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Archive for the ‘England’ Category

In the past couple of months, I’ve repeatedly addressed the fiscal and economic mess in the United Kingdom.

Today, we’re going to zoom out and identify the main cause of all the problems.

If you look at the annual budget numbers published by the Treasury Department in the United Kingdom, the first thing to notice is that there was a big surge of spending for the pandemic.

One can certainly argue that pandemic-related spending was necessary to deal with a one-time emergency.

Indeed, the same thing happened in the United States.

This second chart, however, shows the real problem with fiscal policy in the United Kingdom. Politicians have used the one-time emergency has an excuse to impose a permanent increase in the country’s spending burden.

This is an indictment of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s profligacy.

Johnson was then replaced by the short-lived Liz Truss, who proposed lower taxes but offered no plan to restrain spending.

And now the new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, seems committed to an ongoing policy of higher taxes to finance permanently larger government.

In an article for Reuters, William Schomberg reports that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (akin to the U.S. Treasury Secretary) apparently thinks higher taxes are needed to save the economy.

British finance minister Jeremy Hunt said he will have to raise taxes in next week’s budget plan in order to fix the public finances and soften a potentially long recession… “This is going to be a big moment of choice for the country and we will put people ahead of ideology,” Hunt told the Sunday Times in an interview. …Hunt and Sunak are trying to prepare their Conservative Party for the tax increases which could reignite tensions in the party… Hunt was also considering a multi-billion-pound package of support to shield pensioners and benefit claimants from higher power bills, the newspaper said.

At the risk of understatement, Jeremy Hunt knows nothing about economics. Or history.

I wish a reporter would ask him to name a single country, at any point in world history, that achieved more prosperity by raising taxes and increasing the burden of government spending.

I’ll close with a couple of additional observation.

P.S. I never thought I would be reminiscing fondly about the fiscal policies of David Cameron and Theresa May.

P.P.S. But Margaret Thatcher is still the gold standard for responsible U.K. fiscal policy.

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I was excited about the possibility of pro-growth tax policy during the short-lived reign of Liz Truss as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

However, I’m now pessimistic about the nation’s outlook. Truss was forced to resign and big-government Tories (akin to big-government Republicans) are back in charge.

As part of my “European Fiscal Policy Week,” let’s take a closer look at what happened and analyze the pernicious role of the Bank of England (the BoE is their central bank, akin to the Federal Reserve in the U.S.).

Let’s start with a reminder that the Bank of England panicked during the pandemic and (like the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank) engaged in dramatic monetary easing.

That was understandable in the spring of 2020, perhaps, but it should have been obvious by the late summer that the world was not coming to an end.

Yet the BoE continued with its easy-money policy. The balance sheet kept expanding all of 2020, even after vaccines became available.

And, as shown by the graph, the easy-money approach continued into early 2021 (and the most-recent figures show the BoE continued its inflationary policy into mid-2021).

Needless to say, all of that bad monetary policy led to bad results. Not only 10 percent annual inflation, but also a financial system made fragile by artificially low interest rates and excess liquidity.

So how does any of this relate to fiscal policy?

As the Wall Street Journal explained in an editorial on October 10, the BoE’s bad monetary policy produced instability in financial markets and senior bureaucrats at the Bank cleverly shifted the blame to then-Prime Minster Truss’ tax plan.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey is trying to stabilize pension funds, which are caught on the shoals of questionable hedging strategies as the high water of loose monetary policy recedes. …The BOE is supposed to be tightening policy to fight inflation at 40-year highs and claims these emergency bond purchases aren’t at odds with its plans to let £80 billion of assets run off its balance sheet over the next year. But BOE officials now seem confused about what they’re doing. …No wonder markets doubt the BOE’s resolve on future interest-rate increases. Undeterred, the bank is resorting to the familiar bureaucratic imperative for self-preservation. Mr. Cunliffe’s letter is at pains to blame Mr. Kwarteng’s fiscal plan for market ructions. His colleagues Jonathan Haskel and Dave Ramsden —all three are on the BOE’s policy-setting committee—have picked up the theme in speeches that blame market turbulence on a “U.K.-specific component.” This is code for Ms. Truss’s agenda. …Mr. Bailey doesn’t help his credibility or the bank’s independence by politicizing the institution.

In a column for Bloomberg, Narayana Kocherlakota also points a finger at the BoE.

And what’s remarkable is that Kocherlakota is the former head of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve and central bankers normally don’t criticize each other.

Markets didn’t oust Truss, the Bank of England did — through poor financial regulation and highly subjective crisis management. …The common wisdom is that financial markets “punished” Truss’s government for its fiscal profligacy. But the chastisement was far from universal. Over the three days starting Sept. 23, when the Truss government announced its mini-budget, the pound fell by 2.2% relative to the euro, and the FTSE 100 stock index declined by 2.2% — notable movements, but hardly enough to bring a government to its knees. The big change came in the price of 30-year UK government bonds, also known as gilts, which experienced a shocking 23% drop. Most of this decline had nothing to do with rational investors revising their beliefs about the UK’s long-run prospects. Rather, it stemmed from financial regulators’ failure to limit leverage in UK pension funds. …The Bank of England, as the entity responsible for overseeing the financial system, bears at least part of the blame for this catastrophe. …the Truss government…was thwarted not by markets, but by a hole in financial regulation — a hole that the Bank of England proved strangely unwilling to plug.

Last but not least, an October 18 editorial by the Wall Street Journal provides additional information.

When the history of Britain’s recent Trussonomics fiasco is written, make sure Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey gets the chapter he deserves. …The BOE has been late and slow fighting inflation… Mr. Bailey’s actions in the past month have also politicized the central bank…in a loquacious statement that coyly suggested the fiscal plan would be inflationary—something Mr. Kwarteng would have disputed. …Meanwhile, members of the BOE’s policy-setting committee fanned out to imply markets might be right to worry about the tax cuts. If this was part of a strategy to influence fiscal policy, it worked. …Mr. Bailey may have been taking revenge against Ms. Truss, who had criticized the BOE for its slow response to inflation as she ran to be the Conservative Party leader this summer. Her proposed response was to consider revisiting the central bank’s legal mandate. The BOE’s behavior the past month has proven her right beyond what she imagined.

So what are the implications of the BoE’s responsibility-dodging actions?

  • First, we should learn a lesson about the importance of good monetary policy. None of this mess would have happened if the BoE had not created financial instability with an inflationary approach.
  • Second, we should realize that there are downsides to central bank independence. Historically, being insulated from politics has been viewed as the prudent approach since politicians can’t try to artificially goose an economy during election years. But Bailey’s unethical behavior shows that there is also a big downside.

Sadly, all of this analysis does not change the fact that tax cuts are now off the table in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the new Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer have signaled that they will continue Boris Johnson’s pro-tax agenda.

That’s very bad news for the United Kingdom.

P.S. There used to be at least one sensible central banker in the United Kingdom.

P.P.S. But since sensible central bankers are a rare breed, maybe the best approach is to get government out of the business of money.

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Because of her support for lower tax rates, I was excited when Liz Truss became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Especially since her predecessor, Boris Johnson, turned out to be an empty-suit populist who supported higher taxes and a bigger burden of government spending.

But I’m not excited anymore.

Indeed, it’s more accurate to say that I’m despondent since the Prime Minister is abandoning (or is being pressured to abandon) key parts of her pro-growth agenda.

For details, check out this Bloomberg report, written by Julian Harris, about the (rapidly disappearing) tax-cutting agenda of the new British Prime Minister.

Westminster’s most hard-line advocates of free markets and lower taxes are looking on in despair as their agenda crumbles… When Liz Truss became prime minister just over five weeks ago, she promised to deliver a radical set of policies rooted in laissez-faire economics — an attempt to boost the UK‘s sluggish rate of growth. Yet her chancellor of the exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, faced a quick reality check when his mini-budget, packed with unfunded tax cuts and unaccompanied by independent forecasts, …triggered mayhem… Truss fired Kwarteng and replaced him with Jeremy Hunt as she was forced into a dramatic u-turn over her tax plans. …Truss conceded…and dropped her plan to freeze corporation tax. …Still, some believers are sticking by “Trussonomics”…Patrick Minford,..a professor at Cardiff University, said..“Liz Truss’s policies for growth are absolutely right, and to be thrown off them by a bit of market turbulence is insane.” …Eamonn Butler, co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute, similarly insisted that Truss “is not the source of the problem — she’s trying to cure the problem.”

Eamonn is right.

The United Kingdom faces serious economic challenges. But the problems are the result of bad government policies that already exist rather than the possibility of some future tax cuts.

In a column for the Telegraph, Allister Heath says the U.K.’s central bank deserves a big chunk of the blame.

Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng have been doubly unlucky. While almost everybody else in Britain remained in denial, they correctly identified this absurd game for the con-trick that it truly was, warned that it was about to implode and pledged to replace it with a more honest system. Instead of a zombie economy based on rising asset prices and fake, debt-fuelled growth, their mission was to encourage Britain to produce more real goods and services, to work harder and invest more by reforming taxes and regulation. What happened next is dispiriting in the extreme. …Truss and her Chancellor moved too quickly and, paradoxically, given their warnings about the rottenness of the system, ended up pulling out the last block from the Jenga tower, sending all of the pieces tumbling down. …they didn’t crash the economy – it was about to come tumbling down anyway – but they had the misfortune of precipitating and accelerating the day of reckoning. …Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England…, has been deeply unimpressive in all of this, helping to keep interest rates too low… The idea, now accepted so widely, that the price of money must be kept extremely low and quantitative easing deployed at every opportunity has undermined every aspect of the economy and society. …Too few people realise how terribly the easy money, high tax, high regulation orthodoxy has failed.

Allister closes with some speculation about possible alternatives. If the Tories in the U.K. decide to reject so-called “free-market fundamentalism,” what’s their alternative?

He thinks the Labour Party will take control, and with very bad results. Jeremy Corbyn will not be in charge, but his economic policies will get enacted.

If Truss is destroyed, the alternative won’t even be social democracy: it will be Labour, the hard Left, the full gamut of punitive taxation, including of wealth and housing, and even more spending, culminating rapidly in economic oblivion.

That is an awful scenario. Basically turning the United Kingdom into Greece.

I want to take a different approach, though, and contemplate what will happen if the Conservative Party rejects the Truss approach and embraces big-government conservatism.

Here are some questions I’d like them to answer:

  • Do you want improved competitiveness and more economic growth?
  • If you want more growth, which of your spending increases will lead to those outcomes?
  • Which of your tax increases will lead to more competitiveness or more prosperity?
  • Will you reform benefit programs to avert built-in spending increases caused by an aging population?
  • If you won’t reform entitlements, which taxes will you increase to keep debt under control?
  • If you don’t plan major tax increases, do you think the economy can absorb endless debt?

I’m asking these questions for two reasons. First, there are no good answers and I’d like to shame big-government Tories into doing the right thing.

Second, these questions are also very relevant in the United States. Even since the Reagan years, opponents of libertarian economic policies have flitted from one trendy idea to another (national conservatism, compassionate conservatism, kinder-and-gentler conservatismcommon-good capitalism, reform conservatism, etc).

To be fair, they usually don’t try to claim their dirigiste policies will produce higher living standards. Instead, they blindly assert that it will be easier to win elections if Republicans abandon Reaganism.

So I’ll close by observing that Ronald Reagan won two landslide elections and his legacy was strong enough that voters then elected another Republican (the same can’t be said for big-government GOPers like Nixon, Bush, Bush, or Trump).

Switching back to the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher repeatedly won election and her legacy was strong enough that voters then elected another Conservative.

The bottom line is that good policy can lead to good political outcomes, whereas bad policy generally leads to bad political outcomes.

P.S. To be sure, there were times when Reagan’s poll numbers were very bad. And the same is true for Thatcher. But because they pursued good policies, economic growth returned and they reaped political benefits. Sadly, it appears that Truss won’t have a chance to adopt good policy, so we will never know if she also would have benefited from a similar economic renaissance.

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It is disappointing that the bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund routinely advocate for higher taxes and bigger government in nations from all parts of the world (for examples, see here, here, here, here, here, and here).

It is disturbing that the IMF engages in bailouts that encourage bad fiscal policy by governments and reckless lending policies by financial institutions.

And it is disgusting that those IMF bureaucrats get tax-free salaries and are thus exempt from the damaging consequences of those misguided policies.

One set of rules for the peasants and one set of rules for the elite.

The latest example of IMF misbehavior revolves around the bureaucracy’s criticism of recently announced tax cuts in the United Kingdom.

A BBC report by Natalie Sherman and Tom Espiner summarizes the controversy.

The International Monetary Fund has openly criticised the UK government over its plan for tax cuts…In an unusually outspoken statement, the IMF said the proposal was likely to increase inequality and add to pressures pushing up prices. …Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled the country’s biggest tax package in 50 years on Friday. But the £45bn cut has sparked fears that government borrowing could surge along with interest rates. …Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister and close ally of Prime Minister Liz Truss, criticised the IMF’s statement. …”The IMF has consistently advocated highly conventional economic policies. It is following this approach that has produced years of slow growth and weak productivity. The only way forward for Britain is lower taxes, spending restraint, and significant economic reform.” …Moody’s credit rating agency said on Wednesday that the UK’s plan for “large unfunded tax cuts” was “credit negative” and would lead to higher, persistent deficits “amid rising borrowing costs [and] a weaker growth outlook”. Moody’s did not change the UK’s credit rating.

So what should be done about the IMF’s misguided interference?

Writing for the Spectator in the U.K., Kate Andrews has some observations about the underlying philosophical and ideological conflict..

…the International Monetary Fund has weighed in on the UK’s mini-Budget, offering a direct rebuke of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax cuts. …its spokesperson said…‘Given elevated inflation pressures in many countries, including the UK, we do not recommend large and untargeted fiscal packages at this juncture’… But this rebuke from the IMF is the kind of battle the Truss camp might be happy to have. …The IMF takes a political stance on inequality, viewing its reduction as a good thing in itself. Truss and Kwarteng reject this premise – summed up in the Chancellor’s statement last Friday when he called for the end of redistribution politics – and think it’s far more important to focus on ‘growing the size of the pie.’ The IMF’s ‘intervention’ is likely to become an example of the ‘Treasury orthodoxy’ that Truss was so vocal about during the leadership campaign: her belief that a left-wing economic consensus will not tolerate any meaningful shake-up of the tax code or supply-side reform.

Truss and Kwarteng are correct to reject the IMF’s foolish – and immoral – fixation on inequality.

All you really need to know is that the IMF publishes research implying it is okay to hurt poor people if rich people are hurt by a greater amount.

Let’s close by addressing whether tax cuts are bad for Britain’s currency and financial markets

Paul Marshall explained the interaction (and non-interaction) of fiscal and monetary policy in a column for the U.K.-based Financial Times.

Since 2010, the G7 policy framework has been one of tight fiscal and loose monetary policy. …This combination of fiscal austerity and monetary largesse has not been a success. Austerity has not prevented government debt ratios steadily climbing to historic highs. …Meanwhile quantitative easing has fuelled asset inflation for the super-rich and has more or less abolished risk pricing in financial markets. And…it has produced inflation which is still out of control. But now the global policy consensus is in the process of pivoting… A distinctive feature of the UK’s fiscal pivot is the emphasis on reducing the burden of tax on work and business. This is sensible. …the bigger problem for Liz Truss’s government is the Bank of England. It seems that the governor, Andrew Bailey, did not get the memo. Our central bank has been behind the curve since inflation first started to rise sharply in 2021. …The Bank of England effectively lost control of the UK bond market last Thursday when it raised interest rates by 50 basis points, instead of the 75bp that the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank raised by. Its timidity is now having an impact on both the gilt market and sterling. That is the essential context for the market reaction to the mini-Budget. Once you lose market confidence, it is doubly hard to win it back. …a more muscular stance from the BoE to underpin financial market confidence in the UK, even at the expense of some short-term pain.

He is right.

The Bank of England should be focused on trying to unwind its mistaken monetary policy that produced rising prices. That’s the approach that will strengthen the currency.

And Truss and Kwarteng should continue their efforts for better tax policy so the economy can grow faster.

But better tax policy needs to be accompanied by much-need spending restraint, which is what the United Kingdom enjoyed not only during the Thatcher years, but also under Prime Ministers Cameron and May.

P.S. The IMF also interfered in British politics when it tried to sabotage Brexit.

P.P.S. One obvious takeaway is that the IMF should be eliminated.

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I strongly supported Brexit in part because I wanted the United Kingdom to have both the leeway and the incentive to adopt pro-market policies.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when subsequent Conservative Prime Ministers did nothing (Theresa May) or expanded the burden of government (Boris Johnson).

Where was the reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher? Didn’t the Tory Party understand the need to restrain big government?

Perhaps my prayers have finally been answered. After jettisoning Boris Johnson (albeit for scandal rather than bad policy), the Tories elected Liz Truss to lead the nation.

And she appointed Kwasi Kwarteng to be Chancellor of the Exchequer (akin to U.S. Treasury Secretary). The two of them have just unveiled some major changes in U.K. fiscal policy.

Allister Heath’s editorial for the Telegraph has a celebratory tone.

…the best Budget I have ever heard a British Chancellor deliver, by a massive margin. The tax cuts were so huge and bold, the language so extraordinary, that at times, listening to Kwasi Kwarteng, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, that I hadn’t been transported to a distant land that actually believed in the economics of Milton Friedman and FA Hayek. …The neo-Brownite consensus of the past 20 years, the egalitarian, redistributionist obsession, the technocratic centrism, the genuflections at the altar of a bogus class war, the spreadsheet-wielding socialists: all were blown to smithereens by Kwarteng’s stunning neo-Reaganite peroration. …All the taboos have been defiled: the fracking ban, the performative 45pc tax rate, the malfunctioning bonus cap, the previous gang’s nihilistic corporation tax and national insurance raids. The basic rate of income tax is being cut, as is stamp duty, that dumbest of levies. …Reforms of this order of magnitude should really have happened after the referendum in 2016, or after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in 2019… Truss..has a fighting chance to save Britain, and her party, from oblivion.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial has a similarly hopeful tone while also explaining the difference between good supply-side policies and failed Keynesian demand-side policies.

This is a pro-growth agenda that is very different than the tax-and spend Keynesianism that has dominated the West’s economic policies for nearly two decades. …Mr. Kwarteng axed the 2.5-percentage-point increase in the payroll tax imposed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and canceled a planned increase in the corporate income tax rate to 26% from 19%. …Kwarteng also surprised by eliminating the 45% tax rate on incomes above £150,000. The top marginal rate now will be 40%… A frequent complaint is that there’s no evidence tax cuts for corporations or higher earners will boost demand. Maybe not, but that’s also not the point. Britain doesn’t need a Keynesian demand-side stimulus. It needs the supply-side jolt Ms. Truss is trying to deliver by changing incentives to work and invest. A parallel complaint from the same crowd is that Ms. Truss’s policies—which they just said won’t stimulate demand—will stimulate so much demand the policies will stoke inflation. This has been the experience with debt-fueled fiscal blowouts since the pandemic, but Ms. Truss’s plan is different. She’s not throwing around money to fund consumption. She’s using the tax code to spur production.

The editorial concludes with a key observations.

Britain has become the most important economic experiment in the developed world because Ms. Truss is the only leader willing to abandon a stale Keynesian policy consensus that has produced stagflation everywhere.

Here’s a tweet that captures the current approach, with “liberal” referring to pro-market classical liberalism.

This is the “Singapore-on-Thames” approach that I’ve been promoting for years. Finally!

In a column for Reason, Robert Jackman gives a relatively optimistic libertarian assessment of what to expect from Truss.

…will her arrival in Downing Street bring an end to the big-state, big-spending style of her predecessor? …Within the Westminster village, Truss has long been regarded as a torchbearer for liberty—a reputation that stretches back to her days working at various small-state think tanks. Since entering Parliament in 2010, she has been a member of the Free Enterprise Group… As trade secretary, Truss was responsible for delivering on the good bit of Brexit—jetting around the world to sign tariff-busting trade deals. She was good at it too, quickly securing ambitious agreements with Australia and Japan. …But will Liz Truss’ premiership put Britain back on track to a smaller state? Some things aren’t that simple. …Truss has long been an advocate of relaxing Britain’s punitive planning laws, which would make it easier to build much-needed homes and energy infrastructure.

As you might expect, the analysis from the U.K.-based Economist left much to be desired.

Liz Truss, Britain’s new prime minister, is now implementing Reaganomics…comprising tax cuts worth perhaps £30bn ($34bn) per year (1.2% of gdp)… The fuel that fiscal stimulus will inject into the economy will almost certainly lead the boe to raise interest rates… No matter, say Ms Truss’s backers, because tax cuts will boost productivity. Didn’t inflation fall and growth surge under Reagan? …Ms Truss’s cheerleaders seem to have read only the first chapter of the history of Reaganomics. The programme’s early record was mixed. The tax cuts did not stop a deep recession, yet by March 1984 annual inflation had risen back to 4.8% and America’s ten-year bond yield was over 12%, reflecting fears of another upward spiral in prices. Inflation was anchored only after Congress had raised taxes. By 1987 America’s budget, excluding interest payments, was nearly balanced. By 1993 Congress had raised taxes by almost as much as it had cut them in 1981.

By the way, the article’s analysis of Reaganomics is laughably inaccurate.

Meanwhile, a report in the New York Times, writtten by Eshe Nelson, Stephen Castle and , also has a skeptical tone.

But I’m surprised and impressed that they admit Thatcher’s policies worked in the 1980s.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, gambled on Friday that a heavy dose of tax cuts, deregulation and free-market economics would reignite her country’s growth — a radical shift in policy… the new chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, abandoned a proposed rise in corporate taxation and, in a surprise move, also abolished the top rate of 45 percent of income tax applied to those earning more than 150,000 pounds, or about $164,000, a year. He also cut the basic rate for lower earners and cut taxes on house purchases. …It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the policy shift from Mr. Johnson’s government, which just one year ago had announced targeted tax increases to offset its increased public spending… The chancellor’s statement in Parliament on Friday underscored the free-market, small-state, tax-cutting instincts of Ms. Truss, who has modeled herself on Margaret Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990. Thatcher’s economic revolution in the 1980s turned the economy around.

The article includes 11 very worrisome words.

…so far there has been no indication of corresponding spending cuts.

Amen. Tax cuts are good for growth, but their effectiveness and durability will be in question if there is not a concomitant effort to restrain the burden of spending.

Truss and Kwarteng also should have announced a spending cap, modeled on either the Swiss Debt Brake or Colorado’s TABOR.

P.S. In addition to worrying about whether Truss will copy Thatcher’s track record on spending, I’m also worried about her support for misguided energy subsidies.

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I don’t like big-government Republicans in the United States, so it naturally follows that I don’t like big-government Tories in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, I wrote just a few days ago about the new leadership race for the Conservative Party in the U.K. and wondered whether either of the candidates has what it takes to reverse Boris Johnson’s failed statism.

I hope one of them is the reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher (just as I’ve been waiting decades for another Ronald Reagan).

We will find out relatively quickly. The race for Prime Minister will be decided next month and I will be very interested to see whether the winner fixes two very foolish energy policies.

The Wall Street Journal has a pair of excellent editorials this month.

On August 18, the paper opined about a bone-headed policy to cap energy bills.

Britain’s ruling Conservatives have imposed some awful energy policies in recent years, but their cap on household energy bills deserves a special mention. The scheme has been an economic loser, and now it’s becoming a political loser in ways that illustrate the dangers when parties of the right play socialism lite. …The cap traces back to…when Tory Prime Minister Theresa May embarked on a campaign to position the Conservatives as a kinder, gentler party. The effort didn’t work politically. In that year’s snap election she lost the majority… But the price-cap notion lived on and she implemented it in 2019. …The cap has exacerbated economic havoc in Britain’s energy market. As global gas and other commodity prices started to rise in 2021, energy retailers found it impossible to pass to consumers the prices retailers were paying for the energy they were supplying. This has contributed to a wave of bankruptcies… Meanwhile, since it only raises prices at a lag rather than limiting them, the cap leaves households frighteningly exposed to recent movements in global gas prices… The moral: Even half-hearted energy price controls are political losers for conservative parties.

It’s worth noting that energy prices are needlessly high in part because of bad government policy.

Which brings us to the WSJ‘s August 12 editorial.

Reports this week point to spiraling costs for households and businesses this winter, pushing millions of Britons closer to poverty. It’s a steep price for climate alarmism. …Politicians are eager to dodge responsibility for this disaster, and Russia offers a convenient excuse. …But these trends are inseparable from Britain’s homegrown fixation with achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. That’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s worst mistake… Various green charges add £153 to the annual household bill… But other net-zero costs lurk in household energy bills and budgets. The electric grid operator spent about £3.4 billion over the past year…a cost that tends to be higher due to the unreliability of wind and solar, and that’s passed to consumers… Another imponderable is how much lower gas prices would be if Britain produced more itself. Conservative Party administrations have flirted for years with proposals for shale-gas fracking in northern England only to lose their nerve. …So much for those who say conservative parties need to adopt the left’s climate agenda to court younger voters. Net zero has turned the Tories into the party that is impoverishing Britain.

In other words, bad policy is bad politics, which is the mirror image of my contention that good policy is good politics.

We will see whether the Tories have learned that lesson.

P.S. Some otherwise sensible people in the U.S. are flirting with making the same mistake with energy policy. Perhaps the failure of such policies in the U.K. will teach them something (but I won’t hold my breath).

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I was a big fan of Brexit (the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union), but I’m very disappointed about the subsequent failure to create “Singapore-on-Thames.”

The above clip was my “under-reported story of the week,” as part of the most-recent episode of the Square Circle.

The main argument for Brexit was to escape the European Union, which is destined to become a “transfer union.”

To be more specific, the combination of demographic decline and fiscal decay means the bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels eventually will obtain the power to impose taxes in order to redistribute money to failed economies in places such as Italy and Greece.

Indeed, that process already is underway.

By voting for Brexit, the people of the United Kingdom can escape the sinking ship and thus will not be forced to subsidize the bad policy of other nations.

But there was a second reason to support Brexit, which was to give the U.K. the leeway to become the Singapore of Europe.

Would that be a good outcome? Assuming the goal is more prosperity, the answer unambiguously is yes.

As you can see from the chart, Singapore easily has eclipsed the major countries of Europe.

And the idea that the U.K. might copy Singapore’s pro-market policies has been a big part of the Brexit debate, with libertarians and small-government conservatives cheering the possibility and folks on the left dreading that potential outcome.

Any search engine will find thousands of stories about this topic. Here’s a tiny sampling to give readers a flavor.

Sadly, my friends on the left did not need to worry about the U.K. becoming an outpost of laissez-faire policy.

Boris Johnson won a landslide victory in 2019 by promising the “get Brexit done,” but he then proceeded to raise taxes and expand the burden of government spending.

So what’s the current state of play?

In a story for the Washington Post, William Booth writes that Brexit has been a failure.

Boris Johnson…is…the man who “got Brexit done.” So how is that going? What can be said about the post-Brexit Britain that Johnson is leaving behind? …Most people don’t think Brexit has delivered on its lofty promises… With “get Brexit done” as his slogan, Johnson led his party to a landslide election victory. …he oversaw Britain’s departure from the union with one of the hardest possible versions of Brexit… But the government has struggled to show the benefits. …it is clear that although Brexit has not sunk the British economy, it has not produced a boom, either.

But the relevant question is why there was not a boom.

The simple answer, as I noted in the above interview, is that there was no effort to create Singapore-on-Thames. Indeed, the supposedly conservative Tories, under Boris Johnson, went in the opposite direction.

And that explains why supporters of economic liberalization are not very happy. Opining for the U.K.-based Telegraph, Allister Heath is rather depressed.

Statist ideology, historical naivety, cowardice and short-termism have crippled our country. Orthodox thinking has turned out to be wrong in almost all areas that matter, from the economy to energy to planning. …The electorate noticed, kicking Labour out and voting for Brexit, but the politicians let them down. Nothing really changed… Ludwig von Mises, in his Critique of Interventionism, explains how social-democracy is an unstable middle point between capitalism and socialism. This is especially true today. All problems, even when caused by failed Left-wing policy, trigger increasingly hysterical demands for even more state action. …We have a Tory government, but the political climate is veering hard-Left.

This brings us back to what I said in the interview. Boris Johnson has been deposed as leader of the Conservative Party.

Now there’s a race between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to see who will be the new party leader – and thus the new Prime Minister.

Both of them claim they will move policy back in the right direction. I’m guessing Ms. Truss is the better option, but my main point in the discussion was that the United Kingdom desperately needs another Margaret Thatcher.

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To begin Part III of this series (here’s Part I and Part II), let’s dig into the archives for this video I narrated back in 2007.

At the risk of patting myself on the back, all of the points hold up very well. Indeed, the past 15 years have produced more evidence that my main arguments were correct.

The good news is that all these arguments helped produce a tax bill that dropped America’s federal corporate tax rate by 14 percentage points, from 35 percent to 21 percent.

The bad news is that Biden and most Democrats in Congress want to raise the corporate rate.

In a column for CapX, Professor Tyler Goodspeed explains why higher corporate tax rates are a bad idea. He’s writing about what’s happening in the United Kingdom, but his arguments equally apply in the United States.

…the more you tax something, the less of it you get. …plans to raise Corporation Tax and end relief on new plant and machinery will result in less business investment – and steep costs for households. …Treasury’s current plans to raise the corporate income tax rate to 25% and end a temporary 130% ‘super-deduction’ for new investment in qualifying plant and machinery would lower UK investment by nearly 8%, and reduce the size of the UK economy by more than 2%, compared to making the current rules permanent. …because the economic costs of corporate taxation are ultimately borne both by shareholders and workers, raising the rate to 25% would permanently lower average household wages by £2,500. …the macroeconomic effects of raising the Corporation Tax rate to 25% would alone offset 40% of the static revenue gain over a 10-year period, and as much as 90% over the long run.

To bolster his argument for good policy on that side of the Atlantic Ocean, he then explains that America’s lower corporate tax rate has been a big success.

Critics of corporate tax reform should look to the recent experience of the United States… At the time, I predicted that these changes would raise business investment in new plant and equipment by 9%, and raise average household earnings by $4,000 in real, inflation-adjusted terms. …By the end of 2019, investment had risen to 9.4% above its pre-2017 level. Investment by corporate businesses specifically was up even more, rising to 14.2% above its pre-2017 trend in real, inflation-adjusted terms. Meanwhile, in 2018 and 2019 real median household income in the United States rose by $5,000 – a bigger increase in just two years than in the entire 20 preceding years combined. …What about corporate income tax revenues? …corporate tax revenue as a share of the US economy was substantially higher than projected, at 1.7% versus 1.4%.

If you want more evidence about what happened to corporate tax revenue in America after the Trump tax reform, click here.

Another victory for the Laffer Curve.

Not that we should be surprised. Even pro-tax bureaucracies such as the International Monetary Fund and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that lower corporate rates produce substantial revenue feedback.

So let’s hope neither the United States nor the United Kingdom make the mistake of undoing progress.

P.S. The specter of a higher corporate tax in the United Kingdom is especially bizarre. Voters chose Brexit in part to give the nation a chance to break free of the European Union’s dirigiste approach. But instead of adopting pro-growth policies (the Singapore-on-Thames approach), former Prime Minister Boris Johnson opted to increase the burden of taxes and spending. Hopefully the Conservative Party will return to Thatcherism with a new Prime Minister (and hopefully American Republicans will return to Reaganism!).

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I’m in the United Kingdom for the Free Market Road Show and had planned on writing today about the awful economic policies of Boris Johnson, the supposedly Conservative Prime Minister.

Yes, he produced an acceptable Brexit, but otherwise has been a big spender. Sort of the a British version of Trump or Bush.

But I’m going to give Boris a (temporary) pass because I can’t help but vent my spleen about this sign I saw yesterday while touring the Imperial War Museum in London.

As you can imagine, I was irked by this bit of pro-socialist propaganda.

Since when does a government takeover of private industry lead to “a fairer, more caring society”?!?

Maybe that was the intention of the voters who elected Clement Attlee, the Labour Party who became Prime Minister after the 1945 election.

The real-world results, though, were disappointing. Indeed, the sign acknowledges that the post-war recovery was anemic.

But it then put the blame on conscription.

As a sensible Brit would say, this is utter bollocks.

Plenty of other nations drafted men into military service, yet they still managed to enjoy decent growth.

Why did those countries enjoy more prosperity? Because they didn’t copy Clement Attlee’s horrible mistake of nationalizing industry (genuine socialism, by the way).

Indeed, while the United Kingdom was becoming the “sick man of Europe,” West Germany boomed in large part because it went in the other direction, getting rid of dirigiste policies such as price controls.

There is a happy ending to this story.

Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979 and privatized industries – in addition to other pro-growth reforms such as spending restraint and tax-rate reductions.

As a result, the United Kingdom in a very short period of time managed to overtake Germany in the Fraser Institute’s rankings for economic liberty.

I’ll close with a thoughtful and magnanimous offer.

I’ve corrected the mistaken wording on the sign at the Imperial War Museum. I hereby offer – free of charge – this new version.

P.S. It’s a long program, but I strongly encourage readers to watch Commanding Heights: The Battle of Ideas, which tells the economic history of the 20th century. You’ll learn how Thatcher saved the U.K. economy and how Reagan saved the U.S. economy.

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I’m not a fan of the government-distorted health system in the United States.

Various laws and programs from Washington have created a massive problem with third-party payer, which makes America’s system very expensive and inefficient.

But it’s possible to have a system that is even worse. Americans can look across the ocean at the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

Our British friends are burdened with something akin to “Medicare for All.”

But it’s even worse because doctors and nurses are directly employed by government, which means they have been turned into government bureaucrats.

And government bureaucrats generally don’t have a track record of good performance. That seems to apply to health bureaucrats, as captured by this Alys Denby column for CapX.

Numbers are no way to express a human tragedy, but those in the Ockenden Report into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust are nonetheless devastating. The inquiry examined 1,592 incidents since 2000. It found that poor care led to the deaths of 201 babies and nine mothers; 94 babies suffered avoidable brain damage; and one in four cases of stillbirth could have had a different outcome. That’s hundreds of lives lost, and hundreds of families suffering unimaginable pain, all on the watch of ‘Our NHS’. …the report is strewn with examples of individual cruelty and incompetence. Bereaved parents…were given excuses, false information and even blamed for their own child’s death. The Health Secretary has said that vital clinical information was written on post-it notes that were swept into the bin by cleaners. …The NHS has a culture of arrogance, sanctimony and impunity.

And here are some excerpts from a 2021 article in National Review by Cameron Hilditch.

The NHS has proven itself comprehensively and consistently incapable of dealing with a regular flu season, something that crops up at the same predictable time of year in every country north of the equator. It has long been obvious that Britain’s single-payer health-care system isn’t fit for purpose even in normal times, much less during a global pandemic. Yet the NHS’s failures are systematically ignored. …age-standardized survival rates in the U.K. for the most common kinds of cancer are well below those of other developed countries, which translates into thousands of needless deaths… The excess deaths that the U.K. is suffering…along with the crushing physical and mental burdens borne by British doctors and nurses ultimately redound to this long-term failure of British culture. By transforming a medical institution into a cultural institution for the sake of forging a new, progressive national identity, Britons have underwritten decades of deadly failure.

This is damning information.

To be sure, mistakes will happen in any type of health system. But when government runs the show, the odds of appropriate feedback are much lower.

If you don’t believe me, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, hereand here.

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After the people of the United Kingdom voted to escape the European Union, I wondered whether the Conservative Party would “find a new Margaret Thatcher” to enact pro-market reforms and thus “take advantage of a golden opportunity” to “prosper in a post-Brexit world.”

The answer is no.

The current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, deserves praise for turning the Brexit vote into Brexit reality, but his fiscal policy has been atrocious.

Not only is he failing to be another Margaret Thatcher, he’s a bigger spender than left-leaning Tory leaders such as David Cameron and Theresa May.

Let’s look at some British media coverage of how Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) have sided with government over taxpayers.

Allister Heath of the Telegraph has a brutal assessment of their profligacy.

Rishi Sunak’s message, repeated over and over again, as he unveiled a historic, epoch-defining rise in public spending financed by ruinous tax increases. It was a Labour Budget with a Tory twist and the kind of Spending Review that Gordon Brown would have relished… the cash was sprinkled in every possible direction. Sunak is Chancellor, but he was executing Boris Johnson’s cakeist vision: a meddling, hyperactive, managerialist, paternalistic and almost municipal state which refuses to accept any limits to its ambition or ability to spend. …The scale of the tax increases is staggering. …This will propel the tax burden from 33.5 per cent of GDP before the pandemic to 36.2 per cent by 2026-27, its highest since the early 1950s… The picture on spending is equally grim: we are on course for a new normal of around 41.6 per cent of GDP by 2026-27, the largest sustained share of GDP since the late 1970s. …The Budget and Spending Review are thus a huge victory for Left-wing ideas, even if the shift is being implemented by Right-wing Brexiteers who have forgotten that the economic case for Brexit wasn’t predicated on Britain becoming more like France or Spain. …Labour shouldn’t be feeling too despondent: the party may not be in office, but when it comes to the economy and public spending, they are very much in power.

Writing for CapX, James Heywood explains one of the adverse consequences of big-government Toryism.

Simply stated, the U.K. will go from bad to worse in the Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index.

…in the Cameron-Osborne era, the Conservatives focused on heavily on making Britain competitive and business-friendly, with significant cuts to the headline rate of corporation tax. …in his recent Tory conference speech, Boris Johnson trumpeted the virtues of an ‘open society and free market economy’, promising that his was a government committed to creating a ‘low tax economy’.  Unfortunately, when it comes to UK tax policy the direction of travel is concerningly divorced from the rhetoric. The latest iteration of the US-based Tax Foundation’s annual International Tax Competitiveness Index placed the UK 22nd out of 37 OECD countries when it comes to the overall performance of our tax system. …Nor does the UK’s current ranking factor in the Government’s plans for future tax rises. …the headline rate of corporation tax had fallen to 19% and was set to fall to 17% by 2020. That further fall had already been cancelled during Sajid Javid’s brief stint as Chancellor, in order to pay for additional NHS spending. At the last Budget, Rishi Sunak went much further, setting out plans to gradually raise the rate from 19% to 25% in April 2023. That is a huge tax measure by anyone’s standards… On top of that we have the recently announced Health and Social Care Levy… If we factor all these new measures into the Tax Foundation’s Competitiveness Index, the UK falls to a dismal 30th out of 37 countries.

For what it’s worth, the United Kingdom’s competitiveness decline will be very similar to the drop in America’s rankings if Biden’s fiscal plan is enacted.

In other words, there’s not much difference between the left-wing policy of Joe Biden and the (supposedly) right-wing policy of Britain’s Conservative Party.

No wonder a British cartoonist thought it was appropriate to show Rishi Sunak morphing into Gorden Brown, the high-tax, big-government Chancellor of the Exchequer under Tony Blair.

I’ll close with the observation that conservatives and libertarians in the United Kingdom need to create their own version of the no-tax-hike pledge.

That pledge, organized by Americans for Tax Reform, has helped protect many (but not all) Republicans from politically foolish tax hikes.

It is good politics to have a no-tax pledge, but I’m much more focused on the fact that opposing tax hikes is good policy.

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The great Margaret Thatcher famously observed that the problem with socialism is that governments eventually “run out of other people’s money.”

But they can do a lot of damage before they reach that point.

We know from U.S. experience that Republicans can be very profligate. Well, the same problem exists with the Conservative Party on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

I wrote earlier this year that Boris Johnson was letting the burden of government spending increase much faster than needed to keep pace with inflation.

And when politicians spend too much money, it’s almost inevitable that they will then try to grab more money from taxpayers.

And that’s exactly what the Prime Minister is proposing, as reported by Stephen Castle for the New York Times.

Mr. Johnson is widely expected to break his vow not to increase taxes when he announces a plan to bolster the nation’s social care services… Even before the announcement, the blistering dissent from members of his own Conservative Party has underscored the problems that lie ahead for a government that has ramped up borrowing during the pandemic yet faces huge pressure to spend… Britain’s creaking National Health Service, which was already strained before the pandemic, now has a massive backlog of routine treatment and operations that had to be postponed. On Monday the government announced a cash injection of £5.4 billion, or $7.4 billion, to help deal with that issue. …His proposals are likely to cap the amount any British citizen pays for social care over their lifetime. That would prevent many from having to sell their homes to pay for care, but would also mean investing more public money, mainly through raising taxes.

So what do the actual conservatives in the Conservative Party think about Johnson’s proposal for more taxes and more spending?

They are not happy.

Perhaps the biggest danger for Mr. Johnson is the hostility of fiscal conservatives on the right of his party, who object to any tax being increased, including one senior cabinet minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg. …Mr. Sunak is also anxious to reign in spending, a view that is popular with the right wing of the Conservative Party. “He believes there is a moral and political premium on not raising taxes, not raising spending and getting borrowing under control,” said Professor Bale, who added this was “partly because he knows that this where the beating heart of the Conservative parliamentary party lies.”

Here are some more details about teh fight inside the Conservative Party, as reported by Edward Malnick of the U.K.-based Telegraph.

Senior Conservatives were threatening open warfare over Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s planned tax increase… Ministers, government aides and backbenchers lined up to denounce a planned National Insurance rise which was privately described by senior figures as “idiotic”, with one Cabinet member declaring the proposal “morally, economically and politically wrong”. …Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, said: “Of all the ways to break manifesto tax pledges to fund the NHS and social care, raising NIC must be the worst. In this time of crisis, we need a zero-based review of what the state does and how it is funded.” …Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, feared that if Mr Johnson pushed ahead with the move the Conservatives would end up presiding over “the biggest tax rises since Clement Attlee”. …Another Tory MP suggested the Chancellor was concerned about Britain becoming a continental-style economy with unsustainable public spending and state intervention.

So how do Johnson’s allies respond?

With the same language one might have expected from Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-core statist who used to lead the Labor Party.

A government source said: “The NHS needs more money. By the time of the next election there could be 13 million people on waiting lists if we don’t act.”

In other words, the more government fails, the more money it should get (which also could be a description of Joe Biden’s fiscal policy).

P.S. What I wrote earlier this year is worth repeating.

Because of my strong support for Brexit, I was very happy that Boris Johnson won a landslide victory in late 2019. And he then delivered an acceptable version of Brexit, so that worked out well. However, it definitely doesn’t look like he will fulfill my hopes of being a post-Brexit, 21st century version of Margaret Thatcher.

The bottom line is that I wanted an independent United Kingdom to become Singapore on the Thames. Instead, Johnson seems to want his country to be Paris on the Thames.

P.P.S. I never thought I would miss the fiscal policy of two moderate former Prime Ministers, David Cameron and Theresa May.

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Two years ago, I wrote about how two former Prime Ministers in the United Kingdom, David Cameron and Theresa May, did a very good job of restraining spending.

On average, spending increased by only 1.8 percent per year last decade, which helped to substantially reduce the fiscal burden of government relative to the private economy.

That was an impressive result, and it adds to the collection of success stories showing what happens when governments obey fiscal policy’s Golden Rule.

That was the good news.

The bad news is that spending restraint evaporated once the pandemic began.

The worse news is that the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has no intention of restoring fiscal discipline now that the coronavirus is fading away.

The Wall Street Journal opined on the new budget that was just released by the supposedly conservative government.

London has spent some £407 billion ($568 billion) on pandemic relief since last year… This has blown a hole in public finances, with the fiscal deficit expected to be around 10% of GDP this year. …Britain’s political class, and especially the governing Conservative party, …faces pressure to “pay for” all this relief. …an increase to the corporate profits tax rate to 25% from 19%…freezing previously announced increases in the thresholds for personal income-tax brackets. This tax hike on the sly is estimated to raise an additional £18 billion starting next year from beleaguered households who discover inflation pushing them into higher brackets. A holiday on the stamp duty on property purchases will expire in October, walloping households as the recovery is meant to begin. …The government’s Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that by 2026 tax revenue as a share of GDP will be 35%, the highest since 1969. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank, estimates that the additional £29 billion in annual revenue expected by 2026 amounts to the largest tax increase in any budget since 1993. …This Tory government came to power promising to unleash Britain’s entrepreneurial businesses for a post-Brexit growth spurt, and freeing those animal spirits is even more important after the pandemic. A super-taxing budget is a huge gamble.

The WSJ focused on all the tax increases.

Allister Heath’s column in the Daily Telegraph informs us that the bad news on taxes is a predictable and inevitable consequence of being weak on spending restraint.

For the past 50 years, the Tory party had believed that high tax rates, especially on income and profits, were bad for the economy and had strived to cut them. Today, this is no longer true… The Tory taboo on increasing direct rates of taxation…is over… Britain will continue its shift to the Left on economics, sinking ever-deeper into a social-democratic, low growth, European-style model… Johnson, sadly, is planning to increase spending permanently by two percentage points of GDP and taxes by one. He is a big-government Conservative… the main problem facing the public finances longer-term isn’t the economic scarring from the pandemic, but the fact that the Tories are determined to keep increasing spending as if Covid never happened. …Reaganomics is over in Britain, dead and buried, as is much of the economic side of Thatcherism.

Here’s a chart from the U.K.’s Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), which shows both taxes and spending as a share of gross domestic output (GDP).

I’ve added some text to show that there was fiscal progress under Thatcher, Cameron, and May, along with fiscal profligacy under Blair (and during the coronavirus, of course).

I also used OBR data to construct this chart, which shows inflation-adjusted spending over the past five decades, as well as projections until 2025.

The most worrisome part of the chart (and the biggest indictment of Boris Johnson) is the way spending climbs at a rapid rate in the final four years.

P.S. Because of my strong support for Brexit, I was very happy that Boris Johnson won a landslide victory in late 2019. And he then delivered an acceptable version of Brexit, so that worked out well. However, it definitely doesn’t look like he will fulfill my hopes of being a post-Brexit, 21st century version of Margaret Thatcher.

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When making the case against socialism, I’ve pointed out how that coercive ideology is an evil and immoral failure.

But maybe the best argument is contained in this very short video that was shared by a group of Tory activists in the United Kingdom.

Ms. Badenoch is now a member of the United Kingdom’s Parliament, and she was describing what it was like to grow up in Nigeria, a country where capitalism was not allowed to flourish.

Given the upside-down incentive system created by socialism, it’s no surprise that she endured hardship.

And while her story is just an anecdote, there is overwhelming evidence that nations with more economic liberty generate much better outcomes for ordinary people.

If you’re interested in learning more Ms. Badenoch, the U.K.-based Daily Mail profiled her back in 2017.

Kemi Badenoch is black; although British-born, she was raised in Nigeria by African parents, returned to England when she was 16 and rose from impoverished first-generation immigrant to parliamentarian in just 21 years. …Kemi, 37, married with two young children, won her safe seat in rural Essex with a 24,966-seat majority after Sir Alan Haselhurst, 80, stood down after 40 years. …What’s more, she was chosen ahead of Theresa May’s special adviser Stephen Parkinson, a Cambridge-educated white male. Kemi’s maiden Commons speech…marked her as a rising star. She spoke of her African childhood, saying: …‘Unlike many colleagues born since 1980, I was unlucky enough to live under socialist policies. It is not something I would wish on anyone, and it is just one of the reasons why I am a Conservative.’ …Kemi has a refreshing view of politics. …She supports Brexit — ‘the greatest ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom’ — and her heroes are Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher…she made a last-minute decision in favour of Leave. ‘And since, I’ve felt more and more confident that it was the right one,’ she says. ‘Many people who voted Brexit warmed to me because they felt I wasn’t a typical Leave voter. I’ve no time for those who say, “Brexit is all about racism.” That’s offensive. ‘It’s about sovereignty, bureaucracy and how we make our laws. …Kemi is fired up by the patriotism of the emigre who chose to live in Britain. ‘I’m Conservative because of the experiences I’ve had,’ she says. ‘I know what it’s like to live in a Third World country run by a regime with Socialist principles. It shaped my outlook and helped me appreciate how great Britain is.’

She was on the correct side on Brexit and Thatcher was one of her heroes. And she got the seat after beating out an ally of Theresa May, who was on the wrong side of Brexit.

That’s a very nice combination, but I want to zoom out and make a big-picture observation about how Ms. Badenoch’s move to the United Kingdom is part of a global pattern.

Simply stated, people vote with their feet against socialism.

People didn’t try to escape from West Germany to East Germany.

There are no caravans marching toward Venezuela (notwithstanding this satire).

Refugees aren’t in ramshackle boats trying to go from Florida to Cuba.

By the way, people also vote with their feet against big government inside the United States.

Needless to say, there’s a lesson to be learned from these migratory patterns.

P.S. If you like first-hand accounts of what it’s like to live under socialism, I recommend these videos from Gloria Alvarez, Thomas Peterffy, and two Venezuelans.

P.P.S. Ms. Badenoch’s video is only 37 seconds, but you can also learn about socialism in videos that last 10 seconds or less.

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One of the most-nauseating features of government is how politicians and bureaucrats impose lots of restrictions on ordinary people, yet then officially or unofficially create exemptions for themselves.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a new opportunity for the political class to flaunt its privileged status while stepping on the rights of ordinary people.

The Wall Street Journal opined on this issue today and noted plenty of elected officials have decided to exempt themselves from lockdown rules.

A good sign that a government policy is misconceived is that its most energetic promoters can’t abide by it. The coronavirus outbreak has exposed this sort of hypocrisy more than a few times. Mayor Bill de Blasio famously visited his favorite YMCA for a workout even as his office was telling the rest of New York City to stay home. In Chicago, salons and barbershops were shut down while Mayor Lori Lightfoot allowed herself a haircut. Beaumont, Texas, Mayor Becky Ames flouted her city’s shelter-in-place order to have her nails done.

But these examples are trivial compared to the actions of Neil Ferguson, the officious British government employee who has been publicly hectoring his countrymen to follow stay-at-home orders, but decided those rules didn’t apply to his f*buddy.

Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist at Imperial College,…led the researchers who predicted that, absent a forceful governmental response on movement and commerce, Covid-19 could cause more than 500,000 deaths. That modeling was soon scaled back, but Mr. Ferguson has since become a familiar figure in Britain for urging the government to impose strict shelter-in-place orders. It appears Mr. Ferguson wasn’t sheltering in place. Or, rather, he was but his paramour, Antonia Staats, wasn’t. …Ms. Staats had crossed London at least twice since citywide lockdowns were imposed in March—a clear violation of government rules. He has resigned from his position as government adviser.

I’m not surprised Ferguson is a hypocrite. It goes with the territory.

But I do wonder how he became a government adviser with the Conservative Party supposedly in charge? I thought Republicans were the “stupid party.”

In any event, the U.K.-based Sun is famous for its clever headlines (sort of like the New York Post), and this latest scandal is no exception.

Let’s conclude that Ferguson deserves to be the second Brit in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame (joining the chap who worked in law enforcement while moonlighting as a jihadist).

P.S. For what it’s worth, Ms. Staats is a left-wing activist, so she’s part of a long tradition of statists who want more power for government, but conveniently don’t think they should be subject to the rules imposed on the rest of us.

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Near the beginning of the croronavirus crisis, I observed that “government-run health systems have not done a good job” of dealing with the pandemic.

And I’ve repeatedly noted the failure of government bureaucracies to respond effectively in the United States.

Is there, perhaps, a lesson to be learned about what happens when politicians get more control of the health sector?

Let’s consider the different experiences of two European nations.

Kai Wess of the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna has a column for CapX on the performance of the German system.

…the responses of national governments to the crisis have been starkly different. …Germany’s approach is particularly interesting. …the death rate of Germany has been hovering around 0.2% to 0.5% for the entirety of March, only rising to the current 1.1% in the last days after deaths spiked in the first days of April. And yet, 1.1% is still light years away from Spain’s 8.7% Italy’s 11.7%, Britain’s 7.11%, and France’s 6.8%. …Germany’s lockdown has also been somewhat more lenient than in other European countries. …So why is Germany doing comparatively well? For one thing, mass testing has taken place for weeks… The second key factor is the good condition of Germany’s health sector. The number of critical care beds in Germany previously stood at 29.2 per 100,000 inhabitants – the highest of the countries most affected by Covid-19 other than the US (34.7). …why does Germany have these testing capacities? And why is the health sector so well-equipped? One of the main answers is that, at least relatively speaking, Germany’s health sector is more decentralised and leaves more room for competition… Germany does not have an NHS-style one-size-fits-all approach, but an insurance-based system. Everyone has to have health care and the government bears the cost for poorer patients. …there is competition between different insurance plans and individuals can pick their preferred plan. The health sector’s revenue comes from the premiums paid by patients as well as their employer – not through state funding. …The testing system has also been very decentralised, with a mixture of government agencies, private enterprise, and research organisations working on expanding testing capabilities – indeed, the January test was made possible by a private biotech entrepreneur. …when it comes to testing, Germany does not have a centralised diagnostic system, but a network of local authorities. As Christian Drosten explain, “Germany does not have a public health laboratory that would restrict other labs from doing the tests.”

Now let’s look at the performance of National Health Service in the United Kingdom.

Writing for the Telegraph, Charles Moore opines on its less-than-impressive track record.

The Government’s policy of lockdown is in significant part dictated by the demands not of patients, but of the NHS, and by its lack of adaptability and readiness. …A significant reason for the slow development, arrival and use of the antigen tests (“Have I got it?”) and the antibody tests (“Have I had it?”) seems to be the reluctance of the health service, and of Public Health England, to look outside their own spheres for help. In a culture almost proudly hostile to the private sector and mistrustful of independent academic work, the NHS’s first instinct is to defend bureaucratic territory. …the NHS belatedly admitted within government that it had failed to get enough ventilators. …University College Hospital, Formula I and Mercedes Benz got together to produce the CPAP… Next week, the repurposed Mercedes Benz F1 factory in Brixworth expects to produce 1,000 CPAPs a day. …the amazing 4,000-bed capacity Nightingale field hospital at the ExCeL centre in east London, opened yesterday… For two weeks after it was proposed, NHS top brass opposed it. When they finally admitted they needed it, the Army and the private contractors were the ones who made it happen in nine days. …Ten days ago, government contacts found the only company in Britain with expertise in making reagent for antigen swab tests. The firm was put on to the NHS, but at the time of writing, the health service had still not had a conversation with it. …That system is the problem. …The defects are baked into our system of national bureaucratic command. People have noticed that Germany has been more successful in managing the virus spread through testing. This is not a coincidence. Germany does not have our lumbering central diagnostic system, because it does not have, in our sense, a national health service.

These two columns are very instructive, not only because they show the adverse consequences of too much government, but also because they show that there are big differences in European health systems.

Many people have the (very!) inaccurate belief that the United States has a market-based system. And many of them also share the mistaken belief that all European nations have systems where everything is financed and provided by government.

In reality, there’s a wide divergence of policies across the globe.

Back in 2013, I created a back-of-the-envelope “Freedom Meter” to illustrate how Obamacare was best viewed as in incremental step on a long (and well-traveled) road to a government-dominated health care system.

Simply stated, we already greatly reduced the role of markets thanks to a range of programs and policies (Medicare, Medicaid, the tax code’s healthcare exclusion, etc).

Obamacare simply added another layer of taxes, spending, and regulation.

I actually suspect many nations that supposedly have “government-run healthcare” actually would be closer to the free-market side of the Freedom Meter than the United States.

Sort of like what I’m depicting in this revised, worldwide version.

Though I admit I’m just guessing that Germany and Switzerland might be better than the United States.

What we really need is the healthcare equivalent of what the Tax Foundation does with its State Business Tax Climate Index and its International Tax Competitiveness Index.

Only instead of a fiscal ranking based on factors such as income taxes, business taxes, property taxes, and consumption taxes, we’d have a health ranking based on factors such as third-party payer, degree of centralization, consumer choice, regulatory burden, financing mechanisms, and extent of direct government provision.

If anybody’s aware of anything like this, please share.

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Today is Brexit Day. As of 6:00 P.M. EST (Midnight in Brussels), the United Kingdom no longer will be a member of the European Union.

This is definitely good news in the long run since the U.K. will now be somewhat insulated from inevitable economic crises caused by the European’s Union’s dirigiste economic model and grim demographic outlook.

Whether it’s also good news in the short run depends mostly on decisions in London, such as whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Tory government expand economic freedom (which should be the case, but there are worrisome signs that the spending burden will increase).

But Washington and Brussels also will play a role since the U.K. wants to sign free-trade agreements. This could be a problem since the E.U. will be tempted to behave in a spiteful manner and Trump and his trade team are protectionists.

But let’s set that aside for the moment and look at the big picture.

The Wall Street Journal nicely summarized the key takeaways in yesterday’s editorial about Brexit.

The EU was founded on the notion that only an ever-deeper economic union—with an ever-closer political union close on its heels—could secure peace and prosperity… Most continental political leaders, if not their voters, still believe this. …British voters think otherwise. Their 2016 vote to leave the EU, ratified in December’s general election, was not a vote for war and poverty. …voters had the temerity to assert themselves despite resistance from a political and bureaucratic class invested in the status quo. …One feature of this new politics is how immune voters have become to economic scaremongering… Britons instead have heard European anxiety that Brexit will trigger a “race to the bottom” on economic policy. What this really means is that EU politicians are aware that a freer economy more open to commerce at home and trade outside the EU would deliver more prosperity to more people than continental social democracy. British voters may not embrace this open vision in the end, but they’ve given themselves the choice. …All of this frightens so-called good Europeans…because it’s a direct challenge to…their “European project.” Central to this worldview is a distrust of…markets… A Britain with greater political independence and deep trading ties to Europe without all the useless red tape and hopeless centralizing could be a model. …Britain’s voters in 2016, and again in 2019, chose peaceful and prosperous coexistence with their neighbors rather than mindless but relentless integration. It’s the most consequential choice any European electorate has made in at least a generation.

Amen.

Brexit is very good news (December’s election in the U.K., which ensured Brexit, was the best policy-related development of 2019).

It means more jurisdictional competition, which is good news for those of us who want some sort of restraint on government greed.

And it means less power for the E.U. bureaucracy, which has a nasty habit of trying to export bad tax policy and bad regulatory policy.

Brexit also is a victory for Nigel Farage. Here are his final remarks to the European Parliament.

Farage has been called the “most consequential political figure in a generation in Europe, perhaps the whole of the West.”

This actually may be true. Brexit almost surely happened because of Farage’s efforts.

And to achieve that goal in the face of unified establishment opposition is truly remarkable.

Speaking of establishment opposition, let’s close today with an updated version of a PG-13 song about how the British people responded to the practitioners of “Project Fear.”

P.S. You can enjoy other Farage speeches by clicking here, here, and here.

P.P.S. And you can enjoy more Brexit-themed humor by clicking here, here, and here.

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I’m part of the small minority that thinks the big news from the United Kingdom is that “Brexit” will finally happen, thanks to Boris Johnson’s landslide victory last month.

Most everyone else seems more focused on the latest development with the royal family. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, better known as Harry and Meghan, have decided to partially extricate themselves from the cloistered world of the monarchy – in part so they can take advantage of “the freedom to make a professional income.”

More power to them, I guess, if they can monetize their celebrity status.

The U.K.-based Economist expects that they’ll rake in lots of money.

In stepping down as “senior royals” while pronouncing that they “value the freedom to make a professional income” the Duke and Duchess threaten to unleash the spirit of capitalism on the very core of the monarchy. …The Sussexes are determined to turn themselves into a global brand. Their first move after they announced that they were stepping down from many of their royal duties was to unveil the name of their brand, Sussex Royal… Various branding experts have pronounced that Harry and Meghan have “a ready-made brand” that could earn them as much as £500m in their first year. InfluencerMarketingHub, a website, points out that, with 10m Instagram followers, they could expect $34,000 for a sponsored post. …They will need more than Prince Harry’s inheritance, which is estimated at £20m-30m, to keep up with the global super-rich.

I don’t have a rooting interest in their financial success. Indeed, I suspect they’ll wind up being annoying hypocrites like Harry’s dim-bulb father, lecturing us peasants about our carbon footprints while they fly around the world in private jets.

That being said, I am interested in the intricacies of international taxation.

And that will be a big issue for the couple according to Town and Country.

Now that Meghan and Harry intend to retreat from their royal roles, attain “financial independence,” and live part-time in North America, Meghan and Archie’s tax and citizenship plans are a little up in the air. …Meghan is still a US citizen, and therefore required to pay US taxes on her worldwide income. Prince Harry could technically elect to be treated as a US tax payer and file jointly with Meghan, but “he would never do that,” explains Dianne Mehany, a lawyer specializing in international tax planning. …When Meghan and Harry announced their engagement back in 2017, Harry’s communications team confirmed to the BBC that Meghan “intends to become a UK citizen and will go through the process of that.” …Once gaining UK citizenship, Meghan could elect to relinquish her US citizenship, and save herself the trouble and expense of filing US tax returns. “The only problem there is, she would have to pay the exit tax,” Mehany notes…regardless of what type of employment or contract work Meghan pursues, it will be taxable in the US. …”The real tricky thing,” Mehany notes, “is to make sure they don’t spend too much time in the United States, so that Harry becomes a resident of the United States, at which point his entire worldwide wealth would become subject to US taxation, which I know they want to avoid.”

For all intents and purposes, Meghan and Harry will face the same challenges as a multinational company.

  • Multinational companies have to figure out where to be “domiciled” just as Meghan and Harry have to figure out the best place to reside.
  • Multinational companies have to figure out where to conduct business, just as Meghan and Harry have to figure out where they will work.
  • Multinational companies have to figure out how to protect their income from taxes, just as Meghan and Harry will try to protect their income.

For what it’s worth, the Royal couple already is being smart.

As reported by the U.K.-based Telegraph, they’re minimizing their exposure to the rapacious California tax system.

The Duchess of Sussex has moved her business to a US state used by the super-rich to protect their interests from scrutiny. The Duchess’s company Frim Fram Inc was moved out of California in December and incorporated in Delaware, which tax experts suggest could be done to avoid being hit with tax liabilities in California. …the move was made on New Year’s Eve…”You would want to do it on New Year’s Eve simply because if you go one minute into the next year you would owe some taxes to California for the year of 2020,” said Alan Stachura, from financial services firm Wolters Kluwer. …Mr Stachura, who helps companies incorporate in Delaware, added that the state offers “a tax benefit for items like trademarks and royalties”. …Experts say there are several benefits in moving a corporation to Delaware, including the state’s flexible business laws and its low personal income tax rates. …A source said that as the Duchess is no longer resident in California it was appropriate for the registration to be moved.

I can’t resist commenting on the last line of the excerpt. The fact that Meghan is no longer a resident of California is irrelevant.

After all, she’s not becoming a resident of Delaware.

Instead, she and her husband are being rational by seeking to minimize the amount of their money that will be diverted to politicians (the same is true of everyone with any sense in the United Kingdom, whether they are on the right or on the left).

It’s a shame Meghan and Harry feel too insecure to acknowledge that reality.

P.S. The Town and Country article noted that Prince Harry “would never” allow himself to become a tax resident of the United States because he wants “to avoid” America’s worldwide tax system. That’s completely understandable. He probably learned about the nightmare of FATCA after marrying Meghan and wants to make sure he’s never ensnared by America’s awful internal revenue code.

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I’m on my way back to the United States from England. My election-week coverage (starting here and ending here) is finished, but I’m still in the mood to write about the United Kingdom.

Yesterday, I shared some “Great Moments in British Government” and today I want to look at the U.K.’s single-payer health scheme.

The National Health Service (NHS) is inexplicably popular. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn basically competed over who would dump the most money into the system.

This near-universal affection is a mystery. There’s a lot of data suggesting the system doesn’t work.

Consider these details from a column by a British doctor.

One of the most curious political phenomena of the western world is the indestructible affection in which the British hold their National Health Service. No argument, no criticism, no evidence can diminish, let alone destroy, it. …Yet again, however, the NHS is in ‘crisis.’ The British Red Cross has called the present situation an incipient humanitarian crisis, as if the country were now more or less in the same category as Haiti after a hurricane… The current NHS has a budget 50 per cent greater than it had 10 years ago. It employs 25 per cent more doctors than it did then. …but the net result, according to those who say the present situation is the worst ever, is that it is less able than ever before to perform satisfactorily its most elementary tasks such as treating emergencies promptly. …The difference in the standard mortality rate of the richest and poorest is now almost double what it was when the NHS began. …in 2014 the Commonwealth Fund of New York, a foundation whose purpose is to promote an effective, efficient and equitable health care system, published a report in which it compared 11 western health care systems. …The measure on which it was next to worst was the number of deaths preventable by health care. …thousands of people die every year in Britain who would have been saved in any other country in Europe.

Here are some passages from a recent editorial by the Wall Street Journal.

The NHS managed to treat only 83.6% of emergency-room patients within four hours in October, compared to 89.1% a year earlier and well short of the government’s target of 95%. …The NHS also missed its target for 93% of patients with suspected cancer to be seen by a specialist within two weeks of referral by a family doctor. In September, 90.1% of patients saw a specialist within two weeks, down from 91.2% in September 2018. A bureaucrat or Senator Elizabeth Warren might think that’s good enough for government work. But it’s definitely not for the nearly 10% of patients and their families who had to live with a suspected cancer diagnosis… Politicians who want a U.S. version of the NHS via Medicare for All should explain why they want Americans to catch this British disease.

Here are some insights from a former British hospital director.

…the people at the very top of the NHS’s regional and national organisations still truly believe in command and control. They are the only people left who still believe in the power of the five year plan to solve pressing public policy problems. They set targets in the same way as the managers of the Soviet tractor factories… The hospital I was involved in had a problem with its A&E waiting times. We were provided with “help” from multiple NHS intervention teams. There were so many of them that they arrived in a bus… Each of them wanted slightly different information, each had a different view of what the problem was… After several weeks of this they came up with an action plan containing 147 individual actions, each of which then had to be measured and monitored and reported back to the intervention teams. We all knew that the action plan was there to tick the box required by the central bureaucracy, not to solve the problem. …Every profession has its own powerful union, dressed up as a professional body, that is quite happy to hold their employer to ransom. When I was on the hospital board it took two years of negotiations to get the pharmacists to work shifts so that the pharmacy could stay open until 7pm.

Even the left-leaning Guardian recognizes there are major problems.

British households will need to pay an extra £2,000 a year in tax to help the NHS cope with the demands of an ageing population, according to a new report that highlights the unprecedented financial pressures on the health system. …The report said the NHS has been struggling to cope… Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which commissioned the report and represents 85% of NHS bodies, said: “This report is a wake-up call. And its message is simple – if we want good, effective and safe services, we will have to find the resources to pay for them.” …“If we are to have a health and social care system which meets our needs and aspirations, we will have to pay a lot more for it over the next 15 years. This time we won’t be able to rely on cutting spending elsewhere – we will have to pay more in tax…” The report said…the money would have to be found from the three main sources of government revenue: income tax, VAT or national insurance.

An expert from the U.K.’s Taxpayers Alliance exposes some warts in the NHS.

Hardly a day goes by without stories of how cash-strapped the service is and how it is on the brink of collapse. According to pretty much everyone in the newspapers, on the TV, and on social media the solution is simple – more money. …The NHS is certainly in a sickly state, but more money is not the solution. International league tables frequently rank the NHS near the bottom in terms of healthcare quality. Moreover, the UK ranks 19th out of 23 for mortality amenable to healthcare and 20th out of 24 developed countries for cancer survival. The failings of the NHS are perhaps best summed up by The Guardian…: “The only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive”. …A specific ‘NHS tax’ is a particularly bad idea. …throwing more money at the NHS is not an adequate solution. Scotland spends more money per capita on healthcare than England, but has longer waiting times for appointments and slower response times for ambulances. …As the head of the NAO Amyas Morse observed… “Over the last ten years, there has been significant real growth in the resources going into the NHS, most of it funding higher staff pay and increases in headcount. The evidence shows that productivity in the same period has gone down, particularly in hospitals.”

Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute also reveals some NHS shortcomings.

The United Kingdom’s single-payer system is in turmoil. It’d be foolish to import that failed model. The NHS has rationed care for decades. But wait times and delays have gotten markedly worse in recent months. The NHS recently canceled 55,000 non-urgent operations… Last month, nearly 15 percent of emergency-room patients had to wait more than four hours to be seen by a physician. The conditions are so bad in U.K. hospitals that, in a letter to the nation’s government, 68 British emergency room physicians recently complained about patients “dying prematurely in corridors” as a result of overcrowding. …no amount of money can fix a system in which government bureaucrats, and not markets, determine how to distribute healthcare resources.

Bruce Bawer is certainly not impressed with the NHS.

…the Brits have been brainwashed for generations into thinking their NHS is some kind of miracle. …What makes this NHS-worship especially grotesque is that the NHS, far from being successful, is a world-class disaster. Last July the BBC reported that the NHS was “increasingly” rationing such treatments as “hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery … as well as drugs for conditions such as arthritis.” …the NHS has always “covertly” rationed health care…cutting corners, canceling operations and doctor appointments, and extending already long waiting times even for urgent treatments. In October came reports that patients’ obesity and tobacco use were increasingly being used as excuses for denying them care. In November, a Cambridge University study concluded that 120,000 Brits had perished unnecessarily during the previous seven years…hospitals all over Britain — including operating rooms and maternity wards — were infested by cockroaches, maggots, insects, and rats. …the NHS is no role model. On the contrary, its history is a cautionary tale — and its prospects are nothing less than nightmarish.

Charles Hughes of the Manhattan Institute shares some grim news about the NHS’s performance.

A tracker from the BBC found that for 18 months hospitals across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have failed to meet any of their three key targets, namely four-hour waits at the emergency department, cancer care within 62 days, and treating at least 92 percent of patients for planned hospital care or surgery within 18 weeks.  Waiting lists have ballooned. As of August 2017, the most recent month of data available, 409,000 had been waiting longer than 18 weeks for hospital treatment, an increase of almost 73,000 from the previous August. The median wait now stands at 7.1 weeks. …Citizens dissatisfied with rationing and wait times are turning to alternative options, forbidden in Canada. About 10 percent of people purchase supplemental private insurance for more timely treatment, many through company offerings. …Profit-driven hospital firms have seen a 15-25 percent year-on-year increase in the number of patients paying for their treatment themselves. People are also venturing abroad in their quest to get needed medical care. According to the Office of National Statistics, the total number of people leaving the U.K. for medical care surged from 48,000 in 2014 to almost 144,000 in 2016.

Some of the rationing and delays are simply due to government incompetence.

Some of it involves targeting certain segments of the population.

The NHS will ban patients from surgery indefinitely unless they lose weight or quit smoking, under controversial plans drawn up in Hertfordshire. The restrictions – thought to be the most extreme yet to be introduced by health services – immediately came under attack from the Royal College of Surgeons. …In recent years, a number of areas have introduced delays for such patients – with some told operations will be put back for months, during which time they are expected to try to lose weight or stop smoking. …The criteria also mean smokers will only be referred for operations if they have stopped smoking for at least eight weeks, with such patients breathalysed before referral.

My understanding is that the NHS does a good job with emergency care (you get maimed in a car accident) and a decent job with routine care (your annual check-up).

But you’re in big trouble if you have a chronic condition. Like people with cancer in Scotland.

More than 1,300 cancer patients in Scotland suffered agonising delays of more than two months to start treatment last year in breach of government targets. New figures show that, on average, 110 patients every month waited longer than 62 days for medical care after they were red-flagged by doctors for suspected cancer. The disclosure has prompted a wave of fresh criticism of the SNP, which in 2007 made a manifesto pledge to “ensure” suspected cancer patients were diagnosed and treated within 62 days.

I want to close by basically replicating some of my conversations from this past week with ordinary people in and around London.

When I highlighted shortcomings of the NHS, they routinely got defensive, admitted that their system isn’t perfect, and then attacked the American health system.

I think I surprised them by then stating that the U.S. healthcare system is a convoluted mix of waste and inefficiency.

I basically tried to give them this short speech, pointing out that our problems also are caused by government.

The Brits mess up their system by having the government directly provide medical care. We mess up our system with government-created third-party payer. In either case, the results aren’t pretty.

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Technically, my coverage of U.K election week began last Monday with a look at Jeremy Corbyn’s radical statism, and ended yesterday with some analysis of Boris Johnson’s victory.

But since I’m still in England, this is an opportune time for a new edition of Great Moments in British Government.

For those who aren’t regular readers, I should add that “Great Moments” is a sarcastic term for odd stories that illustrate the incompetence and venality of government (state, local, foreign, etc).

We’ll start with a story that shows how insiders use government as a racket to enrich their lifestyles.

Local councils are spending millions on luxury cars for mayors and officials in “ceremonial” roles, an investigation has found. Over the past three years, 207 local authorities have spent more than £4.5million on vehicles including Bentleys, Jaguars and S-class Mercedes, information disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act reveals. The cars were used by mayors, lord mayors or chairmen. The TaxPayers’ Alliance, a campaign group which carried out the investigation, said the money went on officials who “often fulfil ceremonial duties within their local authority and serve as the ‘first citizen’.

Sounds like Washington’s gilded class!

For our next example, bureaucrats in the United Kingdom don’t do a very good job of teaching traditional subjects such as math and reading, so they’ve decided to try sharing their knowledge on a rather unconventional topic.

Children as young as six are being taught about touching or ‘stimulating’ their own genitals as part of classes that will become compulsory in hundreds of primary schools. Some parents believe the lessons – part of a controversial new sex and relationships teaching programme called All About Me – are ‘sexualising’ their young children. …Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday detail how All About Me classes involve pupils aged between six and ten being told by teachers that there are ‘rules about touching yourself’. An explanation of ‘rules about self-stimulation’ appears in the scheme’s Year Two lesson plan for six and seven-year-olds. Under a section called Touching Myself, teachers are advised to tell children that ‘lots of people like to tickle or stroke themselves as it might feel nice’. …In one, pupils are told that when a girl called Autumn ‘has a bath and is alone she likes to touch herself between her legs. It feels nice’.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have wanted my kids being exposed to this kind of topic, but I must admit that bureaucrats probably have some expertise on the matter.

Next, we have a story about a woman getting fined for feeding birds.

Neighbours complained about birds flocking to Maureen Francis’ garden after she began feeding them with bird seed and other food… Wiltshire Council gave Francis the protection notice after receiving complaints and told her she could only put out one ‘small caged bird feeder’. But she refused to comply with their demands, leading to the council taking her to court ‘for the sake of the neighbours’. When Francis failed to attend the hearing last week, magistrates convicted her of failing to comply with a protection notice in her absence. She was fined £250 for over feeding the animals and ordered to pay almost £1,600 in costs. Councillor Jerry Wickham, Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for public protection, said: “Our officers made numerous attempts to engage with Mrs Francis to try and resolve this problem. “We were reluctant to take legal action but for the sake of the neighbours, prosecution was the only option.”

Gives over-criminalization a whole new meaning.

Last but not least, British officials decided it’s okay if a two-second journey is replaced by a one-hour trip.

Motorists in southwest England will need to pay special attention when driving through Dorset County next week, where officials are putting a 41-mile detour around a 65-foot stretch of construction work. …The small section of road A352 in Godmanstone, Dorset, will be closed Monday through Friday while construction crews work on a new sewage system… The detour is estimated to take an hour to complete. The closed portion of the road would take just over two seconds to travel at the 30 mph speed limit. …The council acknowledged that most residents will ignore the lengthy detour and use smaller roads to get around the construction work. Anyone caught using the closed stretch of road will be fined $1,291.

A few years ago, a clever entrepreneur in the United Kingdom dealt with a similar detour by building a private toll road.

I don’t know if such an option exists in this case, but I can state with considerable confidence that this impossibly inconvenient detour wouldn’t be an option if a private road company was making a sewage repair.

Why? Because private companies cater to customers.

Which is a good excuse to re-share this classic scene from Ghostbusters.

Amen.

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I was very surprised by the 2016 election in the United States, but I didn’t have a rooting interest, so I watched the results mostly for reasons of morbid curiosity.

Because of my support for Brexit, by contrast, I was intensely interested in the results of yesterday’s election in the United Kingdom.

So you can imagine my joy when the BBC announced at 10:00 last night that Boris Johnson and the pro-Brexit Conservative Party were going to win a landslide.

Here are maps showing the results, as well the seats that changed hands (it’s a parliamentary system, so a party that wins a majority of seats can form a government).

At the risk of oversimplifying, the Conservative Party (the Tories) prevailed because they picked up dozens of working class seats. Like American Democrats (at least in 2016), the Labour Party has been captured by the urban left and lost touch with ordinary people.

But here’s the data that I find most encouraging.

When asked before the election about why they might be worried about a Corbyn government, every single group of voters (even Corbyn supporters!) was concerned that he would spend too much money.

And many of them also were concerned he would damage the economy.

Why is this data encouraging?

Because we’re always told about polls suggesting the people support bigger government. I’m skeptical of these polls because they basically ask voters whether they would like Santa Claus to exist. So it’s not a big surprise the people say they want free things from government.

This data, however, suggests that – when push comes to shove – they understand that freebies aren’t free. As Margaret Thatcher warned, left-wing governments eventually will run out of other people’s money.

Now that Boris Johnson has won and has a big majority, what comes next?

I’m assuming a genuine Brexit will happen (yes, politicians have a nasty habit of doing bad things, but I can’t imagine Johnson engaging in the level of betrayal that would be required to strike a deal for a Theresa May-style Brexit in name only).

So I’ll be watching two other issues.

  1. Will Boris become the next Margaret Thatcher? I’ve already fretted that he’s too sympathetic to big government, but hopefully he pursues a pro-market agenda. Lower tax rates and genuine federalism (explained here by the Institute of Economic Affairs) would be a good place to start.
  2. Will the U.K. and E.U. agree to a good trade deal? In hopes of avoiding regulatory competition, the European Union doubtlessly wants any future trade deal with the U.K. to be based on regulatory harmonization. That would be very bad news. The U.K. should pursue a pact based on genuine free trade and mutual recognition.

Fingers crossed for good answers to these questions.

P.S. Regarding yesterday’s election, there were some big losers other than the Labour Party. The people who sell property in places such as Monaco, Cayman Islands, Jersey, Bermuda, and Switzerland doubtlessly are disappointed that there won’t be an influx of tax refugees escaping a Corbyn-led government.

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Today’s election in the United Kingdom presumably will decide Brexit, more than three years after the British people voted to leave.

  • If Boris Johnson wins, the government will honor the results of the 2016 referendum and extricate the United Kingdom from the European Union.
  • If the other parties win enough seats to block a Tory majority, they almost certainly will undo Brexit, presumably by setting up a rigged second referendum.

So this is likely my last opportunity to share some Brexit-themed humor.

For today’s collection, we’ll start with a 1990s-era Bird & Fortune skit mocking Tory euroskepticism. Sort of Brexit-themed before Brexit.

Rather reminiscent of this example of British stereotyping.

For those who don’t really understand the ins and outs of Brexit, Europe, and the United Kingdom, here’s a video that’s guaranteed to leave you even more confused.

Next we have a PG-13 song from John Oliver, put together back in 2016 before the referendum.

You’ll notice that the song implies the U.K. would be hurt by leaving, so it’s worth noting that all the “Project Fear” predictions (the IMF being a typical example) were wildly wrong.

The U.K.’s economy has done better than continental Europe since Brexit was approved (in a just world, this would be the source of great embarrassment to the international bureaucracies and establishment voices who preached doom and gloom).

Indeed, the main selling point of Brexit is to enable more prosperity by escaping a slow-growth dirigiste European Union.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to humor. Here’s a French perspective on Brexit.

And here’s some satire from Ireland.

Here’s a joke that’s obviously anti-Brexit, but nonetheless is rather funny and worth sharing.

Since I’m disseminating lots of anti-Brexit humor today, here are some signs from people who presumably are not planning on voting for Boris Johnson.

This young lady is right about free trade, but wrong in thinking that approach requires a supranational government.

Here’s a clever mother-daughter duo.

I don’t know whether this comic is pro-Brexit or anti-Brexit, but he has a clever take on all the indecision that’s existed since the 2016 referendum (and he accurately explains the phony out-but-not-really-out Brexit that Theresa May wanted).

Speaking of indecision, we’ll wrap up with this cartoon that reflects some of the irritation that Europeans must be feeling as they wait to see what will finally happen.

 

If you want to peruse previous examples of Brexit-themed humor, I shared some satire shortly after the referendum in 2016, which included a very clever Hitler video.

I then shared some additional examples of Brexit humor earlier this year, including an amusing video message for the practitioners of Project Fear.

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For two simple reasons, I want Boris Johnson to win a clear majority tomorrow in the elections for the British Parliament.

  1. He’s not a lunatic socialist, like Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party and the British version of Bernie Sanders.
  2. He’s promised a real Brexit, meaning the U.K. escapes a doomed-to-decline, ever-more-dirigiste European Union.

Beyond that, his platform is not terribly exciting for supporters of limited government.

Which makes me all the more nostalgic for Margaret Thatcher, the only good British Prime Minister in my lifetime (just as Ronald Reagan was the only good President in my lifetime).

I’ve previously shared two great videos of Thatcher, one about the real source of government funds and the other about the poisonous ideology of class warfare.

I can’t imagine Boris Johnson giving either speech.

Or making this statement.

Or giving these remarks.

As far as I know, Boris Johnson isn’t hostile to free markets and limited government.

He just doesn’t seem animated by a desire to shrink the public sector.

Thatcher, by contrast, was so sound on such issues that “Thatcherism” is now a term to describe good economic policy.

In a book review for City Journal, Alberto Mingardi celebrates Thatcherism.

Forty years on, Margaret Thatcher’s election as Great Britain’s first female prime minister still looks miraculous. …Right after World War II, Labour prime minister Clement Attlee, overly optimistic about the capacity of government to do great things, laid the foundations of the British welfare state. …The postwar economic consensus was so robust that it became known as Butskellism, since the policies of Rab Butler, the Conservative chancellor of the Exchequer from 1951 to 1955, and his Labour predecessor Hugh Gaitskell were indistinguishable. The glory days of interventionism didn’t last, however. By 1979, a third of the British workforce was employed by government, directly or indirectly, yet unemployment continued to rise throughout the 1970s. Inflation rose to double digits, exceeding 25 percent… Thatcher recognized the economic crisis as a failure of politics. She offered a gospel of government retrenchment and individual initiative that sounded outdated. She wanted to make people responsible again for their economic destinies, instead of entrusting their fates to state guidance. This meant denationalizing the British economy. Before Thatcher took office, “privatization” was a word out of science fiction; ten years after she left office, it was a global norm. She changed England and, by changing England, changed the world. …Thatcher aimed to stimulate self-reliance and independence, and she saw these virtues threatened by the culture of passivity that statism engenders. …the British political establishment always looked down on this shopkeeper’s daughter. And yet Thatcher’s defining quality, and the reason why we still speak of Thatcherism, is that she told people things that they didn’t want to hear.

And here are some excerpts about Thatcherism from a column by Roger Bootle for the U.K.-based Telegraph.

No previous British Prime Minister has had an ism named after them. …and if such an ism had been conjured up, it would surely not have been about economics. …“Thatcherism” was both substantial and essentially about political economy. …The main high intellectual influences, coming via Keith Joseph, were from Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. …Baroness Thatcher was ideological by nature. …When she first burst onto the stage it was a time for isms. Domestically, the 1970s had been a period of crisis. At various points, not just the economy but the whole system of democratic government in Britain seemed at the point of collapse. …Baroness Thatcher would have seen her ideological enemy then as “socialism”, which had brought the country low: excessive levels of government spending and taxation, lax financial discipline… Much of it was just the traditional liberal economic agenda, developed in the 19th century – free markets, free trade, competition, a small state, requiring only low levels of taxation, and financial probity. …Saying that this was just a retread of old 19th century liberalism doesn’t convey how radical these ideas were at the time, after decades in which markets were held under suspicion and even in a supposedly capitalist country like the UK, the state’s role in the economy was overwhelming. …there was more to Thatcherism than simply the liberal agenda. Classical liberalism was fleshed out with some more homespun beliefs – in value for money, efficiency, self-reliance, saving and wealth accumulation.

Warms my heart!

Speaking of which, I finally found some video of Margaret Thatcher’s famous line about socialists running out of other people’s money.

Shifting topics, nobody knows with total confidence whether Thatcher would have supported Brexit.

She was sympathetic to the original concept of Europe as a free-trade zone.

But as the free-trade pact began morphing into a pro-centralization supra-national government, she became increasingly hostile.

This video captures some of that skepticism.

For what it’s worth, I’m confident she would have been on the right side and supported Brexit.

I’ll close with an overall assessment of Thatcher’s overall economic record.

We’ll start with the United Kingdom’s score from Economic Freedom of the World.

As you can see, there was a dramatic increase in economic liberty during the Thatcher years.

The scores from EFW, which only exist in every fifth year, don’t exactly coincide with Thatcher’s tenure, but the trend is unmistakable.

Conversations with British experts lead me to state that she had three amazing accomplishments.

  1. Radical reductions in tax rates on income, with the top rate falling from 83 percent (98 percent for investment income) down to 40 percent. Unsurprisingly, the rich paid more tax with lower rates, just as happened when Reagan lower the top tax rate.
  2. Ending capital controls, meaning that people actually had the freedom to take money out of the country (many supposed experts advised against this liberalization, much as so-called experts advised Erhardt not to remove price controls in post-WWII Germany).
  3. Industry privatization, which meant undoing the pure socialist policies that resulted in the nationalization of major industries (gas, telecom, steel, coal, transport, etc) and gave government ownership and control over the means of production.

Her only notable bad policy is that she increased the value-added tax.

I also give Thatcher credit for a better-than-expected record on spending restraint (the same is true for David Cameron), and I also think she deserves praise from helping to bring inflation under control.

To be sure, this simplified assessment only skims the surface. And it doesn’t address “sins of omission,” such as her inability to pare back the the country’s creaky government-run health care system (though she did some incremental reforms, such as internal markets).

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that Thatcher was an amazingly successful Prime Minister. For all intents and purposes, she saved the United Kingdom.

P.S. If you want to see my assessments of American presidents, I’ve looked at Reagan, Clinton, Hoover, Nixon, the second Bush, and Obama.

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I realize the prospect of a hard-core socialist government for the United Kingdom isn’t funny. Nor is it amusing to think that the political class could undo Brexit and leave the country trapped inside a slowly dying European Union.

So many people are in no mood to laugh about what might happen in Thursday’s election.

Nonetheless, here’s some election-themed humor from London.

We’ll start with this modernized version of this classic scene from Love, Actually.

But two can play at this game.

Here’s an ad from a Labour candidate.

Let’s not forget that there’s another political party, the Liberal Democrats.

Though they are a distant third place.

Unless, of course, pollsters are very creative in how they ask questions.

As is the case in the United States, many voters in the United Kingdom are not happy with their choices.

So this cartoon, featuring Guy Fawkes, who tried – but failed – to blow up Parliament in the early 1600s, makes a lot of sense.

Let’s close with some attention to the major candidates for Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party has a reputation for liking the opposite sex (sort of a British version of Bill Clinton).

Which has created some opportunities for amusing satire.

Most of the humor involving Jeremy Corbyn, by contrast, revolves around his statist ideology.

For instance, here’s an Advent Calendar from the Labour Party.

And here’s a look at the future if Corbyn wins the election.

Brits will have free broadband, but maybe not anything else.

Reminds me of this satirical poster from Obama’s 2012 campaign.

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I’m currently in London for discussions about public policy, particularly the potential for the right kind of free-trade pact between the United States and United Kingdom.

I deliberately picked this week for my visit so I also could be here for the British election. As a big fan of Brexit, I’m very interested in seeing whether the U.K. ultimately will escape the slowly sinking ship otherwise known as the European Union.

But the election also is an interesting test case of whether people are willing to vote for socialism. The Brits actually made this mistake already, voting for Clement Attlee back in 1945. That led to decades of relative decline, culminating in a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Margaret Thatcher then was elected in 1979 to reverse Attlee’s mistakes and she did a remarkable job of restoring the British economy.

But do voters understand this history?

We’ll find out on Thursday because they’ll have the opportunity to vote for the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, who is the British version of Bernie Sanders.

And he doesn’t hide his radical vision for state control of economic life. Here’s how the Economist describes Corbyn’s agenda.

…the clear outlines of a Corbyn-led government emerged in the manifesto. Under Labour, Britain would have a larger, deeper state… Its frontiers would expand to cover everything from water supply to broadband to how much a landlord may charge a tenant. Where the state already rules, such as in education or health, the government would go deeper, with the introduction of free child-care for pre-schoolers and a “National Care Service” for the elderly. …The government would spend £75bn on building 100,000 council homes per year, paid for from a £150bn “transformation fund”, a pot of money for capital spending on public services. Rent increases would be capped at inflation. The most eye-catching proposal, a plan to nationalise BT’s broadband operations and then offer the service free of charge… Surviving policies from 2017 include a plan to nationalise utilities, alongside Royal Mail and the rail network, and a range of new rights for workers, from a higher minimum wage to restored collective-bargaining rights. All told, government spending would hit 45.1% of GDP, the highest ratio in the post-war era outside of a recession and more than in Germany… To pay for it all, very rich people and businesses would be clobbered. Corporation tax would rise to 26% (from 19% now), which Labour believes, somewhat optimistically, would raise another £24bn by 2024.

As reported by City A.M., the tax increases target a small slice of the population.

Jeremy Corbyn…is planning to introduce a new 45 per cent income tax rate for those earning more than £80,000 and 50 per cent on those with incomes of £125,000 or more. The IFS…estimates that would affect 1.6m people from the outset, rising to 1.9m people by 2023-24. Labour’s policy would add further burden to the country’s biggest tax contributors, with the top five per cent of income tax payers currently contributing half of all income tax revenues, up from 43 per cent just before the financial crisis.  But the IFS warned the amount this policy would raise was “highly uncertain”, with estimates ranging from a high of £6bn to an actual cost of around £1bn, if the policy resulted in a flight of capital from the UK. Lawyers have previously warned that high net worth individuals are poised to shift billions out of the country in the event of a Corbyn government.

Is that a smart idea?

We could debate the degree to which upper-income taxpayers will have less incentive to be productive.

But the biggest impact is probably that the geese with the golden eggs will simply fly away.

Even the left-leaning Guardian seems aware of this possibility.

The super-rich are preparing to immediately leave the UK if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, fearing they will lose billions of pounds if the Labour leader does “go after” the wealthy elite with new taxes, possible capital controls and a clampdown on private schools. Lawyers and accountants for the UK’s richest families said they had been deluged with calls from millionaire and billionaire clients asking for help and advice on moving countries, shifting their fortunes offshore and making early gifts to their children to avoid the Labour leader’s threat to tax all inheritances above £125,000. …Geoffrey Todd, a partner at the law firm Boodle Hatfield, said many of his clients had already put plans in place to transfer their wealth out of the country within minutes if Corbyn is elected. …“There will be plenty of people on the phone to their lawyers in the early hours of 13 December if Labour wins. Movements of capital to new owners and different locations are already prepared, and they are just awaiting final approval.” …On Thursday, Corbyn singled out five members of “the elite” that a Labour government would go after in order to rebalance the country. …The shadow Treasury minister Clive Lewis went further than the Labour leader, telling the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “Billionaires shouldn’t exist. It’s a travesty that there are people on this planet living on less than a dollar a day.

Some companies also are taking steps to protect shareholders.

National Grid (NG.) and SSE (SSE) are certainly not adopting a wait-and-see approach to the general election. Both companies have moved ownership of large parts of their UK operations overseas in a bid to soften the blow of potential nationalisation. With the Labour manifesto reiterating the party’s intention to bring Britain’s electricity and gas infrastructure back into public ownership, energy companies (and their shareholders) face the threat of their assets being transferred to the state at a price below market value.

The Corbyn agenda violates the laws of economics.

It also violates the laws of math. The Labour Party, for all intents and purposes, wants a big expansion of the welfare state financed by a tiny slice of the population.

That simply doesn’t work. The numbers don’t add up when Elizabeth Warren tries to do that in the United States. And an expert for the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes that it doesn’t work in the United Kingdom.

The bottom line is that Corbyn and his team are terrible.

That being said, Boris Johnson and the current crop of Tories are not exactly paragons of prudence and responsibility.

They’re proposing lots of additional spending. And, as City A.M. reports, Johnson also is being criticized for promising company-specific handouts and protectionist rules for public procurement.

In a press conference today, Johnson promised to expand Britain’s state aid regime once the UK leaves the EU. “We will back British businesses by introducing a new state aid regime which makes it faster and easier for the government to intervene to protect jobs when an industry is in trouble,” a briefing document said. Head of regulatory affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) Victoria Hewson said support for state aid was “veiled support for cronyism.” …A spokesperson for the Institute of Directors said: “It’s not clear how these proposals will fit with ambitions of a ‘Global Britain’. The Conservatives must be wary of opening a can of worms on state aid, it’s important to have consistent rules in place to resist the impulse of unwarranted protectionism.” Johnson also promised to introduce a buy British rule for public procurement. …IEA economics fellow Julian Jessop said: “A ‘Buy British’ policy is pure protectionism, and it comes with heavy costs.

Perhaps this is why John O’Connell of the Taxpayers Alliance has a rather pessimistic view about future tax policy. Here are excerpts of a column he wrote for CapX.

Theresa May’s government implemented a series of big state, high tax policies. Promises of no strings attached cash for the NHS; new regulations on net zero; tax cuts shelved and the creation of more quangos. After his surprise non-loss in the election, Corbyn shifted even further to the political left, doubling down on his nationalisation plans. All in all, the 2017 election result was terrible for people who believe in a small state. …A report from the Resolution Foundation found that government spending is rising once again, and likely to head back towards the heights of the 1970s over the coming years. The Conservatives’ recent spending review suggests state spending could be 41.3% of GDP by 2023, while Labour’s spending plans could take it to 43.3%. This compares to the 37.4% average throughout the noughties. Based on the manifestos, Labour are working towards a German-sized state, while the Tories’ plan looks more Dutch. Unsurprisingly we see this mirrored by the tax burden, which at 34.6% of GDP has already reached a fifty-year high. It is likely to increase further. …British taxpayers are presented with something of a Hobson’s choice: Boris Johnson will see taxes increase and spending shoot up, while Jeremy Corbyn has £1.2 trillion worth of unfunded spending rises just waiting to become unimaginable tax hikes for everyone. Whoever you vote for, you’ll get higher taxes, the question is just about how high.

Let’s close by looking at the big picture.

Here’s a chart showing the burden of government spending in the United Kingdom since 1900. I’ve augmented the chart to show the awful trend started by Attlee (in red) and then the positive impact of Thatcher (in green).

You can also see that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did a bad job early this century, followed by a surprisingly good performance by David Cameron.

Now it appears that British voters have to choose between a slow drift in the wrong direction under Boris Johnson or a rapid leap in the wrong direction under Jeremy Corbyn.

Normally I would be rather depressed by such a choice. I’m hoping, however, that Brexit (assuming it actually happens!) will cause Boris Johnson to make smart choices even if he is otherwise tempted to make bad choices.

P.S. Unsurprisingly, Corbyn has been an apologist for thugs and dictators.

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I’m glad that Boris Johnson is Prime Minister for the simple reason that “Brexit” is far and away the most important issue for the United Kingdom.

Whether it’s called a Clean Brexit or Hard Brexit, leaving the European Union is vital. It means escaping the transfer union that inevitably will be imposed as more EU nations suffer Greek-style fiscal chaos. And a real Brexit gives the UK leeway to adopt market-friendly policies that currently are impossible under the dirigiste rules imposed by Brussels.

But just because Johnson appears to be good on Brexit, this doesn’t mean he deserves good grades in other areas. For instance, the UK-based Times reports that the Prime Minister is on a spending spree.

Boris Johnson is planning to spend as much on public services as Jeremy Corbyn promised at the last election and cannot afford the tax cuts he pledged in the Tory leadership campaign, a think tank has warned. The prime minister’s proposed spending spree would mean Sajid Javid, the chancellor, overshooting the government’s borrowing limit by £5 billion in 2020-21, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said that the government was “adrift without any fiscal anchor”.

Ugh, sounds like he may be the British version of Trump. Or Bush, or Nixon.

In a column for CapX, Ben Ramanauskas warns that more spending is bad policy.

…with Sajid Javid making a raft of spending announcements, it would seem as though the age of austerity really is over. …So it would be useful to look back over the past decade and answer a few questions. Does austerity work? …As explained in the excellent new book Austerity: When it Works and When it Doesn’t  by Alberto Alesina, Carlo Favero, and Francesco Giavazzi, it depends what you mean by austerity. …The authors analyse thousands of fiscal measures adopted by sixteen advanced economies since the late 1970s, and assess the relative effectiveness of tax increases and spending cuts at reducing debt. They show that…spending cuts are much more successful than tax increases at reducing the growth of debt, and can sometimes even result in output gains, such as in the case of expansionary austerity. …Which brings us onto our next question: did the UK actually experience austerity? …the government’s programme was a mild form of austerity. …Then there is the politics of it all. It’s important to remember that fiscal conservatism can be popular with the electorate and it worked well in 2015 and to a lesser extent in 2010. The Conservatives should not expect to win the next election by promising massive increases in public spending.

Moreover, good spending policy facilitates better tax policy.

Or, in this case, the issue is that bad spending policy makes good tax policy far more difficult.

And that isn’t good news since the U.K. needs to improve its tax system, as John Ashmore explains in another CapX article.

…the Tax Foundation…released its annual International Tax Competitiveness Index. The UK came 25th out of 36 major industrialised nations. For a country that aims to have one of the world’s most dynamic economies, that simply will not do. …Conservatives…should produce a comprehensive plan for a simpler, unashamedly pro-growth tax system. And it should be steeped in a political narrative about freedom… Rates are important, but so is overall structure and efficiency. …a more generous set of allowances for investment, coupled with a reform of business rates would be a great place to start. We know the UK has a productivity problem, so it seems perverse that we actively discourages investment. …As for simplicity, …it’s possible to drastically reduce the number of taxes paid by small businesses without having any effect on revenue. Accountants PwC estimate it takes 105 hours for the average UK business to file their taxes… Another area the UK falls down is property taxes, of which Stamp Duty Land Tax is the most egregious example. It’s hard to find anyone who thinks charging a tax on people moving house is a good idea…in the longer term there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned economic growth – creating the world’s most competitive tax system would be a fine way to help deliver it.

To elaborate, a “more generous set of allowances for investment” is the British way of saying that the tax code should shift from depreciation to expensing, which is very good for growth.

And simplicity is also a good goal (we could use some of that on this side of the Atlantic).

The problem, of course, is that good reforms won’t be easy to achieve if there’s no plan to limit the burden of government spending.

It’s too early to know if Boris Johnson is genuinely weak on fiscal issues. Indeed, friends in the UK have tried to put my mind at ease by asserting that he’s simply throwing around money to facilitate Brexit.

Given the importance of that issue, even I’m willing to forgive a bit of profligacy if that’s the price of escaping the European Union.

But, if that’s the case, Johnson needs to get serious as soon as Brexit is delivered.

Let’s close by looking at recent fiscal history in the UK. Here’s a chart, based on numbers from the IMF, showing the burden of spending relative to economic output.

Margaret Thatcher did a good job, unsurprisingly.

And it’s not a shock to see that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown frittered away that progress.

But what is surprising is to see how David Cameron was very prudent.

Indeed, if you compared spending growth during the Blair-Brown era with spending growth in the Cameron-May era, you can see a huge difference.

Cameron may not have been very good on tax issues, but he definitely complied with fiscal policy’s golden rule for spending.

Let’s hope Boris Johnson is similarly prudent with other people’s money.

P.S. If you want some Brexit-themed humor, click here and here.

P.P.S. If you want some unintentional Brexit-themed humor, check out the IMF’s laughably biased and inaccurate analysis.

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I was interviewed yesterday about the economy. That meant talking about new jobs numbers, as well as speculating on what’s happening with the Federal Reserve.

For today’s column, though, I want to share the part of the interview that focused on the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union.

If “Brexit” actually happens, there will be diminished trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union. That will be bad for both sides.

That being said, I pointed out that the United Kingdom is better positioned to prosper after Brexit. That’s definitely the case in the long run, but I think it could be true even in the short run.

By the way, at the end of this clip, I should have stated that the European Union doesn’t want to strike a mutually beneficial deal.

The crowd in Brussels was more than happy with the Brexit-in-Name-Only pact they imposed on the hapless Theresa May.

But the bureaucrats are so upset with Brexit that they won’t agree to a free trade agreement that would be good for both parties.

Since we’re on the topic of Brexit, here’s a radio interview I did with KABC, one of the big stations in Los Angeles. I had much more time to explore nuances, including the fact that the opposition parties don’t want an election since they fear it will produce a strong majority in favor of a Clean Brexit.

There are three things about the interview worth highlighting.

  • First, as I explain starting about 3:15, Brexit is like refinancing a mortgage. It might cost a bit in the short run, but it makes sense because of the long-run savings. Indeed, that was my main argument when I wrote “The Economic Case for Brexit” back in 2016, before the referendum.
  • Second, as I explain starting about 6:15, the same people who oppose Brexit were also the ones who wanted the U.K. to be part of the euro (the European Union’s common currency). Given what’s happened since, including bailouts, joining the euro would have been a big mistake.
  • Third, starting about 11:50, I put forth an analogy – involving a hypothetical referendum to repeal the income tax in the United States – to illustrate why the issue is arousing so much passion. This is basically the last chance Britons have to reclaim self-government.

By the way, returning to the second point, the anti-Brexit crowd were the ones who tried to scare voters (“Project Fear”) by claiming a vote for Brexit would tip the U.K. into recession.

They were wrong on the euro, they were wrong on the economic response to the Brexit vote, and they’re wrong about actual Brexit.

In America, we say three strikes and you’re out.

P.S. If you want Brexit-themed humor, click here and here.

P.P.S. There’s academic evidence that E.U. membership undermines prosperity.

P.P.P.S. The International Monetary Fund has consistently put out sloppy and biased research in hopes of deterring Brexit.

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Assuming the goal is faster growth and higher living standards, there are three core principles of good tax policy.

You could call this list the Holy Trinity of supply-side economics. Simply stated, incentives matter, so it makes no sense for government to discourage the things that make a nation more prosperous.

Regarding low marginal tax rates, my left-leaning friends sometimes dismiss the importance of this principle by pointing out that they don’t pay much attention to their marginal tax rates.

I can sympathize with their skepticism. When I was first learning about public finance and studying supply-and-demand curves showing deadweight loss, I also wondered about the supply-side claim that marginal tax rates mattered. Even after I started working, I had doubts. Would I somehow work harder if my tax rate fell? Or goof off if my tax rate went up? It didn’t make much sense.

What I didn’t recognize, however, is that I was looking at the issue from the perspective of someone working a standard, 9-to-5 job with a modest income. And it is true that such workers are not very responsive (especially in the short run) to changes in tax rates.

In the real world, though, there are lots of people who don’t fit that profile. They have jobs that give them substantial control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

And these people – such as business owners, professionals, second earners, investors, and entrepreneurs – often are very responsive to changes in marginal tax rates.

We have a new example of this phenomenon. Check out these excerpts from a story in the U.K.-based Times.

About three quarters of GPs and hospital consultants have cut or are planning to cut their hours… About 42 per cent of family doctors and 30 per cent of consultants have reduced their working times already, claiming that they are being financially penalised the more they work. A further 34 per cent and 40 per cent respectively have confirmed that they plan to reduce their hours in the coming months… The government has launched an urgent consultation over the issue, which is the result of changes to pension rules limiting the amount that those earning £110,000 or more can pay into their pensions before they are hit with a large tax bill.

In other words, high tax rates have made leisure more attractive than work. Why work long hours, after all, if the tax authority is the biggest beneficiary?

There are also indirect victims of these high tax rates.

Last month figures from NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, showed that waiting lists had climbed by up to 50 per cent since April as doctors stopped taking on extra shifts to avoid the financial penalties. Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA GPs’ committee, said: “These results show the extent to which GPs are being forced to reduce their hours or indeed leave the profession altogether because of pension taxes. …swift and decisive action is needed from the government to end this shambolic situation and to limit the damage that a punitive pensions taxation system is inflicting on doctors, their patients and across the NHS as a whole.”

The U.K.’s government-run health system already has plenty of problems, including long wait times and denial of care. The last thing it needs is for doctors and other professionals to cut back their hours because politicians are too greedy.

The moral of the story is that tax rates matter. Depending on the type of person, they can matter a lot.

This doesn’t mean tax rates need to be zero (though I like that idea).

It simply means that taxes impose costs, and those costs become increasingly apparent as tax rates climb.

P.S. If you want a horror story about marginal tax rates, check out what happened to Cam Newton, the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers.

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Back in 2016, I wrote “The Economic Case for Brexit.”

My argument was based on the fact the European Union was a slowly sinking ship, both because of grim demographics and bad public policy.

Getting in a lifeboat can be unnerving, but Brexit was – and still is – better than the alternative of continued E.U. membership.

But not everyone shared my perspective.

The BBC reported that year that Brexit would produce terrible consequences according to the International Monetary Fund.

Christine Lagarde said she had “not seen anything that’s positive” about Brexit and warned that it could “lead to a technical recession”. …The IMF said in a report on the UK economy that a leave vote could have a “negative and substantial effect”. It has previously said that such an outcome could lead to “severe regional and global damage”. The Fund said a Brexit vote would result in a “protracted period of heightened uncertainty” and could result in a sharp rise in interest rates, cause volatility on financial markets and damage London’s status as a global financial centre.

Yet none of these bad predictions were accurate.

Not right away and not in the three years since U.K. voters opted for independence.

Not that we should be surprised. The IMF has a very bad track record on economic forecasting. And the forecasts are probably especially inaccurate when the bureaucrats, given the organization’s statist bias, are trying to influence the outcome (the IMF was part of “Project Fear”).

But a history of bias and inaccuracy hasn’t stopped the IMF from continuing to interfere with British politics. Here are some excerpts from a story earlier this week.

Boris Johnson has been warned that a No Deal Brexit is one of the biggest risks facing the global economy. In a broadside against the new Prime Minister’s ‘do or die’ pledge to leave the European Union at the end of October with or without a deal, the International Monetary Fund said a chaotic departure could cause havoc across the world. …No Deal is one of the gravest threats to international economic performance, the IMF said. …Eurosceptics have long criticised the IMF for anti-Brexit rhetoric and it has been one of the loudest opponents of No Deal, saying in April that it could trigger a lengthy UK recession.

I was both disgusted and upset when I read this story.

I don’t like when the IMF subsidizes bad policy with bailouts, and I also don’t like when it promotes bad policy with analysis.

Fortunately, I don’t need to do any substantive number crunching because Professor Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University has a superb Forbes column on this exact issue.

No sooner than Boris Johnson put his foot over the threshold of 10 Downing Street, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) offered its unsolicited advice… In a preemptive strike, the Philosopher Kings threw cold water on the idea of a no deal, asserting that it would be a disaster. …such meddling is nothing new for the IMF. Indeed, a bipartisan Congressional commission (The International Financial Advisory Commission, known as the Meltzer Commission) concluded in 2000 that the IMF interferes too much in the domestic politics of member countries.

Professor Hanke is perplexed that anyone would listen to IMF bureaucrats given their awful track record.

…the IMF’s ability to…thrive…is quite remarkable in light of the IMF’s performance. As Harvard University’s Robert Barro put it, the IMF reminds him of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 “in which the fire department’s mission is to start fires.” Barro’s basis for that conclusion is his own extensive research.  His damning evidence finds that: A higher IMF loan participation rate reduces economic growth. IMF lending lowers investment. A greater involvement in IMF programs lowers the level of the rule of law and democracy. And if that’s not bad enough, countries that participate in IMF programs tend to be recidivists. In short, IMF programs don’t provide cures, but create addicts.

This is why I’ve referred to the IMF as the “dumpster fire” of the world economy and also called the bureaucracy the “Dr. Kevorkian” of international economic policy.

By the way, here’s Professor Hanke’s table of the IMF’s main addicts.

I wrote just two weeks ago about the IMF’s multiple bailouts of Pakistan, the net effect of what have been to subsidize bigger government.

Let’s close with more of Professor Hanke’s analysis.

The original reason for its creation has completely vanished.

The IMF, which was born in 1944, was designed to provide short-term assistance on the cheap to countries whose currencies were pegged to the U.S. dollar via the Bretton Woods Agreement. …But, in 1971, when President Richard Nixon closed the gold window, the Bretton Woods exchange-rate system collapsed. And, with that, the IMF’s original purpose was swept into the dustbin. However, since then, the IMF has used every rationale under the sun to reinvent itself and expand its scope and scale. …And, in the process of acquiring more power, it has become more political.

Sadly, he is not optimistic about shutting down this destructive – and cossetted – bureaucracy.

The IMF should have been mothballed and put in a museum long ago. After all, its original function was buried in 1971, and its performance in its new endeavors has been less than stellar. But, a museum for the IMF is not in the cards. …About all we can do is realize that the IMF is a political hydra with an agenda to serve the wishes of the political elites who allow it to grow new heads.

P.S. Here’s my explanation of how the U.K. can prosper in a post-Brexit world.

P.P.S. Here’s some academic research explaining how E.U. membership has undermined prosperity for member nations.

P.P.P.S. If you want Brexit-related humor, click here and here.

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I wrote yesterday about the leadership race for the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.

The most important goal is to find a leader who will deliver a “clean Brexit,” but I also pointed out that it would be very desirable to select a Prime Minister who will support much-needed supply-side reforms to make the U.K. more attractive for jobs and investment.

Today, let’s turn our attention to the spending side of the fiscal ledger.

The accompanying table of data (from page 65 of HM Treasury’s Statistical Analyses of Public Expenditure) shows annual spending in nominal and inflation-adjusted terms, as well as the burden of spending as a share of economic output.

If you look at trends, you’ll notice a bit of progress in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher and then some backsliding last decade when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in charge.

But the most surprising results can be found this decade.

Starting in 2011, there’s been some impressive spending restraint. Nominal outlays have increased by an average of 1.7 percent annually.

And since the private sector has grown at a faster pace, that means the overall burden of government spending – measured as a share of gross domestic product – has declined.

I’ve never thought of David Cameron (Prime Minister from 2010-2016) or Theresa May (Prime Minister since 2016) as fiscal conservatives, but they deserve credit for keeping spending under control.

(Too bad we can’t say the same thing about Donald Trump!)

In any event, the new leader of the Conservative Party should maintain this approach. Or, better yet, go one step further by institutionalizing some sort of Swiss-style spending cap.

There’s also a lesson for the rest of us.

What’s happened in the United Kingdom is additional confirmation that my Golden Rule is the right approach to fiscal policy.

Nations with multi-year periods of spending restraint always get good fiscal results.

We even had such an experience in the United States (back when Republicans pretended to care about spending).

Let’s close with this chart, based on IMF data, showing what’s happened this decade in the United Kingdom.

P.S. Unsurprisingly, Paul Krugman got everything backwards when he examined U.K. fiscal policy earlier this decade.

P.P.S. While they did a surprisingly good job on spending restraint, that doesn’t change the fact that Cameron was bad on tax policy and May was a failure on Brexit.

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