Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Foreign Aid’ Category

President Trump’s new budget is getting attacked by politicians and interest groups in Washington. These critics say the budget cuts are too severe and draconian.

My main reaction is to wonder whether these people are illiterate and/or innumerate. After all, even a cursory examination of Trump’s proposal shows that the federal government will expand over the next decade by an average of 3.46 percent every year, considerably faster than inflation.

For what it’s worth, I’m sure most of the critics actually do understand that government will continue growing under Trump’s budget. But they find it politically advantageous to engage in “Washington math,” which is when you get to claim a program is being cut if it doesn’t get a sufficiently large increase. I’m not joking.

That being said, while the overall federal budget will get bigger, there are some very good proposals in the President’s budget to terminate or reduce a few specific programs. I don’t know if the White House is actually serious about any of these ideas, but some of them are very desirable.

  • Shutting down the wasteful National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Defunding National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • Terminating the scandal-plagued Community Development Block Grant program.
  • Block-granting Medicaid and reducing central government funding and control.

Today, let’s add a fifth idea to our list. The Trump budget proposes a substantial reduction in foreign aid (for numbers, see line 18 of this OMB excel file).

I hope these cuts are implemented.

In part, I want to save money for American taxpayers, but I’m even more motivated by a desire to help the rest of the world. Simply stated, foreign aid is counterproductive.

The great paradox of government-to-government aid transfers is that they won’t work if recipient nations have bad policy. Yet we also know that nations with good policy don’t need handouts.

In other words, there’s no substitute for free markets and small government. That recipe works wherever it’s tried.

My colleague at the Cato Institute, Marian Tupy, embraces the idea of less foreign aid in a Reason column.

President Donald Trump is said to be considering large cuts to foreign aid. Those cuts cannot come soon enough.

And he explains why in the article. Here’s the passage that caught my eye.

Graham Hancock’s 1994 book, The Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business, is still worth reading. As the author explains, much of foreign aid is used to subsidize opulent lifestyles within the aid establishment. “Only a small portion of [aid money],” Hancock writes, “is ever translated into direct assistance. Thanks to bureaucratic inefficiency, misguided policies, large executive salaries, political corruption, and the self-perpetuating ‘overhead’ of the administrative agencies, much of this tremendous wealth is frittered away.”

The problems are not specific to the United States. Foreign aid also is used as a scam to line the pockets of contractors in the United Kingdom.

The British aid contracting industry has more than doubled in value from £540 million in 2012 to £1.34 billion last year. The proportion of every pound of taxpayers’ aid money that is spent on consultants has risen from 12p in 2011 to 22p. …Budget breakdowns showed the public being charged twice the going rate for workers. One contractor on a project had a margin of 141 per cent between staffing costs charged to Dfid and the cost at market rates.

By the way, one study even found that foreign aid undermines democracy.

Foreign aid provides a windfall of resources to recipient countries and may result in the same rent seeking behavior as documented in the “curse of natural resources” literature. …Using data for 108 recipient countries in the period 1960 to 1999, we find that foreign aid has a negative impact on democracy. In particular, if the foreign aid over GDP that a country receives over a period of five years reaches the 75th percentile in the sample, then a 10-point index of democracy is reduced between 0.6 and one point, a large effect.

Last but not least, Professor William Easterly explains in the Washington Post that foreign aid does not fight terrorism.

President Trump’s proposed budget includes steep cuts in foreign assistance. Aid proponents such as Bill Gates are eloquently fighting back. …The counter-terrorism argument for foreign aid after 9/11 indeed succeeded for a long time at increasing and then sustaining the U.S. foreign aid budget. …the link from aid to counter-terrorism never had any evidence behind it. As it became ever less plausible as terrorism continued, it set up aid for a fall. …the evidence for a link from poverty to terrorism never showed up. …studies since 9/11 have consistently shown that terrorists tend to have above-average income and education. Even if there had been a link from poverty to terrorism, the “aid as counter-terrorism” argument also required the assumption that aid has a dramatic effect on the poverty of entire aid-receiving nations. Today’s proponents of aid no longer make the grandiose claims of aid lifting whole societies out of poverty.

Heck, foreign aid keeps societies in poverty by enabling bigger government.

Yet international bureaucracies such as the United Nations keep peddling the discredited notion that developing nations should have more money to finance ever-bigger government.

The bottom line is that people who care about the world’s poor people should be advocating for freedom rather than handouts.

P.S. If you’re still skeptical, I invite you to try to come up with an example that answers either of these two questions.

Read Full Post »

While President Trump apparently intends to waste taxpayer money for more childcare subsidies and presumably is going to duck the critical issue of entitlement reform, there is some good news for advocates of limited government and fiscal responsibility. According a recent news report., he’s not a big fan of outlays for foreign aid.

The White House budget director confirmed Saturday that the Trump administration will propose “fairly dramatic reductions” in the U.S. foreign aid budget later this month. …news outlets reported earlier this week that the administration plans to propose to Congress cuts in the budgets for the U.S. State Department and Agency for International Development by about one third. …The United States spends just over $50 billion annually on the State Department and USAID.

Trump’s skepticism of foreign aid is highly appropriate. Indeed, he’s probably being too soft on the budget for foreign aid.

Government-to-government handouts have a terrible track record. Indeed, the main impact of such transfers is to undermine good reform and enrich corrupt elites in poor nations.

Moreover, if the goal is to actually create prosperity in developing countries, there is no substitute for free markets and limited government.

Let’s look at some additional evidence about the harmful impact of aid.

We’ll start with a rather amazing admission from a 2016 study published by the International Monetary Fund.

Foreign aid is a sizable source of government financing for several developing countries and its allocation matters for the conduct of fiscal policy. This paper revisits fiscal effects of shifts in aid dependency in 59 developing countries from 1960 to 2010. …we show that upward shifts and downward shifts in aid dependency have asymmetric effects on the fiscal accounts. Large aid inflows undermine tax capacity and public investment while large reductions in aid inflows tend to keep recipients’ tax and expenditure ratios unchanged. …we find that the undesirable fiscal effects of aid are more pronounced in countries with low governance scores and low absorptive capacity, as well as those with IMF-supported programs.

Wow, I’m not a big fan of the IMF, but you have to give the authors credit for honesty. They admit that aid is especially harmful in nations that are also receiving IMF bailouts.

But the main takeaway is that foreign governments simply use foreign aid money as an excuse to raise and spend their own money. That outcome presumably should irk leftists. From my perspective, such nations have too much spending, regardless of whether it’s being financed by their own taxpayers or foreign taxpayers.

Instead, these nations should be copying the small-government policies that enabled western nations to move from agricultural poverty to middle class prosperity.

Let’s consider a couple of real-world examples.

We’ll start in South Sudan, where aid has subsidized awful behavior. Ian Birrell explains in an article for CapX.

…the fledgling state stumbles from the savagery of civil war into the horror of famine. …sadly these events also illustrate another example of the dismal failure of Western aid policies. …our politicians would be wise to stop spouting their usual nonsense about saving the world’s poor and start considering the corrosion caused by the billions already poured in to this failed state, pursuing naive ideas about state building based on floods of cash. …Experts such as the academic Alex de Waal say “looting food aid was elevated to military strategy” by militia commanders who later controlled the country. Despite these activities, $1 billion a year was handed over in aid in the years before independence, rising to $1.4 billion following arrival as the 193rd nation represented at the UN. …An estimated $4 billion was missing “or simply put, stolen”… But still aid poured in, leading to public spending per capita more than three times the levels seen in neighbouring Kenya. …there was a fake ministry of finance to deal with gullible donors and well-meaning armies of advisers, while the real version carried on under the generals with its backdoor dealings. …For all the fine words and good intentions, the West has ended up assisting and empowering a callous kleptocracy – again.

The bottom line is that foreign aid enabled and subsidized an awful government doing awful things.

Now let’s look at another African jurisdiction, only this one has been neglected by the international community.

But as Negash Tekie explains in another article of CapX, benign neglect can be a positive thing.

Over the years, the West has spent many millions to help stabilise the Horn of Africa, and alleviate the grinding poverty of many of its residents. …In Somalia, meanwhile, the international community is still trying – as it has for decades – to build a functioning government. Yet despite massive amounts in aid, …there is little hope of either building resilient and inclusive state institutions. What a stark contrast there is with neighbouring Somaliland. …Somaliland is, admittedly, desperately poor… But it is, in a volatile region, a beacon of security and stability. …Somaliland…claimed its independence from Somalia in May 1991, amid the chaos of the civil war there. But international bodies, and the African Union, have refused to recognise it.

But this absence of recognition has been a blessing in disguise.

The result has been that, without international aid and support, Somaliland has had to fall back on its own resources. In contrast to other African nations, state-building programmes and public services have been entirely financed by domestic income, rather than being supported by international donors. …countries that are dependent on aid can afford to neglect tax collection, countries without it are forced to use taxation appropriately. In 1990-2000, the Somaliland ministry of finance reported that “95 per cent of the resource that finance the activities are locally mobilised, mostly through taxation”. Not only are taxes collected in a non-coercive manner… For example, in early 2000s the government attempted to increase taxes on the private sector and proposed a VAT rate of 30 per cent, but the business sector lobbied against it and the policy was reversed. …A number of aid experts have argued that heavy dependence on external assistance undermines democracy, creates a dependency culture, diminishes political accountability and makes the state more accountable to donors than its own citizens.Somaliland is an example that…the inhabitants of the Horn of Africa can still build functioning states. …Somaliland is a lesson to the world in how to achieve successful state-building without aid.

Somaliland is far from a success story, and the article acknowledges big problems with drought, Chinese influence, and other factors, but at least there are some positive developments.

The key lesson is that the absence of aid has a very sobering effect.

And you know I get a “thrill up my leg” when I read about a place that fights against the value-added tax.

So I’m crossing my fingers that Somaliland stays independent and begins to prosper.

Let’s close by sharing a startling confession by a former senior aid bureaucrat in the United Kingdom.

Foreign aid spending is “out of control” and the department responsible for it should be abolished, according to its own former minister of state. …Grant Shapps, who was second-in-command at the Department for International Development (DfID) until 14 months ago, attacked its “profoundly worrying” tendency to “shovel cash out of the door”. …Shapps, whose criticisms are unprecedented from a former insider, said he had “agonised” for more than a year about going public. …He described how, in the Foreign Office, he would protest to African dictators about their “denial of human rights and democratic values” but “then, with my DfID hat on, I would rifle through my red box [of ministerial papers] to find cheques for hundreds of millions of pounds payable to the same countries. …Money was thrown at wasteful multilateral aid providers, such as the European Union and the United Nations, to reach the required spending level.

Too bad we don’t have enough ethical bureaucrats to blow the whistle on similar examples of waste and corruption in America’s foreign-aid system (though at least we have two former officials who were in charge of the federal government’s asset-forfeiture office and now say it should be shut down).

P.S. Next time leftists want to make a satirical video attacking libertarianism, they should use Somaliland rather than Somalia.

Read Full Post »

At the start of the year, I argued that capitalism was the way to get more growth in poor nations.

Foreign aid, by contrast, hasn’t worked very well.

…there’s a big difference between good intentions and good results. If you examine the evidence, it turns out that redistribution from rich nations to poor nations is just as counterproductive as redistribution within a society.

But don’t believe me. Professor William Easterly of NYU spent many years at the World Bank working on issues relating to economic development and he’s written entire books on the failure of foreign aid.

And here’s some of what he wrote for Cato back in 2006.

The West’s efforts…have been even less successful at goals such as promoting rapid economic growth, changes in government economic policy to facilitate markets, or promotion of honest and democratic government. The evidence is stark: $568 billion spent on aid to Africa, and yet the typical African country no richer today than 40 years ago. Dozens of “structural adjustment” loans (aid loans conditional on policy reforms) made to Africa, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America, only to see the failure of both policy reform and economic growth. The evidence suggests that aid results in less democratic and honest government, not more. …Economic development happens, not through aid, but through the homegrown efforts of entrepreneurs and social and political reformers. While the West was agonizing over a few tens of billion dollars in aid, the citizens of India and China raised their own incomes by $715 billion by their own efforts in free markets.

One of the best critiques of foreign aid was written by an Indian back in 1972. The late Minoo Masani, who began his political career as a believe in socialism, learned through experience that markets work better than handouts.

…government-to-government aid distorts the international division of labour. It comes in the way of the natural laws of the market which should decide which country should produce what. …Government-to-government loans encourage socialism, communism and Statism, concentration of power, and waste. When a government aids another government, who disburses that aid? The government of that country. Aid thus transfers economic power from the people, the industrialists, the businessmen and the people to the hands of bureaucrats and politicians. The patronage the politician can dispense increases; the politicisation of economic life goes on. So, in a very direct way, every rupee of aid given by America or any other country or the World Bank to any aided country, including India, directly strengthens the forces of Statism, socialism and communism and weakens the forces of people’s free enterprise. It also breeds irresponsibility and waste.

He makes a great point that it is private investment that produces sustainable growth, not government-to-government transfers.

…one of the greatest disadvantages of government-to-government aid is that it discourages the investment of private equity capital in these countries. It does so because when one gets government-to-government aid at cheap rates, the temptation is not to raise equity capital abroad. This is a pity because our countries need foreign equity capital desperately. When foreign capital comes into India from any part of the world, it brings in foreign plant or machinery and engages Indian labour to work on it. It takes its profits out of the country only when it makes a profit. So such investment is in the interests of the Indian people. When a government-to-government loan comes, we have to repay the capital and the interest to the foreign government, however badly the money may have been wasted by our government. This is against the interests of the Indian people. So foreign private equity capital is good for India; government-to-government loans are bad for India. Let us hope we shall be spared them from now on.

Let’s look at some real-world evidence from the modern era.

In her recent Wall Street Journal column, Mary Anastasia O’Grady explains how aid has stifled the private sector in Haiti.

…why are so many Haitians still living in such dire poverty in the 21st century? Paradoxically, the answer may be tied to the way in which humanitarian aid, necessary and welcome in an emergency, easily morphs into permanent charity, which undermines local markets and spawns dependency. …The trouble is their assumption, too often, that poverty is caused by a lack of money or resources. This produces the wrong solution, one that prescribes getting as much free stuff to the target economy as possible. …The country has also been the recipient of billions of dollars in foreign-government bilateral and multilateral aid over the last quarter century. This enormous giving has created harmful distortions in the local economy because when what would otherwise be traded or produced by Haitians is given away, it drives entrepreneurs out of business.

Mary shares a couple of concrete examples.

The country was once self-sufficient in rice thanks to the work of rural peasants. That changed, according to the testimony of one development expert in the film, in the early 1980s. That’s when Haiti opened its rice market and the U.S. began dumping subsidized grain in the country with the goal of ending hunger—and helping Arkansas rice growers with U.S. taxpayer money. Most Haitian farmers could not compete with Uncle Sam’s generosity, and they lost their customers. …Donations of bottled water, clothing, shoes and even solar panels destroy local businesses in the same way. Just ask Jean-Ronel Noel, who co-founded the solar-panel company Enersa in his garage in the mid-2000s and expanded it to more than 60 employees. He is proud of his workforce…comes mainly from Port-au-Prince’s notorious slums. …The company was doing a robust business until the 2010 earthquake. “After the earthquake we were competing mostly against NGOs . . . coming with their solar panels . . . and giving them away for free. So what about local businessmen?” As Alex Georges, Mr. Noel’s partner puts it, “The demand stopped because it’s hard to compete with free.”

And here is the problem from a national and cultural perspective.

Mr. Noel zeroes in on another related problem: “Those NGOs are changing the mentality of the people. Now you have a generation with a dependency mentality.”

In other words, handouts from rich nations are destroying the social capital of Haiti.

Let’s go back to 2009 and see what Dambisa Moyo wrote about foreign aid to her home continent.

Kibera, the largest slum in Africa…is…just a few yards from…the headquarters of the United Nations’ agency for human settlements… Kibera festers in Kenya, a country that has one of the highest ratios of development workers per capita. …Giving alms to Africa remains one of the biggest ideas of our time — millions march for it, governments are judged by it, celebrities proselytize the need for it. Calls for more aid to Africa are growing louder, with advocates pushing for doubling the roughly $50 billion of international assistance that already goes to Africa each year. Yet evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It’s increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest… Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.

She has some very grim numbers.

…aid can provide band-aid solutions to alleviate immediate suffering, but by its very nature cannot be the platform for long-term sustainable growth. …Over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Yet real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population — over 350 million people — live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades. …The most obvious criticism of aid is its links to rampant corruption. Aid flows destined to help the average African end up supporting bloated bureaucracies in the form of the poor-country governments and donor-funded non-governmental organizations. …A constant stream of “free” money is a perfect way to keep an inefficient or simply bad government in power.

If foreign aid money was “merely” wasted, that would be a bad outcome.

But that’s the optimistic version of the story.

In reality, the evidence suggests that these handouts actually subsidize bad policy in the developing world.

None of this would surprise the late Peter Bauer.

Lord Bauer was famous for observing that “government-to-government transfers . . . are an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.”

That’s good, if you happen to be a third world kleptocrat and you have a nice bank account filled with stolen funds in New York.

But if you’re a poor person in a poor country, you’re the one victimized by a bigger government that’s riddled with more corruption.

Amazingly, many western politicians accept corruption as the price of giving away money.

But this brings me back to where we started. If foreign aid achieved good results, then there would be a utilitarian case for accepting a degree of waste and corruption.

But since the evidence shows that these programs lead to slower growth and less prosperity, it’s a lose-lose-lose situation.

Here’s a video trailer for a great documentary on how foreign aid is helpful, but only for the people in charge of the programs.

Let’s close with something that probably should be called Bauer’s Paradox since I’m almost sure he said something making this point.

But until I find proof (maybe it was Easterly or some other scholar), we won’t attribute this sentiment to anyone in particular. We’ll simply go with a rather anodyne title.

But even if the title is boring, this Paradox makes a critical point. The poor nations that have become rich nations in recent decades did not rely on handouts and redistribution.

Instead, they generated growth by limiting the size and scope of government while allowing markets to function.

The nations that got the most aid, however, have stayed relatively poor.

P.S. The foreign aid bureaucrats and contractors have been the only real beneficiaries, much as the “poverty pimps” are the only real beneficiaries of the failed War on Poverty.

Read Full Post »

There are many reasons why I’m not a big fan of the United Nations. Like other international bureaucracies, it supports statist policies (higher taxes, gun control, regulation, etc) that hinder economic development and limit human liberty by increasing the burden of government

Some people tell me that I shouldn’t be too critical because the U.N. also helps poor people with foreign aid. Indeed, the U.N. has a very active project to encourage rich nations to contribute 0.7 percent of their economic output to developing nations.

I generally respond to these (in some cases) well-meaning folks by explaining that there’s a big difference between good intentions and good results. If you examine the evidence, it turns out that redistribution from rich nations to poor nations is just as counterproductive as redistribution within a society.

An article in The Economist succinctly summarizes the issue. It starts with the rationale for foreign aid.

After the second world war, a new “development economics” came to dominate policymaking…, often at the urging of international institutions such as the World Bank. It argued that poor countries were victims of a vicious circle of poverty… The answer? Rich countries should provide the capital, in the form of foreign aid. …poor-country governments should plan their economies and…competition should be restricted through monopoly rights and barriers to foreign trade.

It then describes the revolutionary thinking of the late Peter Thomas Bauer, a Hungarian-born British economist who said the developing world needed economic freedom rather than handouts.

Lord Bauer set out alternative theories that, from the 1950s to the 1970s, were heresy. …Opportunities for private profit, not government plans, held the key to development. Governments had the limited though crucial role of protecting property rights, enforcing contracts, treating everybody equally before the law, minimising inflation and keeping taxes low.

Moreover, Bauer explained that foreign aid generally had a negative effect because it put resources in the hands of government, thus leveraging more statism. Which is the last thing these nations needed.

Aid politicised economies, directing money into the hands of governments rather than towards profitable business. Interest groups then fought to control this money rather than engage in productive activity. Aid increased the patronage and power of the recipient governments, which often pursued policies that stifled entrepreneurship and market forces. Indeed, aid had proved “an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.”

Writing for the U.K.-based Spectator, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson explain that foreign aid has a very poor track record.

The idea that large donations can remedy poverty has dominated the theory of economic development — and the thinking in many international aid agencies and governments — since the 1950s. And how have the results been? Not so good, actually. Millions have moved out of abject poverty around the world over the past six decades, but that has had little to do with foreign aid. Rather, it is due to economic growth in countries in Asia which received little aid.

Meanwhile, the nations getting the most handouts have remained mired in poverty.

In the meantime, more than a quarter of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa are poorer now than in 1960 — with no sign that foreign aid, however substantive, will end poverty there. …huge aid flows appear to have done little to change the development trajectories of poor countries… Why? …economic institutions that systematically block the incentives and opportunities of poor people to make things better for themselves, their neighbours and their country. …The problem is that their aspirations are blocked today…by extractive institutions. The poor don’t pull themselves out of poverty, because the basic ability to do so is denied them.

What exactly are “extractive institutions”?

At the top of the list would be bad government policy, which creates a system in which politicians, bureaucrats, and insiders get unearned wealth via corruption and cronyism.

The authors give some powerful examples.

To understand Syria’s enduring poverty, you could do worse than start with the richest man in Syria, Rami Makhlouf. He is the cousin of President Bashar al-Assad and controls a series of government-created monopolies. He is an example of what are known in Syria as ‘abna al-sulta’, ‘sons of power’. To understand Angola’s endemic poverty, consider its richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, billionaire daughter of the long-serving president. …every major Angolan investment held by dos Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business in the country or from a stroke of the president’s pen that cut her into the action.

I’d also include the wealthy Venezuelans who have used socialism as a vehicle to enrich themselves while impoverishing ordinary people.

To be sure, we have examples of insider favoritism and undeserved wealth in rich nations, but it’s a matter of degree. Cronyism is an undesirable feature of our economy, but it’s a defining feature of nations in the developing world.

So what does all this mean?

Acemoglu and Robinson basically reach the same conclusion as Lord Bauer.

When aid is given to governments that preside over extractive institutions, it can be at best irrelevant, at worst downright counter-productive. …Many kleptocratic dictators such as Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko have been propped up by foreign aid.

Now let’s shift from looking at nations where failure has been subsidized by foreign aid and instead consider the success stories of economic development. Are there any lessons we can learn?

Well, if you look at the ranking from Economic Freedom of the World, you’ll see that the formerly poor East Asian jurisdictions that are now rich also have something else in common. They rank very high or somewhat high for economic freedom

In other words, there is a recipe for growth and prosperity. Nations that restrain the size of government and allow markets to flourish enjoy growth.

Which is exactly the message of this video.

By the way, you don’t need perfection to get climb out of poverty. China still doesn’t rank very high in Economic Freedom of the World, but it has improved its position over the past few decades and that has helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. Same with India.

Yes, both nations are capable of much stronger growth with further improvements in policy, but it’s nonetheless good news that there’s been considerable improvement.

Let’s address one more issue that arises in the debate about foreign aid.

Professor Noah Smith of Stony Brook University, in a column for Bloomberg, debunks the myth that poverty in the developing world is a legacy of colonialism.

…the stolen-wealth theory is wrong. Oh, it’s absolutely true that colonial powers stole natural resources from the lands they conquered. …the stolen-wealth theory is wrong…because the theory doesn’t explain the global distribution of income today. …The easiest way to see this is to observe all the rich countries that never had the chance to plunder colonies. Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Japan had colonial empires for only the very briefest of moments, and their greatest eras of development came before and after those colonial episodes. Switzerland, Finland, and Austria never had colonies. And South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong were themselves colonies of other powers. Yet today they are very rich. They did it not by theft, but by working hard, being creative, and having good institutions.

Amen. And notice that he also mentions the tiger economies of East Asia.

P.S. Given what I wrote the other day about the statist proclivities of the OECD, here’s an item that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Even though South Africa already has an excessive burden of government, the Paris-based bureaucracy wants that nation to impose even higher taxes to fund even bigger government.

I’m not joking. The OECD just put out a document entitled, “How can South Africa’s tax system meet revenue raising challenges?” and here are some blurbs from the abstract.

…considerable revenues will be needed in the years ahead to expand social spending and infrastructure in order to raise growth and well-being. …there is some scope to raise further revenue, particularly through broadening the base of these taxes further. …An important additional source of revenue is environmentally related taxes.

Yup, you read correctly. The bureaucrats at the OECD want people to believe that South Africa’s main challenge is that government isn’t big enough. Heck, they actually want readers to believe that a more bloated public sector will “raise growth and well-being”.

Huh, bigger government is associated with more growth?!? I guess that’s why Singapore is so poor and Cuba is so rich.

What’s especially remarkable about the OECD’s anti-empirical approach is that fiscal policy is where South Africa get its lowest score in Economic Freedom of the World. It’s almost as if the tax-loving bureaucrats at the OECD are trying to keep that country from prospering.

And we’re subsidizing this nonsense to the tune of about $100 million per year.

Read Full Post »

Since I’m an advocate of smaller government, you might imagine I’m perpetually depressed. After all, I work in Washington where I’m vastly outnumbered by people who specialize in looting and mooching. At times, I feel like a missionary in a house of ill repute.

But I always look for the silver lining when there’s a dark cloud overhead. So while it’s true that government squanders our money and violates our rights, at least we sometimes get some semi-amusing stories about sheer incompetence and staggering stupidity.

Like Detroit spending $32 to issue $30 parking tickets.

The State Department buying friends.

Or Georgia’s drug warriors raiding a house because of okra plants.

FEMA house guidelines that make houses less safe in hurricanes.

Federal rules that prevent school bake sales.

Bureaucrats defecating in hallways.

Yes, I realize I also should be outraged about these examples. But I can’t help being amused as well.

So let’s add to our collection of bizarre, foolish, and wasteful behavior by government.

Here are some passages from a Washington Post exposé on mismanagement and waste at the federal department that is infamous for secret waiting lists that resulted in denied health care (and in some cases needless deaths) for America’s veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been spending at least $6 billion a year in violation of federal contracting rules to pay for medical care and supplies, wasting taxpayer money and putting veterans at risk, according to an internal memo written by the agency’s senior official for procurement. In a 35-page document addressed to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the official accuses other agency leaders of “gross mismanagement” and making a “mockery” of federal acquisition laws that require competitive bidding and proper contracts. Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, describes a culture of “lawlessness and chaos” at the Veterans Health Administration.

I confess that it’s hard to find anything amusing about this story, but I’m worried that I might go crazy if I simply focus on how a bureaucracy gets more and more money every year, yet also manages to waste money with no negative consequences.

Or maybe I just enjoy the fact that I have a new reason to mock a wasteful government department (sorry to be redundant).

Here’s an example of spending that is so silly that it’s okay for all of us to laugh. Enjoy this blurb on how tax dollars are being wasted by the foreign aid bureaucracy.

American taxpayers might come down with a case of the blues when they hear about how the State Department is spending their tax dollars. According to ForeignAssistance.gov, India has requested $88,439,000 in U.S. foreign aid for the year 2015, but the State Department plans to spend additional funds on diplomacy: music diplomacy. The U.S. Mission to India is offering a $100,000 grant opportunity titled “Strengthening US-India Relations Through Jazz.” Eligible applicants include public and private universities as well as non-profit organizations. …Another grant available to universities and non-profit groups is for a “Visual Exhibit on Indian Faith and Traditions in America.” For $75,000, U.S. taxpayers will fund a “photographic exhibit that showcases both the ways that Indian-Americans practice their faith traditions in the United States, and the ways that Indian faith traditions have been adopted by American communities.” According to the offering, “The images will capture the diversity of the Indian-American community, so that a broad range of religious traditions are depicted.

These numbers are small compared to, say, the malfeasance and waste at the Department of Veterans Affairs. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get upset in addition to being amused.

Think about it from this perspective. The amounts being wasted in this example are equal to the entire federal tax burden for several American families.

Do any of us think it’s okay to confiscate so much of their income and then have it squandered so pointlessly and irresponsibly?

Besides, the foreign aid bureaucracy is also capable of wasting huge amounts of money.

But remember that the federal government doesn’t have a monopoly on foolish and stupid behavior.

Here’s another example of inane government behavior. And you won’t be surprised that it took place in California because, as Reason reports, it involved a raid against an establishment serving probiotic tea.

Last Friday, an undercover officer from the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) “infiltrated the temple,” Vice reports, “clearing the way for a 9 PM incursion by five officers.” What manner of crazy bootlegged hooch were the agents there to confiscate? Kombucha. Blueberry kombucha. For the uninitiated, kombucha is a type of carbonated, probiotic tea, popular among hipsters and health foodies. It’s made by mixing regular tea, sugar, and a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” known as the “mother” and letting the whole business ferment for a few days. The end result is a somewhat vinegar-like beverage that’s packed with good bacteria (à la yogurt) and ever-so-slightly alcoholic….But because the tea contains slightly above 0.5 percent alcohol, it requires a special license to sell say ABC agents, who cited a Full Circle rep for misdemeanor selling alcohol without a license.

Reminds me of the story about the federal milk police at the FDA. Or the federal bagpipe police at our borders.

Don’t these bureaucrats have anything better to do with their time (and our money)?!?

P.S. How could I forget all the examples of insane anti-gun political correctness in government schools?

P.P.S. Or the examples of unconstrained stupidity at the TSA?

P.P.P.S. And the odd collection of “human rights” that governments have created.

Read Full Post »

I rarely delve into foreign policy and defense issues. And when I do, such as my post about the conflict in Ukraine, it’s usually because it gives me an opportunity to draw attention to a topic that is in my bailiwick (in the case of Ukraine, it gave me an excuse to write about federalism).

With this caveat in mind, let’s turn our attention to the Middle East. Unless you’re a hermit living in a remote cave, you presumably know that Israel is locked in another fight with Hamas.

I’ve previously explained that I’m very sympathetic to the notion that Israel has a right to defend itself.

But supporting Israel’s right to self defense doesn’t mean I should foot the bill. Yet that’s what’s happening. According to Wikipedia, Washington sends about $3 billion per year to subsidize Israel’s military.

And now that amount will be even larger because Congress just approved another $225 million to help finance Israel’s missle-defense system.

Congress approved a $225 million package to replenish Israel’s missile defenses with its last order of business before a five-week recess… The House’s 395-8 vote in favor late Friday followed Senate adoption of the legislation by voice vote earlier in the day. The money is directed toward restocking Israel’s Iron Dome, which has been credited with shooting down dozens of incoming rockets fired by Palestinian militants over 3½ weeks of war. …Iron Dome has enjoyed strong U.S. technological and financial support. Throughout its history, the U.S. has provided more than $700 million to help Israel cover costs for batteries, interceptors, production costs and maintenance, the Congressional Research Service said. The total already appeared set to climb above $1 billion after Senate appropriators doubled the Obama administration’s request for Iron Dome funding for fiscal 2015. Now it seems likely to rise even further.

But this doesn’t mean everyone is happy about all this spending.

Some libertarian-leaning fiscal conservatives opposed the added subsidies, or at least wanted Congress to come up with offsetting cuts.

Despite almost universal support for Israel in Congress, the Iron Dome money appeared in doubt only a day ago as Senate efforts stalled after an effort by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to find cuts elsewhere in the budget to pay for the aid.  …Voting against the measure in the House were…Republicans Justin Amash of Michigan, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

For what it’s worth, I applaud those four House Republicans.

I’m motivated in part by a desire to limit the burden of government spending in America, but I also think that Israel easily could afford more military outlays if it pared back its overly generous welfare state.

If you look at the IMF data, government spending consumes about 43.8 percent of Israel’s economic output. And according to the CIA Factbook, Israel’s military budget amounts to about 5.7 percent of GDP.

I’m not a math genius, but that certainly suggests to me that Israel’s government is diverting about 38 percent of economic output for non-military spending.

If national defense is important and worthwhile (and it is), then Israel should prioritize and reduce domestic outlays.

Heck, that’s what Roosevelt did during World War II and what Truman did during the Korean War. If you don’t believe me, look at lines 31-34 of this OMB spreadsheet.

By the way, some people accuse these GOPers of being anti-Israel, but I think that charge is grossly unfair. I’m not personally close to any of the Republicans who voted against the Iron Dome funding, but I’ve met and talked to all of them and I’ve followed their careers. Suffice to say that I’ve never heard even the slightest hint that any of them harbor any anti-Israel or anti-Jewish sentiments.

Indeed, here’s some of what Justin Amash wrote back in 2012.

Israel is our closest friend in a very troubled region. Our national defense benefits from Israel’s ability to defend itself and to serve as a check against neighboring authoritarian regimes and extremists. Assisting with training and the development of Israel’s military capacity allows the U.S. to take a less interventionist role in the region. I am hopeful that American troops soon can leave the region and Israel and its neighbors can live in peace without U.S. aid or involvement.

The last sentence is a pretty good description of libertarian foreign policy: Be prepared to defend ourselves, but don’t look for trouble outside our borders.

P.S. The government of Israel pays for people who do nothing but pray. Which means that my tax dollars are picking up part of the tab. Prayer is presumably a good thing. Just don’t ask me to pay for it.

P.P.S. While Israel’s government does dumb things, the governments opposing Israel sometime engage in truly evil acts.

P.P.P.S. If you want to learn more about the libertarian approach to foreign policy, my Cato colleagues are the real experts. I also call your attention to these thoughts from Mark Steyn, George Will, and Steve Chapman.

Read Full Post »

I certainly take second place to nobody in my utter contempt for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund. Who knew that forcing yourself (allegedly) on women could earn you a reputation as “the Great Seducer”? I guess my failure to understand means I’m just a backwards and provincial American.

I’m also a bit old-fashioned in my approach to economics. I don’t think people should use the coercive power of government take what they haven’t earned. That’s why I hold international bureaucracies in low esteem. Most of my efforts have focused on the OECD, a Paris-based (gee, what a surprise) bureaucracy that squanders American tax dollars on statist schemes such as their ongoing anti-tax competition campaign that persecutes countries with low tax rates.

But I’m also a big believer in kicking an enemy while he’s vulnerable, so let’s shift to the International Monetary Fund. Here are some passages from a new column by my Cato colleague Doug Bandow. He points out that the IMF has a horrible track record of promoting and facilitating big government.

…the rape charges against him symbolize the IMF: an institution of privilege that routinely acts to the disadvantage of the vulnerable. The IMF’s founding purpose vanished when the system of fixed exchange rates collapsed in the early 1970s. But instead of closing up shop (no jobs for international bureaucrats in that!), the IMF switched to promoting development. That is, it became a welfare program for Third World governments (and, more recently, for Eastern Europe and even Greece). The IMF spent decades subsidizing the world’s economic basket cases. Few, if any, advanced because of its programs. …the agency often got “wise” wrong. It often focused on narrow accounting data, with perverse consequences — such as forcing governments to raise taxes rather than cut spending. …Years ago, economist John Williamson pointed to the problem of the IMF feeling pressure “to lend money in order to justify having it.” Indeed, the IMF seems to measure success by making loans. As a result, its cash often acted as a general subsidy for collectivist economic policies. (Williamson once defended the organization against the criticism that it was too market-oriented by pointing to its loans to several unreconstructed communist states.) Indeed, the agency proudly disclaimed any bias against collectivist systems, pointing to “programs in all types of economies” which had “accommodated such nonmarket devices as production controls, administered prices and subsidies.” It sometimes seems to favor the most perverse policies. For instance, in the IMF’s first 40 years, India collected more money from it than any other developing state — at a time when India was pursuing a Soviet-style industrialization program.

Ironically, some people are arguing that it is unfortunate that Strauss-Kahn is in jail at such a critical time, with several European welfare states teetering on the edge of default.

But this is actually very good news. If there is any chance of saving Europe, it will be precisely because bailouts stop and nations are forced to finally fix the awful big-government policies that have crippled growth and bloated budgets, thus leading to fiscal crises. Doug makes this essential point in the conclusion to his column, and also makes the key argument that it’s time to stop the handouts to this corrupt and wasteful bureaucracy.

The IMF’s loans have often likely postponed reform — allowing governments to keep going without making the tough changes that lead to long-term growth. That appears to be happening in Greece now — where the Fund has pushed more lending and a bigger bail-out (to the consternation of Germany, which is picking up much of the bill). Strauss-Kahn may finally have done a true public service by focusing attention on the IMF. With America drowning in red ink, Washington should stop throwing good money at this pernicious institution.

P.S. For those who want to hoist Europeans on their own petard, Tessa Berenson has a great little column at the Frum Forum pointing out how many of the political elite on the other side of the Atlantic thought it was horrible and inexcusable when an American head of the World Bank arranged for a pay raise for his girlfriend. The Europeans were right at the time, but they now turn a blind eye at a far more odious episode today.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: