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Archive for the ‘Free Markets’ Category

My warm and fuzzy feelings for “capitalism” turn sour when someone promotes a modified version such as “common-good capitalism.”

Why? Because I worry such terms imply a Trojan Horse for statism. And that’s definitely the case with so-called “stakeholder capitalism.”

As you can see, my core argument is that stakeholder capitalism is just another way of saying cronyism. And if I was being lazy, I would simply point out that Elizabeth Warren is a big proponent of the idea. That, by itself, should convince every thinking person that it’s a bad idea.

But I’m not going to be lazy. I’m going to cite some experts to show why stakeholder capitalism is bad news.

But first, I mentioned Milton Friedman’s famous quote in the above video clip.

Here’s the full quote, and notice that he explicitly says companies should follow rules – both legal and ethical – as they pursue profits.

Friedman was advocating what is sometimes referred to as “shareholder capitalism,” which is the notion that a company should strive to earn honest profits for its owners.

So what, then is stakeholder capitalism? In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Professor Alexander William Salter warns us that it is an invitation for intervention.

…beneath the lofty rhetoric, stakeholder capitalism is mostly a front for irresponsible corporatism. …Stakeholder capitalism is used as a way to obfuscate what counts as success in business. By focusing less on profits and more on vague social values, “enlightened” executives will find it easier to avoid accountability even as they squander business resources. While trying to make business about “social justice” is always concerning, the contemporary conjunction of stakeholder theory and woke capitalism makes for an especially dangerous and accountability-thwarting combination. …profits are an elegant and parsimonious way of promoting efficiency within a business as well as society at large. Stakeholder capitalism ruptures this process. When other goals compete with the mandate to maximize returns, the feedback loop created by profits gets weaker.

Writing for the Washington Post, George Will has a similarly scathing assessment.

…everyone who values economic dynamism, and the freedom that enables this, should recoil from the toxic noun “stakeholder.” …Stakeholder capitalism violates fiduciary laws that require those entrusted with investors’ money to employ it “solely in the interest of” and “for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to” the investors. …In a dynamic society, resources are efficiently disposed by corporate managements whose primary duty, which other corporate activities do not compromise, is to maximize shareholder value… Self-proclaimed stakeholders, parasitic off others’ labor and accumulation, assert that everything is their business.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Phil Gramm and Mike Solon point out that today’s stakeholder capitalism is very similar to feudalism, which was a pre-industrial form of socialism.

…because of the misery Marxism has imposed, the world has a living memory and therefore some natural immunity to a system in which government takes the commanding heights of the economy. No such immunity exists to the older and therefore more dangerous socialism of the pre-Enlightenment world. In the communal world of the Dark Ages, the worker owed fealty to crown, church, guild and village. Those “stakeholders” extracted a share of the product of the sweat of the worker’s brow and the fruits of his thrift. …The 18th-century Enlightenment liberated…people to…own the fruits of their own labor and thrift. …These Enlightenment ideas spawned the Industrial Revolution and gave birth to the modern world… Remarkably, amid the recorded successes of capitalism and failures of socialism rooted in Marxism, pre-enlightenment socialism is re-emerging in the name of stakeholder capitalism. …the biggest losers in stakeholder capitalism are workers, whose wages will be cannibalized.

Amen. The only economic system to ever produce mass prosperity for workers is capitalism (or, if you prefer, free enterprise or classical liberalism).

And the pursuit of profit is what generates efficiency, which is economic jargon for higher living standards. And that’s good for rich people and poor people.

The bottom line is that I’m not surprised when politicians support so-called stakeholder capitalism. After all, the crowd in Washington likes to have more power.

Based on what I said at the end of the above video, I’m disappointed – but not surprised – when big businesses (such as the Business Roundtable or Larry Fink of Blackrock) embrace the idea. After all, “creative destruction” is not so appealing when you’re already as the top.

P.S. I was very amused by the left-leaning CEO who criticized Friedman, but then did exactly as Friedman recommended.

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As part of a conference organized by the Face of Liberty International in Nigeria, I reviewed realworld evidence to explain the recipe needed for poor nations to become rich nations. With an emphasis on fiscal policy, of course.

I think much of what I said is common sense backed by hard data.

Indeed, the evidence is so clear that I put together a never-answered-question challenge back in 2020 (which built upon an earlier version from 2014).

Why is it “never-answered”?

Because my left-leaning friends have never been able to provide an example, either now or at some point in the past, of a poor nation becoming a rich nation by imposing higher taxes and a bigger burden of government spending.

Yet supposed experts in economic development for decades have pushed foreign aid in failed efforts turn poor countries into rich countries.

More recently (and even more preposterously), international bureaucracies like the OECD, UN, and IMF have been arguing that higher taxes and bigger government are needed to promote economic development.

For all intents and purposes, my argument is based on the fact that western nations became rich in the 1800s and early 1900s when they had very low taxes and very small governments.

And if you don’t have 20 minutes to watch the above video, the most important charts come from a column I wrote back in 2018.

The first chart shows that there was a stunning reduction in poverty in western nations over a 100-year time period.

And the second chart shows that this near-miraculous improvement occurred before those nations had welfare states or any other forms of redistribution spending.

P.S. Rule of law (rather than arbitrary rule by kings, chiefs, emperors, and dictators) is a necessary prerequisite for growth. And weak rule of law is an even bigger challenge in the developing world than bad advice from international bureaucracies.

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Regarding Russia’s reprehensible attack on Ukraine, I’ve written three columns.

Today, let’s address the topic of foreign aid for Ukraine, specifically whether American taxpayers should help restore that country’s economy once the conflict ends.

I’ll start by recycling an observation I made back in 2014, which is that Ukraine has been an economic laggard because of statist economic policies.

More specifically, I compared Poland (which has engaged in substantial liberalization) and Ukraine (which has not) and showed a growing gap between the two nations (another case study for the anti-convergence club).

Now let’s look at some updated data from the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World.

As you can see, Ukraine is a cesspool of statism, ranking a miserable #129 out of 165 jurisdictions.

That’s lower than Russia, which is #100.

And the same is true if you look at the latest edition of the Index of Economic Freedom, which ranks Ukraine #130 and Russia #113.

At the risk of stating the obvious, giving economic aid to Ukraine would be flushing money down the toilet.

Unless, of course, western nations such as the United States somehow made aid contingent on sweeping economic liberalization.

We know what works. Don BoudreauxDeirdre McCloskey, and Dan Hannan have all explained how Western Europe and North America became rich in the 1800s and early 1900s with the tried-and-true approach of free markets and limited government.

Even a curmudgeonly libertarian like me would relax my long-standing hostility to aid under those conditions.

The odds of that happening, however, are slim to none. And I would put my money on none, as explained by the “Foreign Aid Paradox.”

P.S. Some people incorrectly claim Western Europe recovered after World War II because of government aid (the “Marshall Plan”). The real credit belongs with people like Ludwig Erhard.

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I’ve written about President Warren Harding’s under-appreciated economic policies.

He restored economic prosperity in the 1920s by slashing tax rates and reducing the burden of government spending.

I’ve also written many times about how President Franklin Roosevelt’s economic policies in the 1930s were misguided.

And that’s being charitable. For all intents and purposes, he doubled down on the bad policies of Herbert Hoover. As a result, what should have been a typical recession wound up becoming the Great Depression.

But I’ve never directly compared Harding and FDR.

Ryan Walters, who teaches history to students at Collins College, has undertaken that task. In a piece for the Foundation for Economic Education, he explains how Harding and Roosevelt took opposite paths when facing similar situations.

Both men came into office with an economy in tatters and both men instituted ambitious agendas to correct the respective downturns. Yet their policies were the polar opposite of one another and, as a result, had the opposite effect. In short, Harding used laissez faire-style capitalism and the economy boomed; FDR intervened and things went from bad to worse. …Unlike FDR, who was no better than a “C” student in economics at Harvard, Harding understood that the old method of laissez faire was the best prescription for a sick economy.

Here’s some of what he wrote about Harding’s successful policies.

America in 1920, the year Harding was elected, fell into a serious economic slide called by some “the forgotten depression.” …The depression lasted about 18 months, from January 1920 to July 1921. During that time, the conditions for average Americans steadily deteriorated. Industrial production fell by a third, stocks dropped nearly 50 percent, corporate profits were down more than 90 percent. Unemployment rose from 4 percent to 12, putting nearly 5 million Americans out of work. …Harding campaigned on exactly what he wanted to do for the economy – retrenchment. He would slash taxes, cut government spending, and roll back the progressive tide. …Under Harding and his successor, Calvin Coolidge, and with the leadership of Andrew Mellon at Treasury, taxes were slashed from more than 70 percent to 25 percent. Government spending was cut in half. Regulations were reduced. The result was an economic boom. Growth averaged 7 percent per year, unemployment fell to less than 2 percent, and revenue to the government increased, generating a budget surplus every year, enough to reduce the national debt by a third. Wages rose for every class of American worker.

And here’s what happened under FDR.

Basically the opposite path, with horrible consequences.

FDR certainly inherited a bad economy, like Harding, yet he made it worse, not better, prolonging it for nearly a decade. With the stock market crash in October 1929, the American economy slid into a steep recession, which Herbert Hoover…proceeded to make worse by intervening with activist government policies – increased spending, reversing the Harding-Coolidge tax cuts, and imposing the Smoot-Hawley tariff. …once in office FDR set in motion a massive government economic intervention called the New Deal. …under FDR taxes were tripled and new taxes, like Social Security, were added, taking more money out of the pockets of ordinary Americans and businesses alike. Between 1933 and 1936, FDR’s first term, government expenditures rose by more than 83 percent. Federal debt skyrocketed by 73 percent. In all, spending shot up from $4.5 billion in 1933 to $9.4 billion in 1940. …The results were disastrous. …Unemployment under Roosevelt averaged a little more than 17 percent and never fell below 14 percent at any time. And, to make matters worse, there was a second crash in 1937. From August 1937 to March 1938, the stock market fell 50 percent.

At the risk of understatement, amen, amen, and amen.

Sadly, very few people understand this economic history.

This is mostly because they get spoon fed inaccurate information in their history classes and now think that laissez-faire capitalism somehow failed in the 1930s.

And they know nothing about what happened under Harding.

P.S. What happened in the 1920s and 1930s also is very instructive when thinking about the growth-vs-equality debate.

P.P.S. Shifting back to people not learning history (or learning bad history), it would be helpful if there was more understanding of how supporters of Keynesian economics were completely wrong about what happened after World War II.

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For most of human history, we’ve had primitive and impoverished societies based on feudalism and tribalism.

The good news is that capitalism began to emerge a couple of hundred years. The parts of the world that adopted free enterprise became incredibly rich. And there even have been meaningful improvements in living standards in the parts of the world that only partly liberalized.

But not everyone likes economic freedom. They argue for alternatives to markets.

And they’ve put forth all sorts of ideas over the past 100-plus years. Some of them utterly reprehensible, such as communism and Nazism.

Others ideas have caused immense damage, such as socialism and fascism. And others such as corporatism and the welfare state, have undermined the benefits of free markets.

The bottom line is that none of those alternatives have worked. They’ve produced stagnation at best. And, in many cases, oppression and deprivation.

Yet our friends on the left haven’t given up. Like medieval monks searching for the Holy Grail, they desperately want to find something that can replace capitalism.

And some of those folks on the left are putting big money into the effort, as reported by Steve Lohr of the New York Times.

Wages have been stagnant for most Americans for decades. Inequality has increased sharply. …Those problems…are partly byproducts of…free markets, free trade and a hands-off role for government. Its most common label is neoliberalism. …The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network announced on Wednesday that they were committing more than $41 million to economic and policy research focused on alternatives. “Neoliberalism is dead, but we haven’t developed a replacement,” said Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation. …The Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations have pledged to join the initiative and make grants later this year. …many prominent economists have questioned the wisdom of leaving so many human outcomes to the whims of markets. …“Reducing inequality has to be a goal of economic progress,” said Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a leader of its project on reimagining the economy. …Mike Kubzansky, chief executive of Omidyar Network, said today’s economic challenges spanned partisan divisions. “I think there’s pretty broad agreement that the traditional set of economic ideas has passed its sell-by date,” he said.

As a quick aside, when folks on the left use “neoliberal” as a slur, they are using the word to depict capitalism or libertarianism (the “neo” indicating today’s version of classical liberalism).

And I also can’t resist pointing out that Rodrik needs to learn about the “Eighth Theorem of Government.”

But let’s focus on the main issue. The Wall Street Journal editorialized on the left’s search for an alternative to free enterprise and pointed out that the real goal is to give Washington more power and control.

The 20th-century economist Joseph Schumpeter famously wrote that capitalism sows its own destruction by creating a knowledge class who despise its success. Behold the Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network’s $40 million gift to the paupers at Harvard and MIT to “reimagine capitalism.” …By “reimagining capitalism,” …what these foundations really mean is putting politicians and the administrative state in charge of redistributing more of its proceeds.

Amen.

One point I’ll add is that the left’s goal may be “redistributing more,” but an unavoidable economic consequence is that the economy doesn’t produce as much.

And that’s bad news over time, even for the people who are the supposed beneficiaries.

Which is why genuinely compassionate people support capitalism, which is the only system that has a proven track record of reducing poverty.

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While specific examples can be very complex, the economic analysis of regulation is, at least in theory, quite simple.

Rules and red tape impose burdens that hinder economic activity, and this leads to higher costs for businesses and consumers.

These higher costs may be justified in some cases. That’s why it’s important to have high-quality cost-benefit analysis.

But in many cases, such analysis will show that regulation doesn’t make sense.

Fortunately, some presidents have understood that too much regulation is bad for prosperity.

Consider, for instance, the excellent track record of Jimmy Carter. We’ll start with an article by Norm Singleton for RealClearMarkets.

…deregulation was a major part of Carter’s economic agenda and one of the greatest aspects of his legacy.  It’s something that Carter and Reagan had in common, not something that set them apart. Carter—and other leading progressives at the time such as Ralph Nader—understood…Regulation frequently, if not always, benefits big businesses…at the expense of small businesses and most importantly, consumers. …the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), set airline routes, flight, schedules, and even prices. The result was 10 airlines enjoyed a de facto government-protected 90% of the air travel market: a monopoly with extra steps. This supposedly “pro-consumer” regulatory system made flying unaffordable for many Americans. Consequently, Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, ending the CAB’s power to control air travel. The result was new airlines entering the market offering lower prices and expanded routes. …Carter also pushed Congress to deregulate trucking and railroads.

Here are some details on the benefits of trucking deregulation, from a study by Andrew Crain published in the Journal on Telecommunication and High Tech Law.

The ICC was given jurisdiction over trucking companies and prevented competitive entry by rarely granting new trucking permits. The development of efficient trucks should have been a great boon to shippers. …ICC regulations, however, prevented truckers from offering those benefits to consumers. Trucking companies were forced to travel set routes at set prices. …During his presidential campaign, Carter promised to pursue deregulation. …Carter was good to his word. In 1979, he appointed three deregulation proponents to the ICC, Darius B. Gaskins, Marcus Alexis and Thomas Trantum. …In July 1980, Carter signed the Motor Carrier Act, which lifted most restrictions on entry, on the goods truckers could carry, and on the routes they could travel. …Rates fell, and trucking companies multiplied.

Jeremy Lott discusses Carter’s achievement on rail deregulation in a piece for the Washington Examiner.

The same regulatory regime had been in place since the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, which regulated railroads…with price controls and mandates…. The elected official who took the lead on changing things is the person for whom the Staggers Act is named, Democratic Rep. Harley Staggers of West Virginia, then the chairman of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. “The good thing about the Staggers Act is that it eliminated or greatly reduced federal regulation over most railroad operations that had been slowly killing the industry over decades. Freight railroads on life support were freed from rigid price controls and service mandates and quickly began to rebound, became profitable again, and U.S. freight railroads are once again the top-performing freight rail system in the world,” Marc Scribner…told the Washington Examiner. …”Over the past 40 years, rail traffic has doubled … rail rates are down more than 40% when adjusted for inflation … and recent years have been the safest on record,” the AAR said. 

And Ian Jefferies of the Association of American Railroads, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, explained how the industry has improved with less red tape.

…there was a time when both parties could agree on the benefit of…regulatory reform. The bipartisan Staggers Rail Act of 1980, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter, deregulated the freight railroad industry. …Previously, railroad rates and service were set by government, and carriers were often forced to provide service on lines lacking commercial viability. …The impact on railroads was predictable and disastrous. At one point, 1 in 5 rail miles was serviced by bankrupt railroads. …deregulation was chosen over nationalization, which would have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. …the Staggers Act not only improved service along the mainline network; it helped give birth to a short-line rail industry that today operates 50,000 miles of the 140,000-mile network that spans across the United States. …Since 1980, freight railroads have poured more than $710 billion of their own funds back into their operations. Average rail rates are 43% lower today than in 1981 when adjusted for inflation. This translates into at least $10 billion in annual savings for U.S. consumers.

Michael Derchin’s column in the Wall Street Journal notes how a retiring Supreme Court Justice played a key role in deregulating air travel.

Justice Breyer, who joined the Supreme Court in 1994 and plans to retire this summer, has cited his research for the Airline Deregulation Act as among his best and most significant work. …The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy reached out to Mr. Breyer in 1975. Kennedy…saw deregulation as key to increasing competition and making air travel more affordable. Mr. Breyer, then a professor at Harvard Law School, worked with Kennedy… The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 passed with bipartisan support and created a free market in the commercial airline industry. Government control of fares, routes and market entry for airlines was removed, and the Civil Aeronautics Board’s regulatory powers were phased out. …Since deregulation, average domestic round-trip real airfares have plunged about 60%, to $302 from $695. Load factors—the percentage of seats filled on each flight—stood at 84% just before the pandemic, compared with 55% before deregulation. In the early 1970s, 49% of U.S. adults had flown. In 2020 the share was 87%.

Here’s a chart showing how consumers have been big winners.

So what’s the bottom line?

As Phil Gramm and Mike Solon explained last year in the Wall Street Journal, the United States is still enjoying the fruits of Jimmy Carter’s deregulatory achievements.

Far from hurting consumers, as progressive myth alleges, deregulation of the U.S. transportation system unleashed a wave of invention and innovation that reduced logistical transportation cost—the cost of moving goods as a percentage of gross domestic product—by an astonishing 50% over 40 years. Airline fares were cut in half on a per mile basis, while air cargo surged from 5.4% of all shipments to 14.5% by 2012… In this Carter-Kennedy led reform, the duty of government was to protect the consumer from harm, not to protect the producer from competition. Without the productive energy released by deregulating airlines, trucking, railroads…, the U.S. might not have found its competitive legs as its postwar dominance in manufacturing ended in the late 1970s. The benefits of deregulation to this day continue to make possible powerful innovations that remake the world.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Joe Biden is hardly another Jimmy Carter.

P.S. Daniel Bier, in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, points out that Carter even deserves credit for deregulating the beer market.

Carter’s most lasting legacy is as the Great Deregulator. Carter deregulated oil, trucking, railroads, airlines, and beer. …In 1978, the USA had just 44 domestic breweries. After deregulation, creativity and innovation flourished in the above-ground economy. Today, there are 1,400 American breweries. And home brewing for personal consumption is also now legal.

If you want to know more about beer deregulation, click here. If you want to know who makes a lot of money from beer sales, click here.

P.P.S. Jimmy Carter didn’t have a good record on fiscal issues, but he was more frugal than almost every Republican president over the past six decades (with Reagan being the obvious exception).

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When I first wrote about the Index of Economic Freedom back in 2010, the United States was comfortably among the world’s 10-freest nations with a score of 78 out of 100.

By last year, America had dropped to #20, with a very mediocre score of 74.8.

Sadly, the United States is continuing to decline. The Heritage Foundation recently released the 2022 version of the Index and the United States is now down to #25, with an even-more-mediocre score of 72.1.

As you can see, the biggest reason for the decline is bad fiscal policy (we can assume that Biden’s so-called stimulus deserves much of the blame).

So what nations got the best scores?

Our next visual shows that Singapore has the world’s freest economy, narrowly edging out Switzerland.

Notice, though, that Singapore’s score dropped and Switzerland’s improved. So it will be interesting to see if the “sensible nation” takes the top spot next year.

Also notice that only 7 nations qualified as “Free,” meaning scores of 80 or above.

The United States is in the “Mostly Free” category, which is for nations with scores between 70 and 80.

By the way, notice that the United States trails all the Nordic nations. Indeed, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and Norway get scores in the upper-70s.

How is this possible when those countries have high-tax welfare states? Because they follow a very laissez-faire approach for all of their other policies (trade, regulation, monetary policy, etc).

I’ll close with a depressing look at how the United States has declined over the past two decades. I already mentioned that the U.S. gets a score of 72.1 in the 2022 version. That’s far below 81.2, which is where America was back in 2006.

P.S. The Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World shows a similar decline for the United States.

P.P.S. Taiwan is an under-appreciated success story.

P.P.P.S. New Zealand is still in the “Free” group, but it’s decline is worrisome.

P.P.P.P.S. Kudos to Estonia for climbing into the top group.

P.P.P.P.P.S. The bottom three nations are Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea.

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I only share long videos when they satisfy key criteria, such as being very informative and very educational.

This video from Arthur Brooks is both.

What I like most is that he does a very good job of showing that concern for the disadvantaged is the most important reason to support free markets and limited government.

And he does this by exploring some very interesting and challenging topics, such as Denmark’s unusual mix of free markets and a welfare state (I’ve referred to that country’s public policy as a combination of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

But I want to focus on his discussion of India’s partial economic liberalization. We’ll start by perusing the most-recent edition of Economic Freedom of the World to confirm that there was a significant increase in economic liberty during the 1990s.

But it’s also important to stress that India’s partial economic liberalization was…well, partial.

India is currently ranked #108 for economic freedom, which is mediocre at best, and it does especially poorly in areas such as regulation and trade.

The good news is that the country’s policies are not as bad as Venezuela’s. The bad news, though, is that it’s also nowhere close to being as good as Singapore.

If you want to understand economic policy in India, you should read this study by Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar.

He starts by explaining the awful policies that existed prior to 1991.

India was in such poor shape before 1991 that it takes an effort to recall how bad things were. …India’s slow-growing, inward-looking socialism made it unimportant in global terms, save as an aid recipient. …India’s poverty ratio did not improve at all between independence in 1947 and 1983; it remained a bit under 60 percent. …In 1991, it took two years for anyone to get a telephone landline connection. N. R. Narayana Murthy, head of top software company Infosys, recalls that in the 1980s, it took him three years to get permission to import a computer and over one year to get a telephone connection. …In 1991 Indian politicians and industrialists feared that economic liberalization would mean the collapse of Indian industry… Before 1991 very high tax rates (up to a 58 percent corporate tax) plus a high wealth tax meant that businesses kept income off the books.

There was a decent amount of economic liberalization in the 1990s.

After 1991 direct tax rates gradually came down substantially (to 30 percent plus surcharges for individuals and corporations). The wealth tax on shares was abolished, making it possible to raise shareholder value without being penalized for it. …The corporate tax was cut from a maximum of 58 percent to 30 percent, yet corporate tax collections increased from 1 percent of GDP to almost 6 percent at one point. …Personal income tax rates also fell from 50 percent to 30 percent, but once again collections rose, from 1 percent of GDP to almost 2 percent. …economic liberalization has facilitated the rise to the top of a vast array of new entrepreneurs. …In the two decades since 1991, India’s literacy rate has shot up by a record 21.8 percentage points, to 74 percent…much faster in the era of reform than in the earlier era of socialism. …Life expectancy in India is up from an average of 58.6 years in 1986-91 to 68.5 years. Infant mortality is down from 87 deaths per 1,000 births to 40.

This partial liberalization has produced good results, as illustrated by Table 2.

India’s growth rate has improved, which is why various social indicators (poverty, literacy, mortality) have improved.

But India should not be considered a role model.

There is still far too much government.

How can we sum up 25 years of economic reform? Three major trends are visible. First, the vast majority of successes have been private‐​sector successes, whereas the vast majority of failures have been government failures, mainly in service delivery. Second, wherever markets have become competitive and globalized, the outcomes have been excellent. …In the 1990s, the government gradually opened up the economy, abolishing industrial and import licensing, freeing foreign exchange regulations, gradually reducing import tariffs and direct tax rates, reforming capital and financial markets, and generally cutting red tape. Those changes enabled India to boom and become a potential economic superpower. But some areas were never liberalized, such as land and natural resources, and those areas have been marked by massive scams.

I’ll close by sharing this chart, which is based on the Maddison database.

As you can see, per-capita economic output climbed faster after a few pro-market reforms were implemented.

After giving some speeches in India back in 2018, here’s how I summarized my conflicted assessment.

Indians are enormously successful when they emigrate to the United States. And they also do very well when they migrate to Singapore, South Africa, and other places around the world. Yet Indians in India remain comparatively poor. …There’s a saying in the country that “India grows at night, while government sleeps.” …In other words, policy is generally not friendly, but the private sector manages to find “breathing room” to operate in spite of government. So poverty is falling, slowly but surely.

It would be great if poverty could fall much faster, but the current government doesn’t seem to have any interest in the policies that would make that happen.

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There were many notable tweets in 2021.

I realize there are still more than 11 months left in 2022, but we may have a winner for this year’s best tweet.

The hack leftists at Oxfam have a new report with the laughable title of “Inequality Kills.” As part of the report, they grouse about “the recent 40-year period of neoliberalism” that supposedly helped only rich elitists.

Johan Norberg destroyed Oxfam’s sophomoric argument with a tweet showing that this era of free-market policy is associated with dramatic reductions in extreme poverty.

As Johan points out, if neoliberalism (in Europe, that’s the left’s term for people who support economic liberty) was a sinister plot by “rich, powerful, and corrupt elites,” their scheme failed.

They wound up enriching poor people instead!

In reality, of course, there was no secret plot.

What actually happened is that nations did shift toward free markets. And pro-market policies are the only effective way to reduce poverty.

Here’s a chart from the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World. As you can see, economic freedom has increased over the past two decades, from an average score of 6.61 up to 7.04.

By the way, the above chart underestimates the policy improvement in poor nations.

That’s because the level of economic liberty has declined in the United States since 2000. It’s also declined in Western Europe. And it’s declined slightly in Japan.

So if we took the average score of developing nations, we would see an even bigger increase.

And that increase from 2000-2019 would be relatively small compared to the huge increase in the average Fraser Institute score the preceding two decades.

As you can see from this chart, we got a dramatic increase in economic liberty during the years of the Washington Consensus, with average scores increasing from 5.31 to 6.60.

So what’s the bottom line?

The developing world has enjoyed huge reductions in severe poverty thanks to improvements in economic freedom.

Which is exactly the opposite of the statist agenda being advocated by the kooks at Oxfam.

P.S. For those interested, Johan added a follow-up tweet to show that the reduction in global poverty was not just the result of what happened in China.

Since we shifted to China, I’ll augment Johan’s tweet by noting that China’s partial liberalization after Mao led to more inequality in addition to a giant reduction in poverty.

So even though poor people were big winners, Oxfam probably thinks this is bad news since rich people got richer faster than poor people got richer.

P.P.S. The cranks at Oxfam are not the only ones who are willing to hurt the poor so long as the rich get hurt even more.

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I have shared five videos (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V) that make the case for capitalism.

Here’s a sixth example.

The video notes that poverty was the natural condition for humanity (notwithstanding the economic illiteracy of Congresswoman Pressley).

But then, starting a couple of hundred years ago, capitalism gained a foothold and – for the first time in world history – there were nations with mass prosperity.

We learn about how various places became rich, including the United States, Hong Kong, and New Zealand.

The narrator also pointed out that Ireland experienced a period of dramatic market-driven growth.

Which gives me a good excuse to make the following comparison, which shows the dramatic divergence between Ireland and Greece beginning in the mid-1980s.

Why the stunning divergence (one of many examples I’ve collected)?

Ireland controlled spending and cut tax rates and now routinely ranks among the nations with the most economic liberty.

Greece, by contrast, has imposed more and more government over time.

Let’s close with this tweet, which nicely summarizes Walter Williams’ famous observation.

P.S. This comparison of Sweden and Greece also makes the key point about the superiority of markets over statism.

P.P.S. Don Boudreaux and Deirdre McCloskey have must-watch videos on how capitalism enabled (some) nations to escape poverty.

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As I warned a few days ago, Biden’s so-called Build Back Better plan is not dead.

There’s still a significant risk that this economy-sapping plan will get enacted, resulting in big tax increases and a larger burden of government spending.

Proponents of a bigger welfare state say the President’s plan should be approved so that the United States can be more like Europe.

This argument is baffling because it doesn’t make sense to copy countries where living standards are significantly lower.

In some cases dramatically lower.

Let’s explore this issue in greater detail.

In a column for Bloomberg, Allison Schrager analyzes America’s supply-chain problems and the impact on consumption patterns.

But what caught my eye were the numbers comparing the United States and Europe.

Americans can’t spend like they used to. Store shelves are emptying, and it can take months to find a car, refrigerator or sofa. If this continues, we may need to learn to do without — and, horrors, live more like the Europeans. That actually might not be a bad thing, because the U.S. economy could be healthier if it were less reliant on consumption. …We consume much more than we used to and more than other countries.  Consumption per capita grew about 65% from 1990 to 2015, compared with about 35% growth in Europe. …What would that mean for the U.S. economy? European levels of consumption coexist with lower levels of growth.

Here’s the chart that accompanied her article.

As you can see, consumption in the United States is far higher than it is in major European nations – about $15,000-per-year higher than the United Kingdom and about double the levels in Germany, Belgium, and France.

So when someone says we should expand the welfare state and be more like Europe, what they’re really saying is that we should copy nations that are far behind the United States.

Some of you may have noticed that Ms. Schrager is citing per-capita consumption data from the World Bank and you may be wondering whether other numbers tell a different story.

After all, if higher levels of consumption in America are simply the result of borrowing from overseas, that would be a negative rather than a positive.

So I went to the same website and downloaded the data for per-capita gross domestic product instead. I then created this chart (going all the way back to 1971). As you can see, it shows that Americans not only consume more, but we also produce more.

For those interested, I also included Japan and China, as well as the average for the entire world.

The bottom line is that it’s good to be part of western civilization. But it’s especially good to be in the United States.

Since we’re on the topic of comparative economics, David Harsanyi of National Review recently wrote about the gap between the United States and Europe.

More than anything, it is the ingrained American entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic that separates us from Europe and the rest of the world. …Europe, despite its wealth, its relatively stable institutions, its giant marketplace, and its intellectual firepower, is home to only one of the top 30 global Internet companies in the world (Spotify), while the United States is home to 18 of the top 30. …One of the most underrated traits we hold, for instance, is our relative comfort with risk — a behavior embedded in the American character. …Americans, self-selected risk-takers, created an individual and communal independence that engendered creativity. …Because of a preoccupation with “inequality” — one shared by the modern American Left — European rules and taxation for stock-option remuneration make it difficult for start-up employees to enjoy the benefits of innovation — and make it harder for new companies to attract talent. …But the deeper problem is that European culture values stability over success, security over invention…in Europe, hard work is less likely to guarantee results because policies that allow people to keep the fruits of their labor and compete matter far less.

In other words, there’s less economic dynamism because the reward for being productive is lower in Europe (which is simply another way of saying taxes are higher in Europe).

P.S. The main forcus of Ms. Schrager’s Bloomberg article was whether the U.S. economy is too dependent on consumption.

It feels like our voracious consumption is what fuels the economy. But that needn’t be the case. Long-term, sustainable growth doesn’t come from going deep into debt to buy stuff we don’t really need. It comes from technology and innovation, where we come up with new products and better ways of doing things. An economy based on consumption is not sustainable.

I sort of agree with her point.

Simply stated high levels of consumption don’t cause a strong economy. It’s the other way around. A strong economy enables high levels of consumption.

But this doesn’t mean consumption is bad, or that it would be good for America to be more like Europe.

Instead, the real lesson is that you want the types of policies (free markets and limited government) that will produce innovation and investment.

That results in higher levels of income, which then allows higher levels of consumption.

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A new edition of the Human Freedom Index has been released. When you combine measures of personal freedom and economic freedom, the “sensible nation” of Switzerland is at the top of the rankings.

I don’t know if this means we should view Switzerland as the world’s most libertarian nation (or perhaps the world’s least statist nation), but it’s obviously good to lead this list.

And it’s not surprising that New Zealand is next, though many people are probably shocked to see Denmark in third place (it has very bad fiscal policy, but otherwise is a very laissez-faire nation).

The United States is #15, which is good but not great.

Here are a few passages from the report’s executive summary.

The Human Freedom Index (HFI) presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. This seventh annual index uses 82 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom… The HFI covers 165 jurisdictions for 2019, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. …fully 83 percent of the global population lives in jurisdictions that have seen a fall in human freedom since 2008. That includes decreases in overall freedom in the 10 most populous countries in the world. Only 17 percent of the global population lives in countries that have seen increases in freedom over the same time period. …Jurisdictions in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher average per capita income ($48,748) than those in other quartiles; the average per capita income in the least free quartile is $11,259. The HFI also finds a strong relationship between human freedom and democracy

If you want to know the world’s worst nations, here are the bottom 10.

Venezuela is normally the worst of the worst, but in this case Syria wins the Booby Prize.

Let’s now give some extra attention to Hong Kong.

The report notes that there’s been a very unfortunate decline in human freedom in Hong Kong, mostly because of an erosion of personal freedom.

And Hong Kong’s score is expected to drop even further in future editions.

Freedom has suffered a precipitous decline in Hong Kong. The territory was once one of the freest places in the world, but the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) escalating violations of Hong Kong’s traditional liberties has caused its ranking in our index to fall from 4th place in 2008—when the first globally comprehensive data appeared—to 30th place in 2019, the most recent year in our report… Our survey does not yet capture the suppression of 2020 and 2021, including the CCP’s imposition of a draconian security law that enabled its aggressive takeover of Hong Kong.

Thanks to the recent election, I expect we will see a similar discussion of Chile’s decline in future editions.

Here’s a final observation that should be highlighted.

Because the report relies on hard data (which often takes a year or two to be finalized and reported), this year’s HFI is based on 2019 data.

And that means we won’t see the effect of pandemic-related restrictions, which generally were adopted in early 2020, until next year’s version.

…this year’s report does not capture the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on freedom.

P.S. Here’s what I wrote about the previous edition of the Human Freedom Index. And if you want to dig into the archives, I also wrote about the publication in 2016 and 2018.

P.P.S. For what it’s worth, I still think Australia might have the best long-run outlook for human freedom.

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Since it’s Christmas Eve, let’s use this opportunity for a holiday-themed economics lesson.

I did a version of this back in 2012 by sharing a remake of Christmas songs. This year, we’re going to look at A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Let’s start with an analysis of the story from Jacqueline Isaacs.

Many communist and socialist leaders have looked to Dickens as a champion for their cause. Even Karl Marx was a self-professed fan. …many have labeled Dickens a socialist and have used his ever-popular seasonal classic A Christmas Carol, as a condemnation of capitalism and consumerism. …I would challenge anyone…to notice the decidedly non-socialist themes Dickens presents. …First, Dickens never condemns capitalism, decries the success of business owners, nor denounces the trading by which they amassed their wealth. …When the character has gone through his revelatory experience and come out a better man, he does not then become poor. Instead, the new Scrooge uses his wealth to help those around him. …Secondly, Dickens seems to go out of his way to point out the inadequacies of government anti-poverty programs. …If the government takes over the responsibility of caring for the poor, then we will all be Scrooges. …Lastly, Dickens takes a relatively narrow view of community. The New Ebenezer did not set forth to save all of England, but he took care of those needy people whom he encountered every day. …Socialism and communism take very large views of community. They require large numbers of people to participate in the system so that the more productive members of society can fully support the less productive.

Senator Phil Gramm and a former aide, Mike Solon, pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last year that Scrooge may have been an unhappy miser, but his frugality generated benefits for everyone else.

Scrooge is a distilled caricature of a businessman in the Victorian era: a rich, obsessive wealth hoarder. …It does not appear that Dickens seriously considered the possibility that Scrooge and Marley’s business contributed to the common welfare of mankind. Like Scrooge, Marley created and accumulated wealth, leaving it to Scrooge, who continued to invest and accumulate. When Dickens has Scrooge’s nephew say his uncle’s wealth “is of no use to him” because he doesn’t spend it, it is made clear that Dickens never considered who Scrooge’s wealth was useful to. …For all Dickens knew or could envision, the only hope for the poor was charity. Yet unknown to him and his contemporaries, a revolution was beginning at the moment “A Christmas Carol” was published. The Market Revolution, funded by the thrift of Britain’s Scrooges, was already enriching mankind. …the period from 1840-1900 to have been the beginning of a golden age for workers. Wages, stagnant for more than 600 years, exploded during the Victorian era—rising from less than $567 a year in 1840 to $1,216 in 1900 (expressed in 1970 dollars). Life expectancy rose by 20%. Literacy rates soared. …Who then benefited from the accumulated wealth of Scrooge and Marley? First Britain and then all mankind. Since Scrooge and Marley never consumed the wealth they created, its use was a gift to all. It funded the factories and railroads, the tools and jobs that fed and clothed millions of British subjects and then billions around the world. Their unspent wealth was of no use to them, but it was of sublime use to humanity.

Gary North then explains how the thrift of rich people is good for the rest of us, as well as how free enterprise translates self interest into the common interest.

Dickens was living in the second generation after the Industrial Revolution began. Sometime around 1780, an economic revolution like no other in history had begun. It was marked by compound economic growth… The driving force of this revolution was specialization — specialization funded by capital, itself the product of thrift, by double-entry bookkeeping, and by attention to detail. In short, it was men like Ebenezer Scrooge who were the architects of capitalism. …The spread of capital is the basis for men’s increased productivity. The spread of the bookkeeper’s mindset is the basis of net retained earnings, which in turn finance additional capital. Taking care of business reduces poverty as nothing else in man’s history ever has. …without Scrooge and men like him, who are devoted to the details of their businesses, the shops of London would not be filled with cornucopias — at Christmas or all year round. …The heart of capitalism is service to the consumer. In serving the consumer, the producer must pay attention to what the consumer wants, at what price, when, and where. But the same is true of the producers’ attitude toward his employees. They, too, must be served… The free market does not make men good. It does encourage them to serve the consumer. It forces losses on them if they are less efficient in their service than their competitors. The free market society is not a dog-eat-dog world. It is dog-serve-master world. The consumer is the master.

Jerry Bowyer then puts Dickens’ work in context, noting that it could be viewed as a debunking of Malthus.

Thomas Malthus. Malthus’ ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written. …What was Dickens really doing when he wrote A Christmas Carol? Answer: He was weighing in on one of the central economic debates of his time… Malthus famously argued that in a world in which economies grew arithmetically and population grew geometrically, mass want would be inevitable. …Jean Baptiste Say…argued on the other hand…that the gains from global population growth, spread over vast expanses of trading, trigger gains from a division of labor which exceed those ever thought possible before the rise of the market order. …If Scrooge has modern counterparts, they’re more likely to be found among those sad, self-sterilizing minimizers of carbon footprints than in the circles of supply-side entrepreneurs. …The debate between Say and Malthus, between Scrooge and the Ghosts, continues to this day. Is the market economy a source of abundance or shortage? Is each new little boy or a girl mostly mouth, or mostly mind? Is it a Say/(Julian) Simon/Forbes/Wanniski/Gilder world, or is it a Keynes/Ehrlich/Krugman/Gore world?

In other words, three cheers for capitalism.

P.S. Another famous character this time of year is George Bailey, the lead character in Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

In a 2019 column for the Wall Street Journal, Gramm and Solon highlight the film’s main economic lesson.

The film’s antagonist is the banker Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who epitomizes the Democrats’ caricature of unredeemable capitalism. Peter Bailey (Samuel Hinds) defends capitalism in an often overlooked dialogue when he asks his son George (Jimmy Stewart) to join his building-and-loan business. …George…wants no part of “this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save 3 cents on a length of pipe.” His father, being older and wiser, responds: “I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace, and we’re helping him get those things in our shabby little office.” By squeezing nickels and dimes, the Baileys made limited resources and labor go further, producing “dozens of the prettiest little homes you ever saw, 90% owned by suckers who used to pay rent” to old Potter. …Peter Bailey’s insight reflects a vision originating in the Enlightenment, which set people free to promote their interest, and in the process, through Adam Smith’s invisible hand, promote the interests of mankind. …Capitalism alone respects life’s greatest gift: the freedom to choose how you live your life, where you discover meaning, and what you sacrifice for.

P.P.S. If you still need to do some last-minute shopping, here’s a gift for your left-wing friends, another for your right-wing friends, and a lot of options for your libertarian friends.

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Greetings from Santiago. Chileans vote today for a new president and there’s a risk that a Venezuelan-style leftist, Gabriel Boric, will prevail.

And that puts at risk the economic progress described in this video.

The video has a good discussion of Chile’s very successful system of private pensions (which will be in danger if Boric wins).

But it also points out how free trade helped create the prosperity of modern Chile.

And that narrative is confirmed by looking at Chile’s score from the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World.

I’m always happy to sing the praises of free trade and condemn protectionism, but let’s keep the focus on today’s election in Chile and why it matters.

That’s why this tweet tells you everything you need to know.

Notice how Chile began to prosper after it began to shift to free markets around 1980 and notice how Venezuela began to fall after it shifted to statism starting around 2000.

Notwithstanding all this evidence, Boric is favored to win today’s election. Which would be a vote for national economic suicide – perhaps akin to the British people voting for the pro-nationalization Labour Party after World War II (described in this video, for those interested).

I hope I’m wrong, both about the results of the election and the potential changes to economic policy if Boric prevails.

P.S. If you’ve enjoyed my Chilean election coverage, I did the same thing a couple of years ago in the United Kingdom (see here, here, here, here, and here).

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I explained a few days ago that Sunday’s presidential runoff in Chile should be viewed as the most important election of 2021.

This is because the left’s candidate, Gabriel Boric, wants to turn Chile into Venezuela, as I mention in this radio interview with Ross Kaminsky.

For some reason, you only hear my voice during this Zoom discussion, which means I don’t even have a face good enough for radio.

But let’s set aside that technical glitch and focus on Mr. Boric’s agenda.

Here’s a flyer that a campaign worker gave me as I was walking around Santiago yesterday.

It’s in Spanish, but one of my Chilean friends translated. Here are Boric’s economic proposals.

There was one attractive proposal. He’s proposing to cut the pay of politicians. But that will yield trivial savings if it happens and the odds of it actually happening are laughably small.

Also, he says he wants to fight crime, which is good (in theory).

His worst idea, though, is not on this flyer. If you go to his website, you’ll find this passage in his economic plan (as translated by Google): “The tax reform will collect on the order of 8% of GDP under the regime.”

He is not overly specific on how he will collect so much additional money, but the website mentions higher income taxes, green taxes, and the imposition of a wealth tax.

All of which sounds like a recipe to drive entrepreneurs and investors (and/or their money) out of the country.

To understand the radical nature of his plan, tax revenues in Chile currently grab about 21 percent of the country’s economic output according to the OECD – so Boric is advocating a 38-percent increase.

By comparison, Biden’s tax plan in the U.S. is awful, but he’s “only” proposing a 4-percent increase in the tax burden (about 1 percent of GDP).

P.S. Since Ross and I were comparing Argentina and Chile, here’s a chart I put together using the Maddison database.

P.S. Given that Chile’s free-market reforms have been especially beneficial to poor people (see here, here, here, and here), I wonder if they understand how Boric’s election would threaten their upward mobility.

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If you want visual proof of Chile’s “improbable success,” this chart tells you everything you need to know.

Thanks to free-market reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, growth exploded, Chile became the Latin Tiger and poverty plummeted.

It’s remarkable how quickly per-capita GDP has increased compared to the average of other major Latin American economies (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela).

Some folks on the left (including editors at the New York Times) bizarrely think Chile’s “neoliberal experiment” has been a failure. Given their upside-down perspective, they probably think Venezuela is a smashing success.

But today’s column is not about what’s happened in the past. It’s about what may happen in the future because of an upcoming presidential election.

Let’s start with this article from the Economist, which expressed concern back in November that the first round of the presidential election would lead to a stark ideological choice between the hard left and hard right.

…stable Chile disappeared two years ago, in an explosion of massive and sometimes violent protests…In a vote for the constitutional convention in May (in which only 43% turned out), support surged for the hard left while drying up for mainstream parties. As a result, the convention has become a theatre of wokeness, with calls to wage war against pivotal industries…, alongside…for a bigger role for the state in pensions, health care and green regulation. …pessimists fear a Utopian list of unaffordable rights and anti-capitalism. …Gabriel Boric, the candidate of the hard left, has seemed poised to win the presidential election. A former student leader, …some of his allies…include the Communist Party… Mr Boric wants to expand tax revenues by 8% of gdp over six to eight years (impossible, say many economists) and review trade agreements in order to engage in industrial policy. …That is why support has grown for José Antonio Kast of the hard right. …Whereas Mr Boric promises the most left-wing government since the chaotic Socialist-Communist administration of Salvador Allende, Mr Kast offers the most right-wing one since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Sure enough, the November election put Boric and Kast in a runoff, which is scheduled for December 19.

I don’t know if it would be accurate to say this is akin to a hypothetical Rand Paul-Bernie Sanders contest, but a report in the Wall Street Journal suggests that are very big economic implications.

After years of protests and political upheaval that seemed certain to shift Chile’s politics sharply to the left, voters in the first round of a presidential election largely backed candidates who support the country’s free-market economy… More than half of the ballots in the Sunday vote went to three right-wing candidates who support the market economy, led by first-place finisher José Antonio Kast with 28% of the vote. Gabriel Boric, the leftist candidate who backs dismantling a private pension system and creating a state-run lithium company, finished second with 26% of the votes… “People didn’t buy the idea that Chile needs to dismantle the market-friendly model, they just want a stronger social safety net,” said Patricio Navia, a Chilean political scientist at New York University. …The future of Chile’s once-lauded economic model that bolstered foreign trade and slashed poverty over the last three decades has been in doubt since mass protests erupted two years ago… Mr. Kast, a 55-year-old former lawmaker…, says he is a democrat who is offering Chileans economic prosperity and freedom.

By the way, the presidential election isn’t the only big thing that’s about to happen in Chile.

The article also acknowledges something I wrote about last year, which is the possibility of a new constitution based on entitlements rather than liberties (i.e., positive rights vs negative rights).

The election is being held as a special assembly made up of mainly leftist delegates is writing a new constitution, which could weaken investor protections and expand social rights. The constitution is expected to be finished next year when it will be put to a referendum.

A Washington Post column published yesterday by Professor Michael Albertus summarizes what’s at stake.

Chile’s presidential runoff election on Dec. 19 is the country’s most important election since its return to democracy in 1990. …Chile’s election pits José Antonio Kast, a bombastic far-right politician whom many liken to Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, against Gabriel Boric, a far-left lawmaker and former student organizer. …The stakes couldn’t be higher. Chile’s ongoing constitutional convention is poised to propose next year the biggest overhaul to the country’s political system since the Pinochet dictatorship.

Prof. Albertus points out that the election isn’t just about economics.

There are big fights about immigration, law and order, abortion, and indigenous rights.

For those of us who care a lot about prosperity, Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal opined two days ago on the implications of Chile’s upcoming choice.

The stakes are high in Chile’s Dec. 19 runoff presidential election pitting the free-market former Congressman José Antonio Kast against socialist Congressman Gabriel Boric. The country has been trending left for years. But Mr. Kast’s surprise first-place finish in the election’s first round—with 28% of the vote—and the center-right’s strong showing in legislative elections suggests that Chileans are reconsidering national suicide. …If the vote goes left, Chileans can expect policy geared toward greater redistribution of the existing wealth-and-income pie—higher taxes, nationalization of pensions, populism, etc. If the vote goes right, there will be a chance to restore the fast growth of the 1990s by deepening the liberal economic agenda. …there’s something much bigger at stake. That is the survival of the democratic institutions protecting the pluralism, property rights and public order that have made Chile one of Latin America’s richest countries. Mr. Boric is backed by a coalition—Approved Dignity—heavily influenced by the Communist Party and other hard-left groups. …If Mr. Boric wins the runoff, you can bet they will demand their pound of flesh.

Ms. O’Grady’s column notes that Chile’s free-market reforms dramatically reduced poverty (for more details, see here, here, and here).

The market economy has been enormously successful in Chile. The share of Chileans living in poverty fell to 8.6% in 2017 from 68.5% in 1990, according to official data. Extreme poverty over the same period dropped to 2.3% from 48.8%. It’s a development record that few countries in the world have achieved.

Last but not least, she makes a very important point that Chile’s recent performance has not been very impressive.

…the clamor for change isn’t irrational. According to Chilean economist and investor José Luis Daza, …In the five years before the pandemic in 2020, the country grew at an average annual rate of 1.9%, less than half that of the world economy. “After 2000,” he told me in a phone interview from Santiago last week, “there has been zero productivity growth. In fact, it has been marginally negative.” …It was in the midst of this economic malaise in October 2019 that extreme-left militants burst onto the scene in Santiago. …Mr. Daza recently put his work in New York on hold to join Mr. Kast’s economic advisory team with a focus on growth.

I’m not surprised. There has not been any meaningful pro-growth reform this century. Indeed, the opposite is true. Policy has actually drifted in the wrong direction.

But if Boric wins this weekend, a drift in the wrong direction could become a tidal wave, washing away the Chilean Miracle.

The last thing Latin America needs is another Venezuela. Milton Friedman will be rolling over in his grave.

P.S. I’m especially concerned that a victory for the left could lead to the repeal of some of Chile’s best policies, including social security personal accounts and nationwide school choice.

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A couple of years ago, to help build the case against socialism, I showed how West Germany enjoyed much faster growth and much more prosperity than East Germany.

The obvious lesson to be learned from this example of “anti-convergence” is that market-oriented economies out-perform state-controlled economies.

I want to revisit this topic because I recently dealt with someone who claimed that government spending via the Marshall Plan deserves the credit for West Germany’s post-war economic renaissance.

What does the evidence say? Was foreign aid from the United States after World War II a key driver (for Keynesian or socialist reasons) of the West German economy.

The answer is no.

Professor David Henderson explained the role of the Marshall Plan for Econlib.

After World War II the German economy lay in shambles. …less than ten years after the war people already were talking about the German economic miracle. What caused the so-called miracle? The two main factors were currency reform and the elimination of price controls, both of which happened over a period of weeks in 1948. A further factor was the reduction of marginal tax rates later in 1948 and in 1949. …Marshall Plan aid to West Germany was not that large. Cumulative aid from the Marshall Plan and other aid programs totaled only $2 billion through October 1954. Even in 1948 and 1949, when aid was at its peak, Marshall Plan aid was less than 5 percent of German national income. Other countries that received substantial Marshall Plan aid exhibited lower growth than Germany.

Moreover, the money that was dumped into Germany as part of the Marshall plan was offset by money that was taken out of the country.

…while West Germany was receiving aid, it was also making reparations and restitution payments well in excess of $1 billion. Finally, and most important, the Allies charged the Germans DM7.2 billion annually ($2.4 billion) for their costs of occupying Germany.

Inconvenient facts like this make the socialism or Keynesian argument very difficult to maintain.

In a 1990 study on whether there should be something similar to the Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe, Melanie Tammen summarized some of the research on how the original plan for Western Europe was a flop.

…those that received relatively large amounts of aid per capita, such as Greece and Austria, did not recover economically until U.S. assistance was winding down. Germany, France, and Italy, on the other hand, began their recovery before receiving Marshall Plan funds. As for Belgium, it embarked on a radical monetary reform program in October 1944, only one month after liberation. Belgium’s economic stabilization and recovery were well under way by 1946, fully two years before the arrival of U.S. aid. Great Britain, conversely, received more Marshall Plan aid than any other nation but had the lowest postwar economic growth rate of any European country. The critical problem facing Europe was…simply bad economic policy.

Kai Weiss of the Austrian Economic Center in Vienna also addressed this issue. Here’s some of what he wrote for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Common knowledge says that the United States’ Marshall Plan was responsible for the rapid economic growth, rebuilding the country by throwing a lot of money at it. But that’s a mistaken view. …why was there a “Wirtschaftswunder”? …two main reasons: a monetary reform and the freeing of the economy by abolishing price controls and cutting taxes. All of this was implemented thanks to one man: Ludwig Erhard. …What Erhard did was unthinkable in a hostile environment. The Allied forces, still heavily controlling Germany, left the Nazi price controls and rationing intact. But when Erhard became Secretary of the Economy in West Germany, he quickly ended all price controls and stopped rationing — to the dismay of the US advisors. …He, not a Keynesian Project like the Marshall Plan, enabled the miracle.

Speaking of Ludwig Erhard, here’s a video clip on what he did to trigger West Germany’s prosperity.

I have one minor disagreement with that video.

It states that Germany combined “free markets with a strong welfare state.”

That’s a very accurate description of, say, current policy in Denmark.

But total social welfare spending in Germany was less than 20 percent of GDP for the first few decades after World War II, considerably less than social welfare spending today in the United States.

At the risk of being pedantic, it would be more accurate to state that Germany combined free markets with a medium-sized welfare state.

Let’s close with one final bit of evidence.

Here’s a look at the most pro-market nations in the decades after the war. Germany (outlined in red) was never at the top of the list, but it was almost always in the top 10.

Was Germany a libertarian paradise?

Hardly.

But the main takeaway from today’s column is that it’s even more absurd to claim that Germany’s post-war growth was because of big government.

P.S. Regarding Eastern Europe, western nations ultimately decided to create a cronyist institution, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in hopes of boosting post-Soviet economies. Needless to say, that was a mistake. Many nations have enjoyed good growth after escaping communist tyranny, but the cause was good policy rather than handouts.

P.P.S. The Erhard video is an excerpt from The Commanding Heights, a must-watch video that basically tells the economic history of the 20th century).

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Back in 2016, I shared a television program about the “Improbable Success” of Switzerland. Today, here’s a follow-up look at that “sensible country.”

There are elements to this video that are outside my area of expertise, such as the role of the reformation.

But the video mentions policies that I find very appealing, such as the country’s strong federalist system (unlike the United States, federalism hasn’t eroded).

This means jurisdictional competition, which has played a big role in curtailing bad policy.

And there was a brief indirect mention of the nation’s spending cap, which also has been a big success.

Interestingly, Switzerland’s strong track record is getting noticed in unusual places.

Here are some excerpts from a New York Times column by Ruchir Sharma.

There is…a country far richer and just as fair as any in the Scandinavian trio of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. ….with lighter taxes, smaller government, and a more open and stable economy. Steady growth recently made it the second richest nation in the world…with an average income of $84,000, or $20,000 more than the Scandinavian average. …surveys also rank this nation as one of the world’s 10 happiest. This less socialist but more successful utopia is Switzerland. …Wealth and income are distributed across the populace almost as equally as in Scandinavia, with the middle class holding about 70 percent of the nation’s assets. The big difference: The typical Swiss family has a net worth around $540,000, twice its Scandinavian peer. …Capitalist to its core, Switzerland imposes lighter taxes on individuals, consumers and corporations than the Scandinavian countries do. In 2018 its top income tax rate was the lowest in Western Europe at 36 percent, well below the Scandinavian average of 52 percent. Government spending amounts to a third of gross domestic product, compared with half in Scandinavia. And Switzerland is more open to trade, with a share of global exports around double that of any Scandinavian economy. …Only one in seven Swiss work for the government, about half the Scandinavian average. …The Swiss have become the world’s richest nation by getting it right, and their model is hiding in plain sight.

Kristian Niemietz of London’s Institute of Economic Affairs also pointed out that Switzerland is a role model.

Classical liberal ideas work. But they are usually counterintuitive, and often hard to explain. …It is therefore helpful for classical liberals if we can point to a practical example…it is Switzerland which, in many ways, represents such an example. Switzerland is not a libertarian paradise. But it is a country which, through its mere existence and its economic success, refutes a lot of…conventional wisdoms. …Take decentralisation. …the Swiss example shows that local autonomy and pluralism can be a recipe for success. In Switzerland, even tiny cantons like Glarus or Obwalden, which have far fewer inhabitants than a typical London borough, enjoy a degree of political autonomy that London, which has more inhabitants than the whole of Switzerland, can only dream of. …the Swiss system shows that a healthcare system based on choice and competition can work exceptionally well. The Swiss system offers ample choice between insurers, insurance plans, providers and delivery models. …Liberal market economists…can simply refer to the successful example of Switzerland. We can end a lot of tedious discussions by simply saying, “Of course it works – just look at Switzerland”.

Amen.

Switzerland is a great role model.

By the way, neither the video nor the two articles mentions Switzerland’s private pension system, which is another big advantage the country has over most other nations.

If you want to see a chart that illustrates Switzerland’s stunning success, this look at both life expectancy and per-capita economic output is very revealing.

The link between prosperity and longevity isn’t big news, but Switzerland’s rapid upward ascent is very remarkable.

To conclude, there are numerous reasons to rank Switzerland above the United States, at least with regard to public policy.

P.S. The video mentions that Switzerland is the closest example in the world of a direct democracy. I’m instinctively opposed to that approach, because of the dangers of majoritarianism.

That being said, Swiss voters usually vote the right way.

P.P.S. It wasn’t mentioned in the video, but I like that Switzerland is one of the few European nations with widespread gun ownership.

P.P.P.S. We should not be surprised that some folks in Sardinia would like to secede from Italy and join Switzerland.

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If you want to understand why some nations enjoy much stronger economic growth than other nations, the best place to start is the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World.

And if you want to understand why some states have more vibrant economies than other states, you should check out the latest edition of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America.

Since most readers are from the United States, I’ll start with a look at the publication’s sub-national index, which shows how American states rank in terms of economic liberty. Unsurprisingly, a bunch of jurisdictions with no income tax are at the top of the list and California and New York are at the bottom.

By the way, the authors (Dean Stansel, José Torra, and Fred McMahon) specifically note that the rankings are based on 2019 data (the latest-available data) and thus “do not capture the effect on economic freedom of COVID-19 and government responses to it.

With that caveat out of the way, here are some of the findings for the sub-national index (which is where Figure 1.2b from above can be found).

Since the Fraser Institute is based in Canada, they understandably start by looking at Canadian provinces, but you can then read about results for the rest of North America.

For the purpose of comparing jurisdictions within the same country, the subnational indices are the appropriate choice. There is a separate subnational index for each country. In Canada, the most economically free province in 2019 was again Alberta with 6.17, followed by British Columbia with 5.44, and Ontario at 5.31. However, the gap between Alberta and second-place British Columbia continues to shrink, down from 2.30 points in 2014 to 0.73 in 2019. The least free by far was Quebec at 2.83, following New Brunswick at 4.09, and Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia at 4.20. In the United States, the most economically free state was New Hampshire at 7.83, followed closely by Tennessee at 7.82, Florida at 7.78, Texas at 7.75, and Virginia at 7.59. …In Mexico, the most economically free state was Baja California at 6.01.

Here are the provincial rankings from Canada.

Alberta is the best place for economic growth and Quebec is the worst (by a significant margin).

Here are the some of the findings for the all-government index (which uses a different methodology than the sub-national index mentioned above).

The good news, from the perspective of folks in the U.S., is that most states rank above every other jurisdiction in North America (and the Mexican state all rank at the bottom).

The top jurisdiction is New Hampshire at 8.23, followed by Florida (8.17), Idaho (8.16), and then South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming tied for fourth (8.15). Alberta is the highest ranking Canadian province, tied for 33rd place with a score of 8.00. The next highest Canadian province is British Columbia in 47th at 7.91. Alberta had spent seven years at the top of the index but fell out of the top spot in the 2018 report (reflecting 2016 data). The highest-ranked Mexican state is Baja California with 6.65, followed by Nayarit (6.62)… Seven of the Canadian provinces are ranked behind all 50 US states.

By the way, here’s some historical context showing that all three nations had their best scores back in the early 2000s (when the “Washington Consensus” for pro-market policy still had some impact.

Historically, average economic freedom in all three countries peaked in 2004 at 7.74 then fell steadily to 7.24 in 2011. Canadian provinces saw the smallest decline, only 0.19, whereas the decline in the United States was 0.51 and, in Mexico, 0.58. Since then average economic freedom in North America has risen slowly to 7.43 but still remains below that peak in 2004. However, economic freedom has increased in the United States and Mexico since 2013. In contrast, in Canada, after an increase in 2014, it has fallen back below its 2013 level.

P.S. If you want some additional historical context, Alberta’s fall from the top (mentioned in the first excerpt) can be partly blamed on the provincial government’s fiscal profligacy when it was collecting a lot of energy-related tax revenue.

P.P.S. I first wrote about Economic Freedom of North America in 2013 and more recently shared commentary about the 2019 and 2020 versions.

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There are certain topics that seem to be slam-dunk wins for those who favor free markets and limited government, and one reason I make this assertion is that folks on the left don’t even bother to make counter-arguments.

Here are just a few examples:

Prior to today, I also would have included this example:

But now I can no longer include Chile’s economic renaissance because I finally found someone who concocted an alternative explanation.

As part of a column in today’s Washington Post about Chile’s upcoming presidential election, Anthony Faiola made this claim about that nation’s economic performance.

After Pinochet’s ruthless rule came to an end in 1990, the newly democratic nation witnessed a historic period of economic growth. Gross domestic product growth between 1990 and 2018 averaged 4.7 percent annually, well above the Latin American average. Over that same period, democratic governments increased social spending. Extreme poverty (below $1.5 per day) was virtually wiped out.

But now let’s consider whether this alternative explanation is accurate.

Mr. Faiola wants readers to believe that the positive developments in Chile (“historic period of growth” and “extreme poverty…was virtually wiped out”) occurred after 1990.

But if that’s the case, why did per-capita living standards begin to climb much earlier?

As shown by these two charts, it’s far more likely that the dramatic rise in per-capita economic performance around 1980 is the result of a big increase in economic liberty (as measured by Economic Freedom of the World) that also was occurring around that time.

(There is a separate measure of economic freedom for the years before 1970, so the orange and blue lines are discontinuous.)

One should always be careful about interpreting numbers. For instance, national economic data at a given moment in time will be affected when there are periods of global recession, such as the early 1980s and 2008.

Which is why it is important to look at longer periods of time. And when looking at decades of data for Chile, the big jump in prosperity clearly began after the economy was liberalized, not after Pinochet ceded power in 1990.

We’ll close with some bad news and good news.

The bad news, as captured by the bottom-half of the stacked charts abvoe, is that there hasn’t been much pro-market reform in recent decades.

But the good news is that Chile hasn’t deteriorated. The nation has endured some left-leaning governments, but economic freedom has remained high by world standards. Which means the economy continues to grow.

P.S. I’ll add some worrisome news. The left in Chile wants a new constitution that would give politicians more power over the economy. If that effort is successful, I fear the country will suffer Argentinianstyle decline.

P.P.S. I suppose Mr. Faiola deserves some credit for cleverness. Some leftists have tried to argue Chile is a failed “neoliberal experiment.” Given the nation’s superior performance, that’s obviously an absurd strategy. So Faiola came up with a new hypothesis that acknowledges the growth, but tries to convince readers that it’s all the result of things that happened after 1990. He’s wildly wrong, but at least he tried.

P.P.P.S. I have a three-part series (here, here, and here) on how low-income people have been big winners as a result of Chile’s shift to free enterprise.

P.P.P.P.S. Here’s a column on Milton Friedman’s indirect contribution to Chilean prosperity.

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Back in May, as part of a discussion about the tradeoff between free markets (efficiency) and redistribution (equity), I put together a chart to show how poor people are better off in the long run if policy makers focus on the former rather than the latter.

I made sure to assume that pro-market policies would generate only a small increase in growth.

However, thanks to “the miracle of compounding growth,” even that tiny increase results in the poor being better off when compared to a world with less growth and more redistribution.

But I was just providing a theoretical example, and it would be easy to change some assumptions to show that the poor would have better lives (as measured by consumption levels) with bigger government.

Fortunately, there’s a new study, authored by Justin Callais of Texas Tech University and Vincent Geloso of George Mason University, that looks at hard data to see which approach is best for poor people.

Here’s a description of their methodological approach, which uses the positive liberty vs negative liberty construct.

While it is true that economic freedom speaks directly to negative liberty, it also speaks indirectly to positive liberty because of its welldocumented effects on economic growth, health outcomes and education. We build on these works by using a rich dataset of estimates of income mobility of people born in the 1980s. …the dataset employed includes a larger number of poor and rich countries. Combining these data with those of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World (henceforth EFW) index, we try to measure its indirect effect (through growth and income levels) on intergenerational income mobility in a horse race with income inequality.

For all intents and purposes, they want to see which effect dominates in this flowchart.

And here’s the way they describe the chart.

…the true effect of economic freedom on intergenerational mobility is 𝛽1 + 𝛼1𝛽2. As long as 𝛽1 + 𝛼1𝛽2 > β3, economic freedom’s effects outweigh those of income inequality on positive liberty (as intergenerational income mobility is a standin for positive liberty).

So what did they find?

We find that economic freedom has both a direct and indirect effect on intergenerational income mobility. More importantly, those effects are more important than those of income inequality. We argue that our results militate for the claim that good institutions matter more to securing positive liberty than income redistribution does.we find that the lifetime institutional environment is a strong predictor of incomes today. The indirect effect of economic freedom (through income levels) on mobility is again strong and negatively correlated (indicated greater income mobility). economic freedom has both a direct and indirect effect on intergenerational income mobility. Economic freedom provides the legal right to engage in commerce, but through economic freedom’s impact on income, the institutional environment speaks to increasing the practical and realistic choice sets of people to better their situation.

The bottom line is that the poor are better off with economic freedom (i.e., negative liberty). Free markets lead to more upward mobility and higher living standards.

So if you want less poverty, push for more capitalism.

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I’ve shared several videos (here, here, here, and here) that use rigorous data to show that grinding poverty and severe material deprivation was the norm for humanity – until capitalism gained a foothold a few hundred years ago.

Fortunately, as free enterprise has gradually spread around the world, there’s been a remarkable increase in living standards, leading to a stunning drop in poverty.

For today’s column, let’s look at some new academic evidence about the link between capitalism and poverty reduction.

Here the abstract of a new study by Colin Doran and Thomas Stratmann of George Mason University.

We study the relationship between economic freedom and poverty rates in 151 countries over a twentyyear period. Using the World Bank’s poverty headcounts of those living on less than $1.90 per day, $3.20 per day, and $5.50 per day, we find evidence that economic freedom, measured by the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, is associated with lower poverty rates. We also test the effect of various components of the Index of Economic Freedom. We find that a government’s integrity and a country’s trade freedom are associated with lower poverty rates.

Keep in mind that this study is looking at the relationship between free markets and extreme poverty (not the relatively comfortable type of poverty that exists in the United States).

More specifically, the authors were investigating the impact of public policy on people who live on between about $700-$2000 per year. In other words, poor people in poor nations.

And the big takeaway is that capitalism leads to less poverty, but what really makes a difference is to have open trade and less corruption.

The good news is that we know how to get free trade. Just get rid of protectionist policies.

The bad news is that corruption in government is a much more challenging topic. Yes, shrinking government would mean less opportunity for graft, but that doesn’t solve the problem of delivering “public goods” in a competent and honest manner.

P.S. Foreign aid makes things worse rather than better.

P.P.S. Click here is you want to learn about poverty reduction in rich nations.

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Two days ago, I shared the most morally reprehensible tweet of the year.

Today, we’re going to share a tweet that also is painful to read, but in this case only our friends on the left will be discomforted.

I’ve opined about Chile’s success and Venezuela’s failure on multiple occasions, but here’s the great José Piñera with an especially powerful comparison of the two nations.

I’ve had dozens and dozens of conversations with friends on the left about Chile and Venezuela and they have no response other than to sputter “Pinochet was a dictator!”

That’s true, I tell them, but please respond to my question about what we can learn when we compare Chile’s successful experience with economic liberty and Venezuela’s awful experience with statism.

At which point they bring up Pinochet again and refuse to deal with the actual data.

Speaking of data, since embedding a chart in a tweet sometimes doesn’t lead to the most user-friendly presentation, I went to the Our World in Data website to create my own version of Jose’s chart.

This type of chart looks at “relative changes” in per-capita economic output, so all nations start at the same place and we then examine which ones grew the fastest.

Or, in the case of Venezuela, which ones declined (and the ones, such as Argentina, that performed poorly).

Here’s another version of the chart, but this one gets rid of all the other nations so we can more easily compare Chile and Venezuela. As José Piñera wrote in his tweet, this is “extraordinary.”

Because Venezuela has a lot of oil, the nation’s economy does face exaggerated ups and downs as energy prices fluctuate.

But it’s easy to see a trend of economic stagnation (the nation’s energy industry was nationalized and is now collapsing, so that will augment Venezuela’s misery).

Our final version of the chart adds the average performance for the world and the average performance for Latin America. As you can see, Chile is still the best performer and Venezuela is still at the bottom.

I’ll close with two final observations.

But perhaps José Piñera‘s preferred candidate, José Antonio Kast Rist, will win this year’s election and save Chile from going in the wrong direction.

P.S. Venezuela used to be much richer than Chile, so it makes sense that Chile began to converge. But now the two countries are part of the anti-convergence club because Chile is now richer and continuing to grow much faster.

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Don Boudreaux, Deirdre McCloskey, and Dan Hannan have all explained how capitalism enabled mass prosperity after endless stagnation and poverty.

There’s a similar message in this video from Kite & Key Media. The most relevant parts start at 2:30, though I recommend watching the entire video.

But if you don’t have time to watch any of the video, here are four of the key points.

  1. We are much richer, on average, than we were 50 years ago. This is a point I made both in June and September, and it’s worth adding that the all income groups tend to rise together.
  2. There was almost no growth for much of world history, a dismal reality that is beyond the comprehension of politicians such as Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.
  3. Technological progress enabled by capitalism not only ended mass poverty, but it also brings many luxuries within reach of lower-income and middle-class people.
  4. As shown by basket cases such as Venezuela, Lebanon, and North Korea, bad policy can wreck economic progress.

Regarding point #4, my only complaint with the video is that some viewers might conclude that economic growth will be automatic so long as politicians don’t make catastrophic Venezuelan-style policy mistakes.

It would have been nice to point out that, yes, the worst-possible set of policies produces the worst-possible economic damage, but also to explain that a modest amount of statism can hurt growth by a modest amount and a lot of statism can hurt growth by a significant amount.

In other words, there’s a spectrum of possible policy outcomes (I’ve also referred to this as the “socialism slide“) and it’s best to get as close to laissez-faire capitalism as possible.

Remember, even small differences in economic growth lead to big differences in long-run living standards. And the “size of the pie” is a good predictor of whether a nation enjoys broadly shared prosperity.

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Economists of all types agree with “convergence theory,” which is the notion that poor countries should grow faster than rich countries.

Though they are usually wise enough to also say “ceteris parisbus,” which means the theory applies if other variables are similar (the translation from Latin is “other things equal”).

I’m very interested in this theory because we can learn a lot when we look at nations that don’t have “equal” policies.

And the biggest lesson is that you have divergence rather than convergence if one nation follows good policies and the other one embraces statism.

Take a look, for instance, at what’s happened to per-capita economic output (GDP) since 1950 in Taiwan and Cuba.

The obvious takeaway from these numbers from the Maddison database is that Taiwan has enjoyed spectacular growth while Cuba has suffered decades of stagnation.

If this was a boxing match between capitalism and socialism, the refs would have stopped the fight several decades ago.

By the way, some folks on the left claim that Cuba’s economic misery is a result of the U.S. trade embargo.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Emmanuel Rincón explains the real reason why these two jurisdictions are so wildly divergent.

…the Communist Party of Cuba has blamed the United States for Cuba’s misery and poverty, alluding to the “blockade” that the U.S. maintains against Cuba. However, …the rest of the world can trade freely with the island. …Taiwan’s economy is one of the most important in the world, with a poverty rate of 0.7%, as opposed to Cuba, which has one of the most depressed economies on the planet and 90% of its population living in poverty. What is the difference between the two islands? The economic and political model they applied in their nations. …Taiwan has the sixth freest economy according to the Index of Economic Freedom… While Taiwan took off with a capitalist model, Cuba remained anchored in the old revolutionary dogmas of Fidel Castro… With popular slogans such as redistribution of wealth, supposed aid to the poor, and socialism, Fidel Castro began to expropriate land and private companies to be managed by the state…today the GDP of the Caribbean island is five times less than that of Taiwan, and 90% of its population lives in poverty, while in the Asian island only 0.7% of its population is poor. It is definitely not the fault of the “blockade”, but of socialism.

To be sure, Cuba would be slightly less poor if there was unfettered trade with the United States, so maybe Taiwan would only be four and one-half times richer rather than five times richer in the absence of an embargo.

The moral of the story is that there’s no substitute for free markets and small government.

P.S. Though I appreciate the fact that our friends on the left are willing to extol the virtues of free trade, at least in this rare instance.

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Writing last week about the new edition of Economic Freedom of the World, I largely focused on the jurisdictions that got high scores (Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand) and countries that got low scores (Venezuela in last place, of course).

But I also included a chart showing that higher levels of economic liberty are correlated with higher levels of income.

That’s hardly a surprise for anyone who’s compared North Korea and South Korea. Or West Germany and East Germany.

But what about income mobility? Do free markets give low-income people an opportunity to climb the economic ladder?

Some new research from Vincent Geloso of George Mason University and James Dean of West Virginia University answers that question.

Here’s the abstract from their study.

Economic freedom is robustly associated with income growth, but does this association extend to the poorest in a society? In this paper, we employ Canada’s longitudinal cohorts of income mobility between 1982 and 2018 to answer this question. We find that economic freedom, as measured by the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America (EFNA) index, is positively associated with multiple measures of income mobility for people in the lowest income deciles, including a) absolute income gain; b) the percentage of people with rising income; and c) average decile mobility. For the overall population, economic freedom has weaker effects.

And here’s the part of the study that I found most interesting.

We learn that labor market freedom is most important.

When focusing on the bottom decile’s average decile mobility (see table 5), we must note this variable only measures upward decile mobility, as those in the poorest decile cannot move down a decile and the upper decile can only move down or stay put. As a result, the effect of economic freedom is likely somewhat understated because of these mathematical boundaries. Nevertheless, we see that greater economic freedom increases the lowest decile’s upward decile mobility. In essence, higher amounts of economic freedom improve the relative gains of those at the bottom of the distribution, allowing them to move to higher deciles. Here, again, we see that the labor market freedom component is key for the nation’s poorest, such that an additional point of labor market freedom allows those beginning in the poorest decile to move up an additional 0.145 deciles… To put that number into perspective, using the differences in economic freedom between Quebec and Alberta (i.e. the lowest and highest economic freedom units in our data) is again useful. The greater labor market freedom of Alberta entails that the poorest Albertans have 0.44 extra deciles of mobility on average than the poorest Quebeckers.

Wonky readers may enjoy the aforementioned Table 5.

The bottom line is that free markets and limited government are the recipe to help poor people climb the economic ladder, not class warfare and redistribution (as I explained here, here, here, and here).

It’s much better to focus on how to make poor people rich rather than trying to make rich people poor.

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The Fraser Institute in Canada has released its latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World, an index that measure and ranks nations based on whether they follow pro-growth policy.

Based on the latest available data on key indicators such as taxes, spending, regulation, trade policy, rule of law, and monetary policy, here are the top-20 nations.

You may be wondering how Hong Kong is still ranked #1.

In this summary of the findings, the authors explain that EFW is based on 2019 data. In other words, before Beijing cracked down. This means Hong Kong will probably not be the most-free jurisdiction when future editions are released.

The most recent comprehensive data available are from 2019. Hong Kong remains in the top position. The apparent increased insecurity of property rights and the weakening of the rule of law caused by the interventions of the Chinese government during 2020 and 2021 will likely have a negative impact on Hong Kong’s score, especially in Area 2, Legal System and Property Rights, going forward. Singapore, once again, comes in second. The next highest scoring nations are New Zealand, Switzerland, Georgia, United States, Ireland, Lithuania, Australia, and Denmark.

The United States was #6 in last year’s edition and it remains at #6 this year.

There are some other notable changes. The country of Georgia jumped to #5 while Australia dropped to #9.

Perhaps the most discouraging development is that Chile dropped to #29, a very disappointing result (and perhaps a harbinger of further decline in the nation that used to be known as the Latin Tiger).

And it’s also bad news that Canada has deteriorated over the past five years, dropping from #6 to #14.

The good news is that the world, on average, is slowly but surely moving in the right direction. Not as rapidly as it did during the era of the “Washington Consensus,” but progress nonetheless.

By the way, the progress is almost entirely a consequence of better policy in developing nations, especially the countries that escaped the tyranny of Soviet communism.

Policy has drifted in the wrong direction, by contrast, in the United States and Western Europe.

Indeed, the United States currently would be ranked #3 if it still enjoyed the level of economic liberty that existed in 2000.

In other words, the BushObamaTrump years have been somewhat disappointing.

Let’s look at another chart from the report. I’ve previously pointed out that there’s a strong relationship between economic freedom and national prosperity.

Well, here’s some additional evidence.

Let’s close by considering some of the nations represented by the red bar in the above chart.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Venezuela is once again ranked last. Though it is noteworthy that its score dropped from 3.31 to 2.83. I guess Maduro and the other socialists in Venezuela have a motto, “when you’re in a hole, keep digging.”

Argentina isn’t quite as bad as Venezuela, but I also think it’s remarkable that its score dropped from 5.88 to 5.50. That’s a big drop from a nation that already has a bad score.

Given these developments (as well as what’s happening in Chile), it’s not easy to be optimistic about Latin America.

P.S. There isn’t enough reliable data to rank Cuba and North Korea, so it’s quite likely that Venezuela doesn’t actually have the world’s most-oppressive economic policies.

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I’ve made the case for capitalism (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V) and the case against socialism (Part I, Part II, and Part III), while also noting that there’s a separate case to be made against redistribution and the welfare state.

This video hopefully ties together all that analysis.

If you don’t want to spend 10-plus minutes watching the video, I can sum everything up in just two sentences.

  1. Genuine socialism (government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls) is an utter failure and is almost nonexistent today (only in a few basket-case economies like Cuba and North Korea).
  2. The real threat to free enterprise and economic liberty is from redistributionism, the notion that politicians should play Santa Claus and give us a never-ending stream of cradle-to-grave goodies.

For purposes of today’s column, though, I want to focus on a small slice of the presentation (beginning about 2:00).

Here’s the slide from that portion of the video.

I make the all-important point that profits are laudable – but only if they are earned in the free market and not because of bailoutssubsidiesprotectionism, or a tilted playing field.

This is hardly a recent revelation.

I first wrote about this topic back in 2009.

And many other supporters of genuine economic liberty have been making this point for much longer.

Or more recently. In a new article for City Journal, Luigi Zingales emphasizes that being pro-market does not mean being pro-business.

The first time I visited the Grand Canyon many years ago, I was struck…by a sign that said, “Please don’t feed the wild animals.” Underneath was an explanation: you shouldn’t feed them because it’s not good for them. …We should post something of this kind on Capitol Hill as well—with the difference being that the sign would read, “Please don’t feed the businesses.” That’s not because we don’t like business. Quite the opposite: we love business so much that we don’t want to create a situation where business is so dependent on…a system of subsidies, that it is unable to compete and succeed… This is the…difference between being pro-market and being pro-business. If you are pro-business, you like subsidies for businesses; you want to make sure that they make the largest profits possible. If, on the other hand, you are pro-markets, you want to behave like the ranger in the Grand Canyon: …ensuring that markets remain competitive and…preventing businesses from becoming too dependent on a crony system to survive.

Amen.

Cronyism is bad economic policy because government is tilting the playing field and luring people and businesses into making inefficient choices.

But I also despise cronyism because some people mistakenly think it is a feature of free enterprise (particularly the people who incorrectly assume that being pro-market is the same as being pro-business).

The moral of the story is that we should have separation of business and state.

P.S. There’s one other point from Prof. Zingales’ article that deserves attention.

He gives us a definition of capitalism (oops, I mean free enterprise).

We use the term “free markets” so often that we sometimes forget what it actually means. If you look up “free markets” in the dictionary, you might see “an economy operating by free competition,” or better, “an economic market or system in which prices are based on competition among private businesses and not controlled by a government.”

For what it’s worth, I did the same thing for my presentation (which was to the New Economic School in the country of Georgia).

Here’s what I came up with.

By the way, the last bullet point is what economists mean when they say things are “complementary.”

In other words, capital is more valuable when combined with labor and labor is more valuable when combined with capital – as illustrated by this old British cartoon (and it’s the role of entrepreneurs to figure out newer and better ways of combining those two factors of production).

One takeaway from this is that Marx was wrong. Capital doesn’t exploit labor. Capital enriches labor (just as labor enriches capital).

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When writing Friday’s column about Somalia, I noticed that I have not written about the Human Freedom Index (HFI) since 2016 and 2018.

Let’s rectify that oversight by highlighting the results from the most-recent edition of that publication.

But first, some background. The Human Freedom Index is 50-percent-based on the data from Economic Freedom of the World and 50-percent-based on a set of variables that measure personal liberty.

Back in 2016, the world’s freest nation wasn’t actually a nation. It was Hong Kong, the autonomous (at the time) region of China. Switzerland was in second place, followed by New Zealand, Ireland, and Denmark (the United States was 23rd).

And in 2018, the top five were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, and Canada (the United States was 17th).

The newest edition of the HFI shows that things have not changed much. New Zealand is still at the top, narrowly edging out Switzerland.

Hong Kong is next, followed by Denmark and Australia. Here are the top-10 jurisdictions.

For what it’s worth, the United States is tied for #17, which is an improvement compared to 2016 but identical to the 2018 score.

Here are some excerpts from the new HFI.

The Human Freedom Index (HFI) presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. This sixth annual index uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom… The HFI covers 162 countries for 2018, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. …the regions with the highest levels of freedom are North America (Canada and the United States), Western Europe, and East Asia. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher average per capita income ($50,340) than those in other quartiles; the average per capita income in the least free quartile is $7,720.

As a general rule, there’s a reasonably strong correlation between economic freedom and personal freedom.

Nations that have one tend to have the other.

But there are some interesting exceptions.

Some countries ranked consistently high in the human freedom subindexes, including Switzerland, New Zealand, and Australia, each of which ranked in the top 10 in both personal and economic freedom. By contrast, some countries that ranked high on personal freedom ranked significantly lower in economic freedom. For example, Sweden ranked 1st in personal freedom but 46th in economic freedom; Norway ranked 3rd in personal freedom but 43rd in economic freedom; and Argentina ranked 37th in personal freedom but 144th in economic freedom. Similarly, some countries that ranked high in economic freedom found themselves significantly lower in personal freedom. For example, Singapore ranked 2nd in economic freedom while ranking 53rd in personal freedom; Jordan ranked 39th in economic freedom but 113th in personal freedom; and Malaysia ranked 46th in economic freedom but tied Jordan in personal freedom by ranking 113th.

By the way, Hong Kong’s score seems improbably high, but that’s because the report is based on data through 2018.

It’s quite likely that the jurisdiction’s score will take a tumble in the near future.

Although Hong Kong’s ratings and rankings have decreased since 2008, the impact of the Chinese Communist Party’s unprecedented interventions in the territory in 2019 and 2020 are not reflected in this year’s report (which, as noted, is based on 2018 data). Those recent events will likely decrease Hong Kong’s score noticeably in the future.

Here’s one final bit of information. This visual shows the nations enjoying the biggest improvements and biggest declines between 2008-2018. Congratulations to Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma to those of us with lots of gray hair), but I think Taiwan deserves special praise because it started with relatively good scores, which makes a big increase harder to achieve.

By contrast, is anybody surprised that Venezuela has suffered the biggest decline? The only good news (grading on a curve) is that Venezuela isn’t in last place in the HFI because Sudan and Syria are slightly more oppressive.

P.S. Tucker Carlson of Fox News recently asserted that Hungary has more freedom than the United States. That’s a silly claim. The United States (#17) ranks much higher than Hungary (#49), with better scores for both economic freedom and personal freedom.

That being said, Hungary is among the top-third of nations, so accusations of authoritarianism seem overwrought (and I have knee-jerk fondness for Hungary because it’s often butting heads with the dirigiste bureaucrats with the European Union in Brussels).

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As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, capitalism (oops, I mean free enterprise) is far superior than the various forms of statism.

Just last month, I shared a video with 20 example of market-friendly jurisdictions growing much faster than government-dominated nations.

But markets aren’t just superior at producing mass prosperity. Or at reducing mass poverty (the normal state of human existence).

Free enterprise also is the best option for dealing with a pandemic.

I wrote back in March about how free markets saved the day after the coronavirus struck.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead further elaborates on this theme.

The World Health Organization has been a shame and a disgrace, from its initial silence over China’s coverup of early data on the outbreak through its unreasoning hostility toward Taiwan and its collusion with Beijing’s efforts to discredit the lab-leak hypothesis. The premier international health agency has failed. Covax, the much-touted international program aimed at providing vaccines to citizens of countries too poor to purchase adequate supplies on the open market, has also fallen abysmally short. …What’s worked in the pandemic so far has been the dog everyone wants to kick: Big Pharma. Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson succeeded where the internationalists failed. Scientists in free societies working with the resources that capitalism provides have given the world hope. The WHO, Covax, the Chinese and Russian vaccines, and the “global community,” not so much.

Amen. Let’s be thankful for pharmaceutical companies. Their pursuit of profit is what led to the vaccines that have saved millions of lives.

By contrast, the WHO has been very unhelpful.

And America’s domestic bureaucracies, the FDA and CDC, have arguably been harmful.

Notwithstanding this track record, the Biden Administration wants to weaken the private sector.

The Biden administration…seems to believe that the best response…is to sabotage the American pharmaceutical industry. The U.S. development bank—the International Development Finance Corp.—will provide billions of dollars to firms based in countries like Brazil, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and South Korea that agree to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, the State Department’s coordinator for global Covid response, Gayle Smith, said last week that she wants to push Big Pharma to share its technology with its new government-subsidized foreign competitors. …one wonders exactly how President Biden squares subsidizing cheap overseas competition for one of the most successful industries in the U.S. with promoting jobs for the American middle class.

This proposal is nuts.

Only curmudgeonly libertarians will get upset about an effort to subsidize vaccines for the developing world.

But every rational person should be horrified about a plan that would weaken one of America’s most successful industries.

P.S. Moreover, we should reject short-sighted policies such as European-style price controls on drug companies. Such an approach would undermine our ability to deal with future pandemics and also reduce the likelihood of new and improved treatments for things such as cancer, dementia, and heart disease.

P.P.S. I like pharmaceutical companies when they are being honest participants in a free market. I don’t like them when they get in bed with big government.

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