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I gave Trump 50-day grades and 100-day grades, but those were largely speculative assessments.

Now we have a full year of data and that real-world evidence can be used to grade Trump’s first year in office.

But before I get into the details, allow me to start with a broad observation. William F. Buckley famously said that he would rather be governed by 2000 random people from the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. Well, one can argue that he posthumously got his wish. The 2016 election was a choice between:

  • Hillary Clinton, a very well-credentialed leftist who would have staffed her administration with other well-credentialed leftists (the Harvard faculty in spirit), who nonetheless was defeated by;
  • Donald Trump, a novice politician who has random-guy-from-the-phone-book opinions (as I described him to a TV audience in New Zealand, he’s “your Uncle who spouts off at Christmas dinner”).

It’s not my role to say whether the American people made the right choice, but I am willing to analyze the economic consequences.

So let’s look at the five major policy areas that determine a nation’s level of economic liberty and see whether Trump is moving America in the right direction or wrong direction.

  • Fiscal Policy – It’s not easy to give Trump a grade because he’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the budget. On the tax side of the ledger, he pushed for and ultimately signed a better-than-expected tax bill featuring an impressive reduction in the corporate tax rate and some much-needed limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes. On the spending side of the ledger, however, the first year of Trump has been a disappointment. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, he actually approved more than $250 billion (over eight years) of additional outlays. And we haven’t gotten any entitlement reform (though Trump supported the Obamacare repeal legislation on Capitol Hill, which included some reasonably good spending provisions). Trump Grade: B
  • Trade – Trump has moved policy in the wrong direction, though the first year was not as bad as feared. In other words, he’s been doing a lot of saber-rattling, but fortunately not drawing too much blood. That being said, he is threatening to pull the United States out of NAFTA, which would be a very big mistakeTrump Grade: D
  • Regulation – This is Trump’s best issue area. He’s rolled back some Obama-era regulations, and he’s made some very sensible appointments, which means there’s hope of ameliorating the statist orientation of bureaucracies such as the FDA and the FCCTrump Grade: A-
  • Monetary Policy – Trump hasn’t said much about monetary policy, so we can only grade him on the basis of the people he has appointed to the Federal Reserve. But even that doesn’t allow us much room for analysis since his picks have been very conventional. One hopes a Trump-influenced Fed will support a gradual end to artificially low interest rates, but that’s unclear at this stage. Trump Grade: C
  • Rule of Law – Trump has been aggressive with executive orders, which worries me even if I happen to agree with the underlying policy. The White House hasn’t tried to flout court decisions, however, so that’s a good sign. The appointment and confirmation of Justice Gorsuch also bodes well (assuming he doesn’t “grow in office” like Justice Roberts). Trump Grade: B-

Overall, I think economic policy has moved slightly in the right direction, and I’ll be curious to see whether my back-of-the-envelope grading is confirmed by Economic Freedom of the World.

Here’s some of what I wrote for the latest issues of Cayman Financial Review.

…his first year in office has been a net plus for the U.S. economy. The regulatory state has been curtailed and a semi-significant tax reform has been enacted. …Equally important, Trump has not destabilized global trade. His protectionist rhetoric has not (yet) translated into major anti-trade initiatives. Nor has he implemented any populist policies on immigration or the budget. In other words, we have dodged a bullet. …That is the good news. The bad news (or, to be fair, unsettling news) is that Trump still has at least three more years in office. …The fact that Trump’s first year has been characterized by a “normal” set of Republican policies is besides the point. Almost everyone assumes he is capable of doing something out of the ordinary.

I’ll close by making a second broad observation. The fact that economic liberty increased during Trump’s first year in office does not mean that his presidency will be a net plus. It’s possible that his personal unpopularity will trigger a backlash that makes it easier over time to impose statist policies (just as I suggested that a Hillary victory might have produced desirable long-run consequences).

Check with me in 2021 for a final assessment on whether picking a president from the Boston phone book (metaphorically speaking) was a good idea.

P.S. For what it’s worth, here’s a speech I gave back in Trump’s first month in office. I think my predictions were on target (mostly because I paid attention to what Trump was saying, not because of any special insight).

P.P.S. Whether you’re a left-leaning opponent of Trump or a right-leaning opponent of Trump, remember there’s always the silver lining of mockery.

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There are several challenges when trying to analyze the impact of policy on economic performance.

One problem is isolating the impact of a specific policy. I like Switzerland’s spending cap, for instance, but to what extent is that policy responsible for the country’s admirable economic performance? Yes, I think the spending cap helps, but Switzerland also many other good policies such as a modest tax burden, private retirement accounts, open trade, and federalism.

Another problem is the honest and accurate use of data. You can make any nation look good or bad simply by choosing either growth years or recession years for analysis. This is known as “cherry-picking” data and I try to avoid this methodological sin by looking at multi-year periods (or, even better, multi-decade periods) when analyzing various policies.

But not everyone is careful.

Jason Furman, who was Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during Obama’s second term, has a column in today’s Wall Street Journal. What immediately struck me is how he cherry-picked data to bolster his claim that the government shouldn’t reduce its claim on taxpayers. Here’s his core argument.

…the 1981 and 2001 model of tax cuts makes no sense in today’s fiscal environment. Tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product is lower today than it was when Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush cut taxes.

And here the chart he shared, which apparently is supposed to be persuasive.

But here’s the problem. If you look at OMB data for the entire post-World War II era, tax revenues have averaged 17.2 percent of GDP. If you look at CBO data, which starts in 1967, tax revenues, on average, have consumed 17.4 percent of GDP.

So Furman’s implication that tax receipts today are abnormally low is completely wrong.

Moreover, he shows the projection for 2017 tax receipts, which is appropriate, but he neglects to mention that the Congressional Budget Office’s forecast for the next 10 years shows revenues averaging 18.1 percent of GDP (or the 30-year forecast that shows revenues becoming an even bigger burden).

In other words, a substantial tax cut is needed to keep the tax burden from climbing well above the long-run average.

Furman’s slippery use of data is disappointing, but it’s also inexplicable. He could have offered some effective and honest arguments against tax cuts, most notably that reducing revenues is problematical since Trump and Republicans seem unwilling to restrain the growth of government spending.

Let’s close by looking at a few other interesting passages from his column.

I found this sentence to be rather amusing since he’s basically admitting that Obamanomics was a failure.

Growth has been too low for too long and raising it should be a top priority.

He then asserts that tax cuts never pay for themselves. I would have agreed if he wrote “almost never,” or if he wrote that the new GOP package won’t pay for itself. But his doctrinaire statement is belied by data from the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom.

…no serious analyst has ever claimed that tax cuts generate enough growth to pay for themselves.

By the way, Furman openly admits the Laffer Curve is real. And if the Joint Committee on Taxation shows revenue feedback of 20 percent-30 percent when scoring the Republican plan, that will represent huge progress.

Estimates by a wide range of economists and the nonpartisan scorekeepers at the Joint Committee on Taxation have found that the additional growth associated with well-designed tax reform may offset 20% to 30% of the gross cost of tax cuts—not counting dynamic feedback.

Last but not least, he comes out of the tax-increase closet by embracing the truly awful Simpson-Bowles budget plan.

The economy needs a fiscal plan that combines an increase in revenues with entitlement reforms that protect the poor a la Simpson-Bowles.

As I’ve explained before, Simpson-Bowles is best characterized as lots of new revenue on the tax side and plenty of gimmicky provisions on the spending side (rather than genuine reform).

P.S. Even though Republicans are not serious about controlling spending and even though I don’t think the GOP tax cut will come anywhere close to “paying for itself,” the tax cuts are still a good idea. Both to generate growth and also because reduced tax receipts hopefully will translate into pressure to control spending at some point.

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Every time I’ve gone overseas in the past six months, I’ve been peppered with questions about Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter whether my speech was about tax reform, entitlements, fiscal crisis, or tax competition, most people wanted to know what I think about The Donald.

My general reaction has been to disavow any expertise (as illustrated by my wildly inaccurate election prediction). But, when pressed, I speculate that Hillary Clinton wasn’t a very attractive candidate and that Trump managed to tap into disdain for Washington (i.e., drain the swamp) and angst about the economy’s sub-par performance.

What I find galling, though, is when I get follow-up questions – and this happens a lot, especially in Europe – asking how it is possible that the United States could somehow go from electing a wonderful visionary like Obama to electing a dangerous clown like Trump.

Since I’m not a big Trump fan, I don’t particularly care how they characterize the current president, but I’m mystified about the ongoing Obama worship in other nations. Even among folks who otherwise are sympathetic to free markets.

I’ve generally responded by explaining that Obama was a statist who wound up decimating the Democratic Party.

And my favorite factoid has been the 2013 poll showing that Reagan would have trounced Obama in a hypothetical matchup.

I especially like sharing that data since many foreigners think Reagan wasn’t a successful President. So when I share that polling data, it also gives me an opportunity to set the record straight about the success of Reaganomics.

I’m motivated to write about this topic because I’m currently in Europe and earlier today I wound up having one of these conversations in the Frankfurt Airport with a German who noticed my accent and asked me about “crazy American politics.”

I had no problem admitting that the political situation in the U.S. is somewhat surreal, so that was a bonding moment. But as the conversation progressed and I started to give my standard explanation about Obama being a dismal president and I shared the 2013 poll, my German friend didn’t believe me.

So I felt motivated to quickly go online and find some additional data to augment my argument. And I was very happy to find a Quinnipiac poll from 2014. Here are some of the highlights, as reported by USA Today.

…33% named Obama the worst president since World War II, and 28% put Bush at the bottom of post-war presidents. “Over the span of 69 years of American history and 12 presidencies, President Barack Obama finds himself with President George W. Bush at the bottom of the popularity barrel,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. …Ronald Reagan topped the poll as the best president since World War II, with 35%. He is followed by presidents Bill Clinton (18%) and John F. Kennedy (15%).

Yes, Ronald Reagan easily was considered the best President in the post-World War II era.

Here’s the relevant chart from the story. Kudos to the American people from giving the Gipper high scores.

And what about the bottom of the list?

Here’s the chart showing Obama edging out George W. Bush for last place.

By the way, I suspect these numbers will look much different in 50 years. I’m guessing many Republicans picked Obama simply because he was the most recent Democrat president and a lot of Democrats picked W because he was the most recent Republican President.

With the passage of time, I think Nixon and Carter deservedly will get some of those votes (and I think LBJ deserves more votes as the worst president, for what it’s worth).

The bottom line, though, is that I now have a second poll to share with foreigners.

P.S. If there’s ever a poll that isn’t limited to the post-World War II era, I would urge votes not only for Reagan, but also for Calvin Coolidge and Grover Cleveland.

P.P.S. People are surprised when I explain that Bill Clinton deserves to be in second place for post-WWII presidents.

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The last time there was a presidential election in France, I like to think my endorsement made a difference in the outcome.

Now that another election is about to take place, with a first round this Sunday and a runoff election between the top-2 candidates two week later, it’s time to once again pontificate about the political situation in France. But before looking at the major candidates, let’s consider a couple of pieces of economic data to get a sense of the enormous challenges that will have to be overcome to boost France’s anemic economy.

We’ll start with this measure of implicit pension debt (IPD) in various European nations. France, not surprisingly, has made commitments to spend money that greatly exceed the private sector’s capacity to generate tax revenue.

By the way, the accompany article notes that the numbers for France are even worse than suggested by the chart.

Most tax and accounting codes require companies to report such implicit debts on the liability side of the ledger as obligations. Not so with governments, whose accounting practices would under normal circumstances be considered as falsifying public accounts. …According to a recent study, six European countries – Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and Poland – have an IPD exceeding 300 percent of gross domestic product. …And the kicker? The data cited above are based on the present value of future pensions as of 2006. More up-to-date figures probably won’t be available until the end of 2017. …The issue is no longer when France goes bankrupt, but when Europe does. The level of debt declared in the national accounts is already worrying. With implicit pension liabilities a multiple of that, it appears that a systemic implosion is unavoidable.

Here’s another sobering visual. France is doing a very good job of scaring off the geese that lay the golden eggs. It is losing more millionaires than any other country.

The combined message of these two visuals is that the already-enormous burden of spending in France will get worse, yet the country is chasing away the people who finance the lion’s share of the government’s budget.

And lots of young entrepreneurs also are escaping, which further exacerbates the nation’s long-run troubles.

Now that we’ve looked at where France is heading, let’s contemplate whether the politicians running for President will make the situation better or worse.

We’ll start with this helpful table summarizing the views of the major candidates (though the hard-left vote apparently has consolidated behind Mélenchon, so Hamon can be ignored).

What’s not captured in this table, however, is that the presidential race pits two outsiders (Mélenchon and Le Pen) against two establishment candidates (Macron and Fillon).

And this is leading to some interesting analysis. The establishment point of view is captured by Sebastian Mallaby’s column in the Washington Post. He is very opposed to Fillon, Le Pen, and Mélenchon, and also rather concerned that his preferred candidate – Emmanuel Macron – won’t make it to the runoff.

In the first round of its presidential election, to be held on Sunday, some three-quarters of the French electorate are expected to back candidates who stand variously for corruption, a 100 percent top tax rate, Islamophobia, Russophilia, Holocaust denial, the undermining of NATO and the traumatic breakup of Europe’s political and monetary union. France was once the cradle of the Western Enlightenment. Now it threatens to become a spectacle of decadent collapse.

I disagree with some of Mallaby’s analysis, but enjoyed his depiction of Mélenchon, who bizarrely thinks Venezuela is a role model.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Communist-allied candidate who styles himself after Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and promises a “citizens’ revolution.” No prizes for guessing that he’s the one who proposes a 100 percent top tax rate… Oblivious to the fact that France has taxed and regulated its way to a 25 percent youth unemployment rate and a government-debt trajectory that threatens Armageddon, he wants further cuts to the French workweek, an additional 10,000 civil servants and a shift in the retirement age from 62 to 60.

To put it in simple terms, Mélenchon is appealing to voters who think Hollande didn’t go far enough.

CNN reports that Mélenchon is even more fixated on class warfare than Bernie Sanders.

Instead of a 90 percent top tax rate, he wants to steal every penny from the supposedly evil rich.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has been endorsed by the French Communist Party, says he would introduce a 100% tax on income above €400,000 ($425,000). …France already has some of the world’s highest rates of income tax, and previous attempts to push them even higher have failed. …Around 10,000 millionaires left the country in 2015, followed by 12,000 last year, according to New World Wealth.

Though maybe he’s the French version of Obama, who also got support from communists.

And, like Obama, he thinks he should get to decide when someone has earned enough money.

“I believe that there is a limit to the accumulation [of wealth],” Mélenchon said in March. “If there are any who want to go abroad, well, goodbye!”

Though at least he has the courage of his convictions. He doesn’t mind if upper-income taxpayers leave. Though I wonder if he’s given any thought to who will then pay the bills?

Anyhow, the 100 percent tax is just one of many crazy ideas.

He also wants to limit pay for CEOs to 20 times the salary of their worst-paid employee. …Here’s a quick look at Mélenchon’s other economic policy proposals: Cut France’s working week to four days…More vacation days for workers…Raise minimum wage by 16%…Increase the tax on inherited wealth…100% renewable energy by 2050…No new free trade agreements…Nationalize French energy company EDF and gas provider Engie.

Now let’s shift to other candidates. I’m irked that Macron generally is portrayed as a centrist and even more irked that Le Pen is portrayed as being on the right.

Prince Michael of Liechtenstein is a very astute observer of European political and economic affairs and his analysis is more accurate. We’ll start with what he wrote about Le Pen’s support for statism.

Ms. Le Pen’s…socialist economic program will continue the ongoing destruction of the French economy, its competitiveness and public finances. …Such a scenario would, however, only accelerate a disaster that was already looming. The present government’s socialist policies, which have shied away from reform and preserved France’s oversized public sector, will eventually bear the same results.

To augment that analysis, Le Pen is considered on the right simply because of her anti-immigrant policy. But on economic policy, she is very much on the left.

Prince Michael also exposed Macron’s support for a more burdensome government.

Mr. Macron…claims that he will bring France’s budget deficit below the European benchmark of 3 percent. …The candidate’s plan…does not appear plausible in light of his intention to further increase government spending. Mr. Macron’s pronouncements indicate an adherence to the Keynesian economic policy approach at the EU level. According to him, Europe should end austerity and introduce a growth model in which additional spending – on top of the already lavish outlays planned by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker – ought to be implemented. The Macron policies boil down to more state and more EU centralization. At the heart of the scheme is the creation of a European Ministry of Finance and Economy, an all-powerful body to plan and monitor the EU economy. …Macron intends to continue treating the French cancer with aspirin and transmit the disease to Germany and the rest of the EU, while demanding that they pay for France’s subsistence in the meantime.

In other words, Macron wants this cartoon to be official French policy. Yet some people actually think of him as a pro-market reformer. Wow.

Let’s conclude with these wise words from an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, which is very worried that the runoff may feature two pro-big government outsiders.

All four major candidates are polling at around 20%, but Mr. Mélenchon has momentum and the highest personal favorability. A Le Pen-Mélenchon finale would be a political shock to markets and perhaps to the future of the EU and eurozone. …Mr. Hollande’s Socialists have made France the sickest of Europe’s large economies, with growth of merely 1.1% in 2016, a jobless rate above 10% for most of the past five years, and youth unemployment at nearly 25%. His predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy and the Republicans talked a good reform game but never delivered. …the stage is set for candidates who appeal to nativism or a cost-free welfare state. Let’s hope a French majority steps back from the political brink.

By the way, it’s not yet time for me to make an official endorsement, though I’ll share my leanings.

I confess that I’m torn between Fillon and Mélenchon. By French standards, Fillon is apparently very pro-free market. So I should like him. He could be the Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher of France.

But what if he turns out to be another Sarkozy, a big-government fraud?

If I support Mélenchon, by contrast, at least I can say with great confidence that I will be able to continue using France as an example of bad public policy. I realize that’s not an ideal outcome for the French people, but you know what they say about omelets and eggs.

In any event, I’ll wait until the runoff election before selecting a candidate.

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For three decades, I’ve been trying to convince politicians to adopt good policy. I give them theoretical reasons why it’s a good idea to have limited government. I share with them empirical evidence demonstrating the superiority of free markets over statism. And I’m probably annoyingly relentless about disseminating examples of good and bad policy from around the world (my version of “teachable moments”).

But if you want to get a politician to do the right thing, you need more than theory, data, and real-world case studies. You need to convince them – notwithstanding my Second Theorem of Government – that good policy won’t threaten their reelection.

My usual approach is to remind them that Ronald Reagan adopted a bunch of supposedly unpopular policies, yet he got reelected in a landslide because reducing the burden of government allowed the private sector to grow much faster. George H.W. Bush, by contrast, became a one-term blunder because his tax increase and other statist policies undermined the economy’s performance.

I’m hoping this argument will resonate with some of my friends who are now working in the White House. And I don’t rely on vague hints. In this clip from a recent interview, I bluntly point out that good policy is good politics because a faster-growing economy presumably will have a big impact on the 2020 election.

Here’s another clip from that same interview, where I point out that the GOP’s repeal-and-replace legislation was good news in that it got rid of a lot of the misguided taxes and spending that were part of Obamacare.

But the Republican plan did not try to fix the government-imposed third-party-payer distortions that cause health care to be so expensive and inefficient. And I pointed out at the end of this clip that Republicans would have been held responsible as the system got even more costly and bureaucratic.

Now let’s shift to fiscal policy.

Here’s a clip from an interview about Trump’s budget. I’m happy about some of the specific reductions (see here, here, and here), but I grouse that there’s no attempt to fix entitlements and I’m also unhappy that the reductions in domestic discretionary spending are used to benefit the Pentagon rather than taxpayers.

The latter half of the above interview is about the corruption that defines the Washington swamp. Yes, it’s possible that Trump could use the “bully pulpit” to push Congress in the right direction, but I wish I had more time to emphasize that shrinking the overall size of government is the only way to really “drain the swamp.”

And since we’re talking about good policy and good politics, here’s a clip from another interview.

Back when the stock market was climbing, I suggested it was a rather risky move for Trump to say higher stock values were a referendum on the benefits of his policies. After all, what goes up can go down.

The hosts acknowledge that the stock market may decline in the short run, but they seem optimistic in the long run based on what happened during the Reagan years.

But this brings me back to my original point. Yes, Reagan’s policies led to a strong stock market. His policies also produced rising levels of median household income. Moreover, the economy boomed and millions of jobs were created. These were among the reasons he was reelected in a landslide.

But these good things weren’t random. They happened because Reagan made big positive changes in policy. He tamed inflation. He slashed tax rates. He substantially reduced the burden of domestic spending. He curtailed red tape.

In other words, there was a direct connection between good policy, good economy, and good political results. Indeed, let’s enshrine this relationship in a “Fourth Theorem of Government.”

For what it’s worth, Reagan also demonstrated leadership, enacting all those pro-growth reforms over the vociferous opposition of various interest groups.

Will Trump’s reform be that bold and that brave? His proposed 15-percent corporate tax rate deserves praise, and he seems serious about restraining the regulatory state, but he will need to do a lot more if he wants to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Not only will he need more good policies, but he’ll also need to ditch some of the bad policies (childcare subsidies, infrastructure pork, carried-interest capital gains tax hike, etc) that would increase the burden of government.

The jury is still out, but I’m a bit pessimistic on the final verdict.

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A couple of years ago, filled with disgust at the sleazy corruption of the federal Leviathan, I put forth a simple explanation for what happens in Washington, DC.

I call it the “First Theorem of Government,” and I think it accurately reflects the real purpose and operation of government. Except I probably should have added lobbyists and contractors. And it goes without saying (though I probably should have said it anyhow) that politicians are the main beneficiaries of this odious racket.

I think this theorem has stood the test of time. It works just as well when Republicans are in charge as it does when Democrats are in charge.

But it doesn’t describe everything.

For instance, Republicans have won landslide elections in recent years by promising that they will repeal Obamacare the moment they’re in charge. Well, now they control both Congress and the White House and their muscular rhetoric has magically transformed into anemic legislation.

This is very disappointing and perhaps I’ll share some of Michael Cannon’s work in future columns about the policy details, but today I want to focus on why GOP toughness has turned into mush.

In part, this is simply a reflection of the fact the rhetoric of politicians is always bolder than their legislation (I didn’t agree with 98 percent of what was said by Mario Cuomo, the former Governor of New York, but he was correct that “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”)

But that’s just a small part of the problem. The real issue is that it’s relatively easy for GOP politicians to battle against proposed handouts and it’s very difficult to battle against existing handouts. That’s because government goodies are like a drug. Recipients quickly get hooked and they will fight much harder to preserve handouts than they will to get them in the first place.

And that’s the basic insight of the “Second Theorem of Government.”

Here’s a recent interview on FBN. The topic is the Republican reluctance to fully repeal Obamacare. I only got two soundbites, and they both occur in the first half of the discussion, but you can see why I was motivated to put forth the new theorem.

Simply stated, I’m disappointed, but I’m more resigned than agitated because this development was so sadly predictable.

And here are a couple of follow-up observations. I guess we’ll call them corollaries to the theorem.

  1. You break it, you buy it – Government intervention had screwed up the system well before Obamacare was enacted, but people now blame the 2010 law (and the Democrats who voted for it) for everything that goes wrong with healthcare. Republicans fear that all the blame will shift to them if their “Repeal and Replace” legislation is adopted.
  2. Follow the money – What’s partly driving GOP timidity is their desire not to anger many of the interest groups – such as state governments, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, etc – who benefit from various Obamacare handouts. That’s what is motivating criticism for politicians such as Ohio’s John Kasich and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.
  3. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – The “Cadillac Tax” is the one part of Obamacare that’s worth preserving because it will slowly cut back on the distorting tax preferences that lead to over-insurance and third-party payer. For what it’s worth, the GOP plan retains that provision, albeit postponed until 2025.
  4. The switch in time that saved…Obamacare – I’m still upset that Chief Justice John Roberts (aka, the reincarnation of the 1930s version of Justice Roberts) put politics above the Constitution by providing the decisive vote in the Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare. If the law had been blocked before the handouts began, we wouldn’t be in the current mess.

For these reasons (as well as other corollaries to my theorem), I’m not brimming with optimism that we’ll get real Obamacare repeal this year. Or even substantive Obamacare reform.

P.S. Now you know what I speculated many years ago that Obamacare would be a long-run victory for the left even though Democrats lost many elections because of it. I sometimes hate when I’m right.

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President Trump gave his first address to a joint session of Congress last night.

The one thing I can say with great confidence, based on applause patterns, is that it didn’t generate the same spirit of bipartisan good will as the Pope’s address back in 2015.

But let’s set aside the Republican-vs-Democrat silliness and focus on public policy.

What was good in Trump’s speech? Overall, there were nine things that seemed positive.

These are the three things that got my blood pumping.

  1. Lower corporate tax rate – Trump didn’t specifically reference the 15-percent rate he mentioned in the campaign, but he aggressively argued for a big drop in America’s punitive corporate tax rate.
  2. Obamacare repeal – The president effectively outlined how Obamacare is a disaster for taxpayers, for consumers, for the economy, and for the healthcare system.
  3. Food and Drug Administration – Trump correctly criticized the bureaucrats at the FDA for stifling medical progress. I think it’s safe to assume that bureaucracy will be better behaved for the next four years. Maybe we’ll even get rid of the milk police.

What was hopeful about Trump’s speech?

Quite a bit, actually. Here are six things that caught my attention where it’s possible that we’ll see progress.

  1. Jobs – President Trump correctly diagnosed the problem of dismal labor force participation. It remains to be seen whether the net effect of his policies is more job creation.
  2. Washington corruption – I like that he focused on trying to clean up Washington, but I don’t think a handful of restrictions that make it hard for Administration officials to become lobbyists will make a difference. You need to shrink government to “drain the swamp.”
  3. Obamacare replacement – While the repeal message was strong, the replace message was fuzzy. It seems Trump wants more of everything, but at lower cost. That’s what a free market can deliver, but I worry that’s not quite what he has in mind. In the back of my mind, I’m worried that I was right five years ago when I predicted that Obamacare would decimate the Democrats politically but nonetheless be a long-fun victory for statism.
  4. Medicaid reform – We didn’t get the necessary specifics, but the President definitely used rhetoric that suggests he is not going to be an obstacle to at least this slice of entitlement reform. I feel good about the soft prediction I made two months ago.
  5. School choice – Trump’s comments on education were very uplifting. At the very least, the White House will use the bully pulpit to promote choices for parents rather than throwing more money into a failed system. It would be great if there was some follow-up, ideally leading to the abolition of the Department of Education.
  6. High-skilled immigration – I was surprised that the President said nice things about skilled immigration. Maybe this is a positive sign for the EB-5 program and other job-creating initiatives that are designed to attract successful investors and entrepreneurs to the United States.

And here’s what was negative about Trump’s remarks.

We’ll start with the five things that left me feeling somewhat pessimistic that we’ll have bigger government when the dust settles.

  1. Transportation infrastructure – The President wants a lot of money spent on infrastructure. Fortunately, he was careful not to say that the federal government will be the sole source of the new spending. But I worry that we’ll get a bigger and more wasteful Department of Transportation at the end of the process.
  2. Border-adjustable taxation – It’s troubling that Trump recycled the myth that foreign nations discriminate against American products when they impose value-added taxes on their citizens. It may be an indication that he will sign on to the misguided “border-adjustable tax” in an otherwise pro-growth House tax plan.
  3. Veterans – Trump said he wants to take care of veterans. That’s a good idea, and the ideal solution is to abolish the Veterans Administration. I’m worried, though, Trump will simply throw good money after bad by padding the budget of a bloated and incompetent bureaucracy that rewarded itself with bonuses after putting veterans on secret waiting lists.
  4. Immigration – Notwithstanding the positive comments about skilled immigrants, his overall tone was very anti-immigration. Given that so many immigrant groups from all over the world prosper enormously in the United States (and thus generate benefits for the rest of us), it would have been better if he has a more welcoming attitude while focusing instead on restricting access to the welfare state.
  5. Pentagon blank check – President Trump gave a mixed message. He criticized the heavy cost of needless overseas interventionism, yet then urged more money for a bureaucracy-heavy Pentagon. Yet why spend even more money if there aren’t going to be any more nation building exercises?

What was really disappointing about Trump’s speech? Here’s my list of three things that were unambiguously depressing.

  1. Protectionism – The president seems determined to harm American consumers and undermine America’s economy. Let’s hope these policies don’t lead to a global trade war like in the 1930s.
  2. Childcare Entitlement – Federal subsidies have resulted in higher costs and inefficiency in health care and higher education. Trump now wants to cause the same problems in childcare. This won’t end well.
  3. Paid Parental Leave – When even columnists for the New York Times confess that this type of policy backfires on women by making them less attractive to employers, it’s bizarre that it would be endorsed by a Republican president.

So what’s the bottom line?

To be blunt, beats the heck out of me.

I wondered back during the campaign whether Trump is a big-government Republican or a small-government conservative. I contemplated the same question when he got elected. And also when he got inaugurated.

Last night’s speech left me still wondering, though it’s safe to say Trump does not share Reagan’s instinctive understanding that government is the problem rather than solution.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get bad policy over the next four years. But there’s no guarantee we’ll get good policy, either.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton agree on things, it’s always bad news for taxpayers.

Now they both agree that it’s somehow the federal government’s job to subsidize child care, though they’ve each concocted different ways of implementing this new form of redistribution.

The Wall Street Journal opines on this fiscally incontinent bidding war.

…both candidates [are] offering multiple subsidies for raising kids. This will end up raising prices and it won’t address the real reason parents feel squeezed: a decade of slow or no economic growth. Donald Trump on Tuesday proposed a tax deduction that would let families write off the average cost of child care for up to four children, among other ideas. Hillary Clinton has already promised to limit care expenses to 10% of income; raises for caretakers; universal pre-K; an increase in the $1,000 per child tax credit; a new program for student parents, and more.

Looking at the details, Trumps plan would exacerbate the EITC problem.

Here’s the dirty detail: Mr. Trump proposed an up to $1,200 child-care tax rebate for low-income families that would be delivered by expanding the earned-income tax credit. But the credit would inevitably phase out as income increases and disappears at $31,200. The result would be a higher inframarginal tax cliff—when people are discouraged from earning more income because they lose more in benefits than they can gain in wages. This disincentive to advancement is already steep.

He’s also proposing a new subsidy for savings accounts.

Mr. Trump also proposes savings accounts for child care to add to the tax-free destinations for retirement, health care, college and more. This new benefit, worth up to $2,000 a year, would make tax reform more difficult. The government would also match parental contributions at 50% up to $1,000 a year for low-income families. That’s a wonky way of unveiling a new $500 transfer payment.

And Trump even wants to engage in a no-win bidding war with Hillary Clinton to create a new European-style entitlement for paid maternity leave (even though, as a columnist for the New York Times even admitted, this type of scheme will backfire against women by making them less attractive to employers).

Then there’s six weeks of paid maternity leave that Mr. Trump says he would guarantee through unemployment insurance. He claims he’ll pay for this by cleaning out fraudulent payments, though this is his funding mechanism for every proposal. Mr. Trump will nonetheless lose the family bidding war with Mrs. Clinton, who wants 12 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and fathers.

The Clinton plan, meanwhile, is a predictably statist prescription for more intervention and subsidies.

And the WSJ‘s editorial correctly points out that is a recipe for ever-higher costs.

Mrs. Clinton raises the Trump offer in every regard, from more Head Start funding to salary support for day-care workers. And if you think care is expensive now, wait until Mrs. Clinton wades in. She likes to say that child care can be more expensive than college tuition, which is false. The irony is that her day-care blowout would recreate what has made college notoriously expensive—large subsidies for the provider and buyer. Day-care centers and pre-Ks could raise prices, confident that government will cover the increase.

The fact that Hillary Clinton wants bigger government is not the most shocking revelation in the world.

Her voting record as a Senator was almost identical to Bernie Sanders’.

And every single proposal in her big economic speech last month required a larger burden of government.

But it’s rather odd to find the Republican nominee being the statist Tweedledee to match the statist Tweedledum.

In an article for Commentary, Noah Rothman looks at Trump’s overall approach to fiscal policy.

Donald Trump…is a self-described Republican who has cast aside the austere facade of fiscal conservatism in favor of any and every spending proposal that crosses his transom. Promising the electorate the world in the campaign with every intention of working out the details after the election is hardly a new phenomenon, but it used to be one that Republicans rejected. Today, under Trump’s corrupting umbra, the GOP has become the party of wild assurances and cascading spending proposals with no intention of ever making good on them.

Actually, I fear the spending promises would be fulfilled if Trump got to the White House. Though I agree that Trump personally doesn’t care if they are either adopted or forgotten.

Here are just a few of the spending promises Trump has made.

Trump promised to augment the Pentagon’s budget by repealing the portions of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (aka, “Sequester”) that imposed limits on defense spending. …Trump has called for “more funding” for the Department of Veterans Affairs to augment job training, research on traumatic stress, brain injury, and suicide prevention, and to hire more service providers at VA hospitals. The Republican nominee promised a massive $500 billion public works program that you dare not call a “stimulus,” which he proudly boasted would spend more than double what Hillary Clinton has pledged to refurbish America’s infrastructure. …He has attacked as cold-hearted the idea that America’s entitlement state must be curtailed and reformed—a massive expenditure that already consumes nearly two-thirds of the nation’s annual outlays.

In other words, Trump is a big-government, Nixon-style Republican.

Which means advocates of limited government are not exactly thrilled about November.

P.S. Other Republican presidential candidates have boosted the burden of government when they took office (President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush are two dismal examples of this phenomenon). But they at least pretended to be vaguely in favor of smaller government during their respective campaigns. The fact that Trump doesn’t even fake it during the campaign suggests that economic policy would be very bad if he ever got to the White House.

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I’ve been accused of making supposedly inconsistent arguments against Hillary Clinton. Make up your mind, these critics say. Is she corrupt or is she a doctrinaire leftist?

I always respond with the simple observation that she’s both. Not that this should come as a surprise. Proponents of bigger government have long track records of expanding their bank accounts at the same time they’re expanding the burden of the public sector. This is true for radical leftists in places like Venezuela and it’s true for establishment leftists in places like America.

And it’s definitely true for Hillary Clinton. I shared lots of information about Hillary’s corruption yesterday, so let’s spend some time today detailing her statist policy agenda.

Consider her new entitlement scheme for childcare. As the Wall Street Journal opines, it’s even worse than an ordinary handout.

Hillary Clinton is methodically expanding her plans to supervise or subsidize those remaining spheres of human existence unspoiled by government. Mrs. Clinton rolled out her latest proposal…to make child care more affordable for working parents and also to raise the wages of child-care workers. The Democrat didn’t mention how she’d resolve the contradiction between her cost-increasing ideas and her cost-reducing ideas, though you can bet it will be expensive. …Her solution is for the feds to cap the share of a family’s income that goes toward care at 10%, with the rest of the tab covered by various tax benefits, direct cash payments and scholarships.

Her scheme to cap a family’s exposure so they don’t have to pay more than 10 percent may be appealing to some voters, but it is terrible economics.

Although we don’t have details on how the various handouts will work, the net effect surely will be to exacerbate a third-party payer problem that already is leading to childcare costs rising faster than the overall inflation rate.

After all, families won’t care about the cost once it rises above 10 percent of their income since Hillary says that taxpayers will pick up the tab for anything about that level.

There’s more information about government intervention in the editorial.

The auditors at the Government Accountability Office report that there are currently 45 federal programs dedicated to supporting care “from birth through age five,” spread across multiple agencies. The Agriculture Department runs a nursery division, for some reason. …Mrs. Clinton also feels that caregivers are paid “less than the value of their worth,” and she promises to increase their compensation. How? Why, another program of course. She’ll call it the Respect and Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators (Raise) Initiative, which she says is modelled after another one of her proposals, the Care Workers Initiative. …If families think day care and health care are “really expensive” now, wait until they have to pay for Mrs. Clinton’s government.

Just as subsidized childcare will be very expensive if Hillary gets elected, the same will be true for higher education.

But in a different way. The current system of subsidies and handouts gives money (in the form of grants and loans) to students, who then give the money to colleges and universities. This is a great deal for the schools, who have taken advantage of the programs by dramatically increasing tuition and fees, while also expanding bureaucratic empires.

Hillary’s plan will expand the subsidies for colleges and universities, but students apparently no longer will serve as the middlemen. Instead, the money will go directly from Uncle Sam to the schools.

Here’s some analysis from the Pope Center on Hillary’s new scheme.

Clinton has come out with a plan to make public colleges and universities free for families with earnings less than $125,000 annually by 2021. …“free” college…would depend on state governments going along with her scheme whereby the federal government would pay them if they cooperate by charging no tuition… Suppose a state decides to adopt Clinton’s free college plan. What would the consequences be? …That would mean at least a modest increase in enrollment, but it would come mainly from the most academically marginal students. The colleges and universities that gained in those enrollments would also find they need to increase remedial programs. …Another adverse result from making college tuition free would be that many students would devote less effort to their courses. …Federal Reserve Bank of New York economist Aysegul Sahin…studied the effort college students put into their work in a 2004 paper“The Incentive Effects of Higher Education Subsidies on Student Effort.” She concluded, “Low-tuition, high-subsidy policies cause an increase in the ratio of less highly-motivated students among the college graduates and that even highly-motivated ones respond to lower tuition by choosing to study less.”

As with much of Hillary’s agenda, we don’t have full details. I strongly suspect that colleges and universities will have a big incentive to jack up tuition and fees to take advantage of the new handout, though I suppose we have to consider the possibility (fantasy?) that the plan will somehow include safeguards to prevent that from happening.

Oh, and don’t forget all the tax hikes she’s proposing to finance bigger government.

The really sad part about all this is that her husband actually wound up being one of the most market-oriented presidents in the post-World War II era. I’ve written on this topic several times (including speculation on whether the credit actually belongs to the post-1994 GOP Congress).

Is it possible that Hillary decides to “triangulate” and move to the center if she gets to the White House?

Yes, but I’m not brimming with optimism.

The Wall Street Journal has some depressing analysis on Bill Clinton vs Hillary Clinton.

…the Obama-era Democratic Party has repudiated the Democratic Party’s Bill-era centrist agenda. They now call themselves progressives, not New Democrats… The Clinton contradiction is that she claims she’ll produce economic results like her husband did with economic policies like Mr. Obama’s.

The editorial looks at Bill Clinton’s sensible record and compares it to what Hillary is proposing.

His wife wants to nearly double the top tax rate on long-term cap gains to 43.4% from 23.8%, in the name of ending “quarterly capitalism.” That’s higher than the 40% rate under Jimmy Carter, and she’d also impose a minimum tax on millionaires and above, details to come. …Mrs. Clinton has repudiated the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership that she had praised as Secretary of State. …She wants to extend Dodd-Frank regulation to nonbanks, and she promises to entrench Mr. Obama’s anticarbon central planning at the EPA and expand ObamaCare with price controls on new medicines. …Mrs. Clinton is proposing to impose many more such work disincentives. She’ll bestow tax credits on everything from child care to elderly care, from college tuition to businesses that share profits with workers. To the extent her new mandates for family leave, the minimum wage, overtime and “equal pay” increase the cost of labor, she’ll drive more Americans out of the workforce. Oh, and…Mrs. Clinton wants to “enhance” Social Security benefits and make Medicare available to pre-retirees.

I’ve already written about her irresponsible approach to Social Security.

And I also opined on the issue in this interview.

The bottom line is that we’re in a very deep hole and Hillary Clinton, simply for reasons of personal ambition, wants to dig the hole deeper. As I remarked in the interview, she’s akin to a Greek politician agitating for more spending in 2007.

Given all this, is anyone surprised that “French President Francois Hollande endorsed Hillary Clinton”? What’s next, a pro-Hillary campaign commercial featuring Nicolas Maduro? A direct mail piece from the ghost of Che Guevara?

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If I had to summarize my views on fiscal policy in just two sentences, here’s what I would say.

  1. Government spending undermines growth by diverting labor and capital from more productive uses to less productive uses.
  2. Tax rates on productive economic behaviors such as work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship should be as low as possible.

So you can imagine that I’m not overly enthused about Hillary Clinton’s embrace of class-warfare tax policy to finance an ever-growing burden of government spending.

Here’s a story that’s giving me heartburn. The Washington Examiner reports that Hillary is “going where the money is.”

Hillary Clinton promised Tuesday that she would pay for her ambitious White House agenda by hitting up the wealthy. “I’ll tell you how we’re going to pay for it,” she said Tuesday in Pennsylvania, referring specifically to her economic agenda. “We’re going where the money is. We are going after the super wealthy, we are going after corporations, we are going after Wall Street so they pay their fair share.”

So what does it mean for various groups to “pay their fair share”?

Well, since even the IRS has admitted that upper-income taxpayers finance a hugely disproportionate share of the federal government, logic tells us that these supposedly evil rich people should get a tax cut.

But that’s not what Hillary means. She wants voters to adopt and us-vs-them mentality, so she demonizes successful people and implies that their wealth is somehow illegitimate.

In part, she is perpetuating the traditional leftist myth that the economy is a fixed pie and that the rest of us have less because someone like Bill Gates has more.

But I also think she wants to imply that upper-income people somehow don’t deserve their money. Maybe they are a bunch of Paris Hilton types with trust funds, living indolent lives while the rest of us have to work.

That’s never been a compelling argument to me. If Paris Hilton’s family earned money honestly (and already paid tax on the money when it was first earned), it’s their right to give it to their children without all sorts of punitive extra layers of taxation.

But this stereotype isn’t even accurate in the first place. James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute shows that people like the late Steve Jobs are more the norm. In other words, rich people are rich because they are innovating and creating, building new businesses and new products that make the rest of our lives better.

Since innovation, risk-taking, investment, entrepreneurship, and hard work are the keys to long-run growth, it certainly seems that the tax code shouldn’t be punishing those things.

Yet that’s what Hillary has in mind when she demagogues about the “super wealthy.”

Interestingly, another New York Democrat seems to understand the negative relationship between taxes and good outcomes, at least on a selective basis. Larry O’Connor explains.

Without the teeniest sense of irony, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has proposed that America’s Olympic medal winners should not have to pay taxes on the cash prizes they are awarded with their medals. Schumer’s reasoning behind lifting the tax? Because “hard work” and excellence shouldn’t be punished.

The problem, of course, is that Senator Schumer routinely supports higher taxes.

Indeed, the only tax hike he doesn’t favor, to my knowledge, is the Trump-Clinton plan to hike the capital gains tax on “carried interest.” But Schumer’s only good on that issue because of the money he gets from the private-equity folks on Wall Street, not because he actually understands or favors good tax policy.

But Schumer’s make-believe support for lower taxes on Olympic medal winners is good news, if for no other reasons than it gave Mark Perry an excuse to produce another one of his famous Venn diagrams.

Let’s close by contemplating Hillary’s statement that she wants to go “where the money is.”

That statement rang a bell. Someone else said almost the exact same thing.

And then I remembered. It was an infamous bank robber named Willie Sutton, who is widely reported to have said he robbed banks because “That’s where the money is.”

Needless to say, I don’t want to imply that there’s some moral equivalence between Hillary Clinton and Willie Sutton. Perish the thought!

After all, I’m sure Willie Sutton never expected gratitude from his victims.

P.S. In my role as the Don Quixote of fiscal policy, I have helpfully shared evidence with Mrs. Clinton about the consequences of higher tax burdens in both Europe and various American states.

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I need combat pay. Or maybe some kind of bonus for pain and suffering. First, I had to watch Donald Trump’s incoherent speech on the economy and try to decipher his mish-mash economic plan.

And then, without the benefit of a lengthy vacation or counseling for post-foolishness stress disorder, I had to endure Hillary Clinton’s speech about the economy.

Though I will admit it was very coherent and there wasn’t much to decipher. As I pointed out in this interview, she wants more wasteful spending, more punitive taxes, and more stifling regulation.

There are two points from this interview that deserve some additional emphasis.

  1. Copying Obama and referring to subsidies and handouts as being an “investment” doesn’t make bigger government a wise use of other people’s money.
  2. Keynesian spending is a scam. It’s the fiscal version of a perpetual motion machine that ostensibly spits out dollar bills when you put quarters in a slot.

I closed the interview by pointing out that it makes no sense to make America more like Greece or Venezuela.

Yet Hillary is too clever to say that’s her agenda. To clear up this confusion, here are a few phrases from her recent speech in Michigan. I’ve helpfully translated them into English.

  • …support advanced manufacturing” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • a lot of urgent and important work to do” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • go out and make that happen” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • enormous capacity for clean energy production” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • if we do it together” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • things that your government could do” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • I will have your back every single day” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • make our economy work for everyone” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • restore fairness to our economy” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • go to bat for working families” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • pass the biggest investment” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • modernizing our roads, our bridges” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • help cities like Detroit and Flint” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • repair schools and failing water systems” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • we should be ambitious” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • connect every household in America to broadband” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • build a cleaner, more resilient power grid” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • creating an infrastructure bank” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • we’re going to invest $10 billion” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • bring business, government, and communities together” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • fight to make college tuition-free” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • liberate millions of people who already have student debt” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • support high-quality union training programs” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • We will do more” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • Investments at home” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • we need to make it fairer” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • we will fight for a more progressive…tax code” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • pay a new exit tax” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • Wall Street, corporations, and the super-rich, should finally pay their fair share” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • I support the so-called ‘Buffett Rule,” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • add a new tax on multi-millionaires” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • close the carried interest loophole” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • Just think about what we could do with those $4 billion dollars” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • I want to invest” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • affordable childcare available to all Americans” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • Paid family leave” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • Raising the federal minimum wage” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • expanding Social Security” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • strengthening unions” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • improve the Affordable Care Act” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • a public option health insurance plan” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.
  • build a new future with clean energy” = Notwithstanding all the previous failures of government, both in America and elsewhere in the world, I’m going to make American more like Greece and Venezuela by using coercion to impose more spending, taxes, and regulation.

The only good news is that Hillary is an incremental statist. Unlike crazy Bernie Sanders, she doesn’t want to become Greece at 90 miles-per-hour. She’s content to travel in the wrong direction at a steady 55 miles-per-hour.

And since Greece is such a basket case, even two terms of Hillary Clinton probably would only result in America having French-type levels of economic freedom. Or lack thereof, to be more accurate.

In other words, it will take a lot of bad policy over a couple of decades to completely hollow out America’s economy. The already-baked-into-the-cake expansion of entitlements will take us part of the way to that unfortunate destination.

And, to mix my metaphors, Hillary will be content to add a few more straws to the camel’s back.

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I don’t like election years because the policy debate tends to revolve around the various proposals put forth by candidates. And since those ideas generally don’t make much sense, it’s a frustrating period.

But the silver lining to that dark cloud is that it does create opportunities to comment on what the candidates are saying…and hopefully steer the discussion in a more productive direction.

For instance, I just authored a column about Trump’s plan for Time. I pointed out what’s good (such as a lower corporate rate and death tax repeal), what’s bad (pork-barrel infrastructure and a whiff on entitlement reform), and what’s ugly (protectionism and a new loophole for childcare costs).

But my biggest complaint, which was part of the “bad” section, dealt with Trump’s failure to produce any plan to control the size of government. And echoing a point I made late last year, a big tax cut simply isn’t viable unless it’s accompanied by a credible proposal to rein in Leviathan.

It will be very hard to have a tax cut of any size unless Trump also has some sort of plan to limit the growth of government spending. Unfortunately, outside of vague rhetoric about “waste, fraud, and abuse,” it’s unclear that he is serious about the spending side of the fiscal ledger.

I also made similar points in this CNBC interview, which covered all of the main features of Trump’s economic agenda.

You’ll notice in the interview that I said Trump should propose some sort of spending cap.

Well, maybe my wish will be granted. A story published by Bloomberg looks at Trump’s flirtation with a specific form of spending cap known as the Penny Plan.

Donald Trump on Tuesday revisited a budget-trimming measure called the “penny plan” in response to fresh questions about how he’d finance his agenda. “Well, we’re cutting back, I mean whether it’s a penny plan—which is something that, as simple as it is, I’ve always sort of liked,” the Republican presidential nominee said on Fox Business… Trump remained short on further specifics about how he’d pay for his proposals.

But let’s say he goes beyond sympathetic comments and actually embraces the Penny Plan. The article gives some detail of the proposal.

In variations of the “penny plan,” …one cent is cut per dollar in the federal budget over a period of six or seven years and a spending cap is imposed until the budget is balanced. Different programs can see greater than 1 percent cuts—or no cuts—as long as overall spending is reduced by 1 percent each year… The math generally works out, the nonpartisan fact-checking website PolitiFact found in 2012 when analyzing a Republican lawmaker’s version of the proposal.

And for further detail, Justin Bogie and Romina Boccia have a column in the Daily Signal.

Last week, a House Budget Committee member, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and the Senate Budget Committee chairman, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introduced the “Penny Plan,” which would implement an aggregate spending cap beginning in 2017 and “would cut a single penny from every dollar the federal government spends.” Under this plan, for fiscal year 2017, the cap would be $3.6 trillion for total noninterest outlays minus 1 percent. For each subsequent year through 2021, outlays would be capped at the previous year’s level (not including net interest payments) minus 1 percent.

Wow, this is hard-core spending restraint.

I have written favorably about the Penny Plan, but I normally promote the Swiss Debt Brake, which is a spending cap that has allowed government spending to grow each year by an average of 2 percent.

I must be a big-government squish!

Here are more details on the Penny Plan. Most important, it is enforced by sequestration.

…spending reductions necessary to arrive at the capped level would be enforced by sequestration. Unlike the current form of sequestration applied to the Budget Control Act spending caps, the Penny Plan would not exempt any of the programs listed under the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, except payments for net interest. …Spending caps, enforced with automatic cuts, serve to motivate Congress to prioritize among competing demands for resources. Designed properly, caps can curb excessive spending growth over the long run.

The bottom line, according to Bogie and Boccia, is that a sequester-enforced spending cap is critical for good long-run fiscal policy.

The Penny Plan takes a step toward consideration of a statutory spending cap to limit the growth in government and improve the nation’s fiscal course. Congress must put the country’s budget on a sustainable path to secure prosperity for current and future generations, and a spending cap is one important tool to get there.

My bottom line is similar. I’m a huge fan of spending caps (which have a much better track record than balanced budget requirements).

The key is to make sure that government grows slower than the private sector. And the more spending is restrained (especially if it’s actually cut 1 percent each year), the quicker and better the results.

There’s lots of evidence of nations getting good results when they cap spending. I don’t know if Donald Trump is serious about a spending cap (or whether he’s serious about the policies needed to make sure overall spending stays within a cap), but I know it’s the right policy.

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It’s no secret that I’m very leery of Donald Trump. Simply stated, I don’t sense any genuine commitment to smaller government and free markets.

In addition to fretting about his overall approach on the big issue of liberty vs. government, I’ve specifically criticized his views on protectionism, on bailouts, on entitlements, monetary policy, tax policy, and (just yesterday) distorting tax loopholes.

But skepticism isn’t the same as bias.

I commend Trump when he says something accurate or when he proposes good policies, and I defend him when he’s unfairly attacked.

With this in mind, it’s time to point out something very accurate in his big speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club.

He issued a strong and effective indictment of Obamanomics.

…let’s look at what the Obama-Clinton policies have done nationally. Their policies produced 1.2% growth, the weakest so-called recovery since the Great Depression… There are now 94.3 million Americans outside the labor force. …We have the lowest labor force participation rates in four decades. …Meanwhile, American households are earning more than $4,000 less today than they were sixteen years ago.

Trump’s basically right. No matter how you slice and dice the data, Obamanomics (which he refers to as Obama-Clinton policies for obvious reasons) clearly hasn’t worked.

We’ve had the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. Labor-force participation is dismal. And median household income has lagged.

I touched on some of those issues in this discussion on Fox Business News.

But you don’t have to believe me.

Former Senator Phil Gramm and former Senate staffer Mike Solon dissect Obamanomics in a column for the Wall Street Journal.

When President Obama took office during the 2007-09 recession no president was ever better positioned to lead a strong recovery. With an impressive electoral mandate, Mr. Obama enjoyed a filibuster-proof Senate supermajority, a 79-vote House majority and a nation ready for change. History too seemed to smile on Mr. Obama’s endeavor. The recession ended just six months into his first term and, with the sole exception of the Great Depression, every severe recession since 1870—when reliable annual data were first collected—had been followed by a vigorous recovery.

They point out that President Obama used the opportunity to push Keynesian fiscal and monetary policy.

No resources were spared. The Obama $836 billion stimulus exceeded all previous U.S. economic stimulus programs combined. The Treasury borrowed over $1 trillion a year for four years in a row, according to Office of Management and Budget data. The Federal Reserve injected $3 trillion of new reserves into the banking system, generating record-low interest rates.

And the institutions with Keynesian models predicted (what a surprise) that we would get good results.

In August 2010, the Congressional Budget Office projected 3.3% average real GDP growth for 2010-15. The Federal Reserve forecast growth as strong as 3.7%. Mr. Obama’s own Office of Management and Budget expected peak growth of 4.5%.

Unfortunately, these models were wrong. Wildly wrong.

…not once in the last seven years has annual economic growth ever reached 3%. Average real per capita income grew five times faster during the Clinton recovery, seven times faster during the Reagan recovery and 10 times faster during the Kennedy/Johnson recovery than during the Obama recovery.

Gramm and Solon point out that there’s only been one other “recovery” remotely similar to the one we’re having now.

…in only two recoveries did government impose economic policies radically different from the policies pursued in all the other recoveries—different than traditional policy but similar to each other— FDR’s Great Depression and Mr. Obama’s Great Recession. …When Mr. Obama replicated some of FDR’s “progressive” policies, history was there to reteach its lessons.

Amen.

The so-called New Deal was a statist disaster than lengthened and deepened the Great Depression.

Indeed, it was only a Great Depression because of awful policies that began under Herbert Hoover and then continued under Franklin Roosevelt.

Obama wanted the second coming of the New Deal.

The good news is that he wasn’t able to impose nearly as much bad policy as Hoover and FDR.

The bad news is that he imposed enough bad policy to produce an abnormally weak recovery.

Which leads to the lesson that everyone should learn.

The dominant lesson of the Great Depression and the Great Recession is that when government overspends, overtaxes and over-regulates, economic freedom is suppressed and economic growth vanishes.

Sadly, I don’t think either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton understand this lesson.

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Donald Trump is, to be charitable, a rather unique and colorful presidential candidate. He seems incapable of letting a day pass without doing something that makes the political establishment shudder with disdain.

Since I’m not a fan of the status quo in Washington, I have no objection to ruffling the feathers of DC insiders. That being said, it’s important to look at why Trump elicits such hostility.

The bottom line is that the enemy of your enemy isn’t always your friend.

In other words, my ideal candidate almost surely would be hated by the crowd in DC, but the hostility would be based on the candidate’s agenda to shrink the size and scope of the federal government, not because the candidate makes offensive and/or controversial statements.

Heck, I’d be willing to forgive a certain amount of distasteful behavior in a politician if that was the price of getting a genuine reformer. For what it’s worth, I’m even willing to tolerate a politician’s misbehavior if he simply allows good reform to happen, which is why I now have a certain after-the-fact fondness for Bill Clinton’s presidency.

As a policy wonk, I don’t spend much time wondering whether Trump is a good or stable person. I’m more focused on the policies he would push (or simply allow) if he wound up in the White House.

On that basis, I’m not brimming with optimism. Here’s some of what I wrote for the U.K.-based Guardian, when asked to share my assessment about the possible economic policy agenda of a Trump Administration. I start by saying we are in uncharted territory.

Normal presidential candidates put forth proposals that usually have been vetted by policy experts. They also generally have track records from their time as elected officials. …Trump is not a normal candidate.

I then point out that Trump is all over the map on policy.

…his views on major economic issues are eclectic. He promises a big tax cut, but it’s probably not very serious since he has no concomitant plan to restrain the growth of government spending. He threatens to impose steep tariffs, which would risk triggering a trade war, but he claims protectionism would merely be a stick to extort concessions from trading partners. ….He makes noises about potentially defaulting on debt but then pivots and says the debt can be financed by printing money. …either approach causes angst among most economists.

My conclusion (which is nothing more than a guess) is that the overall burden of government would increase with Trump in the White House.

With all this uncertainty about what Trump really believes, it’s impossible to guess which policies will change and how the economy would be impacted. For what it’s worth, libertarians generally fear that Trump ultimately would govern as a left-leaning populist.

By the way, this is also why I was not a fan of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, or Mitt Romney.

Simply stated, non-ideological Republicans (whether pseudo-populists like Trump or career politicians) don’t challenge the conventional wisdom of Washington. And that generally results in a go-along-to-get-along approach to policy, which means continued growth of government.

Which is why I’ve pointed out that Democrats in the White House sometimes result in less damage.

By the way, my jaundiced assessment of Trump does not imply that Hillary Clinton is any better. She also has personal foibles that – in a normal society – would disqualify her from holding public office.

And I also wrote for the Guardian about her approach to economic policy, which is basically the same direction as Bernie Sanders but at a slower pace.

…she would move public policy incrementally to the left. Some tax increases, but not giant tax increases. Some new regulations, but not complete government takeovers of industry. A bigger burden of government spending, but not turning America into Greece. An increase in the minimum wage, but not up to $15 an hour. More subsidies for higher education, but not an entitlement for everyone. And some restrictions on trade, but no sweeping reversal of the pro-trade consensus that has existed since the second world war.

In other words, become Greece at 55 miles per hour rather than Bernie’s desire to become Greece at 90 miles per hour.

P.S. Since our topic today is so depressing, let’s end with some humor.

We’ll start with this PG-13 pro-Gary Johnson comparison of the candidates.

This shows libertarians can be funny, even though I think it’s wrong to characterize Trump as being on the right (at least from an economic perspective).

Here’s an amusing comparison of a teenage boy and Donald Trump.

I’ll have to add this to my limited collection of Trump humor, most of which is at the bottom of this post.

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Yesterday, I shared some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the Democratic Party platform.

It wasn’t a fun task. The Democrats put together a rat’s nest of taxes, spending, cronyism, and red tape, so my blood pressure probably went crazy as I read the document. Crazy Bernie Sanders may have lost the war for the nomination, but it seems that he mostly won the battle over the platform.

The plank about letting states be in charge of marijuana policy was the only part of the platform that I actually liked (even though I personally disapprove of drug use).

Though it mostly doesn’t matter what’s in party platforms. As I pointed out yesterday, platforms tend to be ideological statements to please party activists. Politicians generally don’t care about their respective party platforms, and they definitely don’t allow their behavior to be constrained by platform language.

With that important caveat in mind, let’s now review the GOP platform. And I’ll use the same approach that I used when looking at the Democrat’s document. I’ll provide a short excerpt and then give my two cents.

Here are some of the main economic issues addressed (or bungled) by Republicans.

We believe the Constitution was written not as a flexible document, but as our enduring covenant.

That’s true, but why aren’t GOPers defunding most of the federal government if that’s what they really believe?

Because of the vital role of religious organizations, charities, and fraternal benevolent societies in fostering generosity and patriotism, they should not be subject to taxation and donations to them should remain deductible.

Endorsing the deduction for charitable contributions isn’t an optimistic sign for those of us who support fundamental tax reform.

To guard against hypertaxation of the American people in any restructuring of the federal tax system, any value added tax or national sales tax must be tied to the simultaneous repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the federal income tax.

This may be my favorite part of the GOP platform. Hopefully it will discourage Rand Paul and Ted Cruz from including a VAT if they run for president again and put forth tax reform plans.

We propose to level the international playing field by lowering the corporate tax rate to be on a par with, or below, the rates of other industrial nations.

Hard to argue with that plank, though it raises the question of why Republicans haven’t enacted this change already.

We endorse the recommendation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, as well as the current Administration’s Export Council, to switch to a territorial system of taxation so that profits earned and taxed abroad may be repatriated for job-creating investment here at home.

Territorial taxation is good policy, so amen.

Republicans believe that no financial institution is too big to fail. We support legislation to ensure that the problems of any financial institution can be resolved through the Bankruptcy Code.

This is the right policy. Too bad many GOPers ignored this bit of wisdom and voted for TARP.

We propose to phase out the federal transit program.

They should phase out the entire Department of Transportation, but this would be a good start.

…we oppose a further increase in the federal gas tax.

That’s good, though repealing the tax would be even better.

Amtrak is an extremely expensive railroad for the American taxpayers, who must subsidize every ticket. The federal government should allow private ventures to provide passenger service in the northeast corridor.

All this sounds good, but it’s a bit vacuous. There should be an explicit commitment to end Amtrak subsidies.

We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California’s high-speed train to nowhere.

A welcome commitment, though it should be extended to all transportation projects.

We should reduce the occupational licensing laws that shut untold millions of potential workers out of entrepreneurial careers.

This is largely a problem caused by state and local governments, but it’s nonetheless nice to see a statement of support for much-needed change.

We must overturn the regulatory nightmare, created by the Dodd-Frank law, for the community banks and savings and loans that provide nearly half of all small-business loans and over three-quarters of all agricultural loans.

Maybe I’m being paranoid, but where’s the language explicitly calling for repeal of the Dodd-Frank bailout bill?

The taxpayers spend an average of $35,000 a year per employee on non-cash benefits, triple the average non-cash compensation of the average worker in the private sector. Federal employees receive extraordinary pension benefits and vacation time wildly out of line with those of the private sector. We urge Congress to bring federal compensation and benefits in line with the standards of most American employees.

Federal bureaucrats are overcompensated, so it goes without saying (though I’m still glad they said it) that costs should be contained.

We must impose firm caps on future debt… A strong economy is one key to debt reduction, but spending restraint is a necessary component that must be vigorously pursued.

Capping debt is fine. Capping spending would be far better.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Foreign Bank and Asset Reporting Requirements result in government’s warrantless seizure of personal financial information without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. …FATCA not only allows “unreasonable search and seizures” but also threatens the ability of overseas Americans to lead normal lives. We call for its repeal and for a change to residency-based taxation for U.S. citizens overseas.

Unambiguous opposition to FATCA is great, but it’s also big news that the GOP wants territorial taxation for labor income.

We call on Congress and state legislatures to enact reforms to protect law-abiding citizens against abusive asset forfeiture tactics.

Civil asset forfeiture is abusive by definition. Repeal the laws entirely.

The Constitution gives the federal government very few powers, and they are specifically enumerated… In obedience to that principle, we condemn the current Administration’s unconstitutional expansion into areas beyond those specifically enumerated.

This is true, but it’s too bad Republicans aren’t serious about this plank.

We oppose any carbon tax.

Good. It’s never a good idea to give politicians a new source of tax revenue.

The Republican path to fiscal sanity and economic expansion begins with a constitutional requirement for a federal balanced budget.

At the risk of being repetitive, spending caps are better.

We support the following test: Is a particular expenditure within the constitutional scope of the federal government? If not, stop it. Has it been effective in the past and is it still absolutely necessary? If not, end it. Is it so important as to justify borrowing, especially foreign borrowing, to fund it? If not, kill it.

If GOPers were serious about this part of the platform, this would put them on record to abolish 90 percent of the federal government.

Impose no changes for persons 55 or older. Give others the option of traditional Medicare or transition to a premium-support model designed to strengthen patient choice, promote cost-saving competition among providers, and better guard against the fraud and abuse that now diverts billions of dollars every year away from patient care.

To their credit (and notwithstanding Trump’s unserious approach to the issue), Republicans still embrace the right type of Medicare reform.

We applaud the Republican governors and state legislators who have undertaken the hard work of modernizing Medicaid. We will give them a free hand to do so by block-granting the program without strings.

It’s also good to see support for the right kind of Medicaid reform.

…all options should be considered to preserve Social Security. As Republicans, we oppose tax increases and believe in the power of markets to create wealth and to help secure the future of our Social Security system.

This is vacuous language, though at least it provides an indirect endorsement of personal retirement accounts. Though I don’t want “all options” on the table since that could be construed to include tax hikes.

We support reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which prohibits commercial banks from engaging in high-risk investment.

What?!? This is the most disappointing and economically illiterate part of the GOP platform.

…the Constitution gives [the federal government] no role in education.

True, so why don’t Republicans explicitly call for abolishing the Department of Education?

We agree with the four dissenting judges of the Supreme Court: “In our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety.” It must be removed and replaced with an approach based on genuine competition, patient choice, excellent care, wellness, and timely access to treatment.

Nice, though remember that repealing Obamacare is just the first step if you want a genuine market-based healthcare sector.

We propose to end tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance and allow consumers to buy insurance across state lines.

I like the latter part about breaking down the government-imposed barriers to interstate commerce, but I worry the part about tax discrimination is so vague it could be used to expand tax preferences when the real goal should be to get rid of the healthcare exclusion.

The FDA has slowly but relentlessly changed into an agency that more and more puts the public health at risk by delaying, chilling, and killing the development of new devices, drugs and biologics that can promote our lives and our health.

This is correct, but it would be nice to see specific reforms.

We commend those states that have passed Right to Try legislation, allowing terminally ill patients the right to try investigational medicines not yet approved by the FDA. We urge Congress to pass federal legislation to give all Americans with terminal illnesses the right to try.

This is a very good idea. If I ever have a deadly illness, I’ll want the freedom to roll the dice in hopes a new medicine or procedure will work.

Two grave problems undermine the rule of law on the federal level: Over-criminalization and over-federalization. In the first case, Congress and federal agencies have increased the number of criminal offenses in the U.S. Code from 3,000 in the early 1980s to more than 4,500 today. That does not include an estimated 300,000 regulations containing criminal penalties. …We urge Congress to codify the Common Law’s Rule of Lenity, which requires courts to interpret unclear statutes in favor of a defendant.

If bigwigs like Hillary Clinton can get away with violating very clear-cut national security laws because she didn’t intend to do damage to the nation, then ordinary people surely should get the benefit of the doubt as well when they inadvertently violate some complicated law or regulation.

…we oppose any form of Global Tax.

Amen. Now let’s see if Republicans put our money where their mouths are and defund pro-tax international bureaucracies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Let’s wrap this up. There are more policies that could be addressed, but this column already is too long.

The bottom line is that the platform has many good policies. Heck, if I though GOP politicians actually planned to pursue the agenda outlined in the document, I might consider becoming a Republican.

But does anybody think the average Republican politician even knows what is in the GOP platform? More importantly, does anyone think that Donald Trump has any commitment to the policies in the platform?

So now perhaps you can understand why advocates of small government sympathize with Uncle Sam in this cartoon.

Is it Tweedledee and Tweedledum, or the other way around?

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It’s very risky to trust the promises made by politicians.

But at least there’s a potential downside when they break their word. President George H.W. Bush lost the 1992 election, for instances, after violating his read-my-lips, no-tax-hike promise.

So I think it’s useful to get politicians to explicitly commit to good policies, such as the no-tax-increase pledge.

But what about getting language in a party platform? Is that a vehicle for getting good policy, or at least is it a way of blocking bad policy?

For the most part, I don’t think party platforms bind politicians or constrain their behavior. To be sure, I’m happy when platforms embrace policies that I like, but I’m not foolish enough to think that this automatically will translate into better policy after politicians get elected.

For the most part, platforms are a way for politicians to appease the more philosophically inclined people in their parties. So the Democratic platform is generally farther to the left than Democratic politicians and the GOP platform is generally farther to the right than Republican politicians.

With these caveats taken care of, let’s review the proposals and policies in the Democratic platform (I’ll assess the Republican platform tomorrow). I’ve excerpted the items that are noteworthy and I follow each item with a brief observation.

Let’s get started.

Democrats will expand Social Security…[and] will achieve this goal by taxing some of the income of people above $250,000.

This is like stepping on the accelerator while approaching a cliff. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the program’s unfunded liability is a staggering $37 trillion, yet Hillary and her friends want even more spending. And they want to compound the damage with a huge tax increase on investors, entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

Democrats will also create an independent, national infrastructure bank.

This is a recipe for cronyism that will further expand the federal government’s role into an area that should be reserved for states, local governments, and the private sector.

Democrats will defend the Export-Import Bank.

Bernie Sanders was good on this issue, so this platform language means Hillary Clinton’s support for corporate welfare prevailed.

Democrats will provide direct federal funding for a range of local programs that will put young people to work and create new career opportunities.

Since job-training programs have a long track-record of failure, too bad they didn’t suggest repealing job-killing minimum-wage laws.

Democrats will not hesitate to use and expand existing authorities as well as empower regulators to downsize or break apart financial institutions when necessary to protect the public and safeguard financial stability, including new authorities to go after risky shadow-banking activities.

Other than pointing out that big isn’t necessarily bad, I don’t really have any policy reaction. I’m only sharing this blurb since I imagine you’ll also laugh out loud at the platform’s implicit assertion that Hillary Clinton somehow will crack down on her friends and donors at Goldman-Sachs. Yeah, I’m sure that’s high on her list. Right after putting inner-city schoolkids before the teacher unions.

We will ban golden parachutes for those taking government jobs.

Will that rule apply retroactively to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew?

Democrats will claw back tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, eliminate tax breaks for big oil and gas companies, and crack down on inversions and other methods companies use to dodge their tax responsibilities.

There are no “tax breaks” for companies that invert.

We will end deferrals so that American corporations pay United States taxes immediately on foreign profits and can no longer escape paying their fair share of U.S. taxes by stashing profits abroad.

The “fair share” should be zero for income that is earned (and therefore already subject to tax) in other nations.

We will ensure those at the top contribute to our country’s future by establishing a multimillionaire surtax to ensure millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share.

Even the IRS admits the tax system is very biased against the so-called rich.

…we will shut down the “private tax system” for those at the top, immediately close egregious loopholes like those enjoyed by hedge fund managers, restore fair taxation on multimillion dollar estates, and ensure millionaires can no longer pay a lower rate than their secretaries.

Wow, endorsing higher capital gains taxes, higher death taxes, and dishonest math in one sentence fragment.

We will work to crack down on tax evasion.

Unfortunately, they want higher compliance by expanding the power of the IRS, not by lowering tax rates.

…we will make sure that law-abiding Americans living abroad are not unfairly penalized by finding the right solutions for them to the requirements under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).

This language is vacuous, but it’s nonetheless noteworthy that even the Democrats feel compelled to say bad things about one of Obama’s worst laws.

Democrats believe it is long past time to close this racial wealth gap. Disparities in wealth cannot be solved by the free market alone, but instead, the federal government must play a role in eliminating systemic barriers to wealth accumulation for different racial groups and improving opportunities for people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to build wealth.

More vacuous language, though it’s disappointing that the platform doesn’t endorse personal retirement accounts, which would fix one of the ways minorities are hurt by government policy.

We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so.

Easily the most pro-liberty part of the Democratic platform.

Democrats will develop a national strategy, coordinated across all levels of government, to combat poverty. We will direct more federal resources to lifting up communities that have been left out and left behind.

Anyone think this will work any better than all the other failed anti-poverty schemes from Washington? I didn’t think so.

Democrats will protect proven programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—our nation’s most important anti-hunger program—that help struggling families put food on the table.

The only thing “proven” about the food stamp program is that it’s riddled with fraud and it creates dependency.

We will dramatically increase federal infrastructure funding for our cities.

It’s not the role of the federal government to pave roads and and build bridges and corrupt big-city political machines shouldn’t be offloading their responsibilities onto taxpayers in the rest of the country.

We will continue to support public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and for programs providing art and music education in primary and secondary schools.

If I want to listen to cowboy poetry, I should pay for it myself.

We believe America must be running entirely on clean energy by mid-century. We will take bold steps to slash carbon pollution.

Mostly vacuous rhetoric, but it could lead to “bold steps” to undermine prosperity.

Democrats believe that carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases should be priced to reflect their negative externalities, and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and help meet our climate goals.

You don’t have to read between the lines to recognize that “should be priced” is DC-speak for a big energy tax.

All corporations owe it to their shareholders to fully analyze and disclose the risks they face, including climate risk. Those who fail to do so should be held accountable. Democrats also respectfully request the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.

This is probably the most reprehensible part of the Democratic platform. America is not a banana republic and people shouldn’t be attacked with “lawfare” for disagreeing with the political establishment.

Democrats are unified in their strong belief that every student should be able to go to college debt-free, and working families should not have to pay any tuition to go to public colleges and universities.

A plan that unambiguously will increase the cost of college.

Democrats believe that health care is a right, not a privilege, and our health care system should put people before profits. …Americans should be able to access public coverage through a public option, and those over 55 should be able to opt in to Medicare.

For those who think the Obamacare boondoggle didn’t go far enough.

Democrats will fight any attempts by Republicans in Congress to privatize, voucherize, or “phase out” Medicare as we know it. And we will oppose Republican plans to slash funding and block grant Medicaid and SNAP.

Let’s bury our heads in the sand and pretend there’s no entitlement crisis.

Democrats believe that global institutions—most prominently the United Nations—and multilateral organizations have a powerful role to play

A powerful role is not the same as a productive role or positive role. Though the United Nations is mostly feckless. The real damage is caused by the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I could analyze additional planks, but there’s a limit to have much statist claptrap I can endure.

If I had to give a grade to the Democratic platform, it would be “L” for leftist. Just like the Party’s nominee.

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I periodically get asked who should be in the White House.

Since I’m a policy wonk rather than a political pundit, I generally sidestep the question.

Though it probably isn’t too hard to figure out my preference if you peruse what I’ve written about previous presidents.

I’m a huge fan of both Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge, for instance.

But I’m definitely not partisan. I’ve also said nice things about John F. Kennedy and even Bill Clinton.

And to further demonstrate my independence, it’s time for me to endorse another Democrat.

Yes, you read correctly. The person I want in the White House is….(drum roll, please)…the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, Grover Cleveland.

He’s mostly famous for being the only President to serve non-consecutive terms (he won in 1884, lost in 1888, and won again in 1892). And perhaps also for marrying a 21-year woman while in the White House.

But he should be remembered instead – and with great fondness – for his belief in classical liberal principles.

Let’s start with this blurb from his Wikipedia page.

Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. He relentlessly fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism. …He also used his appointment powers to reduce the number of federal employees, as many departments had become bloated with political time-servers. …Cleveland used the veto far more often than any president up to that time.

Perhaps his most glorious moment came when he rejected the Texas Seed Bill.

After a drought had ruined crops in several Texas counties, Congress appropriated $10,000 to purchase seed grain for farmers there. Cleveland vetoed the expenditure. In his veto message, he espoused a theory of limited government:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. …the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

Wow, can you imagine any President saying these words today?

President Cleveland’s steadfast behavior and sound principles have garnered him some well-deserved praise.

Writing for Investor’s Business Daily back in 2011, Paul Whitfield opined about Cleveland’s track record.

If free-market advocates could resurrect a U.S. president to deal with today’s problems, many would choose Grover Cleveland. …He vetoed hundreds of spending bills, refusing to succumb to political temptation whether it was wrapped in patriotism or sob stories. …Union military veterans had become a powerful special interest group. Expenditures on their pensions increased about 500% over 20 years… When Congress passed a bill granting pensions to veterans for injuries not caused by military service, he vetoed it. …He vetoed 414 bills during his eight years — 1885-89 and 1893-97 — in the White House, forcing Congress to curb its appetite for spending.

President Cleveland even had a libertarian approach to overseas entanglements.

Cleveland had a simple approach to foreign policy. He said America should “never get caught up in conflict with any foreign state unless attacked or otherwise provoked.”

Let’s go back even further in time. Here’s some of what Lawrence Reed wrote in 1996.

I give high marks to those presidents who actively sought to uphold the Constitution, and who worked to expand the frontiers of freedom. I’ll take a president who leaves us alone over one who can’t keep his hands out of other people’s pockets any day of the week. Honesty, frugality, candor, and a love for liberty are premium qualities in my kind of president. The one man among post-war presidents (post-Civil War, that is) who exemplified those qualities best was Grover Cleveland… Cleveland took a firm stand against a nascent welfare state. Frequent warnings against the redistributive nature of government were characteristic of his tenure. He regarded as a “serious danger” the notion that government should dispense favors and advantages to individuals or their businesses. …Disdainful of pork barrel politics, he felt that those who would use and gain from such projects should pay for them. …He rightly argued that tariffs stifle competition, raise prices, and violate the people’s freedom to patronize the sellers of their choice.

The article points out that Cleveland wasn’t perfect.

Indeed, the squalid Department of Agriculture was elevated to the Cabinet during his tenure.

But, on net, he pushed for liberty. Heck, look at this quote from President Cleveland, which Lawrence Reed shared in an article from 1999.

When more of the people’s sustenance is exacted through the form of taxation than is necessary to meet the just obligations of government and the expense of its economical administration, such exaction becomes ruthless extortion and a violation of the fundamental principles of a free government.

Wow. Taxation to fund beyond limited government equals “ruthless extortion.” That warms my libertarian heart!

Robert Higgs, the great economic historian, shared another great quote from President Cleveland.

Cleveland believed in keeping government expenditure at the minimum required to carry out essential constitutional functions. “When a man in office lays out a dollar in extravagance,” declared Cleveland, “he acts immorally by the people.”

Let’s begin to wrap up with some wisdom from Burton Folsom, who wrote about President Cleveland for the Freeman back in 2004.

For a U.S. president, one test of this courage is the willingness to veto bad bills— bills that spend too much money or that contradict Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution. In that test of character, perhaps no president passed more convincingly than Grover Cleveland… During Cleveland’s first term (1885–1889), he vetoed 414 bills, more than twice the total vetoed by all previous presidents. …Over half of Cleveland’s vetoes involved pensions to Civil War veterans. Congressmen, especially Republicans, were increasingly trying to funnel taxpayer dollars to unqualified veterans in hopes of capturing “the soldier vote.”

Sadly, politicians today not only go after the “soldier vote,” but also the “farmer vote,” the “elderly vote,” the “urban vote,” etc, etc, etc.

And we don’t have principled leaders like Grover Cleveland with a veto pen.

Let’s look at some historical budget data to understand how truly lucky the nation was during Cleveland’s era. During the 1880s, in his first term, total primary spending (which is total outlays minus expenditures for net interest) averaged just 1.7 percent of GDP.

And this was before the income tax was enacted. After all, there was no need to have a punitive levy when the fiscal burden of government was so small.

P.S. Barton Folsom was the narrator of the superb video from Prager University on government-controlled investment.

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Since I’m not a fan of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, I think that puts me in a good position to fairly assess whether the candidates are being dishonest.

And since several media outlets just produced their “fact-checks” on Donald Trump’s acceptance speech to the Republican convention, this is a perfect opportunity to see not only whether Trump was being dishonest but also whether media fact-checking is honest.

Here’s some of the “fact-checking” from NBC., with each indented example being followed by my two cents.

TRUMP CLAIM: Nearly four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58 percent of African-American youth are now not employed. Two million more Latinos are in poverty today than when the President took his oath of office less than eight years ago.

THE FACTS: Yes, 38 percent of African American children are living in poverty, according to Census data. But Trump isn’t correct that 58 percent of African American youth are unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the African American unemployment rate for those ages 16-19 is 28.4 percent (versus 16.9 percent for all youth that age). And Trump is misleading on his claim about Latinos living in poverty. In 2009, 12.3 million Latinos were living in poverty (with a rate of 25.3 percent). In 2014, the number jumped to 13 million — but the rate actually DECLINED to 23.6 percent.

Shame on NBC for pulling a bait-and-switch. Trump didn’t say that there is a 58-percent unemployment rate among black youth. He said that 58 percent of them aren’t employed.

What NBC doesn’t understand (or deliberately chooses to hide) is that the unemployment rate only counts those “actively” looking for work.

Trump was focusing on labor-force participation.

I’m sure he made that choice because it gave him a number that sounded bad, but there are very good reasons to focus on the share of people employed rather than the unemployment rate (though it’s worth noting that a 28.4 percent unemployment rate for young blacks is plenty scandalous, which raises the question of why Trump didn’t point out that African-Americans have been hurt by Obamanomics).

On the other hand, Trump may be factually wrong about the number of Latinos living in poverty, though you’ll notice below that National Public Radio basically said Trump is right on this issue.

TRUMP CLAIM: President Obama has almost doubled our national debt to more than 19 trillion dollars, and growing.

THE FACTS: He’s right. When Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, the public debt stood at $10.6 trillion. It is now $19.4 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Since I’ve already explained that George W. Bush deserves the overwhelming share of the blame for the budget numbers in Fiscal Year 2009 (which started on October 1, 2008), I think NBC actually missed a chance to criticize Trump for either being dishonest or for overstating the case against Obama.

Now let’s see what the New York Times wrote about Trump’s accuracy.

• “Nearly four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58 percent of African-American youth are not employed.”

Fact Check: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate of African Americans ages 16-19 in June was 31.2 percent (among whites of the same age, it was 14.1 percent).

The NYT does the same bait-and-switch as NBC, accusing Trump of saying A when he actually said B.

Is this because of dishonesty or sloppiness? Beats me, though I suspect the former.

• “Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000.”

Fact Check: This is mostly true. Median household income in 2000 was $57,724; in 2014, which has the most recent available data, it was $53,657.

My only comment is that I’m surprised the NYT didn’t go after Trump for using 2000 as his starting year, which obviously includes the stagnant big-government Bush years as well as the stagnant big-government Obama years.

• “Our manufacturing trade deficit has reached an all-time high – nearly $800 billion in a single year.”

Fact Check: The goods deficit — more imported goods, less exported goods — was $763 billion last year. But that includes agricultural products and raw materials like coal. Moreover, the total trade deficit last year was only $500 billion because the U.S. runs a trade surplus in services.

I think Trump is wrong about trade. Wildly wrong.

But the NYT is once again doing a bait-and-switch. Trump was talking about the trade is goods, not the overall trade balance.

They could have accurately accused him of selective use of statistics, or even misleading use of statistics. But his claim was accurate (depending whether you think $763 billion is “nearly” $800 billion).

• “President Obama has doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion, and growing.”

Fact Check: The national debt was $10.6 trillion on the day Obama took office. It was $19.2 trillion in April, so not quite double, but close.

As I explained above, this is an example of the media missing a chance to hit Trump, presumably because journalists don’t understand the budget process.

• “Forty-three million Americans are on food stamps.”

Fact Check: As of October, this figure was largely accurate, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

At least the New York Times didn’t try to spin this number by claiming food stamps are “stimulus.”

Speaking of spin, here’s the fact-checking from National Public Radio.

Nearly 4 in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58% of African-American youth are now not employed.

[Thirty-six percent of African-Americans under 18 were below the poverty line as of 2014, according to the Census Bureau. It’s not entirely clear what Trump means by “not employed,” which is not technically the same as “unemployed,” which counts people who aren’t working and are looking for work. However, the unemployment rate for black Americans ages 16 to 19 was 38.1 percent as of June. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

It’s actually very clear what Trump meant by “not employed.” As should be obvious, it means the share of the population that is not working.

But NPR presumably is pretending to  be stupid so they can do a bait-and-switch and focus on the unemployment rate.

2 million more Latinos are in poverty today than when President Obama took his oath of office less than eight years ago.

[That’s roughly true, by the latest data available. Around 11 million Hispanic-Americans were in poverty in 2008, compared with 13.1 million in 2014. The poverty rate makes more sense to compare, though — that has grown 0.4 points since 2008, but it has also declined lately, down by nearly 3 points since 2010. As for whether President Obama is responsible for this, we get to that below. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

The fact that NBC and NPR disagree appears to be based on whether one uses the total number of poor Latinos in 2008 or 2009.

Obama took his oath of office in early 2009, so it seems that NPR missed a chance to attack Trump.

Though without knowing how the Census Bureau measures the number of people in poverty in any given year (average for the entire year? the number as of January 1? July 1? December 31?), there’s no way to know whether Trump exaggerated or misspoke.

Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely.

[There’s a lot going on in this statistic. So here goes: Trump may be talking about the number of adults not in the labor force — that is, neither working nor looking for work (so it includes retirees and students, for example). That figure has climbed by 14 million since January 2009 (importantly, this isn’t people leaving the labor force; it’s just people not in it, period). But while labor force participation is relatively low, the labor force has still been growing — Trump’s 14 million figure might imply that it’s not. And that low labor force participation isn’t entirely about a tough economy — a lot of it is simple demographics. In 2014, the Congressional Budget Office found that half of a recent 3-point drop in the rate had been due to baby boomers retiring. The other half was economic factors. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

That’s a long-winded way of saying that Trump’s number was accurate, but they want to imply his number is inaccurate.

Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000. That’s sixteen years ago.

[That’s true, using median household income data, though he is not measuring from the start of the Obama administration as he is for the other stats here. If he measured from 2008, the drop was $1,656. Measuring from 2000 means measuring from the figure’s near-peak.

[A broader point about all of these economic statistics: A lot of them have been true, but the question is whether Obama is to blame. Higher poverty, for example, doesn’t appear to be Obama’s doing, as we wrote in a fact check last year. Moreover, many experts believe a president generally has only very limited ability to affect the economy. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

As suggested from my earlier analysis, I think it’s fair to point out that Trump was being somewhat arbitrary to use 2000 as his base year.

But it’s amusing to see NPR admit that the number is right but then engage in gymnastics in an effort to excuse the weak economic numbers during Obama’s tenure.

Excessive regulation is costing our country as much as $2 trillion a year, and we will end it very, very quickly.

[A few analyses have found that regulation costs around $2 trillion — one of the best-known, from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, estimated it at around $1.9 trillion this year. But as the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker has pointed out, in the past this figure has been characterized as a “back of the envelope” count, and that moreover, it doesn’t make sense to talk about costs without trying to count the benefits of regulation. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

This is another example of Trump making an accurate point, but NPR then blowing smoke in an attempt to imply he was being dodgy.

Last but not least, here are some assertions from Factcheck.org.

Trump claimed Clinton “plans a massive … tax increase,” but tax experts say 95 percent of taxpayers would see “little or no change” in their taxes under Clinton’s plan.

The fact that Clinton targets the top-5 percent doesn’t change the fact that she’s proposing a very large tax hike.

Trump claimed Clinton “illegally” stored emails on her private server while secretary of state, and deleted 33,000 to cover-up “her crime.” But the FBI cleared Clinton of criminal wrongdoing, and found no evidence of a cover-up.

This isn’t an economic issue, but I can’t resist making a correction.

The FBI Director explicitly pointed out that she repeatedly broke the law.

He simply chose not to recommend prosecution.

He said the “trade deficit in goods … is $800 billion last year alone.” It was nearly that, but it discounts the services the U.S. exports. The total trade deficit for goods and services is just over $500 billion.

As I noted above, Trump is wrong on trade, but the media shouldn’t do a bait-and-switch and criticize him for something he didn’t say.

By the way, the fact that media fact-checkers are largely wrong and dishonest is not a reason to be pro-Trump.

People can decide, if they want, to choose between the lesser of two evils.

My only message is that Trump is wrong on lots of issues, but that’s no excuse for hackery from self-styled fact-checkers.

P.S. Here’s my best Trump humor and here’s my best Hillary humor.

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It’s not easy being a libertarian, especially in election years.

  • Do you choose not to vote because you either reject your choices or even the entire principle of majoritarianism?
  • Do you vote for the Libertarian Party even though that historically is nothing more than an ineffective way of sending a message?
  • Or do you strategically cast a vote for a major-party candidate, fully aware that such a person inevitably will be a disappointment in office?

If you’re normally in the last category, 2016 will be especially difficult.

Let’s start with Trump. On the positive side, he’s proposed a good package of tax cuts. And he’s…….ummm……..errrr……well……(scratch head)……

Actually, in terms of specifics rather than rhetoric, the tax cut is about the only market-oriented policy he’s embraced.

On the negative side, he’s a big fan of protectionism, and that’s definitely not a recipe for prosperity. And he’s rejected much-need reforms to entitlement programs, which therefore makes his big tax cut totally unrealistic.

But mostly it’s impossible to know what he really thinks for the simple reason that he probably doesn’t have deep thoughts about public policy (look at his flailing response to the question of debt). Even when he’s been specific, does anyone think he’s philosophically committed to what he has said while campaigning?

So my assessment, as explained in this interview with Neil Cavuto, is that Trump is a grenade that will explode in an unpredictable fashion.

So if you’re a libertarian and you choose to vote for Trump, just be forewarned that you’ll probably be standing next to the grenade when it explodes.

So what about the alternative? Is there a libertarian argument for Hillary Clinton (other than the fact that she’s not Trump)? Can a politician who has spent decades promoting cronyism and redistributionism actually deliver good policy?

Her husband actually did a good job when he was in the White House, but you can probably sense from this debate with Juan Williams on the Stossel show, I’m not overflowing with optimism that she also would preside over a shift to better policy.

Here are a few additional thoughts on my debate with Juan.

Keynesian economics doesn’t work, either in theory or in reality. And it’s laughable that the excuse for Keynesian failure is always that politicians should have spent more money.

Entitlements will cripple America’s economy if left on auto-pilot. I’ve repeatedly made the point that we’re like Greece 10 or 15 years ago. By claiming at the time that there was no crisis, Greek politicians ensured that a crisis eventually would occur. The same thing is happening here.

I’m skeptical about the claim that climate change is a crisis, but a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the most sensible approach if action genuinely is required. But the left prefers sure-to-fail (but very lucrative to cronies) industrial policy.

Government can help create conditions for prosperity by providing core public goods like rule of law, but that only requires a very small public sector, not the bloated Leviathans that exist today.

I’d be delighted to have a woman as President if she had the same principles and judgement as Margaret Thatcher. To be colloquial, that ain’t a description of Hillary Clinton.

Last but not least, I was rhetorically correct but technically wrong about welfare dependency in Hong Kong. I said fewer than 3 percent of Hong Kong residents get public assistance when I should have said that Hong Kong spends less than 3 percent of GDP on redistribution. That’s an amazingly small welfare state, but it does ensnare about 5.5 percent of the population. Which if far lower than the share of the population getting handouts in America, so my point was still very much correct.

Not that any of this matters in the short run since there’s a 99.9 percent probability that America’s next President will be perfectly content to let the country sink further into the swamp of statism.

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I have a collection of columns about “honest leftists” and they mostly fall into two categories.

One group is comprised of people who are willing to admit that the statist policies they generally prefer have bad effects (such as gun control encouraging crime or welfare leading to more dependency).

The other group is much more dogmatic. They get credit for honesty only because they are publicly willing to admit views that most leftists try to keep hidden (such as thinking that all our income belongs to government or celebrating the role of coercion).

I also have a separate collection of statists who are honest enough to admit that their real goal is higher taxes on the middle class (mostly by imposing a value-added tax).

Now I’ve come across something that initially seemed a good fit for one of these collections since it deals with honesty.

But it doesn’t belong in any of the categories described above. So it’s time to create a new award for “Politician of the Year,” an honor that periodically will be bestowed on the elected official who goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Based on this blurb from a Wall Street Journal editorial, I think you’ll agree that the newly elected President of the Philippines deserves to win this award for a very unusual display of honesty.

Mr. Duterte gets credit for…claiming that he never gives public funds to his mistresses.

Wow, he’s openly admitting that he has mistresses (more than one, obviously), which is uncharacteristically honest for a politician.

And he’s not even using taxpayer money to subsidize his extracurricular activities with those “friends.” Assuming that’s true, kudos to President-Elect Duterte. Maybe he can give some lessons to the crowd in Washington.

By the way, we may also have a good idea of the politician who deserves the 2017 Award.

Though we don’t actually know his name because he’s written an anonymous book on what really happens behind closed doors in Washington. The U.K.-based Daily Mail has a report on this soon-to-be-released tell-all book.

A new book threatens to blow the lid off of Congress as a federal legislator’s tell-all book lays out the worst parts of serving in the House of Representatives – saying that his main job is to raise money for re-election and that leaves little time for reading the bills he votes on. …Washington is abuzz with speculation about who may be behind it. The book…discloses that the congressman is a Democrat – but not much else. …Much of what’s in the book will come as little surprise to Americans who are cynical about the political process. ‘Fundraising is so time-consuming I seldom read any bills I vote on,’ the anonymous legislator admits. ‘I don’t even know how they’ll be implemented or what they’ll cost.’ …And on controversial bills, he says, ‘I sometimes vote “yes” on a motion and “no” on an amendment so I can claim I’m on either side of an issue.’

The book will reveal how politicians indirectly line their own pockets.

…he seemingly takes a shot at the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation, noting how family philanthropies can be the beneficiaries of what amounts to bribes in exchange for legislative favors. ‘Some contributions are subtle,’ he explains. ‘Donations to a member’s nonprofit foundation. Funding a member’s charitable pet project. Offsetting the costs of a member’s portrait to adorn the committee room.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that politicians are shallow, corrupt, and hypocritical.

The mystery man reserves special scorn for Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who serves as Senate Minority Leader. …One chapter is titled ‘Harry Reid’s a Pompous A**. …The larger picture that emerges is one of disenchantment with the political process and the professional office-holders behind it. Especially those in the Democratic Party. ‘Our party used to be a strong advocate for the working class,’ he says. ‘We still pretend to be, but we aren’t. Large corporations and public unions grease the palms of those who have the power to determine legislative winners and losers.’ ‘Most of my colleagues want to help the poor and disadvantaged. To a point,’ he adds. ‘We certainly don’t want to live among them. Or mingle with them, unless it’s for a soup kitchen photo op. … Poverty’s a great concern as long as it’s kept at a safe distance.’ …’I’m concerned my party has an activist far-left wing intolerant of center-leftists. …He cites education policy as an example: ‘I’m a strong advocate of improving our public schools. I also see the near-term value of vouchers and charter schools committed to lending a helping hand to disadvantaged kids. Especially inner-city kids.’ ‘Hell, most of us send our children to private schools and wouldn’t be caught dead sending them to public schools in places like DC.

That last section is really disgusting. Politicians will sacrifice other people’s children to appease the teacher unions, but they have the money to exercise school choice for their own kids.

So what’s the bottom line?

The mystery Democratic Congressman paints a grim picture.

‘Most of my colleagues are dishonest career politicians who revel in the power and special-interest money that’s lavished upon them,’ Atkinson recorded his mystery collaborator saying. ‘My main job is to keep my job, to get reelected. It takes precedence over everything.’ …the take-away message is one of resigned depression about how Congress sacrifices America’s future on the altar of its collective ego. ‘We spend money we don’t have and blithely mortgage the future with a wink and a nod. Screw the next generation,’ the author writes. ‘Nobody here gives a rat’s a** about the future and who’s going to pay for all this stuff we vote for. That’s the next generation’s problem. It’s all about immediate publicity, getting credit now, lookin’ good for the upcoming election.’

In other words, he’s describing what academics refer to as “public choice economics,” which is simply the common-sense observation that politicians are most interested in maximizing power and money for themselves.

P.S. If we can give a retroactive award for Politician of the Year, the winner would be the state legislator mentioned in the postscript to this column. Bribery, prison, and potential statutory rape are a potent combination.

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I have no idea whether Donald Trump believes in bigger government or smaller government. Higher taxes or lower taxes. More intervention or less. Sometimes he says things I like. Sometimes he says things that irk me.

Politicians are infamous for being cagey, but “The Donald” is an entirely different animal. Instead of using weasel words that create wiggle room, he simply makes bold statements that are impossible to reconcile.

Consider his views on government debt.

Here’s an interview with Dana Loesch of Blaze TV from earlier this week. I was in Zurich and it was past midnight, so I was a tad bit undiplomatic about Trump’s endlessly evolving views. Simply stated, it’s not a good idea to default. And it’s not a good idea to monetize debt either.

For what it’s worth, while Trump is oscillating between different position on debt, one of his top advisers is claiming that his plan will produce a multi-trillion dollar surplus.

Sigh.

The sensible approach would be for Trump to make simple points.

  1. Debt is a symptom and the real problem is too much spending.
  2. The solution is to follow the Golden Rule.
  3. Therefore, impose a Swiss-style spending cap.

But he hasn’t asked me for advice, so I’m not holding my breath waiting for him to say the right thing.

It’s also a challenge to decipher Trump’s position on tax policy.

He actually put forth a good tax proposal, but nobody takes it seriously since he doesn’t have a concomitant plan to restrain spending.

So his campaign supposedly designated Larry Kudlow and Steve Moore to modify the plan, but then said the original proposal would stay unchanged.

This does not create a sense of confidence.

Trump also is getting pressure on his personal tax situation. He said he would release his tax return(s). Now he says he won’t. I speculated on what this implies in an essay for Time, listing five reasons why he may decide to keep his returns confidential.

The first two reasons deal with a desire for privacy and a political concern that he may appear to be less wealthy than he’s led folks to believe.

First, he may resent the idea of letting the world look at his tax returns for reasons of personal privacy, which is an understandable sentiment. …Can Trump get away with stonewalling on his returns? Perhaps. President Barack Obama refused to release his college transcript and didn’t seem to suffer any political damage. …Second, Trump’s tax return will probably show a surprisingly low level of income, and he might be concerned that such a revelation would erode the super-successful-billionaire aura that he has created.

I also suspect he’s worried that his tax return will make him look like…gasp…a tax avoider.

Third, to the degree that Trump’s return shows a lower-than-expected amount of taxable income, this will probably be because his accountants and tax lawyers have carefully plumbed the 75,000-page internal revenue code for deductions, credits, exemptions, exclusions and other preferences… Since we all seek to legally minimize our tax liabilities, that shouldn’t be a political problem. …That normally would be a persuasive answer, but voters may look askance when they learn that Trump is taking advantage of mysterious provisions dealing with things they don’t understand, like depreciation, carryforwards, foreign tax credits, muni bonds and deferral. …Fourth, for very wealthy individuals and large companies, the complexity of the tax code means there’s no way of knowing if a tax return is accurate. …Given Trump’s persona, he presumably pushes the envelope.

Last but not least, I imagine Trump has “offshore” structures.

Fifth, it’s highly likely that Trump does business with so-called tax havens. For successful investors and entrepreneurs with cross-border economic activity, this is almost obligatory because jurisdictions like the Cayman Islands have ideal combinations of quality governance and tax neutrality. …But in a political environment where the left has tried to demonize “offshore” tax planning, any revelations about BVI companies, Panama law firms, Jersey trusts and Liechtenstein accounts will be fodder for Trump’s many enemies.

Needless to say, I greatly sympathize with Trump’s desire to minimize his tax burden and I applaud his use of so-called tax havens (which are routinely utilized by wealthy Democrats).

And I even sympathize with his desire for privacy even though divulging personal financial information is now a routine obligation for politicians.

The point I should have made in my essay is that Trump would be in a stronger position if he said from the start that his tax returns are nobody else’s business.

And shifting back to policy, he’ll be in a stronger position if he picks a message and sticks to it (though ideally not the same message as Hillary Clinton).

P.S. Since I mentioned Obama’s still-secret college transcript, I may as well share this very clever mock transcript that explains a lot about his misguided approach to policy.

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Does Donald Trump have a consistent and coherent set of economic policies?

He sometimes says things indicating that he understands Washington is a cesspool of waste. But on other occasions, he seems to be singing off the same song sheet as Bernie Sanders.

Which is why, when I recently tried to dissect Trumponomics, I admitted to being clueless.

The honest answer is that I don’t know. He has put forth a giant tax cut that is reasonably well designed, so that implies more prosperity, but is he serious about the plan? And does he have a plan for the concomitant spending reforms needed to make his tax proposal viable? He also has lots of protectionist rhetoric, including a proposal for a 45 percent tax on Chinese products, which implies harmful dislocation to the American economy. Is he actually serious about risking a global trade war, or is his saber rattling just a negotiating tool, as some of his defenders claim?

For what it’s worth, I’m getting more skeptical that Trump would try to restrain and limit the federal government if he got elected.

And I have three recent news reports to underscore my concern.

Here’s a very disturbing example. Trump actually criticized Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin for not raising taxes. Here’s an excerpt from a report in the U.K.-based Guardian.

Donald Trump attacked Wisconsin governor Scott Walker for failing to raise taxes in order to properly fund schools and roads on Tuesday, in a startling new break from rightwing orthodoxy… “There’s a $2.2bn deficit and the schools were going begging and everything was going begging because he didn’t want to raise taxes ’cause he was going to run for president,” said Trump. “So instead of raising taxes, he cut back on schools, he cut back on highways, he cut back on a lot of things.”

To dig deeper into the issue, Governor Walker had just endorsed Ted Cruz, so I can understand why Trump would try to take a few shots at someone who is supporting a rival for the GOP nomination.

But attacking the Wisconsin governor for successfully balancing his state’s budget without a tax hike? Sounds more like something Hillary would say. Maybe it’s time to induct Trump into the Charlie Brown Club.

Trump also doesn’t like federalism. Assuming he even knows what it is. In his column for the Washington Post, Professor Jonathan Adler shares some Q&A from a recent CNN interview with Trump.

QUESTION:  In your opinion, what are the top three functions of the United States government?

TRUMP:  Well, the greatest function of all by far is security for our nation.  I would also say health care, I would also say education.

This doesn’t sound like a candidate who wants to reduce the federal government’s footprint.

Here’s more of the interview.

COOPER:  So in terms of federal government role, you’re saying security, but you also say health care and education should be provided by the federal government?

TRUMP:  Well, those are two of the things.  Yes, sure.  I mean, there are obviously many things, housing, providing great neighborhoods…

Huh, providing “great neighborhoods” is now a legitimate function of the federal government?!? I guess if Washington gets to be involved with underwear, neighborhood policy is just fine.

And why is he talking about education when the goal should be to eliminate the Department of Education?

To be fair, Trump also said in the interview that he wants to get rid of Common Core.  So it’s unclear what he actually envisions.

His answer on healthcare is similarly hazy.

COOPER:  And federal health care run by the federal government?

TRUMP:  Health care – we need health care for our people.  We need a good – Obamacare is a disaster.  It’s proven to be…

COOPER:  But is that something the federal government should be doing?

TRUMP:  The government can lead it.

So he wants the federal government involved, but he also thinks Obamacare is a “disaster.” I certainly agree about the Obamacare part, but once again we’re left with no idea whether a President Trump would make good reforms of bad reforms (i.e., would he move the “health care freedom meter” in the right direction or wrong direction?).

One thing that is clear, however, is that Trump doesn’t seem to have any core principles about the size and scope of the federal government.

He may not even realize that federalism is a key issue for advocates of limited and constitutional government.

Last but not least, Trump criticized Senator Cruz for the partial government shutdown fight that occurred in 2013. Here are some passages from a report by Byron York in the Washington Examiner.

When Trump did get around to Cruz, his critique focused…on the 2013 partial government shutdown. …He goes and he stands on the floor of the Senate for a day and a half and he filibusters …. To stand there and to rant and rave for two days and to show people you can filibuster — and in the meantime, nothing was accomplished.

I guess this isn’t an issue of underlying principles, but it does give us some idea of whether a President Trump would be willing to fight the Washington establishment.

Moreover, his assessment of the shutdown fight is completely wrong. By reminding voters that Republicans were opposed to Obamacare, the GOP won a landslide victory in 2014.

But you don’t have to believe me. Even an ultra-establishment, anti-Cruz figure like Trent Lott (former senator and now lobbyist) grudgingly admits that the shutdown was a success.

Cruz views the shutdown as a victory because the Affordable Care Act remains unpopular and Republicans swept to victory in 2014. Lott said…“That was their strategy, and it worked, so maybe they’re right and I’m wrong.”

The bottom line is that America is heading in the wrong direction, with Washington projected to consume ever-larger amounts of the economy’s output. This is a recipe for continued economic weakness in the short run and economic crisis in the long run.

Turning policy in the right direction requires a principled President who is fully committed to overcoming resistance from the special interests that dominate Washington’s culture.

I still don’t pretend to know where Donald Trump is on the big issues, but I’m not holding my breath for good results if he somehow gets elected.

P.S. Though I do expect more examples of clever political humor the longer he’s in the public eye.

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At this stage, it’s quite likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee. Conventional wisdom suggests that this means Democrats will win in November. On the other hand, conventional wisdom also told us that Trump would never get this far.  So it’s unclear what will happen in the general election, particularly given the ethical cloud surrounding the presumptive Democratic nominee.

So let’s contemplate what a potential Trump Administration would mean for economic liberty and American prosperity. Would the United States become more like Hong Kong, with a smaller burden of government and less intervention? Or more like France, with higher taxes and spending, along with additional cronyism and red tape?

The honest answer is that I don’t know. He has put forth a giant tax cut that is reasonably well designed, so that implies more prosperity, but is he serious about the plan? And does he have a plan for the concomitant spending reforms needed to make his tax proposal viable?

He also has lots of protectionist rhetoric, including a proposal for a 45 percent tax on Chinese products, which implies harmful dislocation to the American economy. Is he actually serious about risking a global trade war, or is his saber rattling just a negotiating tool, as some of his defenders claim?

And what about entitlement programs, which arguably represent the greatest long-term threat to America’s economy? Trump certainly gives the impression that he thinks Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid don’t need to be reformed. Is he really serious when he makes this claim?

If we take what he says seriously, Trump is more statist than every Republican who sought the GOP nomination but less statist than both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Though I confess I’m basing that opinion solely on whether I agreed with the candidates, as measured by the I-Side-With political quiz.

So let’s see what others have to say.

My colleague David Boaz, writing for National Review, is not impressed.

Without even getting into his past support for a massive wealth tax and single-payer health care, his know-nothing protectionism, or his passionate defense of eminent domain, I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan.

Speaking of National Review, Kevin Williamson argues that Trump represents the worst of cronyism.

The Tea Party’s fundamental complaint, which was the same complaint put forward by Occupy Wall Street minus the Maoist daydreaming, is that there exists a corrosive and distasteful relationship between certain politically connected businesses and the politicians who are both their patrons and their clients. Donald Trump is the face of that insalubrious relationship, a lifelong crony capitalist who brags about buying political favors.

Last but not least, my former UGA economics professor Paul Rubin (now at Emory), in a column for the Wall Street Journal, explains that Trump (and Sanders) incorrectly thinks the economy is a fixed pie.

Messrs. Trump and Sanders have been led astray by zero-sum thinking, or the assumption that economic magnitudes are fixed when they are in fact variable. If the world is zero-sum, then the number of jobs is fixed, as is gross domestic product. In Mr. Trump’s mind, if there are more Mexican workers in the U.S., then American workers must lose their jobs. In the real, positive-sum world where Mr. Trump doesn’t live, Mexican workers also consume, thus increasing GDP and creating new jobs. …Similar arguments apply to Mr. Trump’s analysis of Chinese imports. In a world of fixed GDP and prices, imports of goods from China merely replace goods that otherwise would have been produced by American workers. In the real world, imports reduce prices and increase GDP, so workers, who are also consumers, benefit from imports of lower-cost goods and increase their consumption of other goods. …Zero-sum thinking persists because it is superficially appealing. Mr. Trump’s policies would in theory benefit Americans and increase jobs. …In the actual, positive-sum world we live in, their policies…would, if adopted, lead to an economic depression that would make the 1930s look prosperous.

I actually think Prof. Rubin overstates his conclusion. It took a lot of truly awful policies by Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to produce the Great Depression.

Barack Obama didn’t come close to Hoover and Roosevelt with his bad policies and I suspect even the bad version of Donald Trump would (thankfully) fall short as well.

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