Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

As part of an otherwise very good tax reform plan, House Republicans have proposed to modify the corporate income tax so that it becomes a “destination-based cash-flow tax.”

For those not familiar with wonky inside-the-beltway tax terminology, there are three main things to understand about this proposal.

  • First, the tax rate on business would drop from 35 percent to 20 percent. This is unambiguously positive.
  • Second, it would replace depreciation with expensing, which is a very desirable change that would eliminate a very counter-productive tax on new investment outlays. This is basically what makes the plan a “cash-flow” tax.
  • Third, any income generated by exports would be exempt from tax but the 20-percent tax would be imposed on all imports. These “border-adjustable” provisions are what makes the plan a “destination-based” tax.

I’m a big fan of the first two provisions, but I’m very hostile to the third item.

I don’t like it because I worry it sets the stage for a value-added tax. I don’t like it because it is designed to undermine tax competition. I don’t like it because it has a protectionist stench and presumably violates America’s trade commitments. I don’t like it because that part of the plan only exists because politicians aren’t willing to engage in more spending restraint. And I don’t like it because politicians should try to reinvent the wheel when we already know the right way to do tax reform.

Heck, I feel like the Dr. Seuss character who lists all the ways he would not like green eggs and ham. Except I can state with complete certainty I wouldn’t change my mind if I was suddenly forced to take a bite of this new tax.

Today, I’m going to augment my economic arguments by noting that the plan also is turning into a political liability. Here are some excerpts from a news report in the Wall Street Journal about opposition in the business community.

A linchpin of the House Republicans’ tax plan, an approach called “border adjustment,” has split Republicans and fractured the business world into competing coalitions before a bill has even been drafted. …There is also global uncertainty: Other countries may retaliate, either by border-adjusting their corporate taxes or by challenging the U.S. plan at the World Trade Organization as too tilted toward American producers.

And The Hill reports that grassroots organizations also are up in arms.

Americans for Prosperity is stepping up its efforts to advocate against a proposal from House Republicans to tax imports and exempt exports, as lawmakers are increasingly raising concerns about the proposal. …AFP has hundreds of volunteers and staff who are making phone calls about the proposal. The group has about 100 meetings set up with Congress members and their staff for next week, while Congress is in recess.

Meanwhile, the Economist reports that the plan is causing uncertainty around the world.

To offset a border-adjusted tax of 20%—the rate favoured by House Republicans—the greenback would need to rise fully 25%, enough to destabilise emerging markets burdened with dollar-denominated debts. If the dollar stayed put and wages and prices rose 25% instead, the Federal Reserve would have to decide how to respond to an unprecedented surge in inflation. Why tolerate such disruption?

Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal has a devastating take on the issue.

Like a European value-added tax, its cost would be deeply hidden in the price of goods, thus easily jacked up over time. Also, compared with the current tax structure, businesses would see less incentive to move abroad in search of lower taxes, eroding a useful pressure on politicians to be fiscally sane. And because the tax would alter the terms of trade, it would be expected to lead to a sharp increase in the dollar. U.S. holders of foreign assets would suffer large paper losses. Since many foreigners borrow in dollars too, a global debt crisis might follow. The tax might also violate World Trade Organization rules, inviting other countries to impose punitive taxes on U.S. exports.

Last but not least, John Tamny outlines some of the political downsides at Real Clear Markets.

…the House of Representatives…is aggressively promoting a…tax on imports. …When we get up and go to work each day, our work is what we exchange for what we don’t have, including voluminous goods and services produced for us around the world.  …Party members are proudly seeking a tax on our work. …Only the “stupid” Party could come up with something so injurious to every American, to the American economy, and to its growth-focused brand.  But that’s where we are at the moment.  The Party that attained majorities with its tax cutting reputation is aggressively seeking to shed its growth brand through the introduction of tax hikes meant to give politicians even more of what we the people produce.  If so, the majority Party can kiss its majority goodbye.  It will have earned its minority status.

For what it’s worth, I think John overstates the case against the plan. The additional revenue from border-adjustable tax provision would be used to cut taxes elsewhere. Heck, the plan is actually a significant net tax cut.

But John is right when you look at the issue through a political lens. If the DBCFT actually began to move through the legislative process, opponents would start running commercials about the “GOP scheme to impose new consumption tax on Americans.” Journalists (most of whom dislike Republicans) would have a field day publicizing reports about the “GOP plan to raise average family tax bill by hundreds of dollars.”

Such charges would be ignoring the other side of the equation, of course, but that’s how politics works.

All of which brings me back to one of my original points. We already know that the flat tax is the gold standard of tax reform. And we already know the various ways of moving the tax code in that direction.

My advice is that Republicans abandon the border-adjustable provision and focus on lowering tax rates, reducing double taxation, and cutting back on loopholes. Such ideas are economically sounder and politically safer.

Read Full Post »

President Obama gave his farewell speech last night, orating for more than 50 minutes. As noted by the Washington Examiner, his remarks were “longer than the good-bye speeches of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined.”

But this wasn’t because he had a lengthy list of accomplishments.

Unless, of course, you count the bad things that happened. And there are three things on my list, if you want to know Obama’s legacy for domestic policy.

And those three things, combined with his other policies, produced dismal results.

In other words, Obama’s legacy will be failed statism.

Writing for the Orange County Register, Joel Kotkin is not impressed by Obama’s overall record.

Like a child star who reached his peak at age 15, Barack Obama could never fulfill the inflated expectations that accompanied his election. …The greatest accomplishment of the Obama presidency turned out to be his election as the first African American president. This should always be seen as a great step forward. Yet, the Obama presidency failed to accomplish the great things promised by his election: racial healing, a stronger economy, greater global influence and, perhaps most critically, the fundamental progressive “transformation” of American politics. …Eight years after his election, more Americans now consider race relations to be getting worse, and we are more ethnically divided than in any time in recent history. …if there was indeed a recovery, it was a modest one, marked by falling productivity and low levels of labor participation. We continue to see the decline of the middle class.

And Seth Lipsky writes in the New York Post that Obama’s economic legacy leaves a lot to be desired.

Obama’s is the only modern presidency that failed to show a single year of growth above 3 percent… Plus, the Obama economy failed to prosper even though the Federal Reserve had its pedal to the metal. Its quantitative easing, $2 trillion balance-sheet expansion and zero-interest-rate policy all produced zilch. …The recent declines in the unemployment rate are due less to the uptick in employed persons than to an increasing number of persons leaving the labor force.

All these accusation are very relevant, and I would add another charge to the indictment. Median household income has been stagnant during the Obama years. And the data for Obamanomics is especially grim when you compare recent years to what happened under Reagan.

By the way, the bad news isn’t limited to economic policy.

Here’s what Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner wrote about Obama’s cavalier treatment of the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights is a barricade protecting Americans from their government. Part of President Obama’s legacy will be that he inflicted damage on that barricade, eroding freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, the right to bear arms and the right to due process. Through his political arguments, executive actions and political leadership, Obama has taken some of the holes punched by previous presidents and made them broader or more permanent. This means that after Obama leaves office, people will be more easily silenced, killed or disarmed by their own government.

Tim extensively documents all these transgressions in his article. The entire thing is worth reading.

To be sure, there are people who defend Obama’s legacy.

From the left, Dylan Matthews wants readers of Vox to believe that Obama has been a memorable President. And he means that in a positive sense.

Barack Obama is one of the most consequential presidents in American history — and that he will be a particularly towering figure in the history of American progressivism. He got surprisingly tough reforms to Wall Street passed as well, not to mention a stimulus package that both blunted the recession and transformed education and energy policy.

A “towering figure”? That might be an accurate description of Woodrow Wilson, the despicable person who gave us both the income tax and the federal reserve. Or Franklin Roosevelt, who doubled the size of the federal government and wanted radical collectivism. Or Lyndon Johnson, the big spender who gave us Medicare and Medicaid.

All of those presidents changed America in very substantial (and very bad) ways.

Obama, by contrast, wanted to “fundamentally transform” America but instead turned out to be an incremental statist. Sort of like Bush.

And I can’t help but laugh at the assertion that Obama got “tough reforms to Wall Street” Dodd-Frank was supported by Goldman-Sachs and the other big players!

Let’s get back to the Matthews’ article. His strongest praise is reserved for Obamacare.

He signed into law a comprehensive national health insurance bill, a goal that had eluded progressive presidents for a century. …it established, for the first time in history, that it was the responsibility of the United States government to provide health insurance to nearly all Americans, and it expanded Medicaid and offered hundreds of billions of dollars in insurance subsidies to fulfill that responsibility.

I’ll agree that this is Obama’s biggest left-wing accomplishment. I’ve even noted that it may be a long-term victory for the left even though Republicans now control the House and Senate in large part because of that law (and it may not even be that if GOPers get their act together and actually repeal the law).

But I hardly think it was a game-changing reform, even if it isn’t repealed. Government was already deeply enmeshed in the healthcare sector before Obama took office. Obamacare simply moved the needle a bit further in the wrong direction.

Again, that was a victory for the left, just as Bush’s Medicare expansion was a victory for the left. But it didn’t “fundamentally transform” anything.

And here’s his conclusion.

You can generally divide American presidents into two camps: the mildly good or bad but ultimately forgettable (Clinton, Carter, Taft, Harrison), and the hugely consequential for good or ill (FDR, Lincoln, Nixon, Andrew Johnson). Whether you love or hate his record, there’s no question Obama’s domestic and foreign achievements place him firmly in the latter camp.

I strongly suspect that Obama will wind up in the former camp. He was bad, but largely forgettable. At least if the metric is policy.

Let’s close with a couple of observation on the political side.

I’m amused, for instance, that Obama’s bitter that he couldn’t rally the nation behind has anti-gun ideology.

President Obama said his biggest policy disappointment as president was not passing gun control laws, according to an interview CNN aired… Obama was unable to convince Congress to pass legislation that would change those policies, including enhancing background checks and not selling firearms at gun shows and other venues.

And I’m also amused that he believes the American people would have reelected him if he was on the ballot.

Arguing that Americans still subscribe to his vision of progressive change, President Barack Obama asserted in an interview recently he could have succeeded in this year’s election if he was eligible to run.

To be sure, he may be right. He definitely has better political skills than Hillary Clinton, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge that he was better at campaigning rather than governing.

But his victories in 2008 and 2012 were against very weak Republican candidates. And it’s interesting that a hypothetical poll showed him and Trump in a statistical dead heat. Given Trump’s low approval rating, that doesn’t exactly translate into a vote of confidence for Obama.

More important, I shared some hypothetical polling data back in 2013 which showed that Reagan would have defeated Obama in a landslide.

Once again, that’s hardly a sign of Obama being a memorable or transformative President.

And I imagine Reagan would have an even bigger lead if there was a new version of the poll.

For what it’s worth, I think the most insightful analysis of Obama’s legacy comes from Philip Klein. He notes that Obama wanted Americans to believe in big government. But he failed. Miserably.

President Obama entered office in 2009 with the twin goals of expanding the role that government plays in the lives of individuals and businesses and proving to Americans that the government could be trusted to achieve big things. He was only half successful. …the gulf between his promises and the reality of what was implemented dramatically hardened public skepticism about government. …As the Obama epoch wanes, trust in government has reached historic lows. A Pew poll last fall found that just 19 percent of Americans said they could trust the government to do the right thing most of the time — a lower percentage than during Watergate, Vietnam or the Iraq War. …Obama saw himself as the liberal answer to Reagan who could succeed where Clinton failed, putting an optimistic face on government expansion, passing historic legislation and getting Americans believing in government again. …Obama’s failure to repair the image of the federal government as a bungling institution — think of the DMV, just on a much bigger scale — will create enormous challenges for any Democratic successors trying to sell the public on the next wave of ambitious government programs.

This is spot on. I joked several years ago that the Libertarian Party should have named Obama “Man of the Year.”

But given how his bad policies have made people even more hostile to big government, he might deserve “Man of the Century.”

Read Full Post »

Wow.

I don’t know what else to say.

Almost all the experts said Trump couldn’t win the GOP nomination. Then the expert consensus was that Trump had virtually no chance of winning the White House.

Now, for better or worse, he’s going to be America’s next President.

What about my 2016 prediction? Well, other than my guess that Michigan might go for Trump (outcome still not confirmed), I don’t look very prescient. At the very least, I missed Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.

For what it’s worth, I did better with Congress. Depending on the outcome of the Senate contest in New Hampshire, my prediction for a 51-49 GOP majority may be spot on (though I generally wasn’t right about the seats that would change hands). But who cares about my prediction. It’s downright remarkable that Republicans held on to the Senate, something that seemed improbable considering that the GOP was defending more than twice as many seats as Democrats.. Moreover, the leading Tea Party-type Senators from the 2010 election – Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and Pat Toomey – were all reelected.

And we may not know the final number for a few days, but my guess that there would be 239 House Republicans also will be very close. Again, the accuracy of my prediction is trivial compared to the fact that the GOP will have lost fewer than 10 seats when they were defending their largest majority in almost 90 years. A stunning outcome.

So what does the election mean? The political answer is that Barack Obama has been a disaster for Democrats. I joked back in 2010 that Libertarians should name him as “Man of the Year” for restoring interest in the ideas of limited Government. Republicans should turn that joke into reality since Obama turned a dominant Democrat Party (majority of senators, representatives, governors, and state legislators) into a hollow shell.

The policy answer is a bit more difficult. I’ve fretted many times that Trump doesn’t believe in economic liberty. Some folks say that doesn’t matter since House and Senate Republicans can drive the agenda. But, as indicated by this slide that I shared in several recent European speeches, I don’t think that’s realistic.

A Republican Congress almost certainly isn’t going to push policies unless they get some sort of positive signal from the White House (remember how the Bush years led to lots of statism, notwithstanding a supposedly conservative House and Senate).

The real mystery is predicting the signal Trump will send. Here’s what I hope for – and what I’m afraid of – in the next four years.

My fantasy outcome – Given his disappointing rhetoric, it’s highly unlikely that Trump will embrace comprehensive entitlement reform. It’s especially doubtful that he will touch the programs (Social Security and Medicare) that provide benefits to seniors. But it’s plausible to think he might be open to reforming the “means-tested” programs. Even if he simply decided to support the block-granting of Medicaid, that would be a big achievement. And repealing Obamacare would be great as well. He did propose a rather attractive tax plan as part of his campaign, though I didn’t get too excited since a large tax cut seemed unrealistic in the absence of a concomitant plan to limit the growth of spending. But if Trump can get one or two of the big provisions approved, most notably a lower corporate rate and death tax repeal, that would be a very positive step in the right direction. And if he actually gets serious about the “Penny Plan,” that would give him a lot more leeway for big tax cuts. Needless to say, I also hope  his protectionist campaign rhetoric doesn’t translate into actual proposals for higher taxes on trade.

My feared outcome – In his acceptance speech, Trump focused on two policies. More infrastructure spending and helping veterans. This is not a good sign. Regarding infrastructure, my nightmare scenario is that he pushes a giant stimulus-type scheme that would increase the federal government’s role in transportation. On the issue of veterans. I’m not aware of any specific plans, but my fear is that he will simply throw more money at the failed VA system. Let’s also not forget he has endorsed a higher capital gains tax on “carried interest.” And if he does decide to push protectionist legislation, that could wreak a lot of havoc. In the long run, I’m also worried that Trump will commit a “sin of omission” by leaving entitlements untouched. And if we wait another four – or eight – years to address the problem, the slow-motion train wreck may turn into an about-to-happen train wreck. Last but not least, what if Trump gets to the White House and feels that all his big plans for tax cuts and new spending aren’t feasible because the numbers don’t add up? Will he then decide that he needs a big revenue plug like a value-added tax? Sounds crazy, right, but don’t forget that Rand Paul and Ted Cruz were seduced into adding VATs to their plans, so why wouldn’t Trump be susceptible to the same mistake? A horrifying, but not implausible, scenario.

Now perhaps you understand why, in yesterday’s column, I focused on the potential silver lining of a Hillary victory. It’s because I don’t like to dwell on the potential downside of a Trump victory.

Let’s close with a quick review of the major ballot initiatives I highlighted last month.

  • The Good – The biggest slam-dunk of the night was the overwhelming 80-20 rejection of single-payer health care in Colorado. Voters in the state also rejected a tax hike on tobacco. A pro-gun control initiative in Maine is narrowly failing. In other news, a sales tax increase was defeated in Oklahoma, as was the gross receipts tax in Oregon and the carbon tax in Washington. Also, lots of state legalized pot (although voting to tax it as well).
  • The bad – Voters appear to have approved class-warfare tax hikes in Maine and California. Maine voters also hiked the minimum wage, as did voters in Colorado, and California voters approved higher cigarette taxes. Soda taxes were approved in a handful of locations.
  • The ugly – The defeat of charter school expansion in Massachusetts is a crippling blow to the hopes of poor families for a better education.

As you can see, a mixed bag. Some good results, but also some bad choices.

But this is why I like federalism. States can innovate and experiment, constrained by the fact that really crazy policies will eventually lead to California-style decline. And I’d rather have a couple of states in a death spiral rather than the entire nation.

Read Full Post »

The bad news is that America is about to elect a statist president. But will we get Hillary’s corruption or Donald’s buffoonery?

According to RealClearPolitics, Hillary Clinton will prevail, albeit by a very narrow margin, with 272 electoral votes. They have a very close race because Trump is projected to prevail in the swing states of Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada. If you believe these numbers, Trump simply has to flip semi-competitive New Hampshire (home to thousands of free-state libertarians) and he is the next President. At which point this joke about emigration to Canada becomes reality.

According to Nate Silver, a highly regarded statistics expert, Hillary Clinton wins comfortably because she carries the swing states of Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada. That should give her 323 electoral votes, but Silver’s model is based on probabilities, so she instead is projected to get 302.4 electoral votes. For what it’s worth, Gary Johnson easily breaks the record for the Libertarian Party, but he falls just short of the 5-percent mark.

According the political betting markets, Hillary Clinton will prevail with 323 electoral votes. The people waging cash believe she will come out on top in Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina, matching Nate Silver’s projection (interestingly, Trump is seen as having a better chance in Michigan than in Nevada). All of the third-party candidates, including Gary Johnson, apparently have a 0.1 percent chance of winning.

Last but not least, we have Professor Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. He picks Hillary and says she will get 322 electoral votes. Sabato has the same state-by-state breakdown as Silver and the betting markets, but he projects that Trump will win one electoral vote from Maine, which (like Nebraska) allocates two votes to the statewide winner and then one vote to the winner of each congressional district. In the for-what-it’s-worth department, there are twice as many (90) vulnerable electoral votes that Democrats have to worry about compared to Republicans (43).

So what’s my prediction?

If I wanted to torture the American people by prolonging the race, I would take the RealClearPolitics prediction, shift New Hampshire to Trump and shift Maine’s second congressional district to Hillary. The net result would be a 269-269 tie and the result would be total turmoil since the election would then be decided based on skullduggery in the electoral college or a state-by-state vote in the House of Representatives.

But I don’t expect that to happen, even though it would be highly entertaining (it would make Bush-vs.-Gore in 2000 seem like a bipartisan picnic).

I’m tempted to simply recycle the prediction I put forth one month ago. I showed Hillary winning with 328 electoral votes (basically similar to the consensus above, but with Iowa going for Hillary).

But it does indeed look like Trump will prevail in Iowa, so my final prediction will move the Hawkeye State back in the GOP column.

But I don’t want to have the same guess as almost everyone else (we libertarians have a tendency to be obstreperous), so let’s mix things up. The easy adjustment would be to give one or two of the “leaning Democrat” states to Trump. But my gut instinct tells me that growing Hispanic populations in Nevada and Florida make that unlikely. And North Carolina has too many college-educated whites, as well as an increased Hispanic presence, neither of which is good news for Trump.

So I’m going to defy all the experts and give Trump an extra state from the rust belt. Let’s say Michigan, which means my final electoral prediction is a 306-232 victory for Tweedledee. Or is she Tweedledum? Whatever.

Some of my Republican friends will be disappointed by this outcome, so time to make some predictions that will make them happy. The House stays Republican in my humble opinion, with a final total of 239 seats (my one success in the business of political prognostication occurred six years ago when I was exactly right in my House prediction).

The Senate outcome is even more important and GOPers will be very happen if I am correct in predicting that Republicans will hold the Senate 51-49, which would be a remarkable achievement since they are defending more than twice as many seats as Democrats this cycle. Nonetheless, that still means they will lose three seats, and my guess is that Wisconsin, Illinois, and Pennsylvania is where Republicans incumbents will fall short.

By the way, this outcome is not too bad for libertarians and other advocates of limited government. Consider these implications.

  • Hillary will enter office widely disliked and distrusted, and the media will pay much closer attention to her misdeeds once she defeats Trump.
  • She’ll have very little opportunity to expand the burden of government since the House (and maybe the Senate) will be controlled by Republicans.
  • The 2018 mid-term elections are usually bad news for the party that controls the White House and Democrats have to defend a disproportionate number of Senate seats that cycle.
  • The GOP might nominate someone in 2020 who believes in smaller government and that candidate may sweep into office with a Republican House and a Republican Senate.
  • In 2021, genuine entitlement reform and sweeping tax reform could get enacted and Dan Mitchell could then safely retire to the Cayman Islands and introduce softball to that population.

Nice scenario, huh?

Then again, I basically made the same argument four years ago, and that didn’t turn out so well.

So if you’re done laughing at my optimistic take, here’s some meant-to-be-funny material to carry you through the day.

We’ll start with Anthony Weiner learning why it’s not a good idea to get on Hillary’s bad side (by the way, I have run into people who actually think that the Clintons have had people murdered and I always give them this column in hopes of calming them down).

And since Donald Trump is on the bad side of lots of Hispanic voters (presumably enough to give the election to Hillary), this quip by Seth Meyers is particularly (and appropriately) savage. Indeed, if Trump loses by a narrow margin and if he is capable of introspection, one wonders whether he will regret some of his rhetoric.

Last but not least, if you liked the “Mitt Romney Style” video from 2012, we can balance it with a video about Hillary, showing how the White House will operate under when pay-to-play become the modus operandi at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

P.S. Don’t forget that there are several important ballot initiatives today.

Addendum: Can’t resist adding this cleverly doctored photo of Chelsea reading a bedtime story.

Though, to her credit, Chelsea isn’t associated with any bad policy ideas. The same can’t be said for Ivanka Trump.

Read Full Post »

In just 10 days, voters will go to the polls and deal with the rather distasteful choice of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

In some states, they also will have an opportunity to vote for or against various ballot initiatives and referendums.

Here are the five proposals that would do the most damage in my humble opinion.

ColoradoCare (Amendment #69) – Apparently learning nothing from what happened in Vermont, advocates of big government in Colorado have a proposal to impose a 10 percent payroll tax to finance statewide government-run healthcare. The Tax Foundation points out that, if this scheme is approved, Colorado’s score in the State Business Tax Climate index “would plummet from 16th overall to 34th,” while the Wall Street Journal opines that “California would look like the Cayman Islands by tax comparison” if Colorado voters say yes.

Oregon Gross Receipts Tax (Measure #97) – Back in 2010, presumably guided by the notion that it’s okay to steal via majoritarianism, Oregon voters approved a class-warfare tax hike on upper-income taxpayers. Now they’re about to vote on a scheme to pillage the state’s businesses with a gross receipts tax, which is sort of like a value-added tax but with no credit for taxes paid earlier in the production process, which means the burden “pyramids” as goods and services are created. The Tax Foundation warns that this levy could lead to “a 25 percent increase in the Oregon state budget” and that “Oregon’s corporate tax climate would be the worst in the nation.”

Maine Income Tax Hike (Question #2) – Voters are being asked whether to boost the state’s top income tax rate to 10.15, which would be the second-highest in the nation. According to the Tax Foundation, the Pine Tree State “would drop to 45th overall” in the State Business Tax Climate Index (down from #30) if this class-warfare scheme is enacted. The National Taxpayers Union warns that the ” tax would make the state a less competitive place in which to do business.”

Oklahoma Sales Tax Increase (Question #779) – Sales taxes don’t do as much damage, per dollar raised, as income taxes, but it’s still a foolish idea to impose a big tax hike in order to finance bigger government. And that’s what will happen if voters in the state agree to boost the state sales tax by one-percentage point. The Tax Foundation notes that “Question 779 would give the Sooner State the second highest combined state and local sales tax rate in the nation, after only Louisiana.

California Tax-Hike Extension (Proposition #55) – One of worst ballot initiatives in 2012 was California’s Proposition 30, which imposed a big, class-warfare tax hike on upper-income residents and gave the Golden State the nation’s highest income tax rate. One of the arguments in favor of Prop 30 was that the tax increase was only temporary, lasting until the end of 2018. Well, as Milton Friedman famously observed, there’s nothing so permanent as a temporary government program. And that apparently applies to “temporary” taxes as well.  Proposition #55 would extend the tax until 2030.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of ballot initiatives that would move policy in the right direction. Here’s the one that probably matters most.

Massachusetts Charter Schools (Question #2) – Much to the dismay of teacher unions (and presumably the hacks at the NAACP as well), this initiative would expand charter schools. It’s remarkable that even the very left-leaning Boston Globe is embracing Question 2, opining that “the proposal would create new opportunities for the 32,000 students, predominantly black and Latino, who are now languishing on waiting lists hoping for a spot at a charter school” and that “Students in all Massachusetts charter schools gain the equivalent of 36 more days of learning per year in reading and 65 more days of learning in math.”

A related measure is Amendment #1 in Georgia.

Now let’s shift to a ballot initiative that is noteworthy, though I confess I don’t have a very strong opinion about the ideal outcome.

Washington Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax (Initiative #732) – The bad news is that a carbon tax would be imposed. This means, according to the Tax Foundation, that the “average household would pay $225 more per year for gasoline under the proposal, and $64 more for electricity.” The good news is that the sales tax would drop by one cent and the state’s gross receipts tax would almost disappear. So is this a good deal? Part of me says no because it’s never a good idea to give politicians a new source of tax revenue. But the fact that the measure is opposed by many hard-left green groups suggests that the idea probably has some merit.

For what it’s worth, I would vote against I-732 because of concerns that it eventually will lead to a net increase in the burden of government.

Last but not least, I’ll also be following the results on initiatives dealing with marijuana and tobacco.

States Voting for Marijuana Legalization (and Taxation) – Voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada will have an opportunity to fully or partly legalize marijuana. These initiatives also include buzz-kill provisions to levy hefty taxes on producers and consumers.

States Voting for Tobacco Tax Increases – Politicians in California, Colorado, Missouri, and North Dakota all hope that voters will approve tax hikes that target smokers (and, in some cases, vapers). In every case, the tax hikes will fund bigger government.

P.S. I can’t resist adding that I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that other voters in Fairfax County will join me in rejecting a scheme to add a 4 percent tax on restaurant meals. Not just because it’s a tax hike to fund bigger government, but also because the hacks in the county government are using dishonest and reprehensible arguments to push the tax.

P.P.S. I will be updating my prediction for the presidential election, and also making predictions for the House and Senate, the morning of November 8.

Read Full Post »

I’m a policy wonk rather than a political partisan or political prognosticator, so I generally don’t comment on elections. But since I’ve received several emails asking my opinion of the Trump debacle and this is the topic dominating the headlines, I will offer my two cents on the mess.

My first observation is that there are nearly 325 million people in the United States, so it’s rather amazing that neither Republicans nor Democrats could find candidates more appealing than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It’s almost as if Democrats had a secret meeting and decided, “Hey, let’s deliberately lose this election by nominating a corrupt, statist hack.” Which led Republicans to convene their own secret meeting, where they decided, “Two can play at this game. Let’s nominate an empty-suit populist who is famous for being a reality TV huckster.”

And if that is what happened, both the polls and the betting markets indicate that the GOP is more competent at losing (since they are adept at throwing away simple-to-win policy fights, it stands to reason that they’d also be good at fumbling away sure-thing political victories).

But have they thrown away victory in the presidential race? Let’s look at the analysis of Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator who has now become famous as a quasi-pundit because he predicted Trump would get the GOP nomination when the rest of us thought it would never happen.

Here are his 14-points, each followed by my assessment.

1. If this were anyone else, the election would be over. But keep in mind that Trump doesn’t need to outrun the bear. He only needs to outrun his camping buddy. There is still plenty of time for him to dismantle Clinton. If you think things are interesting now, just wait. There is lots more entertainment coming.

Yes, it’s probably true that Hillary could still lose. And, yes, things will probably get more interesting. But my guess, for what it’s worth, is that the additional “entertainment” that we’ll experience will not be favorable to Trump. Don’t be surprised if women come forward to say that Trump coerced them into sex, into abortions, into whatever.

2. This was not a Trump leak. No one would invite this sort of problem into a marriage.

I wasn’t aware that anybody was even speculating that Trump or his people would leak a tape with him bragging about grabbing women’s privates.

3. I assume that publication of this recording was okayed by the Clinton campaign. And if not, the public will assume so anyway. That opens the door for Trump to attack in a proportionate way. No more mister-nice-guy. Gloves are off. Nothing is out of bounds. It is fair to assume that Bill and Hillary are about to experience the worst weeks of their lives.

Trump was being a nice guy up to this point?!? More important, what can he dump on Hillary at this stage that will change minds? People already recognize that she’s corrupt and dishonest. But her sleaze is boring and conventional, and voters probably prefer that to an unconventional and erratic Trump.

4. If nothing new happens between now and election day, Clinton wins. The odds of nothing new happening in that timeframe is exactly zero.

I’m tempted to repeat my response to point #1, but let’s hypothesize about what can happen that might derail Hillary. We now have the alleged transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street and the only revelation of any note is that she’s for free trade (as many of us suspected). But since voters already know she lies, I don’t think this matters. Some folks speculate that the Russians or some other foreign power (or a random hacker) will release top secret emails that she illegally transmitted on her insecure private server. But I suspect most voters already know and accept that she put America’s national security at risk. Or what if we learn that she altered government policy in response to bribe money going to the Clinton Foundation? Again, most voters probably already accept this as a given. Maybe I don’t have a sufficiently vivid imagination, but I just can’t think of a (pro-Trump, anti-Hillary) game changer between now and election day.

5. I assume that 75% of male heads of state, including our own past presidents, are total dogs in their private lives. Like it or not, Trump is normal in that world.

I suspect there’s some truth to this. But those various heads of state didn’t brag about their conquests and advertise their infidelities. To be sure, Trump fans do have a point that he is being held to a tougher standard than Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, both of whom allegedly engaged in sexual assaults on women. But Trump isn’t running against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy.

6. As fictional mob boss Tony Soprano once said in an argument with his wife, “You knew what you were getting when you married me!” Likewise, Trump’s third wife, Melania, knew what she was getting. It would be naive to assume Trump violated their understanding.

No argument with this. But I also don’t think this point has any political relevance.

7. Another rich, famous, tall, handsome married guy once told me that he can literally make-out and get handsy with any woman he wants, whether she is married or not, and she will be happy about it. I doubted his ridiculous claims until I witnessed it three separate times. So don’t assume the women were unwilling. (Has anyone come forward to complain about Trump?)

Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that some women are turned on by money and power and that they are amenable to advances by someone like Trump. My response is “so what?” What will matter, for purposes of handicapping the election, is whether any women come forward to say that they didn’t welcome the advances. And it won’t even matter if they’re telling the truth.

8. If the LGBTQ community wants to be a bit more inclusive, I don’t see why “polyamorous alpha male serial kisser” can’t be on the list. If you want to label Trump’s sexual behavior “abnormal” you’re on shaky ground.

This seems very weak. The issue isn’t whether Trump is “abnormal.” I don’t think anyone will be shocked if we learn he’s cheated on all of his wives, including the current one. But if it come out that he actually has grabbed an unwilling woman by the you-know-what, that’s something that could impact voting behavior.

9. Most men don’t talk like Trump. Most women don’t either. But based on my experience, I’m guessing a solid 20% of both genders say and do shockingly offensive things in private. Keep in mind that Billy Bush wasn’t shocked by it.

I know plenty of guys (and even a few gals) who talk like Trump. And since I have a juvenile sense of humor (I used to enjoy hearing Trump as a guest on the Howard Stern show), I confess that I’m amused by what’s now being called “locker-room banter.” But I’ll repeat what I just said. People probably won’t change their votes based on Trump’s rhetoric, but some of them will change their votes if they learn his actions matched his bluster.

10. Most male Hollywood actors support Clinton. Those acting skills will come in handy because starting today they have to play the roles of people who do not talk and act exactly like Trump in private.

Probably true, but does any of that matter for the election? No.

11. I’m adding context to the discussion, not condoning it. Trump is on his own to explain his behavior.

Fair enough.

12. Clinton supporters hated Trump before this latest outrage. Trump supporters already assumed he was like this. Independents probably assumed it too. Before you make assumptions about how this changes the election, see if anyone you know changes their vote because of it. All I have seen so far is people laughing about it.

Perhaps true, but Republican strategists are probably terrified that there will be revelations that Trump crossed the line from mere rhetoric to actual misbehavior.

12. I hereby change my endorsement from Trump to Gary Johnson, just to get out of the blast zone. Others will be “parking” their vote with Johnson the same way. The “shy Trump supporter” demographic just tripled.

Republicans (at least the ones who want Trump to win) are praying and hoping that the “Bradley Effect” is real and that there are lots and lots of voters who will secretly vote for Trump even though they’re telling pollsters otherwise. I’m guessing that there are lots of these people. But probably not “lots and lots,” which is probably what Trump would need to prevail.

13. My prediction of a 98% chance of Trump winning stays the same. Clinton just took the fight to Trump’s home field. None of this was a case of clever strategy or persuasion on Trump’s part. But if the new battleground is spousal fidelity, you have to like Trump’s chances.

Even if the new battleground was spousal fidelity, that doesn’t help Trump since he’s running against Hillary rather than Bill. But I think Adams is wrong. The new battleground is potential abuse of power.

To be sure, Hillary has plenty of vulnerabilities in this regard, most notably with the pay-to-play antics at the Clinton Foundation. But the media doesn’t want to cover that example of corruption and I doubt Trump has the discipline to make her sleaze an issue.

By the way, since Trump is at 20 percent in the betting markets, Mr, Adams has a chance to become very rich. I wonder if he’s putting his money where his mouth is.

However, before dismissing his prediction, it’s worth remembering that he was right about Trump getting the GOP nomination when everyone else (including me) didn’t think is would ever happen.

14. Trump wasn’t running for Pope. He never claimed moral authority. His proposition has been that he’s an asshole (essentially), but we need an asshole to fight ISIS, ignore lobbyists, and beat up Congress. Does it change anything to have confirmation that he is exactly what you thought he was?

A very good point. I bet a big part of Trump’s appeal is that people think he would kick butt in Washington (for what it’s worth, he might disrupt Washington, but I very much doubt that he would shrink Washington).

But let’s stick with the political side of things. I repeat what I’ve already written about the difference between saying coarse things and engaging in actual coarse (and unwelcome) behavior. That is Trump’s bigger vulnerability.

Adams concludes by arguing that “reason is not part of decision-making when it comes to politics” and that none of what’s discussed above will impact voters.

I’m dubious about this claim. Besides, what matters for elections is whether some voters are affected, not whether all of them care about a particular issue. And on that basis, I suspect Trump is heading for defeat. And since we’re a month from the election, here’s my prediction of a comfortable victory for Hillary.

The good news is that Trump’s presumed loss is not a defeat for limited government. In part because he doesn’t believe in small government, but also because Democrats may rue the day Hillary prevailed because of what that implies for the 2018 midterm election and whether that sets the stage for total GOP control in 2020.

Though keep in mind that I’ve made the same argument in the past. Here’s what I wrote back in 2012.

…keeping Obama for an additional four years would be the best way of laying the groundwork for a Reagan-style victory in 2016 with a presumably small-government advocate like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or Paul Ryan at the top of the ticket. …my first political decision was to favor Carter over Ford in 1976 in hopes of paving the way for Reagan in 1980.

So maybe the real issue is whether Republicans would be crazy enough to nominate another Trump in 2020 or whether they might actually find another Reagan-style limited-government conservative.

And if this hypothetical poll is any indication, that would be the route to electoral success.

Read Full Post »

I’m not a fan of the International Monetary Fund. The bureaucracy was created in 1944 to manage and coordinate the system of fixed exchange rates created as part of the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement. But once fixed exchange rates disappeared, the over-funded bureaucracy cleverly adopted a new rationale for its existence and its main role now is to bail out insolvent nations (what that really means, of course, is that it exists to bail out big banks that foolishly lend money to profligate third-world governments).

As part of this new mission, the IMF acts like the Pied Piper of tax hikes. The bureaucrats parachute into nations, refinance and restructure the debt of those countries, and insist on a bunch of tax increases in hopes that more revenue will then be available to service the new debt.

Needless to say, this is not exactly a recipe for growth and prosperity. The private sector in these countries gets hammered with tax increases, the big banks in rich nations get indirect bailouts, and the real problem of bloated government generally is left to fester and metastasize.

This is why I’ve referred to the IMF as the Dr. Kevorkian of the global economy. But the bureaucracy is bad for other reasons. It also has decided that it should grade all nations on their economic policies and it routinely uses that self-assigned authority to recommend big tax hikes all over the world. Including lots of tax increases in the United States.

The IMF even tries to interfere with American elections. Just recently, the chief bureaucrat of the organization launched a not-too-subtle attack on Donald Trump.

Though in this case, which involved trade barriers, the IMF actually is on the right side (the bureaucracy generally has a pro-tax bias, but the one big exception is that it favors lower taxes on global trade).

Anyhow, the IMF’s Managing Director warned that additional protectionist taxes on global trade threaten the global economy. And even though she didn’t specifically mention the Republican nominee, you can see from the various headlines I’m sharing that reporters put 2 + 2 together and realized that Ms Lagarde was criticizing Trump.

And he deserves condemnation. The post-World War II shift to lower trade taxes has been a big victory for economic freedom (indeed, tariff reductions have helped offset the damage caused by increasingly bad fiscal policy over the past several decades).

Nonetheless, there is something quite unseemly about an international bureaucracy taking sides in an American election (who do they think they are, the IRS?). Especially since American taxpayers underwrite the biggest share of the IMF’s activities.

Let’s look specifically at an analysis of the IMF’s actions from the UK-based Guardian.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has launched a thinly veiled attack on the anti-free-trade sentiments expressed by US presidential candidate Donald Trump… Lagarde made it clear she strongly opposed the Republican candidate’s policies, which include higher US tariffs and a barrier along the border with Mexico. …“There is a growing risk of politicians seeking office by promising to ‘get tough’ with foreign trade partners through punitive tariffs or other restrictions on trade…” She added that throughout history there had been arguments about trade. “But history clearly tells us that closing borders or increasing protectionism is not the way to go…”

By the way, while I agree with her comments on trade, her comments about a “barrier along the border with Mexico” reek of hypocrisy.

Christine Lagarde criticises his policies including plans for…a US-Mexico border wall.

Those who have visited the IMF’s lavish headquarters can confirm that there is a very heavily guarded barrier separating the IMF from the hoi polloi and peasantry of Washington.

Call me crazy, but a bureaucracy with lots of security to prevent unauthorized people from entering its building is in no position to lecture a nation for wanting security to prevent unauthorized people from crossing its borders. And I say this as someone who generally favors immigration.

But let’s set that issue aside. There’s actually a very serious sin of omission in the IMF’s analysis that needs to be addressed.

The international bureaucracy (correctly) opposes trade taxes and wants to build on the progress of recent decades by further reducing government-imposed barriers to cross-border economic activity. As noted above, this is the right position and I applaud the IMF’s defense of lower tariffs and expanded trade.

That being said, the level of protectionism has fallen significantly in the post-World War II era. In other words, trade taxes already are reasonably low. Yes, it would be better if they were even lower (ideally zero, like in Hong Kong).

My problem (or, to be more accurate, one of my problems) with the IMF is that the bureaucracy acts as if the world economy is hanging in the balance if there’s some sort of increase in the currently low tax burden on trade.

Yet what about the tax burden on behaviors that actually generate the income people use to purchase goods from other nations? Top tax rates on personal income average more than 40 percent in the developed world, dwarfing the average tariffs of trade.

And the burden on income that is saved and invested is even higher because of double taxation, which is especially destructive since all economic theories – including Marxism and socialism – agree that capital formation is a key to long-run growth and higher living standards (i.e., the ability to buy more goods, including those produced in other nations).

So here’s the question that must be asked: If it is bad to have very modest taxes on the share of people’s income that is used to buy goods produced in other nations, then why isn’t it even worse to have very onerous taxes on the productive behaviors that generate that income?

In other words, if the IMF is correct (and it is) to criticize Trump for threatening to increase the modest tax rates that are imposed on global trade, then why doesn’t the IMF criticize Hillary Clinton for threatening to increase the rather harsh tax rates that are imposed on working, saving, and investment?

Maybe Madame Lagarde’s army of flunkies and servants (one of the many perks she gets, in addition to a munificent tax-free salary) can explain that sauce for a goose is also sauce for a gander.

By the way, I can’t resist addressing one final aspect to this story. The Guardian‘s report notes that Lagarde wants to offset the supposedly harmful impact of trade by further increasing the size and scope of government.

…the solution was for governments to provide direct financial support for those with low skills through higher minimum wages, more generous welfare states, investment in education and a crackdown on tax evasion.

Wow, that’s a lot of economic illiteracy packed into one sentence fragment.

Now you understand why I refer to the IMF as the dumpster fire of global economics.

P.S. While the IMF likes to push bad policy for the United States, the bureaucracy’s proposals for China are akin to a declaration of economic warfare.

P.P.S. The IMF’s flip-flop on infrastructure spending reveals a lot about the bureaucracy’s inner workings.

P.P.P.S. While the IMF often produces sloppy and dishonest research, every so often the professional economists on the staff slip something  useful past the political types. Though my all-time-favorite bit of IMF research was the study that inadvertently showed why a value-added tax is so dangerous.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: