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Archive for the ‘Statism’ Category

I’ve repeatedly warned about the downsides of socialism, calling it “evil and stupid,” as well as a “dreary failure.”

Though these debates can be frustrating because of vague definitions.

Some people, when they talk about socialism, are referring to government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls.

Others, by contrast, are referring to Scandinavia’s market-based welfare states.

And there’s also a distinction to be made between Marxist socialism and less totalitarian versions.

Speaking of which Joseph Stiglitz opined in the Washington Post about the benefits of so-called democratic socialism.

…no one in the United States is advocating a government takeover of coal mines or oil fields — not Ocasio-Cortez, not Sanders, not anybody. …the extremes of capitalism and its dysfunction have given rise to questions such as: Can capitalism be saved from itself? …American democratic socialists — or call them what you will — is simply advocating a model that embraces government’s important role in social protection and inclusion, environmental protection, and public investment in infrastructure, technology and education. They recognize the public’s regulatory role in preventing corporations from exploiting customers or workers… Millennials respond to the label “democratic socialist” in a pragmatic way. They say, if it means ensuring a decent life for all Americans, then we’re for it. …many of these ideas have the support of a majority of Americans, especially the young.

I don’t doubt that many people respond favorably to polling questions about getting things for free.

Even the young. Maybe especially the young.

Indeed, the desire to get something for nothing is the Achilles Heel of democracy.

But does any of that mean socialism works?

Professor Ilya Somin of George Mason Law School is appropriately skeptical.

He explains why socialism imposed by a democratically elected government won’t be any more successful than the totalitarian forms of socialism.

Historically, socialism—defined as government control over all or most of the economy—has led to mass murder, poverty, and oppression on an enormous scale. …The current horrible oppression in Venezuela…is just the latest iteration of the same pattern. …current advocates of democratic socialism argue that this awful record isn’t relevant to their proposals. …we are assured that latter-day socialists don’t actually mean to impose government control over the means of production. They just want greatly increased regulation and welfare state spending. Unfortunately, the…expansion of government power advocated by modern socialists is so great that it would put most of the economy under state control, even if much industry formally remained under private ownership. It goes far beyond any Scandinavian precedent. …The standard agenda favored by most democratic socialists –  single-payer health care, universal free college, and a guaranteed federal job for anyone who wants one—would cost some $42.5 trillion over a ten year period ($4.25 trillion per year). …many enterprises would officially remain under private ownership, implementation of the democratic socialist agenda would ensure that the federal government controls the lion’s share of actual economic resources.

Professor Somin warns that the Sanders/AOC agenda would push America way to the left of the Nordic nations.

Often, their agenda is analogized to the policies of Scandinavian nations, which have large welfare states, but remain relatively prosperous and free. …The democratic socialist agenda goes well beyond the Nordic nations advocates sometimes cite as models. While these countries have comparatively large welfare states, they combine them with low levels of regulation and high openness to international trade. To take just one example, none of the Nordic nations have a national government-mandated minimum wage. The Nordic nations actually come close to the United States (and occasionally even outscore it) on standard measures of economic liberty. Iceland (slightly ahead of the US) and Denmark (slightly behind) were statistically indistinguishable from the US in the latest Index of Economic Freedom ranking put out by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Finland and Sweden were only slightly lower. When Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen tried to explain to Bernie Sanders that his country is not actually socialist, the latter should have listened.

I’ve made similar arguments about relatively high levels of economic liberty in Scandinavia, so I obviously think this is spot on.

Somin also speculates that democratic socialism in America may morph into totalitarian socialism. Which is what’s happened in Venezuela. And may happen to Greece.

I worry that he’s right, particularly since redistribution erodes societal capital.

Though I hope he’s wrong.

In any event, that’s a secondary issue. At least for now.

What matters today is that politicians are promising lots of freebies. Notwithstanding the “investment” argument made by Stiglitz and others, those new handouts will undermine prosperity.

And that’s true regardless of whether the additional spending is financed with new taxes or new debt (or printing money).

 

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By offering all sorts of freebies to various constituencies, Bernie Sanders has positioned himself as the true-believing socialist in the Democratic race (even though he’s actually a member of the “top-1 percent”).

But he has plenty of competition. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren are strong competitors in the free-lunch Olympics, and most of the rest of the candidates are saying “me, too” as well.

Assuming these candidates get a warm reception, this is a worrisome development.

Part of America’s superior societal capital is (or has been) our immunity to the free-lunch message.

If that’s changing, it will be very hard to be optimistic about the future.

Antony Davies of Duquesne University and James Harrigan of the University of Arizona wrote for FEE about the dangerous – and seductive – ideology of something-for-nothing.

…politicians are tripping over each other to offer voters more “free” things, including everything from health care and college to a guaranteed basic income. But voters should be fostering a healthy sense of skepticism. If there is one eternal and immutable fact in economics, it is that nothing is free. Nothing. …as voters, our healthy skepticism seems to go right out the window. When politicians promise all sorts of “free” things, it doesn’t occur to many of us that those things can’t possibly be free. It doesn’t occur to us that, like businesses seeking our dollars, politicians will tell us whatever it takes to get hold of our votes. …Don’t be so gullible…when you hear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders tell you how health care and higher education will be free for everyone, remember that…health care and higher education cannot and will never be free.

Davies and Harrigan are economically right. Indeed, they are 100 percent right.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

But there are lunches that financed by others. And that’s why I’m worried about support for Sanders and other hard-left Democrats.

I don’t want America to turn into Europe, with people thinking they have a “right” to a wide array of goodies, paid for by someone else.

So what’s the alternative to the something-for-nothing ideology of the modern left?

Bobby Jindal, the former Louisiana governor, recently opined on this topic in the Wall Street Journal.

Progressives are changing the Democratic Party’s focus…to subsidizing everything for everybody. …Democrats now promise free college, free health care and more—for everyone. Republicans can’t outspend Democrats, but they can make the case for freedom and against the idea that everything is “free”… The Republican ideal is…an aspirational society. …becoming dependent on government is the American nightmare. …Republicans have to do more than mock the Green New Deal…if they want to persuade young voters of the case for limited government and personal freedom. …“free” means more government control at the expense of consumer autonomy. When progressives promise government will pay for health care and college, they are really saying government will run medicine and higher education. …“Free” means less efficiency, more expense and lower quality. …“Free” means robbing from America’s children. …Despite proposed marginal rates as high as 70% or even 90%, none of the tax plans Democrats have put forward would raise nearly enough revenue to pay for the promised spending. …Republicans can’t outbid Santa Claus. Americans are willing to work hard and sacrifice for a better life but need to know how pro-growth policies benefit them. Voters may be tempted by progressives’ crazy plans… They will embrace effective market-based solutions that promote freedom if Republicans offer them.

Gov. Jindal has a great message about trumpeting growth as an alternative to redistribution.

Though I’m not brimming with confidence that Republicans are overly sincere when they use this type of rhetoric.

And some of them, like Trump, don’t even bother with pretending that they want to curtail dependency and shrink the social welfare state.

And that does not bode well for America’s future.

P.S. As is so often the case on issues of policy and ethics, Professor Walter Williams is a great source of wisdom.

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When writing about Bernie Sanders back in 2016, I put together a flowchart to identify different strains of statism.

In part, I wanted to show that genuine socialists, with their advocacy of government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls, aren’t really the same as other leftists (and I’ve made the unconventional claim that “Crazy Bernie” isn’t a true socialist – at least based on his policy positions).

I’m not the only one to notice that not all leftists have the same approach.

Writing for the Washington Post about the battle between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination, Elizabeth Bruenig opines on the difference between two strains of statism.

What is the difference between Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)? …much of it comes down to the matter of regulation vs. revolution. For Warren, the solution to our economic ills already exists in well-regulated capitalism. “I believe in markets,”… Warren believes today’s socioeconomic ills are the result of high concentrations of power and wealth that can be resolved with certain regulatory tools and interventions. …for Sanders, those solutions come up short. ,,,Instead, he aims to transfer power over several key segments of life to the people — by creating a set of universal economic rights that not only entitle citizens to particular benefits (such as medical care, education and child care) but also give those citizens a say in how those sectors are governed: in short, democratic socialism.

They both sound like “stationary bandits” to me, but there are some nuances.

Elizabeth Warren basically favors private ownership but she explicitly wants politicians and bureaucrats to have the power to dictate business decisions.

Thomas Sowell points out this economic philosophy is fascism. But I’ll be more polite and refer to it as corporatism.

By contrast, as a self-declared socialist, Bernie Sanders should be in favor of nationalizing companies.

But, as reported by the New York Times, he actually sees himself as another Franklin Roosevelt.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont offered a vigorous defense of the democratic socialism that has defined his five decades in political life on Wednesday… Mr. Sanders cast himself at times in direct competition with President Trump, contrasting his own collectivist views against what he called the “corporate socialism” practiced by the president and the Republican Party. And Mr. Sanders, 77, declared that his version of socialism was a political winner, having lifted Mr. Roosevelt to victory four times… Mr. Sanders…presented his vision of democratic socialism not as a set of extreme principles but as a pathway to “economic rights,”… He argued that his ideology is embodied by longstanding popular programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, that Republicans have labeled socialist. …Mr. Sanders called for a “21st-century economic Bill of Rights,” which he said would address health care, wages, education, affordable housing, the environment and retirement.

I’ll make two points.

First, FDR may have won four times, but he was an awful President. His policies deepened and lengthened the Great Depression.

And his proposed “economic bill of rights” would have made a bad situation even worse. He basically said everyone has a right to lots of freebies without ever stopping to think about the impact such policies would have on incentives to lead productive lives.

For all intents and purposes, we wanted to turn this cartoon into reality.

Second, I don’t actually think there’s a significant difference between Sanders and Warren. Yes, their rhetoric is different, but they both want higher taxes, more regulation, additional spending, and more intervention.

Heck, if you examine their vote ratings from the Club for Growth or the National Taxpayers Union, it’s hard to find any real difference.

At the risk of making a radical understatement, neither of them is a friend to taxpayers.

But thinking about this issue has motivated me to modify my statism flowchart. Here’s the new version.

As you can see, I created a much-needed distinction between totalitarian statism and democratic statism.

And while Warren is on the corporatist side and Sanders is on the socialist side, I also put both of them relatively close to the Venezuela-style track of “incoherent statism.” In other words, I think they’re guided by vote buying rather than a cohesive set of principles.

P.S. I wrote last week about the emerging “anti-socialist” wing of the Democratic Party. Presumably they would be the “rational leftists” on the flowchart.

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How do we measure the cost of Venezuelan socialism?

Actually, it’s all of the above.

And there’s plenty of additional evidence. All of which shows that more socialism results in more misery.

Let’s review some examples.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. But with government running the industry, producing petroleum products has been a challenge. To put it mildly.

Venezuela — home to the world’s largest oil reserves — has started introducing in some areas to tackle extreme fuel shortages. …for ordinary Venezuelans, it is a cruel joke without a punchline — a driver recently died of a heart attack after waiting in line for days to fill his tank. …Lopez had been waiting in line to fill her tank for six hours in Lara’s capital Barquisimeto, but had to leave without getting any fuel because she had to go search for medicine for her ailing brother, who suffers from meningitis. “It’s a joke!” she fumed again as she left the gas station empty-handed, despite the fact that between state-regulated gas prices, hyper-inflation and black-market dollar exchange rates, a dollar could technically buy almost 600 million liters of fuel. …According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Venezuela’s oil output has dropped from 3.2 million barrels per day a decade ago to 1.03 million barrels in April this year. Other estimates put that output as low as 768,000 barrels per day.

Here’s another sign of Venezuela’s descent into third-world status.

…the Center for Malaria Studies in Caracas..is not immune to Venezuela’s economic crisis and is struggling to treat patients. This is a country that lacks 85 percent of the medicines it needs, according to the pharmaceuticals industry. …Scientists who would later work for this clinic contributed in 1961 to helping Venezuela become the first country to eradicate malaria. However, there was a resurgence seven years ago, worsening to become an epidemic in 2016, according to the Red de Epidemiologia NGO. Today the clinic is in a sorry state: yellowed microscopes, a dishwasher stained by purple chemicals, refrigerators corroded by rust. …According to the World Health Organization, Venezuela registered more than 400,000 malaria cases in 2017, making it one of the hardest-hit countries in the Americas. Noya, though, believes the true extent of the epidemic is “close to two million” people affected.

I have no idea if Juan Guaido, the putative leader of the opposition, has what it takes to lead Venezuela out of the dark ages (maybe he’s another Macri rather than a Thatcher). But he’s definitely getting some first-hand experience with socialism.

On Thursday, Juan Guaido woke up and doused himself with a bucket of water. It was his shower. Like millions of Venezuelans, the man who dozens of countries recognize as the legitimate leader of his broken country can’t rely on the taps to run. …“It’s going to get worse” before things turn, he warned.

Reuters reports on how parts of Venezuela are descending into autarky and barter.

At the once-busy beach resort of Patanemo, tourism has evaporated over the last two years as Venezuela’s economic crisis has deepened and deteriorating cellphone service left visitors too afraid of robbery to brave the isolated roads. …These days, its Caribbean shoreline flanked by forested hills receives a different type of visitor: people who walk 10 minutes from a nearby town carrying rice, plantains or bananas in hopes of exchanging them for the fishermen’s latest catch. With bank notes made useless by hyperinflation, and no easy access to the debit card terminals widely used to conduct transactions in urban areas, residents of Patanemo rely mainly on barter. It is just one of a growing number of rural towns slipping into isolation as Venezuela’s economy implodes amid a long-running political crisis. …In the mountains of the central state of Lara, residents of the town of Guarico this year found a different way of paying bills – coffee beans. Residents of the coffee-growing region now exchange roasted beans for anything from haircuts to spare parts for agricultural machinery.

One can only wonder, by the way, why the collapse of trade isn’t creating more jobs and prosperity. Could it be that Trump is wrong on the issue?

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to our main topic.

What can you say about a country that’s so poor that even criminals are suffering?

Venezuela’s crippling economic spiral is having a negative impact on an unlikely group in society: criminals, who are struggling to afford bullets, and unable to find things to steal as the country’s wealth declines rapidly. …While bullets are widely available on the black market, many muggers cannot afford the $1 price tag anymore, a criminal known as “Dog” told the news organization. …Another gangster, “El Negrito,” who leads a gang called Crazy Boys, has found it increasingly hard to support his wife and daughter with assaults. Firing a bullet is a luxury now, he said. …homicide rate…went down by nearly 10% last year— though Venezuela remains one of the most violent countries in the world. The non-profit, which aggregates the data from morgues and media reports, partly attributes this decrease to the reduction in muggings — because there is nothing to steal. …Shoemaker Yordin Ruiz told The Washington Post: “If they steal your wallet, there’s nothing in it.”

What a perfect symbol of socialism! People are so poor that there’s nothing left to steal.

I want to conclude by emphasizing a point that I’ve made before about greater levels of socialism being associated with greater levels of misery.

As you can see from this chart (based on EFW data), Hong Kong has the most freedom, though it isn’t perfect.

Then you have nations such as the United States and Denmark, that have some statist characteristics but are mostly market oriented. Followed by France, which has a lot more socialist characteristics, and then Greece, which presumably can be described as a socialist nation.

But Venezuela is an entirely different category. It’s in the realm of near-absolute statism.

P.S. Cuba and North Korea presumably rank below Venezuela, but they’re not part of the EFW rankings because of inadequate and/or untrustworthy data.

P.P.S. It’s hard to believe, given the pervasive statism that now exists, but Venezuela in 1970 was ranked in the top 10 for economic liberty.

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Just last month, I wrote about Argentina’s grim economic outlook and criticized the supposed right-of-center President, Mauricio Macri, for failing to deliver any meaningful economic liberalization.

And reform is desperately needed.

According to Economic Freedom of the World, Argentina is one of the most statist nations on the planet (the only nations that do worse are Libya and Venezuela).

For all intents and purposes, Argentina is suffering from decades of bad policy.

Argentina is a sobering example of how statist policies can turn a rich nation into a poor nation. …After World War II, Argentina was one of the world’s 10-richest nations. But then Juan Peron took power and initiated Argentina’s slide toward big government, which eroded the nation’s competitiveness and hampered growth.

To put it mildly, the country is an economic tragedy and it should be a lesson for all countries about the importance of good policy.

Yet why am I writing again about Argentina after last month’s analysis?

Because a story in the New York Times discusses the nation’s upcoming presidential election and manages to paint a grotesquely inaccurate picture of what’s been happening in the country. We’re supposed to believe that Macri has been a hard-charging free-market fundamentalist.

Since taking office more than three years ago, President Mauricio Macri has broken with the budget-busting populism that has dominated Argentina for much of the past century, embracing the grim arithmetic of economic orthodoxy. Mr. Macri has slashed subsidies… “It’s a neoliberal government…It’s a government that does not favor the people.” …tribulations playing out under the disintegrating roofs of the poor are a predictable dimension of Mr. Macri’s turn away from left-wing populism. He vowed to shrink Argentina’s monumental deficits by diminishing the largess of the state. …Mr. Macri’s…presidency was supposed to offer an escape from the wreckage of profligate spending.

And we’re also supposed to believe that his failed free-market policies are paving the way for a return to left-wing populism.

As the October election approaches, Mr. Macri is contending with the growing prospect of a challenge from the president he succeeded, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner… Her return would resonate as a rebuke of his market-oriented reforms while potentially yanking Argentina back to its accustomed preserve: left-wing populism.

For what it’s worth, I suspect that Kirchner will win the next election. So that part of the article is correct.

But the part about free-market reforms is laughably inaccurate.

You don’t have to believe me. Let’s look at the Argentinian data from Economic Freedom of the World. Maybe I’m being dogmatic, but I hardly think a tiny improvement in 2015 followed by backsliding in 2016 qualifies as “diminishing the largess of the state.”

The bottom line is that Macri should have been bold and made sweeping changes once he was in charge. Like Chile after Allende’s Marxist regime was deposed.

Those reforms doubtlessly would have triggered protests. But if they became law, they would have produced tangible results.

Instead, Macri chose a timid approach and the economy has remained stagnant. Yet because many voters think he adopted reforms, they blame him and they blame free markets.

The net result is that they will probably vote for Kirchner, which presumably will mean even more statism for the long-suffering people of Argentina.

P.S. What’s happening in Argentina is not an isolated example. It’s very common for supposed right-wing politicians to choose bad policies, which then paves the way for left-wing election victories. Look at how Bush’s statist policies created the conditions for an Obama victory. Or how Sarkozy set the stage for Hollande in France. Or how Theresa May’s fecklessness in the United Kingdom may lead to a win for Jeremy Corbyn.

P.P.S. I’m tempted to also warn that Trump’s risky protectionism may lead to a victory for Crazy Bernie or some other Democrat in 2020. But Trump does have some good policies as well, so it’s hard to know whether the economy will be a net plus or net minus in the election.

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Argentina is a sobering example of how statist policies can turn a rich nation into a poor nation.

I’m not exaggerating. After World War II, Argentina was one of the world’s 10-richest nations.

But then Juan Peron took power and initiated Argentina’s slide toward big government, which eroded the nation’s competitiveness and hampered growth.

Even the Washington Post‘s Bureau Chief shares my assessment.

Perón’s rise marked the start of the country’s long, slow slide. …big-government populism squandered Argentine’s fortunes on nationalized railroads and ports. Perón’s pro-labor policies cultivated devout working-class followers but also laid the groundwork for the conversion of his party into an entity that would mirror a corrupt union. …The country battled bouts of damaging inflation in 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1974. …in the 1980s, Argentina saw a bonanza of public-sector hiring, bloated budgets… Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the Perónist ex-president, took the helm a decade ago, ushering in a new era of fudged financial data and populism.

Thanks to endless bouts of bad policy, the nation suffers from perpetual crisis.

…a country stuck in what has now become its natural state: crisis. As if living a deja vu, I flipped on the TV to once again hear Argentine newscasters fretting about bailouts, the diving peso and fears of default. Beggars — even more than before — panhandled on the same corner by an imposing church on Santa Fe Avenue. As others had done years before, stores advertised going-out-of-business sales. …Argentina is doomed to a repeating history of financial emergencies. You can almost set your watch to it, and, worryingly, the intervals between implosions are growing ever shorter.

If we focus on policy this century, there was plenty of bad policy under the previous Peronist-oriented Presidents.

And since government amassed so much power over the economy, nobody should be surprised by this BBC report about rampant corruption.

More than a dozen people have been arrested in Argentina after copies of notebooks were found detailing what seem to be illicit political payments. They were kept by Oscar Centeno, who was employed as a driver by a public works official and describe delivering bags of cash. The notebooks cover from 2003 to 2015, when Cristina Fernández and her late husband Néstor Kirchner were president. …She has previously said she is being politically persecuted by the current government, who want to distract people from the country’s economic problems. …the payments total around US$56m (£43m), but Judge Claudio Bonadio says the corruption network could reached up to US$160m.

The Economist reports that the current president, Mauricio Macri, is imposing his share of bad policies, including price controls.

The measures are a change of course for a president who sought to undo the effects of more than a decade of populist government. The most important one is a…revival of a price-control mechanism in force under the two Peronist presidents who preceded him, Néstor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In Mr Macri’s version, which he, like the Kirchners, calls “precios cuidados” (“curated prices”), the price of 64 consumer items, from milk to jam, will be frozen for six months (ie, until the eve of the election). An “army” of inspectors, under the direction of the production ministry, will enforce supermarkets’ adherence to the freeze.

Price controls are spectacularly misguided.

Politicians cause inflation by having the central bank create too much money. They then act as if the result rise in prices is the fault of “greedy businesses” and impose controls.

All of which never ends well (see Venezuela, for instance).

But Macri is also adopting other bad policies.

The government has also opened new credit lines for pensioners and families with children and expanded a plan to build new homes with state financing.

He obviously hopes his short-sighted policies will enable him to prevail in the upcoming elections.

And maybe he will if his main opponent is similarly bad.

But at least one candidate supports pro-market reforms.

Argentine economist José Luis Espert once described President Mauricio Macri’s political movement as “kirchnerism with good manners,”… Now a presidential candidate himself, Espert wants to make government a lot less polite. “We need to lay off approximately 1.5 million public employees,” Espert, the head of the newly-formed Libertarian party, told AQ in an exclusive interview. “What I propose is a complete U-turn.” …The economist claims that he is the only candidate who can actually turn around what he describes as “Argentina’s century-long failure, marked by economic populism.” …“We need to abandon our model of import substitution and of running budget deficits, and revise our labor laws, which are similar to those during Italian fascism. We need to have free trade and a state that can pay for itself through reasonable taxes,” added Espert, who on Feb. 2 released a book called The Complicit Society, in which he describes “the economic myths that led Argentina to decadency.”

Wouldn’t it be a great ending to the story if Argentina become another Chile?

My fingers certainly will be crossed (as they are currently for Brazil).

Ironically, even though the International Monetary Fund has subsidized bad policy in Argentina with periodic bailouts, some of the economists who work at the IMF actually understand what’s plaguing the country.

Here are some excerpts from their study, starting with a description of how big government is stifling prosperity.

Argentina’s economic fortune has been on a declining path for a long time. Argentina’s per capita output relative to that of advanced economies nearly halved over the past 50 years. …yearly labor productivity growth has been close to zero on average since 1980… Argentina’s regulatory and administrative burden on businesses is one of the heaviest among EMs… Argentina has the worst overall PMR index among 42 OECD and non-OECD countries, owing to high barriers to entrepreneurship (including complex regulatory procedures which impede firm entry/expansion, and barriers in network sectors), …high trade and other external barriers, and a significant involvement of the state in the economy, both through state-owned enterprises and price controls. …Stringent labor market regulations, such as high firing costs and restrictions on temporary employment, hamper efficient allocation of resources in the economy, discourage investment, and lead to labor underutilization and informality… High tax burden, especially on labor, have similar adverse effects on investment, labor utilization (particularly formal employment), and overall competitiveness of the economy.

Here’s a chart showing how Argentina is de-converging, which is remarkably depressing since conventional theory tells us that poor nations should be catching up with rich nations.

Here are the main findings from the study.

The main objective of this paper is to…assess the role of the reforms in boosting long-term GDP growth through their impact on (i) capital accumulation, (ii) labor utilization, and (iii) total factor productivity or efficiency. …The paper finds that structural reforms can have significant impact on long-term GDP growth through all three supply-side channels. …An ambitious reform effort, which were to improve business regulatory environment (closing half the gap with Australia and New Zealand over two decades), would add 1–1½ percent to average annual growth of GDP. Reducing trade tariffs and payroll taxes (closing half the gap with Australia and New Zealand) could each boost average annual real GDP growth by about 0.1 percent.

Keep in mind, by the way, that even small increments of sustained growth make a huge difference to a nation’s long-run prosperity.

Here’s a table showing the IMF’s suggested reforms.

I actually agree with almost everything on the list.

The only mistake is calling for aggressive anti-trust laws. Yet history teaches us that such laws wind up being tools to protect incumbent companies.

Moreover, the best way to fight monopolies is to have completely open entry to the marketplace.

But I don’t want to quibble. By IMF standards, that list of proposed policies is excellent.

P.S. Pope Francis inexplicably wants to export the failed Argentine model to the rest of the world. Not surprisingly, I think Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams have a better approach.

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What’s socialism?

Is it the centrally planned economies of Cuba and North Korea? Or the kleptocracies of Zimbabwe and Venezuela?

How about the interventionist welfare states of Greece, Italy, and France? Or the redistribution-oriented Nordic nations?

Since socialism means different things to different people, the answers will be all over the map.

But there’s one constant. However it’s defined, it doesn’t work.

Joshua Muravchik, writing for the Wall Street Journal, shares the many and inevitable failures of socialism.

It’s hard to think of another idea that has been tried and failed as many times in as many ways or at a steeper price in human suffering. …Marx (1818-83)…called his vision “scientific socialism.” Inspired by the dream of proletarian revolution overthrowing capitalist immiseration, socialist parties sprouted across Europe. Yet instead of growing poorer, workers in industrialized countries saw improvement in their living standards; and instead of disappearing, middle classes expanded—all disproving Marx. …Lenin pioneered modern communism, which in the 20th century was imposed on 18 countries and one-third of mankind. Repression was justified by socialism’s purported economic benefits, but the actual trade-off entailed economic misery and the snuffing out of as many as 100 million lives. …“Social democrats” and “democratic socialists” rejected Lenin’s methods. But their goals remained transformational. …British Labour Party leader Clement Attlee…sought to bring “main factors in the economic system”—including banks, mining and energy—under “public ownership and control.” Nationalization worked so badly, however, that Attlee soon beat a retreat and was voted out in 1951.

Though there was plenty of socialism until Margaret Thatcher was elected.

And if you consider the creaky National Health Service, some sectors of the economy remain socialized.

Anyhow, self-described American socialists claim they simply want to be like Scandinavian countries.

But as Muravchik notes, those nations aren’t technically socialist (i.e., they don’t have government ownershipcentral planningprice controls).

Yes, they have expensive welfare states (which have hampered growth), but markets determine how resources are allocated.

American socialists like Mr. Sanders, while often defending the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, prefer to point to Scandinavia as a model. But Scandinavian social democrats learned to settle for dense social safety nets underwritten by remarkably free, capitalist economies. On the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business scale, Denmark ranks third of 190 countries, Norway seventh and Sweden 12th.

The bottom line is that socialism has failed every place it’s been tried.

Socialism has failed everywhere it’s been tried… Surely today’s young people can create their own ideas and make their own mistakes rather than repeat those that darkened the times of their parents, grandparents and the generations before.

Now let’s look at a column by Richard Geddes of the American Enterprise Institute.

He notes that there’s a grim relationship not only between socialism and economic failure, but also that the ideology has a long list of victims.

Socialism has an abysmal record in the twentieth and twenty-first century, its effects include economic destruction, failure, and misery — Venezuela being the latest in a long line of wretched examples. Yet today, Democratic Party leaders such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are still proud to adopt the label of “democratic socialist.” …the more rigorously socialist principles are applied, the greater the human suffering, regardless of race, creed, or geographic location. …the grim statistics of those who died in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in the name of socialist experimentation (such as those who suffered forced starvation during the collectivization of agriculture) are pegged at about 100 million.

Geddes looks at the argument over how to define socialism and notes that regulation can be a back door form of socialism.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines socialism as: “A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” New socialists argue that the distinction between government ownership and regulation is critical, and that they want extensive regulation but not nationalization. Yet, if regulation is sufficiently intrusive and onerous, private property rights are neutered, and control is effectively transferred to the socialist state.

That’s also a good definition of fascism, for what it’s worth. In other words, nominal private ownership, but the heavy hand of government actually determines how resources are allocated.

Geddes notes that American socialists don’t favor dictatorship, but that doesn’t change the fact that their policies will have a very adverse impact on the economy.

New socialists argue that, unlike their 20th century counterparts, they oppose the use of force to achieve their policy goals, instead preferring peaceful democratic processes. …however, whether socialist ends are achieved through forceful or democratic processes matters little when it comes to the nefarious effects of policies such as “free” healthcare, “free” college tuition, and so on. The destructive effects on both the supply and demand side of those markets would be much the same in the end.

Like Muravchik, Geddes also explains that Nordic nations don’t qualify as socialist.

Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) — beloved by some as examples of successful socialism. …those countries are in many ways more market-oriented that the United States… Indeed, those countries are decades ahead of the United States in adopting market reforms in two of my areas of policy expertise: postal services and infrastructure delivery.

My two cents is that the Scandinavian nations are not socialist based on the technical definition.

And here’s my amateur depiction of how that works, with degree of intervention measured from top to bottom. Notice that Sweden is well above the line and isn’t socialist (indeed, it is farther from socialism than the United States.

But if everyone now thinks socialism simply means a lot of redistribution, then we get a different picture.

Under this Crazy Bernie/AOC approach, Sweden is to the right of the line and is socialist but (perversely) Venezuela doesn’t qualify.

But maybe the way to accommodate both the traditional definition and the modern usage is to draw a diagonal line.

Here’s my depiction, and I deliberately put Sweden on the socialist side to make some of my lefty friends happy (though if you’re looking at overall levels of economic freedom, they shouldn’t be socialist unless the United States also is socialist).

The obvious takeaway is that it’s best to be near the top left, near Hong Kong. And it’s also good to avoid the bottom right (Venezuela being closest to that corner, which makes sense since it is in last place according to Economic Freedom of the World).

P.S. Since I bent over backwards to define socialism in ways to make the left happy, I will atone by calling attention to my collection of socialism/communism humor.

P.P.S. The Soviet Union, as far as I understand, didn’t have any sort of welfare state other than meager pensions for the elderly. So it’s in the lower left.

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