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Archive for the ‘Local government’ Category

I’ve been asked whether I’m a hypocrite because I support decentralization while at the same time being critical of state and local governments.

I don’t think there’s any inconsistency in my position. Here’s some of what I wrote last July.

I’m a strong believer in federalism, but not because I think state and local governments are competent. Politicians and interest groups are a toxic combination in all circumstance. But at least people have considerable ability to cross borders if they want to escape greedy and despotic governments at the state and local level. And when the geese with the golden eggs can fly away, this facilitates competition between governments and forces politicians to restrain their appetites.

Maybe I’m just daft (as my leftist friends often claim), but I think that’s a perfectly defensible position.

Anyhow, I feel compelled to give that bit of background because it’s once again time to mock state and local governments.

Here’s an excerpt from the Detroit News that tells you everything you’ll ever need to know about the stupidity of government. The city actually loses money on parking enforcement.

The city is paying $32 to issue and process a $30 parking violation, and it hasn’t adjusted rates since 2001. On top of that, about half of Detroit’s 3,404 parking meters are not operating properly at any given time, says Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling.

Wow, this must be an all-time record. A local government can’t even fleece people competently.

The only thing more shocking is when the government is too incompetent to give away money, which actually happened with one boondoggle in the United Kingdom.

Now let’s travel a few thousand miles and look at another example of how Washington isn’t the only place where government does strange things.

I’ve written many times about the lavish pay and gold-plated benefits of bureaucrats, but cops in Hawaii may have set a new record for fringe benefits. Or maybe this is a new version of friends with fringe benefits, to coin a phrase.

Here are the fun (and PG-13-rated) details in Jacob Sullum’s article in Reason.

Hawaii’s prostitution law includes an exemption for “any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties.” …That’s right: Cops insisted that they must be free not just to receive blowjobs and handjobs from prostitutes but also to engage in vaginal and anal intercourse with them. Evidently the police also need permission to engage in “flagellation or torture by or upon a person as an act of sexual stimulation or gratification” (Hawaii’s definition of “sadomasochistic abuse”). Just in case. Since an entire chamber of the state legislature agreed to this request, the cops must have had a pretty persuasive argument.

Hmmm…makes me wonder if the legislators also added an exemption for themselves. Based on the state’s tax rates, we already know they screw taxpayers for money, so it’s not much of a leap to suspect they’re doing the same thing on a one-on-one basis.

Though, as shown in this cartoon, they’re not used to spending their own money.

All kidding aside, Jacob makes the very sensible point that the real problem is that politicians have enacted laws against a victimless crime.

…the double standard demanded by police highlights the utter absurdity of prostitution laws. Police do not commit murder to catch killers or knock over banks to catch robbers. Yet here they are insisting that they need the leeway to have sex with prostitutes in order to stop people from having sex with prostitutes. Even if cops never take advantage of that freedom, they routinely commit the crime of agreeing to pay for sex, except that in their case it is not treated as a crime. That exemption is considered acceptable only because exchanging money for sex, unlike murder and robbery, does not violate anyone’s rights. But if so, why not broaden the exemption to cover everyone?

I agree. I find the whole business of prostitution very distasteful, just as I feel nothing but disdain for illegal drugs. But prohibition just makes matters worse.

P.S. Since this post looks at both parking meters and prostitution, you’ll be amused by the way the Germans combined those two topics.

P.P.S. I periodically share polling data that strikes me as significant. Most recently, for instance, I noted that crazy left wingers openly admitted they want higher tax rates even if the government doesn’t raise any revenue. That was a depressing result, but I was encouraged to see that a vast majority of Americans view big government as a threat to the nation’s future.

Here are a couple of new polls that caught my attention.

1. I’m rather worried that a new Rasmussen poll found that “for the first time, fewer than half of voters believe tax cuts help the economy.” For what it’s worth, I suspect this is because politicians often gravitate to “tax cuts” that fail to reduce the burden on productive activity. Instead, they make the code more complex by expanding credits, deductions, exemptions, preferences, and exclusions.

If they started pushing for lower marginal tax rates or fundamental tax reform, the polling numbers would probably be better.

2. Let’s now cross the ocean and look at some remarkable Gallup data on the role of government in thwarting small businesses.

Gallup Europe Entrepreneurship

I already knew Greece had stunningly absurd barriers to entrepreneurship (click here for an unbelievable example), so one can only imagine the types of nonsense imposed by Italy’s feckless government.

3. Let’s close with some very good news. It seems that young people are beginning to realize that Ronald Reagan was right (see second video) when he said government is the problem rather than the solution.

Check out this excerpt from a report by National Journal.

Millennials who may have voted with youthful exuberance in 2008 seem to have grown fatigued with the government’s inability to get things done. In 2009, 42 percent of millennials said government programs are usually inefficient and wasteful, according to Pew data. By 2012, that number had increased to 51 percent. And young people say they’re losing trust in the government to Do the Right Thing. In 2009, 44 percent of millennials said they trust the government to do what’s right all or most of the time. By 2013, that dropped to 29 percent.

Makes me think maybe these youngsters finally figured out that programs like Social Security are empty Ponzi schemes.

By the way, here are the best poll numbers I’ve ever seen.

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There’s an old joke that a quandary exists when your mother-in-law drives off a cliff in your new Porsche. Are you more happy about losing her or more unhappy about losing your sports car?

I’m not clever enough to come up with humorous quandaries, but I have shared policy quandaries.

I’ve asked, for instance, whether libertarians might have second thoughts about an end to drug prohibition if the result was bigger government.

And I speculated whether leftists or social conservatives would be more upset about a gay man legally adopting his lover in order to minimize Pennsylvania’s death tax.

And if you like this kind of thing, I have more than one dozen additional examples of these types of quandaries.

I have something else to add to the list, and it’s near and dear to my heart because I like to think that I’m among the biggest critics of both Obamacare and bureaucracy.

But what happens if there’s an issue pitting Obamacare and bureaucrats against each other? Would I be able to pick sides?

This isn’t theoretical speculation. Check out these excerpts from a recent report in the New York Times.

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say. …Even after the administration said this month that it would ease coverage requirements for larger employers, public employers generally said they were keeping the restrictions on work hours because their obligation to provide health insurance, starting in 2015, would be based on hours worked by employees this year. Among those whose hours have been restricted in recent months are police dispatchers, prison guards, substitute teachers, bus drivers, athletic coaches, school custodians, cafeteria workers and part-time professors.

To be honest, I don’t know how to react to this.

Am I glad that we have more evidence that Obamacare is hurting people and reducing labor supply?

That’s obviously the case, and it’s an embarrassment to the Obama Administration.

For months, Obama administration officials have played down reports that employers were limiting workers’ hours. But in a report this month, the Congressional Budget Office said the Affordable Care Act could lead to a reduction in the number of hours worked, relative to what would otherwise occur. Jason Furman, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, reaffirmed the White House view that the law was “good for wages and incomes and for the economy over all.” …The Obama administration says “there is absolutely no evidence” of any job loss related to the Affordable Care Act.

One suspects, by the way, that the Obama White House must have a very strange definition of “job loss.”

They’ll only confess culpability, one imagines, if Obama personally delivers the pink slip or HHS Secretary Sebilius personally orders the loss of hours.

But let’s get back to our main point. I was wondering whether I should be happy to have this additional evidence against Obamacare.

But perhaps I should be glad instead that local governments are squeezing the hours and benefits of the bureaucracy, particularly since the alternative would be higher taxes.

Check out these passages from the NYT’s story. Isn’t it wonderful to read about sulking bureaucrats?

William J. Lipkin, an adjunct professor of American history and political science at Union County College in Cranford, N.J., said: “The Affordable Care Act, rather than making health care affordable for adjunct faculty members, is making it more unaffordable. Colleges are not giving us access to health care, and our hours are being cut, which means our income is being cut. We are losing on both ends.” The American Federation of Teachers lists on its website three dozen public colleges and universities in 15 states that it says have restricted the work assignments of adjunct or part-time faculty members to avoid the cost of providing health insurance.

Some people love the smell of napalm in the morning. Not me. I prefer the whining of angry and resentful bureaucrats. Maybe (as I’ve suggested before) Obamacare isn’t all bad after all.

But 98 percent bad is still bad. The law is a trainwreck and needs to be repealed.

P.S. On another topic, is anyone surprised that the IRS doesn’t like obeying the laws it enforces against the rest of us.

Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration found that the expenses for nine IRS executives — out of 31 whose travel was examined — were wrongly deemed to be nontaxable, on average reimbursements of $51,420. Those executives traveled an average of 140.5 days combined in fiscal 2011 and 2012, the two years examined by the inspector general. The IRS had at least 350 executives in each of those years, meaning the inspector general report covers just a fraction of the agency’s top officials.

Maybe we should save the IRS bureaucrats from potential legal trouble by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with a simple and fair flat tax.

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Do libertarians have a sense of humor?

That’s a relevant question because many people think of us as unhappy curmudgeons, or perhaps as dorky Randians.

While I think those stereotypes are unfair, I also confess that I can only think of a few examples of explicitly pro-libertarian humor.

Libertarian Jesus scolding modern statists.

This poster about confused statists.

The libertarian version of a sex fantasy.

Since I could only find three examples, does this mean libertarians are hopelessly dour and lacking in humor?

I think the answer is “no” and I think there are two reasons to justify that response. First, libertarians are always making fun of oafish and moronic government. I like to think, for instance, that my UK-vs-US government stupidity contest contains some amusing satire.

Skeptics may respond that you can mock big government without being a libertarian, and that’s a fair point.

But this gives me an opportunity to list the second reason why it’s wrong to accuse libertarians of lacking a sense of humor. Simply stated, we have the ability to appreciate anti-libertarian humor. This not only shows that we have funny bones, but it also demonstrates that we have considerable confidence about the strength of our ideas.

So with that build-up, here’s an example of anti-libertarian humor I received from a fellow traveler in Illinois.

Libertarian Fire Dept

I think you’ll agree that this can be added to our collection of anti-libertarian humor.

P.S. Since I am a dorky libertarian, I can’t resist responding to the above cartoon by noting that we actually don’t need government fire departments. The folks at the Reason Foundation have been working on this issue for decades and have a study explaining the benefits of private fire departments.

But there’s a lot more evidence. Here’s what one expert wrote in 2012 for Cato Unbound.

…my town contracts out its entire fire department to the company Rural/Metro, a pioneer in privatized fire services. Their trucks are shiny, red, and full of water, just like a “traditional” fire department’s. Their firemen train just like their municipal counterparts do in neighboring jurisdictions. They respond to fire and EMS calls just like the government-run systems do. The main differences I’ve discerned are that: (1) their logo—which otherwise looks much like other fire department logos—notes the name of the company underneath the name of the town, and (2) workers are covered under a private sector 401(k) plan, so our town is not on the hook for a massive future pension payout. Neither of these differences is relevant from a service delivery standpoint.

And an article in Capitalism Magazine the same year pointed out that privatized fire protection exists in hundreds of communities.

…nearly half of Denmark’s municipalities contract with Group 4 Falck to provide firefighting and ambulance services. In America, more than 450 communities contract with Rural/Metro Corporation for fire protection service, EMS, or both. Unlike government fire services, which focus on fire response, Rural/Metro focuses on fire prevention. A former mayor of Scottsdale, Arizona, which has used Rural/Metro for more than two decades said, “Scottsdale citizens are offered a much better balance between response and prevention than is available in most communities.”

Why are so many communities looking at private options?

Most likely, it’s because unions have conspired with government officials to push labor costs to absurd levels, as humorously depicted is this somewhat off-color video.

P.P.S. Returning to the topic of humor, I have a serious request. Can anybody provide examples of self-deprecating humor by leftists?

I don’t think statists have much self-confidence in their ideas, so they probably don’t have much ability to poke at themselves, but I imagine there must be some examples.

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Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…no it’s Super Bureaucrat!

Actually, look to New Jersey, because you’re going to see a taxpayer ripoff that will get your blood boiling. Depending on your perspective, this may be worse that the toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike who pocketed more than $300,000 in a single year.

Because today’s super bureaucrat isn’t getting overpaid for one job. He’s getting overpaid for six jobs!

Here are some excerpts from a local news report in New Jersey (h/t: Reason).

Patrick DeBlasio was hired Wednesday as Highlands’ chief financial officer — his sixth concurrent public job and ranking him among the highest-paid public employees in New Jersey. Highlands will pay DeBlasio a $40,000 annual salary on a part-time basis… DeBlasio will not have to work a minimum number of hours, said Administrator Tim Hill, or be required to go into the office.

Maybe one day I can get one of these $40,000 no-show jobs that don’t require any work. But I don’t know if I could juggle several of them, and this is what makes DeBlasio special.

DeBlasio has a full-time job as Carteret’s CFO and part-time gigs in Keansburg, North Plainfield and the Carteret School District, the report said. He is also currently Highland’s tax collector.

It’s rather convenient that he also serves as a tax collector since it takes a lot of money to finance all his government salaries.

In 2012, DeBlasio’s annual compensation totaled $244,606, more than Gov. Chris Christie or state Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff, who earn $175,000 and $141,000, respectively.

As the old saying goes, nice work if you can get it.

Maybe it’s time to start a Bureaucrat Hall of Fame, sort of like our Moocher Hall of Fame. In addition to Mr. DeBlasio (and the toll collector mentioned above), charter members could include the following.

When you read these stories, it’s easy to understand why so many states are in fiscal trouble.

And it also makes sense that state and local bureaucrats are far less likely to quit their jobs than folks in the productive sector of the economy. After all, how many people leave positions when they’re being overpaid?

But don’t forget that federal bureaucrats enjoy an even bigger pay advantage over private sector workers. Indeed, my Cato colleague Chris Edwards reports that they get twice as much average compensation as the serfs in the productive sector of the economy who pay their bills.

This video has the unhappy details.

P.S. Super Bureaucrat joins a list of other “super heroes,” including Government Man, and also two caped crusaders inspired by President Obama. Thanks to Michael Ramirez, we have “Stupor Man.” And there’s also Super-President-Constitutional-Law-Professor.

P.P.S. Is there some hidden strand of DNA that causes people named de Blasio to be burdens to taxpayers?

P.P.P.S. Shifting gears, remember our story about ten days ago featuring the little kid who was suspended from school for firing an imaginary bow and arrow? Well, we have another example showing that government schools could be considered a form of child abuse.

A 5-year-old boy was reportedly suspended from school after making a gun gesture with his hand on the playground. His father, David Hendrix, was furious when he found out his son was issued a suspension for the gesture. “He was playing army on the playground,” Hendrix told WBTV.

Yet another argument for school choice.

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It’s no secret that I have very little faith in the competence and good will of government.

I focus primarily on the fecklessness of Washington, but I also can’t resist highlighting malfeasance and stupidity by local governments, state governments, and foreign governments.

Indeed, I’ve even had to create special categories to keep track of some of the more amazing episodes of bureaucratic blundering. Here are just a few that will leave you shaking your head in disbelief.

A bizarre collection of examples showing anti-gun political correctness in schools.

A local government stupidity contest.

A bunch of supposed victories in the Drug War.

A comparison of government stupidity in the United States and United Kingdom.

A list of new “rights” concocted by governments.

A pick-the-dumbest-regulation poll.

And even a strange collection of stories about anti-Bambi persecution by bureaucrats.

Today, we’re going to add to this collection. But I’m not sure how to categorize this story. Is is a great moment in local law enforcement, like when cops bust little girls with lemonade stands, or they arrest young men for the horrible crime of saving people from drowning?

Or is it an example of the regulatory state run amok, like when the FDA conducted a raid to stop consenting adults from buying and selling unpasteurized milk,  or when the Greek bureaucracy required submission of stool samples in order to set up an online company.

You’ll understand why it’s hard to decide after reading this story. The issue is (gasp!) unregulated topless hair cutting. Here’s some of what was reported by the New York Times.

A woman who allegedly offered topless hairstyling services in northern Colorado faces criminal charges. But police say the problem isn’t cutting hair without a top. …46-year old Suzette Hall was arrested Wednesday night on suspicion of practicing cosmetology without a license.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to sleep better tonight knowing that the dangerous scourge of unlicensed haircutting in Colorado has been stifled.

Aren’t we lucky that the government is protecting us from such dangers!

Interestingly, the Rebel Barber (who is not the same person as the Rebel Economist) actually tried to comply with the government’s regulatory demands. But there was no license for her particular form of business.

Hall’s ex-husband told police she set up shop in Loveland and offered services as “Rebel Barber.” He told police she applied for “a nude license for hairstylists,” but no such license exists.

Perhaps we can get some federal legislation requiring all states to have new bureaucracies for the purposes of licensing and regulating nude hairstylists?

Actually, I shouldn’t even make that kind of joke. Some politician might take the suggestion seriously.

Better to leave such matters in the hands of local governments. That way, the potential damage is limited by borders.

Speaking of which, the politicians of Snohomish County in Washington have created special licensing rules for adult coffees shops.

Though that’s amateur hour compared to the Germans, who have figured out how to use parking meters to tax prostitutes.

In other words, governments don’t mind sex so long as they can figure out how to regulate it or tax it.

P.S. The all-time record for government incompetence was set by Fall River, Massachusetts in 2011.

P.P.S. As you might imagine, Dave Barry is very funny when he decides to mock government.

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We know that countries suffer when taxes get too high, in part because investors, entrepreneurs, and other successful taxpayers escape to jurisdiction with less oppressive fiscal regimes. France is a glaring example. On steroids.

We know that states also suffer when the tax burden becomes to onerous, leading to an exodus of jobs and investment.Jerry Brown Promised Land California and Illinois are case studies of this self-destructive practice.

But it’s especially foolish for state governments to over-tax because it’s relatively easy to move from one state to another. Escaping a high-tax nation, by contrast, is a much costlier step and some governments impose quasi-totalitarian barriers to emigration.

Well, if states are foolish for imposing excessive taxation, then local governments that do the same thing are downright suicidal. It hardly requires any effort to move to another neighborhood on the other side of a city’s borders.

That’s why Detroit was doomed to failure. It’s why California cities are going bankrupt. And it explains why I’m now very bearish about New York City.

That’s because the voters of the Big Apple just voted for a Mayor who thinks class-warfare tax policy is the right approach.

That’s not going to end well. Here’s some of what I wrote for City AM, a newspaper that serves the London financial community.

The new mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has a tax-and-spend agenda reminiscent of the profligacy that led Greece to fiscal ruin. …It doesn’t take mass emigration to destabilise a local government’s finances, particularly when a city is very dependent on a limited number of high-income taxpayers. That is why de Blasio’s fiscal agenda is so risky. He wants to raise the New York City income tax (which comes on top of the 39.6 per cent federal income tax and the 8.8 per cent state income tax) from 3.876 per cent to 4.41 percent for taxpayers with an annual income over $500,000.

The Wall Street Crowd, however, doesn’t need to call the moving vans right away.

But there is some good news: New York City does not have full control of its fiscal affairs. Any changes in the local income tax or local sales tax have to be approved by the state. Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo reportedly has national ambitions, and has expressed scepticism about de Blasio’s planned tax hike. Further, Republicans control the state senate and presumably will not be overly sympathetic to any fiscal plan that pillages Wall Street. So folks in places that compete with New York City – such as London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong – shouldn’t put champagne on ice quite yet. Mayor-elect de Blasio wants to help your cities, but it’s uncertain at this stage whether he will succeed.

If you put a gun to my head, I suspect de Blasio will get some sort of tax hike, but probably not what he wants.

So what will that mean? It’s hard to answer that question without also know what will happen on the spending side of the budget. If he pays off his union supporters by augmenting the already excessive pay and benefits of city workers, then New York City will be on the fast track to fiscal trouble.

But if he “merely” gets a tax hike, then the City’s collapse will take longer. As I noted earlier this year, there are many people who are willing to swallow big tax bills to live in particular locations.

…it’s clear that some people are willing to pay more because they like the non-political features of NYC and the Golden State. For those who like museums, fancy dining, and Broadway shows, there’s no easy substitute for New York City. And for people who like the ocean and a Mediterranean climate, it’s hard to compete with California.

But there are limits. Each time the fiscal burden increases, a few more rich people may decide to leave. And since New York City is heavily dependent on upper-income taxpayers (the government already gets 43 percent of its income tax revenue from this sliver of the population), it doesn’t take much fiscal emigration to destabilize the City’s budget.

Perhaps the most important lesson, though, is that higher taxes on the rich are simply the appetizer course. It’s just a matter of time before politicians go after the rest of us – for the simple reason that you can’t finance a welfare state without screwing the middle class.

P.S. If you want more class-warfare cartoons, click here, here, here, and here.

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I posted a video back in 2010 that used biting humor to complain about overpaid firefighters.

That video stirred a hornet’s nest, generating some spirited debate in the comments section. But there was no resolution, in part because you can’t make sweeping judgements when firefighter pay is determined locally.

Some firefighters may be underpaid and some almost certainly are overpaid.

And you can find a jaw-dropping example of the latter category in southern California.

Andrew Biggs at the American Enterprise Institute looks into a controversy about compensation levels for firefighters in Orange County and says the critics are wrong – but also right – about excessive pay and benefits for the firefighting bureaucracy.

UnionWatch.org reports that the average firefighter in Orange County, California pulls in total pay and benefits of $234,000 per year, making them among the best-paid public employees – and, for that matter, among the best-paid of any kind of employees – in the country. But is this true? No. But yes. UnionWatch relies on compensation data provided by Orange County itself, which appears to buttress their claims. Average salaries for firefighters top $91,000, on top of which they typically receive another $65,000 in overtime and other supplementary pay. Firefighters then receive an employer pension employer contribution of around $61,000 and health insurance benefits of about $15,000, for a total of over $234,000.

Here’s why UnionWatch.org is incorrect.

…why is this not right? Because in Orange County and most other cities and states, much of the employer’s pension contribution is to pay off unfunded liabilities from prior years, which is different from pension benefits earned by employees in the current year. Only the latter is truly compensation. The “normal cost” of Orange County Fire pension benefits accruing this year is about 23.49 percent of salaries, or around $37,685. So, average annual compensation would be around $23,000 less, so make that total compensation of about $211,000. Still not shabby, but less than the headline.

But it seems that the group also is right. Indeed, they understated the cost of employing a firefighter.

But here’s the bad news: total compensation is actually a lot higher than $211,000, and even higher than UnionWatch’s $234,000 figure. The reason is that Orange County calculates its pension contribution based on the assumption the plan’s investments will 7.75% investment returns every year. …If we assume a 4% interest rate – something above the riskless Treasury yield, but lower than the pensions’ own risky investment return – the normal cost of Orange County Fire pensions rises a lot – to about 75 percent of salaries. (…the Congressional Budget Office applied the same risk-adjustment in valuing pensions for federal government employees.) In other words, in an average year an Orange County firefighter accrues future pension benefits worth over $118,000. So total annual compensation for an average Orange County firefighter is somewhere in the neighborhood of $290,000 per year.

That’s a nice pile of cash. Not as good as the city manager in one California town who raked in more than $787,000 per year, but definitely not shabby.

But the real issue is whether $290,000 is too much or too little. Being a firefighter is a risky profession, after all, and higher compensation is an efficient way of compensating for danger. And I assume there are fitness requirements that restrict the pool of eligible applicants.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t give us the information needed to specifically assess whether Orange County firefighters are overpaid.

For what it’s worth, though, I think the answer is yes. We have data from the Department of Labor showing that state and local government bureaucrats are far less likely to voluntarily leave their jobs compared to workers in the private sector.

That’s a very strong indication that they’re receiving above-market wages. And since firefighters are paid a lot more than the average state or local bureaucrat, we can make some educated assumptions about their relative compensation.

To put this issue in context, here’s a video I narrated from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity on the issue of bureaucratic compensation.

If I had to simplify this video into a couple of short messages, one of them would be that a lot of bureaucrats are grossly overpaid for the simple reason that their jobs shouldn’t exist. I’m sure there are some very nice and wonderfully conscientious people working at places such as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but their jobs should be phased out as those departments are eliminated.

The other message is that we should use market indicators to determine compensation for government jobs that would still exist. Whether we’re talking about military pay at the federal level or compensation for cops at the local level, it makes sense to pay enough to get the right people but not so much that taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick.

In Orange County, California, taxpayers are left with a twig.

P.S. I already mentioned the fat-cat city manager from Bell, California. Here are some other bureaucrats who are living on Easy Street courtesy of taxpayers.

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I recently speculated whether Detroit’s fiscal problems should be a warning sign for the crowd in Washington.

The answer, of course, is yes, though it’s not a perfect analogy. The federal government is in deep trouble because of unsustainable entitlement programs while Detroit got in trouble because of a combination of too much compensation for bureaucrats and too many taxpayers escaping the city.

A better analogy might be to compare Detroit to other local governments. Some large cities in California already have declared bankruptcy, for instance, and you can find the same pattern of overcompensated bureaucrats and escaping taxpayers.

And the same thing may happen to New York City if the next Mayor is successful in pushing for more class-warfare tax policy. Here are some excerpts from an excellent New York Post column by Nicole Gelinas.

Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio…thinks New York can hike taxes on the rich and not suffer… De Blasio’s scheme is this: Hike income taxes by 13.8 percent on New Yorkers making above half a million dollars annually. …After five years, de Blasio would let this tax surcharge lapse, and — he says — find another way to pay.

But there’s a big problem with de Blasio’s plan. Rich people are not fatted calves meekly awaiting slaughter.

In 2009, the top 1 percent of taxpayers (the 34,598 households making above $493,439 annually) paid 43.2 percent of city income taxes (they made 33.9 percent of income), according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. Each of these families paid an average $75,477. No, most people won’t up and leave (though if 20 percent did, they’d leave New York with less money than before the tax hike). But they can rearrange their incomes. Unlike most of us, folks making, say, $10 million have considerable control over how and when they get paid. That’s because much of their money comes from cashing out a partnership, or selling stock or a house or a painting. To avoid a tax hike, it’s easy enough for them to pay themselves earlier by selling their stuff earlier — before the tax hike. The city made $800 million in extra taxes last year because rich people sold their stuff before President Obama increased investment taxes in December. Or, people can pay themselves later — after the five years’ worth of higher taxes are up.

Gelinas makes some very important points. She warns that the city would have less money if just 20 percent of rich people escaped. She doesn’t think that will happen, but she does explain that rich people can stay but take some simple steps to reduce their taxable income.

This is because rich people are different from the rest of us. As I’ve previously explained with IRS data, they get the vast majority of their income from business and investment sources rather than from wages and salaries.

This means, as Gelinas notes, they have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

So if Mr. de Blasio wins and succeeds in pushing through his tax agenda, don’t expect to see much – if any – additional revenue. This will be a tailor-made example of the Laffer Curve in action.

In this video on class warfare taxation, I explain that the Laffer Curve is one of five reasons why soak-the-rich taxes are misguided.

I’ll close by addressing a common argument from folks on the left. They assert that places such as New York City (or states such as California) can impose higher taxes because they provide more in exchange.

I sort of agree, though not with the notion that people are getting “more in exchange” from the politicians in New York City and California.

Instead, it’s clear that some people are willing to pay more because they like the non-political features of NYC and the Golden State. For those who like museums, fancy dining, and Broadway shows, there’s no easy substitute for New York City. And for people who like the ocean and a Mediterranean climate, it’s hard to compete with California.

But there are limits. Last month, I shared a very powerful map from the Tax Foundation showing there’s been a huge shift of taxable income out of New York and California between 2000 and 2010.

Governor Jerry Brown recently succeeded in pushing through a huge tax hike in California, so I expect even more people will leave that state, regardless of the climate.

And if Mr. de Blasio is elected and imposes a big tax hike in New York City, I suspect some rich people will decide enough is enough.

No, they won’t move to Connecticut or New Jersey, both of which have become high-tax nightmares in recent decades. But there are a good handful of zero-income tax states, and the rich folks in New York City will figure out that there are also good restaurants in places such as West Palm Beach, Florida, and Austin, Texas.

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Government officials do some really crazy things in the name of law enforcement.

Bambi ExecutedI recently wrote about an armed raid on an animal shelter in order to execute a baby deer.

That was paramilitary overkill (pun intended), though it probably didn’t waste as many tax dollars as the regulatory overkill of the year-long sting operation by the Food and Drug Administration against an Amish farm for the horrible crime of selling unpasteurized milk to consenting adults who prefer unpasteurized milk.

And let’s not forget Robert Norlander, the thuggish, dumpster-diving IRS agent, who sought to ruin the life of an innocent man because…well, for no reason.

Well, we now have something that may be even more absurd.

Radley Balko reports in the Huffington Post about “a massive police action last week that included aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search.”

Sounds like the cops must have been up against the mafia. Or a bunch of bank robbers, right?

Not exactly. They raided an organic farm.

…the real reason for the law enforcement exercise appears to have been code enforcement. The police seized “17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants … native grasses and sunflowers,” after holding residents inside at gunpoint for at least a half-hour, property owner Shellie Smith said in a statement.

The cops claimed that they were looking for marijuana. Even if that was the actual goal, why not just send a couple of cops to the door? We’re talking about an organic farm, after all, not a crack house run by the Hell’s Angels.

But let’s at least be thankful the cops seized okra plants. The people of Arlington, Texas, can now walk the streets safely, freed from the danger of vegetables running amok.

So what triggered this raid?

…authorities had cited the Garden of Eden in recent weeks for code violations, including “grass that was too tall, bushes growing too close to the street, a couch and piano in the yard, chopped wood that was not properly stacked, a piece of siding that was missing from the side of the house, and generally unclean premises,” Smith’s statement said. She said the police didn’t produce a warrant until two hours after the raid began, and officers shielded their name tags so they couldn’t be identified.

Oh. My. God. These criminals had improperly stacked wood? And insufficiently mowed grass? No wonder they needed a SWAT team!

If you read Radley’s entire story, it seems clear that the real issue is that neighbors didn’t like the messy conditions of the farm and they pressured the local government to do something about it.

I probably wouldn’t like living next door to somebody who kept a piano in their yard, so I’m sympathetic to their concerns.

Stories like this are why I picked my license plate

And even though I’m libertarian and much prefer that neighborhood standards be determined by private agreements, even I’m not going to get overly agitated by zoning rules about couches in the front yard.

But why deal with this trivial conflict by ordering “aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search”?

Sounds like the local police force has a bloated budget and tries to justify its wasteful practices by concocting needlessly risky operations.

P.S. The government’s harassment of another organic farm was the runaway winner of my contest for the worst example of government thuggery.

P.P.S. As I already mentioned, I don’t think this raid was about marijuana, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity to say that it’s time to end the foolish Drug War. People who abuse drugs may be stupid, but they’re not infringing on my rights. But the War on Drugs had led to all sorts of policies that do infringe on our rights, from disgusting asset forfeiture policies to pointless snooping on our bank accounts.

P.P.S. To close with some humor, check out what Dave Barry had to say about great moments in government.

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The bad news is that governments do a lot of things they shouldn’t do. The good news is that I never run out of material.

I’ve even created some sub-categories, such as my U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest and my great-moments-in-local-government series.

But I never thought I would have a special category about bureaucrats vs. Bambi.

1. Bureaucrats in Virginia filed three misdemeanor charges against a man for the horrible crime of rescuing a deer that was hit by a car.

2. Bureaucrats in Maryland fined two men $90 each for not having life jackets when they had the gall to rescue a deer that fell through some ice.

3. Bureaucrats in Indiana are threatening prison time for a family that rescued a baby deer from coyotes.

The paper pushers of the world seem to harbor a special grudge against these harmless ruminants, since we now have another story about a baby deer. But this time, Bambi was the victim, not the family.

Here are some of the unbelievable details from a local news report.

Two weeks ago, Schulze was working in the barn at the Society of St. Francis on the Kenosha-Illinois border when a swarm of squad cars arrived and officers unloaded with a search warrant. “(There were) nine DNR agents and four deputy sheriffs, and they were all armed to the teeth,” Schulze said. The focus of their search was a baby fawn brought there by an Illinois family worried she had been abandoned by her mother.

My first reaction when reading this was “what the @#$*?” Is he public sector really so bloated that 13 bureaucrats have nothing better to do than to serve a search warrant for a baby deer?

And why on earth were they heavily armed? Were they expecting Osama Bin Bambi?

But don’t answer yet, because it gets more absurd.

The Department of Natural Resources began investigating after two anonymous calls reporting a baby deer at the no-kill shelter. The warden drafted an affidavit for the search warrant, complete with aerial photos in which he described getting himself into a position where he was able to see the fawn going in and out of the barn.

I’m not sure what part of this excerpt gets me more upset, the fact that some snitch informed on the shelter for having a baby deer, or the fact that the government is so wasteful that bureaucrats went through the cost of arranging aerial surveillance!

Dangerous criminal executed

As a taxpayer, I get agitated about the waste of money. As a decent human being, this next part bothers me even more.

“I was thinking in my mind they were going to take the deer and take it to a wildlife shelter, and here they come carrying the baby deer over their shoulder. She was in a body bag,” Schulze said. “I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said, ‘That’s our policy,’ and I said, ‘That’s one hell of a policy.’”

The local cops justified the overkill approach by equating an animal shelter with a crack house.

“Could you have made a phone call before showing up, I mean, that’s a lot of resources,” WISN 12 News investigative reporter Colleen Henry asked. “If a sheriff’s department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don’t call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up,” Niemeyer said,

Horrified citizens are complaining and fighting back, though I’m not holding my breath that justice will be served.

Schultz said she plans to sue the DNR for removing Giggles without even a court hearing. She also questioned what such an operation costs taxpayers. “They went way over the top for a little tiny baby deer,” Schultz said,

Remember, though, that this type of government thuggery is hardly unusual.

The Food and Drug Administration raided a dairy for the terrible crime of selling unpasteurized milk to people who prefer unpasteurized milk.

New York City imposed a $30,000 fine on a small shop because it sold a toy gun.

The pinheads at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission went after Hooters for not having any male waiters in hot pants and tight t-shirts.

An unlucky guy wound up in legal hot water for releasing some heart-shaped balloons to impress his sweetheart.

Yup, our tax dollars at work. And Obama thinks government is too small and needs more of our money so it can do even more things.

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In an interview last week about Detroit’s bankruptcy, I explained that the city got in trouble because of growing dependency and an ever-rising burden of government spending.

I also warned that the federal government faces the same challenge. Washington is in trouble mostly because of poorly designed entitlement programs rather than excessive compensation for a bloated bureaucracy, but the end result is the same. Or, to be more accurate, the end result will be the same in the absence of genuine entitlement reform.

As I said in the interview, fiscal crisis was “the most predictable crisis in the world for Detroit [and] it’s the most predictable crisis for America.”

The Washington Examiner has the same assessment. Here’s how they conclude a recent editorial.

More than anywhere else in America (with the possible exception of Chicago) Detroit has been a one-party union city. Democratic politicians backed by the United Auto Workers and public employees unions have ruled virtually as they pleased. Along the way, many of the politicians ended up in jail on corruption charges and the bureaucrats made out with sweetheart deals on pensions and health benefits. Those sweetheart deals now account for most of the $20 billion in debt that put the city into bankruptcy. There are too many disturbing parallels between Detroit and America. The national debt of $17 trillion gets a lot of attention, but the reality is the government’s actual debt, counting the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicare and federal employee and retiree benefits, exceeds $86 trillion, according to former congressmen Chris Cox and Bill Archer. As they say, things that can’t go on forever, won’t.

I used to warn that America was on a path to becoming Greece, but maybe now I should use Detroit as an example.

Some of America’s best political cartoonists already are using this theme.

Here’s one from Glenn McCoy. Since I’m not overly optimist about either Illinois or California, I also think it’s just a matter of time before this happens.

Detroit Cartoon 1

Keep in mind, however, that there was plenty of wasteful spending in both Illinois and California under Republican governors, so this is a bipartisan problem.

Speaking of California, here’s a good cartoon by Lisa Benson.

Detroit Cartoon 2

Amazingly, some people think California’s no longer in trouble because a retroactive tax hike collected more tax revenue. Yeah, good luck with that.

Next we have a cartoon by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Detroit Cartoon 3

And last but not least, Eric Allie weighs in with a cartoon comparing Texas and Detroit.

Detroit Cartoon 4

On a serious note, it would be interesting to see how Detroit looks compared to cities in Texas, such as Dallas and Houston.

But let’s end with something that’s really hilarious, albeit by accident rather than on purpose.

A few people want to enable Detroit’s profligacy. Here are some excerpts from a story in The Hill about union bosses wanting a federal-state bailout of Detroit.

Union leaders are calling on Congress and President Obama to provide a federal bailout to the city of Detroit. The executive council of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, called for an “immediate infusion of federal assistance for Detroit” to be matched by Michigan, which they say has not done enough to keep the city from going through bankruptcy. …“It appears that Governor [Rick] Snyder and [Emergency Financial Manager] Kevyn Orr are pushing Detroit into bankruptcy to gut the modest benefits received by Detroit’s retired public service employees,” the AFL-CIO’s statement reads.

I suppose I could make some snarky comments, but I’ll close with two vaguely sympathetic responses.

First, there’s no way a bailout of Detroit goes through the House of Representatives. Heck, I don’t even think it could make it through the Senate. So some folks on the left would be justified if they asked why the high rollers on Wall Street supposedly deserved a bailout a few years ago but they don’t get one today.

The answer, of course, is discrimination by color. But I’m not talking black vs white. The color that matters in politics is green. The financial industry dispenses huge campaign contributions to both sides of the aisle, and the bailout was their payoff. Public employee unions, by contrast, give almost every penny of their money to Democrats, so there’s no incentive for GOPers to do the wrong thing.

Second, I have no idea whether retired bureaucrats in Detroit get “modest benefits.” I’m skeptical for very obvious reasons, but the real problem is that the city screwed up by having too many people riding in the wagon without paying attention to whether there were enough people producing in the private sector to pull the wagon.

Is that the fault of the garbage men, clerks, secretaries, and other municipal employees? That’s a hard question to answer. They obviously weren’t calling the shots, but they were happy to go along for the ride.

At some point, they should have paid attention to the message in this Chuck Asay cartoon.

P.S. For readers in New Jersey (and also New York City), I’ll be speaking this Wednesday, July 31, at the Friedman Day luncheon sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.

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About two weeks ago, while making an important point about the Laffer Curve, here’s what I wrote about the fiscal disaster in Detroit.

Detroit’s problems are the completely predictable result of excessive government. Just as statism explains the problems of Greece. And the problems of California. And the problems of Cyprus. And the problems of Illinois. …Simply stated, as the size and scope of the public sector increased, that created very destructive economic and political dynamics. More and more people got lured into the wagon of government dependency, which puts an ever-increasing burden on a shrinking pool of producers. Meanwhile, organized interest groups such as government bureaucrats used their political muscle to extract absurdly excessive compensation packages, putting an even larger burden of the dwindling supply of taxpayers.

And in this Fox News interview, I elaborate on these arguments and warned that federal government profligacy – if unchecked – will lead to similarly dismal results for the entire United States.

I want to augment on a couple of my points.

First, I explained that Detroit’s bankruptcy won’t have any major and long-lasting ripple effects – assuming politicians on the state or national level don’t encourage more bad policy with bailouts. If you’re a creditor, it’s not good news that the city owes you money, and it’s also not a cheerful time if you’re a retired bureaucrat hoping for years and years of pension payments and healthcare subsidies, but there’s no reason to expect that Detroit’s problems will impose significant damage on Michigan – particularly compared to the harm that would be caused if Detroit was allowed to continue with business as usual.

Similarly, the United States wouldn’t suffer major consequences if (probably when) California no longer can pay its bills. On the other hand, the European Union and the euro currency are being weakened by the mess in Greece, though that’s because they’ve been subsidizing bad fiscal policy with bailouts.

Second, I made the argument for entitlement reform, specifically the “pre-funding” version of Social Security reform that’s been adopted in nations as diverse as Australia and Chile.

Incidentally, this approach is even bolder than the Medicaid and Medicare reforms in the GOP budgets.

Third, I expressed some optimism that the United States has a chance to implement these much-needed reforms, in part because countries such as France and Japan will blow up before America.

And each time another nation, state, or city gets into trouble, it will strengthen our arguments to put the federal government on a long-overdue diet.

Big problems for America if politicians leave government on auto-pilot

Having a strong argument, though, is not the same as having an argument that will prevail. So even though America still has some breathing room, and even though the economic and moral case for spending restraint is very powerful, we’re in the unfortunate situation of having to rely on politicians in Washington.

So keep places such as Australia in mind just in case you need to escape when America’s fiscal chickens come home to roost.

In conclusion, I can’t resist drawing your attention to something I wrote back in 2011, when I showed the eerie similarity of Detroit’s collapse with the “blighted areas” in Ayn Rand’s classic novel, Atlas Shrugged.

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I’m a strong believer in federalism, but not because I think state and local governments are competent. Politicians and interest groups are a toxic combination in all circumstance.

But at least people have considerable ability to cross borders if they want to escape greedy and despotic governments at the state and local level. And when the geese with the golden eggs can fly away, this facilitates competition between governments and forces politicians to restrain their appetites.

So when California screws up, people can move to Texas. And when Detroit screws up, people can move just about anyplace.

But it’s not just stereotypically left-wing places where you find stupid and oppressive government. Here are three examples of bad government, and you get to pick the one that most exemplifies statism in action!

Option #1: The “Prove Your Gender” Requirement in Georgia

I realize that gender can be a somewhat fuzzy concept in modern society, and things can get even more complicated with modern technology, but you would think that certain things are…um…well, self evident.

But that wasn’t good enough for one bureaucrat in Georgia, as reported by the New York Daily News. Here are some relevant excerpts

A Georgia mom was ordered by state workers to prove she was a woman after she found her birth certificate mistakenly listed her as a man. Nakia Grimes, 36, said she was left “in shock” after officials told her she must undergo an invasive Pap smear exam if she ever wanted the error corrected. …Grimes said the offensive proposition came about when she spotted her birth certificate had an “X” listed next to male while getting her driver’s license renewed. …a state worker said the only way for the Clayton County resident to get her gender changed would be to prove it properly. “She said I needed to go have the exam, have a doctor write a note verifying you’re a woman, and bring it back – notarized,” she added.

Shockingly, this story actually has a happy ending. According to the story, the government eventually “…altered her gender status after checking her son Zion’s birth certificate, where she is legally listed as the birth mother.”

Option #2: Squandering Money to Rip Up Flowers in Washington, DC

When government fails to fulfill one of its supposed obligations, there’s a natural tendency among some people to volunteer their time and energy to improve their communities.

But bureaucrats don’t like private initiative, particularly since it makes it rather obvious that government is a costly and inefficient way of doing things. And that’s why good Samaritans who clean parks and rescue people open themselves up to harassment and persecution.

In other cases, the bureaucrats undo the good work of private citizens. Here’s some of what was reported in the Washington Post about one episode of spiteful bureaucracy.

…the transit system would look silly if it let perish 1,000 flowers planted secretly at the Dupont Circle station by local garden artist Henry Docter, the self-described Phantom Planter. I feared that Metro would merely neglect the flowers. Instead, last Sunday, it sent workmen to yank them out.The transit system regularly pleads poverty, yet employees devoted supposedly valuable time to remove more than 1,000 morning glories, cardinal flowers and cypress vines that Docter donated to the city — albeit without permission. The plants would have bloomed from August to October in a patriotic display of red, white and blue.Instead of greenery today and colors to come, the 176 flower boxes along the top stretch of the escalators at the station’s north entrance now feature dirt, a few straggling stems and the occasional discarded soda can. …“They paid people to tear out plants that everyone loves? Well, this is cause for insurrection. Talk about fixing something that’s not broken,” said Robin Diener, a member of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association board of directors.

Amazing. The bureaucracy claims there’s no money to plant flowers, but there’s somehow money to dig up flowers someone else has planted. That’s government in action!

Option #3: Thugs from Local Government Harass Organic Farmer

One of the most unpleasant features of big government is that bureaucrats have immense power to engage in vindictive attacks.

I’ve already shared some horror stories, such as this instance of vicious IRS persecution, a story of a woman jailed overnight because she let her kids play outside, an example of cops “legally” stealing $17,000 from a man who committed no crime, a video about how the EPA tried – and fortunately failed – to destroy a family, and a disturbing report about the Justice Department’s discriminatory attack on a hapless homeowner.

We have another example of government thuggery. Here are some passages from a disturbing Washington Examiner story, though you really should read the whole thing.

Since purchasing Liberty Farm in Fauquier County, Virginia, where she grows organic vegetables and has over 160 rescued livestock…, her life has been a series of harassment and bullying by people in power. The latest trouble is that her house…was vandalized. The same day, she was harassed at her farm by strangers in a Georgetown-registered car. Ten days earlier Martha had gone public about an IRS audit. Journalist Kevin Mooney broke the story that Boneta was audited by the IRS last year after a series of disputes with the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Fauquier County government. It was later shown that the audit was disclosed to at least one Fauquier County official, perhaps feloniously. Martha’s disputes brought her national attention because of her willingness to stand up to ridiculousness. She was cited and threatened with $5,000 fines for hosting a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls without an “events” permit from the county. …Asked about the IRS audit of Boneta coming on the heels of legal disputes between the farmer and the PEC, [former IRS Commissioner] Richardson said, “Coincidences do happen.” But this audit has shown to be no coincidence. A Fauquier County supervisor blabbed about the audit two days after the notice was signed at the IRS and six days before Boneta received it. That shows collusion. The supervisor is Richardson’s friend and neighbor, and a former PEC board member.

This is such a disturbing story that I’m incapable of making a snarky or sarcastic comment. But at least this is a good example to illustrate my point that politicians and bureaucrats at the state and local level can be just as evil as those from Washington.

Anyhow, not it’s time for you to throw in your two cents. Which story best symbolizes government?

P.S. If you were inspired by these stories and want to engage in petty harassment of people who produce, here’s one way of training for government employment.

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Milton Friedman famously noted that, “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program”and Ronald Reagan sagely observed that “a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

Two great Americans

They’re both right, but they should have included the other half of the fiscal equation. Repealing a tax, even a “temporary tax,” is just as difficult as getting rid of wasteful spending.

Simply stated, once politicians get access to a source of additional revenue, it’s feeding time at the zoo and good luck getting them to give the money back. Here’s a sobering example from Philadelphia.

Skeptics say there’s no such thing as a “temporary” tax. Like the two-year property tax increase City Council passed in 2010 that, lo and behold, is still with us. Or another dreaded levy: the wage tax. It was passed in 1939 as a short-term fix for the city’s finances, but succeeding generations have nonetheless been forced to accept its bite in their paychecks. The latest tax under consideration for immortality is the 1 percent sales-tax increase the state allowed Philadelphia to impose in 2009 as a bridge through the recession.The increase – which raised the tax on most goods and services in Philadelphia from 7 percent to 8 percent – is slated to expire next June. City and state leaders are now talking about making the increase permanent, with the extra money being put toward one or both of the city’s greatest needs: the struggling School District and the vastly underfunded public employee pension fund.

The bulk of that excerpt is a straightforward recitation of how temporary tax hikes become permanent tax hikes, but I have to object to the final sentence. The “city’s greatest needs” are replacing the failed government education monopoly with school choice and reducing the excessive pensions for over-compensated government bureaucrats – such as the city’s former “managing director” (whatever that is), Camille Cates Barnett.

I also can’t resist commenting on the craven behavior of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. I though the national Chamber of Commerce was bad when it endorsed TARP and the faux stimulus, but the local Chamber may be even worse.

Joe Grace, director of public policy at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, said, “We have not seen any evidence that extending the 1 percent is going to have any negative impact on the local businesses.” The chamber is also backing a $2-a-pack cigarette tax dedicated to the schools. “Our belief is the School District needs resources,” Grace said. “We’re working, along with many others, to close the school-funding gap, really by any means necessary.”

So Mr. Grace thinks more funding for a failed education bureaucracy should be achieved by “any means necessary.” Well, I think a 100 percent tax rate on Mr. Grace should be at the top of the list.

Heck, if France can tax at 100 percent, then so can the City of Philadelphia, and Mr. Grace is a deserving recipient of such a levy.

But there are some opponents of the tax, though they’re not exactly libertarian heroes.

…members of the nearly all-Democratic Philadelphia delegation have raised concerns about using the 1 percent to help fund the schools because it lets the state off the hook for its share of education funding. Danilo Burgos, president of the Dominican Grocers Association, argued that giving sales-tax revenue to the schools was “a Band-Aid.” The state, which has control of the city’s schools, should be responsible for devising “a real solution for our schools.”

In other words, they want more money to waste, but they want to take it from people in the rest of the state.

Sort of reminds me of what the great Frederic Bastiat wrote more than 150 years ago, “The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.”

But if enough people act as if that fiction is reality, then you get too many people riding in the wagon and not enough people pulling the wagon. That’s a good description of what’s happening in places such as Philadelphia and Greece.

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I’ve shared some bizarre horror stories about adults being victimized by anti-gun fanaticism, including the Washington, DC, man who got fined $1,000 for saving a child’s life and a British man who got arrested for finding a gun and turning it over to the police.

But I get more worried about the future of the country when I read reports of children being subjected to this kind of politically correct nonsense.

Consider, for instance, these absurd details from a local news report.

Lego gunA Massachusetts kindergartener has been given detention and could be suspended from the bus after bringing a Lego-sized gun to school last week. …the incident happened on an Old Mill Pond Elementary School bus in Palmer last week. A 6-year-old had the toy gun, which is slightly larger than a quarter, on the bus and it was seen by another student, who alerted the bus driver. The boy’s mother, Mieke Crane, said her son had to write a letter of apology to the driver, was given detention and could be temporarily suspended from the bus.

Reading that passage, I don’t know whether to be more angry with the bratty tattle-tale kid who told the bus driver, or with the bus driver who obviously must have informed the school.

Both of them could use some serious counseling.

But that’s just part of the story.

The school sent home a letter to parents explaining what happened, stressing no gun was on the bus and there was never any danger. “(The driver) said he caused quite a disturbance on the bus and that the children were traumatized,” Crane told WGGB.

A letter to parents about a tiny plastic toy gun?!? Are the bureaucrats in this school so under-worked that they have time to waste on such nonsense? If I was a parent in this school district, I would put my kids in a private school.

Especially if it’s true that “children were traumatized” by a piece of Lego. I wouldn’t want to take the risk that wimpiness and poor cognitive skills could be transmitted by proximity to my kids (perhaps causing them to need “emotional support” animals in college).

By the way, this is not an isolated example. To get depressed about the future of the country, read these posts about children being exposed to foolish thinking.

Stories like this make me wonder whether I should emigrate, though the rest of the world tends to be in worse shape so the moral of the story is that we need to save the United States from the brainless (and overpaid) bureaucrats who are trying to ruin our children.

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This story belongs in my “Great Moments in Local Government” series, which features examples of bureaucratic and political stupidity (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) that will make you laugh, cry, yell, or all of the above.

Not surprisingly, the deeply dysfunctional local government in Washington, DC, wants to be part of this collection.

We have what at first seems like a feel-good story. A little boy is attacked by some vicious pit bulls. Other people in the neighborhood flee to protect themselves. But one man acts quickly and saves the child’s life.

Here are some details from the Washington Times report.

…11-year-old Jayeon Simon and his friend rode bicycles near Eighth and Sheridan streets Northwest in the Brightwood neighborhood. According to court records filed in D.C. Superior Court, three unleashed pit bulls pounced on Jayeon and attacked him. Seeing the attack, Mr. Srigley went inside his home to get his Ruger 9 mm pistol while several other men hopped over fences to get away from the dogs, court records state. From behind the wooden fence of his front lawn, Mr. Srigley began firing at the dogs. His shots attracted the attention of a Metropolitan Police Department officer on bicycle patrol nearby, and he also opened fire on the dogs, killing the other two. The boy survived the attack but now bears scars on his elbow, torso and leg as a reminder.

Mr. Srigley seems like a great guy. Or at least a guy who did something great. Surely he was rewarded, right?

Did he get a commendation from the police department? A ceremonial key to the city from the Mayor?

Mr. Srigley should have been a good liberal, called 911, and relied on the cops to arrive after the child was dead

Don’t be silly. We’re talking about Washington, DC.

…Benjamin Srigley, 39, was required to pay a $1,000 fine…for the three unregistered firearms and the ammunition that investigators found in his possession, said Ted Gest, a spokesman for the office of the attorney general.

But showing great mercy, they decided not to try to send him to prison.

“We took it into account that he saved this boy’s life,” Mr. Gest said.

Gee, what a bunch of swell guys in the DC government. Mr. Srigley is “only” hit with a $1,000 fine.

One hopes that this won’t cause a potential Good Samaritan to let some kid get killed or some woman get raped in the future.

P.S. At least the pit bulls weren’t in a dorm room providing federally-mandated “emotional support.”

P.P.S. One of the comments below reminds me that Mr. Srigley should have been a housebroken journalist since that entitles you to a get-out-of-jail-free card for gun offenses in Washington, DC>

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I can say with great confidence that government bureaucrats are overpaid compared to people in the productive sector of the economy.

Why am I sure that this is true, particularly when the so-called Federal Salary Council claims bureaucrats are underpaid?

For the simple reason that the “job opening and labor turnover” data from the Department of Labor is the best way to measure whether a group of workers is overpaid or underpaid.

And you probably won’t be surprised to learn from this data that bureaucrats at the federal, state, and local level are only about 1/3rd as likely to quit their jobs as workers in the private sector.

They’re less likely to leave their jobs, needless to say, because they generally get paid more than they’re worth.

But just in case you think this data is unconvincing, let’s look at some additional research.

Sita Slavov of the American Enterprise Institute explores this topic in an article for U.S. News & World Report.

…studies show that, while the salaries of public sector workers are roughly in line with those paid in the private sector, public sector workers receive substantially more generous fringe benefits, such as pensions, health benefits, vacation and job security. …Why are public sector workers so highly compensated? And, why is their compensation so heavy on benefits? Workers certainly value benefits, such as access to group health insurance, and many benefits are tax advantaged. But do public sector workers really value these benefits more than private sector workers? Edward Glaeser and Giacomo Ponzetto have attempted to address these questions in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper entitled “Shrouded Costs of Government: The Political Economy of State and Local Public Pensions.” The authors present a formal model in which public sector compensation is determined by a political process that pits politicians against each other in a competition for votes. They show that this political process results in a public sector compensation package with generous benefits.

In other words, bureaucrats are over-compensated, and much of their excess compensation is in the form of generous fringe benefits.

The new study cited by Sita looks at why this happens.

Public sector workers have an information advantage over other voters. In particular, they are better informed about their own compensation packages. Moreover, this information advantage is more pronounced for benefits than salary. This is plausible because information about public sector salaries is available to the general public… In contrast, information about public sector pensions is less widely available, and because of complications involved in valuing future pension benefit promises, it is also more difficult to interpret. As a result, politicians propose generous public sector compensation that is tilted towards benefits rather than salary. A politician who tries to scale back public sector benefits will lose support from public sector voters (who are hurt by the benefit cut) without gaining much support from other voters (who gain from lower taxes but are poorly informed).

My interpretation of these findings is that politicians and bureaucrats basically conspire to rip off taxpayers.

In exchange for campaign contributions and other forms of political support, the politicians give the bureaucrats excessive compensation. But they make it difficult for taxpayers to figure out how they’re getting robbed by concentrating a big share of the excess in harder-to-measure fringe benefits.

Another advantage of that approach, by the way, is that the bill for all the retiree benefits doesn’t come due until some point in the future, by which time the politicians who put taxpayers on the hook often have retired or moved on to some other position.

But these promises do translate into real costs sooner or later, as taxpayers have painfully learned in places such as diverse as California and Greece.

Though, to be fair, governments get into fiscal trouble because they also make irresponsible commitments to all workers, including those in the private sector. America’s long-term fiscal crisis, for instance, is because of poorly designed entitlement programs.

Bu this isn’t an excuse to do nothing. It just means we have to reform entitlements and also trim back the excessive compensation for the bureaucracy. This video elaborates.

P.S. If you still aren’t convinced that bureaucrats are overpaid, look at this remarkable map.

P.P.S. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that bureaucrats also don’t work as hard as the rest of us.

P.P.P.S. I’m more concerned about the overall size of government than I am about the pay levels of bureaucrats. I’d much rather focus on shutting down the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for instance, instead of simply trying to reduce the pay of HUD bureaucrats.

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Taxpayers all across America send lots of money to Washington, DC, in part because we’re supposed to believe that redistribution is a legitimate and desirable function of the federal government.

But this is a very perverse form of redistribution. All that money going to Washington helps subsidize a network of overpaid bureaucrats, fat-cat lobbyists, corrupt politicians, and well-heeled interest groups.

Indeed, as shown in this map, 10 of the 15 richest counties in the country are in the Washington metropolitan area.

One of those wealthy areas is Arlington County, VA, just across the river from Washington. Home to thousands of federal bureaucrats and other DC insiders, Arlington is similar to Washington in that there is a lot of wasteful spending. Sort of makes you wonder if local bureaucrats and federal bureaucrats ever meet at bars after work and brag about who wasted the most money that day?

Anyhow, here are some sordid details from a Washington Post story.

A wall made of etched glass opens the rear vista to newly planted landscaping. Embedded in the floor are heating elements intended to ward off the cold weather and keep winter-weary feet cozy. …And the price tag: $1 million. “Is this made of gold?” asked commuter Yohannes Kaleab, examining the concrete-and-stainless-steel bench that is part of the new, seven-figure bus shelter. “What?” asked Robin Stewart as he learned of the cost of the structure while waiting for a bus there last week. “That’s ridiculous. From a citizen, from a voter, whoever put that budget through needs to get their butt canned. It’s an outrage.” The “super stop,” which opened March 11, is the first of 24 new bus stops that will also accommodate Arlington’s long-planned streetcars. …It will shelter 15 people at a time.

Boondoggle Bus Stop

$1 million for this bit of glass, metal, and concrete?!?

That sounds kind of expensive, but we can be comforted by the fact that thoughtful public servants predict future savings.

“When you do a prototype, you end up heavily front-loading on the costs,” said Dennis Leach, Arlington’s transportation director.

So how much will taxpayers save on the remaining 23 stops? Well, the good news is that they won’t cost $1 million each. The bad news is that the government doesn’t exactly save a lot of money when doing bulk purchases.

“Our goal if at all possible is to do it for less,” Leach said. The county has budgeted $20.8 million for the remaining 23 stops, or about $904,000 for each one.

Gee, knock me over with a feather. The additional bus stops will “only” be $904,000!

That’s not counting cost overruns, which are an inevitable reality with government budgeting, so I think it’s safe to assume that the final cost will be far higher.

So why do governments waste money like this?

Part of the answer, of course, is that politicians are inherently wasteful. But there’s another factor at play. Politicians are especially wasteful when they can spend money that isn’t collected from their own taxpayers.

And readers from other parts of America doubtlessly will be overjoyed to learn that their paying for a big chunk of this boondoggle.

Federal and state transportation money paid 80 percent of the costs.

With taxpayers outside of Arlington paying such a high share of the cost, we should think of ourselves as lucky that the bus stop didn’t cost $10 million!

But here’s the most amazing part of the story.

What’s the most important part of a bus stop? In theory, a bus stop can be nothing more than a sign indicating the spot where you should wait for a bus.

But if you’re going to build a structure, the most valuable feature – at least from the perspective of riders – is that you will be protected from the weather. So what sort of protection are riders getting as a result of this $1 million boondoggle? Meh, not so much.

…the bus shelter is “pretty, but I was struck by the fact that if it’s pouring rain, I’m going to get wet, and if it’s cold, the wind is going to be blowing on me. It doesn’t seem to be a shelter. It doesn’t really shelter you very much . . . you can get pretty soaked in two minutes.” Her opinion was shared by some on Columbia Pike trying it out.

Gee, isn’t this wonderful. Some contractors doubtlessly lined their pockets building this white elephant. Some consultants doubtlessly fattened their bank accounts with all the nonsense that is now part of the “planning” process.

But taxpayers, as usual, got the short end of the stick. They got taken for a ride, figuratively. And if they actually use the bus stop, they can get taken for a ride, literally, so long as they don’t mind getting wet.

P.S. And let’s not forget that Obama wants some more class-warfare tax hikes to finance more of this “investment.”

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I’m a proponent of a pro-growth and non-corrupt tax code.

I mostly write and talk about the flat tax, though I’d be happy to instead accept a national sales tax if we could somehow get rid of the 16th Amendment and replace it with something so ironclad that even Justices such as John Roberts and Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t rationalize that the income tax was constitutional.

But since there’s no chance of any good tax reform with Obama in the White House, there’s no need to squabble over the best plan. Instead, our short-term goal should be to educate voters so that we create a more favorable intellectual climate for genuine reform in 2017 and beyond.

That’s why I’ve argued in favor of lower tax rates and shared the latest academic research showing that tax policy has a significant impact on economic performance.

But tax reform also means getting rid of the rat’s nest of deductions, credits, exemptions, preferences, exclusions, shelters, loopholes, and other distortions in the tax code.

Why? Because people should make decisions on how to earn income and how to spend income on the basis of what makes economic sense, not because they’re being bribed or penalized by the tax code. That’s just central planning through the back door.

And if you don’t think this is a problem, I invite you to peruse three startling images, each of which measures rising complexity over time.

  1. The number of pages in the tax code.
  2. The number of special tax breaks.
  3. The number of pages in the 1040 instruction booklet.

Today’s Byzantine system is good for tax lawyers, accountants, and bureaucrats, but it’s bad news for America. We need to wipe the slate clean and get rid of this corrupt mess.

But as I explain in this appearance on Fox Business News, we won’t make progress until we control the burden of government spending and unless we make sure that deductions are eliminated only if we use every penny of revenue to lower tax rates.

I’ve previously explained why it’s okay to get rid of itemized deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and state and local tax payments.

Let’s now take a moment to explain why the internal revenue code shouldn’t be artificially steering capital toward state and local governments at the expense of private investment.

Under current law, there’s no federal income tax imposed on interest from municipal bonds. No matter how rich you are, Uncle Sam doesn’t tax a penny of the interest you receive if you use your wealth to lend money to state and local governments.

Should the tax code steer money to Detroit politicians?

This “muni-bond exemption” has two unfortunate effects.

  • It makes it easier and cheaper for state and local governments to incur debt, thus encouraging more wasteful spending by cities such as Detroit and states such as California.
  • By making the debt of state and local governments more attractive than private business investment, the loophole undermines long-term growth by diverting capital to unproductive uses.

The politicians at the state and local level certainly understand what’s at stake. They’re lobbying to preserve this destructive tax break. Here are some excerpts from a story in the New York Times.

Mr. Firestine [of Montgomery County, MD] is on the front lines of a lobbying campaign by local and state governments, bond dealers, insurers and underwriters that is trying to pre-empt any attempt to limit or even kill the tax exemption. …At present, the federal government forgoes about $32 billion a year in taxes by exempting the interest that investors earn from municipal bonds. …The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, known as the Simpson-Bowles commission, has suggested taxing all municipal bond interest, not just the interest paid to people in the top bracket. …Officials of some other government groups, like the New York City Housing Development Corporation, have formed a coalition with Wall Street groups like the Bond Dealers of America to lobby on the issue. But there is the sense of an uphill battle. …Capping the tax exemption would cause high-bracket taxpayers to look for higher-yielding investments, he said, and the county would have to offer more interest to lure them back.

Based on the last sentence in the excerpt, I gather we’re supposed to think it would be bad news if we got rid of this tax preference and taxpayers shifted more of their money to private-sector investments.

Needless to say, that’s misguided. Only in the upside-down world of Washington do people think it is smart to create tax preferences that lead to more wasteful spending by state and local governments, while simultaneously imposing punitive forms of double taxation on saving and investment in the private sector.

By the way, this shouldn’t be an ideological issue. If this amazing chart is any indication, leftists who want workers to enjoy more income should be clamoring the loudest for a tax system that doesn’t tilt the playing field against capital formation.

P.S. While simplicity is a good goal for tax policy, you will understand why it shouldn’t be the only goal if you check out this potential Barack Obama tax reform plan.

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I’ve shared some very interesting commentary and opinions on the Drug War from folks such as John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson.

And I’ve shared some horror stories about “asset forfeiture,” an odious procedure that allows the government to steal private property without any finding of guilt.

But sometimes an anecdote is the best way of exposing the silliness of the War on Drugs.

Here are some surreal tidbits from a Yahoo Sports report.

Bonnie Jonas-Boggioni, 65, and her husband were driving home to Plano, Texas from Columbus after attending her mother-in-law’s funeral when a pair of black police SUV’s stopped the couple a few miles outside of Memphis. “Knowing I wasn’t speeding, I couldn’t imagine why,” Jonas-Boggioni told the Columbus Dispatch. “They were very serious. They had the body armor and the guns.”

What was the supposed “probable cause” that led the police to make this stop? Ummm…..

On the back of Jonas-Boggioni’s car was a Buckeye leaf decal, similar to the one players’ have on their helmets, and cops mistakenly thought it was marijuana leaf. Yes, really. “What are you doing with a marijuana sticker on your bumper?” one of the cops asked Jonas-Boggioni. After trying to explain that the sticker was not a marijuana leaf and that she and her husband were not trafficking drugs cross-country, the police advised Jonas-Boggioni to remove the sticker as to not cause any more confusion.

As a fan of SEC football, I certainly agree that there’s something wrong with supporting the Ohio State Buckeyes. But bad judgement shouldn’t be against the law, much less a cause for a legal encounter with the government.

Particularly when the cops are showing their lack of knowledge.

Tennessee police apparently aren’t botany experts. If they were, they’d know a marijuana leaf has seven leaflets (see above picture) and a narrow shape as compared to the Buckeye leaf, which is fat and has five leaflets. …As for Jonas-Boggioni, she acknowledged the cop’s wishes, but got back in her car without removing the sticker. “I didn’t take it off,” Jonas-Boggioni told the paper. “This little old lady is no drug dealer.”

But that doesn’t mean other little old ladies aren’t drug dealers.

Click here is you want to read about a grandmother’s encounter with the Drug War.

Now ask yourself why we should be paying higher taxes to support this failed effort.

And remember that you can do something about it, as shown by some good people in Montana.

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Some people are grumbling that the First Lady has taken the joy out of school lunches. She’s identified with the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” which uses federal funding to coerce schools into providing meals with fewer calories.

Here’s a radical idea for the First Lady. Parents should be responsible for their own kids.

But I think this criticism misses the point. The problem is not overweight kids, as one side argues, or politically correct micro-managing, as the other side claims.

Instead, we should be asking the fundamental question about whether subsidizing school lunches is an appropriate function of the federal government.

I’ve previously argued that the federal government should get out of the business of income redistribution and means-tested programs. In part, this is because the Constitution does not authorize any federal involvement in this area.

But I also think the evidence is very clear that the welfare state is undermining progress in reducing poverty, often by trapping people in lives of dependency.

And it also sometimes brings out the worst in people, as you can see in this horrifying story about a welfare couple in Florida and this sad story about a girl in Connecticut (though England has equally reprehensible examples, as you can see here, here, and here).

Getting back to the main topic of this post, here are some passages from a report in the New York Times.

Outside Pittsburgh, they are proclaiming a strike, taking to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. In a village near Milwaukee, hundreds staged a boycott. In a small farming and ranching community in western Kansas, they have produced a parody video. And in Parsippany, N.J., the protest is six days old and counting. They are high school students, and their complaint is about lunch — healthier, smaller and more expensive than ever. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required public schools to follow new nutritional guidelines this academic year to receive extra federal lunch aid, has created a nationwide version of the age-old parental challenge: persuading children to eat what is good for them.

No big surprise here. Kids want junk food. I’m actually on Michelle Obama’s side on the general issue of wanting kids to eat better and exercise more.

Where we part company is that I think bureaucrats and politicians in Washington are ill-suited to do anything right, and they’re especially unlikely to succeed in a task that has more to do with parents than government.

Here are some details about the meddling from DC.

According to the new restrictions, high school lunches must be no more than 850 calories, middle school lunches no more than 700 calories and elementary school lunches no more than 650. Before, there were no maximums. At the same time, prices have gone up about 10 cents in many districts for students who do not qualify for free lunch, both to pay for fresh fruits and vegetables and to obey a federal requirement that lunch prices gradually increase to help cover their cost. …In New York City, where school officials introduced whole-wheat breads, low-fat milk and other changes several years ago, the most noticeable change this year is the fruit and vegetable requirement, which has resulted in some waste, according to Eric Goldstein, the Education Department official who oversees food services. It is not hard to see why. At Middle School 104 in Gramercy Park on Friday, several seventh graders pronounced vegetables “gross.”

Again, I don’t sympathize with the kids who prefer junk food.

But the federal government’s clumsy efforts to intervene generate nonsense like this.

Few school districts have been as extreme in their efforts as Los Angeles, which introduced a menu of quinoa salads, lentil cutlets, vegetable curry, pad Thai and other vegetarian fare last fall. When students began rejecting the lunches en masse, the district replaced some of the more exotic dishes with more child-friendly foods, like pizza with whole-wheat crust, low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce. But this year, even the whole-wheat pizza is gone, replaced by calzones, fajitas and other, smaller entrees with side dishes of fruits and vegetables. Nicole Anthony, the cafeteria manager at one Los Angeles school, Nimitz Middle School in Huntington Park, estimated that out of the 1,800 students, almost all of whom qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, only 1,200, “on a good day,” now eat the cafeteria’s offerings.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, allow me to stress my earlier point that parents should be responsible for raising their kids in general, and feeding them in particular.

P.S. I can’t resist sharing this post about the “Battle of the Bums.”

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I have a handful of simple rules for good tax policy.

  • Keep government small, since it’s impossible to have a reasonable tax system with a bloated welfare state.
  • Keep tax rates low to minimize penalties against income, production, and wealth creation.
  • Since capital formation is critical for long-run growth, don’t double-tax income that is saved and invested.
  • Eliminate corrupt and distorting loopholes that encourage people to make decisions that are economically irrational.

Some of these principles are interrelated. I don’t like loopholes in part because of the reasons I just listed. But I also don’t like them because politicians often claim that they need to boost tax rates to make up for the fact that they lose revenue due to various deductions, credits, exemptions, and preferences.

And sometimes a deduction in the tax code even leads to bad policy by state and local government. Today, I want to discuss preferences in the internal revenue code for state and local taxes. And I’m motivated to address this issue because some of the politicians on Capitol Hill have pointed out an inequity, but they want to fix it in the wrong way.

Under current law, state and local income taxes are fully deductible, but state and local sales taxes are only temporarily deductible. The right policy is to get rid of any deductibility for any state and local tax. But since that would create a windfall of new tax revenue for the spendaholics in Washington, every penny of that revenue should be used to lower tax rates.

Not surprisingly, the crowd in Washington doesn’t take this approach. Instead, they want to extend deductibility for the sales tax. And they may even be amenable to raising other taxes to impose that policy.

Here are some excerpts from a story in The Hill.

More than five dozen House members are pressing leaders of a tax panel to preserve a deduction for state and local sales taxes. The bipartisan group of lawmakers say it would be unfair to voters in their states not to extend the sales tax deduction, given that taxpayers would still be able to deduct state and local income taxes. …Eight states in all — Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming — currently use a sales tax, but either don’t have or have a very limited state income tax. …The letter comes as many lawmakers hope to finish off an extenders package once Congress returns to Washington after November’s elections. Lawmakers will have to grapple with expiring Bush-era tax rates — just one part of the so-called fiscal cliff — when they return, and tax extenders could be tacked on to a broader package. The Senate Finance Committee has already passed an extenders package of its own, which included a two-year extension — at a cost of an estimated $4.4 billion over a decade — of the sales tax deduction.

I have some sympathy for these members of Congress. They represent states that have wisely decided not to impose income taxes, yet the federal tax system rewards profligate high-tax states such as New York and California with a permanent deduction for state and local income taxes.

This is a very misguided policy. It means that greedy politicians such as Governor Brown of California or Governor Cuomo of New York can raise tax rates and tell voters not to get too upset because they can deduct that additional burden. This means that a $1 tax hike results in a loss of take-home pay of as little as 65 cents.

This is what a fair tax code looks like

But you don’t cure one bad policy with another bad policy. A deduction for state and local sales taxes just augments the IRS-enforced preference for bigger government at the state and local level.

The right answer is the flat tax. Put in place the lowest-possible tax rate, which is feasible because all loopholes are wiped out.

In the case of state and local tax deductibility (or lack thereof, with any luck), that’s a win-win-win situation.

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As a general rule, I’m completely neutral about private-sector unions. As I argued in this interview, the federal government should not take sides or tilt the playing field when unions and management squabble.

I have a more skeptical view of unionized bureaucrats, though, because politicians (acting as “management”) have no incentive to be frugal since they’re spending our money and there’s no competitive pressure to be efficient.

Which is why this cartoon is the best summary of “negotiations” between politicians and union bosses, and this video is damning proof that bureaucrats are wildly over-compensated.

So it’s no surprise that I’m unsympathetic to the striking teachers in Chicago. They earn more money than the taxpayers of the city, yet they do a terrible job of educating students.

Here are some good cartoons, beginning with a gem from Michael Ramirez.

You can see some of my favorite Ramirez cartoons here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehereherehereherehere, and here.

Here’s another cartoon. Instead of mocking teachers for doing a crummy job, it zings them for insatiable greed (similar to this cartoon).

Lisa Benson did this cartoon, and you can review some of her best work herehereherehereherehere,here, herehere, and here.

Last but not least, I’m not even sure what we’re supposed to learn from this cartoon. But it implies thuggish tactics in Chicago, so let’s add it to the list.

Sort of reminds me of this cartoon about Wisconsin.

The best outcome of the strike, by the way, is to junk the government education monopoly and implement a sweeping school choice program.  Chile has reformed its education system with vouchers, as have Sweden and the Netherlands. So why shouldn’t kids in Chicago get the same opportunity?

The answer, of course, is that there’s a corrupt and symbiotic relationship between unions and local politicians. The kids are nothing more than collateral damage.

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Montgomery County in Maryland is not exactly a hotbed of free market thinking or a bastion of limited government.

It’s one of the richest counties in the nation, but not because of entrepreneurship and wealth creation. Instead, it’s a bedroom community for over-paid bureaucrats, corrupt lobbyists, fat-cat contractors, and other ne’er-do-wells who commute into Washington and live off the blood, sweat, and tears of people in the economy’s productive sector.

To give you an idea of its political leanings, Obama won 72 percent of the vote in Montgomery County in 2008 and all nine members of the County Council are Democrats.

So you wouldn’t think this is a place where lawmakers ever have anything sensible to say about tax policy. But, lo and behold, one Councilman recognizes that there’s no Berlin Wall surrounding the County. As such, higher tax rates may not generated additional tax revenue if people vote with their feet.

You can listen to George Leventhal by clicking here, but here’s the relevant quote.

Secret Cato supporter?

We may be reaching a tipping point with tax rates. There’s a point beyond which you can keep raising the tax rates, but you won’t get more revenue because if people leave the county or if new businesses don’t start you’re not getting new revenue.

For the uninitiated, Leventhal is talking about…gasp…the Laffer Curve.

Folks like Paul Krugman would like you to believe that the Laffer Curve is a twisted fantasy concocted by stooges for the rich. He writes that it is “junk economics” to consider the relationship between tax rates, taxable income, and tax revenue.

In the real world, though, at least some left-leaning lawmakers realize that higher tax rates backfire if the geese that lay the golden eggs fly away (as has happened in Italy, France, and the United Kingdom).

Maybe we can take up a collection and hire Mr. Leventhal to do a bit of economics tutoring for a certain Nobel laureate?

P.S. Just in case you’re not convinced by the experiences of a local politician, there is lots of empirical evidence for the Laffer Curve.

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Since I’ve already written that polygamy – regardless of how weird it is – is not something that demands government intervention, you won’t be surprised that I also think that gay marriage is a non-issue.

I don’t care if two guys want to get together. I don’t care if some religion (or some other group) wants to sanction their union, and I don’t care if they want to call it marriage, or make up some new word.

But I also don’t care if some churches don’t want to sanction same-sex unions. And I don’t care if some religious people don’t want to give approval to such relationships.

The good thing about freedom is that there is room for diversity. We all don’t have to be the same and think the same.

Unless, of course, government is involved. Then private differences become policy disputes.

This is why I urged non-intervention in this CNN discussion about whether local governments should discriminate against a restaurant chain merely because the top executive has religious beliefs that irk some politicians.

Some of these local politicians are nothing but Chavez-style  thugs, willing to use government coercion for arbitrary and capricious reasons. I hope my disdain was apparent in the interview.

P.S. Just to show I’m consistent, here’s my post urging that Bush’s pro-marriage program be defunded.

P.P.S. And for those who appreciate humor, there are good gay marriage one-liners among the rest of the jokes you can peruse here, here, and here.

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I’ve reported some horror stories about bureaucrats ripping off taxpayers with lavish compensation packages, including:

We now have another über-bureaucrat to add to our list.

Here are the key details from the New York Post.

Take your salary cap and shove it. While Gov. Cuomo continues to push a bill that would limit New York school superintendents’ annual salaries to $175,000, Syosset, LI, Superintendent Carole Hankin — the highest paid in the state —has already circumvented the proposed ceiling. Last June, four months after Cuomo first proposed the salary cap, Hankin, 69, quietly inked a five-year contract that guarantees she will receive no less than her current salary— $405,244, The Post has learned. …“This is despicable and gives new meaning to the word ‘chutzpah,’ ” said Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a developer’s lobby. “In these difficult economic times, that the school board would even consider this is a disgrace.” …Hankin’s total annual compensation comes to $537,767, including retirement funds and fringe benefits. Expenses include use of a “late-model car” and gas. She can also do outside consulting on her time off. She oversees about 6,600 students in 10 schools, yet her salary is nearly double that of New York City Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who gets $212,614, to watch over 1.1 million kids in 1,700 schools. Hankin’s first deputy, Jeffrey Streitman, rakes in $419,033 in salary and other benefits, but Cuomo’s bill would not apply to underlings. …Joshua Lafazan, an 18-year-old Syosset HS senior running for a seat on the school board, blasts Hankin’s cushy deal and the nine board members he calls her “puppets.”

Ms. Hankin and the other bureaucrats mentioned above are extreme examples, but they help underscore the problem that exists when politicians and bureaucrat unions make insider deals, swapping political support for lavish compensation levels.

Taxpayers, meanwhile, get screwed. This video explains why this is a problem at all levels of government.

What makes this so outrageous is that most bureaucrats get overpaid for position that shouldn’t even exist. If we shrink government to its proper size, the problem is mostly resolved.

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I’ve always thought of myself as a tough-on-crime kind of guy, but I’m increasingly sensitive to the fact that my attitude is only appropriate when laws are just and moral.

Unfortunately, government increasingly is an abuser of rights rather than a protector of rights. Allow me to elaborate.

I was tempted a few days ago to say that Jay Beeber was an American hero for single-handedly putting an end to the revenue-camera scam in Los Angeles, but I now have someone who truly deserves that label.

Michael Allison is, by all appearances, an ordinary American from a small town in Illinois. He is now is threatened with 75 years in jail because utterly reprehensible (and probably corrupt) officials are upset that he recorded them in the course of their taxpayer-financed duties.

What makes him a hero is that he refuses to let the local government seduce him into a plea deal that would keep him out of jail – but require him to admit guilt to something that shouldn’t be a crime.

Here’s an amazing – and distressing – set of news clips from a local news station.

By the way, here’s another example of a local television station doing an excellent job of exposing a local government that is trying to screw over an innocent and powerless person.

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In a decision that is overwhelmingly the result of the hard work and dedication of one person, Los Angeles is ending its revenue-generating red-light camera scheme.

Here’s Jay Beeber’s interview with Reason TV.

If you’re interested, this post has more information about how red-light cameras make intersections more dangerous.

It’s probably an exaggeration to say that Jay Beeber is an American hero, but he definitely deserves accolades of some kind.

Let’s not forget, though, that the voters of Houston also deserve some applause.

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Welcome Instapundit readers. If you want to get even more upset, here’s a big list of posts about waste, fraud, and abuse, including one about Social Security bureaucrats enjoying a $700,000 junket and another about a lawyer getting $25,000 of “stimulus” money for writing a two-sentence memo.

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While I’ve been somewhat critical of Senator Coburn’s willingness to raise taxes, I’ve never doubted that he is a sincere and tireless fighter for smaller government.

Indeed, his staff periodically share examples of government waste that boggle the mind, though I don’t share many of them on the blog since I’m afraid people will become desensitized to the sleazy boondoggles that are so beloved by lawmakers.

However, the last email from Senator Coburn’s office included a story that shows, in a rather remarkable fashion, how a bloated federal government has a corrupting impact on the rest of society.

According to a Wisconsin newspaper, a local governments is trying to “sell” federal funds, sort of like how I used to scalp football tickets as a student.

River Hills, Milwaukee County’s richest suburb, has found little use for what has become an annual allocation of about $20,000 in federal community development block grant money. So village leaders instead have cut deals with other suburbs to lend or transfer the grant money and have even sought unsuccessfully to sell the River Hills block grant allocation to another community. …Assistant Corporation Counsel John Jorgensen said selling the HUD allocation wouldn’t break any rules or laws, as long as the grant money is used for allowable projects. In a memo to county supervisors, Jorgensen said his opinion matched advice he’d gotten from local HUD officials. But Sullivan said the Milwaukee field office had questioned the practice in the past. Officials from the Milwaukee office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development declined to comment.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has always been near the top of my list of government entities that should be shut down. This latest scam is merely the cherry on the ice-cream sundae of the argument to eliminate HUD as soon as possible.

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Last week, we compared a bone-headed display of incompetence by the German government with a perverse form of harassment by a local government in the United States.

We have another America-v-Europe contest, but the roles are reversed. This time, the buffoons in Washington get dinged for a spectacular screw-up, and it is a local government in England that earns ridicule for a brainless decision.

Let’s start in America, where a Virginia newspaper has the gory details, including this excerpt.

They are the two ships no one wanted, almost constantly embroiled in one dispute or another for the past 25 years. The two Navy behemoths have never gone on a mission, were never even completed, yet they cost taxpayers at least $300 million. Now the vessels, the Benjamin Isherwood and the Henry Eckford, are destined to leave Virginia waters for good and be scrapped at a Texas salvage yard, with no money coming back to the U.S. Treasury.

Isn’t that wonderful. A $600 million disbursement of tax dollars, getting absolutely nothing in exchange. Though I suppose that’s better than some other federal expenditures that have negative rates-of-return.

Now let’s turn to the United Kingdom, where a local government put a keep-off-the-grass sign on a plot of grass so small that it would be a challenge for two people to stand in it. Here are the key passages from a Daily Mail story.

It’s a patch of scruffy grass barely big enough to sit down on – but that hasn’t stopped one town hall making a great deal of fuss about it. The verge measures only 3ft by 2ft but has its own ‘Keep Off The Grass’ sign. The warning has appeared as officials plan £70million of cuts. Resident Tom Beardmore, 29, said he was ‘flabbergasted’ when he saw it in Raynes Park, south-west London. …A council spokeswoman said the matter was being looked into but was unable to confirm how much the sign had cost or why it was placed there.

Maybe I’m just being jingoistic, but I think the Brits win this contest. Yes, the American government flushed a lot more money down the toilet, but there is something truly breathtaking about what happened in London.

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