Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Government intervention’ Category

In Part I, I warned that “stakeholder capitalism” is not just empty virtue signaling. Some advocates are using the concept to promote a statist agenda.

For Part II, let’s start with this video.

The main message of the video is that ethical profits are good for shareholders, but also good for everyone else (the supposed stakeholders).

By contrast, companies that don’t prioritize profits wind up hurting workers and consumers, not just the company’s owners (i.e., shareholders).

Let’s dig deeper into this topic.

Stakeholder theory reflects the more interventionist approach of continental Europe’s “civil law” while the shareholder approach is more consistent with the “common law” approach of the Anglosphere (the United Kingdom and many of its former colonies, including the United States).

That’s a key observation in Samuel Gregg’s column for Law & Liberty, which reviews a book by Professor Nadia E. Nedzel.

…stakeholder theory reinforces continental European rule through law inclinations and vice-versa, not least because of shared hard-communitarian foundations. …Such goals undermine the ability of corporations to produce prosperity. An emphasis on stability and maintaining levels of employment, for instance, exacts a cost in terms of organizational dynamism, not least by discouraging risk-taking and entrepreneurship. …Without such adjustments, however, a business will become complacent and uncompetitive. Eventually it will disappear, along with all the jobs once provided by the business. Likewise, if boards of directors are not focused on delivering shareholder value because profit is considered only one of many company objectives, a decline in earnings is sure to follow. …To the extent that stakeholder theory draws upon hard-communitarian principles which it shares with continental European rule through law models, it risks undermining already fragile commitments to rule of law in America and elsewhere. That’s just one more reason to shore up the priority of shareholder interests throughout corporate America. These priorities help explain the weaker economic performance of many corporations in civil law jurisdictions compared to those businesses located primarily in the Anglo-American sphere.

Allison Schrager of he Manhattan Institute wrote for the City Journal that Biden is on the wrong side and that his mistake, along with others, is failing to understand that so-called stakeholders benefit when companies are profitable.

…one thing that stood out was Biden’s vow to “put an end to the era of shareholder capitalism.” …disdain for the notion that a corporation’s primary objective is to maximize value for its shareholders has united the disparate likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and the Davos/Larry Fink crowd. It’s no surprise that Joe Biden is against it, too. …Maximizing shareholder value…does not create conflicts between different stakeholders, because economic success is not zero-sum. …long-term success requires happy and loyal employees, a healthy relationship with the community, and a thriving environment.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Lucian A. Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita shared their research showing that CEOs who pontificate about stakeholders don’t actually change their behavior.

…we dug deeper, investigating an array of corporate documents for the 136 public U.S. companies whose CEOs signed the statement. …we found evidence that the signatory CEOs didn’t intend to make any significant changes to how they do business. …We’ve identified almost 100 signatory companies that updated their corporate governance guidelines by the end of 2020. We found that the companies that made updates generally didn’t add any language that elevates the status of stakeholders, and most of them reaffirmed governance principles supporting shareholder primacy. …We also found that about 85% of the signatory companies didn’t even mention joining the “historic” statement in their proxy statements sent to shareholders the following year. Among the 19 companies that did mention it, none indicated that joining the statement would cause any changes to how they treat stakeholders.

Speaking of insincere hypocrites, that’s a good description of the Davos crowd. Matthew Lesh of the Adam Smith Institute wrote about their trendy support for stakeholders in a column for CapX.

…the man behind the World Economic Forum has declared that Covid warrants a ‘Great Reset’. With tedious predictability, Klaus Schwab’s bogeymen are the twin menaces of “neoliberal ideology” and “free market fundamentalism”. …he’s also calling for a “stakeholder model of corporate capitalism”… But it’s an idea based on a false dichotomy. A business that fails to return a profit to its shareholders cannot do anything for its other stakeholders, such as providing useful products to customers, paying its staff, procuring from suppliers… Delivering for shareholders is ultimately indivisible from benefiting your other ‘stakeholders’ because you can’t do one without the other. …Shivaram Rajgopal of Columbia Business School has found that top European companies who brandish their social and environmental credentials do no better in these criteria than American companies. But the European firms are much worse at ensuring good corporate governance. For example, worker representation on Germany’s supervisory boards has often meant worker representatives teaming up with managers to push against new technology and methods. In the longer run, this undermines returns to shareholders, but also means poorer products for customers, lower salaries for employees.

The bottom line is that there are lots of misguided attacks against capitalism, but none of the criticisms change the fact that free enterprise is the only system to ever deliver mass prosperity to ordinary people.

And that’s true even if big companies don’t support the system that enabled their very existence (perhaps because they fear they will got knocked from their perch by the the forces of “creative destruction“).

P.S. Just like yesterday, I can’t resist adding this postscript about the left-leaning executive who thought he was rejecting Milton Friedman, but actually did exactly as Friedman recommended.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

For years, I’ve been explaining that students have been hurt rather than helped by government programs to allegedly make higher education more affordable.

How can this be true?

For the simple reason that colleges and universities dramatically boosted tuition in response to all the government subsidies.

Did students somehow benefit?

Hardly. In addition to much higher tuition and fees, the higher-education sector became more bloated, with much more bureaucracy and much lighter workloads.

So the people working for colleges and universities were big beneficiaries.

Students, by contrast, got put on a backwards treadmill featuring more loans, higher tuition, and more debt.

Given this background, I was interested to see a column in the New York Times describing how students at Bennett College (and elsewhere) have been disadvantaged by the current system.

Here’s the headline from the piece, which was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom.

While I certainly sympathize with students who are now trapped in this system, I was left unsatisfied by both the above headline and the actual details of Ms. Cottom’s column.

Why?

Because there was a lot of discussion about the consequences of the current system but zero recognition that government is the reason colleges and universities are now so expensive and bureaucratic.

So I decided to make a modest correction to the headline.

Ms. Cottom thinks the answer is student loan forgiveness, which simply means other people pick up the tab.

That’s a perverse form of redistribution since people who went to college have higher earnings than the general population.

I don’t like redistribution in general, but redistributing form poor to rich is particularly perverse.

But even I might be willing to embrace loan forgiveness if something was being do to solve the underlying problem of the government-caused tuition spiral.

Needless to say, that’s not part of the discussion in Washington.

P.S. The underlying economic problem is “third-party payer.” It’s wreaked havoc with America’s health sector and it’s have the same pernicious effect on higher education.

Read Full Post »

While I definitely criticized the Food and Drug Administration for its many mistakes during the pandemic, I only made passing reference to that bureaucracy when referencing the shortage of baby formula during the concluding portion of a recent program.

And even that mention was not negative.

I was vaguely aware that the FDA had temporarily shut down a factory in Michigan because of concerns about bacteria in formula. And even a curmudgeonly libertarian like me did not view that as being a bad thing.

So I basically assumed that the severe shortages depicted in this map were mostly the result of bad luck.

But I should have known that bad government policy also played a big role.

The above map comes from an article for Reason by Jonathan Alder. Here’s some of what he wrote.

…if you’re having a hard time finding infant formula, you can thank Uncle Sam. …a combination of arguably well-intentioned policies have combined to magnify the effects of the Abbott recall and prevent American consumers from having access to alternative supplies. These include tariffs and quotas on infant formula imports, Food and Drug Administration regulations, and other government policies that both constrain imports and reduce the incentive for foreign producers in countries like Canada to invest in production that could help serve the American market. …There are steps the government could take to ease the shortage, such as removing or temporarily suspending FDA rules that bar the importation of infant formula from countries. …Infant formula that is perfectly safe and that is produced in accordance with European standards that are at least as stringent as US health and safety requirements, cannot be imported because the FDA has not reviewed and approved what is printed on the package, which is a costly and time-consuming process for producers.

The Wall Street Journal opined on the topic as well.

By now you’ve heard that some 40% of the nation’s baby formula is out of stock… This should never happen in America. How did it? Here’s the government part of the story you won’t hear from the political class. …the market is so concentrated is tariffs up to 17.5% on imports, which protect domestic producers from foreign competition. Non-trade barriers such as FDA labeling and ingredient requirements also limit imports even during shortages. …the Trump Administration sought to protect domestic producers by imposing quotas and tariffs on Canadian imports in the USMCA trade deal. …America’s baby-formula shortage illustrates how bigger government can make big business bigger, thereby limiting competition and choice.

Jon Miltimore, writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, further criticized government policy in this area.

…the government itself is primarily responsible for the baby formula shortage. …the New York Times…reported in March 2021, “baby formula is one of the most tightly regulated food products in the US, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dictating the nutrients and vitamins, and setting strict rules about how formula is produced, packaged, and labeled.” …many American parents buy “unapproved” European formula even though…it’s technically against the law. …On this black(ish) market, it turns out Americans are willing to pay big bucks for European formula. …At times, these nefarious black market imports have resulted in high profile busts, like in April 2021 when US Customs and Border Protection agents in Philadelphia seized 588 cases of baby formula (value: $30,000) that violated the FDA’s “import safety regulations.” Some may contend that the FDA is simply keeping Americans and their babies safe—which is no doubt what regulators want you to believe—but this overlooks an inconvenient fact: despite the FDA’s efforts, Americans are consuming vast amounts of black market baby formula, and the children are doing just fine.

Robby Soave also addressed the issue for Reason.

U.S. officials could have made such shortages less likely by approving baby formula that is widely available in Europe, but per usual, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has other priorities. The agency has a long history of taking forever—years and years and years—to approve foods and medications that European officials have already decided are perfectly safe for human consumption. …This is yet another in a long line of failures: Both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) screwed up the early approval process for COVID-19 testing. …The FDA should really stop erecting regulatory hurdles that make it harder for working-class parents to feed their families.

I don’t know if the FDA has been over-zealous in closing the Abbott plant in Michigan, so I won’t comment on that issue.

But I do know that imposing trade taxes on imports of baby formula is a bad idea.

And I know it’s also a bad idea to deny Americans the freedom to buy European-produced baby formula, especially since FDA bureaucrats simply don’t like certain labels.

Indeed, I’ll close by making the key point that we should have “mutual recognition” policies with other advanced nations. In other words, we should start with the default assumption that consumers have the right to buy goods from countries such as Japan, Netherlands, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

This type of “good globalism” should be part of well-designed free-trade agreements with peer countries.

P.S. Mutual recognition also allows for regulatory diversity, which reduces systemic risk.

Read Full Post »

Most people would say high prices are the biggest problem with health care in the United States. But high prices should be viewed as the symptom of the real problem, which is “third-party payer.”

And what is third-party payer?

It’s the fact that consumers purchase health care with other people’s money. And we should blame government intervention.

To be more specific, the vast majority of purchases are financed by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, or by insurance policies that are subsidized by the tax code’s healthcare exclusion.

And that means people have very little reason to care about the cost of care – creating a recipe for higher costs and inefficiency.

Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute explains the problem.

One of the reasons that the costs of medical care services in the US have increased more than twice as much as general consumer prices since 1998 is that a large and increasing share of medical costs are paid by third parties (private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, Department of Veterans Affairs, etc.) and only a small and shrinking percentage of health care costs are paid out-of-pocket by consumers. …Consumers of health care have significantly reduced incentives to monitor prices and be cost-conscious buyers of medical and hospital services when they pay less than $1 themselves out of every $10 spent, and the incentives of medical care providers to hold costs down are greatly reduced knowing that their customers aren’t paying out-of-pocket and aren’t price sensitive.

Some people wonder whether there’s something about the health sector that automatically and inevitably causes higher prices.

But that’s not true. Mark has a table showing that cosmetic surgery costs have not increased faster than inflation.

And what makes cosmetic surgery different than other types of medical procedures?

As Mark explains, people directly pay for things like tummy tucks and breast augmentation.

Cosmetic procedures, unlike most medical services, are not usually covered by insurance. Patients typically paying 100% out-of-pocket for elective aesthetic procedures are cost-conscious and have strong incentives to shop around and compare prices at the dozens of competing providers in any large city. Providers operate in a very competitive market with transparent pricing and therefore have incentives to provide cosmetic procedures at competitive prices. Those providers are also less burdened and encumbered by the bureaucratic paperwork that is typically involved with the provision of most standard medical care with third-party payments. …the prices of most cosmetic procedures have fallen in real terms since 1998, and some non-surgical procedures have even fallen in nominal dollars… In all cases, cosmetic procedures have increased in price by far less than the 132% increase in the price of medical care services between 1998 and 2021 and the 230% increase in prices for hospital services.

If you want videos on the topic, here’s a Dutch expert explaining the issue. I also recommend this clever cartoon video that explains third-party payer and this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. And this Reason video on how costs are lower when actual markets operate.

Read Full Post »

Politicians in Washington very much like the idea of industrial policy.

Steve Forbes, however, warns that legislation to expand cronyism would be a very bad idea.

As Steve notes, politicians foolishly claim we need our own version of industrial policy so we can compete with China’s industrial policy.

But China is suffering in part because of that form of intervention.

So why on earth do American politicians think we should copy the policies of a nation where living standards are only a fraction of U.S. levels?

The bad news, as James Pethokoukis recently observed for the American Enterprise Institute, is that this pork-barrel legislation may soon get through Congress.

…during President Biden’s State of the Union address…he said it was “so important” for Congress to pass something called the “Bipartisan Innovation Act.” To the best of just about anyone’s knowledge, no such legislation existed. Save the “senior moment” wisecracks. Biden was breaking out a new name for a couple of bills making their way through the House and Senate. …few Americans have ever heard of the House’s America Competes Act or the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, despite their huge price tags. But they might want to get up to speed, ASAP. …there’s the substance of the bills themselves, …the parts that seem intent on mimicking top-down Chinese industrial policy, such as the funding for semiconductor manufacturing and efforts to create “Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs” across America.

So what will happen if politicians approved this example of cronyism?

The easy answer is that we will have more politicization of the economy. And that’s not a good outcome.

The Wall Street Journal opined on this legislation last year.

Competition with China will define the coming decades, and Congress wants to get into the game. Alas…the Senate’s nearly 1,500-page Innovation and Competition Act that won’t help innovation or competitiveness. …the bill’s bipartisan support has less to do with China than with its typical Congressional spending blowout and parochial politics. …political strings…always attach to industrial policy. Companies left to their own devices will allocate capital to its most productive use, but government subsidies will steer investment where politics directs. …Many Republicans support the bill because they believe the U.S. needs to mimic Beijing’s directed capital to defeat Beijing. But the U.S. strength has always been its capitalist system, which encourages private investment and innovation through market competition, strong intellectual property rights, and, yes, profits. That’s how the U.S. transcended Japan’s challenge in the 1980s and 1990s. …China’s strategy has long been to subsidize inefficient state-owned enterprises and national champions like Huawei, which has hamstrung smaller potential competitors. …The China challenge requires a better response than the U.S. has mustered to date. But the industrial policy of this bill will waste taxpayer money and divert private capital to less efficient purposes. America can’t out-compete China by imitating it.

Veronique de Rugy also addressed this issue last year.

Here are excerpts from her National Review column.

Industrial policy looks great on paper. The government simply has to identify an industry that needs support, prop it up with subsidies, loans, tax breaks, or protect it from foreign competition with tariffs and other trade regulations, and we will be on our way to fixing many of our problems. …the winners picked by the government may not all turn out to be the champions we hope they will become. …And yet, we continue to believe that somehow, this time, industrial policy will work better. You even hear conservatives make arguments like, “It works in China, so we have to do the same.” It’s as if some people are convinced that the problems that have plagued past and current central-planning efforts in the U.S. government don’t exist in China. But the truth is that China’s successes may not look as good relative to the U.S. if you look closely at the data and facts.

Veronique is right. China is not a role model

Just like the Soviet Union was not a role model.

Just like Japan of the 1980s was not a role model.

Industrial policy has always been a failure, anywhere and everywhere, whether done on a big scale (central planning) or a small scale (business subsidies).

Free markets are the right answer. Though I guess it is not much fun being a politician if your role is to simply leave people alone.

P.S. In his article, Pethokoukis expresses sympathy for having the government fund basic research instead of picking winners and losers. I think he is far too optimistic about getting good results with government-financed research and development.

Read Full Post »

You can actually learn a lot about sensible tax policy by looking at the behavior of professional athletes and sports franchises.

Simply stated, people respond to incentives.

That’s true in the United States. And it’s true overseas.

We can also learn about the pitfalls of cronyism by looking at sports.

And maybe we can also learn why socialism is a mistake.

Not just watered-down tax-and-spend socialism-lite. In this case, we’re talking unvarnished government-ownership-of-the-means-of-production socialism.

At least sort of. Matthew Walther wrote a satirical column (or was it semi-satirical?) for the New York Times about how politicians should take over baseball to save it.

It pays to be honest up front about what nationalizing baseball would entail. While I like to think the Biden administration could seize all 30 teams and dissolve the league by executive order, citing language buried somewhere in the text of the Patriot Act, it’s more realistic to assume that Congress should be involved. . The legislation would allow teams to be purchased at their current (and absurdly inflated) market value. Players, coaches and other staff would become federal employees. The general manager would be appointed by the governor of the state in which the team plays its home games; manager would be a statewide office that citizens vote for every six years. There would be no term limit. …Revenues, though reduced, would be more equitably distributed. I imagine gate receipts and merchandise sales are being given en bloc to local authorities in cities where teams play, bolstering the coffers of many struggling municipalities. Public funding of stadiums would continue, but instead of being a cynical grab of money by destitute owners, it would be a noble enterprise, accepted by indifferent citizens as one of those worthwhile cultural enterprises like the Smithsonian Institution that governments are obliged to support.

The lesson the rest of us should take from this column is that baseball may be declining in popularity…and a government takeover would be the surest way of completely killing the sport.

Matt Welch of Reason understands. He responded to Walther’s column with a serious point about the baleful impact of government-subsidized stadiums.

…both the essay and the spectacle of an ambivalent Opening Day are timely reminders that much of what plagues the sport is not solvable by government, it emanates from government. …Giving out subsidies and tax breaks for sports business owners is self-evidently terrible enough, as have concluded virtually every non-corrupted economist who has ever studied the issue. …Self-funders are also incentivized to stay put, rather than jilting the local fan base. “When governments become landlords,” I wrote last year, “sports businesses, no matter how deep their pockets, start acting like tenants: always eyeing the exits for a potentially better deal. If you build it, they will leave.” Baseball doesn’t need to be nationalized, it needs to be privatized—no more subsidies, no more finger-wagging congressional hearings, no more State of the Union address moralizing, no more unique-to-this-one-sport carve outs from federal law. It’s time for these welfare queens to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and compete for audience share as if their bottom lines depended on that as much as it does on the ribbon-cutting innumeracy of dull-witted politicians.

Amen.

P.S. Back in 2012, I waxed poetic in a TV interview about politicians investigating steroid use.

P.P.S. I also opined that year about Olympic athletes being taxed by the IRS.

P.P.P.S. In 2016, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers learned a very painful lesson about marginal tax rates.

Read Full Post »

In Part I of this series, Professor Don Boudreaux explained the folly of price controls, and Professor Antony Davies was featured in Part II.

Now let’s see some commentary from the late, great, Milton Friedman.

As Professor Friedman explained, the economics of price controls are very clear.

When politicians and bureaucrats suppress prices, you get shortages (as all students should learn in their introductory economics classes).

Sometimes that happens with price controls on specific sectors, such as rental housing in poorly governed cities.

Sometimes it happens because of economy-wide price controls, as we saw during Richard Nixon’s disastrous presidency.

In all cases, price controls are imposed by politicians who are stupid or evil. That’s blunt language, but it’s the only explanation.

Sadly, there will never be a shortage of those kinds of politicians, as can be seen from this column in the Wall Street Journal by Andy Kessler.

Here are some excerpts.

On the 2020 campaign trail, Joe Biden declared, “ Milton Friedman isn’t running the show anymore.” Wrong! …Lo and behold, inflation is running at 7.9%, supply chains are tight, and many store shelves are empty. Friedman’s adage “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” has stood the test of time. But what scares me most is the likely policy responses by the Biden administration that would pour salt into this self-inflicted wound. It feels as if price controls are coming. …Prices set by producers are signals, and consumers whisper feedback billions of times a day by buying or not buying products. Mess with prices and the economy has no guide. The Soviets instituted price controls on everything from subsidized “red bread” to meat, often resulting in empty shelves. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Recovery Agency fixed prices, prolonging the Depression, all in the name of “fair competition.” …Price controls don’t work. Never have, never will. But we keep instituting them. Try finding a cheap apartment in rent-controlled New York City. …Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leader among our economic illiterate, noted in February that high prices are caused in part by “giant corporations…”

He closes with a very succinct and sensible observation.

Want to whip inflation now? Forget all the Band-Aids and government controls. Instead, as Friedman suggests, stop printing money.

In other words, Mr. Kessler is suggesting that politicians do the opposite of Mitchell’s Law.

Instead of using one bad policy (inflation) as an excuse to impose a second bad policy (price controls), he wants them to undo the original mistake.

Will Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren take his advice?

That’s doubtful, but I’m hoping there are more rational people in the rooms where these decisions get made.

Maybe some of them will have read this column from Professor Boudreaux.

Prices are among the visible results of the invisible hand’s successful operation, as well as the single most important source of this success. Each price objectively summarizes an inconceivably large number of details that must be taken account of if the economy is to perform even moderately well. Consider the price of a loaf of a particular kind and brand of bread. …The price at the supermarket of a loaf of bread, a straightforward $4.99, is the distillation of the economic results of the interaction of an unfathomably large number of details from around the globe about opportunities, trade-offs, and preferences. The invisible hand of the market causes these details to be visibly summarized not only in the price of bread, but in the prices of all other consumer goods and services, as well as in the prices of each of the inputs used in production. …These market prices also give investors and entrepreneurs guidance on how to deploy scarce resources in ways that produce that particular mix of goods and services that will today be of greatest benefit for consumers.

I have two comments.

First, Don obviously buys fancier bread than my $1.29-a-loaf store brand (used to be 99 cents, so thanks for nothing to the Federal Reserve).

Second, and far more important, he’s pointing out that market-based prices play an absolutely critical role in coordinating the desires of consumers and producers.

When politicians interfere with prices, it’s akin to throwing sand in the gears of a machine.

For more information on the role of prices, I strongly recommend these videos from Professors Russ Roberts, Howard Baetjer, and Alex Tabarrok.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Spain is more economically backwards than most nations in Western Europe. As a public finance economist, my gut instinct is to blame bad fiscal policy.

And there’s certainly plenty of evidence for that view. After all, taxes drive a huge wedge between pre-tax income and post-tax consumption. So there is not much incentive to be a productive member of society.

But it’s important to remember that fiscal policy is just one of the ways politicians can hurt an economy.

In an article for the Foundation for Economic Education, Michael Peterson explains how labor law is stifling job creation in the Spanish economy.

Spain doesn’t suffer from a labor shortage like in the United States, but something much worse—a sclerotic labor market marked by…Employment Protection Legislation (EPL) that constrains employers from hiring and firing workers. …These figures help explain the high unemployment rates observed in Spain over the past three decades—averaging 17.3 percent compared to 7.6 percent for EU-8 countries and 5.2 percent for the U.S. …one study showed that Spain’s unemployment rate wouldn’t have been as high following the Great Recession had there been less onerous costs to firing workers in permanent jobs… In another study, researchers from the Banco de España found that the duality function of the labor market increases unemployment volatility relative to a unified employment system (like in the U.S., for instance). A similar study finds that increasing the number of workers on temporary contracts reduces the number of days they worked by 4.5 percent and their total earnings by 9 percent. …Additionally, the labor force participation rate has steadily declined in Spain since 2012—from almost 60 percent to 56.7 percent. …Spain also has one of the highest historical long-term unemployment rates among OECD nations, further reflecting the rigidities within its labor market.

Here’s the chart that accompanied the article.

If you peruse the EU’s data on unemployment, you’ll find that Greece also has very high levels of joblessness. And for largely the same reasons.

By the way, Mr. Peterson also notes that excessive tax rates play a role.

Another factor that we can’t ignore is the high social security tax on employers in Spain, which stands at 29.9 percent.

So what’s the bottom line?

The most important thing to understand is that some of the politicians who support “employment protection legislation” may genuinely think they are helping workers.

But their efforts are backfiring for reasons that should be obvious.

  • Making it more expensive to hire workers means fewer workers will be hired.
  • Making it more expensive to fire workers means fewer workers will be hired.
  • Making it more expensive to employ workers means fewer workers will be hired.

P.S. Labor law is one area where the United States is far ahead of most European nations.

P.P.S. I applaud Spaniards for coming up with clever ways of avoiding excessive taxation.

P.P.P.S. Spanish politicians balance their bad labor taxation with bad business taxation.

Read Full Post »

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).

Read Full Post »

To explain why politicians should not interfere with prices, I’ve shared videos from Marginal Revolution, Don Boudreaux, Learn Liberty, and Russ Roberts.

To add to that collection, here’s part of a lecture by Professor Antony Davies.

The bottom line is that price controls have a history of failure, anywhere and everywhere they’ve been tried.

But some folks on the left want to resuscitate this awful idea, as reported in an article in the New York Times by Ben Casselman and

America’s recent inflation spike has prompted renewed interest in an idea that many economists and policy experts thought they had long ago left behind for good: price controls. …the phrase “price controls” has, at least for many people, called to mind images of product shortages and bureaucratic overreach. …As consumer prices soared this fall, however, a handful of mostly left-leaning economists reignited the long-dormant debate, arguing in opinion columns, policy briefs and social-media posts that the idea deserves a second look. …Few economists today defend the Nixon price controls. But some argue that it is unfair to consider their failure a definitive rebuttal of all price caps. …Democrats and the administration have stopped short of suggesting actual price limits.

In a column for the U.K.-based Guardian, Professor Isabella Weber of the University of Massachusetts Amherst argues for price controls to counter corporate greed.

Inflation is near a 40-year high.In 2021, US non-financial profit margins have reached levels not seen since the aftermath of the second world war. This is no coincidence. large corporations with market power have used supply problems as an opportunity to increase prices and scoop windfall profits. we need…a serious conversation about strategic price controls… Price controls would buy time to deal with bottlenecks that will continue as long as the pandemic prevails. Strategic price controls could also contribute to the monetary stability needed to mobilize public investments towards economic resilience, climate change mitigation and carbon-neutrality. The cost of waiting for inflation to go away is high. 

For what it’s worth, I agree that businesses want as much profit as possible (just as workers want wages to be as high as possible).

But the notion that corporate greed is causing inflation is laughable. After all, weren’t businesses also greedy in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s? Yet we didn’t see a big uptick in consumer prices.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that the vast majority of economists, both right and left, reject Prof. Weber’s hypothesis.

Needless to say, the Federal Reserve deserves blame for inflation, not greedy companies (or greedy workers).

It’s possible, of course, that today’s rising prices are partly or even mostly transitory. But, given the easy-money policy we’ve had (including under Trump), it’s perhaps more likely that prices are going up as an inevitable consequence of mistakes by the central bank.

Let’s close with Alberto Mingardi’s 2020 column in the Wall Street Journal about how a product-specific price control failed.

Italy is trying to control the price of face masks, …a fixed price of 50 European cents… The Italian newspaper Il Foglio reports that the government is buying face masks wholesale at a price between 38 and 70 European cents each—essentially admitting it can’t abide by its own price controls. …The Civil Protection Department, Italy’s national body that deals with emergencies, …discouraged entrepreneurs from importing masks, right as more masks were needed. …Those who were buying up masks to hoard risked government confiscation. These moves clamped down on price gouging but created a shortage. …pharmacists can’t get masks cheap enough to sell at a retail price of 50 European cents. …The price fixers have promised a subsidy to pharmacists to mitigate losses. But the price was fixed by executive order, whereas the subsidy was merely promised. Quite a few pharmacists elected to stop selling masks.

P.S. Politicians in Washington want to impose price controls on the pharmaceutical industry. That concerns me since I’m getting older and might be in a position where I would benefit from new therapeutics. But companies will have much less incentive for research and innovation if government makes it very difficult to make money.

Read Full Post »

It’s hard to be optimistic about Japan’s economic future, in large part because the burden of government is expanding thanks to an aging population and a tax-and-transfer entitlement system.

Maintaining that approach is a recipe for ever-higher taxes (especially since Japan already has record levels of debt).

And Japanese politicians definitely have been grabbing more money, enabled to a considerable extent by a money-grabbing value-added tax.

To make matters worse, the country’s economy has not enjoyed much growth ever since a bubble burst about thirty years ago.

Sadly, the current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, doesn’t seem to have any sensible ideas for his country.

Instead, as reported by Ben Dooley and in the New York Times, he’s latched on to a very silly proposal.

Japan’s prime minister…wants…to…Give…employees a substantial raise. The reasoning is simple. Wage growth has been stagnant for decades in Japan, the wealth gap is widening and the quickest fix is nudging people…to pay their employees more. Higher wages, the thinking goes, will jump-start consumer spending and lift Japan’s sputtering economy. …the prime minister is calling on employers to increase pay as much as 4 percent in 2022. Companies that comply will be allowed to increase their overall corporate tax deductions by up to 40 percent. …Mr. Kishida said…Increasing pay “is not a cost,” he added. “It’s an investment in the future.”

Kishida’s scheme is a bizarre mix of industrial policy and Keynesian economics.

He wants a special loophole in the tax code, but only if companies jump through certain hoops.

All based on the flawed notion that consumer spending drives the economy (it’s actually the economy that drives consumer spending).

Unsurprisingly, the private sector isn’t very impressed by the prime minister’s approach.

Business groups, union leaders and others have questioned the feasibility… That businesses would resist increasing wages even when essentially paid to do so shows just how intractable the problem is. Years of weak growth…have left companies little room to raise prices. …The reaction to the wage proposal is an inauspicious sign for Mr. Kishida, who took office two months ago promising to…put Japan’s economy back on track through a “new capitalism.”

Kishida’s “new capitalism” sounds even worse than some of the gimmicky ideas that have been pushed on the right in the United States (reform conservatism, common-good capitalism, nationalist conservatism, and compassionate conservatism).

From an economic perspective, he needs to learn that sustained higher wages are only possible if there’s more productivity, which translates into more income for both companies and workers.

And that’s not a description of what we find in Japan.

…there is the issue of unprofitability. For nearly a decade, a majority of Japanese businesses have been unprofitable — around 65 percent in 2019, the lowest figure since 2010. They have been kept afloat by cheap money underwritten by the Bank of Japan, but no profits mean no corporate tax liability, so those businesses would not be eligible for Mr. Kishida’s incentives.

The bottom line is that Japan’s political elite has been marching steadily in the wrong direction, and they never seem to learn from previous mistakes.

The government has long tried to find something, anything, to stimulate the economy and push up prices. It has pumped money into financial markets and made borrowing nearly free. But it’s been to little avail…the Japanese government has turned to even larger amounts of stimulus, showering consumers with cash handouts and companies with zero-interest loans. …In 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe introduced a similar plan, with little success. Today, average wages remain stuck at around $2,800 a month, about the same level as two decades ago.

P.S. Part of the problem is that Japanese politicians may be listening to terrible advice from left-leaning bureaucracies such as the International Monetary Fund and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

P.P.S. Here’s another example of a foolish gimmick by Japanese politicians.

P.P.P.S. And let’s not forget that Japan may win a prize for the strangest example of regulation.

Read Full Post »

If you’re a policy wonk, you’ll enjoy this history of how government regulation has hindered the development of telecommunications technology.

I want to focus on the part of the video, beginning about 30:00, which discusses “net neutrality.” The interview with Professor Hazlett took place in 2017, at a time when there was lots of fighting over this issue.

The pro-regulation crowd claimed that net neutrality was needed to protect consumers from slow and expensive service. And they made all sorts of ridiculous claims about the Trump Administration’s plans to get rid of the Obama-era regulation.

At the time, this tweet from the Democratic members of the U.S. Senate got a lot of attention.

So what actually happened after net neutrality was repealed?

I suppose the first question to answer is:

Did..

…the…

…Internet…

…slow…

…to…

…a…

…crawl?

Not exactly. Robby Soave gives us the details in a column for Reason. He starts with some background information.

Exactly four years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the internet regulation known as net neutrality, which had forced internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all content identically in terms of download and streaming speeds, for instance. Since the popular policy had come into existence during the Obama administration, and was gutted during President Donald Trump’s term, its demise was treated as the end of the internet as we know it by panic-stricken #resistance liberals. …The term net neutrality was coined by law professor Tim Wu in 2006; his big idea was that the government needed the power to restrict ISPs’ ability to offer different levels of service to different customers. …Wu cautioned that without rules requiring internet service providers to treat all traffic and content equally, the internet as we had come to know it would cease to exist.”

And here are the results.

Today, the internet is still here, and still functioning properly. Expectations that ISPs would practice widespread and improper discrimination did not pan out. On the contrary, the internet is better and faster for basically everybody than it was when net neutrality ended—in fact, it’s better and faster than at any point in the past. …Foes of net neutrality were clearly correct that the internet didn’t need the government to save it, and absent federal direction and regulation, everything is fine.

The moral of the story is that we experienced a major test of regulation vs. deregulation. And we’ve learned that the advocates of red tape were wildly wrong and the supporters of free enterprise were exactly right.

That’s a lesson we can apply to all sorts of other issues involving government intervention (housing subsidies, financial markets, fisheries, organ transplants, labor markets, etc, etc).

Read Full Post »

Tax issues such as depreciation, net operating losses, worldwide taxation, and carry forwards probably set the record for inducing boredom, but I suspect most people also have little interest in a workforce issue known as “employment protection.”

But they should.

Job creation and wage levels can be adversely affected when politicians impose laws and regulations that sound nice, but have the unintended consequence of increasing the cost of employing people.

The good news is that this is an area where the United States gets a high score.

As shown in the chart, America is behind only Denmark in having a deregulated market for matters such as hiring, firing, and compensation.

Today, we’re going to examine some research about the impact of government intervention in labor markets.

Here are some excerpts from a new working paper for the European Central Bank, authored by Gerhard Rünstler, that looks at the impact of labor market deregulation in eurozone nations over the past 20-plus years.

This paper uses a narrative panel VAR to estimate the macro-economic effects of reforms in the euro area in between 1998 Q1 and 2018 Q4. …The narrative VAR finds that unemployment benefit reforms lead to a relatively quick increase in employment and a moderate decline in the real wage. In the medium term, the effect on employment remains, while real compensation reverts back to baseline. The responses to reforms of regular contract EPL are similar, but the response of employment builds up gradually and reaches its full scale only after about six years. …the effects of EPL reforms depend on the state of the business cycle: in states of low growth the response of real activity and employment is more delayed. Some of the reforms had sizeable medium-term effects. In particular, the German Hartz reforms and EPL reforms in Portugal after 2007 altogether raised GDP and employment by above 2% in these countries. Reforms in the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain had smaller but still significant effects.

Here are some of the statistical estimates from the study, starting with a look at relaxing employment protection legislation.

Output and employment increase, which is good news, but the most important finding is an increase in long-run compensation.

Here’s a look at what happens if the law is changed to reduce subsidies for joblessness.

Unsurprisingly, there’s more output and more employment (a lesson we’ve learned in the United States).

I’ll include one final graphic from the study.

Figure 5 shows that the benefits may be larger, or materialize more quickly, depending on the economy’s underlying health.

The bottom line is that it is always a good idea to reduce government intervention in labor markets. If you want more jobs and higher pay, deregulate when the economy is weak and deregulate when the economy is strong.

By the way, the European Central Bank is not the only international organization to reach this conclusion.

I also want to share some passages from last year’s Doing Business report from the World Bank.

…firms should…be free to conduct their business in the most efficient way possible. When labor regulation is too cumbersome for the private sector, economies experience higher unemployment—most pronounced among youth and female workers. …Flexible labor regulation provides workers with the opportunity to choose their jobs and working hours more freely, which in turn increases labor force participation. …For example, if France were to attain the same degree of labor market flexibility as the United States, its employment rate would rise by 1.6 percentage points, or 14% of the employment gap between the two countries. When Sweden increased labor market flexibility, by giving firms with fewer than 11 employees the freedom to exempt two workers from their priority list, labor productivity in small firms increased 2–3% more than it did at larger firms. …Many high- and upper-middle-income economies, including Denmark…and the United States, have flexible labor regulation. In other advanced economies, including Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Spain, strict labor rules make the process of hiring employees arduous. Research shows that strict employment protection legislation shapes firms’ incentives to enter and exit the economy, which in turn has implications for job creation and economic growth. …When faced with rigid employment protection laws, firms lose the freedom to conduct business efficiently. …A firm’s ability to adjust to shocks is adversely affected by rigid labor regulation. Moreover, firms invest less in new product creation in such an environment.

The moral of the story is that when politicians impose laws to “protect” workers, they’re actually making it less likely that businesses will hire workers.

P.S. This cartoon aptly captures what happens when well-intentioned people expand government (by the way, most politicians are not well-intentioned).

Read Full Post »

There are some issues – such as class-warfare tax rates and the minimum wage – where intelligent people on the left will privately admit being wrong (or at least they will admit adverse consequences).

Another example is rent control.

Indeed, it’s so obvious that imposing price controls on housing will create shortages that some folks on the left even admit publicly that it’s a bad idea.

Yet leftist politicians are drawn to the policy for the simple reason that renters outnumber landlords.

Simply stated, they’re willing to impose considerable damage so long as they can grab a few extra votes.

Let’s look at some evidence about the folly of rent control, and we’ll start with a hot-off-the-presses column by Ryan Mills for National Review.

Democratic leaders in Minnesota’s capital city are scrambling for solutions after developers put several large projects on hold across St. Paul in the wake of last week’s election, when residents approved what may be the strictest rent-control policy in the country. …left-wing activists on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River succeeded in their effort to cap rent increases at 3 percent annually, including on new construction, a step most communities that have imposed rent-control policies have specifically avoided out of concern that it would discourage future investments. The St. Paul initiative passed last week with 53 percent support. …Large developers who spoke to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press told reporters that they’re pausing their projects across the city, and they are “re-evaluating what – if any – future business we’ll be doing in St. Paul.” Lenders are pulling out of new projects, they say, worried about the impact of the new policy. …dozens of buildings…have had 2022 rehabilitation projects stopped.

Wow. Sounds like St. Paul wants to supplant Minneapolis as the worst-governed city in the state.

Speaking of poorly governed cities, Christian Britschgi of Reason wrote early last year about what’s happening with rent control in New York City.

When the New York legislature passed major changes to the state’s rent regulations in June 2019, critics warned the new law would reduce investment in, and renovations of, rental properties in New York City. …those predictions are bearing out. …sales of apartment buildings in the Big Apple fell by 36 percent in 2019, and…the money spent on those sales fell by 40 percent. The prices investors were paying for rent-stabilized units—where allowable rent increases are set by the government and usually capped at around 1 or 2 percent per year—fell by 7 percent. …69 percent of building owners have cut their spending on apartment upgrades by more than 75 percent since the passage of the state’s rent regulations. Another 11 percent of the landlords in the survey decreased investments in their properties by more than 50 percent.

Some European cities also have adopted price controls on housing.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Jon Miltimore explains the damage this approach has caused in Stockholm.

Stockholm is just one of many Swedish cities struggling with a housing shortage. It’s not just that prices are too high; wait times for flats are also stunningly long. In Stockholm, for example, the average waiting time for a typical property is about nine years…, but wait-time in Stockholm’s most attractive neighbourhoods can run double that. …For younger Swedes in particular, the housing situation is a real problem—and it stems from Sweden’s decades-long embrace of rent control policies, which stretch back to World War II. …the results of Sweden’s rent control policies were quite predictable. The reality is price controls and other government regulations can’t fix housing problems.

The mess in Stockholm has even attracted attention from the BBC, as illustrated by the excerpt in this tweet.

Jon Miltimore also wrote about disastrous impact of rent control in Berlin.

In February 2020, Berlin introduced the so-called Mietendeckel—a cap on rent—to keep Berlin from becoming the next London or New York, cities where pricey rents have driven out many lower- and middle-class residents. The rent caps didn’t apply to everyone, however. They applied to properties built prior to 2014, freezing rent at June 18, 2019 levels. …Well, a year later, and the results of Berlin’s experiment are in. …Housing supply has shrunk and many landlords have reportedly exited the market, making the shortage much worse. …The lesson? Rent control has effects on housing supply, and those effects are not good.

And it you want more bad news from Germany, Berlin voters just approved a scheme to confiscate some apartments.

Here’s the story from the EU Observer.

Berliners voted in favour of expropriating apartments owned by big real-estate companies, with 56 percent of voters in the German capital saying ‘yes’ in the non-binding referendum at this weekend, the Financial Times reported on Monday. Now Berlin’s new municipal government has to decide how to proceed, since the expropriation of housing units could be legally challenged as against the German constitution.

I don’t know the outcome (if any) of the court challenge, but I do know that rent control is horrible policy.

And other economists agree.

P.S. Price controls are also bad news for pharmaceutical products and emergency supplies.

Read Full Post »

Way back in 2009, I shared a meme that succinctly summarizes how Washington operates.

It’s basically a version of Mitchell’s Law. To elaborate, governments cause problems and politicians then use those problems as an excuse to make government even bigger.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I worry the same thing may be about to happen because of the current concern about “supply chain” issues, perhaps best illustrated by the backlog of ships at key ports, leading to shortages of key goods.

Some of this mess is fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s being exacerbated by bad policy.

In a column for Reason, J.D. Tuccille points out that government is the problem, not the solution.

…supply-chain issues…create shortages and push prices up around the world. …Lockdowns also changed people’s lives, closing offices and factories and confining people at home. That resulted in massive and unpredictable shifts in demand and unreliable supply. …”Market economies tend to be pretty good at getting food on the supermarket shelves and fuel in petrol stations, if left to themselves,” agrees Pilkington. “That last part is key: if left to themselves. Heavy-handed interference in market economies tends to produce the same pathologies we see in socialist economies, including shortages and inflation. That has been the unintended consequence of lockdown.” …The danger is that people see economic problems caused by earlier fiddling and then demand even more government intervention. …if the government were to further meddle in the market to allocate products made scarce by earlier actions, it’s hard to see how the result wouldn’t be anything other than increased supply chain chaos.

Allysia Finley opines for the Wall Street Journal about California’s role in the supply-chain mess.

The backup of container ships at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports has grown in recent weeks… The two Southern California ports handle only about 40% of containers entering the U.S., mostly from Asia. Yet ports in other states seem to be handling the surge better. Gov. Ron DeSantis said last month that Florida’s seaports had open capacity. So what’s the matter with California? State labor and environmental policies. …business groups recently asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency and suspend labor and environmental laws that are interfering with the movement of goods. …One barrier is a law known as AB5. …Trucking companies warned that the law could put small carriers out of business and cause drivers to leave the state. …there’s little doubt the law hinders efficiency and productivity. …State officials have also pressed localities to attach green mandates to permits for new warehouses, which can be poison pills. …This boatload of regulations is making it more expensive and difficult to store goods arriving at California ports.

Needless to say, I’m not surprised California is making things worse.

The state seems to have some of the nation’s worst politicians.

But let’s set that aside and close with some discussion about one of the differences between government and the private sector.

This may surprise some readers, but people and businesses in the private sector make mistakes all the time.

So part of the supply-chain mess presumably is a result of companies and entrepreneurs making bad guesses.

That being said, there’s a big feedback mechanism in the private sector. It’s called profit and loss.

So when mistakes are made, there’s a big incentive to quickly change.

With government, by contrast, there’s very little flexibility (as we saw during the pandemic). And when politicians and bureaucrats do act, they often respond to political incentives that lead them to make things worse.

Read Full Post »

In my fantasy country of Libertaria, there is no Department of Labor, no regulation of employment contracts between consenting adults, and no favoritism for either labor or management.

In the real world, the relevant question is the degree of regulation and intervention. Especially compared to other nations, which is why the the Employment Flexibility Index is a useful measuring stick.

The Employment Flexibility Index is a quantitative comparison of regulatory policies on employment regulation in EU and OECD countries. …Higher values of the Employment Flexibility Index reflect more flexible labor regulations.

The good news, for American workers and American companies, is that the United States has the second-best system among developed nations, trailing only Denmark (another reason why pro-market people should appreciate that Scandinavian nation).

It’s hardly a surprise that France is in last place, notwithstanding President Macron’s attempt to push policy in the right direction.

It’s worth noting that the United States has much less regulation of labor markets than the average European nation. Which may help to explain why American living standards are so much higher.

Let’s review some academic research on the issue of employment regulation.

In an article for the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Professor Gail Heriot of the University of San Diego Law School explains how regulations discourage job creation and also may encourage discrimination.

there’s a demographic out there that we ought to be worrying about, it is young people, the perennial newcomers to the economy. Well-meaning employment laws primarily benefit those who already have jobs, often at the expense of those who do not.For low-skilled young people trying to get their first jobs, the most immediate threat may be the steep minimum wage hikes adopted recently in various cities.…young people even with great educational credentials are unknown quantities to employers and, hence, risky to hire, especially in a legal environment in which employee terminations can lead to costly legal disputes. he best way for employers to avoid being wrongly accused of a Title VII violation is to avoid hiring someone who could turn out to be litigious if things do not work out. That creates a perverse incentive to avoid hiring the first African American or the first woman in a particular business or department. A law that was intended to end discrimination in hiring, thus, ends up encouraging it instead.

In a Cambridge University working paper, Maarten de Ridder and Damjan Pfajfar found that wage rigidities, which are driven in part by red tape, are correlated with greater levels of economic damage when there is an adverse policy shock.

We find considerable variation in downward nominal wage rigidities across states and over time. Our estimates of nominal rigidities are positively related to state minimum wages, unionization,union bargaining power, and the size of services and government in employment and negatively to labor mobility. …We therefore focus on nominal wage rigidities when assessing the transmission of policy shocks. We find that states with greater downward nominal wage rigidities experience larger and more persistent increases in unemployment and declines in output after monetary policy shocks. …Similar results also hold for exogenous changes in taxes… States with higher nominal rigidities experience larger increases in unemployment and declines in output after a tax increase compared to states that are more flexible. We further show that institutional factors that could drive wage rigidities—like minimum wages and right-to-work-legislation—have a similar effect. States with a higher minimum to median wage ratio and those without right-to-work legislation experience larger and more persistent effects of monetary and tax policy shocks. Combined, these results firmly corroborate the hypothesis that resistance to wage cuts deepens policy shocks.

And in an article for Regulation, Warren Meyer explains that red tape and intervention is particularly bad news for unskilled workers.

The government makes it too difficult, in far too many ways, to try to make a living employing unskilled workers. …In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, there was a wave of successful large businesses built on unskilled labor (e.g., ServiceMaster, Walmart, McDonalds). Today, investment capital and innovation attention is all going to companies that create large revenues per employee with workers who have college educations and advanced skills. …the mass of government labor regulation is making it harder and harder to create profitable business models that employ unskilled labor. For those without the interest or ability to get a college degree, the avoidance of the unskilled by employers is undermining those workers’ bridge to future success

Let’s close by looking at a chart from a 2018 presentation by Martin Agerup.

He shows that red tape doesn’t even provide meaningful job security for those who are already employed.

The bottom line is that so-called employment protection legislation is very bad news for those who are looking for jobs while offering no measurable benefit for those who have jobs (especially if we compare living standards across nations).

If we want more jobs, the best prescription is less government.

Read Full Post »

Our friends on the left who want more government spending generally have a short-run argument and a long-run argument.

  • In the short run, they assert that more government spending can stimulate a weak economy. This is typically known as Keynesian economics and it means temporary borrowing and spending.
  • In the long run, they claim that big government is an investment that leads to better economic performance. This is the “Nordic Model” and it means permanent increases in taxes and spending.

In many ways, the debate about short-run Keynesianism is different than the debate about the appropriate long-run size of government.

But there is one common thread, which is that proponents of more government pay too much attention to consumption and too little attention to production.

I wrote a somewhat wonky column about this topic back in April, but let’s take another look at this issue.

In a column last month for the Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler shared some economic fundamentals.

Here’s how capitalism works—pay attention if you took the social-justice version of Econ 101. SIPPC: Save. Invest. Produce. Profit. Consume. Save means postponing consumption, money and time. Only then you can invest, especially your human capital, in something productive. Usually this means doing more with less, being efficient and effective. This is when innovation happens. Wealth comes only from productivity, not from giving away money. …Supply first and then consume…, creating incentives to put money into the hands of entrepreneurs and clearing a path for them to innovate by getting government out of the way.

In some sense, this is simply the common-sense observation that you can’t consume (or redistribute) unless someone first produces.

But it’s also a deeper message about what actually drives production.

There are no shortcuts. You can’t induce demand without supply. Didn’t the lockdowns prove that? Stimulus checks did little good given that there were few places to spend them until businesses were allowed to reopen. We’re now perversely sitting on almost $3 trillion in excess savings and even more new government debt. Yet the government stimulus mentality continues in Congress. …Through taxes and currency depreciation, demand-side spending steals savings needed to invest in future supply, which is why it never works. It is why the Great Depression lasted so long, why Japan lost two decades, and why 2009-16 saw subpar U.S. economic growth. When demand drops, government spending and giveaways make things worse. The only solution to kickstart production is to increase investment and make jobs more plentiful by cutting taxes and easing regulation. ..Price signals tell entrepreneurs what to supply. But price signals are only as good as their inputs. Minimum-wage laws mess up labor price signals. Tariffs mess up trade price signals. The Federal Reserve’s bond-buying blowouts mess up interest-rate price signals.

Amen. We know the policies that lead to more prosperity, but politicians constantly throw sand in the gears.

Simply stated, bigger government diverts resources from the productive sector of the economy. And that makes it more difficult to get the innovation and investment that are necessary for rising wages.

To be sure, there are some types of government spending that arguably help a private economy function.

But that’s not what we get from much of the federal government (Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentDepartment of EducationDepartment of EnergyDepartment of AgricultureDepartment of Transportation, etc).

Which is why the growth-maximizing size of government is far smaller than what we are burdened with today.

P.S. I can’t resist sharing this additional segment of Mr. Kessler’s column.

Modern Monetary Theory, known as MMT—what economist John Christensen called the “Magic Money Tree”—is the worst of demand-side nonsense. MMT believers think that to boost aggregate demand we can have government print money and spend, spend, spend. We tried this in the 1960s and ’70s with Great Society programs

At the risk of understatement, I agree with his concerns.

P.P.S. It’s worth noting that the World BankOECD, and IMF have all published research showing the benefits of smaller government.

Read Full Post »

China is not going to surpass the United States as the world’s dominant economy.

As I first wrote back in 2010, China is a paper tiger. Yes, there was some pro-market reform last century, which helped reduce mass poverty, but China only took modest steps in the right direction.

According to the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World, China scores just 6.21, which places it 124th out of 162 nations.

Is that better than a score of 3.69, which is where China was in 1990?

Yes, of course.

But does that score indicate that China will become richer than the United States, which has a current score of 8.22 (the world’s 6th-highest level of economic liberty)?

Of course not.

My answer might change of China engaged in more economic liberalization, as I have urged. But it seems the opposite is happening and China is backsliding toward more state control.

And that means the United States almost surely will remain far more prosperous.

(While Joe Biden is doing his best to drag economic policy in the wrong direction, but it would takes decades of far-worse policy to bring the U.S. down to the level of France (#58) or Greece (#92), much less all the way down to being on par with China).

But some people must not be very familiar with data about China and its economy.

For instance, President Trump’s former top trade official, Robert Lighthizer, wrote that the United States should copy China’s cronyism in a column in the New York Times.

I’m not joking. Mr. Lighthizer openly embraces industrial policy and protectionism.

…we need a multifaceted long-term strategy. …Our strategy must include…an industrial policy that includes subsidies to foster the development of the most advanced science and technology…and a robust plan to combat China’s unfair trade practices. …The Senate legislation would achieve some of what is needed. It calls for $200 billion to bolster scientific and technological innovation, $52 billion to rebuild our capacity to make semiconductors, and a supply-chain resiliency program… The House should perfect the provisions of the Senate bill that restructure and enhance federal support for science and innovation and strip out those that weaken our trade laws and encourage Chinese imports.

Geesh, no wonder Trump’s trade policy was such a disaster.

Lighthizer not only doesn’t understand economics, he also doesn’t know history.

Adam Thierer of the Mercatus Center points out that the current angst about China is a repeat verse of a song we heard over and over again in the late 1980s.

Back then, everyone though Japan was on the verge of overtaking the United States, ostensibly because that nation had wise politicians and bureaucrats who knew how to pick winners and losers.

Thierer’s article tells us what really happened.

In 1949, the Japanese government created the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to work with other government bodies (especially the Bank of Japan) to devise plans for industrial sectors in which they hoped to make advances. Although not as heavy-handed as Chinese planning authorities are today, MITI came to have enormous influence over private-sector research and investment decisions during the next five decades. The organization used a variety of the same policy levers that Chinese officials do today, with a particular focus on trade management and industrial policy investments in sectors perceived to be “strategic” for future economic advance. …By the late 1970s…, U.S. officials and market analysts came to view MITI with a combination of reverence and revulsion, believing that it had concocted an industrial policy cocktail that was fueling Japan’s success at the expense of American companies and interests. …By the end of the 1980s, fears about “Japan Inc.” had reached a fever pitch. …Just as Japan phobia was reaching its zenith in the early 1990s, Japan’s fortunes began taking a turn for the worse. The Japanese stock market crashed in 1990… Japan suffered a brutal economic downturn that became known as the Lost Decade, which really lasted almost two decades. …by the late 1990s many scholars came to view most Japanese industrial policy initiatives as a costly bust.

Amen.

I wrote that Japan was a “basket case” back in 2013. A bit of hyperbole, to be sure, but I was trying to drive home the point that the nation’s politicians have made some costly mistakes.

Not just industrial policy, but also tax increases, Keynesian spending, and other forms of intervention.

No wonder the country has gone downhill in terms of competitiveness.

But let’s not focus too much on Japan (which, despite all my grousing, still ranks #20 for economic liberty).

For purposes of today’s column, the main points are 1) that China is no threat to overtake the United States, and 2) that copying that nation’s industrial policy would be a mistake.

P.S. If China wants to pursue industrial policy and other forms of cronyism, that’s a mistake that mostly hurts the Chinese people. To the extent such policies are designed to subsidize exports (as Lighthizer argues), the best response is to utilize the World Trade Organization, not to copy China’s misguided interventionism.

Read Full Post »

I’ve written nearly 6,100 columns for International Liberty, but only one of those columns has focused on Lebanon.

That was back in 2018, when I explained how the nation could have avoided a fiscal crisis with a spending cap.

Now it’s time to once again write about Lebanon, though maybe today’s column is actually more about media bias.

That’s because this story in the Washington Post, authored by Sarah Dadouch, shows how journalists have far too little understanding of economics.

Lebanon’s worsening financial meltdown has been accompanied by a dire shortage of imported fuel. Roads in cities like Beirut and Tripoli are now lined with cars queuing for hours to get their allotted amount of gasoline, at most a third of a tank. …smugglers have discovered there’s good money to be made by buying gasoline in Lebanon at the heavily subsidized price and then selling it on the black market in Syria, which has a debilitating fuel crisis of its own. …Many Lebanese politicians blame the gasoline crisis partly on smuggling… In April, Lebanon’s caretaker energy minister said the disparity in gasoline prices between Lebanon and Syria means smugglers can make huge profits next door. …The Lebanese army, which has received more than $2.5 billion in aid from the United States since 2006, has made concerted efforts to curb the illicit commerce.

The smugglers aren’t the cause of Lebanon’s energy crisis. They’re merely a symptom of the real problem, which is that the country’s politicians buy votes from motorists by subsidizing gasoline.

Get rid of those subsidies and smuggling will disappear overnight.

The moral of the story is that bad things happen when politicians interfere with prices. We have forty centuries of evidence showing price controls don’t work. When politicians try to curry favor by rigging prices, bad things happen.

And the second moral of the story is that journalists don’t understand the first moral of the story (not that I’m surprised, given the shaky track record of the Washington Post).

P.S. I’m flabbergasted that American taxpayers have sent $2.5 billion of foreign aid to Lebanon’s army, which gives the government fiscal leeway to pursue bad policies such as gasoline subsidies!

P.P.S. While gasoline subsidies are an insanely foolish policy for a nation enduring a fiscal crisis, fiscal policy isn’t even Lebanon’s biggest problem. As noted in this video, the country does even worse on trade policy, regulatory policy, and rule of law.

P.P.P.S. The post-war German economic miracle was triggered by the removal of price controls.

Read Full Post »

Programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, along with the tax code’s healthcare exclusion, have created a system where consumers directly pay for only about 10 percent of the care they receive.

We think it’s normal and appropriate for either the government or an insurance company to foot the bill.

Yet this system of “third-party payer” explains why the health care system in the United States is inefficient and expensive.

Is it possible, though, to put the toothpaste back in the tube? Can we unwind the bad government policies that have undermined market forces?

There are certainly big-picture reforms that would be helpful. Genuine entitlement reform could address the problems with Medicare and Medicaid, and fundamental tax reform could get rid of the healthcare exclusion.

But progress is possible even without major policy change.

Reason interviewed a doctor, Lee Gross, who decided to set up a practice based on “direct primary care,” which means no involvement from government or insurance companies. Just health consumers and health providers directly buying and selling.

Here’s some of what he said about this market-based approach.

When I was in the fee-for-service system, I felt like I was playing a game of Whac-A-Mole with Medicare. …Eventually we just said, “No more.” …the epiphany was “Why are we inserting so many people at the primary care level between the doctor and the patient? Why are we insuring primary care?” The more people that you insert between the doctor and patient, the more expensive it gets, the more cumbersome it gets…we created one of the first direct primary care practices in the country. …essentially it’s a membership-based primary care program. …Once a patient is a member of our practice, anything that we can do within the four walls of our office is included at no additional charge. …Insurance is good for the big stuff. It’s not good for the little stuff. It’s too complicated. What we do in direct primary care is we make the predictable things affordable for everybody. We take the stuff that you’re going to need on an everyday basis and we put affordable price tags on it, and we say you don’t need your insurance for this. In fact, the insurance makes it more expensive. …You need your homeowners insurance if your house burns down. You don’t need it to mow the lawn.

The good news is that Dr. Gross’ practice is part of a growing movement.

Direct primary care is absolutely a growing movement. …There’s well over 1,500 practices around the country… There are some regulatory barriers that get in the way of expanding this model. …if we’re looking for the ideal health care system, we want to see three pillars. We want to see lower cost, better quality, and more choices. You cannot have all three of those in a government-run system. You can only have those in a free market capitalist system.

Indeed, I’ve shared previous examples of this phenomenon from Maine and North Carolina.

And it even works for surgery, as you can see from this must-watch video from Reason.

Let’s now circle back to some analysis of what’s wrong with the current system.

John Stossel explained a few years ago how government-encouraged over-insurance causes problems.

Someone else paying changes our behavior. We don’t shop around. We don’t ask, “Do I really need that test?” “Is there a place where it’s cheaper?” Hospitals and doctors don’t try very hard to do things cheaply. Imagine if you had “grocery insurance.” You’d buy expensive foods; supermarkets would never have sales. Everyone would spend more. Insurance coverage—third-party payment—is revered by the media and socialists (redundant?) but is a terrible way to pay for things. Today, 7 in 8 health care dollars are paid by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance companies. Because there’s no real health care market, costs rose 467 percent over the last three decades. By contrast, prices fell in the few medical areas not covered by insurance, like plastic surgery and LASIK eye care. Patients shop around, forcing health providers to compete.

The final couple of sentences are extremely important.

As illustrated by this data from Mark Perry, there are a few parts of the health care system where there’s little or no third-party payer.

And what do we find? Prices go down rather than up.

For all intents and purposes, the goal should be to make health insurance more like homeowners insurance or auto insurance.

Speaking of the latter, David Graham compared market-driven auto insurance and government-subsidized health insurance.

There are…similarities between health care and car ownership… We can go for many years with predictable spending on both cars and medical care until — out of the blue — something terrible happens. For that reason, we value insurance for both. But there’s a key difference… Car insurance, while not a trivial expense, is a relatively small share of the total cost of owning a car. According to the AAA, the average premium was $1,023, just under 12 percent of the total cost of ownership. Even excluding depreciation, insurance is just one-fifth of the total cost. In other words, we do not expect auto insurers to pay claims for most of the cost of operating and maintaining a car. Health care is completely the opposite. …Insurance adds administrative costs and bureaucratic interference. …Left to our own devices, we would never buy coverage for every single medical expense.

The moral of the story is that government intervention has made America’s health system a mess.

Unsurprisingly, many politicians say the answer it to have even more government (which is how we got Obamacare).

P.S. In less than eight minutes, I explain the economics of third-party payer in this speech.

P.P.S. Government-created third-party payer also has led to higher costs and widespread inefficiency in higher education.

Read Full Post »

Most people say the key feature of capitalism is competition. Hard to argue with that characterization, but I would go one step further and say that it is one of the consequences of competition – “creative destruction” – that best captures why free markets make it possible for entrepreneurs to deliver mass prosperity.

But what’s the key feature of government? Is it waste? Dependency? Corruption?

Those are all good answers, but perhaps “unintended consequences” should be first on the list. Courtesy of Reason, here are three examples.

I’ve previously written about both ethanol subsidies and so-called employment protection legislation, two of the three examples were already familiar to me.

I wasn’t aware, however, that businesses resorted to big concrete edifices to get around Vermont’s billboard ban (though I have read, in a classic case of baptists and bootleggers, that big companies such as hotel chains sometimes try to thwart competition from small businesses by teaming up with environmentalists to ban billboards).

In the world of fiscal policy, there are many example of unintended consequences.

I’ll conclude by asking an open question: Can anyone give an example of a positive unintended consequence of government?

This isn’t a joke query. I assume there are a few examples, even if I can’t think of any of them.

P.S. Here’s a humorous example of an unintended consequence.

Read Full Post »

When I did my final assessment of Trump’s economic record, I gave him credit for cutting red tape in some areas, but also noted that he increased government intervention in other areas.

…there were some very positive moves on regulation, but they were partly offset by areas where Trump increased intervention (coal subsidies, property rights, Fannie/Freddie, and international tax rules, for instance).

I did give him credit, on net, for moving regulatory policy in the right direction. In other words, the good things he did regarding red tape outweighed the bad things.

But that’s a judgement call, in part because it’s rather difficult to measure the myriad forms of regulation from dozens of different bureaucracies, but also because there’s no agreement on how to measure success (is it a victory, for instance, to reduce the rate of increase in red tape?).

To see how this is challenging, let’s see what various experts wrote about Trump’s regulatory track record.

A new study, authored by Professors Cary Coglianese, Natasha Sarin, and Stuart Shapiro, pours cold water on Trump’s claim that he successfully reduced economic intervention.

Both the extent and impact of the Administration’s efforts to eliminate regulation are considerably less substantial than President Trump and his supporters have claimed. …We recognize that the Trump Administration has repealed or modified a series of agency regulations adopted under the Obama Administration, and even that the Administration has adopted a smaller number of new regulations deemed significant than other recent administrations. Yet overall the reality of regulatory elimination is rather unremarkable… The Administration has accomplished markedly little compared to what it has claimed. … in measuring levels of regulatory activity,researchers rely on a variety of sources of data, including overall pages in the Federal Register and the CFR,the incidence of new rules published in the Federal Register,and the number of actions listed in the semi-annual regulatory agenda. …The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the authoritative source of all existing regulatory requirements on the books. …Growth continued in the Obama Administration to 185,053 pages in 2016. If President Trump’s claim to have eliminated 25,000 pages were correct, we would expect to see no more than160,000 pages in the CFR by now. But, quite to the contrary, the count as of the end of 2019 was185,984 pages—actually a somewhat greater number of pages, not fewer.

Here’s Figure 1 from the paper, which does confirm that there was not a 25,000-page reduction in red tape.

Though if you focus on the last couple of years, it is obvious that the rate of increase slowed significantly. Depending on one’s perspective, that is either a victory or a smaller defeat.

The authors do acknowledge that the number of pages isn’t even the right way to measure regulatory burden.

So they then examine the claim that the Trump Administration had more initiatives to reduce rather than increase red tape.

A count of pages in the CFR is only an indirect proxy for regulatory obligations. …Another way to look at what the Trump Administration has done by way of deregulation would be to look not at pages but at the number of actual rules. …Although the President and his supporters have claimed various levels of deregulatory activity—from 7 to 22 rules removed for every new rule added—these claims are false or misleading. …The lists overcount deregulatory actions by including withdrawals of proposals that were never finalized, delays in effective dates which do not eliminate regulations, non-regulatory actions such as the repeal of guidance documents, and even proposed deregulatory actions rather than completed ones. In addition, when comparing deregulatory actions to regulatory ones, the White House only counts new regulations designated as “significant,” while they count deregulatory actions of any magnitude or level of significance… rather than there being more deregulatory actions than other actions, as the Trump Administration’s claims have implied, there was, in fact, just the opposite. Overall about three completed actions in the regulatory agenda appear for every action designated as deregulatory.

The bottom line, based on their assessment, is that Trump didn’t accomplish much, particularly when compared to what happened under Carter and Clinton.

…in terms of“dramatic regulatory relief,” nothing the Trump Administration has done compares to the deregulation of the airlines, rail, and truck transportation that was executed by the Carter Administration in the late 1970s. Prior to that time, these major sectors of the economy—along with others, such as natural gas and telecommunications—were subject to regulations of prices and outputs—an inefficient form of regulation that advantaged incumbent firms but at the expense of consumers. President Carter championed major deregulatory initiatives that loosened the government restrictions on the air, rail, and transport sectors.Retrospective analysis indicates that the deregulation of these industries resulted in $70 billion in annual consumer benefits. …the evidence does not support the Trump Administration’s claims to have engaged in a dramatic scaling back of government regulation. More pages were removed from the CFR in the Clinton Administration than the Trump Administration. A more substantial unleashing of market forces occurred from the deregulatory changes made in the Carter Administration. And the Trump Administration has done at least as much regulating as it has deregulating.

For what it’s worth, Clinton was much more market oriented than most people realize. And Carter, while misguided in some areas, did a very good job on regulation.

So it’s not necessarily a knock on Trump to say he fell short of those two presidents.

Now let’s look at a pro-Trump perspective.

Professor Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago early last year offered an upbeat assessment of the former president’s performance in tackling regulations.

In just three years the administration has reversed hundreds of regulations, many of which drone on for hundreds of pages. …Many of the regulations reversed had been written and implemented at the behest of special interests, including large banks, trial lawyers, major health insurance companies, big tech companies, labor unions, and foreign drug manufacturers. …the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA)…dedicated a great deal of manpower preparing a comprehensive and rigorous assessment of deregulation since 2017. That report, released in June, concluded that the past three years of deregulation is comparable to, and probably exceeds, any deregulatory episode in modern U.S. history. …the CEA report estimates that over the next five to 10 years, the deregulatory efforts of the Trump administration will increase annual real incomes in the United States by $3,100 per household.

I wrote about the above-mentioned report from the CEA in the summer of 2019. The CEA’s goal was to present Trump’s policies favorably, so I certainly don’t object to some skepticism from outsiders, but I also noted that, “the underlying assumptions aren’t overly aggressive” and “even modest improvements in growth lead to meaningful income gains over time.”

In a column for the Hill, James Broughel of the Mercatus Center analyzed Trump’s track record and concluded that some good things happened.

…the president issued Executive Order 13,771 soon after taking office. Its “2 for 1” requirement received the most attention: Two regulations must be identified for elimination each time a new one is put forward. However, perhaps more important is the “regulatory budget” it set up, which essentially set a cap on new regulatory costs executive branch agencies can impose. …A look at the data suggests the cap is largely working. On Jan. 20, 2017 — Trump’s inauguration day — there were 1,079,601 regulatory restrictions on the books. By Dec. 6, 2019, that number stood at 1,077,822. While the code has not declined substantially by this measure — and the administration should acknowledge that aggregate cuts to-date have been modest — it’s rare to see a code fail to grow across an entire presidential term.

Incidentally, the Mercatus measure of “regulatory restrictions” almost certainly is better than other measures of red tape, so it’s disappointing that Coglianese, Sarin, and Shapiro failed to include it in their analysis.

But if we’re simply looking at the volume of “significant rules,” here’s a tweet from James Pethokoukis showing that the increase in red tape dramatically slowed once Trump took over.

Philip Wallach of the R Street Institute examined Trump’s track record on red tape in an article for National Review in late 2019 and he thought the glass was half empty rather than half full.

Regulation became one area where conservatives wary of Trump allowed themselves high hopes. Trump’s experiences as a developer left him with a bone-deep skepticism of regulations. …There have been some real bright spots for deregulators. Many of the Obama administration’s aggressive and legally dubious environmental rules have been stalled or rolled back, including the Waters of the United States rule, Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for tailpipe emissions, and the Clean Power Plan, which regulated greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants. The Endangered Species Act will be interpreted so as to make it less burdensome. Promises to scrap Obamacare may have gone unfulfilled, but the administration has quietly and constructively made the program more flexible for states and individuals. …the Trump administration…to an unprecedented degree…has…issu[ed] far fewer new regulations than any of its predecessors.

As you can see, it’s important to define success. Is it a victory to have “far fewer new regulations”?

Or, as you can see in the following excerpt from Wallach’s article, is it a victory to cut red tape by less than Obama increased it?

These triumphs notwithstanding, three years in, hopes of a thoroughgoing overhaul have been dashed. …hitting the pause button, however unusual, does not a revolution make. The hoped-for transformation of the administrative state is nowhere to be found. …In 2018, the administration sought to show its relative merit by noting that, through its first two years, the Obama administration had imposed $245 billion in regulatory costs. The Trump administration’s negative $33 billion in costs imposed at that point certainly was a lot less than $245 billion. But the comparison cuts harder in the other direction: The administration is admitting that it is coming nowhere close to reversing the costs imposed even by the Obama administration — let alone the decades of regulatory burdens built up previously. …the administration’s math allows it to take credit for deregulatory policies as soon as they are promulgated, without paying any attention to whether they are carried through. …the administrative state has been more discomfited than deconstructed by the Trump administration.

Last but not least, former Obama official Cass Sunstein opined for Bloomberg back in 2018 that Trump’s main achievement was to slow the tide of new regulations.

Is President Donald Trump dismantling the regulatory state? Not close. …let’s take a broader perspective. Under George W. Bush, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved about 2,500 final regulations. Under Barack Obama, it approved about 2,100 final regulations. …By comparison, the Trump administration has repealed … dozens of finalized regulations. …about 2 percent of the number of regulations finalized over the past 16 years. …Much more fundamentally, he’s substantially slowed the flow of new ones. …From Bush’s inauguration to Sept. 1, 2002, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved about 400 proposed regulations and about 500 final regulations. From Obama’s inauguration to Sept. 1, 2010, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved about 270 proposed regulations and about 470 final regulations. …the Bush and Obama administrations look pretty similar… The Trump administration is a big outlier. From Trump’s inauguration to the present, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved about 170 proposed regulations and about 160 final regulations. That’s a major reduction.

So what’s my two cents?

The obvious conclusion is that the Trump Administration did some good things to ease the nation’s regulatory burden, but there was no major paradigm shift.

The United States had a lot of red tape when Trump took office and it had a lot of red tape when Trump left office, though he definitely slowed the rate of increase.

But a slower rate of increase is still not good news, as illustrated by the fact that the Fraser Institute calculates that America’s score on red tape has declined slightly since 2016.

Indeed, the overall score for economic liberty in the United States has declined slightly since Obama left office, which is evidence for my argument that Trump delivered an incoherent mix of good policies (taxes, for instance) and bad policies (trade, for instance).

P.S. Trump’s Jekyll-Hyde record on economic policy is one of the reasons why I prefer Reaganism over Trumpism. The establishment doesn’t like either of those options, but I very much prefer the one that unambiguously reduces the size and scope of government.

Read Full Post »

While I freely self-identify as a libertarian, I don’t think of myself as a philosophical ideologue.

Instead, I’m someone who likes digging into data to determine the impact of government policy. And because I’ve repeatedly noticed that more government almost always leads to worse outcomes, I’ve become a practical ideologue.

In other words, when looking at at an issue, I now have a default assumption that government is going to be the problem, not the solution.

I think more people will share my viewpoint if they peruse this chart from Mark Perry.

It shows changes in prices for selected goods and services over the past 21 years, and the inescapable conclusion (as I noted when writing about the 2014 version of his chart) is that we get higher relative prices in sectors where there’s the most government intervention.

Especially healthcare and higher education.

By contrast, we see falling relative prices (and sometimes falling absolute prices!) in sectors where there is little or no government intervention.

Here’s some of Mark’s description of what we can learn from his chart.

I’ve updated the chart above with price changes through the end of last year. During the most recent 21-year period from January 2000 to December 2020, the CPI for All Items increased by 54.6% and the chart displays the relative price increases over that time period for 14 selected consumer goods and services, and for average hourly wages. …Various observations that have been made about the huge divergence in price patterns over the last several decades… The greater (lower) the degree of government involvement in the provision of a good or service the greater (lower) the price increases (decreases) over time, e.g., hospital and medical costs, college tuition, childcare with both large degrees of government funding/regulation and large price increases vs. software, electronics, toys, cars and clothing with both relatively less government funding/regulation and falling prices.

By the way, I can’t resist also calling attention to Mark’s data on what’s happened over time to prices for various health care services and procedures.

We find that prices have skyrocketed in areas of the healthcare sector where government plays a big role, especially hospital care.

By contrast, prices have been steady (or even falling!) in areas of the healthcare sector where competitive markets are allowed to operate, most notably for cosmetic procedures.

It’s almost as if it makes sense to have a default assumption that government is the problem rather than the solution.

P.S. While the data in Mark’s chart tell a depressing story about the harmful effect of government intervention, he shares one bit of good news in his article.

The annual increase in college tuition and fees of only 1.4% last year was the smallest annual increase in the history of the CPI for college tuition and fees going back to 1978, and the only annual increase ever below 2%. That increase is far below the average annual increase in college tuition of nearly 7% over the last 42 years. So perhaps the “higher education bubble” is finally starting to show signs of deflating?

I hope he’s right, but worry he’s wrong.

P.P.S. Sadly (but predictably), some people seem to think government-caused price increases are a reason to support more government intervention.

Read Full Post »

Assuming they behave ethically and earn money honestly, I applaud big companies and their wealthy owners.

That’s why I recently defended Jeff Bezos’ large fortune. The owner of Amazon mostly (but not entirely) became rich by providing value to the rest of us.

Today, though, I’m very disappointed in Bezos and Amazon. Why? Because the company wants to use the coercive power of government to screw over its competitors in the small business community.

Here’s a look at the company’s full-page advertisement in support of a higher minimum wage.

As a very rich company that already relies on a high degree of automation, it easily can afford to pay $15 per hour and above to every employee.

Indeed, it made a very showy decision back in 2018 to have a company-wide floor on compensation. Which is their choice.

But it’s utterly despicable to then climb in bed with politicians and urge a costly mandate on small-business competitors.

And it’s utterly callous for the company to take such a step when it will means unemployment for hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of workers with marginal skills.

The company is behaving just as badly as the unions that push higher minimum wages in order to push competing workers out of the market.

P.S. Don’t forget that many state governments already screwed over small businesses by mandating their closure while not imposing the same pandemic-related restrictions on Amazon and big box stores.

P.P.S. It is possible that Amazon is also motivated by a desire to appease the Biden Administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress. In other words, the company openly endorses statist policies such as the higher minimum wage in hopes that it won’t be targeted with other actions (antitrust, wealth tax, etc). Or maybe Amazon has a deal to support the higher minimum wage in exchange for the Biden Administration opposing the European Union’s tax raid on American tech companies. But those excuses don’t justify screwing over small businesses and low-skill workers.

Read Full Post »

Every so often, I highlight tweets that deserve attention because they say something important, usually in a clever and succinct fashion.

Today, I’m highlighting what I consider to be the year’s best tweet.

The tweet is from Matthew Lesh of the Adam Smith Institute in London and it shows the big difference between private sector results and government incompetence.

Some readers may wonder if he is being unfair? Is the tweet merely libertarian-style grousing?

Well, consider this recent story from the Washington Post, which details how government incompetence at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) greatly delayed testing capacity.

On Jan. 13, the World Health Organization had made public a recipe for how to configure such a test, and several countries wasted no time getting started: Within hours, scientists in Thailand used the instructions to deploy a new test. The CDC would not roll out one that worked for 46 more days. …The agency squandered weeks as it pursued a test design far more complicated than the WHO version and as its scientists wrestled with failures… The CDC’s response to what became the nation’s deadliest pandemic in a century marked a low point in its 74-year history. …Without tests to identify the early cases, health authorities nationwide were unable to isolate the infected and trace the rapid spread among their close contacts. …120 public health labs were without a government-approved test of their own and, with few exceptions, depended wholly on getting the CDC’s kits. …companies had no incentive to navigate regulatory hurdles and mass-produce kits.

The above story describes how the CDC screwed up at the start of the pandemic.

In her December 27 column for the Washington Post, Megan McArdle highlights a new example of CDC incompetence.

…the now-infamous November meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices…unanimously agreed that essential workers should get vaccinated ahead of the elderly, even though they’d been told this would mean up to 6 percent more deaths. This decision was supported in part by noting that America’s essential workers are more racially diverse than its senior citizens. …the discussion of whether to prioritize essential workers was anything but robust. …not one of those 14 intelligent and dedicated health professionals suggested adopting the plan that kills the fewest people. …for the past nine months, public health experts have insisted that minimizing deaths should override other concerns, even quite important ones. So how, in this case, did equity conquer death?

Let’s close with some excerpts from Aaron Sibarium’s article on the same issue for the Washington Free Beacon.

The committee openly acknowledged that its initial plan would result in more deaths than “vaccinating older adults first.” But, the panel said, the plan would reduce racial disparities—something they deemed more important than saving lives… The result was an explicitly race-conscious plan that would have prioritized shrinking the case gap between races over saving the most lives. …All of this—the exclusions, the contradictions, the moral redundancies—helped disguise the agenda that it justified, giving unscientific value judgments an air of scientific assuredness.

The really amazing aspect of this story is that there almost surely would be more minority deaths if this this approach was implemented.

But the “woke” bureaucrats though that would have been okay since there would have been an even-greater increase in white deaths.

This is healthcare version of their warped view that it’s okay to support policies that reduce income for poor people so long as the rich incur even greater losses.

Anyhow, I guess we should “congratulate” the CDC for showing it can compete with the WHO in the contest to see which bureaucracy had the worst response to the coronavirus (we already had plenty of evidence that the FDA is incompetent).

We can add this column to my series (here, here, here, and here) on how government blundering magnified the coronavirus pandemic.

P.S. If I had the flair for self-promotion that you often find in D.C., I would have been tempted to claim that my tweet from earlier today deserves some sort of recognition.

But I don’t need attention and affirmation. I simply want people to understand that it’s reprehensible that we have cossetted international bureaucrats (who get lavish, tax-free salaries!) pushing sloppy and ideological nonsense that will make the world less prosperous.

Read Full Post »

When I write an everything-you-need-to-know column, I’m inevitably guilty of hyperbole.

All that I’m really doing is highlighting a very compelling example of how politicians make a mess of just about anything they touch.

That’s even true in the rare cases when they’re trying to enact policies I prefer.

The crux of the problem is that politicians like having some level of power and control over various sectors of the economy, for the simple public choice-driven reason that they can then extort bribes, campaign cash, and other goodies.

Which is good news for donors, crooks, and cronies, as P.J. O’Rourke wisely noted.

But it’s bad news for those of us who don’t like sleaze. Yet sleaze is almost inevitable when politicians have power to interfere with private market transactions.

Check out these excerpts from a Politico report.

In the past decade, 15 states have legalized a regulated marijuana market for adults over 21, and another 17 have legalized medical marijuana. But in their rush to limit the numbers of licensed vendors and give local municipalities control of where to locate dispensaries, they created something else: A market for local corruption. Almost all the states that legalized pot either require the approval of local officials – as in Massachusetts — or impose a statewide limit on the number of licenses, chosen by a politically appointed oversight board, or both. These practices effectively put million-dollar decisions in the hands of relatively small-time political figures – the mayors and councilors of small towns and cities, along with the friends and supporters of politicians who appoint them to boards. …They have also created a culture in which would-be cannabis entrepreneurs feel obliged to make large campaign contributions or hire politically connected lobbyists. …It’s not just local officials. Allegations of corruption have reached the state level in numerous marijuana programs, especially ones in which a small group of commissioners are charged with dispensing limited numbers of licenses.

Needless to say, what’s happening in the marijuana industry happens wherever and whenever politicians have power.

“All government contracting and licensing is subject to these kinds of forces,” said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who authors a blog on marijuana policy. …“There’s a lot of deal-making between businesses and localities that creates the environment of everyone working their way towards getting a piece of the action,” Berman said. Whether it’s city or county officials that need to be appeased, local control is “just another opportunity for another set of hands to be outstretched.”

The report concludes by noting that corruption can be avoided very simply. Just make sure politicians and other people in government have no power or authority.

States that have largely avoided corruption controversies either do not have license caps — like Colorado or Oklahoma — or dole out a limited number of licenses through a lottery rather than scoring the applicants by merit — like Arizona. Many entrepreneurs, particularly those who lost out on license applications, believe the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers and should just let the free market do its job.

Amen.

I’ll conclude by noting that politicians are doing the right thing in the worst way.

I want to end the War on Drugs because it is a costly failure. It’s not that I think drug use is a good idea. But I recognize that the social harm of prohibition is greater than the social harm of legalization.

And, as a libertarian, I believe people should be free to make their own decisions (consistent with the libertarian non-aggression principle, of course), even if I happen to disapprove.

Sadly, politicians are not legalizing pot for libertarian reasons.

Instead, they see it as a way of having a new product to tax (and they’re botching that). And, as illustrated by today’s story, they see it as a way of lining their own pockets.

I’m almost tempted to say we’d be better off if marijuana was criminalized so it could be sold on the black market instead.

But the real moral of the story is that government power is a recipe corruption.

Read Full Post »

Regulatory policy is one of the five ingredients in the recipe for growth and prosperity.

Ideally, there should be a minimal amount of red tape, and it should be governed by sensible cost-benefit analysis (i.e., so it deals with genuine externalities such as pollution).

Unfortunately, politicians rarely favor this light-touch approach, in part because of unseemly “public choice” incentives and in part because they focus only on the benefit side of the cost-benefit equation.

But the cost is very real.

And that means that there are substantial benefits when governments reduce the regulatory burden.

Let’s look at some research published by Italy’s central bank. Sauro Mocetti, Emanuela Ciapanna, and Alessandro Notarpietro investigated the impact of liberalization last decade. Here’s what they looked at.

…the importance of structural reforms, aimed at promoting sustainable and balanced growth, has been at the center of the economic debate, in Italy… Structural reforms are measures designed for modifying the very structure of an economy; they typically act on the supply side,i.e. by removing obstacles to an efficient (and equitable) production of goods and services, and by increasing productivity, so as to improve a country’s capacity to increase its growth potential… The aim of this paper is to assess the macroeconomic impact of three major structural reforms carried out in Italy over the last decade. They include (i)liberalization of services, (ii) incentives to “business innovation” (included in the so-called “Industry 4.0” Plan) and (iii) several measures in the civil justice system aimed at increasing the courts efficiency.

And here are their results.

Our results indicate that the three reforms, introduced in different years and with different timing, starting in 2011 and up to 2017, have already begun to produce their effects on the main macroeconomic variables and on Italy’s potential output. In particular, and taking into account the uncertainty surrounding our micro-econometric estimates, by 2019 GDP was between 3 and 6% higher than it would otherwise have been in the absence of these reforms, with the largest contribution being attributable to the liberalizations in the service sector. A further increase of about 2 percentage points would be reached in the next decade, due to the unfolding of the effects of all the reforms considered here. Therefore, the long-run increase in Italy’s potential output would lie in between 4% and 8%. We also detect non-negligible effects on the labor market: employment would increase in the long term by about 0.4%, while the unemployment rate would be reduced by about 0.3 percentage points.

More output and more jobs. Hard to argue with that outcome.

Here are some charts from the study. Figure 7 shows the impact on some macroeconomic aggregates.

And Figure 8 shows the estimated improvement in the labor market.

These results are good news, but Italy still has a long way to go. It’s only ranked #51 according to Economic Freedom of the World, and it’s score for regulation has only improved by a slight margin over the past decade.

P.S. I shared some research earlier this year about the positive impact of another type of deregulation in Italy.

Read Full Post »

Even though I agree with the “nanny state” crowd on a few issues (sugary soda and cigarettes are not healthy, for instance), I oppose their efforts to impose their preferences using government coercion.

Especially when their initiatives lower our quality of life.

Call me crazy, but I don’t like having to flush a toilet more than once.

And I really don’t like modern gas cans that spill gas all over the place as I’m trying to refill a hot lawnmower (immolation doesn’t seem like it would be a pleasant experience).

But what’s really annoying is going to a hotel that has installed low-flow showerheads, or visiting with someone who has that type of showerhead in their home. At the very least, it means you will spend at least twice as much time as normal to get clean.

Well, we have a bit of good news.

The Trump Administration wants consumers to have the option of enjoying better showers. Here are some excerpts from a CNN story by .

The US Department of Energy on Tuesday finalized a pair of new rules rolling back water efficiency standards on showerheads… The new showerhead rule goes after the two-and-a-half-gallon-per-minute maximum flow rate set by Congress in the 1990s. Under current federal law, each showerhead in a fixture counts toward that limit collectively — but the Energy Department’s new rule means each showerhead individually can reach the limit set by Congress. …”Today the Trump Administration affirmed its commitment to reducing regulatory burdens and safeguarding consumer choice,” Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said in a statement. “With these rule changes, Americans can choose products that are best suited to meet their individual needs and the needs of their families.” The rollbacks were quickly rebuked by environmental advocates and consumer and appliance standards groups.

If I understand correctly, we’ll still have inadequate showerheads, but we’ll be allowed to have showers that use more than one of them.

Not the ideal outcome, to be sure, but definitely better than the status quo.

But don’t get too excited. It’s very likely that the incoming Biden Administration will propose and then adopt a new regulation to overturn what just happened.

So refurbish your shower now while the opportunity exists.

Or, if you live in a grandfathered home that still has decent amenities, don’t sell.

P.S. I’m normally not in favor of more laws, but I would strongly favor legislation mandating that all politicians and bureaucrats have to retrofit their residences any time some idiotic new regulation is imposed. In other words, no grandfathering for the ruling class. They should live by the rules they want to impose on the rest of us, whether we’re looking at showerheads, taxes, coronavirus, or education.

P.P.S. The Trump Administration also has a new rule that would allow a return to better-quality dishwashers.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: