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Archive for the ‘Regulation’ Category

My favorite anti-libertarian video is the one based on the notion that Somalia is a libertarian paradise. Since no libertarian has ever pointed to that country as a role model, the underlying premise is a bit silly (I’ve written something semi-favorable about Somaliland, but that’s a different place). However, that doesn’t change the fact that the video is well produced and rather amusing.

It’s now time to share another amusing video with a bad message. It’s not targeting libertarians directly, but it’s mocking an idea that’s being promoted by libertarians such as my colleague Chris Edwards. The video shows a pair of English comedians doing a mock interview back in the 1990s on privatizing the U.K.’s air traffic control system.

Putting millions of passengers at the mercy of a for-profit company? Seems laughably absurd, right?

Except it actually happened. Not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Canada. So advocates of privatization actually got the last laugh.

And we may see similar progress in the United States. Remarkably, even the Washington Post is supporting this reform.

The United States can and should learn from the experience of other Western democracies… Take the prosaic but crucial function of air traffic control. In the United States, that is still a job for big government: specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration. Overseas, however, countries are turning away from this statist model. Canada spun off its system, Nav Canada, in 1996, to a private entity funded by user fees. Britain privatized in 2000. Australia and New Zealand are also part of the movement; ditto Germany and Switzerland… In all of these countries, safety and innovation have stayed the same or improved, which is not surprising.

The editorial urges something similar for America.

A new corporation, funded by charges on the system’s various users, would manage flights and implement the long-stalled modernization. The FAA would still ensure safety, a regulatory job it already does remarkably well and might do even better if it were free to focus on that exclusively. Major players in the industry would share governance of the new entity, working out their differences within its boardroom rather than through the costlier and more conflictual method of lobbying Congress, as they do now.

Wow, the Washington Post is pointing out that a leaner government with fewer responsibilities would be more effective. I hope in the future they apply that lesson on a consistent basis.

Let’s close with a reference to another bit of anti-libertarian humor. Last year, I shared an image showing a satirical box of libertarian cereal, which I freely admitted was very amusing. But I then made the obvious point that private companies have zero incentive to harm or kill their customers.

Moreover, there’s even a system of mutually reinforcing private regulation that further discourages bad or sloppy behavior by companies.

Sot the bottom line is that there are greater incentives for safety with for-profit firms than there are with governments, where it’s just about impossible to fire someone for doing a bad job.

P.S. Since I’m a fiscal wonk, I’ll confess that I also want to privatize air traffic control because I’m still irked that the FAA tried to deliberately and unnecessarily inconvenience travelers during the 2013 sequester. Sort of like the jerks at the National Park Service, who did something similar that year during the partial government shutdown (though at least we got some good humor out of that).

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On major economic issues, it does not appear that Republican control of Washington makes much of a difference.

  • Efforts to repeal Obamacare have bogged down because GOPers are willing to deal with the fiscal wreckage of that law, but don’t seem very comfortable about undoing the interventions and regulations that have caused premiums to skyrocket.
  • Efforts to cut taxes and reform the tax code don’t look very promising because House Republicans have proposed a misguided border-adjustment tax and the White House seems hopelessly divided on how to proceed.
  • Efforts to restrain government spending haven’t gotten off the ground. A full budget is due next month, but it’s not overly encouraging that Trump’s proposed domestic cuts would be used to expand the Pentagon’s budget.

Let’s see whether we get a different story when we examine regulatory issues.

We’ll start with some good news? Well, sort of. It seems the United States has the largest and 4th-largest GDPs in the world.

You may think that makes no sense, but this is where we have to share some bad news on the regulatory burden from the Mercatus Center.

Economic growth has been reduced by an average of 0.8 percent per year from 1980 to 2012 due to regulatory accumulation. Regulations force companies to invest less in activities that enhance productivity and growth, such as research and development, as companies must divert resources into regulatory compliance and similar activities. …Compared to a scenario where regulations are held constant at levels observed in 1980, the study finds that the difference between the economy we are in and a hypothetical economy where regulatory accumulation halted in 1980 is approximately $4 trillion. …The $4 trillion dollars in lost GDP associated with regulatory accumulation would be the fourth largest economy in the world—larger than major countries like Germany, France, and India.

By the way, this data from Mercatus gives me an opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of even small variations in economic growth. It may not make that much difference if the economy grows 0.8 percent faster or slower in one year.

But, as just noted, a loss of 0.8 percent annual growth over 32 years has been enormously expensive to the U.S. economy.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has a depressing array of data on America’s regulatory burden. Here’s the chart that grabbed my attention.

And here’s a video on the burden of red tape from the folks at CEI.

Who deserves the blame for this nightmare of red tape?

The previous president definitely added to the regulatory morass. The Hill reported last year on a study by the American Action Forum.

The Obama administration issues an average of 81 major rules, those with an economic impact of at least $100 million, on a yearly basis, the study found. That’s about one major rule every four to five days, or, as the American Action Forum puts it, one rule for every three days that the federal government is open. “It is a $2,294 regulatory imposition on every person in the United States,” wrote Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at the American Action Forum, who conducted the study.

And there was a big effort to add more red tape in Obama’s final days, as noted by Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal.

Since the election Mr. Obama has broken with all precedent by issuing rules that would be astonishing at any moment and are downright obnoxious at this point. This past week we learned of several sweeping new rules from the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, including regs on methane on public lands (cost: $2.4 billion); a new anti-coal rule related to streams ($1.2 billion) and renewable fuel standards ($1.5 billion).

As you might expect, the net cost of Obama’s regulatory excess is significant. Here’s some of what the Washington Examiner wrote during the waning days of Obama’s tenure.

According to new information from the White House, finally released after a two year wait, the total burden of federal government paperwork is more than 11.5 billion man-hours a year. That’s almost 500 million man-days, or 1.3 million man-years. More importantly, it’s 35 hours every person in the country (on average) has to spend doing federal paperwork every year, on average. …Time is money, and paperwork time alone costs the country almost $2 trillion a year, or about 11 percent of GDP.

But it’s not solely Obama’s fault. Not even close.

Both parties can be blamed for this mess, as reported by the Economist.

The call to cut red tape is now an emotive rallying cry for Republicans—more so, in the hearts of many congressmen, than slashing deficits. Deregulation will, they argue, unleash a “confident America” in which businesses thrive and wages soar, leaving economists, with their excuses for the “new normal” of low growth, red-faced. Are they right?

They may be right, but they never seem to take action when they’re in charge.

Between 1970 and 2008 the number of prescriptive words like “shall” or “must” in the code of federal regulations grew from 403,000 to nearly 963,000, or about 15,000 edicts a year… The unyielding growth of rules, then, has persisted through Republican and Democratic administrations… The endless pile-up of regulation enrages businessmen. One in five small firms say it is their biggest problem, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

Though I would point out that President Reagan was the exception to this dismal rule.

That being said, who cares about finger pointing? What matters is that the economy is being stymied by excessive red tape.

So what can be done about this? President Trump has promised a 2-for-1 deal, saying that his Administration will wipe out two existing regulations for every new rule that gets imposed.

Susan Dudley opines on this proposal, noting that Trump hasn’t put any meat on the bones.

Like pebbles tossed in a stream, each individual regulation may do little economic harm, but eventually the pebbles accumulate and like a dam, may block economic growth and innovation. A policy of removing two regulations for every new one would provide agencies incentives to evaluate the costs and effectiveness of those accumulated regulations and determine which have outlived their usefulness. Mr. Trump’s statement doesn’t provide details on how this new policy would work.

Ms. Dudley points out, however, that other nations have achieved some success with similar-sounding approaches.

…his team could look to experiences in other countries for insights. The Netherlands, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom have all adopted similar requirements to offset the costs of new regulations by removing or modifying existing rules of comparable or greater effect. …The Netherlands program established a net quantitative burden reduction target that reduced regulatory burdens by 20% between 2003 and 2007. It is currently on track to save €2.5 billion in regulatory burden between 2012 and 2017 by tying the introduction of new regulations “to the revision or scrapping of existing rules.” Under Canada’s “One-for-One Rule,” launched in 2012, new regulatory changes that increase administrative burdens must be offset with equal burden reductions elsewhere. Further, for each new regulation that imposes administrative burden costs, cabinet ministers must remove at least one regulation. Similarly, Australia’s policy is that “the cost burden of new regulation must be fully offset by reductions in existing regulatory burden.” The British began with a “One-in, One-out” policy, requiring any increases in the cost of regulation to be offset by deregulatory measures of at least an equivalent value. In 2013, it moved to “One-in, Two-out” (OITO) and more recently to a “One-in, Three-out” policy in an effort to cut red tape by £10 billion.

The bottom line is that progress will depend on Trump appointing good people. And on that issue, the jury is still out.

The legislative branch also could get involved.

In a column for Reason, Senator Rand Paul explained that the REINS Act could make a big difference.

…13 of the 15 longest registers in American history have been authored by the past two presidential administrations (Barack Obama owns seven of the top eight, with George W. Bush filling in most of the rest)…federal lawmakers should pass something called the REINS Act—the “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act. The REINS Act would require every new regulation that costs more than $100 million to be approved by Congress. As it is now, agencies can pass those rules unilaterally. Such major rules only account for about 3 percent of annual regulations, but they are the ones that cause the most headaches for individuals and businesses. …the REINS Act did pass the House on four occasions during the Obama administration. Lack of support in the Senate and the threat of a presidential veto kept it from ever reaching Obama’s desk.

But would it make a difference if Congress had to affirm major new rules?

Given how agencies will lie about regulatory burdens, it wouldn’t be a silver bullet.

But,based on the hysterical opposition from the left, I’m betting the REINS Act would be very helpful.

REINS would fundamentally alter the federal government in ways that could hobble federal agencies during periods when the same party controls Congress and the White House — and absolutely cripple those agencies during periods of divided government. Many federal laws delegate authority to agencies to work out the details of how to achieve relatively broad objectives set by the law itself. …REINS, however, effectively strips agencies of much of this authority.

That sounds like good news to me. If the crazies at Think Progress are this upset about the REINS Act, it must be a step in the right direction.

Let’s close with a bit of evidence that maybe, just maybe, Republicans will move the ball in the right direction. Here are some excerpts from a Bloomberg story.

The White House estimates it will save $10 billion over 20 years by having rescinded 11 Obama-era regulations under a relatively obscure 1996 law that lets Congress fast-track repeal legislation with a simple majority. …In all, the law has been used to repeal 11 rules, with two more awaiting the president’s signature… About two dozen measures with CRA’s targeting them remain, but because the law can only be used on rules issued in the final six months of the previous administration, Congress only has only a few more weeks to use the procedure.

Before getting too excited, remember that the annual cost of regulation is about $2 trillion and the White House is bragging about actions that will reduce red tape by $10 billion over two decades. Which means annual savings of only $500 million.

Which, if my math is right, addresses 0.025 percent of the problem.

I’ll take it, but it should be viewed as just a tiny first step on a very long journey.

P.S. The Congressional Review Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton. Yet another bit of evidence that he was a surprisingly pro-market President.

P.P.S. If you want some wonky analysis of regulation, I have some detailed columns here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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It’s relatively easy to demonstrate how certain regulations make our lives less pleasant (inferior light bulbs, substandard toilets, inadequate washing machines, crummy dishwashers, etc).

Furthermore, it’s also simple to highlight examples of foolish and preposterous regulations.

And it’s a straightforward exercise (at least conceptually) to argue that regulations should pass some sort of cost-benefit test.

What’s not so easy, however, is getting folks to grasp the overall impact of red tape on growth and living standards. After all, most normal people don’t want to learn about wonky concepts such as the production possibilities frontier. And I also doubt there are many people who are interested in the technical challenge of how to measure the aggregate impact of thousand of rules and restrictions.

But these issues matter. A lot. According to Economic Freedom or the World, the regulatory burden is just as important as the fiscal burden when determining a nation’s competitiveness and economic outlook. Simply stated, our living standards are determined by productivity, which is determined by how wisely labor and capital are combined to generate output.

With this in mind, a new study from the European Central Bank helpfully examines the degree to which regulation hinders the efficient allocation of those factors of production.

The focus of this paper is on the…misallocation of labour and capital in eight macro-sectors (which include manufacturing and services) for five large euro-area countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) during the period 2002-2012. …The paper then investigates the potential determinants of changes in input misallocation by looking at traditional structural determinants, namely restrictive product and labour market regulations. …regulations that shelter firms from competition might result in poor allocation of resources because low productive firms will keep operating instead of downsizing or exiting. Similarly, stringent labour market regulation, in the form of high hiring and firing costs, might also thwart resource allocation.

For those who are interested in such things, the study looks at what drives improvements in productivity. Is it firms becoming more efficient because of competition, or is “reallocation” as weak companies vanish and dynamic new firms emerge?

The short answer, as illustrated by the table, is that both play a role.

Here are some of the issues considered in the ECB study.

In our full empirical specification, as well as initial conditions in misallocation, …we first examine the role of two structural factors, i.e. changes in both product and labour market regulations. In the presence of high barriers to entry, unproductive firms are able to survive and therefore retain productive resources which are not shifted to the most efficient firms in a given industry (Schiantarelli 2008; Restuccia and Rogerson 2013; Andrews and Cingano 2014). Furthermore, more stringent employment regulation might prevent firms from adjusting their workforce to optimal levels, therefore hampering the efficient reallocation of workers across firms (Haltiwanger, Scarpetta and Schweizer 2014; Bartelsman, Gautier and de Wind 2011). Moreover, in the labour misallocation regressions we also include an interaction term between the changes in product and labour market regulations.

Here are their estimates of both product market regulation and labor market regulation for selected nations.

It’s good to see that there’s a slight trend toward less regulation of product markets. A few nations have modestly reduced regulation of labor markets, but the most interesting observation is that this is an area where the United States has a major advantage. Only Germany is even close to America in allowing markets to operate with a high level of freedom.

Having examined the issues covered by the study, let’s now consider the results.

All discussed capital misallocation results are robust to the inclusion of market distortions, i.e. to regulatory and credit constraints. …The general decline in PMR over the period considered dampened capital misallocation dynamics… Stricter product market regulation is found to have led to higher labour misallocation growth. But we also find that more stringent labour market regulations positively correlate with labour misallocation growth, particularly in sectors characterized by more stringent product market regulations. Thus, these results support the idea that the positive effect of the tightness of PMR on labour misallocation growth is amplified if also EPL becomes more restrictive. Seen from an inverse perspective, the gains in the allocative efficiency of labour are larger if both kinds of regulation are jointly loosened.

Here’s the bottom line.

Our results therefore suggest that in order to foster a more efficient within-sector allocation of inputs across firms structural reforms, such as those lowering entry barriers for firms, removing size-contingent regulations that prevent firms from reaching their optimal size and enhancing bankruptcy regulations that facilitate the exit of unproductive firms, would be warranted. The loosening of PMR and EPL in recent years in some countries has proven to dampen misallocation dynamics, yet there is still room for further reductions, as shown for example when comparing the level of regulation with that in the U.S.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect that this study will have any sort of impact on the debate. The people who already understand the negative impact of regulation now have more evidence about the value of unfettered markets and creative destruction.

But the politicians and interest groups won’t care. They are interested in accumulating power and obtaining unearned benefits. To the extent that they would even bother to read the study, they would conclude that they should fight extra hard to preserve the status quo since they will realize that there are fewer favors to distribute when genuine capitalism is allowed to operate.

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I don’t have strong views on global warming. Or climate change, or whatever it’s being called today.

But I’ve generally been skeptical about government action for the simple reason that the people making the most noise are statists who would use any excuse to increase the size and power of government. To be blunt, I simply don’t trust them. In Washington, they’re called watermelons – green on the outside (identifying as environmentalists) but red on the inside (pushing a statist agenda).

But there are some sensible people who think some sort of government involvement is necessary and appropriate.

George Schultz and James Baker, two former Secretaries of State, argue for a new carbon tax in a Wall Street Journal column as part of an agenda that also makes changes to regulation and government spending.

…there is mounting evidence of problems with the atmosphere that are growing too compelling to ignore. …The responsible and conservative response should be to take out an insurance policy. Doing so need not rely on heavy-handed, growth-inhibiting government regulations. Instead, a climate solution should be based on a sound economic analysis that embodies the conservative principles of free markets and limited government. We suggest…creating a gradually increasing carbon tax…, returning the tax proceeds to the American people in the form of dividends. And…rolling back government regulations once such a system is in place.

A multi-author column in the New York Times, including Professors Greg Mankiw and Martin Feldstein from Harvard, also puts for the argument for this plan.

On-again-off-again regulation is a poor way to protect the environment. And by creating needless uncertainty for businesses that are planning long-term capital investments, it is also a poor way to promote robust economic growth. By contrast, an ideal climate policy would reduce carbon emissions, limit regulatory intrusion, promote economic growth, help working-class Americans and prove durable when the political winds change. …Our plan is…the federal government would impose a gradually increasing tax on carbon dioxide emissions. It might begin at $40 per ton and increase steadily. This tax would send a powerful signal to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon footprints. …the proceeds would be returned to the American people on an equal basis via quarterly dividend checks. With a carbon tax of $40 per ton, a family of four would receive about $2,000 in the first year. As the tax rate rose over time to further reduce emissions, so would the dividend payments. …regulations made unnecessary by the carbon tax would be eliminated, including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

They perceive this plan as being very popular.

Environmentalists should like the long-overdue commitment to carbon pricing. Growth advocates should embrace the reduced regulation and increased policy certainty, which would encourage long-term investments, especially in clean technologies. Libertarians should applaud a plan premised on getting the incentives right and government out of the way.

I hate to be the skunk at the party, but I’m a libertarian and I’m not applauding. I explain some of my concerns about the general concept in this interview.

In the plus column, there would be a tax cut and a regulatory rollback. In the minus column, there would be a new tax. So two good ideas and one bad idea, right? Sounds like a good deal in theory, even if you can’t trust politicians in the real world.

However, the plan that’s being promoted by Schultz, Baker, Feldstein, Mankiw, etc, doesn’t have two good ideas and one bad idea. They have the good regulatory reduction and the bad carbon tax, but instead of using the revenue to finance a good tax cut such as eliminating the capital gains tax or getting rid of the corporate income tax, they want to create universal handouts.

They want us to believe that this money, starting at $2,000 for a family of four, would be akin to some sort of tax rebate.

That’s utter nonsense, if not outright prevarication. This is a new redistribution program. Sort of like the “basic income” scheme being promoted by some folks.

And it creates a very worrisome dynamic since people will have an incentive to support ever-higher carbon taxes in order to get ever-larger checks from the government. Heck, the plan being pushed explicitly envisions such an outcome.

I’ve made the economic argument against carbon taxes and the cronyism argument against carbon taxes. Now that we have a real-world proposal, we have the practical argument against carbon taxes.

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President Trump says he wants to roll back the burden of regulation. Give the morass of red tape that is strangling the economy, this is a very worthy goal.

It’s also a daunting task. Fixing the sprawling regulatory state is the modern version of cleaning the Augean stables and I’m not brimming with confidence that Trump and his appointees have Herculean powers.

That being said, if they’re deciding where to focus their deregulatory efforts, cost-benefit analysis would be a very useful guide. Simply stated, go after the red tape that imposes the highest costs while yielding the fewest benefits.

And if that’s the approach, so-called anti-money laundering regulations should be on the chopping block. Banks and other financial institutions are now being forced to squander billions of dollars in order to comply with laws, rules, and red tape that require them to spy on all their customers. The ostensible purpose of AML policies is to discourage criminal behavior, but experts have concluded that this approach has been a failure.

To the extent that AML policies have had an impact, it’s been negative. In addition to high costs and inefficiency, the laws and regulations have disproportionately harmed poor people.

Richard Rahn, in a column for the Washington Times, says AML laws are the modern version of prohibition, well-meaning in theory but counter-productive in practice.

Money laundering fits under the definition of vague law because, unlike murder or robbery, it is not a crime of an act but one of “intent.” …This leads to many problems and substantial prosecutorial abuse. It is not only banks and financial institutions that are supposed to know the source of their clients’ funds, but also such diverse people as car dealers, pawnbrokers, real estate agents, and on and on. Often, it is not considered good enough to know the source of a customer’s funds (often a near-impossibility), but the source of the funds of the customer’s customer. …The result is that banks and other financial institutions increasingly refuse to open accounts for low-income people… There is a very high fixed cost for banks and others to do “due diligence” on their customers — the costs being roughly the same for a $5,000 deposit, a $500,000 deposit or a $5,000,000 deposit. Given the massive penalties banks and other financial institutions are subject to for making even an unintentional mistake, their safest course of action is to drop small customers. …Recent academic and think tank studies show the situation only getting worse — all cost and no gain. …the poor, including poor countries, and the honest pay a huge price for all of the additional compliance costs, which reduces productive global capital formation and real incomes.

And the price isn’t trivial for the nations that get targeted, as I pointed out in testimony to the Organization for American States.

A working paper from the Center for Global Development digs into the numbers.

The past fifteen years have seen an unprecedented level of attention on anti-money laundering…issues by financial regulators…the total value of fines levied by regulators peaked at $15 billion in 2014 in the US alone. …Between 2010 and 2015, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international group tasked with setting common AML standards across the globe, added over fifty different countries to an internationally-recognized list of high risk countries. …there are growing concerns that this increase in regulatory activity is leading to a chilling effect on cross-border economic activity as banks limit their exposure to high risk clients or jurisdictions, a process known as ‘de-risking’… This contraction of the correspondent banking network has sounded a number of alarm bells, as these services are seen as being crucial for most cross-border services… The ICC survey reported that over 40% of respondents felt that AML and know-your-customer (KYC) requirements were a significant impediment to trade finance, with nearly 70% reporting they declined transactions that year…a large number of money transfer companies in the US, the UK and Australia have lost access to banking services as a result of banks’ desire to reduce their exposure to regulatory risk, potentially leading to a reduction to a decrease in formal remittances to developing countries, a critical source of development finance… The combined effect of all of these pressures should be leading to declines in the aggregate flow of cross-border payments.

And here are the results of the new empirical research in the study.

The combination of large scale fines, higher compliance costs and international naming-and-shaming has – anecdotally – led many banks to withdraw from certain lines of business or geographic areas, to the potential detriment of cross-border economic activity. …We find evidence that greylisting by the FATF is consistent with up to a 10% reduction in the number of payments received by an affected country. …Issues of economic impact aside, these results suggest there is more work to be done on assessing both the effectiveness and the efficiency of the global AML/CFT regulatory regime. …First, the reduction in payments received by countries subject to greater regulatory scrutiny raises the spectre of potential losses to these countries. Second, that there is either no effect or a positive effect of FATF greylisting on the number of payments leaving a designated country suggests that increased scrutiny may not do much to prevent illicit money from leaving high risk countries and entering the international financial system at large.

In other words, lots of costs, mostly borne by poor people and poor nations, but no evidence that criminals and terrorists are being stopped.

Rather than imposing lots of red tape and requiring banks to spy on everybody, it would be much better if the government followed normal rules in the fight against crime. By all means, it should investigate real crimes, collect evidence and build cases (within proper limits), and work to punish those who inflict harm on others.

But don’t squander resources in ways that aren’t effective.

Some have suggested that it would make sense to have banks monitor a discrete list of potential bad guys rather than promiscuously spy on all customers.

That might be a step in the right direction, but this story from the UK-based Times shows that this approach leaves something to be desired.

A controversial “blacklist” used by British banks to identify terrorists and potential money launderers has grown so bloated that it includes details of a three-year-old member of the royal family… World-Check, a database of more than two million “high-risk” individuals including criminals and senior politicians, is used by 49 of the world’s 50 biggest banks to carry out compliance checks on existing and potential clients. Customers who are flagged up face extra scrutiny and their accounts…hundreds of individuals were included partly on the basis of unverified blog posts and even far-right or extremist websites.

Wow. Since some of my leftist friends consider International Liberty a “far-right” and “extremist” website, this doesn’t bode well for me. I guess I’m lucky that I still have a bank account.

Here’s more from the story.

Thousands of others were listed on the database, which dates from 2014, only because they were relatives or friends of minor public figures. …Maud Windsor…was listed at nine months old. The apparent justification was that she was a family member of a “politically exposed person” (PEP), a reference to her father, who is the son of Prince Michael of Kent and 43rd in line to the throne. …Other British PEPs on the database include Sir Neil Cossons, a historian and former chairman of English Heritage. …Heather Wheeler, a Conservative MP listed on the database, told parliament this year that her bank of 30 years informed her that she was “high risk” and that it “would not deal with me anymore and that it was closing my account.”

These absurd results are driven by government policies that force financial institutions to treat all customers as potential crooks.

And given the huge fines that are being levied on banks and other firms, you can understand why they drop customers and charge high fees. They are forced to act defensively.

Thomson Reuters, the media company that makes millions of pounds compiling and selling the database, does not inform individuals if they are included and banks have no obligation to tell clients why they have been denied services. …Many financial institutions have become risk-averse… “You have an arms race where there’s this immense pressure to build a ‘robust’ database,” one expert on World-Check said. “They’ll pack this database with as many names of individuals as possible. You end up getting a ton of false positives.”

And some of those “false positives” are mentioned in this video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

P.S. Statists frequently demagogue against so-called tax havens for supposedly being hotbeds of dirty money, but take a look at this map put together a few years ago by the Institute of Governance and you’ll find only one supposed haven among the 28 nations listed.

P.P.S. You probably didn’t realize you could make a joke involving money laundering, but here’s one featuring former President Obama.

P.P.P.S. But when you look at the real-world horror stories that result from these laws, you realize that the current system on money laundering is no laughing matter.

P.P.P.P.S. And you won’t be surprised to learn that the statists have learned the wrong lesson. They see that AML laws have been a failure and think the right response is to go nuclear and ban cash entirely.

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Red tape is a huge burden on the American economy, with even an Obama Administration bureaucracy acknowledging that costs far exceed supposed benefits.

And the problem gets worse every year.

If I had to pick the worst example of foolish regulation, there would be lots of absurd examples from the federal government, and the crazy bureaucrats at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission probably would be at the top of the list.

But the worst regulations, at least if measured by the harm to lower-income Americans, probably are imposed by state governments. Yes, I’m talking about the scourge of occupational licensing.

A report published by The American Interest elaborates on this problem.

…it’s important that policymakers don’t lose sight of more subtle ways the government has distorted the economy to favor the politically connected. One example: Onerous occupational licensing laws that force people to undergo thousands of hours of often redundant and gratuitous training to perform jobs like auctioneering, tree trimming, and hair styling. …licensing laws are the result of higher-skilled professionals seeking to protect their market share at the consumers’ expense. …This not just a minor concern for a few key industries; it is a weight dragging down the entire economy, raising prices while blocking access to less-skilled trades. The Obama administration has already recommended that states look at ways to loosen these requirements.

Yes, you read correctly. This is an issue where the Obama Administration was basically on the right side.

I’m not joking. Here are excerpts from a White House statement last year.

Today nearly one-quarter of all U.S. workers need a government license to do their jobs. The prevalence of occupational licensing has risen from less than 5 percent in the early 1950s with the majority of the growth coming from an increase in the number of professions that require a license rather than composition in the workforce. …the current system often requires unnecessary training, lengthy delays, or high fees. This can in turn artificially create higher costs for consumers and prohibit skilled American workers like florists or hairdressers from entering jobs in which they could otherwise excel.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah is a strong advocate of curtailing these protectionist regulations and allowing capitalism to flourish. Using teeth-whitening services as an example, he explained the downside of government-enforced cartels in an article for Forbes.

Should only dentists be allowed to whiten people’s teeth? …This may sound like a silly question… Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration already regulates teeth-whitening products for safety and that virtually no one has ever been injured by someone administering these products. But in a number of states throughout the country, dentists began losing teeth-whitening customers to non-dentists who had set up kiosks in shopping malls and were charging less money for the same teeth-whitening services. These upset dentists then went to their state dental-licensing boards and urged those boards to add teeth whitening to the definition of “the practice of dentistry.” These state boards complied… The results were unemployed teeth whiteners, more expensive teeth whitening, and higher profits for the dentists. …An organized cartel (the dentists)…used the threat of government punishment to enforce their monopoly.

Unfortunately, Senator Lee explains, this is a problem that goes way beyond teeth whitening.

…when the deeper question of occupational licensing is applied to the broader economy, it turns out that there are millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars at stake. …dentists are not the only professionals using government power to harm consumers and line their pockets. A 2013 study found that 25% of today’s workforce is in an occupation licensed by a state entity, up from just 5% in 1950. And the number of licensed professionals is not growing because everyone is suddenly becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Instead, it is the number of professions requiring licenses that is growing. Security guards, florists, barbers, massage therapists, interior decorators, manicurists, hair stylists, personal trainers, tree trimmers and auctioneers work in just some of the many, many professions that state legislatures have seen fit to cartelize.

But do consumers get some sort of benefit as a result of all this red tape?

Nope.

According to a study by University of Minnesota Professor Morris Kleiner, “Occupational licensing has either no impact or even a negative impact on the quality of services provided to customers by members of the regulated occupation.” Occupational licensing has grown not because consumers demanded it, but because lobbyists recognized a business opportunity where they could use government power to get rich at the public’s expense. …Consumers end up paying $200 billion in higher costs annually, prospective professionals lose an estimated three million jobs, and millions more Americans find it harder to live where they want due to licensing requirements.

By the way, the barriers to mobility are a major problem. A professor at Yale Law School crunched the numbers and found that occupational licensing has undermined the great America tradition of moving where the jobs are.

Here are some details from the abstract of the study.

Rates of inter-state mobility, by most estimates, have been falling for decades. Even research that does not find a general decline finds that inter-state mobility rates are low among disadvantaged groups and are not increasing despite a growing connection between moving and economic opportunity. …governments, mostly at the state and local levels, have created a huge number of legal barriers to inter-state mobility. Land-use laws and occupational licensing regimes limit entry into local and state labor markets.

In an article for Reason, Ronald Bailey highlights some of the key findings from the scholarly study.

From the end of World War II through the 1980s, the Census Bureau reports, about 20 percent of Americans changed their residences annually, with more than 3 percent moving to a different state each year. Now more are staying home. In November, the Census Bureau reported that Americans were moving at historically low rates: Only 11.2 percent moved in 2015, and just 1.5 percent moved to a different state. …Yale law professor David Schleicher blames bad public policy. …Schleicher identifies and analyzes the policies that limit people’s ability to enter job-rich markets and exit job-poor ones. …Why? First, lots of job-rich areas have erected barriers that keep job-seekers from other regions out. The two biggest barriers are land use and occupational licensing restrictions. …Schleicher notes that more than 1,100 occupations require licensing in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all states. A 2015 White House report on occupational licensing found that “interstate migration rates for workers in the most licensed occupations are lower by an amount equal to nearly 15 percent of the average migration rate compared to those in the least licensed occupations.”

Let’s close by putting this in practical terms.

Imagine you don’t have a lot of education. And you definitely don’t have out-of-state licenses that are necessary for dozens of professions.

Are you going to move where there are more jobs?

Several decades ago, the answer likely was yes. Now, the incentive for mobility has been curtailed thanks to licensing laws that are really nothing more than regulatory protectionism.

Such laws should be repealed, or struck down by the courts as illegal restraints on trade.

P.S. Here’s some dark libertarian humor on this topic.

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All things considered, I like small businesses more than big businesses.

Not because I’m against large companies, per se, but rather because big businesses often use their political influence to seek unearned and undeserved wealth. If you don’t believe me, just look at the big corporations lobbying for bad policies such as the Export-Import Bank, Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, bailouts, and the green-energy scam.

It’s almost as if cronyism is a business model.

By contrast, the only bad policy associated with modest-sized firms is the Small Business Administration. And I suspect the majority of little firms wouldn’t even notice or care if that silly bit of intervention was shut down.

Rather than seeking handouts, small businesses generally are more focused on fighting back against excessive government.

That’s because taxes and red tape can be a death sentence for a mom-and-pop firm. Literally, not just figuratively.

The Daily News reports on the sad closing of popular restaurant in New York City.

For 25 years, China Fun was renowned…the restaurant’s sudden Jan. 3 closing, blamed by management on suffocating government demands. …“The state and municipal governments, with their punishing rules and regulations, seems to believe that we should be their cash machine to pay for all that ails us in society.” …Albert Wu, whose parents Dorothea and Felix owned the eatery, said the endless paperwork and constant regulation that forced the shutdown accumulated over the years. …Wu cited one regulation where the restaurant was required to provide an on-site break room for workers despite its limited space. And he blamed the amount of paperwork now required — an increasingly difficult task for a non-chain businesses. “In a one-restaurant operation like ours, you’re spending more time on paperwork than you are trying to run your business,” he griped. Increases in the minimum wage, health insurance and insurance added to a list of 10 issues provided by Wu. “And I haven’t even gone into the Health Department rules and regulations,” he added. …“For smaller businesses like China Fun, each little thing that occurs makes it harder,” said Malpass. “Each regulation, each tax — you put it all together and it’s just a hostile business environment.”

This is rather unfortunate, but perhaps it is a “teachable moment.”

There are two things that came to mind as I read this story.

  • First, at some point a camel’s back is broken by too much straw. Politicians often claim that a particular tax or regulation imposes a very small burden. Perhaps that is true, but when you have dozens of taxes and hundreds of regulations, those various and sundry small burdens become very onerous. I’ve made the point before that you don’t need perfect policy for the economy to function. You just need “breathing room.” Well, China Fun ran out of breathing room. A casualty of big government, though it remains to be seen if anyone learns from this experience.
  • Second, complicated taxes and regulations are a much bigger burden for small companies compared to big corporations. Every large firm has teams of lawyers and accountants to deal with tax and regulatory compliance. That’s expensive and inefficient, of course, but such costs nonetheless consume only a very small fraction of total revenue. For small businesses, by contrast, those costs consume an enormous percentage of time, energy, and resources for owners. For all intents and purposes, bad government policy creates a competitive advantage for big firms over small firms.

The moral of the story is that we should have smaller government. Not just lower taxes (and simpler taxes), but also less regulation and red tape.

Not just because such policies are good for overall economic performance, but also because small businesses shouldn’t be disadvantaged.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of how government tilts the playing field in favor of big companies (at least the corrupt big companies), let’s enjoy some humor on that topic.

Starting with Uncle Sam’s universal bailout application form. And we also have the fancy new vehicle from Government Motors.

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