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Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

Identifying the worst government policy would be a challenge. Would it be minimum wage laws, which deprive low-skilled workers of a chance for employment and upward mobility? Would it be class-warfare tax rates that generate large amounts of economic damage compared to potential (if any) revenue?

Those are tempting choices, but there’s a strong case that nothing is as foolish as rent control.

Here’s a map showing which states impose or allow this destructive form of intervention.

California politicians are very susceptible to bad ideas.

True to form, as reported by the New York Times, they actually want to impose statewide rent control.

California lawmakers approved a statewide rent cap on Wednesday covering millions of tenants, the biggest step yet in a surge of initiatives to address an affordable-housing crunch nationwide. The bill limits annual rent increases to 5 percent after inflation and offers new barriers to eviction… a momentous political swing. For a quarter-century, California law has sharply curbed the ability of localities to impose rent control. Now, the state itself has taken that step. …Economists from both the left and the right have a well-established aversion to rent control, arguing that such policies ignore the message of rising prices, which is to build more housing. Studies in San Francisco and elsewhere show that price caps often prompt landlords to abandon the rental business by converting their units to owner-occupied homes. And since rent controls typically have no income threshold, they have been faulted for benefiting high-income tenants.

I’m glad the article included the evidence from economists, especially since the headline is grossly inaccurate. If we care about evidence, it’s far more accurate to say that rent control will exacerbate the state’s housing problems.

Which is why the Wall Street Journal opined that this type of intervention is especially destructive.

California already boasts the highest housing costs in the country, and even liberals have come around to acknowledging that not enough homes are built to meet demand. The state has added about half as many housing units as needed to accommodate population growth, and more than half of Californians spend 30% of their income on rent.Blame a thousand regulatory burdens. Local governments limit what housing developers can build and where. They layer on permitting fees, and then there are the state’s high labor costs and expensive green-energy mandates and restrictions that opponents can exploit to block projects for years. …The upshot is that an “affordable” housing unit in California costs $332,000 to build and nearly $600,000 in San Francisco, according to state budget figures. Developers can’t turn a profit on low- and middle-income homes… And now Democrats want to constrain housing prices by fiat. Mr. Newsom and Democratic legislators are pushing a law to limit annual rent increases across the state to 5% plus inflation. …Building permits in the first seven months this year have fallen 17% compared to 2018 despite an increase in state subsidies. …California’s progressive regulatory complex is contributing to this housing slowdown by driving businesses and people from the state. More than 700,000 residents have left since 2010.

By the way, the politicians in Albany already made the same mistake.

And, as you might expect, the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page had the correct response.

Law by law, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democrats are chipping away at the policies that made New York City livable after decades of decline… Democrats this week are ramming through rent-control bills that…effectively dictates rents for one million or so rent-regulated apartments and restricts landlords’ ability to evict tenants who don’t pay. …Once a tenant moves out—which doesn’t happen often since folks can pass on the entitlement to friends and relatives—landlords would be required to offer the unit to another tenant at restricted rates. …Nor could they raise rates by more than 2% annually to pay for improvements or evict a nonpaying tenant who “cannot find a similar suitable dwelling in the same neighborhood.” Since landlords would have less incentive to make fixes, more apartments will deteriorate and come to resemble New York City’s squalid public housing. …One result will be less housing investment… Progressives are vindicating CEO Jeff Bezos ’s decision to pull Amazon’s second headquarters out of New York. Don’t be surprised if other businesses follow.

You won’t be surprised to learn that politicians in other nations sometimes make the same mistake.

The U.K.-based Guardian wrote about how rent control has backfired in Sweden.

Half a million are on the waiting list for rent-controlled flats in Stockholm, meaning a two-tier system, bribes and a thriving parallel market… the system is experiencing acute pressures. Building of rental homes almost dried up after a financial crisis in the early 1990s, and there is a dire shortage of properties. Demand is such that it is almost impossible to get a direct contract. With nearly half of all Stockholmers – about 500,000 people – in the queue, it can take 20 or 30 years to get to the top of the pile. …The result is a thriving rental property black market, with bribes of as much as 100,000 kronor per room to obtain a direct contract, McCormac says. Many people sublet space in their rental apartments. …“Rent controls were supposed to enable people to live in central locations, but now it is having the opposite effect,” McCormac says. “People without social connections will have a very hard time finding a flat,” says Kleberg.

And Germany is making the same mistake – even though it should have learned from the mistakes under Hitler’s national socialism and East Germany’s communism.

…the kinds of ideas traditionally associated with planned economies are gaining more and more support all over Germany. …Substantial numbers of people have moved to Germany’s major cities…the supply of housing has failed to keep pace with these significant developments, and this is largely because construction approval processes are so long-winded and the latest environmental regulations have made building prohibitively expensive. …In Germany’s capital, Berlin, …it now takes 12 years to draft and approve a zoning plan, which in many cases is a prerequisite for the development of new dwellings. …An initiative in Berlin calling for the expropriation of private real estate companies has collected three times as many signatures as it needed to initiate a petition for a referendum. …Kevin Kühnert, chairman of the youth organization of the center-left SPD…has gone as far as calling for a complete ban on private property owners renting out their apartments. …Berlin’s Senate approved the main components of a rent freeze in the German capital. …Advocates of such central economic planning react sensitively when they are reminded that it has already been tried… An earlier rent freeze was approved in Germany on April 20, 1936, as a gift from the National Socialist Party to the citizens of Germany on Adolf Hitler’s 47th birthday. The National Socialists’ rent cap was adopted into the GDR’s socialist law by Price Regulation No. 415 of May 6, 1955, and it remained in force until the collapse of the GDR in 1989.

Now let’s review some economic research.

Three Stanford professors researched the issue, looking specifically as San Francisco’s local rent control rules.

Using a 1994 law change, we exploit quasi-experimental variation in the assignment of rent control in San Francisco to study its impacts on tenants and landlords. Leveraging new data tracking individuals’ migration, we find rent control limits renters’ mobility by 20% and lowers displacement from San Francisco. Landlords treated by rent control reduce rental housing supplies by 15% by selling to owner-occupants and redeveloping buildings. Thus, while rent control prevents displacement of incumbent renters in the short run, the lost rental housing supply likely drove up market rents in the long run, ultimately undermining the goals of the law. …In the long run, landlords’ substitution toward owner-occupied and newly constructed rental housing not only lowered the supply of rental housing in the city, but also shifted the city’s housing supply towards less affordable types of housing that likely cater to the tastes of higher income individuals. Ultimately, these endogenous shifts in the housing supply likely drove up citywide rents, damaging housing affordability for future renters…it appears rent control has actually contributed to the gentrification of San Francisco, the exact opposite of the policy’s intended goal. …rent control has contributed to widening income inequality of the city.

To be fair, rent control is just one of several bad policies that mess up the city’s housing market.

Now let’s shift to the other side of the country.

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe shared evidence from a disastrous experiment in Massachusetts.

…a handful of Democratic lawmakers want to bring the horror of rent control… This isn’t happening only in Massachusetts. …Oregon’s governor just signed a statewide rent-control law and efforts to overturn rent-control bans are underway in Illinois, Colorado, and Washington state. …the folly of rent control is so well-established that to deny it requires, as Hillary Clinton might say, a willing suspension of disbelief. Massachusetts and most other states have banned rent control because the harm it causes far outweighs any benefit it confers. When politicians impose a ceiling on rent, the results are invariable: housing shortages, depressed real estate values, increased decay, less new construction. …The longer rent control persists, and the more harshly it is enforced, the worse the problem grows. …in New York City, where strict rent controls date back to World War II, the annual rate at which apartments turn over is less than half the national average, while the share of tenants who haven’t moved in more than 20 years is more than double the national average. …Acknowledging the damage caused by rent control is neither a right- nor left-wing issue. …the communist foreign minister of Vietnam…made…the…point in 1989: “The Americans couldn’t destroy Hanoi,” Nguyen Co Thach remarked, “but we have destroyed our city by very low rents.” …When Massachusetts voters struck down rent control in 1994, it was in the teeth of preposterous fearmongering by hardline tenant activists… What happened in reality was that tens of thousands of apartments were decontrolled with no ill effects… When tenants were analyzed by occupation, it was high-earning professionals and managers who predominated among the beneficiaries of rent control; semi-skilled and unskilled workers lagged far behind. Rent control always ends up benefiting the young, strong, and well-to-do at the expense of the old, weak, and poor.

Meanwhile, Meghan McArdle opined in the Washington Post about the perverse economic consequences of rent control.

…there are a few questions where there’s near unanimity, and rent control is one of them. Pretty much every economist agrees that rent controls are bad. …the policy appears to be making a comeback. …City governments may have to relearn why their predecessors pruned back rent-control policies. Rent control is supposed to protect poor, deserving tenants from the depredations of greedy landlords. And it does, up to a point. …The problem is that rent control doesn’t do anything about the reason that rents are rising, which is that there are more people who want to live in desirable areas than there are homes for them to live in. Housing follows the same basic laws of economics as other goods that consumers need… rent control also reduces the incentive to supply rental housing. …an actual solution to skyrocketing rents: Build more housing, so that the rent controls won’t be necessary… To do that, cities would need to ease the costly land-use regulations that make it so difficult for developers to fill the unmet demand. …Alas, that’s not going to happen… Declining housing stock is just one of the many potential costs of rent controls; others include a deteriorating housing stock as landlords stop investing in their properties, and higher rents. Yes, higher, because rent control creates a two-tier housing market. There are cheap, price-stabilized apartments that rarely turn over, because why would you give up such a great deal? Then there are the uncontrolled apartments, which everyone else in the city has to fight over, bidding up the price. …the people getting the biggest benefit are white, affluent Manhattanites.

By the way, you hopefully have noticed a pattern.

Rich people generally get the biggest benefits under rent control.

Let’s close with a look at how economists from across the philosophical spectrum view rent control

Here’s some survey data from the University of Chicago.

Incidentally, there’s an obvious reason why politicians persist in pushing bad policy. In the case of rent control, it’s because tenants outnumber landlords.

So even if politicians understand that the policy will backfire, their desire to get votes will trump common sense. Especially if they assume they can blame “greedy landlords” for the inevitable housing shortages and then push for government housing subsidies as an ostensible solution.

Another example of Mitchell’s Law.

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In 2016, Bernie Sanders was considered very extreme for wanting to transform America into a very expensive European-style welfare state.

If the Democratic Party’s presidential debates this summer are any guide, that radical approach is now mainstream. Almost all the candidates have been competing over who could most quickly turn American into Greece.

The Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, was especially determined to show that he was even more radical than Bernie Sanders. At one point, while watching de Blasio bellow about class-warfare taxes, I thought about a satirical version of the Pizza Hut commercial, with the Vermont Senator exclaiming “No one out-crazies the Bern.”

But give de Blasio credit for tryring. His only signature moment in an otherwise lackluster campaign occurred when he said he wanted to “tax the hell out of the wealthy.”

He even has a www.taxthehell.com website where he outlines his various proposals to cripple investment and entrepreneurship by imposing confiscatory taxes.

In other words, he is like Crazy Bernie in that he seems to really believe in ever-larger government. Consider these excerpts from a Q&A session he did with New York Magazine.

…our legal system is structured to favor private property. I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be. I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights… Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government… I’m calling for a millionaires tax… need to see the wealthy paying their fair share. It frustrates me greatly that we don’t have the power here to tax the wealthy in this city.

Not only does he talk the talk, he also walks the walk.

Albeit in a bad way.

Here are some excerpts from a news report about one of his attacks on property rights.

Liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is rolling out a new plan that would potentially allow the city government to seize buildings of landlords who force tenants out — a plan his opponents say amounts to “straight communism.” De Blasio…wants to take action against landlords who try to force tenants out by making the property unliveable — and pulled out an executive order to create a Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants. He said that in the event the government intervenes, the buildings would then be controlled by a “community nonprofit.” …“My first reaction was: Is this communist Cuba?” state Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who ran against De Blasio in the 2017 mayoral race, told Fox News. “ I can say that as a daughter of Cuban refugees who fled Castro’s Cuba in 1959, this is what happened to her family, she had her home taken, my grandfather had his gas station taken.” “This is extreme even for Mayor de Blasio, because we know that he has socialist leanings, but this is straight communism and I think it’s very scary to America-loving, democracy-loving people.”

By the way, I’m guessing that landlords are in a tough position because of NYC’s rent control laws.

To be fair, many of the problems in New York City didn’t start with de Blasio.

There’s a long history of wasting money.

To be more specific, unfunded pensions are the biggest reason NYC is in deep trouble.

…the city is staring bankruptcy in the face. …but there’s been little talk about one of the main causes of the city’s growing debt: public employee pensions. As of today, nearly 75 percent of the city’s $197.8 billion deficit is due to pension and other retirement liabilities. …Sick of high taxes, residents and businesses are already leaving in droves… NYC offers five different pension plans to its municipal employees, from teachers to members of the school board. These pensions serve as a source of retirement income to former city employees and are defined benefit plans, meaning that benefits are guaranteed by the employer. …it’s no surprise that the pension plans’ funded ratio, which shows the ratio of the plans’ assets to liabilities, has dropped to 71.4 percent for NYCERS and 58.6 percent for TRS—thanks to accumulated debt. …for every dollar spent on NYCERS payroll, 34 cents goes toward pensions, and that number is 10 cents higher for TRS. …Pension contributions make up 11 percent of the city’s total budget and consume 17 percent of the city’s tax revenues. And it’s worth remembering that in the city ranked number one in local tax burden in the United States.

As you might suspect, Mayor de Blasio certainly isn’t doing anything to address this problem.

I’m simply noting that the problem existed before he took office and presumably would still exist with any other mayor.

And there are other officials in New York City who deserve scorn.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is a traveling man with some high-end tastes. The prosecutor spent $249,716 on meals and work trips to everywhere from the City of Angels to the City of Lights over the past five years, according to records obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request. Vance paid for it all – including a $4,780 roundtrip flight to London and a $2,800 stay at a five-star Paris hotel – with money his office obtained from state-asset forfeiture funds largely tied to big-sum legal settlements with banks, records show. He controls more than $600 million stemming from forfeitures. …the other city district attorneys say they did not use asset forfeiture money to cover their work travel expenses. …Vance also does not skimp when it comes to eating out… He spent $645 at Patroon on East 46th Street to cover dinner… Vance also has expensed five meals at Tribeca’s Odeon for a total of $897… During his Paris visit, he spent $94 at Le Nemrod, $124 at Marco Polo, $72 at Le Saint Regis and $169 at Le Christine, according to the expense reports. …DAs have wide-ranging flexibility on how asset forfeiture money is used. Expenditures must cover “law enforcement” issues — but few other rules exist.

Here’s a map showing Vance’s travel.

By the way, the most outrageous part of this story isn’t the luxury travel or the expensive meals.

What really irks me is that his high-flying lifestyle is made possible by asset forfeiture, which is what happens when the government steals someone’s property – oftentimes without any finding of guilt!

The bottom line is that New York City has a terrible mayor, but the problem goes way beyond one person.

Which is why this final story, from Bloomberg, should be the canary in the coal mine when contemplating the future of the city.

New York leads all U.S. metro areas as the largest net loser with 277 people moving every day — more than double the exodus of 132 just one year ago. Los Angeles and Chicago were next with triple digit daily losses of 201 and 161 residents, respectively. This is according to 2018 Census data on migration flows to the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas compiled by Bloomberg News. …While New York is experiencing the biggest net exodus, the blow is being softened by international migrant inflows. From July 2017 to July 2018, a net of close to 200,000 New Yorkers sought a new life outside the Big Apple while the area welcomed almost 100,000 net international migrants. …Some areas are affected by high home prices and local taxes, which are pushing residents out and deterring potential movers from other parts of the country. About 200,000 residents left New York last year. Los Angeles had a decline of nearly 120,000 and Chicago fell by 84,000.

Here’s the map showing the cities losing the most people and gaining the most people.

By the way, it’s no coincidence that most of the fast-growth cities are in states with no income taxes.

P.S. Mayor de Blasio wants to “tax the hell out of the wealthy” in New York City, but fortunately he’s been somewhat frustrated in that goal because of limits on his power.

P.P.S. Because taxpayers in NYC no longer have unlimited ability to deduct their state and local taxes on their federal returns, the 2017 tax law almost certainly is contributing to the exodus from New York City. And every time one of those taxpayers escape, NYC gets closer to fiscal crisis.

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I used to think Texas vs. California was the most interesting and revealing rivalry among states. It was even the source of some clever jokes and cartoons.

But the growing battle between Florida vs. New York may now be even more newsworthy.

I wrote last month about how many entrepreneurs, investors and business owners are escaping bad tax policy by moving from the Empire State to the Sunshine State.

Not that we should be surprised.

Florida ranks #1 for economic freedom while New York languishes in last place.

A big reason for the difference is that Florida has no state income tax, which compares very favorably to the punitive system in New York.

And because the federal tax code no longer provides an unlimited deduction for state and local taxes, I expect the exodus from New York to Florida to accelerate.

What’s especially amusing is that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s mother is one of the tax refugees.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the New York Post.

The mother of soak-the-rich Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she was forced to flee the Big Apple and move to Florida because the property taxes were so high. “I was paying $10,000 a year in real estate taxes up north. I’m paying $600 a year in Florida. It’s stress-free down here,” Blanca Ocasio-Cortez told the Daily Mail… Her daughter raised eyebrows with her pitch to hike the top marginal tax rate on income earned above $10 million to 70 percent. She has also gotten behind the so-called Green New Deal, which would see a massive and costly government effort.

The former Governor of Florida (and new Senator from the state) obviously is enjoying the fact that New York politicians are upset.

Here’s some of what Rick Scott wrote in today’s Wall Street Journal.

America is a marketplace where states are competing with each other, and New York is losing. Their loss is Florida’s gain… I would like to tell New Yorkers on behalf of the rest of America that our hearts go out to you for your sagging luxury real-estate market. But you did this to yourself, and you can fix it yourself. If you cut taxes and make state and local government efficient, maybe you can compete… I made more than 20 trips to high-tax states like California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania to lure businesses to Florida. The tax-happy leaders of those states were furious, which made the visits all the more enjoyable for me. They called me every name in the book. But they were the ones who raised taxes, and bad decisions have consequences. The elites in New York and Washington should commission a study of Florida to see what happens when conservative ideas are put into practice. …Florida’s economy is thriving, expanding at a record pace. …There’s a reason Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s mom left New York for Florida. And there’s a reason companies are fleeing high-tax states, bringing jobs with them to Florida.

I mentioned above that having no state income tax gives Florida a big advantage over New York.

Courtesy of Mark Perry, here a comprehensive comparison of the two states.

Wow. If this was a tennis tournament, the announcers would be saying “game, set, and match.” And if it was a boxing contest, it would be a knock-out.

The bottom line is that we should expect more rich people to escape New York and move to Florida because they’ll get to keep more of their money.

And we should expect more lower-income and middle-class people to also make the same move because Florida’s better policy means more jobs and more opportunity (sadly, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has learned nothing from her mother’s move).

P.S. New York actually doesn’t do terribly in nationwide rankings for pension debt, though it is still below Florida.

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I shared data a couple of weeks ago showing that Florida is the freest state in America (for both overall freedom and economic freedom) while New York is in last place (in both categories).

Well, it seems that freedom has consequences when people can “vote with their feet.”

We’ll start with an op-ed in the Miami Herald by Ed Pozzuoli.

In a recent press conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo…mentioned Florida as an attractive option for New Yorkers who are unhappy… a Census Bureau report late last year detailing the states that lost residents because of high taxes, overregulation and dwindling opportunities. Leading the list? New York. …what jurisdiction did the Census folks say benefits the most from domestic “in-migration? You guessed it — Florida… our low-tax, business-friendly welcome to asylum seekers from Big Government states like New York… It’s Florida’s low taxes and reasonable regulatory environment that attract businesses here. Florida ranks sixth among states for new business creation. …Unlike the federal government, Florida balances its budget and does so without an income tax. New York can keep its big progressive government.

And that “big progressive government” means onerous and punitive taxes, as the Wall Street Journal opined.

New York City’s combined state and local top rate of 12.7% hits taxpayers earning more than $1 million and is the second highest in the country after California. The deduction limit raised New York’s top rate by an effective 5%, though this was partially offset by the tax reform’s 2.6 percentage-point reduction in the federal top rate. …According to IRS data we’ve examined, New York state lost $8.4 billion in income to other states in 2016 (the latest available data), up from $4.6 billion annually on average during the prior four years. Florida raked in the most New York wealth. Mr. Cuomo says that “a taxpayer in Florida would see no increase, or a decrease” under the GOP tax reform and “Florida also has no estate tax.” New York’s 16% estate tax hits assets over $10.1 million. …Mr. Cuomo promised to let New York’s tax surcharge on millionaires expire. But he has extended it again and again and now wants to renew it through 2024 because he says the state needs the money. Meantime, he warns that a wealth exodus could force spending cuts for education and higher taxes on middle-income earners. All of this was inevitable, as we and others warned. Yet rather than propose to make the state’s tax burden more competitive, Mr. Cuomo rages against a tax reform that has helped the overall U.S. economy, even in New York.

I especially enjoy how Governor Cuomo is irked because his state’s profligacy is no longer subsidized by an unlimited federal deduction for state and local taxes.

Investor’s Business Daily shares a similar perspective.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo…we appreciate his recent frankness on taxes. …”I don’t believe raising taxes on the rich,” Cuomo said. “That would be the worst thing to do. You would just expand the shortfall. God forbid if the rich leave.” …In support of his comments, Cuomo cited “anecdotal” evidence that showed high-income earners are leaving the high-tax Empire State for other low-tax states. But the evidence isn’t merely anecdotal. It’s a fact. …From 2010 to mid-2017, New York had a net outmigration of over 1 million people, more than any other state. No, they’re not all rich. But many are. …the wealthy have choices that others don’t. One of those choices is to move if taxes become not merely burdensome, but punitive. That’s what’s happening in New York. …Many high-income taxpayers are leaving New York for low-tax states, tired of paying the state’s bills and then being demonized leftist activists for being “rich” and told they must give more.

Let’s close with some excerpts from a column in the Washington Times by Richard Rahn. He compares New York, Virginia, and Florida.

…many high-income New Yorkers have been moving their tax homes to Florida, undermining the New York tax base. …Florida imposes no state and local income taxes… Florida is booming, with a budget surplus, while New York is mired in debt. Only 50 years ago, New York had four times the population of Florida, and now Florida is larger than New York. …the state of Florida…created an environment where businesses could flourish without undue tax burdens and government interference. It went from being a poor state to a prosperous one. …citizens of New York should be asking: Why they are required to pay such high state and local income tax rates while the citizens of Florida get by perfectly well without any state income tax; Why they have three times more per capita debt than Floridians, and infrastructure that is in far worse shape; …Why it takes a third more of their citizens’ personal income to run the government than in Virginia or Florida; Why their state takes twice the percentage of per capita income in taxes than Virginia and Florida; …When it comes to taxes and government services, people’s feet tell more about how they feel than their mouths.

And if you want to know why so many people are traveling down I-95 from New York to Florida, this table from Richard’s column tells you everything you need to know.

For what it’s worth, there are people who are willing to pay extra tax to live in certain high-tax states. New York City has an allure for some people, as does California’s climate and scenery.

But are those factors enough to compensate for awful tax systems? Will they save those states from economic decay?

At best, they’ll delay the day of reckoning. For what it’s worth, I actually think New Jersey or Illinois will be the first state to fiscally self-destruct.

You can cast your vote by clicking here.

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In 2011, I wrote about how taxpayers were getting pillaged to finance a new metro line in Fairfax County, Virginia.

But you won’t be surprised to learn that California taxpayers are getting screwed even worse.

I’ve since learned, however, that the real experts at wasting money are in the Big Apple. Earlier this year, as part of a column on why the federal government shouldn’t be involved with infrastructure, I shared some depressing details about a far more expensive subway project in New York City.

And now the New York Times has a must-read report about how another big infrastructure project in NYC is an even more absurd boondoggle. The story starts with an anecdote

The budget showed that 900 workers were being paid to dig caverns for the platforms as part of a 3.5-mile tunnel connecting the historic station to the Long Island Rail Road. But the accountant could only identify about 700 jobs that needed to be done, according to three project supervisors. Officials could not find any reason for the other 200 people to be there. …“All we knew is they were each being paid about $1,000 every day.”

Nice “work” if you can get it, as the old saying goes. A pretend job that pays $1,000 per day.

That makes the gravy train for federal bureaucrats seem miserly by comparison.

Unfortunately, that anecdote is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire project is a monument to how money gets wasted in New York City.

The estimated cost of the Long Island Rail Road project, known as “East Side Access,” has ballooned to $12 billion, or nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world. …a host of factors have contributed to the transit authority’s exorbitant capital costs. …public officials have stood by as a small group of politically connected labor unions, construction companies and consulting firms have amassed large profits.

In other words, the story’s headline is no exaggeration.

The special deals for unions are jaw-dropping.

Trade unions, which have closely aligned themselves with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other politicians, have secured deals requiring underground construction work to be staffed by as many as four times more laborers than elsewhere in the world, documents show. …Worker wages and labor conditions are determined through negotiations between the unions and the companies, none of whom have any incentive to control costs. The transit authority has made no attempt to intervene to contain the spending.

The featherbedding belies belief.

Mr. Roach, a California-based tunneling contractor, was…stunned by how many people were operating the machine churning through soil to create the tunnel. “I actually started counting because I was so surprised, and I counted 25 or 26 people,” he said. “That’s three times what I’m used to.” …documents reveal a dizzying maze of jobs, many of which do not exist on projects elsewhere. There are “nippers” to watch material being moved around and “hog house tenders” to supervise the break room. Each crane must have an “oiler,” a relic of a time when they needed frequent lubrication. Standby electricians and plumbers are to be on hand at all times, as is at least one “master mechanic.” Generators and elevators must have their own operators, even though they are automatic. …In New York, “underground construction employs approximately four times the number of personnel as in similar jobs in Asia, Australia, or Europe,” according to an internal report by Arup, a consulting firm that worked on…many similar projects around the world.

The international cost comparisons are the most persuasive part of the story.

Taxpayers in New York City are paying far more to get far less.

…transit construction is booming around the world. At least 150 projects have been initiated since 1990, according to a recent study by Yale University researcher David Schleicher. The approximate average cost of the projects — both in the U.S. and abroad — has been less than $500 million per track mile, the study concluded. “There was one glaring exception,” Mr. Schleicher said. “New York.”

If you want a partial explanation of why this staggering level of graft and corruption is allowed, this sentence is a good place to start.

The unions working on M.T.A. projects have donated more than $1 million combined to Mr. Cuomo during his administration, records show.

And I’m sure huge amounts of money have also been diverted to city politicians as well.

It’s almost as if the whole thing is a racket, with politicians and union bosses conspiring to rip off taxpayers.

“Almost”? I must be getting soft in my old age. Let me rephrase that sentence: It is a racket to rip off taxpayers.

But let’s be fair. I don’t want to imply that it’s all the fault of the unions. The contractors also buy off the politicians.

…the…main engineering firm: WSP USA, …has donated hundreds of thousands to politicians in recent years, and has hired so many transit officials that some in the system refer to it as “the M.T.A. retirement home.”

Speaking of the M.T.A., the bureaucrats also get a sweet deal, with the rest of us picking up the tab.

More than a dozen M.T.A. workers were fined for accepting gifts from contractors during that time, records show. …A Times analysis of the 25 M.T.A. agency presidents who have left over the past two decades found that at least 18 of them became consultants or went to work for authority contractors, including many who have worked on expansion projects. “Is it rigged? Yes,” said Charles G. Moerdler, who has served on the M.T.A. board since 2010.

There’s a lot more to read in the article, including details on how a big French infrastructure project is being built at far lower cost.

It’s basically a perfect example of what Milton Friedman said about what happens when you get to spend other people’s money.

For instance, the story also has grim data about cost overruns, which are a routine feature of government infrastructure scams, both in America and other nations.

But one thing that isn’t in the report is the degree to which Washington is subsidizing this wretched boondoggle.

This is the part that irks me. I wouldn’t get too upset if New York City politicians were conspiring with interest groups to rip off New York City taxpayers. Heck, I wouldn’t even care if they were ripping off taxpayers from elsewhere in the state.

But the fact that I’m also paying for this pork-barrel project is very distressing. And it helps to explain why I want to shut down the Department of Transportation in Washington. That’s the real moral of this story.

P.S. Trump’s infrastructure plan will be unveiled next year. I’m not overflowing with optimism, but hope springs eternal that maybe he’ll listen to my advice.

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I shared a very amusing column last year about “a modest proposal” to reduce income inequality.

Written tongue-in-cheek by David Azerrad of the Heritage Foundation, the premise was that society could be made more “fair” by exiling – or perhaps even selling to the highest bidder – America’s richest people.

David’s piece cleverly made the point that such a policy would dramatically lower inequality, but would do nothing to boost the living standards of poor people. Indeed, when you consider all the damage that would be caused if America lost its top entrepreneurs, investors, and business owners, lower-income people obviously would suffer immense hardship as the economy shrank.

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that Hillary Clinton read his article. Or, if she did, she obviously didn’t learn anything. Her agenda, which is echoed by almost all leftists, is endlessly higher taxes to fight the supposed scourge of inequality.

I’ve always thought inequality was the wrong target. If politicians really cared about the less fortunate, they would instead focus on growth in order the reduce poverty.

But our friends on the left apparently believe (or, if they’re familiar with historical data, they pretend to believe) that the economy is a fixed pie. So if someone in the top-1 percent, top-5 percent, top-10 percent, or top-20 percent gets more money, then the rest of us must have less money.

Heck, they don’t even understand the data that they like to cite. Writing for National Review, Thomas Sowell debunks many of the left’s most-cherished talking points about inequality.

When we hear about how much more income the top 20 percent of households make, compared with the bottom 20 percent of households, one key fact is usually left out. There are millions more people in the top 20 percent of households than in the bottom 20 percent of households. …In 2002, there were 40 million people in the bottom 20 percent of households and 69 million people in the top 20 percent. A little over half of the households in the bottom 20 percent have nobody working. You don’t usually get a lot of income for doing nothing. In 2010, there were more people working full-time in the top 5 percent of households than in the bottom 20 percent. …Household income statistics can be very misleading in other ways. …The number of people per American household has declined over the years. When you compare household incomes from a year when there were 6 people per household with a later year when there were 4 people per household, you are comparing apples and oranges. Even if income per person increased 25 percent between those two years, average household income statistics will nevertheless show a decline.  …household income statistics can show an economic decline, even when per capita income has risen.

My Cato Institute colleague, Mike Tanner, has a must-read comprehensive study on inequality that was just released today. Here are some of the parts I found especially enlightening, starting with a very important passage from his introduction.

…contrary to stereotypes, the wealthy tend to earn rather than inherit their wealth… Most rich people got that way by providing us with goods and services that improve our lives. Income mobility may be smaller than we would like, but people continue to move up and down the income ladder. Few fortunes survive for multiple generations, while the poor are still able to rise out of poverty. More important, there is little relationship between inequality and poverty. The fact that some people become wealthy does not mean that others will become poor.

Mike then spends a few pages debunking Thomas Piketty (granted, an easy target, but still a necessary task) and pointing out that some folks overstate inequality.

But more importantly, he then points out that there is still considerable income mobility in the United States. Rich people often don’t stay rich and poor people frequently don’t stay poor.

…wealth often dissipates across generations; research shows that the wealth accumulated by some intrepid entrepreneur or businessperson rarely survives long. In many cases, as much as 70 percent has evaporated by the end of the second generation and as much as 90 percent by the end of the third. Even over the shorter term, the composition of the top 1 percent often changes dramatically. If history is any guide, roughly 56 percent of those in the top income quintile can expect to drop out of it within 20 years. …of those on the first edition of the Forbes 400 in 1982, only 34 remain on the 2014 list, and only 24 have appeared on every list. …At the same time, it remains possible for the poor to become rich, or, if not rich, at least not poor. Studies show that roughly half of those who begin in the bottom quintile move up to a higher quintile within 10 years. …And their children can expect to rise even further. One out of every five children born to parents in the bottom income quintile will reach one of the top two quintiles in adulthood.

Here’s his graph with the relevant data.

Mike also debunks that notion that poor people are poor because rich people are rich.

…it is important to note that poverty and inequality are not the same thing. Indeed, if we were to double everyone’s income tomorrow, we would do much to reduce poverty, but the gap between rich and poor would grow larger. Would this be a bad thing? …The idea that gains by one person necessarily mean losses by another reflects a zero-sum view of the economy that is simply untethered to history or economics. The economy is not fixed in size, with the only question being one of distribution. Rather, the entire pie can grow, with more resources available to all.

His study is filled with all sorts of data, but this graph may be the most important tidbit.

It shows that the poverty rate has remained relatively constant, oscillating around 14 percent, during the period when the so-called top-1 percent were generating large amounts of additional income.

Mike then spends some time agreeing that inequality can be bad if it is the result of subsidies, bailouts, protectionism, and handouts.

Amen. Rich people deserve their money if they earn it in the marketplace. But if they get rich via TARP bailouts, Ex-Im Bank subsidies, protectionist barriers, green-energy boondoggles, or some other form of cronyism, that’s reprehensible and unjustified.

Most important of all, he closes by explaining that inequality isn’t what’s important. Policy should be focused on reducing poverty, which means more economic growth.

There are…two ways to reduce inequality. One can attempt to bring the bottom up by reducing poverty, or one can bring the top down by, in effect, punishing the rich. Traditionally, we have tried to reduce inequality by taxing the rich and redistributing that money to the poor. …Despite the United States spending roughly a trillion dollars each year on antipoverty programs at all levels of government, by the official poverty measure we have done little to reduce poverty. …we are unlikely to see significant reductions in poverty without strong economic growth. Punishing the segment of society that most contributes to such growth therefore seems a poor policy for serious poverty reduction. …While inequality per se may not be a problem, poverty is. …policies designed to reduce inequality by imposing new burdens on the wealthy may perversely harm the poor by slowing economic growth and reducing job opportunities.

Exactly. The notion that we can help the poor by making America more like a high-tax European-style welfare state is laughable.

By every possible standard, the United States is out-pacing Europe in terms of jobs and growth. And what’s really remarkable is that this is happening even though Obamanomics has given us the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. Imagine how big the gap would be if we has the kind of market-oriented policies that dominated the Reagan and Clinton years!

Let’s close with a very amusing bit of data about inequality from a report in the New York Times.

The author looked at income changes in each state between 1990 and 2014 at all levels of income distribution.

By looking at the state level, we’re delineating the rich and poor within that state. Which is to say that the 90th percentile of personal income in Arkansas will not be the same as the 90th percentile of personal income in New York. This calculation helps us avoid making unfair comparisons of income between places with different costs of living.

Since I wrote just two days ago about the importance of adjusting state income data to reflect the cost of living, I obviously view this as a useful exercise.

But here’s the part that grabbed my attention. As I was reviewing the various charts for all the states, I noticed that inequality has expanded dramatically in the most infamous left-wing states. And usually not simply because rich people got richer faster than poor people got richer. In New York, Illinois, and California, rich people were the only winners.

Yet if you look at Kansas (which is the favorite whipping boy of the left because of Gov. Brownback’s big tax cuts) or the stereotypical red state of Texas, you’ll notice the lower-income and middle-income people did much better.

I guess we can use this data as additional evidence of how statist policies cause inequality.

Best of all, it was in the New York Times, so our leftist friends will have a hard time reflexively dismissing the data. It’s always good when the other side scores an “own goal.”

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Just like with nations, there are many factors that determine whether a state is hindering or enabling economic growth.

But I’m very drawn to one variable, which is whether there’s a state income tax. If the answer is no, then it’s quite likely that it will enjoy better-than-average economic performance (and if a state makes the mistake of having an income tax, then a flat tax will be considerably less destructive than a so-called progressive tax).

Which explains my two main lessons for state tax policy.

Anyhow, I’ve always included Tennessee in the list of no-income-tax states, but that’s not completely accurate because (like New Hampshire) there is a tax on capital income.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Associated Press reports that Tennessee is getting rid of this last vestige of  income taxation.

The Tennessee Legislature has passed a measure that would reduce and eventually eliminate the Hall tax on investment income. The Hall tax imposes a general levy of 6 percent on investment income, with some exceptions. Lawmakers agreed to reduce it down to 5 percent before eliminating it completely by 2022.

It’s not completely clear if the GOP Governor of the state will allow the measure to become law, so this isn’t a done deal.

That being said, it’s a very positive sign that the state legislature wants to get rid of this invidious tax, which is a punitive form of double taxation.

Advocates are right that this will make the Volunteer State more attractive to investors, entrepreneurs, and business owners.

Keep in mind that this positive step follows the recent repeal of the state’s death tax, as noted in a column for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Following a four-year phase out, Tennessee’s inheritance tax finally expires on Jan. 1 and one advocacy group is hailing the demise of what it calls the “death tax.” “Tennessee taxpayers can finally breath a sigh of relief,” said Justin Owen, head of the free-market group, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which successfully advocated for the taxes abolishment in 2012.

On the other hand, New York seems determined to make itself even less attractive. Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute writes for Market Watch about legislation that would make the state prohibitively unappealing for many investors.

New York, home to many investment partnerships, now wants to increase state taxes on capital gains… New York already taxes capital gains and ordinary income equally, but apparently that’s not good enough. …The New York legislators want to raise the taxes on carried interest to federal ordinary income tax rates, not just for New York residents, but for everyone all over the world who get returns from partnerships with a business connection to the Empire State. Bills in the New York State Assembly and Senate would increase taxes on profits earned by venture capital, private equity and other investment partnerships by imposing a 19% additional tax.

Diana correctly explains this would be a monumentally foolish step.

If the bill became law, New York would likely see part of its financial sector leave for other states, because many investors nationwide would become subject to taxes that were 19 percentage points higher….No one is going to pick an investment that is taxed at 43% when they could choose one that is taxed at 24%.

Interestingly, even the state’s grasping politicians recognize this reality. The legislation wouldn’t take effect until certain other states made the same mistake.

The sponsors of the legislation appear to acknowledge that by delaying the implementation of the provisions until Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts enact “legislation having an identical effect.”

Given this condition, hopefully this bad idea will never get beyond the stage of being a feel-good gesture for the hate-n-envy crowd.

But it’s always important to reinforce why it would be economically misguided since those other states are not exactly strongholds for economic liberty. This video has everything you need to know about the taxation of carried interest in particular and this video has the key facts about capital gains taxation in general

Not let’s take a look at the big picture. Moody’s just released a “stress test” to see which states were well positioned to deal with an economic downturn.

Is anybody surprised, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, that low-tax Texas ranked at the top and high-tax California and Illinois were at the bottom of the heap?

California, whose state budget is highly dependent on volatile income taxes, is the least able big state to withstand a recession, according to a “stress test” conducted by Moody’s Investor Service. Arch-rival Texas, meanwhile, scores the highest on the test because of “lower revenue volatility, healthier reserves relative to a potential revenue decline scenario and greater revenue and spending flexibility,” Moody’s, a major credit rating organization, says. …California not only suffers in comparison to the other large states, but in a broader survey of the 20 most populous states. Missouri, Texas and Washington score highest, while California and Illinois are at the bottom in their ability to withstand a recession.

Of course, an ability to survive a fiscal stress test is actually a proxy for having decent policies.

And having decent policies leads to something even more important, which is faster growth, increased competitiveness, and more job creation.

Though perhaps this coyote joke does an even better job of capturing the difference between the two states.

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