ll see that deficits were on a downward path.

CBO 1990 Deficit Forecast

In other words, Bush had the good fortune of inheriting a reasonably strong fiscal situation from President Reagan.

Spending was growing slower than the private economy, thanks in part to the Gramm-Rudman law that indirectly limited the growth of spending.

So Bush 41 simply had to maintain Reagan’s policies to achieve success.

But instead he raised taxes. That got him an award from the Kennedy School this year…and it resulted in bigger government in the early 1990s.

Writing for National Review, Deroy Murdock is justly irked that President George H.W. Bush was given an award for doing the wrong thing.

…former president George Herbert Walker Bush received the Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. What intrepid achievement merited this emolument? Believe it or not, breaking his word to the American people and hiking taxes by $137 billion in 1990.  …Bush’s tax hike was a political betrayal for Republicans and other voters who believed him when he pledged to the 1988 GOP National Convention: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” …Bush violated his promise and hiked the top tax rate from 28 percent to 31. Bush also imposed a luxury tax on yachts and other items. This led to a plunge in domestic boat sales and huge job losses among carpenters, painters, and others in the yacht-manufacturing industry.

The worst result, though, was that the tax hike enabled and facilitated more government spending.

Here are the numbers I calculated a couple of years ago. If you look at total spending (other than net interest and bailouts), you see that Bush 41 allowed inflation-adjusted spending to grow more than twice as fast as it did under Reagan.

And if you remove defense spending from the equation, you see that Bush 41’s bad record was largely the result of huge and counterproductive increases in domestic spending.

With such a bad performance, you won’t be surprised to learn that market-oriented fiscal experts do not remember the Bush years fondly.

Deroy cites some examples, including a quote from yours truly.

“Bush’s tax hike repealed the real spending restraint of Gramm-Rudman and imposed a big tax hike that facilitated a larger burden of government spending,” says Cato Institute scholar Dan Mitchell. “No wonder the statists . . . are applauding.” …“Of course the Left wants to celebrate Bush’s broken tax promise,” Moore says. ”It is what cost Republicans the White House and elected Bill Clinton…” says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “This is an award for stupidly throwing away the presidency to the Democrats…” Norquist further laments: “You never see a Democrat get a ‘courage’ award for saying ‘No’ to the spending-interest lobby.”

The moral of the story is that Washington tax-hike deals are always a mechanism for bigger government.

And President George H.W. Bush should be remembered for being a President who made Washington happy by making America less prosperous. As I wrote last year, “He increased spending, raised tax rates, and imposed costly new regulations.”

Hmmm…an establishment Republican President who increased the burden of government. If that sounds familiar, just remember the old saying, “Like father, like son.”

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There’s an off-year election today in the United States. There are no contests for the White House or Congress, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any important choices being made.

I say that notwithstanding the fact that the big races between politicians at the state and local level aren’t expected to be close.

Governor Christie in New Jersey is poised for a landslide victory in his race for a second term. The only interesting aspect of this race is whether he will use his reelection as a springboard for a run at the White House in 2016. That may please you, depending on whether you focus on his rhetoric (here and here) or his record (here and here).

Bill de Blasio is going to be elected Mayor of New York City, replacing a politically correct Napoleonic busy-body (see here, here, here, here, and here) with a hard-left statist. I expect many productive people will be fleeing in the next few years. Given what will happen, I suspect Detroit-on-the-Hudson will be the future name of NYC.

Terry McAuliffe, a former Clinton fundraiser, will probably become Governor of Virginia. The GOP in the state has been dispirited and weak every since the corrupt Republican governor imposed a big tax hike, though the GOP candidate has a slight chance for an upset because of growing anti-Obamacare sentiment.

The contest that should command our attention is Amendment 66 in Colorado, a ballot initiative that would eliminate the state’s 4.63 percent flat tax and replace it with a so-called progressive tax regime with rates of 5 percent and 5.9 percent.

Here’s how the Wall Street Journal describes the proposal.

Colorado has veered to the political left in recent years, and on November 5 it may take another leap toward California. The Democrats and unions who now run state government are promoting a ballot initiative that would raise taxes and unleash a brave new era of liberal governance. …a $950 million revenue increase for politicians in the first year alone.

The real problem is what happens once the flat tax is gutted and politicians can play divide and conquer with the tax code.

…the real prize is down the road. Once a graduated tax code is in place, unions and Democrats will try again and again to raise tax rates on “the rich.” This has happened everywhere Democrats have run the show in the last decade, from Maryland to Connecticut, New York, Oregon and California. Within a decade, the top tax rate will be closer to 8% or 9%.  …that won’t make the state any more competitive in its interior U.S. neighborhood, where states like Kansas and Oklahoma are cutting tax rates. High-tax states created one net new job for every four in states without an income tax from 2002-2012, according to a study for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

So which side will win this vote?

As recently as 2011, Colorado voters voted down a state sales and income-tax increase, but the unions keep coming. And it’s no surprise they’ve already put $2 million behind Amendment 66. If it passes, they know they’ll get a big return on that political investment for decades to come. If it does pass, we’ll also know that millions of Coloradans have taken to smoking that marijuana they legalized last year.

Hmmm…that’s probably the strongest argument I’ve heard in favor of drug prohibition.

For what it’s worth, I’m predicting Colorado voters will reject this foolish class warfare scheme. Jerry Brown Promised LandThough I realize that may be a foolish guess. After all, 54 percent of crazy Oregon voters approved a tax hike in 2010 and their southern neighbors in the suicidal state of California voted by a similar margin for a class-warfare tax hike in 2012.

I’d feel a lot more confident, however, if we could replace Colorado’s voters with some sensible people from Switzerland. When faced with a class-warfare tax hike referendum in 2010, they voted against it by a very strong 58.5-41.5 margin.

And it was Swiss voters who overwhelmingly voted (84.7 percent) for the “debt brake” in 2001. And as I noted just yesterday, that de facto spending cap has been quite effective in controlling the burden of government spending.

Anyhow, if you know any Colorado voters, you may want to send them this video.

Regardless of how they vote, they should understand the potential consequences if Amendment 66 is approved.

P.S. Some Colorado voters just made a very sensible decision to defend the Second Amendment, but it’s unclear whether they have a similar attitude about economic liberty.

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Back in 2012, I reported on some academic research showing that Democrats lost about 25 seats in the 2010 mid-term elections because of support for Obamacare.

But it’s not just big-government entitlement programs that are politically unpopular. Bill Clinton admitted that his ban on so-called assault weapons boomeranged against Democrats in the 1994 elections and he acknowledged that “The N.R.A. could rightly claim to have made Gingrich the House speaker.”

But we don’t have to go back nearly 20 years to find evidence showing that gun control is unpopular.

In a remarkable development, two incumbents from the Colorado State Senate – including the Senate President – were ousted yesterday from their seats in a special recall election. Here’s some of what’s being reported in this morning’s Denver Post.

An epic national debate over gun rights in Colorado on Tuesday saw two Democratic state senators ousted for their support for stricter laws, a “ready, aim, fired” message intended to stop other politicians for pushing for firearms restrictions. Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron will be replaced in office with Republican candidates who petitioned onto the recall ballot.

What makes these results so amazing is that voters in these Senate seats have a history of voting for leftists. Obama won both of them comfortably, garnering 59.7 percent and 61.2 percent of the vote. Neither seat could be considered red-state territory.

…[Giron’s] district is heavily Democratic, Pueblo is a blue-collar union town. Morse’s district included Manitou Springs and a portion of Colorado Springs — and more liberals. …It’s unclear when the city of Pueblo was last represented in the Senate by a Republican.

It’s also worth noting the unprecedented nature of this election.

The turn of events made Morse and Giron the first Colorado state lawmakers to be recalled.

The pro-Second Amendment backlash also is causing a headache for the state’s governor, who was once seen as a politician with national potential.

Gov. John Hickenlooper — once deemed so unbeatable that the GOP couldn’t even find a candidate to run against him in 2014 — now faces falling approval ratings and a crowded field of Republican contenders, in part for backing stricter gun measures.

Last but not least, the Atlas Project (don’t know what that is or who they are, but they have lots of good data on the recall election) reports that the anti-Second Amendment people had a huge money advantage, outspending supporters of the Constitution by a 5-1 margin.

Republicans trail badly in the money race. In total, Democratic groups have raised over $2.6 million and spent almost $2.3 million in the two races. Republican interests have raised not even $523,000 and spent less than $482,000. Clearly, Democrats are taking the recall threat seriously and are both better funded and better organized.

In other words, even though there had never been a successful recall in Colorado history, and even though advocates of gun rights were targeting Senators in two districts that voted overwhelmingly for Obama, and even though the statists had a huge money advantage, what mattered most was that voters did not want their gun rights eroded by politicians.

Opponents of the Second Amendment probably thought they could win because they weren’t trying to ban guns (at least not in the short run). Instead, they “merely” required background checks and restricted large-capacity magazines. But the people of Colorado recognized and understood that the pro-gun control cranks such as Mayor Bloomberg view “modest” gun control schemes as nothing more than stepping stones to gun bans and gun confiscations.

Polling data shows the American people would engage in massive civil disobedience if politicians tried to ban guns. But it’s also comforting that voters also are willing to overcome heavy odds to knock off politicians who push for any type of gun control.

This is one further bit of evidence that we should be optimistic about the future of the Second Amendment. The political elite may want the American people disarmed, but we’ve seen major progress in the other direction in recent years because of pressure from ordinary Americans. Not only have pro-gun control politicians been punished, but dozens of states have taken steps to expand and protect the rights of gun owners.

And let’s not forget how Obama’s attempt to exploit the Connecticut school shooting flopped.

That being said, we should never get overconfident. Yes, it’s good that some honest liberals (here and here) have recognized that gun control is misguided. And it’s great that we have powerful polling data from cops showing that they realize gun control does not mean less crime.

But there are still lots of politicians hoping to take advantage of some future tragedy to push their statist anti-gun agenda. Simply stated, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

P.S. Click here and here for links to some good anti-gun control humor, but I want to close by sharing a link to this poster, which seems to drive leftists crazy and deservedly is the fourth-most viewed post in the history of my blog.

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Even though it changed the terms of the political debate, thus giving them a majority in the 2010 elections, many in the Republican establishment deeply resent the Tea Party. They don’t like being monitored by taxpayer-friendly groups that will expose them when they side with special interests (as they have in recent months on Export-Import Bank subsides and housing handouts).

And they really hate the idea of being held accountable at the polls when they side with the corrupt big-spenders in Washington. Just ask Senator Bennett and Congressman Inglis.

Pork...or principles?

Pork…or principles?

Now the Washington establishment is fighting back. Karl Rove, best known for helping to steer the Bush Administration in favor of statist policies that led to the disastrous elections of 2006 and 2008, even has created a PAC to oppose the Tea Party.

But this seems like a very childish and self-destructive approach. According to some scholarly research, the Tea Party has made a big difference, both in terms of generating more votes for the GOP and in terms of pressuring Republicans to side more with taxpayers rather than the inside-the-beltway interest groups.

Here are some intriguing details from the new academic study.

We use data from a large number of sources to measure the influence of the Tax Day protests on the Tea Party. …We show that these political protests and the movements they built affected policymaking and voting behavior as well. Incumbent representatives vote more conservatively following large protests in their district… Larger protests increase turnout in the 2010 elections, primarily favoring Republican candidates. We find evidence of sizable effects. In particular, our baseline estimate shows that every Tea Party protester corresponds to a 14 vote increase in the number of Republican votes. Our most conservative estimate lowers that number to 7. The Tea Party protests therefore seem to cause a shift to the right in terms of policymaking, both directly and through the selection of politicians in elections.

Seems like a GOP political consultant should be very pleased with this research (assuming, of course, that they’re motivated by Republican and conservative victories rather than their own influence and contracts).

Want some more evidence that the Tea Party has made a difference? Well, check out these excerpts from a story in The Atlantic complaining about the lack of action in the Senate and ask yourself whether the addition of Senators like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, and Pat Toomey might be one of the reasons why Obama’s agenda has been stalemated.

Here’s an impressive fact about life in today’s Washington: The last time a major new piece of policy legislation passed the U.S. Senate was July 15, 2010. That’s when the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill came through the Senate. And it was 951 days ago. If you’re wondering whether President Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda has a chance to make it through Congress, this little fact might be worth keeping in mind. …the Senate…hasn’t done anything the president could add to his list of policy accomplishments. For that — the kind of thing a president might talk about in his campaign speeches — it’s been more than two and a half years.

It’s now been more than 951 days, and let’s be thankful with every passing second. A “do-nothing” Congress is a very good thing if the only other option is to pass monstrosities such as Obamacare and Keynesian spending schemes.

Keep in mind, by the way, that there are now more Tea Party-oriented Senators such as Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, and Jeff Flake.

To conclude, I’m not under any illusion that the Tea Party automatically means better politicians and/or better election results. But every advocate of tax reform and smaller government should be very happy that there are people in the country who are pressuring politicians to adhere to libertarian-ish principles rather than playing the corrupt Washington game.

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This is an easy question and a hard question.

It’s an easy question because the obvious answer is to say “none-of-the-above.”

After all, voters in Italy have four horrible choices.

  1. Silvio Berlusconi, who is an Italian version of George W. Bush. He’ll occasionally dish out some good rhetoric and promise tax relief, but he’s shown zero desire to reduce the burden of government spending and intervention.
  2. Mario Monti, an apparatchik who is first and foremost a creature of the calcified bureaucracy in Brussels. He would be a sober hand on the helm, but seems content that the ship is heading in the wrong direction. He’s sort of the Mitt Romney of Italy.
  3. Beppe Grillo, a comedian/entertainer/blogger who has a populist (albeit incoherent) agenda. He’s a strange cross of Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ross Perot, and Bernie Sanders, so don’t even think about that petri dish.
  4. Pier Luigi Bersani, a run-of-the-mill social democrat who started his political life in the Communist Party but now is best described as a career politician who wants to preserve the status quo of statism. Sort of the Harry Reid of Italy.

So far as I’m aware, there is no good political party in Italy. Classical liberals, conservatives, and libertarians seem to be endangered species. That’s why I answered none-of-the-above.

But what if my kids were being held hostage and I had to choose from this unpalatable quartet?

Go ahead and shoot them…no, just kidding. Let’s see, what should I do…?

Italian Election PollPart of me wants to cheer for a Bersani-Monti coalition government for the same reason that I wanted Hollande to win in France. When there’s no good alternative, let the above-board statists prevail so there’s hope of a backlash when things fall apart.

And if the polling data is accurate, that’s probably going to happen.

But part of me wants Grillo to do well just for the entertainment value. And maybe he would blow up the current system, which unquestionably has failed, though one wonders whether any system will work now that a majority of Italians are riding in the wagon of government dependency.

Indeed, it’s a bit of serendipity that a former Cato intern who came from Italy drew this famous set of cartoons about the rise and fall of the welfare state.

While I’m largely uncertain about what should happen in this election, let me close with a few thoughts on public policy in Italy. In particular, I want to disagree with some of my right-leaning friends who argue that the euro should be blamed for Italy’s woes.

I’m not a fan of the single currency, largely because it is part of the overall euro-federalist campaign to create a Brussels-based superstate.

That being said, the euro has been a good thing for Italy and other Club Med nations. As I explained last July, it means that countries such as Italy, Spain, and Greece can’t augment the damage of bad fiscal and regulatory policy with inflationary monetary policy.

In other words, it is good news that Italy can’t use inflation as a temporary narcotic to offset the pain caused by too much red tape and an excessive burden of government spending.

This doesn’t mean that politicians will ever choose the right approach of free markets and small government, but at least there’s a 2 percent chance of that happening if they stay with the euro. If Italy goes back to the lira, the odds of good reform drop to .00003 percent.

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Welcome to Paul Krugman’s readers. I invite you to read my response.

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I was surprised when the people of Oregon voted for a tax increase back in early 2010.

Yes, I realize that the politicians and interest groups structured the measure so that the majority of voters would be unaffected. It was basically a class-warfare proposal, with a small fraction of the population being targeted to generate (at least in theory) a bunch of revenue that could be used to maintain a bloated and over-compensated state bureaucracy.

But I was nonetheless surprised because I figured voters would realize that upper-income taxpayers aren’t fatted calves idly awaiting slaughter. They can easily move to other states (particularly nearby zero-income tax states such as Washington and Nevada).

In other words, I thought Oregon voters understood that you shouldn’t drive away the geese that lay the golden eggs. A state isn’t like the old Soviet Empire, with an “Iron Curtain” of watchtowers and guard dogs to keep a population under control.

I was wrong about Oregon, so I shouldn’t be too surprised that California voters basically just made the same mistake.

Yesterday, the looters and moochers of the Golden State voted for Prop 30, a measure to significantly boost both the state sales tax and also hike income tax rates on investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

I’m generally reluctant to make predictions, but I feel safe in stating that this measure is going to accelerate California’s economic decline. Some successful taxpayers are going to tunnel under the proverbial Berlin Wall and escape to states with better (or less worse) fiscal policy. And that will mean fewer jobs and lower wages than otherwise would be the case.

It goes without saying, of course, that California’s politicians will respond to Prop 30 by increasing the burden of government spending. They then will act surprised when revenues fall short of projections because of the Laffer Curve.

The bottom line is that the state will remain in the fiscal ditch and I expect a Greek-style fiscal crisis. When that happens, I’ll be tempted to point and laugh and make snarky comments such as “you broke it, you bought it.” But my long-run worry is that Obama may push for a federal bailout.

Let’s now take a look at the other ballot measures I wrote about on Monday.

I said the two most important measures were Prop 30 in California and Prop 2 in Michigan. Well, we know things went the wrong way in the Golden State on Prop 30, but it seems the voters in the Wolverine State are a bit more rational.

Prop 2, which would have permanently rigged the rules even further in favor of government workers, was soundly defeated by a 58-42 margin. Taxpayers presumably recognized that it wouldn’t be a good idea to dig the hole even deeper.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the other ballot measures. A majority of them went the right way. I’ve underlined good votes.

Prop 38 and Prop 39 – Two additional tax hike measures, the first targeting individual taxpayers and the second targeting businesses. Rejected 73-27 and approved 60-40.

Prop 204 in Arizona – Renewing a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, ostensibly for the education bureaucracy. Rejected 65-35.

Issue 1 in Arkansas – Imposing a half-cent increase in the state sales tax, supposedly for highway spending. Approved 58-42.

Prop 5 in Michigan – Would require a two-thirds vote of both the state house and state senate to raise any tax. Rejected 69-31.

Prop B in Missouri – Raise the cigarette tax by 73 cents per pack. Rejected 51-49.

Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 13 in New Hampshire – A constitutional amendment to prohibit enactment of an income tax. Received 57 percent of the vote, but needed a super-majority for approval.

Measure 84 in Oregon – Would repeal the state’s death tax. Rejected 53-47.

Initiated Measure 15 in South Dakota – Increases the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. Rejected 57-43.

Initiative 1185 in Washington – Reaffirms the state’s two-thirds supermajority requirement before the state legislature can increase taxes. Approved 65-35.

Prop 114 in Arizona – Protects crime victims from being sued if they injure or kill criminals. Approved 80-20.

Amendment 2 in Louisiana – Strengthens right to keep and bear arms. Approved 73-27.

Amendment 64 in Colorado, Measure 80 in Oregon, and Initiative 502 in Washington – All of these ballot measures end marijuana prohibition to varying degrees. Approved 55-45 in Colorado. Rejected 55-45 in Oregon. Approved in Washington.

Prop 1 in Idaho – This measure would overturn recent legislative reforms to end tenure in government schools. Rejected 57-43.

Prop 3 in Michigan – Require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables. Rejected 63-37.

Question 1 in Virginia – Limits eminent domain to public purposes. Approved 75-25.

Amendment 6 in Alabama, Amendment 1 in Florida, Prop E in Missouri, Legislative Referendum 122 in Montana, and Amendment A in Wyoming – These are all anti-Obamacare initiatives in some form or fashion. Approved 60-40 in Alabama. Rejected 51-49 in Florida. Approved 62-38 in Missouri. Approved 67-33 in Montana. Approved 77-23 in Wyoming.

Is there a single lesson or theme we can discern from all these results? Other than the fact that people in California and Oregon are downright crazy?

Beats me. I think most Americans still believe in the classical liberal vision of a small federal government. But I also think the entitlement culture is becoming a greater and greater problem.

P.S. Speaking of the Iron Curtain, Walter Williams imagines California with a barbed wire fence to stop tax escapees.

P.P.S. This great Chuck Asay cartoon imagines how future archaeologists will view the Golden State.

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Last night was great. Two big victories, including a major comeback. Lots of drama, plenty of excitement. Here’s the bottom line: Notwithstanding chilly conditions and determined opposition, my Arlington County softball team cemented its hold on first place by sweeping a doubleheader. And I was 4-6 with a pair of doubles, so I managed to contribute.

Oh, wait, a few of you are interested in something else that happened last night…that’s right, there was an election. Before contemplating what this means for the nation, let’s quickly check my predictions.

  • Well, my presidential pick was fairly accurate. Even though people were scolding me for being too favorable to Obama, it turns out that I wasn’t favorable enough. He won all the states I thought he would, and he also carried Colorado and Florida. And if about 100,000 people changed their minds, my prediction would have been perfect.
  • But I was way off in my predictions for the Senate. I actually thought Republicans would pick up a couple of seats. But they somehow managed to lose a few seats, even though Democrats had more than twice as many to defend.
  • That being said, I did a semi-decent job with my guess for the House of Representatives. We don’t know all the details yet, but Republicans pretty much fought to a draw.

Now let’s think about the consequences for America.

Based on the conversations I’ve had and the emails I’ve received, many of you are very glum. I can understand the angst, so let me try to cheer you up by mentioning seven silver linings to this dark cloud.

1. There will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform entitlements the next time a Republican wins the White House. But it has to be the right kind of reform, not means-testing, price controls, and other gimmicks designed to somehow prop up the current programs. Romney did select Paul Ryan as his running mate, so it’s possible he would have pushed for structural reforms. But I’m guessing that the guy who adopted Obamacare on the state level ultimately would have botched this issue. This means good reforms are still possible, perhaps in as little as four years.

2. One of the most worrisome things about Mitt Romney is that he repeatedly refused to rule out a value-added tax when asked by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. I don’t trust politicians when they say they’ll do the right thing. So when they refuse to even give rhetorical assurances, alarm bells definitely start ringing. My nightmare scenario is that Romney would have been elected, made some half-hearted attempt to restrain spending, and then would have decided that a new source of revenue was needed once Harry Reid said no to any fiscal restraint. And as we saw during the Bush years, Republicans in Congress generally are willing to do the wrong thing when a Republican President makes the request. With Obama in the White House, it is highly unlikely that House Republicans would agree to this dangerous new tax.

3. As a general rule, the party controlling the White House loses seats in the House and Senate during mid-term elections. This presumably means more Tea Party-oriented Representatives and Senators after 2014.

4. With Obama in the White House for four more years, there’s an opportunity for a genuine advocate of small government to run and win in 2016. I don’t know whether that person will be Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Rand Paul, Governor Bobby Jindal, Representative Paul Ryan, or someone who isn’t even on my radar screen, but all of those options seem far more appealing – both philosophically and politically – than the GOP candidates who ran this year.

5. A Romney victory may have paved the way for Andrew Cuomo or some other statist in 2016. There will be leftists running next time, of course, but I’m guessing it will be more difficult for such a candidate to win since voters often get antsy after one party is in power for too long.

6. The election was not a mandate for Obamacare or the faux stimulus. The President spent almost no time bragging about the two biggest “accomplishments” of his first term. Indeed, he was probably fortunate that he ran against a Republican who couldn’t really exploit Obamacare because he did something very similar when he was Governor of Massachusetts (as this cartoon humorously illustrates). And he certainly didn’t get any political benefit from having flushed $800 billion down the drain on a bunch of Keynesian  gimmicks.

7. One very positive feature of the elections is that lawmakers did not measurably suffer because of their support for the Medicaid and Medicare reforms in the Ryan budget. Nancy Pelosi’s “Medi-scare” campaign was the dog that didn’t bark in the 2012 elections. This presumably bodes well if there’s ever a pro-reform President.

Now here are three reasons to be unhappy.

1. Obama is a bad President. His Keynesian stimulus was a flop. Obamacare made a bad healthcare system even worse. He keeps pushing for class-warfare tax policy. And he wants to increase the burden of government spending. I fully expect him to pursue the same misguided policies in a second term.

“Ha, ha, ha, I will haunt your dreams for the next four years!”

2. If there are any vacancies on the Supreme Court, they will be filled by doctrinaire leftists. So the great libertarian conspiracy to restore constitutional constraints on the federal government will be temporarily postponed.

3. We have to endure four more years of sanctimonious speeches.

But I doubt Romney would have pursued good policies, picked good Justices, or given uplifting speeches, so I would have been unhappy regardless.

So cheer up, my friends. Our Founding Fathers had to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to create America. In the battle to restore/protect their vision, all we have to do is engage in some activism.

P.S. Since I’ve written that conservatives and libertarians share some common ground on the issue of abortion, I’m going to make a friendly suggestion to pro-life Republican candidates and their consultants. Spend a couple of days before each campaign developing a few on-the-shelf talking points so you’re less likely to say really stupid things about rape and abortion.

P.P.S. For my partisan Republican friends who are looking for someone to blame, allow me to suggest George Bush and Karl Rove. By deliberately choosing bad policy in hopes of gaining short-run political advantage, they created the medium-run conditions that enabled Obama to win the White House.

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Tonight is going to be special.

But not because of the election. It will be special because I’ll be playing my final softball games of the year.

I had this poster in my room. Great memories.

That being said, I can’t help but think back in time to an election night that was very special.

I’ve already expressed my view that Ronald Reagan was the greatest President of the past 100 years. Indeed, his only competition is from Calvin Coolidge.

I was fortunate to be politically active at the time, having started a Students for Reagan group at the University of Georgia (where we beat native-son Jimmy Carter by a 2-1 margin in the campus mock election).

At the risk of being self-indulgent, let’s re-live the happy memory of what happened 32 years ago. Just imagine how these NBC News journalists must have hated making this announcement.

Let’s also enjoy this moment from CBS News. Gee, don’t Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather look happy?

What a great night that was, followed by these great words just a couple of months later.

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If readers of this blog were the only ones voting, Mitt Romney would win in a landslide with 70 percent of the vote and Gary Johnson would edge out Barack Obama for second place.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that readers of International Liberty are not quite representative of the overall population (I need more looters and moochers in my audience, sort of like what you see in this cartoon).

Yes, I’m going to be bold and say that Obama will get more than 12.5 percent of the vote.

Indeed, I’m guessing he’ll get at least a plurality of the vote. And I’m specifically predicting he’ll get a majority of the electoral college.

I’ve been predicting that Obama would win re-election for the past six months, and I see no reason to change my mind now that it’s election day. I’m even moving two more states – New Hampshire and Virginia – into Obama’s column, which will be enough to give him a 294-244 margin in the electoral college.

As you can see from the large number of states in the “leaning” category, I don’t have a high level of confidence in my prediction. And plenty of my Republican friends have made strong arguments that the polls are flawed because of “turnout” assumptions.

But I have no competence to judge the veracity of these claims, so I’m going with my gut instinct and calling it for the Spender-in-Chief.

If my guess of an Obama victory turns out to be correct, I suppose I could claim special insight because of my January 1 prediction that Obama would win if the unemployment rate fell under 8 percent. But as you can see from this graph, I’ve always shown Obama ahead, even when the joblessness rate was higher.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s anything terribly unusual or unconventional about my predictions for the electoral college. But I am going to be a non-conformist in my guesses about the partisan breakdown of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Republicans began the year with high hopes of taking control of the Senate, but a series of mis-steps have hurt the GOP and some people even predict they will lose seats. That’s possible, but I’m going out on a limb and predicting a two-seat gain for Republicans.

I’m also going to be a non-conformist in my predictions for the lower chamber, guessing a one-seat pick-up for the GOP.

I’ll also make two final predictions. First, drawing from my post yesterday about key ballot initiatives, I predict that California voters will reject all the proposed tax increases. This will prove that left-wingers are capable of being right-wingers when their own money is on the table.

Second, I’ll offer a prediction that’s about as controversial as asserting that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. I predict that government will get even bigger over the next four years, which will mean more corruption and weaker economic performance.

P.S. My predictions for the U.S. Senate assume that the independent candidate will win in Maine and will ally himself with the Democrats.

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I wish the rest of the world was as wonky as me and dying to read the latest data on the Laffer Curve, or something like that.

Alas, it seems like everybody is focused on which statist will be confiscating our earnings and trying to dictate our lives for the next four years.

So I’ll go with the flow and share some election-oriented humor, beginning with jokes from the late-night talk shows.

Normally I wait several weeks and accumulate a larger list, but many of these jokes will be past their expiration dates if I wait until after the election. So enjoy.

Jay Leno

  • Last night I answered the door and there was a kid lying on the porch. He was playing dead. I said: “What are you supposed to be?” He said: “the economy.”
  • President Obama canceled the annual White House Halloween party. He didn’t want to; he just didn’t want to risk a trick-or-treater asking him a question about Libya.
  • I had a trick-or-treater tonight who stood outside on my porch for an hour, didn’t ring the bell, didn’t knock on the door. I said, “Who are you supposed to be?” He said, “I’m an undecided voter.”
  • Donald Trump, did you see him today? He was giving candy only to kids who could show their birth certificate and their school records.
  • Economists say rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy will give the ailing construction industry a huge boost. In fact, the storm has already created more jobs than President Obama.
  • “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is back. Not for gays in the military — it’s President Obama’s new policy for questions about Libya.
  • Republicans are accusing the White House of successfully engineering a massive cover-up of the Libyan attack. But, on the plus side, it’s the first time in four years Republicans have given credit to Obama for doing anything successfully.
  • Folks back east are feeling the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy — 100-mile-an-hour winds, lot of folks without power. Because of the hurricane, both candidates have had to cancel speeches and campaign events. So at least some good has come out of it.

David Letterman

  • Mitt Romney resumed campaigning today. He was visiting those hardest hit by the storm, and that would be swing-state Latinos.
  • The New York City Marathon is still on for Sunday. Typically the New York City Marathon is won by a guy from Kenya. No, no, I’m sorry. I’m thinking about next week’s election.
  • Are you excited about Halloween? People go out pretending to be something they’re not, looking for handouts. It’s like running for president.
  • You folks ready to vote? On the bright side, after Tuesday we’ll finally be rid of at least one candidate. That’s good news.
  • Mitt Romney is reminding everybody about changing your clocks. He’s urging his voters, his constituents, and all Americans to turn your clocks back to 1954.

Conan

  • Everybody’s mind is on Hurricane Sandy. The worst is over. Now people are discussing the cause. Sources say that it was partly caused by global warming. Meanwhile, Fox News said it was caused by two men kissing in Central Park.
  • President Obama now has a 52-point lead with Hispanics. However, Mitt Romney has a 90-point lead with the people who hire Hispanics.

Jimmy Kimmel

  • Mayor Bloomberg announced that all cars coming into New York City via the bridges must have a minimum of three people in them. Unless one of the people is very, very fat — in which case, two people but no sodas.

Now here’s a video that will probably appeal more to my Democrat-leaning friends, but everyone should enjoy it because it is well produced and effective satire. Sort of reminds me of the videos in this post.

In the interest of fairness, here are a couple of cartoons for my Republican-leaning friends. The first one is actually very misguided since it assumes Obama should be doing something about the hurricane. Wrong, emergency response should be an issue for the affected state and local governments.

But just as the video is amusing because if focuses on Romney’s wealth, this cartoon is effective because it focuses on Obama’s inflated sense of self.

This next cartoon is funny for the obvious reason, but it also makes a good point. If my prediction is wrong and Romney pulls an upset, I fully expect the establishment media to produce a lot of navel-gazing analysis about the latent racism of the American people (never bothering to explain, of course, how non-racist people in 2008 somehow became racists in 2012).

Maybe, just maybe, if Romney prevails, the establishment press should be open to the idea that voters aren’t very happy about a rising burden of government spending. That’s certainly what we see in this new polling data.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that Romney would solve the problem. He could be another big-government statist like Bush. Indeed, I think his failure to articulate a pro-freedom message is one reason why he seems to be slightly behind.

But the one thing that comforts me about this election is that the American people seem to understand that government is the problem, not the solution. Gee, where have I heard words like that before?

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Two years ago, I highlighted nine key state ballot initiatives and happily reported about a week later that voters generally chose to limit statism.

We have a similar collection of measures this year. Some of these votes – such as the decisions about higher taxes in California and power for government employee unions in Michigan – will have profound implications and perhaps even signal whether certain jurisdictions are doomed to failure.

Since I’m motivated primarily by the desire to reduce the burden of government spending and block bad tax policy, let’s look first at the key fiscal measures on this year’s ballot.

Prop 30 in California – Would impose a huge tax hike, including an increase in the state sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent, along with three new higher income tax brackets (maxing out at more than 13 percent!) for upper-income taxpayers. The adjoining cartoon is a good summary of the issue, as is this classic bit of political humor.

Prop 38 and Prop 39 – Two additional tax hike measures, the first targeting individual taxpayers and the second targeting businesses. I’m not sure which tax-hike proposition is the worst, but they all need to be defeated for there to be any hope about California’s future.

Prop 204 in Arizona – Renewing a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, ostensibly for the education bureaucracy. Money is fungible, so this is merely a vote for bigger government.

Issue 1 in Arkansas – Imposing a half-cent increase in the state sales tax, supposedly for highway spending. Another bait-and-switch scam to trick voters into financing bigger government.

Prop 5 in Michigan – Would require a two-thirds vote of both the state house and state senate to raise any tax. Anything that makes it harder to raise taxes is also a step making it harder to boost the burden of spending.

Prop B in Missouri – Raise the cigarette tax by 73 cents per pack. Politicians in the Show Me state should kick their addiction to big government.

Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 13 in New Hampshire – A constitutional amendment to prohibit enactment of an income tax. The Granite State has been blessed by avoiding either a state sales tax or a state income tax. It’s almost a shame that there’s a First Amendment guaranteeing free speech, because otherwise I’d be tempted to outlaw even discussion of imposing an income tax.

Measure 84 in Oregon – Would repeal the state’s death tax. This should be a no-brainer. You don’t want to repeat the mistakes of New Jersey and drive productive residents to other states. But Oregon voters have demonstrated a lemming-like suicide instinct in the past.

Initiated Measure 15 in South Dakota – Increases the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. There’s no income tax, but that’s no argument for making a modest sales tax into an onerous sales tax.

Initiative 1185 in Washington – Reaffirms the state’s two-thirds supermajority requirement before the state legislature can increase taxes. Voters repeatedly have reaffirmed their support for the supermajority in the past. Let’s hope that doesn’t change now.

Now let’s shift to matters of personal freedom and look at ballot measures involving the Second Amendment and the Drug War.

Prop 114 in Arizona – Protects crime victims from being sued if they injure or kill criminals. Yes, there are examples of excessive response, but the easiest way of avoiding those situations – if you’re a criminal – is by keeping your nose clean.

Amendment 2 in Louisiana – Strengthens right to keep and bear arms. If this doesn’t pass by more than 80 percent, I’ll be disappointed.

Amendment 64 in Colorado, Measure 80 in Oregon, and Initiative 502 in Washington – All of these ballot measures end marijuana prohibition to varying degrees. Let’s hope voters take a small step in ending the War on Drugs.

These initiatives are related to fiscal policy, but they belong in a special category since they deal with the necessity of curtailing bloated and over-compensated government bureaucracies.

Prop 1 in Idaho – This measure would retain recent legislative reforms to end tenure in government schools. The only real solution is school choice, but this measure at least should make it easier to get rid of awful teachers that contribute to making the public schools both costly and ineffective.

Prop 2 in Michigan – Creates permanent negotiating advantages for already pampered government employee unions. This is the bureaucrat equivalent of Prop 30 in California, a massive transfer of wealth and power from the productive sector. If it passes, Michigan probably would be past the tipping point in its descent into stagnation and despair.

Last but not least, here are measures on random issues that are very important.

Prop 3 in Michigan – Require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables. This will be an interesting test of whether the voters of a particular state are so clueless about economics that they are willing to voluntarily boost their own energy bills and undermine their own job prospects. I almost hope it passes just for the lesson it will teach.

Question 1 in Virginia – Limits eminent domain to public purposes. Corrupt developers and their cronies in state and local government don’t like this proposal, which naturally means it is a very good idea for those who support property rights.

Amendment 6 in Alabama, Amendment 1 in Florida, Prop E in Missouri, Legislative Referendum 122 in Montana, and Amendment A in Wyoming – These are all anti-Obamacare initiatives in some form or fashion. Continued resistance is important, even if some of these measures are only symbolic, so fingers crossed that they’re all approved.

You can find more information about state ballot initiatives and referendum here, here, here, here, and here.

And one final philosophical/policy point: In an ideal world, the United States would be like Switzerland and have a much more robust version of federalism. Almost everything that happens in Washington, with the exception of national defense, should either be in the private sector or at the state and local level of government.

A big advantage of a genuinely federalist system is that competition among states would be more vigorous than it is today. So if Michigan voters enacted Prop 2 or California voters approved Prop 30, tho adverse consequences would materialize much faster, thus helping to educate people that free markets and limited government are the best policies.

Addendum: How did I forget the all-important Los Angeles referendum to create a special bureaucracy to monitor condom usage in the porn industry.

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I was going to wait until the morning of the election to make my final prediction for the 2012 elections, but I’m inexplicably getting a lot of emails asking whether I’ve changed my mind since I predicted last month that Obama would eke out a narrow 271-267 victory.

So I’m going to cave to peer pressure and make a next-to-final guess about the outcome.

But my GOP friends won’t be happy, because the only thing I’m changing is that I’m putting Nevada in Obama’s column.

You’ll also notice I’m hedging my bets by putting lots of states in the “leaning” category. Depending on how these states break, we could get everything from a 332-206 rout for Obama to a comfortable 301-237 victory for Romney.

I’m curious, by the way, to see who readers support. Please vote below, and feel free to add additional thoughts in the comments section. This is a highly scientific poll (at least by the standards of the global warming cranks who say that “climate change” causes AIDS and that skeptics are racist).

The candidates are in alphabetical order, by the way, so Gary Johnson’s position has no significance beyond the fact that “J” comes before “O” or “R.”

Next Tuesday, I’ll include my predictions for the House and Senate when I make my final guess about the presidential election. Not to brag too much, but I was right on the mark in my prediction for the U.S. House and off by just one seat in my prediction for the U.S. Senate.

P.S. I’ll be very happy next Wednesday because the political silly season will be over and we can get back to what really matters – figuring out how to control the burden of government spending, how to implement much-needed entitlement reform, and how to fix the corrupt tax system.

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I’m still holding to my prediction of a narrow 271-267 victory for President Obama, but he’s clearly lost momentum.

“Hey Obama, you can’t do it”

Even in Hollywood.

I wrote a few months ago about Jon Lovitz rejecting the President’s class-warfare fiscal policy.Then he got mocked by Clint Eastwood, leading to a series of empty chair jokes (see herehere and here).

Now we see Rob Schneider turning against Obama, even though he is a self-professed liberal. Here are the details from The Blaze.

Actor and comedian Rob Schneider declared that he’s “come around” and will not be voting to give “crappy” President Barack Obama a second term. The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member was on the Atlanta-based “Regular Guys” radio show Friday and said that though he is a liberal and a Democrat, he will not vote for Obama. “If Obama gets back in there, all those people that are already entrenched in that system of bureaucracy are going to be more entrenched, so I’m for kicking them out and starting over,” Schneider said. “I’ve come around to this. As a liberal, as a Democrat, there is no way that I can support Obama for a second term.”

But my Republican friends shouldn’t get too excited. Obama still has overwhelming support from the limousine liberals in Hollywood.

When you’re sufficiently rich, the difference between 1 percent growth and 3 percent doesn’t really have much of an impact on your personal situation. It’s the rest of us peasants who need the growth and prosperity made possible by free markets and limited government.

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Partisans for both Obama and Romney are arguing about who won the debate.

But having listened to all the debates so far, I think this guy has been the clear winner.

With the exception of Romney saying he wants to defund Big Bird and the rest of the moochers at PBS, I don’t think either candidate has breathed a word about the need to reduce the burden of government spending.

And because neither candidate seems serious about following Mitchell’s Golden Rule, their assertions about middle-class tax relief almost surely are insincere.

P.S. Though, to give Obama credit, I think he is completely serious about wanting to impose class-warfare tax hikes.

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On the big issue of who wins the presidential election, I’ve been as constant as the north star.

But for state-by-state estimates, I’ve been flipping back and forth like a corrupt politician (pardon my redundancy) trying to decide between two interest groups.

This month, I’m reversing everything from last month. I give Florida back to Romney, largely on the basis of his performance in the debate. Moreover, I was thinking of giving Virginia and Colorado back to Obama, thus changing what I did in July and August, but decided to leave those states in the GOP camp because of what happened on the stage in Denver.

But I decided I was wrong about Iowa and Wisconsin. The polls from those two states are simply too unfriendly and I’m guessing the Obama turnout operation will be stronger.

However, I’ve decided to shift New Hampshire to Romney, again because of the debate, so the net effect is a very close election. But Obama still prevails.

For what it’s worth, the folks at Real Clear Politics show Obama winning 303 electoral votes. The difference in our projections is that they give Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and New Hampshire to Obama.

Are they right? Well, their estimates are based on polling data, so you have to ask yourself if the polls are accurate and/or if the polls today reflect what will happen on November 6.

Intrade says Obama is a 2-1 favorite, so the people putting money on the table certainly think the election isn’t that close. Then again, Intrade had Obama as a 3-1 favorite before the debate, so that number also can move a lot.

P.S. I realize Romney supporters probably aren’t very happy with my prediction. To compensate for being the bearer of bad news, you can see some viciously funny anti-Obama jokes here, here, and here.

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Three months ago, I predicted that Obama would win reelection with 297 electoral votes, 27 more than needed.

Back in July, I shifted Virginia to Romney’s column and predicted Obama would still win, but with 284 votes.

Last month, I predicted things were moving even farther in the GOP direction. By moving Colorado to the Republican side, I guessed the outcome would be 275-263 for Obama.

Romney partisans will be disappointed to learn, though, that their candidate has fallen a bit further behind in my new prediction for the 2012 election.

The big change is that I moved Florida to the “leaning Obama” category and those 29 electoral votes more than offset the impact of shifting Iowa and Wisconsin to the “leaning Romney” column.

Why these changes? Well, I suspect that the demagoguery on Social Security and Medicare will hurt in Florida, even though the GOP platform on entitlement reform is that people over age 55 are exempt.

I’m shifting Wisconsin because of Paul Ryan. As for Iowa, I’m going by nothing but gut instinct.

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I feel like a pendulum this election season. Something will happen that makes me want to eviscerate Obama’s statist policies and I’ll write a foaming-at-the-mouth post warning that the President is turning America into Greece.

But then Romney will do something odious and I’ll sound the warning sign with a we-don’t-need-another-big-spender-like-Bush post.

Today, it’s Obama’s turn on the chopping block. I went on Neil Cavuto’s Fox Business News program and commented on the fact that the President doesn’t have a fiscal plan.

We started by discussing the President’s failure to embrace the findings of his own Fiscal Commission and then shifted to the big-picture issue of whether the American people have become ensnared by the dependency mindset and are willing to vote for Greek-style fiscal policy.

One thing I should have added is that Obama actually does have a fiscal plan. He’s just not willing to be as honest as the leftists who have admitted that you need to screw the middle class with higher taxes to fund big government.

My own personal guess is that he would impose a value-added tax if he thought it was politically feasible. Not that I’m showing any great insight. After all, Obama already has made the ridiculous statement that a VAT is “something that has worked for other countries.”

But because he’s running for reelection, he’d rather just demagogue the Ryan plan rather than show his own cards.

P.S. Even the cartoonist for the Washington Post doesn’t think the VAT is something that is working for other countries. This cartoon is a classic and definitely worth sharing. And you can enjoy other VAT cartoons here and here.

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While most people in Washington are focused on the political implications of adding Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket, my only concern is trying to limit the size and scope of government so we can enjoy more freedom and prosperity.

In this debate for PBS, I explain that the Ryan budget would boost the economy – but only if Republicans actually followed through on their rhetoric and did the right thing after obtaining power.

A few comments on the debate. I channel the wisdom of Mitchell’s Golden Rule by saying the most important goal is restraining the growth of federal spending.

I fully agree with Jared that the GOP economic plans won’t work if Republicans get squeamish about doing what’s best for America. If Romney wins, and does a repeat of the statist Bush years, the GOP will deserve to be cast out of power for decades.

At the end of our interview, I obviously disagreed with Jared’s embrace of the Keynesian fantasy that more government spending magically increases growth. If I was feeling mean, I could have pointed out that he was the co-author of the infamous report claiming that Obama’s so-called stimulus would keep unemployment below 8 percent.

I also appeared on Bloomberg TV to comment on Ryan’s economic plan.

It won’t surprise regular readers of this blog that I emphasized the importance of restraining the growth of government so that the burden of the public sector shrinks as a share of overall economic output.

In my second soundbite, I make a simple point about the Laffer Curve. As we saw in the 1980s, lower tax rates don’t automatically mean lower tax revenues.

I also point out the similarities between what Paul Ryan is proposing today with what was achieved in the 1990s during the Clinton Administration.

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The honest answer is that it probably means nothing. I don’t think there’s been an election in my lifetime that was impacted by the second person on a presidential ticket.

And a quick look at Intrade.com shows that Ryan’s selection hasn’t (at least yet) moved the needle. Obama is still in the high 50s.

Moreover, the person who becomes Vice President usually plays only a minor role in Administration policy.

With those caveats out of the way, the Ryan pick is mostly good news.

Here are the reasons why I’m happy.

Here are two reasons why I’m worried.

  • Both Romney and Ryan are somewhat sympathetic to a value-added tax. My worst-case scenario is they win the election, but then can’t get a good budget approved because of some squishy Republican senators who put self interest above national interest. Romney and Ryan then decide that this European-style national sales tax is the only way – on paper – of making the budget balance. In reality, of course, we’ll suffer the same fate as Europe since the VAT revenues will be used to finance ever-larger government.
  • Ryan has some very bad votes in his past, including support for TARP, the auto bailout, the no-bureaucrat-left-behind education legislation, and the reckless Medicare prescription drug entitlement. Everyone says to ignore those votes because Ryan knew he was voting the wrong way, but if he’s already made some deliberately bad decisions for political reasons, what’s to stop him from making more deliberately bad decisions for political reasons?

But as I said above, don’t read too much into Ryan’s selection. if Republicans win, Romney will be the one calling the shots.

Though this does give Ryan a big advantage the next time there’s an open contest for the GOP nomination – either 2016 or 2020.

P.S. I suspect putting Ryan on the ticket will shift Wisconsin into the GOP column. Based on my last prediction, that would be enough to defeat Obama. But I’ll have to contemplate whether the pick hurts Romney’s chances in another state. You’ll have to wait until September 6 for my updated election prediction.

P.P.S. For those who care about politics, some are saying that selecting Ryan was risky because it gives Obama and his allies an opportunity to demagogue the GOP ticket about entitlement reform. I disagree. Even if Romney picked Nancy Pelosi, that demagoguery was going to happen. Heck, they’ve already accused Romney of causing a woman’s death, so I hardly think they’ll be bashful about throwing around other accusations.

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In what will almost surely be the nastiest campaign ad of the political season, a pro-Obama super PAC basically accuses Mitt Romney and Bain Capital of causing a woman’s death.

Viewers are supposed to hold Romney responsible because the woman’s husband lost his job, and the resulting lack of insurance prevented her from getting health care in time to stop her cancer.

The ad has been debunked for several reasons, including the fact that the woman apparently had her own job with her own insurance for two years after her husband lost his job and her cancer wasn’t even discovered until seven years after Romney left Bain, but let’s set those issues aside, assume all the facts are true, and contemplate what it means if we apply the same standard of accountability to the Obama Administration.

Here’s a simple chain of reasoning.

1. There’s a well-established relationship between a nation’s prosperity and the lifespan of its people (see Figures 1 and 2 in my 1992 article in the Journal of Regulation and Social Cost).

2. Obama’s policies have dampened growth in the United States (according to data from the Congressional Budget Office and the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, actual GDP (in today’s dollars) is $836.6 billion below potential GDP).

3. Based on these two simple facts, we can conclude that the foregone growth is causing needless premature deaths.

But how many deaths are being caused? Do we have to make a wild guess?

It turns out that there’s a considerable amount of academic research on this topic. It doesn’t make for exciting reading, unless you like learning about concepts such as “usable income” and “value of a statistical life.” Or how about “valuation of statistical mortality risk” and “implicit income gains.”

But the academics find ways of measuring the relationship between economic performance and mortality.

To make sure we’re being fair, we’ll first look at the research compiled by Cass Sunstein, who served as President Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Writing back in 1997, he compiled 11 studies from the late 1980s and early 1990s that estimated that a premature death was caused when income fell by some amount between $1.8 million and $12.4 million (roughly between $3.3 million and $22.9 million in today’s dollars).

There’s also a very thorough study by Ralph Keeney of the University of Southern California. He found that an additional fatality was linked to income losses (adjusted to today’s dollars) of between $8.42 million and $23.59 million.

“This is more fun than a death panel!”

Looking over much of this research, it appears that $14 million is a reasonable middle-ground estimate of how much foregone income is associated with a needless death.

Now let’s do some simple math to get an estimate of the total number of preventable deaths caused by the economy’s sub-par performance during Obama’s reign. Going by the lofty standards of Priorities USA super PAC, we’ll call this number the “Obamanomics Death Toll.”

So let’s divide $836.6 billion (our earlier estimate of foregone growth) by $14 million and we get an estimate that Obama’s policies have caused 59,757 deaths.

I wouldn’t put much faith in my back-of-the-envelope calculations. Experts in the field doubtlessly could point out several methodological mistakes, so I have no idea if the weak economy has caused 10,000 premature deaths or ten times that amount.

But I can say with complete certainty that if you took all the experts and gave them a month to work on the answer, the final number would be far higher than Romney’s supposed death toll.

And I’m also quite confident that my analysis – however inadequate – is far more defensible than the garbage from the pro-Obama super PAC.

Now let’s be serious. It’s ridiculous to hold Romney personally responsible for the unfortunate death of the woman mentioned in the super PAC commercial. And it’s also absurd to hold Obama personally responsible for the 59,757 people who may have prematurely died because of the weak economy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually have an open and honest debate about real issues, such as entitlement reform? Or how best to fix our corrupt tax system?

P.S. If you want to heap scorn on people who genuinely are responsible for deaths, think of the 62 million butchered by the dictators of the Soviet Union and the 76 million killed by the communist tyrants in China.

Gee, isn’t communism just wonderful? Something to think about the next time you see some jackass with a Che Guevara t-shirt.

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