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Archive for the ‘News Appearance’ Category

As a supporter of genuine capitalism, which means the right of contract and the absence of coercion, I don’t think there should be any policies that help or hinder unions.

The government should simply be a neutral referee that enforces contracts and upholds the rule of law.

Similarly, I also don’t have any philosophical objection to employers and employees agreeing to “defined benefit” pension plans, which basically promise workers a pre-determined amount of money after they retire based on factors such as average pay and years in the workforce.

After all, my money and property aren’t involved, so it’s not my business.

That being said, these so-called “DB plans” have a bad habit of going bankrupt. And that means the rest of us may get stuck with the bill if there’s a taxpayer bailout.

I discuss these issues in an interview with Fox Business News.

My main point is that there’s a deep hole in many of these plans, so someone is going to feel some pain.

I don’t want taxpayers to be hit, and I also don’t think well-managed pensions should be gouged with ever-rising premiums simply because other plans are faltering.

But I bet both will suffer, as will workers and retirees in the under-funded plans.

As part of the interview, I also warned that other “DB plans” are ticking time bombs. More specifically, most pensions for state and local bureaucrats involve (overly generous) pre-determined commitments and very rarely have governments set aside the amount of money needed to fund those promises.

And the biggest DB time bomb is Social Security, which has an unfunded cash-flow liability of more than $30 trillion. That’s a lot of money even by Washington standards.

But I closed with a bit of good news.

As workers and employers have learned that DB plans tend to be unstable and unsustainable, there has been a marked shift toward “defined contribution” plans such as IRAs and 401(k)s.

These plans are the private property of workers, so there’s no risk that the money will be stolen or squandered.

But even this good news comes with a caveat. We closed the interview by fretting about the possibility that governments will steal (or at least over-tax) these private pension assets at some point in the future.

That’s already happened in Argentina and Poland, so I’m not just being a paranoid libertarian.

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It’s not often that I agree with the Washington Post, but a government-run monopoly is not the best way to get mail delivered.

Moreover, it’s not often that I agree with the timid (and sometimes reprehensible) Tory-led government in the United Kingdom, but they just put the Royal Mail into the private sector. And that’s something deserving of loud applause.

Here’s a slice of the big news from the Financial Times.

The goal of privatising Royal Mail had defeated governments for 40 years. …Even prime minister Margaret Thatcher balked at the political risk of selling off a public service that carried the Queen’s head on its stamps. This time, the legislation went through parliament.

My Cato colleague, Chris Edwards, is suitably impressed.

Here’s some of what he wrote for Cato-at-Liberty.

Britain privatized its Royal Mail in 2013, proceeding with an initial public offering of shares that raised about $2.7 billion. …privatization in Britain has been hugely successful. Prime Minister Cameron should be applauded for having the guts to build on the privatization reform legacy of Thatcher, Major, and Blair. Meanwhile on this side of the pond, Republican Darrell Issa is having trouble getting his own nominally conservative party to accept even small changes to the broken government postal system.

Not surprisingly, some folks in Washington think we should move in the wrong direction by retaining the monopoly and allowing the Postal Service to enter new lines of business.

In this interview with Neil Cavuto, I explain why the Postal Service should be unleashed – but only after getting weaned from the taxpayer teat.

You’ll notice that I took the opportunity to explain that many poor people can’t afford banking services in part because government “anti-money laundering” rules impose very high costs on banks.

And since I’ve already mentioned that I have strange bedfellows at the Washington Post and UK government on the issue of postal privatization, I may as well note that the World Bank agrees with me about the poor being disadvantaged by these ill-advised financial regulations.

Let’s close with a good cartoon by Jerry Holbert.

Postal Service Cartoon

It’s not as good as his classics about Obamacare, sequestration, big government, and Patty Murray’s budget, but obviously very appropriate for today’s topic.

P.S. In there was a contest for government stupidity, the Japanese might be front runners.

No, I’m not talking about their bizarre policy of regulating coffee enemas.

Instead, I’m baffled by the notion of government-funded dating. I’m not joking. Check out these excerpts from the British press.

The Japanese government is funding matchmaking events in a desperate attempt to boost a birth rate that has halved over the past six decades. …The support of marriage – and the active encouragement of young people to settle down – is regarded by government policy-makers as a key strategy for boosting the nation’s birth rate. …Matchmaking events organised by local authorities, where young singles are introduced to one another in romantic settings, are becoming increasingly common in areas such as rural Kochi, a prefecture around 500 miles west of Tokyo.

By the way, Japan does have a severe demographic problem.

And when you mix falling birthrates and increasing longevity with a tax-and-transfer welfare state, the results are catastrophic.

But the right way to deal with that problem is with genuine entitlement reform, not another bound-to-fail government-run version of Match.com.

P.P.S. If you like making fun of foreign governments, here are some more examples.

Taxpayer-financed friends for mass murderers in Norway.

Spending 800,000 euro to collect 25,000 euro of tax in Germany.

Giving welfare handouts to foreigners in the United Kingdom.

Remember, nothing is too stupid for government.

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I generally get very suspicious when rich people start pontificating on tax policy.

People like Warren Buffett, for instance, sometimes advocate higher taxes because they’re trying to curry favor with the political elite. Or maybe they feel compelled to say silly things to demonstrate that they feel guilty about their wealth.

Tax SystemRegardless, I don’t like their policy proposal (as you can see from TV debates here and here).

That being said, I also realize that stereotypes can be very unfair, so it’s important to judge each argument on the merits and not to reject an idea simply because it comes from a rich guy.

That’s why I was very interested to see that Bill Gates, the multi-billionaire software maker, decided to add his two cents to the discussion of tax reform.

Here’s what Gates said at an American Enterprise Institute forum (transcript here and video here).

…economists would have said that a progressive consumption tax is a better construct, you know, at any point in history. What I’m saying is that it’s even more important as we go forward.

He doesn’t really expand on those remarks other than to say that it’s important to reduce the tax on labor.

That part of Gates’ remarks doesn’t make much sense for the simple reason that workers are equally harmed whether the government takes 20 percent of their income when it’s earned or 20 percent of their income when it’s spent.

But his embrace of a “progressive consumption tax” is very intriguing.

I don’t like the “progressive” part because that’s shorthand for high marginal tax rates, and that type of class-warfare policy is a gateway to corruption and is also damaging to growth (see here, here, here, here, and here).

But the “consumption” part is one of the key features of all good tax reform plans.

For all intents and purposes, a “consumption tax” is any system that avoids the mistake of double-taxing income that is saved and invested.

Both the national sales tax and the value-added tax, for instance, are examples of consumption-based tax systems.

But the flat tax also is a consumption tax. It isn’t collected at the cash register like a sales tax, but it has the same “tax base.”

Under a flat tax, income is taxed – but only one time – when it is earned. Under a sales tax, income is taxed – but only one time – when it is spent. They’re different sides of the same coin.

Most important, neither the flat tax nor the sales tax has extra layers of tax on saving and investment. And that’s what makes them “consumption” taxes in the wonky world of public finance economists.

This means no death tax, no capital gains tax, no double taxation of interest or dividends. And businesses get a common-sense cash-flow system of taxation, which means punitive depreciation rules are replaced by “expensing.”

So Bill Gates is halfway on the path to tax policy salvation. His endorsement of so-called progressivity is wrong, but his support for getting rid of double taxation is right.

If you like getting into the weeds of tax policy, it’s interesting to note that Gates is advocating the opposite of the plan that was proposed by Congressman Dave Camp.

Camp wants to go in the right direction regarding rates, but he wants to exacerbate the tax code’s bias against capital. Here’s what I said to Politico.

Dan Mitchell, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute, said he didn’t see it as an individual versus business issue, but rather took issue with Camp’s punitive treatment of savings and investment. “The way Camp is extracting more money from businesses — more punitive depreciation and the like — is he is making the tax system more biased against savings and investment,” said Mitchell, who worked for Republican Sen. Bob Packwood after the historic 1986 tax act that Packwood helped negotiate as chair of the Finance Committee.

By the way, this doesn’t mean Camp’s plan is bad. You have to do a cost-benefit analysis of the good and bad features.

Just like that type of analysis was appropriate in 1986, when the bad provisions that increased taxes on saving and investment were offset by a big reduction in marginal tax rates.

The 1986 law did take aim at some popular business benefits, including a lucrative investment tax credit. But the reward was a lot sweeter. “At least then, we got a big, big reduction in tax rates in exchange,” Mitchell said.

Here’s an interview I did with Blaze TV on Congressman Camp’s plan. If you pay attention near the beginning (at about the 2:00 mark), you’ll see my matrix on how to grade tax reform plans.

Now let’s circle back to the type of tax system endorsed by Bill Gates.

We obviously don’t know what he favors beyond a “progressive consumption tax,” but that bit of information allows us to say that he wants something at least somewhat similar to the old “USA Tax” that was supported by folks such as former Senators Sam Nunn and Pete Domenici.

Is that better than the current tax system?

Probably yes, though we can’t say for sure because it’s possible they may want to increase tax rates by such a significant amount that the plan becomes a net minus for the economy.

Not that any of this matters since I doubt we’ll get tax reform in my lifetime.

P.S. Speaking of taxes and the rich, you’ll enjoy this very clever interview exposing the hypocrisy of wealthy leftists.

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I wish there was a magic wand that somebody could wave and all of us would have more money. Or maybe Santa Claus could play that role, or some version of the Tooth Fairy.

And if that magic person only had limited powers, I would want more money specifically for those with modest incomes.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in this fantasy world. As a society, we can’t enjoy output unless we first go through the toil and trouble of working, saving, and investing.

Heck, even some leftists have admitted that you can’t redistribute unless somebody first produces.

But that doesn’t stop some politicians from practicing free-lunch economics. They tell us, for instance, that government can impose a higher minimum wage with no job losses.

And now the Obama Administration is claiming that it can expand overtime eligibility rules without any adverse impact of base pay, hours, or employment.

In my role as the designated bad guy who has to inform people there’s no magic wand or Santa Claus, here’s what I told the New York Times.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” said Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, who warned that employers might cut pay or use fewer workers. “If they push through something to make a certain class of workers more expensive, something will happen to adjust.”

I also shared my putative wisdom with the International Business Times, underscoring the principle that government shouldn’t intervene in labor markets.

“Our view is pretty straightforward,” Daniel Mitchell, a fellow at the libertarian CATO Institute in Washington D.C., told International Business Times by phone on Wednesday. “From a philosophical perspective the government shouldn’t get involved with labor contacts between two consenting adults. You can’t impose more labor costs and have them magically disappear.”

I also pontificated on this issue for CBS News radio, but the “highlight” of the day was having to dispel economic myths in a series of TV interviews.

In this debate for Nightly Business Report, I had to explain that faster growth was the only effective way to improve living standards, but my opponent somehow thought we should go back to the glorious 1970s.

And in this interview with Ali Velshi on AJ, I’m stunned that he blames today’s weak job market on free markets.

Last but not least, I made what will probably be my last appearance on Larry Kudlow’s great show on CNBC and used the opportunity to say we shouldn’t copy Europe’s failed welfare states.

Larry is retiring at the end of the month and he will be sorely missed.

P.S. Lots of people are suffering because of Obamacare, especially taxpayers and patients.

But since our main topic today is jobs, let’s not forget that millions of workers are being screwed over by this bad law. They’re losing jobs, losing hours, and/or losing take-home pay thanks to Obama’s ham-fisted intervention.

If you like gallows humor, Reason TV addresses this issue in a new video. Enjoy.

And if you like Obamacare parody videos, here are the other ones that will produce some smiles and laughs.

*The head of the National Socialist Workers Party finds out he can’t keep his health plan.

Varvel Obamacare Ambulance*A creepy version of Uncle Sam wants to know about your sex life.

*Young people discover that they’re screwed by Obamacare.

*One of the biggest statists of the 20th century is angry that the Obamacare exchanges don’t work.

*A consumer tries to buy Obama-coffee.

By the way, if you’re concerned about America’s fiscal future, here’s a video on Obamacare that definitely is not funny.

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In recent weeks, I’ve pontificated on Obama’s spendthrift budget, Congressman Dave Camp’s timid tax reform plan, and the corrupt cronyism of Washington.

I got to elaborate on all these topics – and more – in this interview with Professor Glenn Reynolds, more widely known as Instapundit.

If there was an overall theme, it’s that President Obama’s statist agenda is not helping the country.

Other than my hair looking strange, I think this was a good interview.

But here’s a point I probably should have included when assessing the President’s performance. If you look at the Census Bureau’s data on median household income (adjusted for inflation), you’ll see that the median American is earning less during the Obama years. And that’s true whether you use 2008 or 2009 as the base year.

Median Household Income

Now let me provide three caveats on this data, two that help Obama and another that is less favorable.

1. First, if you look at the historical data from the Census Bureau, you’ll see that median household income is a lagging indicator. That means that incomes don’t improve in the first year or two of a recovery.

In other words, you can argue, with considerable justification, that Obama inherited bad numbers.

2. Second, median household income is an incomplete measure of living standards. If you peruse the data, you’ll see that median income for 2012 (the latest available year) is lower than it was the year Reagan left office.

I’m a big Reagan fan, so I’m tempted to say the country has lost ground since he left office, but that would be an exaggeration. We obviously have higher living standards today, notwithstanding the Census Bureau numbers.

3. But I’m not making excuses for Obama. My third and final caveat is that the median numbers don’t tell the full story. If you look at the Census Bureau’s numbers for various income groups, you’ll see that the only cohort that has enjoyed higher real income during the Obama years is….drum roll, please…the rich!

You read correctly. The bottom 20 percent have suffer lower incomes. The three middle-income quintiles have lost ground. Even the top 20 percent have lower median incomes. The only group that is ahead is the top 5 percent.

In other words, Obama may use lots of class-warfare rhetoric to pretend he’s on the side of ordinary people.

But his policies (TARPSolyndra, etc) have been enormously beneficial to the cronyists and insiders that have made the Washington metropolitan area so wealthy.

Here’s some of what Senator Portman of Ohio had to say about the topic.

It’s been five years since the experts said the recession was over, but for millions of Americans, it feels like it never ended. We’re living through the weakest economic recovery since World War II, and a lot of folks are struggling to make ends meet. Unemployment remains stubbornly high; the number of long-term unemployed is actually at record levels. But these statistics only tell half the story. Eleven million Americans have become so discouraged that they’ve given up looking for work altogether. Poverty rates have gone up, salaries have gone down, with the average family now bringing home $4,000 less than they did just five years ago.

Just in case you doubt Portman’s remarks, here’s the chart I produced using data from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank.

It shows every recovery since end of World War II. The red line is Obamanomics.

Hmmm….this is almost enough to make one think that maybe we should try free markets and small government instead.

P.S. This Gary Varvel cartoon provides a good synopsis of Obama’s economic policy.

Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

I also like Varvel’s take on Obamacare, and here’s another one of his cartoons on Obamanomics.

Varvel is the best at exposing the spending-cut hoax in DC, as you can see from this sequester cartoon and this deficit reduction cartoon. This cartoon about Bernie Madoff and Social Security, however, is at the top of my list.

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One of my goals is to convince people that even small differences in long-run growth can have a powerful impact on living standards and societal prosperity.

In other words, the economy is not a fixed pie. The right policies, such as free markets and small government, can create a better life for everybody.

And bad policy, needless to say, can have the opposite impact.

Very few people realize, for instance, that Argentina was one of the world’s 10-richest nations at the end of World War II, but interventionist policies have weakened growth and caused the country to plummet in the rankings.

Hong Kong, by contrast, had a relatively poor economy at the end of the war, but now is one of the globe’s most prosperous jurisdictions.

If you want more examples, check out this chart showing how North Korea and South Korea have diverged over time.

Or how about the chart showing how Chile has out-performed other major Latin American economies.

This comparison of living standards in the United States and Europe also is very compelling.

Here’s a simple guide to highlight the difference between weak growth and strong growth. It shows how long it takes a nation to double economic output depending on annual growth.

As you can see, a nation with 1 percent growth (think Italy) will have to wait 70 years before the economic pie doubles in size.

But a nation that grows 4 percent or faster each year (think Singapore) will double GDP in less than 20 years.

Years to Double GDP

So why am I plowing through all this material?

My answer is simple, but depressing. I’m worried that the United States is becoming more like Europe. During the Bush-Obama years, we’ve seen big increases in the size and scope of government, and it’s no surprise that we’re now suffering from anemic economic performance.

That’s the first point I made in this interview with Michelle Fields of PJTV.

Much of the material in the interview will be familiar to regular readers, but a few points deserve some emphasis.

I say that America becoming more like Europe isn’t the end of the world, but I should elaborate. What I meant is that we can survive 2 percent growth instead of 3 percent growth. We could even survive 1 percent growth.

But if we continue on the current path of ever-growing government and combine that with an aging population and poorly designed entitlement programs, then we will see the end of the world. At least in the sense of fiscal crisis and economic collapse.

All the points I make about jobs, employment, labor force participation, unemployment insurance and disability are simply different ways of saying that it’s not good for the economy when politicians continuously make dependency more attractive than work.

If you want to know more about why the so-called stimulus was a failure, my article in The Federalist is a nice place to start.

The libertarian fantasy world of a small central government is a very good goal, but it’s still possible to make significant progress if politicians follow Mitchell’s Golden Rule.

P.S. You may recognize the host because she narrated a very good video for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Michelle explained how the big-government policies of Hoover and Roosevelt deepened and extended the Great Depression.

She also exposed rich leftists as complete hypocrites in this interview.

P.P.S. Since I mentioned above that South Korea has far surpassed North Korea, I should share this powerful nighttime picture of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea v South Korea

Gee, maybe capitalism is better than statism after all.

Unless, of course, you think there’s something really nice about North Korea to offset South Korea’s economic advantages.

Such as malnutrition or enslavement. Or a small carbon footprint, which led some nutjobs to rank Cuba far above America.

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As part of his State-of-the-Union speech, President Obama announced he was going to unilaterally create a new retirement savings account that supposedly would be available to all workers.

Employers would be mandated to facilitate these”MyRA” accounts, and the money collected would be invested in “guaranteed” government bonds.

There are some good features to the MyRA plan, most notably the fact that money in the accounts would be protected from double taxation. Workers would put after-tax money in the accounts, but there would be no additional layers of tax on any earnings, or when the money is withdrawn.

In other words, a MyRA would be akin to a back-ended (or Roth) IRA.

But there are some bad features, including the fact that taxpayers would be subsidizing the earnings, or interest, paid to account holders (though this would be a relatively benign form of government spending, at least compared to Obamacare, ethanol, etc, etc).

My biggest complaints, though, are the sins of omission, which I discuss in this interview for Blaze TV.

Simply stated, if Obama was concerned about low returns for savers, he should be directing his ire at the Federal Reserve, which has artificially pushed interest rates to very low levels as part of its easy-money policy.

But more importantly, MyRAs will be very inadequate for most workers with modest incomes. If the President really wanted to help ordinary people save for retirement, he would follow the successful example of more than 30 other nations and allow workers to shift their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts.

This video explains why reform is so desirable.

Critics say it would be very expensive to make a transition to this modern system, and they’re right. If we let younger workers put their payroll taxes in a personal accounts, we’ll have to come up with a new source of revenue to finance benefits being paid to current retirees and older workers.

And we’re talking lots of money, as much as $7 trillion over the next few decades.

But that’s a lot less than the $36 trillion cash shortfall that we’ll have to somehow deal with if we maintain the current system.

In other words, we’re in a very deep hole. But if we shift to personal retirement accounts, the hole won’t be nearly as large.

P.S. The video mentions that Chile and Australia deserve special attention. Click here if you want to learn about Chile’s successful system and click here if you want to see how Australia’s “superannuation” system has been a big winner.

P.P.S. Some people already have asked me whether I was too Pollyannish in saying that there’s no risk for several decades that Washington will default. I could be wrong, of course, and I have shared BISOECD, and IMF data that reveals the United States has gigantic long-run fiscal challenges. But as I said in the interview, I think most other welfare states will collapse first, and that will lead to “flight capital” coming to America, which will help prop up our system.

P.P.P.S. You can enjoy some Social Security cartoons here, here, and here. And we also have a Social Security joke if you appreciate dark humor.

P.P.P.P.S. You probably don’t want to know how Obama would like to “fix” the Social Security shortfall.

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I’ve shared many charts over the years, but two of the most compelling ones deal with poverty.

Poverty Rate DataThe numbers in this chart, which are based on Census Bureau data and scholarly studies (see here, here, here, and here), show that the poverty rate was steadily falling in the United States – until the federal government decided to launch a so-called War on Poverty.

Once Washington got more involved and started spending trillions of dollars, we stopped making progress. The poverty rate has changed a bit with shifts in economic conditions, but it’s stayed remarkably steady between 11 percent and 15 percent of the population.

So why have we stopped making progress? This second chart shows how redistribution programs create a dependency trap. The plethora of handouts from government make self-reliance and work comparatively unattractive, particularly since poor people are hit with very high implicit marginal tax rates.

And just as rich people respond logically to incentives, the same is true of poor people.

In a recent debate with a representative of the Center for American Progress, I tried to make these points. I doubt I had any effect on her outlook, but hopefully viewers began to see that the welfare state has been bad news for taxpayers and bad news for poor people.

Our debate was cut short by the host, but I think it was a fair representation of each side’s views.

And if you want more information on this topic, my former colleague from my days at the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector, assesses the War on Poverty for today’s Wall Street Journal.

He starts with some very sobering numbers.

Fifty years later, we’re losing that war. Fifteen percent of Americans still live in poverty, according to the official census poverty report for 2012, unchanged since the mid-1960s. Liberals argue that we aren’t spending enough money on poverty-fighting programs, but that’s not the problem. …The federal government currently runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans. Government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012 alone, and roughly 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. …Federal and state welfare spending, adjusted for inflation, is 16 times greater than it was in 1964. If converted to cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all official poverty in the U.S.

He then explains that poor people don’t suffer from material deprivation (which may explain why the Obama Administration wants to manipulate the numbers to justify more welfare spending).

…the typical American living below the poverty level in 2013 lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair, equipped with air conditioning and cable TV. His home is larger than the home of the average nonpoor French, German or English man. He has a car, multiple color TVs and a DVD player. More than half the poor have computers and a third have wide, flat-screen TVs. The overwhelming majority of poor Americans are not undernourished and did not suffer from hunger for even one day of the previous year.

Robert then gets to the heart of the issue, explaining that the welfare state has expanded dependency and exacerbated social pathologies.

…consider LBJ’s original aim. He sought to give poor Americans “opportunity not doles,” planning to shrink welfare dependence not expand it.  …By that standard, the war on poverty has been a catastrophe. The root “causes” of poverty have not shrunk but expanded as family structure disintegrated and labor-force participation among men dropped. A large segment of the population is now less capable of self-sufficiency than when the war on poverty began. …In 1963, 6% of American children were born out of wedlock. Today the number stands at 41%. As benefits swelled, welfare increasingly served as a substitute for a bread-winning husband in the home. …children raised in the growing number of single-parent homes are four times more likely to be living in poverty than children reared by married parents of the same education level. …Even in good economic times, a parent in the average poor family works just 800 hours a year, roughly 16 hours weekly, according to census data. Low levels of work mean lower earnings and higher levels of dependence.

Mr. Rector also has some specific suggestions in his column, most of which seem sensible, but this is where I think my idea of sweeping decentralization and federalism is very appropriate.

P.S. Thomas Sowell’s indictment of the welfare state is must reading.

P.P.S. Some honest leftists now acknowledge that big government creates worrisome forms of dependency.

P.P.P.S. If you want to know how dependency varies by state, here’s a map showing welfare payments and another map showing food stamp usage.

P.P.P.P.S. Shifting to a bigger stage, my least favorite international bureaucracy has made the preposterous claim that poverty is a bigger problem in America than it is in basket-case nations such as Greece and Portugal. Not that we should be surprised since the OECD actively urges a bigger welfare state in the United States.

P.P.P.P.P.S. And don’t forget our Moocher Hall of Fame if you want examples of the human cost of the welfare state.

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When you work in Washington (and assuming you haven’t been corrupted), you run the risk of being endlessly outraged about all the waste.

But not all waste is created equal. Some examples are so absurd that they deserve special attention.

We now have another example to add to the list. Russian diplomats have been busted for bilking the Medicaid program of more than $1 million.

This is so outrageous that it may actually be the impetus for some desperately needed reform, as I suggest in this interview with Neil Cavuto.

But is fraud really a problem? Defenders of the Medicaid entitlement presumably would like us to think that this latest story is just an anomaly.

That would be nice, but the experts who have looked at the issue have come to a much different conclusion.

While food stamp fraud is significant, especially with a record-high 47 million Americans now on food stamps, it pales in comparison to what is stolen from Medicare and Medicaid. …It is widely accepted across the political spectrum that upwards of $100 billion of that amount is fraud and abuse. Recently, a report from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the US House of Representatives outlined many billions of dollars being wasted every year just in New York’s Medicaid program. Grossly inflated payments to intermediate care facilities and excessive salaries were just the tip of the iceberg in a $53 billion program that easily bleeds  more than $10 billion annually to criminals.

So what’s the best way of dealing with the Medicaid mess? Fortunately, we have a simple answer. As I mentioned in the interview, the entire program should be block granted and turned over to the states.

That doesn’t automatically eliminate fraud, but it does create much better incentives for sound governance since state taxpayers would be the ones picking up the tab if a state program is riddled with fraud. Under the current system, by contrast, the cost of waste and malfeasance is spread among taxpayers from all 50 states.

This video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity explains how block grants would work.

One final point to emphasize is that fraud reduction is really just a fringe benefit if we reform Medicaid.

The main reasons to decentralize the program are fiscal sanity and better health care policy.

But the one common thread is that third-party payer facilitates problems, whether we’re looking at excessive costs, health inefficiency, or rampant fraud.

P.S. Don’t forget the other two big entitlements that need reform, Social Security and Medicare. Like Medicaid, Medicare has major challenges with fraud. From what I understand, the retirement portion of Social Security doesn’t have major fraud issues, but the disability program is a huge problem.

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There are many reason I don’t like Obamacare, including its punitive impact on taxpayers and the way it takes our healthcare system even further from a market-based approach.

But now I’m increasingly worried Obamacare also is creating a playground for hackers and identity thieves – and the rest of us will be the victims.

Simply stated, the results probably won’t be very pretty when you mix together these two items.

1) Typical government incompetence.

2) Massive data collection by government.

I pontificate on these issues in an interview with Neil Cavuto.

To elaborate, the internal revenue code is filled with double taxation of income that is saved and invested. As such the IRS insists on knowing extensive details on our income-producing assets, as well as any capital gains we earn.

And, if you’re subject to the death tax, they’ll want to know about everything you own. None of that would be necessary if we had a flat tax or a national sales tax.

Heck, they wouldn’t even need to know about your bank account since there’s no double taxation of interest with real tax reform.

But we’re on the other side of the pendulum, with the government wanting to know just about everything about our financial affairs. That’s good news for statists who want more redistribution…and it’s good news for other thieves who also want to take our money (but without using government as a middleman).

If you think I’m needlessly worried, check out this CNBC report. Here are some key excerpts.

Serious security weaknesses in the Internal Revenue Service’s data system have left millions of taxpayers’ sensitive financial information vulnerable to hackers. The agency claims it has fixed the problem, but its auditors beg to differ. A new report released by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found that although the IRS claimed it had implemented 19 fixes to secure the system recommended by the auditor in previous years, at least eight (or 42 percent) of them “had not been fully implemented,” and should not have been checked off as completed. The auditors said the IRS never tracked its progress on the repairs, and in many cases, it closed cases without submitting documentation to prove the fix was complete. …The report also found that the agency didn’t properly scan servers—which contain taxpayer information—for “major vulnerabilities,” or properly lock user accounts, and it did not update software on databases. “When the right degree of security diligence is not applied to systems, disgruntled insiders or malicious outsiders can exploit security weaknesses and may gain unauthorized access,” Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George said.

That’s not exactly reassuring.

But it gets worse. Obamacare exchanges are a disaster waiting to happen, as explained in a USA Today column by the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Every day, personal information is the subject of hundreds of thousands of hacking attempts from all over the world. …On October 1, a major component of Obamacare made you even more vulnerable to devastating attacks on your personal information and the administration is doing too little about it. The Federal Data Services Hub (Hub), a component of the health insurance exchanges created by Obamacare, connects seven different government agencies and establish new access points to the sensitive personal information of the American public. Social Security numbers, employment information, birth dates, health records and tax returns are among the personal data that will be transmitted to this hub, consolidating an unprecedented amount of information. Every shred of data one would need to steal your identity or access your confidential credit information would be available at the fingertips of a skilled hacker, producing a staggering security threat. …These potential vulnerabilities are a dream of faceless international hackers and hostile foreign intelligence services.

Heck, you may as well put all your credit card info on your Facebook page.

More seriously, any sensible person will stay far away from Obamacare. Though if you don’t sign up on an Obamacare exchange, the White House wants you to get fined. So you lose no matter what.

Gee, isn’t big government wonderful?

P.S. I should have mentioned the huge privacy risks that will be created if politicians succeed in imposing an Internet sales tax cartel. Such a system will require a database of every online purchase and it will be accessible by bureaucrats from state and local governments.

P.P.S. I also failed to mention how high-tax governments such as France and Germany (with assistance from the Obama Administration) are pushing to create a global network of tax police that would collect and share information among governments – regardless of their level of corruption or pattern of human rights abuses!

NSA Yes We ScanP.P.P.S. Last but not least, we can’t have a discussion of privacy without mentioning our inquisitive friends at the NSA. Some of you may think it’s a non-story that the NSA is spying on just about all communications. The government, we are told, is merely trying to fight terrorism. Sounds okay in theory, but I’m not that sanguine for the simple reason that I don’t trust government. Indeed, all of us should worry that the NSA was just busted for spying on the web-surfing habits of its critics. Moreover, it doesn’t take much imagination to think the Obama White House would misuse that power to spy on political enemies. If you think I’m being paranoid, just consider how the IRS has been used as a partisan political tool in recent years.

P.P.P.P.S. I’ve been asked whether I’m worried that the NSA will snoop through my web history. As a matter of principle, I would object, but I’m not overly concerned because I’m a relatively boring person. That’s true even when I search for “libertarian porn” and “libertarian sex fantasies.”

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Forget the debate over whether Obama is a socialist.

Now we’re discussing whether Jesus is for big government. Or, to be more accurate, the Pope has started a debate about whether free markets are bad, particularly for the poor.

Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute wrote about the underlying theological issues in an article for National Review, but I hope I also contributed to the secular aspect of the debate in this BBC interview.

The first thing I said was the rather obvious point that there’s a lot more to life than accumulating wealth.

My most important point was that capitalism is the only successful model for creating broadly shared prosperity and I used examples from the Pope’s home region of Latin America to show that nations with more economic liberty are far more successful.

But I emphasized that supporters of freedom have a challenge because many people mistakenly associate capitalism with cronyism and bailouts for big business. In reality, free markets are a system based on voluntary exchange and private property, which means no special favors for any industry or company.

To bolster my point that economic growth is the best way to help the poor, I cited Hong Kong as a role model, both for creating growth and for enabling upward mobility.

My second most important point, which came near the end of the interview, was that genuine compassion is when you give away your own money, not when you vote for politicians who will use coercion to redistribute other people’s money. I should have used the opportunity to cite the data showing that Americans are far more compassionate – in the right sense – than their European counterparts.

I’m sure “Libertarian Jesus” would have agreed.

Now we need to get others to climb on the freedom bandwagon. I suspect the Pope will be more receptive to that message than politicians, though the Vatican sometimes has been very good on these issues and at times very disappointing.

P.S. I was worried I made up a word when I stated that I wanted to make a “theologic” point, but it’s actually in the dictionary, so I got lucky. But even if it turned out it wasn’t a word, it wouldn’t have been nearly as embarrassing as the time in the 1990s when I wanted to say “annals” and pronounced it “anals.”

P.P.S. Thomas Sowell has some insightful analysis on whether Obama is a socialist.

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Switzerland’s left-wing party has instigated a referendum for November 24 that asks voters to limit pay ranges so that a company wouldn’t be able to pay top employees more than 12 times what they’re paying their lowest-level employees.

I talked with Neil Cavuto about this proposal and made several (hopefully) cogent points.

Since Swiss voters already have demonstrated considerable wisdom (rejecting a class-warfare tax proposal in 2010 and imposing a cap on government spending in 2001), I predicted they will reject the plan. And I pointed out that Switzerland’s comparatively successful system is a result of not letting government have too much power over the economy.

But I don’t want to focus today on the Swiss referendum. Instead, I want to expand on my final point, which deals with the misguided belief by some on the left that the economy is a fixed pie and that you have to penalize the rich in order to help the poor.

I’ve covered this issue before, and I even tried to educate a PBS audience that economic growth is key.

But maybe this chart is the most persuasive bit of evidence. It shows per-capita GDP in France and Hong Kong over the past 50 or so years. France is a nation that prides itself of redistribution to “help” the poor while Hong Kong is famous for having the most economic freedom of any jurisdiction.

Now look at this data and ask yourself whether you’d rather be a poor person in France or Hong Kong?

Hong Kong v France Per-Capita GDP

Since Hong Kong is richer and is growing faster, the obvious answer is that poor people in France almost surely face a bleaker outlook.

In other words, the welfare state can give you the basic necessities and allow you to survive (at least until the house of cards collapses), but it comes at a very high cost of lower growth and diminished opportunity.

The moral of the story is that prosperity is best achieved by a policy of free markets and small government.

P.S. If you want more evidence on the superiority of markets over statism, check out the comparison of South Korea and North Korea and the difference between Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela. Heck, even the data comparing America and Europe show similar results.

P.P.S. As you might expect, Margaret Thatcher addressed this issue in a brilliant fashion.

P.P.P.S. There’s a lot to like about Sweden, but click here if you want to see an impossibly absurd example from that nation of the equality-über-alles mentality.

P.P.P.P.S. There is some very interesting academic research that suggests humans are hard-wired by evolution to be statists. Let’s hope that’s not true.

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If this blog was an episode of Jeopardy, the response to the title of this post would be “Name three things that Dan Mitchell doesn’t like.”

But this blog isn’t a game show. It’s a serious forum* for discussing how we protect freedom and prosperity from ever-expanding government.

That’s why, in this interview with John Stossel, I reiterate my mantra that government spending is the problem and that deficits and debt are symptoms of the problem.

I usually use the analogy that government spending is a brain tumor and red ink is the headache caused by the tumor when seeking to help people understand that it’s important to focus on the disease and not the symptom. But to show that I’m not just a single-analogy kind of guy, this time I said that government spending was like lung cancer and that deficits are akin to the resulting cough.

I also concocted an analogy about government goodies being akin to heroin. If you’re an addict, it may feel good to put more junk in your veins, but you’ll be much better off if you endure the short-run discomfort of going clean. Just as it may cause angst among interest groups if we stop the federal gravy train, but they’ll be better off in the long run if we reduce the burden of government spending and restore robust growth.

And nobody will be surprised to see that I made my usual points that there was no risk of default and that it’s actually surprisingly simple to balance the budget with modest spending restraint.

Speaking of analogies, I also modified Senator Durbin’s analogy so that he and his colleagues are a bunch of drug dealers trying to buy votes by addicting people to big government.

*Okay, given all the political humor I share, perhaps it’s a semi-serious forum, but my analysis of fiscal policy is not a joking matter.

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I’m not overly optimistic about the outcome of the government shutdown fight. In part this is because our system of government, based on separation of powers, means it is very difficult to change the status quo.

This system, by the way, generally has been good for the country. It probably helps to explain why the United States has not traveled as rapidly in the wrong direction as other industrialized nations. Simply stated, the left didn’t have easy opportunities to impose bad policies such as a VAT or single-payer government-run healthcare.

But it also means it isn’t easy for supporters of small government to undo expensive policy mistakes such as Obamacare.

But I’m glad some people are trying to do the right thing, even though they not only have to fight Obama, but they also need to overcome a biased media that is serving as an echo chamber for the left’s talking points.

I deal with some of that bias in this interview on Canadian TV. The hosts were very polite and gave me plenty of time to make my points, but all their questions could have been written in the White House communications office.

Here are a few takeaways from that interview.

The fact that Obamacare is the law today does not mean it must be enshrined forever. A lot of folks in the media are regurgitating this White House talking point. I pointed out that the Continuing Resolution also is the law, but maybe I should have pointed out that politicians change the tax code all the time.

As hinted at above, this fight is not a sign of dysfunctional government, but rather is an example of how our Founding Fathers expected Washington to function.

Media Bias ShutdownMedia bias is covering up angst and division on the Democratic side of the aisle. My Democrat friends on the Hill have told me they are worried about being forced to cast votes in favor of provisions such as the special Obamacare exemption for politicians. But as this Glenn McCoy cartoon implies, the press is pushing the left’s narrative rather than reporting the news.

Republicans won a policy victory as a result of the 1995 shutdown fight and they at least fought to a draw in the 1996 elections.

This is a fight to save America from turning into a bankrupt European-style welfare state. Even if that’s an uphill battle, that’s a fight worth having.

Using the example of corrupt agriculture subsidies, I explain that Obamacare won’t work very well, but that doesn’t mean it won’t lure more people into government dependency.

I like to think I did a decent job in this interview, but now it’s time to confess that this isn’t just a battle against Obama and the media.

If we want to shrink the size and scope of government, we also need to prevail against the lobbyist community. This is especially the case in the shutdown fight.

These excerpts from a Politico article reveal how Washington really works.

Though President Barack Obama often blames special interests and Washington lobbyists for the dysfunction and paralysis that plagues Beltway politics, most of the working K Street — and their clients — would like nothing better than for Congress to start working again on the routine business of drafting, debating and passing legislation. …“When Congress doesn’t do things and when Congress is not productive, people who are trying to influence Congress are not productive,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who was a top adviser to former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt. …Urban, who was a top staffer to former Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said the latest fight over spending are throwing a wrench in K Street’s bread and butter work of tweaking legislation and attracting new client business. “The wide variety of client business — interests that come to Washington lobby — is now interrupted,” Urban said about the shutdown. …no major pieces of new legislation have moved since the takeover of the House by the GOP in 2010 —putting a big damper on new business development and existing client work. …”Not that we should be doing policymaking on K Street’s behalf,” Gold added. “But that’s the reality.”

In other words, the parasite class in DC wants “business as usual.” They want the government open so they can strike their backroom deals.

This is a perfect illustration of my “First Theorem of Government.” Washington insiders benefit from activist government. It means more money and power for the political class.

And notice how the lobbyists are complaining about less business ever since the 2010 elections. That’s because fewer laws mean fewer opportunities for graft and redistribution, so lobbyists suffer. Which is why I had to correct a massive typo when USA Today wrote that the Tea Party Congress was “unproductive.”

That “unproductive” Congress, by the way, reduced the burden of federal government spending from more than 24 percent of GDP to about 21.5 percent of economic output.

We should all be hoping that the current Congress is equally “unproductive” and we further shrink the burden of government spending and further curtail opportunities for political corruption.

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As illustrated by this chart, economists are lousy forecasters.

To be more specific, economists are no better than fortune tellers when trying to make short-run macroeconomic forecasts. Heck, if we actually knew what was going to happen over the next 12 months, we’d all be billionaires.

But we can (on occasion) make sensible predictions about the long-run impact of various government policies. All other things being equal, for instance, it’s safe to say that countries with bigger governments will grow slower than nations that don’t divert as many resources from the private sector. Even the World Bank and European Central Bank agree with that common-sense proposition.

Another can’t-fail prediction is that bailouts will reward bad behavior and lead to dependency. That’s why I’m not at all surprised by the news that Greece will get another bailout.Greek Bailout 1 Indeed, if there was a least-surprising-headline contest, it would go to the EU Observer for this headline.

A third bailout? You mean the first two didn’t work? I’m shocked! Which is why we need to change to a least-surprising-headlines contest, Greek Bailout 2because we also have this headline from City AM.

And this one from the UK-based Times. Which they may want to save for when it’s time for the fourth bailout. Greek Bailout 3And the fifth bailout. And…well, you get the idea.

Makes you wonder why the Germans (and the Dutch, Finns, Swedes, etc) keep subsidizing bad behavior elsewhere. Greek Bailout 4Yet these people apparently don’t care about moral hazard, so we see this headline from the Telegraph.

Last but not least, here’s what the BBC wrote. Greek Bailout 5

Given all these headlines from today, you can see why I felt safe in predicting a couple of days ago for Canadian TV that Europe was still in bad shape. Simply stated, government is far too big and costs far too much.

Yes, there are a few bright spots, such as Switzerland and the Baltic nations, but the fiscal debate in Europe is mostly between those who want higher taxes and those who want higher spending.

With that kind of contest, there are no winners other than politicians.

P.S. The ostensible purpose of the interview was to discuss Europe’s supposed recovery. I explained a few days ago why nobody should be impressed by the anemic growth on the other side of the Atlantic. But I think any changes in short-run economic performance – for better or worse – are far less important than the long-run projections of expanding government and growing dependency in Europe.

P.P.S. Americans shouldn’t feel cocky or superior. Long-run projections from the BIS, OECD, and IMF all show that the United States will be in deep trouble if we don’t engage in genuine entitlement reform.

P.P.P.S. Since I was talking to a Canadian audience, I mentioned that Europe should copy the spending restraint Canada enjoyed in the 1990s. You can click here to learn more about happened north of the border (and why the United States also should copy the same policy).

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I suggested last year that President Obama adopt “my work here is done” as a campaign slogan.

Admittedly, that was merely an excuse to share this rather amusing poster (and you can see the same hands-on-hips pose, by the way, in this clever Michael Ramirez cartoon).

But I want to make a serious point.

For those of us who want the prosperity and liberty made possible by smaller government and free markets, it would be ideal if the President actually did think his work was done. If that was the case, presumably he wouldn’t propose new schemes to expand the size and scope of the public sector.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Indeed, he bragged about providing handouts, subsidies, and bailouts for housing in his recent pivot-to-the-economy speech and he specifically stated “We’re not done yet.”

As I said in this interview on FBN, that phrase could replace “I’m from Washington and I’m here to help you” as the most frightening sentence in the English language.

Obama’s phrase is particularly distressing since he wants more intervention in housing markets – yet it was misguided government intervention that caused the housing bubble and financial crisis in the first place!

Simply stated, you don’t solve the problems caused by the Fed’s easy-money policy with more government. And you don’t solve the problems caused by corrupt Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac subsidies with more government.

The right approach is to get government out of housing altogether. That means getting rid of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It means privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It even means eliminating preferences for housing in the tax code as part of a shift to a simple and fair system like the flat tax.

Once we achieve all these goals, then we can say “we’re done”…and move on to our other objectives, like dealing with the damage caused by government in the health sector, the education sector, the financial markets sector, etc, etc…

P.S. Some people doubtlessly will complain that bad things will happen if the government no longer is involved in housing, but I think we’ll survive just fine without bureaucrats screwing over poor people and mandating “emotional support” animals in college dorms.

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Remember when you got your first paycheck, presumably when you were a teenager? If you’re like most people, you worked a bunch of hours and calculated how much money you expected to receive, only to then be disappointed when the check you received was for a much smaller amount.

That was your rude welcome to the government-created gap between how much a business spends to employ you and how much money you actually receive. You probably looked at your check and tried to figure out why there was such a big difference between “gross pay” and “net pay.” If you’re like me, you had no idea about the workings of the Social Security system, but you were irked that you lost a bunch of your pay to “F.I.C.A.”

The only “good” news is that you probably had no idea that there were a bunch of taxes and costs that your employer incurred to employ you. So you were spared the anguish of knowing that your pay would be even higher than your gross pay if government wasn’t such a heavy burden.

This was one of the issues I raised in a recent appearance on CNBC. The debate supposedly was about whether workers are getting ripped off when they are paid with debit cards, but I think that’s a minor problem compared to the cost of big government.

I made the rather obvious point that there should be full disclosure of any fees and charges for the use of these cards, but I was much more concerned that the debate was overlooking a much bigger problem. The biggest threat to workers is a rapacious government that takes more and more of their paychecks.

I also explained that low-income workers wouldn’t be so vulnerable to fees if they had easier access to banking services. Unfortunately, government regulations such as money-laundering laws make it very expensive for banks to provide accounts – particularly for folks with modest incomes.

In other words, we’re looking at another example of Mitchell’s Law. Governments impose policies that cause problems. And then the politicians say we need even more intervention to deal withe the problems caused by previous interventions.

Which is why this poster is a very accurate description of how Washington really works.

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The budget deficit this year is projected to be significantly smaller than it has been in recent years and some of our statist friends claim that this shows the desirability and effectiveness of higher taxes.

I’m not persuaded, mostly because our big long-run fiscal challenge is a rising burden of government spending. And the fact that federal tax revenue is gradually climbing back to the historical norm of about 18 percent of GDP doesn’t change the fact that we have a looming entitlement crisis – as illustrated by very sobering estimates from the BIS, OECD, and IMF.

I discuss the implications of tax revenue in this interview Charles Payne of Fox News.

There was no opponent to debate, so here are some additional details on issues that were discussed in the interview.

Taxes debt europeHigher taxes lead to higher spending – The evidence from Europe is very compelling about the tendency of politicians to spend more money whenever more revenue is an option. Heck, even the New York Times accidentally admitted that tax hikes encourage bigger budgets rather than less red ink. It’s theoretically possible, of course, for politicians to raise revenue without raising spending, but the starve-the-beast research suggests it’s quite unlikely.

Retroactive tax hikes can raise revenue…in the short run – I think California voters made a big mistake last November when they voted to impose a top state income tax rate of 13.3 percent. And that punitive regime almost surely won’t raise much if any revenue in the long run as high-income people flee the state. But that’s a long-run effect. In the short run, the Prop 30 tax hike will generate revenue – particularly since the tax hike was retroactive. As I said in the interview, there aren’t supply-side effects when higher tax rates are imposed on income that was earned in the past. But it’s just a matter of time until the Laffer Curve bites politicians in the butt.

Nothing else matters if government spending grows faster than the private sector – Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but regular readers know that I hope “Mitchell’s Golden Rule” will be my legacy to fiscal policy. To be more specific, good things happen in the long run if government spending grows by, say, 2 percent each year and the private sector expands faster, perhaps 5 percent annually. Click here to see a video that shows how nations such as Canada and New Zealand made big progress by fulfilling the rule. Unfortunately, the United States has headed in the opposite direction during the Bush-Obama years.

P.S. If the United States had implemented something similar to Switzerland’s successful spending cap, we would be in a far stronger fiscal policy position today.

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In my never-ending crusade to push for the right kind of austerity, I appeared on RT to pontificate on the merits of limited government.

We got to cover a lot of material, so here’s some augmenting material.

1. The right kind of “austerity” is less government spending, which is why I’m very frustrated that the fight in Europe is largely between Keynesians who support more spending and IMF types who advocate higher taxes.

2. I explain why Keynesian economics is misguided, in part because government can’t spend money without taking resources from the productive sector of the economy and in part because politicians never follow through on Keynesian prescriptions for fiscal restraint when the economy is strong..

3. In an example of how to damn with faint praise, I give the International Monetary Fund credit for understanding that 2+2=4, though I also criticize the IMF for shifting from one bad approach (higher taxes) to another bad approach (Keynesian spending).

4. We discuss how many European nations got in trouble and then looked at how various governments responded to the crisis. Not surprisingly, I praise Switzerland for never getting in trouble and I commend the Baltic nations for rectifying their mistakes with genuine spending cuts.

5. I even give the “PIIGS” credit for slowing the growth of spending, albeit only after they had exhausted every possible bad policy option.

6. Not all government spending is created equal and I explain that Europe’s problem is that far too much money is spent on the welfare state.

7. I close with some analysis of the data fight between Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and the Heritage Foundation. As I’ve already explained, the Senator was the one relying on speculative data.

Showing that I have a tiny bit of non-economic knowledge, I even quoted Saint Augustine, though I’m sure he would be horribly offended that I indirectly equated him with politicians.

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It goes without saying that I’m always ready to defend tax havens when statists are seeking to undermine tax competition, financial privacy, and fiscal sovereignty.

So when the BBC asked if I would debate the topic, I said yes even though I’m in Paris (where supporting liberty is probably a capital crime).

I think the debate went well. Or, to be more precise, I was happy that I got to make my points.

I’ve been in debates on tax havens when I’m outnumbered 3-1, so a fair fight almost seems like a treat.

P.S. If you have a burning desire to watch me debate tax havens, you can see me cross swords with a bunch of different statists by clicking here.

P.P.S. Or if you like watching when I’m outnumbered, here’s my debate against three leftists on state-run TV.

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The most recent jobs report from the Labor Department contains both good news and the bad news.

If you’re a glass-half-full person, you’ll want to focus on some positive trends.

I made many of these points in the beginning of this interview for Real News on Blaze TV.

On the other hand, if you’re a glass-half-empty person, you might focus on these grim details.

So who’s right, the optimists or pessimists? At the risk of sounding like a politicians, they’re both right.

If it sounds like I’m trying to have it both ways, that’s simply the reality of public policy. There are both headwinds and tailwinds impacting the labor market, which is why I talked about scales balancing in the interview.

But I will state without ambiguity that small government and free markets are the right formula to improve economic performance. In other words, get rid of the bad policies and adopt more of the good policies. Be more like Hong Kong and less like France.

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When I think of the disability program, I think of the bum who is collecting a check so he can be an “adult baby” and indulge his fetish of wearing diapers. Though I guess that’s not as bad as the situation in Greece, where you can get a disability payment for being a pedophile.

But this is a much bigger and more serious issue. Earlier this morning, I took part in a joint Brooking Institution/American Enterprise Institute/Secretary’s Innovation Group conference on the disability insurance program.

I only had a minor role, posing question to Mark Duggan of the University of Pennsylvania and Stephen Goss of the Social Security Administration, but it was a very useful exercise because I was exposed to some sobering details about the program.

Let’s review a couple of Professor Duggan’s charts, starting with a look at how the disability rate has exploded in the past 22 years.

Disability Slide 2

And here is some very disturbing data showing that much of the increase is in the areas that are most subject to abuse because of subjective judgements about “bad backs” and “depression.”

Disability Slide 1

Hmmm…, I’m a bit depressed about the ever-rising burden of government. Maybe I should get a check from the government!

Joking aside, I briefly touched on this issue in a recent CNBC interview. Here’s the segment dealing with the disability program and the disturbing rise in dependency.

I’m not overly impressed by the counter-argument from Christian Weller. Does he really want us to believe that the service sector jobs of today are more disabling than the manufacturing jobs of 20-plus years ago?

This is a depressing topic, so let’s close with a couple of cartoons, starting with this gem from Chip Bok.

Disability Cartoon 1

It’s amusing, but keep in mind that we have an unusually high joblessness rate right now, but it would be even higher if we counted the people who shifted to this other form of unemployment dependency.

And here’s a Chuck Asay cartoon that I really like because he augments my argument in the interview that it hurts the economy when you lure workers out of the job market and make them wards of the state.

Disability Cartoon 2

Asay takes it one step farther and shows the lifeboat sinking. That’s basically what will happen if we don’t adopt the entitlement reforms that are needed to rein in the welfare state.

P.S. If you want some jokes referencing the disability program, we have the politically correct version of The Little Red Hen, as well as two very similar jokes about Jesus performing miracles and how liberals differ from conservatives and libertarians.

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A reader from overseas wonders about my views on immigration, particularly amnesty.

I confess that this is one of those issues where I’m conflicted.

On the general topic of immigration, I think the United States has benefited in the past – and can benefit in the future – from newcomers. And I express that position in this interview for Fox Business News.

But the real issue, which isn’t addressed in the interview, is magnitude. I assume almost nobody wants zero immigration. On the other hand, I also assume that very few people favor totally open borders.

So where do we draw the line? I think we should welcome lots of immigration, particularly people with skills, education, and money. This is the approach that is used to varying degrees by nations such as Australia, Canada, and Switzerland, and I wrote favorably about a similar proposal by Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado.

And I think substantial numbers of low-skilled people who want to work also should be welcome, but I don’t think everybody in the world who wants to come to America should have that right. I haven’t met more than a tiny handful of folks who disagree with Walter Williams’ assertion that, “not…everyone on the planet had a right to live in the U.S.”

Particularly since politicians have redistribution systems that can lure people into a life of dependency. Which is presumably why Milton Friedman warned, to the dismay of some other libertarians, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”

Even the Wall Street Journal, which is a leading voice for both increased immigration and amnesty for existing illegals, also is concerned that a growing welfare state could attract immigrants for the wrong reasons.

Speaking of amnesty, I suppose I should answer the question of how I would deal with people who are in the country illegally? And my response probably depends whether I answer with my heart or my head.

My heart tells me to give these people the benefit of the doubt. Every illegal I’ve met seems to be a good person. And I know if I lived someplace like Mexico, Somalia, or Honduras, I almost certainly would want to improve my family’s position by getting to America, legally or illegally.

On the other hand, I believe in the rule of law and I’m a bit uncomfortable rewarding those who jumped the line at the expense of those who followed the rules.

And to be perfectly honest, I also worry about the political implications of any policy that increases the number of people who – on net – will vote for redistribution. I could do without the partisan implications, but this Chuck Asay cartoon captures my concerns.

Immigration Cartoon

I also think that people respond to incentives. Another round of amnesty almost surely will encourage further illegal immigration. Putting myself in the position of a poor person in the developing world, I would logically conclude that it would just be a matter of time, so I would sneak across the border in order to take advantage of that future amnesty.

That doesn’t strike me as a good approach. Far better to figure out how to genuinely reform the system.

By the way, a senior staffer on Capitol Hill floated to me the idea of a new status that enables illegals to stay in the country, but bars them from citizenship unless they get in line and follow the rules. I’m definitely not familiar with the fault lines on these issues, but perhaps that could be a good compromise.

And it goes without saying that I want the strictest possible limits on access to welfare programs and other government handouts for immigrants, regardless of their status.

So, like everybody else, I want border security and some form of legalization as part of a new system that brings people to America for the right reason. See, I’m the epitome of reasonableness.

P.S. If you want to enjoy some immigration-related humor, we have a video about Americans migrating to Peru and a story about American leftists escaping to Canada.

P.P.S. On the issue of birthright citizenship, I’ve shared some interesting analysis from Will Wilkinson and George Will.

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One of the great things about federalism, above and beyond the fact that it both constrains the power of governments and is faithful to the Constitution, is that is turns every state into an experiment.

We can learn what works best (though the President seems incapable of learning the right lesson).

We know, for instance, that people are leaving high-tax states and migrating to low-tax states.

We also know that low-tax states grow faster and create more jobs.

I particularly enjoy comparisons between Texas and California. Michael Barone, for instance, documented how the Lone Star State is kicking the you-know-what out of the Golden State in terms of overall economic performance.

I also shared a specific example of high-quality jobs moving from San Francisco to Houston. And I was also greatly amused by this story (and accompanying cartoons) about Texas “poaching” jobs from California.

In this discussion with Stuart Varney of Fox News, we discuss how Texas is leading the nation in job creation.

But there’s another part of this discussion that is very much worth highlighting.

As illustrated by the chart, we are enduring the worst overall job performance in any business cycle since the end of World War II.

I note in the interview that Obama inherited a bad economy and that Bush got us in the ditch in the first place with all his wasteful spending and misguided intervention.

But Obama also deserves criticism for doubling down on those failed policies.

His so-called stimulus was a flop. Dodd-Frank is a regulatory nightmare. Obamacare is looking worse and worse every day.

No wonder job creation is so anemic.

The real moral of the story, though, is that the poor are the biggest victims of Obama’s statism. They’re the ones who have been most likely to lose jobs. They’ve been the ones to suffer because of stagnant incomes.

Sort of brings to mind the old joke that leftists must really like poor people because they create more of them whenever they’re in charge.

P.S. Speaking of jokes, here’s an amusing comparison of Texas and California. If you want some California-specific humor, this Chuck Asay cartoon is great. And to maintain balance, here’s a Texas-specific joke on how to respond to an attacker.

P.P.S. To close on a serious point, California would be deteriorating even faster if it wasn’t for the fact that the state and local tax deduction basically means that the rest of the country is subsidizing the high tax rates in the not-so-Golden State. Another good argument for the flat tax.

P.P.P.S. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a great Kevin Williamson column dismantling some sloppy anti-Texas analysis by Paul Krugman.

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Should the federal government make life more difficult for low-skilled workers?

I hope everyone will emphatically say “NO!”

Heck, most people understandably will think you’re crazy for even asking such a preposterous question.

Minimum Wage Cartoon 2But some of those people will also think that it’s a good idea for politicians in Washington to make low-skilled workers less attractive to employers by raising the minimum wage.

I often ask such people whether they are more likely to buy a Big Mac if McDonald’s raises the price by 24 percent. They say they are less likely.

I then ask them if they are more likely to buy a car if GM increases the price of a Buick by 24 percent. They say less likely, of course.

But they seem to have a blind spot when I ask them whether employers will be more likely or less likely to hire low-skilled workers when the government increases the cost of those workers by 24 percent.

I explain further in this interview for Yahoo! Finance.

The interviewer, by the way, seems to be economically illiterate.

He apparently believes that we can reduce inequality by pricing poor people out of the job market. He also blames companies for sitting on piles of cash, presumably unaware that firms only will invest if there are profitable opportunities.

Minimum Wage CartoonAt one point, I delicately state that one of his questions “betrays a certain lack of historical knowledge,” which is a polite way of saying “you’re either lying or you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ultimately, I try to help him understand by comparing fast-growing economies such Hong Kong and Singapore, which have relatively low burdens of government, with slow-growth economies such as France and Italy, where politicians ostensibly seek to “help” people with various forms of intervention.

I’m not sure I made any progress, so feel free to suggest other ways of convincing skeptics that freedom is better than statism.

Anyway, for those who want more information, this video explains the underlying economics of the minimum wage. We also have plenty of evidence (see here and here) that unemployment rose following the most recent hike in the minimum wage.

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Triggered by an appearance on Canadian TV, I asked yesterday why we should believe anti-sequester Keynesians. They want us to think that a very modest reduction in the growth of government spending will hurt the economy, yet Canada enjoyed rapid growth in the mid-1990s during a period of substantial budget restraint.

I make a similar point in this debate with Robert Reich, noting that  the burden of government spending was reduced as a share of economic output during the relatively prosperous Reagan years and Clinton years.

Being a magnanimous person, I even told Robert he should take credit for the Clinton years since he was in the cabinet as Labor Secretary. Amazingly, he didn’t take me up on my offer.

Anyhow, these two charts show the stark contrast between the fiscal policy of Reagan and Clinton compared to Bush..

Reagan-Clinton-Bush Domestic Spending

And there’s lots of additional information comparing the fiscal performance of various presidents here, here, and here.

For more information on Reagan and Clinton, this video has the details.

Which brings us back to the original issue.

The Keynesians fear that a modest reduction in the growth of government (under the sequester, the federal government will grow $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion) will somehow hurt the economy.

But government spending grew much slower under Reagan and Clinton than it has during the Bush-Obama years, yet I don’t think anybody would claim the economy in recent years has been more robust than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

And if somebody does make that claim, just show them this remarkable chart (if they want to laugh, this Michael Ramirez cartoon makes the same point).

So perhaps the only logical conclusion to reach is that government is too big and that Keynesian economics is wrong.

I don’t think I’ll ever convince Robert Reich, but hopefully the rest of the world can be persuaded by real-world evidence.

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In this appearance on Canadian TV, I  debunk anti-sequester hysteria, pointing out that “automatic budget cuts” merely restrain government so that it grows $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion.

I also point out that we shouldn’t worry about government employees getting a slight haircut since federal bureaucrats are overcompensated. Moreover, I warn that some agencies may deliberately try to inconvenience people in an attempt to extort more tax revenue.

But I think the most important point in the interview was the discussion of what happened in Canada in the 1990s.

This example is important because the Obama White House is making the Keynesian argument that a smaller burden of government spending somehow will translate into less growth and fewer jobs.

Nobody should believe them, of course, since they used this same discredited theory to justify the so-called stimulus and all their predictions were wildly wrong.

But the failed 2009 stimulus showed the bad things that happen when government spending rises. Maybe the big spenders want us to think the relationship doesn’t hold when government gets put on a diet?

Well, here’s some data from the International Monetary Fund showing that the Canadian economy enjoyed very strong growth when policymakers imposed a near-freeze on government outlays between 1992 and 1997.

Canada - Less Spending = More Growth

For more information on this remarkable period of fiscal restraint, as well as evidence of what happened in other nations that curtailed government spending, here’s a video with lots of additional information.

By the way, we also have a more recent example of successful budget reductions. Estonia and the other Baltic nations ignored Keynesian snake-oil when the financial crisis hit and instead imposed genuine spending cuts.

The result? Growth has recovered and these nations are doing much better than the European countries that decided that big tax hikes and/or Keynesian spending binges were the right approach.

Paul Krugman, not surprisingly, got this wrong.

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I’m normally not a fan of the media, but every so often you find examples of real journalism. Here are some powerful, well-done stories from local TV stations.

  1. Exposing the plethora of benefits available to those who want government-subsidized idleness.
  2. Exposing how eminent domain laws are used to screw poor people out of their property.
  3. Exposing local government officials engaged in a witch hunt against an innocent man.

Newspapers also sometimes speak truth to power.

  1. A Michigan newspaper exposing how motorists were getting ripped off by illegal speed limits.
  2. A Pennsylvania newspaper exposing how a local bureaucrat  union tried to stop a boy scout from improving a local park.
  3. A New York newspaper exposing the education establishment for giving teachers $100,000-plus salaries for doing nothing.

Now I can add another story to the list. A local TV station in Washington, DC (with a viewing audience of countless overpaid bureaucrats) had the courage to run a story debunking sequester hysteria.

I’m partial to this report for the obvious reason that it featured me.

But even if this story didn’t use any of my soundbites, it would still be worth sharing because it’s not often that you see a reporter explain Washington’s dishonest way of measuring “spending cuts.”

I’ve complained about that sleazy tactic while appearing with John Stossel and Judge Napolitano, but I didn’t think a regular journalist would ever expose the scam.

The latter part of the report focuses on the potential impact of sequestration on the defense budget.

I’ve previously explained that the defense budget is disproportionately impacted, but I’ve also cited Cato’s military experts when arguing that our national security will not be endangered.

Indeed, military spending will be higher at the end of the 10-year period than it is today.

Now I want to share this amazing info-graphic prepared by Zach Graves, another Cato colleague.

Zach Defense

A thorough and compelling collection of data. It belongs in the visual-impact Hall of Fame with these gems.

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I recently wrote about the pinheads at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who are threatening legal action against companies that are leery about hiring people with criminal records.

Now some states and cities are making it illegal to discriminate against those that have been unemployed for a long period of time.

Unlike special legal status for ex-cons, this sounds reasonable. After all, we all would like to help the long-term unemployed break free of the chains of government dependency.

But sometimes good intentions generate undesirable effects. I explain in this Fox Business News debate that companies will do their best to avoid even interviewing the long-term unemployed if they have to worry about potential legal pitfalls whenever they make a hiring decision.

I also explain that businesses have no incentive to engage in unjustified discrimination. After all, that would imply a willingness to deliberately sacrifice profit in pursuit of some irrational bias.

But as Walter Williams has succinctly argued, some forms of discrimination make sense.

And if there are two applicants who otherwise seem to have equal qualifications for a certain job, but one has been out of work for more than 12 months, it’s only logical that the employer will think that a lengthy stint of sitting on a couch does not suggest great habits.

Which is why Obama’s policy of never-ending unemployment benefits is so misguided. People get lured into long-term unemployment and there is both anecdotal evidence (check out these stories from Michigan and Ohio) and empirical evidence (here, here, and here) showing this unfortunate impact.

Heck, even Paul Krugman and Larry Summers have admitted that you get more unemployment when you subsidize joblessness.

Ramirez Unemployment CartoonSo you won’t be surprised to know that I’ve dispensed some tough love on this topic as well.

P.S. This cartoon does a very effective job of showing the consequences of paying people not to work.

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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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