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Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

Because of my libertarian proclivities, I don’t like when people assert that the United States should have European-sized government.

But this is not merely a question of ideology.

I’ve repeatedly pointed out that there is a relationship between national prosperity and economic liberty. And I’ve shared plenty of data showing that ordinary Americans have significantly higher living standards that their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

So why “catch up” with countries that are lagging behind?

One of my favorite ways of illustrating the gap is the “actual individual consumption” data from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Here are the latest numbers, with show that the United States is more than 50 percent above the average for OECD nations.

I’m not surprised that Luxembourg ranks second since it is a tax haven. And it’s also not surprising that oil-rich Norway is in third place or that market-friendly Switzerland is in fourth place.

But notice that Europe’s most famous welfare states, France (102.5) and Sweden (104.7), are barely above average.

More important, notice that the United States is nearly 50 percent higher than those supposedly more enlightened nations.

Seems like there’s a lesson to be learned about what type of economic policy delivers the best results for ordinary people.

P.S. The United States has been at the top of these rankings for as long as I’ve been sharing the OECD’s AIC data, but other countries have suffered big falls or enjoyed big increases.

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Many people are stunned by the data I shared early last year showing that ordinary people in the United States tend to be much richer than their peers in advanced European nations.

Here’s some more evidence, courtesy of the Manhattan Institute’s Chris Pope.

As you can see, the poorest people in America are about equal to the poorest people in Germany, France, Canada, and the United Kingdom, but Americans are ahead of their peers when looking at the top 90 percent of the population.

For the top 70 percent, Americans are comfortably ahead.

But not everybody agrees.

Here’s a tweet from John Burn-Murdoch of the U.K.-based Financial Times. He has a very negative portrayal of the United States (and the United Kingdom).

The tweet from Burn-Murdoch includes a link to an article he wrote.

Here are some excerpts.

…one good way to evaluate which countries are better places to live than others is to ask: is life good for everyone there, or is it only good for rich people? …If you’re a proud Brit or American, you may want to look away now. …Norway is a good place to live, whether you are rich or poor. …The rich in the US are exceptionally rich — the top 10 per cent have the highest top-decile disposable incomes in the world, 50 per cent above their British counterparts. But the bottom decile struggle by with a standard of living that is worse than the poorest in 14 European countries including Slovenia. …transpose Norway’s inequality gradient on to the US, and the poorest decile of Americans would be a further 40 per cent better off while the top decile would remain richer than the top of almost every other country on the planet. …Until those gradients are made less steep, the UK and US will remain poor societies with pockets of rich people.

The United States is a poor society with some very rich people?!?

Is that possibly true?

As you might expect, that is utter hogwash. Here’s a chart, based on data from the Paris-based (and left-leaning) Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

It shows “actual individual consumption” in the OECD’s member nations, and people in the United States are far better off than people in any other nations.

Indeed, they have 50 percent more consumption than the average person in other OECD countries.

All you need to know is that Burn-Murdoch took some data about America’s poorest people and wants to mislead readers into thinking it also applies to the general population.

And he doesn’t even show his calculations. For what it’s worth, his numbers are not very consistent with some other data sources that are publicly accessible.

Professor Noah Smith also debunks the FT‘s report.

…when we look at how Americans in the middle of the distribution are doing, we see that America is not a “poor society” at all — in fact, it’s one of the richest on Earth. …the median American has a higher income than the median resident of almost any other country… Some people argue that because European countries buy health care for their citizens via the government — which is not counted in disposable income — that it’s not fair to use disposable income as the comparison measure here. But this isn’t right. The U.S. has a relatively low percentage of out-of-pocket health spending — our employers and our government pick up most of the tab. In fact, when we look at “adjusted disposable income”, which includes the value of government services like health care, we find out that the U.S. comes out even more ahead relative to other countries. …someone at around the 18th percentile of income in America in 2019 — a working-class person on the edge of being considered poor — lived in a household making $21,400 a year. That’s about the same as the median income of households in Japan, and about 84% of the median income of households in the UK. In other words, a working-class American on the edge of poverty makes as much as a middle-class person in some rich countries.

I’ll close by noting something else that was misleading in the FT report. Burn-Murdoch compares Norway to the U.S. and U.K., but that nation’s oil wealth makes it very unrepresentative.

Since the report concludes by endorsing more redistribution, it would be more honest and appropriate to compare American living standards to the performance of Europe’s other welfare states.

But Burn-Murdoch did not do that because his already flimsy case would look even weaker.

Also, note that he did not highlight Switzerland. After all, it is richer than Norway, even though it does not enjoy abundant natural resources.

I suspect that’s because Switzerland is a libertarian-oriented nation with a comparatively small welfare state. In other words, it’s a role model for good policy, whereas the reporter seems interested in promoting dirigisme.

P.S. Speaking of libertarians, the Burn-Murcoch story in the Financial Times begins with this passage.

Where would you rather live? A society where the rich are extraordinarily rich and the poor are very poor, or one where the rich are merely very well off but even those on the lowest incomes also enjoy a decent standard of living? For all but the most ardent free-market libertarians, the answer would be the latter.

At the risk of stating the obvious, libertarians want a society with the smallest-possible government. Limiting coercion (the non-aggression principle) is the main motive.

Libertarians will view the resulting distribution of income as just, but they also will point out that freer societies do a much better job of generating broadly shared prosperity than government-dominated societies.

The bottom line is that Burn-Murdoch is either extraordinarily ignorant about libertarianism or he suffers from Nancy MacLean levels of bad faith and dishonesty.

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One of America’s best presidents, Calvin Coolidge, had a great explanation of Independence Day. But this video from Kite and Key also is worth watching.

There is a lot of material covered in the video.

For instance, the main takeaway is that the United States is uniquely individualistic, which I view as a very valuable form of societal capital (another great president shared that perspective).

Compared to most other nations, we still believe in self-reliance and individual responsibility.

Indeed, there’s even evidence that the people with those values were most likely to emigrate to the United States.

And our superior level of societal capital is related to our lower burden of government, which is related to our higher living standards.

There are other points from the video that merit attention.

We’re told that Americans work more hours than people in other developed nations. That’s generally true, though it almost certainly has something to do with the heavier tax burden on labor in Europe.

Now I’m going to quibble with a few of the points in the video.

We’re told, for instance, that Americans enjoy higher income but don’t get goodies from the government such as paid parental leave.

What should have been noted, though, is that we’re richer in part because we don’t have such programs.

Likewise, the U.S. is probably the leader in developing new drugs and medical technologies in part because we don’t have government-run health care (though, given the pervasive role of Medicare, Medicaid, and the healthcare exclusion, it’s not clear whether the U.S. actually has a more market-oriented health system than many European nations).

The video points out that Americans have low voting rates. But why is that a bad thing? I like the idea of having government playing such a small role in people’s lives that many of them figure it’s not important to vote.

Maybe that’s the reason that voting rates are so low in Switzerland, which arguably is the world’s best-governed (meaning least-governed) country.

Last but not least, the video points out that the United States spends less than other nations on redistribution, relative to economic output. That’s true. But because per-capita economic output is much higher in America, per-person spending by government often is depressingly high. If you doubt me, check out these numbers for health and education.

P.S. Since it is Independence Day, this t-shirt is a reminder of the proper definition of patriotism.

P.P.S. I don’t want my left-leaning friends to feel neglected on this special day, so here’s a Declaration of Dependence to make them feel comfortable. Speaking of Dependence Day, here’s some satire from Babylon Bee.

P.P.P.S. And here’s something for my Republican friends.

P.P.P.S. A few years ago, I noted that red tape makes it more expensive to celebrate Independence Day.

The bad news is that inflation is now adding to the burdens caused by government.

Gee, thanks Federal Reserve.

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When debating big issues such as the size and scope of government, I like to think that facts matter. Maybe I’m being naive, but people should look at evidence before deciding whether to make government bigger or smaller.

And with Biden proposing a big expansion in the size of the welfare state, this is why I regularly compare the economic performance of the United States and various European nations.

After all, if we’re going to make America more like Europe, shouldn’t we try to understand what that might mean for the well being of the citizenry?

With this in mind, I want to share this tweet (based on this data) from Stefan Schubert at the London School of Economics.

The obvious takeaway is that the average person in the United States enjoys much higher living standards (more than 50 percent higher) than the average person in the European Union.

Even more astounding, the United States even has a big 20-percent advantage of the wealthy tax haven of Luxembourg.

By the way, the above data may understate the gap if you make apples-to-apples comparisons.

Nima Sanandaji compared the economic output of Scandinavians who emigrated to the United States with Scandinavians who stayed home.

He found even bigger gaps, one example of which is the data about Swedes in this chart.

Let’s look at one more bit of data.

Another way of illustrating the gap is see how European nations no longer are converging with the United States (and may actually be diverging).

The only good news for Europeans (if we’re grading on a curve) is that there’s been a decline in both the relative and absolute levels of economic freedom in the United States during the 21st century.

If that continues, the U.S. may “catch up” to Europe at some point in the future. Joe Biden certainly is working for that outcome.

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When I compare the United States and Europe, it’s usually because I want to make the point that people on the other side of the Atlantic have lower living standards in large part because there is a more onerous fiscal burden of government.

Simply stated, America’s medium-sized welfare state doesn’t do as much damage as the large-sized welfare states in Europe.

But I also use US-vs.-Europe comparisons to make another point, namely that big welfare states mean big tax burdens for lower-income and middle-class households.

To be more specific, most of Europe’s redistribution spending is financed by high tax burdens on regular people.

Yes, European politicians impose onerous burdens on upper-income taxpayers, but there simply are not nearly enough rich people to finance big government.

So those politicians have responded by pillaging everyone else as well (onerous payroll taxes, harsh value-added taxes, high income tax rates on modest incomes, etc).

The United States takes a different approach. We also impose onerous burdens on upper-income taxpayers (as confirmed by IRS data), but we impose comparatively modest taxes on everyone else.

Indeed, the net result, as shown in the table, is that the United States actually has the most “progressive” tax system among OECD nations.

Today, let’s look at some research that makes similar points.

Three academics at the Paris School of Economics authored a study for the World Inequality Lab that uses a new database to measure redistribution and inequality.

Their main conclusion is that there are differences between the United States and Europe, but redistribution policies don’t have a big impact on inequality.

This article addresses…substantive and methodological issues by constructing distributional national accounts for twenty-six European countries from 1980 to 2017. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt at doing so. …our series are fully comparable with recently produced US distributional national accounts, allowing us to compare the dynamics of inequality and redistribution in the two regions in great detail. Two key findings emerge from the analysis of our new database. First, we show that, over the past four decades, inequality has increased in nearly all European countries as well as in Europe as a whole, both before and after taxes, but much less than in the United States. …Second, the main reason for Europe’s relative resistance to the rise of inequality has little to do with the direct impact of taxes and transfers. While Western and Northern European countries redistribute a larger fraction of output than the US (about 47% of national income is taxed and redistributed in Europe versus 35% in the US), the distribution of taxes and transfers does not explain the large gap between Europe and US posttax inequality levels. Quite the contrary: after accounting for all taxes and transfers, the US appears to redistribute a greater fraction of its national income to the poorest 50% than any European country.

What drives these results?

Simply stated, the most salient feature of European fiscal policy is that nations tax the middle class and have programs that benefit the middle class.

The United States, by contrast, focuses more on taxing the rich and giving benefits to the poor.

Look at what the study says about tax progressivity.

Figure Vb ranks European countries and the United States according to a simple measure of tax progressivity: the ratio of the total tax rate faced by the top 10% to that of the bottom 50%. The composition of bars correspond to the composition of taxes paid by the top 10%. The US stands out as the country with the highest level of tax progressivity: the top decile faces a tax rate that is more than 70% higher than that of the poorest half of the population. By this measure, the European country with the most progressive tax system is the United Kingdom, followed by Norway, the Czech Republic, and France. Many European countries have values close to 1 on this indicator, corresponding to relatively flat tax systems, in which top income groups face a tax rate approximately equal to that of the bottom 50%. …the US also stands out as one of the countries where the top 10% pay the largest share of their pretax income in the form of income and wealth taxes.

And here’s Figure V, which shows how the U.S. has (far and away) the most “progressive” tax system.

Again, I want to emphasize that this is not because the U.S. imposes higher taxes on the rich. The so-called progressivity of the American system is driven by the fact that there are low taxes on everyone else.

What about on the spending side of the fiscal ledger?

The study finds that the the United States has the most redistribution to lower-income people.

…the US tax-and-transfer system appears to be unequivocally more progressive. The bottom 50% in the US received a positive net transfer of 6% of national income in 2017, compared to about 4% in Western and Northern Europe and less than 3% in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the top 10% saw their average income decrease by 8% of national income in the US after taxes and transfers, compared to about 4% in Western and Northern Europe and 3% in Eastern Europe. …Figure VIIb represents the net transfer received by the bottom 50% in all European countries and the United States in 2017. Again, the US stands out as the country that redistributes the greatest fraction of national income to the bottom 50%.

Here’s the aforementioned Figure VII.

I’ll close by observing that there are multiple interpretations of this data. I suspect that authors want readers to conclude that there should be higher taxes and more redistribution. Both in Europe and the United States.

My big takeaway is that this research confirms why people with modest incomes in the United States have a better life than their counterparts in Europe.

Not only do they enjoy higher levels of income, but they also pay much lower tax burdens.

P.S. One other point to emphasize is that it’s wrong to fixate on inequality. In part, that’s because there’s nothing wrong with rich people getting richer (assuming they earn their money rather than getting special favors from politicians). But also because ethical people should be concerned about improving the lives of the less fortunate rather than tearing down the successful.

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When I first wrote about the Index of Economic Freedom back in 2010, the United States was comfortably among the world’s 10-freest nations with a score of 78 out of 100.

By last year, America had dropped to #20, with a very mediocre score of 74.8.

Sadly, the United States is continuing to decline. The Heritage Foundation recently released the 2022 version of the Index and the United States is now down to #25, with an even-more-mediocre score of 72.1.

As you can see, the biggest reason for the decline is bad fiscal policy (we can assume that Biden’s so-called stimulus deserves much of the blame).

So what nations got the best scores?

Our next visual shows that Singapore has the world’s freest economy, narrowly edging out Switzerland.

Notice, though, that Singapore’s score dropped and Switzerland’s improved. So it will be interesting to see if the “sensible nation” takes the top spot next year.

Also notice that only 7 nations qualified as “Free,” meaning scores of 80 or above.

The United States is in the “Mostly Free” category, which is for nations with scores between 70 and 80.

By the way, notice that the United States trails all the Nordic nations. Indeed, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and Norway get scores in the upper-70s.

How is this possible when those countries have high-tax welfare states? Because they follow a very laissez-faire approach for all of their other policies (trade, regulation, monetary policy, etc).

I’ll close with a depressing look at how the United States has declined over the past two decades. I already mentioned that the U.S. gets a score of 72.1 in the 2022 version. That’s far below 81.2, which is where America was back in 2006.

P.S. The Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World shows a similar decline for the United States.

P.P.S. Taiwan is an under-appreciated success story.

P.P.P.S. New Zealand is still in the “Free” group, but it’s decline is worrisome.

P.P.P.P.S. Kudos to Estonia for climbing into the top group.

P.P.P.P.P.S. The bottom three nations are Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea.

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A key principle of economics is convergence, which is the notion that poorer nations generally grow faster than richer nations.

For instance, battle-damaged European nations grew faster than the United States in the first few decades after World War II.

But, starting in the 1980s, that convergence stopped. And not because Europe reached American levels of prosperity. Even the nations of Western Europe never came close to U.S. levels of per-capita economic output.

Moreover, European countries then began to lose ground for the rest of the 20th century.

And that process is continuing. Here’s a recent tweet from Robin Brooks, the Chief Economist of the Institute of International Finance, which shows that the United States was growing faster than Europe before the pandemic and is now growing faster than Europe after the pandemic.

In other words, we’re seeing divergence.

Sven Larson addressed this same issue in a new article on this topic for European Conservative.

Over the 20 years from 2000 to 2019, the U.S. economy outgrew the 27-member European Union by a solid 19%, adjusted for inflation. These numbers…are quite impressive, especially considering that during President Obama’s eight years in office, annual growth in gross domestic product, GDP, never reached 3%. …From 2010 to 2019, U.S. unemployment averaged 6.3%, dropping below 3.7% in the last year before the pandemic. By contrast, the EU economy never dropped below 6.7% unemployment (in 2019) with an average of 9.5% for the entire decade. …These differences between America and Europe are significant, and should be the subject of debate in Europe: what is it that the Americans are doing that Europeans could do better? Over time, even small differences in economic growth compound into large differences in the standard of living.

Here’s his chart showing the divergence.

So why is Europe falling behind the United States when it should be growing faster because of lower living standards?

Sven has a very good explanation.

There are many candidates for explaining this difference, but there is one that stands out compared to all the others: the size of government. Between 2010 and 2019, government spending in the European Union was equal to 48.3% of GDP, on average, compared to 37.1% in the U.S. economy. …The most hard-hitting impact does not come through taxes, as conventional wisdom suggests, but through spending. …government operates under a form of central economic planning. Its outlays are not based on the mechanisms and prices of free markets: instead, its spending is governed by ideological preferences… While government spending inflicts the most damage on the economy, taxes are not insignificant. Here, again, the U.S. comes out more competitive than its European counterpart, and it is not a new problem. …For the past 20 years, European governments in general have taxed their economies 10-12 percentage points higher, as a share of GDP, than is the case in America.

Having crunched the data from Economic Freedom of the World, I think Sven is correct.

With regards to factors other than fiscal policy, European nations have just as much economic liberty (or, if you’re a glass-half-empty type, just as little economic liberty) as the United States. Heck, many of them rank above the United States when just considering factors such as trade, red tape, monetary policy, and rule of law.

Yet the United States nonetheless earns a better overall score.

Why? Because the United States does much better on fiscal policy (or, to be more accurate, doesn’t do as poorly).

P.S. Both Europe and the United States are moving in the wrong direction with regard to fiscal policy. Almost as if there’s a contest to see who can be the most profligate. Let’s call it the Keynesian Olympics. Whoever wins a gold medal is the first to suffer a fiscal crisis.

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As I warned a few days ago, Biden’s so-called Build Back Better plan is not dead.

There’s still a significant risk that this economy-sapping plan will get enacted, resulting in big tax increases and a larger burden of government spending.

Proponents of a bigger welfare state say the President’s plan should be approved so that the United States can be more like Europe.

This argument is baffling because it doesn’t make sense to copy countries where living standards are significantly lower.

In some cases dramatically lower.

Let’s explore this issue in greater detail.

In a column for Bloomberg, Allison Schrager analyzes America’s supply-chain problems and the impact on consumption patterns.

But what caught my eye were the numbers comparing the United States and Europe.

Americans can’t spend like they used to. Store shelves are emptying, and it can take months to find a car, refrigerator or sofa. If this continues, we may need to learn to do without — and, horrors, live more like the Europeans. That actually might not be a bad thing, because the U.S. economy could be healthier if it were less reliant on consumption. …We consume much more than we used to and more than other countries.  Consumption per capita grew about 65% from 1990 to 2015, compared with about 35% growth in Europe. …What would that mean for the U.S. economy? European levels of consumption coexist with lower levels of growth.

Here’s the chart that accompanied her article.

As you can see, consumption in the United States is far higher than it is in major European nations – about $15,000-per-year higher than the United Kingdom and about double the levels in Germany, Belgium, and France.

So when someone says we should expand the welfare state and be more like Europe, what they’re really saying is that we should copy nations that are far behind the United States.

Some of you may have noticed that Ms. Schrager is citing per-capita consumption data from the World Bank and you may be wondering whether other numbers tell a different story.

After all, if higher levels of consumption in America are simply the result of borrowing from overseas, that would be a negative rather than a positive.

So I went to the same website and downloaded the data for per-capita gross domestic product instead. I then created this chart (going all the way back to 1971). As you can see, it shows that Americans not only consume more, but we also produce more.

For those interested, I also included Japan and China, as well as the average for the entire world.

The bottom line is that it’s good to be part of western civilization. But it’s especially good to be in the United States.

Since we’re on the topic of comparative economics, David Harsanyi of National Review recently wrote about the gap between the United States and Europe.

More than anything, it is the ingrained American entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic that separates us from Europe and the rest of the world. …Europe, despite its wealth, its relatively stable institutions, its giant marketplace, and its intellectual firepower, is home to only one of the top 30 global Internet companies in the world (Spotify), while the United States is home to 18 of the top 30. …One of the most underrated traits we hold, for instance, is our relative comfort with risk — a behavior embedded in the American character. …Americans, self-selected risk-takers, created an individual and communal independence that engendered creativity. …Because of a preoccupation with “inequality” — one shared by the modern American Left — European rules and taxation for stock-option remuneration make it difficult for start-up employees to enjoy the benefits of innovation — and make it harder for new companies to attract talent. …But the deeper problem is that European culture values stability over success, security over invention…in Europe, hard work is less likely to guarantee results because policies that allow people to keep the fruits of their labor and compete matter far less.

In other words, there’s less economic dynamism because the reward for being productive is lower in Europe (which is simply another way of saying taxes are higher in Europe).

P.S. The main forcus of Ms. Schrager’s Bloomberg article was whether the U.S. economy is too dependent on consumption.

It feels like our voracious consumption is what fuels the economy. But that needn’t be the case. Long-term, sustainable growth doesn’t come from going deep into debt to buy stuff we don’t really need. It comes from technology and innovation, where we come up with new products and better ways of doing things. An economy based on consumption is not sustainable.

I sort of agree with her point.

Simply stated high levels of consumption don’t cause a strong economy. It’s the other way around. A strong economy enables high levels of consumption.

But this doesn’t mean consumption is bad, or that it would be good for America to be more like Europe.

Instead, the real lesson is that you want the types of policies (free markets and limited government) that will produce innovation and investment.

That results in higher levels of income, which then allows higher levels of consumption.

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If you want to understand why some nations enjoy much stronger economic growth than other nations, the best place to start is the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World.

And if you want to understand why some states have more vibrant economies than other states, you should check out the latest edition of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America.

Since most readers are from the United States, I’ll start with a look at the publication’s sub-national index, which shows how American states rank in terms of economic liberty. Unsurprisingly, a bunch of jurisdictions with no income tax are at the top of the list and California and New York are at the bottom.

By the way, the authors (Dean Stansel, José Torra, and Fred McMahon) specifically note that the rankings are based on 2019 data (the latest-available data) and thus “do not capture the effect on economic freedom of COVID-19 and government responses to it.

With that caveat out of the way, here are some of the findings for the sub-national index (which is where Figure 1.2b from above can be found).

Since the Fraser Institute is based in Canada, they understandably start by looking at Canadian provinces, but you can then read about results for the rest of North America.

For the purpose of comparing jurisdictions within the same country, the subnational indices are the appropriate choice. There is a separate subnational index for each country. In Canada, the most economically free province in 2019 was again Alberta with 6.17, followed by British Columbia with 5.44, and Ontario at 5.31. However, the gap between Alberta and second-place British Columbia continues to shrink, down from 2.30 points in 2014 to 0.73 in 2019. The least free by far was Quebec at 2.83, following New Brunswick at 4.09, and Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia at 4.20. In the United States, the most economically free state was New Hampshire at 7.83, followed closely by Tennessee at 7.82, Florida at 7.78, Texas at 7.75, and Virginia at 7.59. …In Mexico, the most economically free state was Baja California at 6.01.

Here are the provincial rankings from Canada.

Alberta is the best place for economic growth and Quebec is the worst (by a significant margin).

Here are the some of the findings for the all-government index (which uses a different methodology than the sub-national index mentioned above).

The good news, from the perspective of folks in the U.S., is that most states rank above every other jurisdiction in North America (and the Mexican state all rank at the bottom).

The top jurisdiction is New Hampshire at 8.23, followed by Florida (8.17), Idaho (8.16), and then South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming tied for fourth (8.15). Alberta is the highest ranking Canadian province, tied for 33rd place with a score of 8.00. The next highest Canadian province is British Columbia in 47th at 7.91. Alberta had spent seven years at the top of the index but fell out of the top spot in the 2018 report (reflecting 2016 data). The highest-ranked Mexican state is Baja California with 6.65, followed by Nayarit (6.62)… Seven of the Canadian provinces are ranked behind all 50 US states.

By the way, here’s some historical context showing that all three nations had their best scores back in the early 2000s (when the “Washington Consensus” for pro-market policy still had some impact.

Historically, average economic freedom in all three countries peaked in 2004 at 7.74 then fell steadily to 7.24 in 2011. Canadian provinces saw the smallest decline, only 0.19, whereas the decline in the United States was 0.51 and, in Mexico, 0.58. Since then average economic freedom in North America has risen slowly to 7.43 but still remains below that peak in 2004. However, economic freedom has increased in the United States and Mexico since 2013. In contrast, in Canada, after an increase in 2014, it has fallen back below its 2013 level.

P.S. If you want some additional historical context, Alberta’s fall from the top (mentioned in the first excerpt) can be partly blamed on the provincial government’s fiscal profligacy when it was collecting a lot of energy-related tax revenue.

P.P.S. I first wrote about Economic Freedom of North America in 2013 and more recently shared commentary about the 2019 and 2020 versions.

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I regularly cite data about Europe’s sub-par economic outcomes in hopes of driving home the point that the United States should not copy that continent’s approach of onerous fiscal burdens.

Which is now a very relevant topic with Biden pushing for a big expansion of the welfare state.

This is not a good idea. Americans are richer than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. Even more remarkably, lower-income people in the United States often have living standards equal to – or even greater than – middle-income Europeans.

Another way of making this point is to compare economic outcomes in American states compared to European countries.

I first did that back in 2015, citing data to show that all be the very-richest European nations would be considered poor if they were part of the United States.

I want to augment that comparison today. I’m motivated by a National Review column by Charles Cooke. As a former European, he realizes it would be a mistake for the United States to copy European policies.

Schrager writes, “Americans can’t spend like they used to. Store shelves are emptying, and it can take months to find a car, refrigerator or sofa. If this continues, we may need to learn to do without — and, horrors, live more like the Europeans. That actually might not be a bad thing.” Counterpoint: Yes, it would. …having spent a great deal of time in both places, I can assure you that it is considerably easier to live in America than it is to live in Europe, and that one of the main reasons for that — beyond Americans’ being so stonkingly rich — is that Americans are far, far more demanding of their marketplaces. …We do not, under any circumstances, need to “learn to do without.”

I want to focus on the “stonkingly rich” part of the above excerpt.

Cooke links to a 2014 column in the Washington Post by Hunter Schwarz. Here are the key passages.

If Britain were to join the United States, it would be the second-poorest state, behind Alabama and ahead of Mississippi. The ranking, determined by Fraser Nelson, an editor of The Spectator magazine, was made by dividing the gross domestic product of each state by its population, and it  took into account purchasing power parity for cost of living. Several other European countries were also included… Norway was the top European country on the list, between Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Here’s the Nelson data, which shows that only oil-rich Norway and pro-market Switzerland look good.

Some readers may be questioning the use of numbers from 2014 and 2015.

That’s a reasonable suspicion since perhaps European countries have closed the gap over the past few years.

But that’s not the case. The United States has grown faster in recent years, so updated state/country numbers would make Europe look even worse.

P.S. A Swedish think tank, Timbro, produced similar calculations back in 2004.

Here are those comparisons, showing again that European countries would be viewed as poor if they were states.

P.P.S. After a period of “convergence” after World War II, European countries have actually been falling further behind the United States in recent decades. Needless to say, it’s not good to be part of the “anti-convergence club.”

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Let’s look today at one of main arguments for Biden’s tax-and-spend agenda.

A column in the New York Times, authored by Spencer Bokat-Lindell, suggests that the United States needs to increase government spending on child care to “shrink the gap” with other nations.

The main evidence for this proposition is a chart showing the United States at the bottom.

The obvious goal is to convince readers that the United States is doing something wrong.

And that comes across in the text of the article.

If you’re active on social media there’s a decent chance you came across this chart…about how much less the U.S. government spends on young children’s care than other rich countries. The infrastructure and family plan that President Biden proposed and that’s now being negotiated in Congress is an attempt to shrink the gap through four key policies: a federal paid family and medical leave program, an extension of the child tax credit (in the form of a monthly payment) that debuted this year, subsidized day care, and universal pre-K.

But why is it bad to be at the bottom of this list when all the nations above the U.S. have lower living standards?

I’ve repeatedly made the point that we don’t want to “catch up” to nations that have lower levels of prosperity.

But maybe this isn’t just about living standards.

The article also suggests that childcare subsidies are needed to avert demographic decline.

…Why does the United States have such an exceptional approach to family and child care benefits…? European and Latin American countries began enacting these policies…the end of World War II accelerated the process, particularly in Europe… “Part of it had to do with fears of demographic decline…the need to recover from those years and to ensure that there was a strong work force going forward,” Siegel told the BBC.

For what it’s worth, I agree that demographic decline is a major issue.

Falling birth rates and increased life expectancy are a very worrisome combination for government budgets.

Which leads to the hypothesis that childcare subsidies can help deal with this problem by enabling higher levels of fertility.

That’s theoretically possible, I’ll admit, but we certainly don’t see it in the data. Here’s the chart from the New York Times, which I’ve augmented by showing fertility rates.

As you can see, the United States has a higher fertility rate than almost every other nation on the list, which certainly suggests that childcare subsidies are not an effective way of encouraging more babies.

Moreover, U.S. fertility of 1.71 is higher than the OECD average of 1.61.

And when you compare the United States to peer nations (“OECD rich nations” and “EU-15 nations”), the fertility gap is even larger, 1.71 to 1.52.

One moral of the story is that government handouts are not an effective way of increasing fertility.

And the other moral of the story is that it’s not a good idea to copy nations that are economically weaker.

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A very persuasive argument against Biden’s fiscal agenda is that it makes no sense to copy the fiscal policies of European welfare states.

Indeed, I routinely share this column from January, which looks at three different measures of comparative prosperity – all of which show the United States is way ahead of nations on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the three data sources is this comparison of “actual individual consumption” (AIC) in the member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

We now have updated AIC numbers. Here’s a look at the OECD’s latest data. As you can see, people in the United States enjoy levels of consumption 50 percent above the average for developed nations.

The U.S. is even way ahead of oil-rich Norway and the tax havens of Luxembourg and Switzerland.

By the way, if you look at the OECD’s technical definition, AIC includes “government expenditure on individual consumption goods and services,” so the gap between the United States and other nations is not a statistical quirk based on whether government is (or is not) paying for things.

P.S. I can’t resist a couple of closing observations. If you click on the OECD’s link for AIC, you’ll notice that there are seven years of data, thus showing which nations are moving in the right direction or wrong direction (relative to other OECD countries).

  • Eastern European nations tend to have the largest increases, as one might expect based on convergence theory (these nations fell way behind because of communist mismanagement). But the biggest increase was enjoyed by Lithuania, which also is very highly ranked for economic liberty. Not a coincidence.
  • Nations that suffered noticeable declines include Japan (no surprise), along with Italy and Greece (even less of a surprise).

The moral of the story is that smaller government is part of the recipe for greater prosperity, even if that’s not the approach preferred by vote-buying politicians.

P.P.S. Click here is you want an estimate of how much economic damage would be caused by Biden’s fiscal agenda.

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China is not going to surpass the United States as the world’s dominant economy.

As I first wrote back in 2010, China is a paper tiger. Yes, there was some pro-market reform last century, which helped reduce mass poverty, but China only took modest steps in the right direction.

According to the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World, China scores just 6.21, which places it 124th out of 162 nations.

Is that better than a score of 3.69, which is where China was in 1990?

Yes, of course.

But does that score indicate that China will become richer than the United States, which has a current score of 8.22 (the world’s 6th-highest level of economic liberty)?

Of course not.

My answer might change of China engaged in more economic liberalization, as I have urged. But it seems the opposite is happening and China is backsliding toward more state control.

And that means the United States almost surely will remain far more prosperous.

(While Joe Biden is doing his best to drag economic policy in the wrong direction, but it would takes decades of far-worse policy to bring the U.S. down to the level of France (#58) or Greece (#92), much less all the way down to being on par with China).

But some people must not be very familiar with data about China and its economy.

For instance, President Trump’s former top trade official, Robert Lighthizer, wrote that the United States should copy China’s cronyism in a column in the New York Times.

I’m not joking. Mr. Lighthizer openly embraces industrial policy and protectionism.

…we need a multifaceted long-term strategy. …Our strategy must include…an industrial policy that includes subsidies to foster the development of the most advanced science and technology…and a robust plan to combat China’s unfair trade practices. …The Senate legislation would achieve some of what is needed. It calls for $200 billion to bolster scientific and technological innovation, $52 billion to rebuild our capacity to make semiconductors, and a supply-chain resiliency program… The House should perfect the provisions of the Senate bill that restructure and enhance federal support for science and innovation and strip out those that weaken our trade laws and encourage Chinese imports.

Geesh, no wonder Trump’s trade policy was such a disaster.

Lighthizer not only doesn’t understand economics, he also doesn’t know history.

Adam Thierer of the Mercatus Center points out that the current angst about China is a repeat verse of a song we heard over and over again in the late 1980s.

Back then, everyone though Japan was on the verge of overtaking the United States, ostensibly because that nation had wise politicians and bureaucrats who knew how to pick winners and losers.

Thierer’s article tells us what really happened.

In 1949, the Japanese government created the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to work with other government bodies (especially the Bank of Japan) to devise plans for industrial sectors in which they hoped to make advances. Although not as heavy-handed as Chinese planning authorities are today, MITI came to have enormous influence over private-sector research and investment decisions during the next five decades. The organization used a variety of the same policy levers that Chinese officials do today, with a particular focus on trade management and industrial policy investments in sectors perceived to be “strategic” for future economic advance. …By the late 1970s…, U.S. officials and market analysts came to view MITI with a combination of reverence and revulsion, believing that it had concocted an industrial policy cocktail that was fueling Japan’s success at the expense of American companies and interests. …By the end of the 1980s, fears about “Japan Inc.” had reached a fever pitch. …Just as Japan phobia was reaching its zenith in the early 1990s, Japan’s fortunes began taking a turn for the worse. The Japanese stock market crashed in 1990… Japan suffered a brutal economic downturn that became known as the Lost Decade, which really lasted almost two decades. …by the late 1990s many scholars came to view most Japanese industrial policy initiatives as a costly bust.

Amen.

I wrote that Japan was a “basket case” back in 2013. A bit of hyperbole, to be sure, but I was trying to drive home the point that the nation’s politicians have made some costly mistakes.

Not just industrial policy, but also tax increases, Keynesian spending, and other forms of intervention.

No wonder the country has gone downhill in terms of competitiveness.

But let’s not focus too much on Japan (which, despite all my grousing, still ranks #20 for economic liberty).

For purposes of today’s column, the main points are 1) that China is no threat to overtake the United States, and 2) that copying that nation’s industrial policy would be a mistake.

P.S. If China wants to pursue industrial policy and other forms of cronyism, that’s a mistake that mostly hurts the Chinese people. To the extent such policies are designed to subsidize exports (as Lighthizer argues), the best response is to utilize the World Trade Organization, not to copy China’s misguided interventionism.

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Since this is America’s Independence Day, I’m going to continue my tradition (see 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020) of authoring a July 4-themed column.

What will make this year special, though, is that we’re going to tackle the heavy topic of whether the United States lives up to its own ideals.

Two years ago, the New York Times unveiled the “1619 Project,” which largely argues that slavery and racism are part of the nation’s DNA. The NYT states that the project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery…at the very center of our national narrative.”

As a libertarian, I don’t believe our government is good and pure today, and I also don’t believe it was good and pure in the past. So I have no problem with a skeptical assessment of American history.

That being said, I have a positive view of America’s founding and consider the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the unveiling of the Constitution in 1787 as victories for liberty.

But only partial victories. What happened in the late 1700s should be viewed as the beginning of a process that slowly but surely has extended the blessings of liberty to the broader population.

Just as Martin Luther King stated back in 1964, “the arc of the moral universe…bends toward justice.”

At the risk of oversimplifying, the 1619 Project has people fighting about two sides of the same coin.

  • Some people say the story of the United States is bad because of a legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism.
  • Other people say the story of the United States is good because of progress against slavery, segregation, and racism.

But the battle is about more than whether we have a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty view of history.

It’s also about fanciful claims, such as the assertion that the War of Independence was fought to preserve slavery. In an article for Quillette, Phillip Magness points out that historians almost universally reject that interpretation.

Critics on both the Left and Right took issue with the paper’s declared intention of displacing 1776 with the alternative date… For several months after the 1619 Project first launched, its creator and organizer Nikole Hannah-Jones doubled down on the claim. “I argue that 1619 is our true founding,” she tweeted the week after the project launched. …the historical controversies around the 1619 Project intensified in late 2019 and early 2020. A group of five distinguished historians took issue with Hannah-Jones’s lead essay, focusing on its historically unsupported claim that protecting slavery was a primary motive of the American revolutionaries when they broke away from Britain in 1776. …a historian who the Times recruited to fact-check Hannah-Jones’s essay revealed that she had warned the paper against publishing its claims about the motives of the American Revolution on account of their weak evidence. The 1619 Project’s editors ignored the advice.

Indeed, Magness’ article discusses how the New York Times has largely conceded it made a mistake and has “stealth edited” the 1619 website.

Magness also has criticized the way supporters of the 1619 Project are attempting to promote statist economic policies.

Here’s some what he wrote for the American Institute for Economic Research.

When I first weighed in upon the New York Times’ 1619 Project, I was struck by its conflicted messaging. …certain 1619 Project essayists infused this worthy line of inquiry with a heavy stream of ideological advocacy. Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones announced this political intention openly, pairing progressive activism with the initiative’s stated educational purposes. …A historical discussion about the Constitution’s notoriously strained handling of slavery quickly drifted into a list of partisan grievances against the tax and health care policy views of congressional Republicans in the twenty-first century. …The 1619 Project, it seemed, could serve as both an enduring long-term curriculum for high school and college classrooms and an activist manual… This tendency finds its most visible display in…Matthew Desmond’s essay on the relationship between slavery and modern American capitalism. …Lurking beneath it all was a long list of Desmond’s own modern progressive political causes—economic inequality…and a general disdain for deregulation and free market thought. In short, Desmond was weaponizing the history of slavery to attack modern capitalism.

If you want to spend 79 minutes learning about why Desmond is wrong, this Reason interview with Magness is very informative.

I’ll simply add that it’s absurd to link slavery with capitalism. In a laissez-faire society, government’s legitimate role is to protect the “negative rights” of life, liberty, and property.

Yet slavery is based on government laws that allow one person to own another person.

Let’s wrap up today’s column by looking at the future rather than the past.

In a book review for the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley discusses Robert Woodson’s concerns that the 1619 Project may promote a victim mentality and discourage upward mobility.

Mr. Woodson is a veteran community activist who broke with the traditional civil-rights leadership in the 1970s after realizing that the agenda of “racial grievance groups” like the NAACP was increasingly at odds with the actual wants and needs of the black underclass. …After the New York Times published its “1619 Project”…he became incensed. …Mr. Woodson responded by initiating his own project, “1776 Unites,” which enlisted a group of black scholars, journalists and social activists “who uphold the true origins of our nation and the principles through which its founding promise can be fulfilled.” …Mr. Woodson released “Red, White and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionists and Race Hustlers.” The book is a collection of essays by 1776 Unites participants, and its publication is a public service. …In the book’s introduction, Mr. Woodson writes that his goal is not to offer point-by-point rebuttals. Rather, he wants to “debunk the myth that present-day problems are related to our past . . . specifically, debunking the myth that slavery is the source of present-day disparities and injustice.” Mr. Woodson understands that pointing out the moral shortcomings of others might prove cathartic, but it will do little if anything to facilitate black upward mobility. And he flatly rejects the notion that “the destiny of black Americans is determined by what whites do—or what they have done in the past,” which is otherwise known as critical race theory.

As I wrote a few days ago, critical race theory can be a helpful way to understand history, but it also can be harmful if it labels everyone as either a victim or an oppressor.

I much prefer how Walter Williams viewed race-related issues.

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I periodically write about the importance of long-run growth and about the importance of convergence (whether poorer countries are catching up with richer countries, as suggested by theory).

This is because such data, especially over decades, teaches us very important lessons about the policies that are most likely to generate prosperity.

I’m revisiting these issues today because John Cochrane, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former professor of economics at the University of Chicago, recently wrote a column that contains a must-see chart showing how some of the major European nations have been losing ground to the United States over the past several decades.

The main thing to understand is that European nations were catching up to the United States after World War II, which is what one would expect.

But that trend came to a halt about 40 years ago and now these nations are suffering divergence instead of enjoying convergence.

Here’s some of Cochrane’s analysis.

…the US is 54% better off than the UK.. France…50% less than US. …the US is 96% better off than Italy. …And it’s been getting steadily worse. France got almost to the US level in 1980. And then slowly slipped behind. The UK seems to be doing ok, but in fact has lost 5 percentage points since the early 2000s peak. And Italy… Once noticeably better off than the UK, and contending with France, Italy’s GDP per capita is now lower than it was in 2000. GDP per capita is income per capita. The average European is about a third or more worse off than the average American, and it’s getting worse.

What’s most remarkable, as I wrote about back in 2014, is that the gap between the United States and Europe is “getting worse.”

Cochrane wonders if this is evidence against the European Union’s free-trade rules.

This should be profoundly unsettling for economists. Everyone thinks free trade is a good thing. The European union, one big integrated market, was supposed to ignite growth. It did not. The grand failure of the world’s biggest free trade zone really is a striking fact to gnaw on. Sure, other things are not held constant. Perhaps what should have been the world’s biggest free trade zone became the world’s biggest regulatory-stagnation, high-tax, welfare-state disincentive zone. Still, “it would have been even worse” is a hard argument to make.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s “a hard argument to make”. I’ve pointed out – over and over again – that Europe’s reasonably good policies in some areas are more than offset by really bad fiscal policy.

Think of the different types of economic policy as classes for a student. If a kid flunks one class, that’s going to produce a sub-par grade point average even if there was good marks in all the other classes.

That’s what has happened on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Europe is suffering the consequences of a stifling tax burden and an onerous burden of government spending.

Besides, I suspect some of the benefits of free trade inside the European Union are offset by the damage of the E.U.’s protectionist barriers against trade with the rest of the world.

P.S. Some people may wonder why Germany was not included in Cochrane’s chart. I assume that’s because the reunification of West Germany and East Germany about 30 years ago creates a massive discontinuity in the data. For those interested, Germany is slightly better off than France and the U.K., according to the Maddison data, but still lagging well behind the United States.

P.P.S. Speaking of Germany, the divergence between East Germany and West Germany teaches an obvious lesson.

P.P.P.S. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that America started out-performing Europe after Reaganomics was implemented.

P.P.P.P.S One obvious takeaway from Cochrane’s data (though not obvious to President Biden) is that the United States should not be copying Europe. Unless, of course, one wants ordinary Americans to be much poorer.

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As illustrated by my recent three-part series (here, here, and here), I care about helping the poor rather then hurting the rich.

More broadly, I want a bigger economic pie so that everyone can have a larger slice. And I don’t particularly care if some people get richer faster than other people get richer (assuming they are earning money honestly and not relying on government favoritism).

In other words, it doesn’t bother me if someone like Bill Gates is getting richer faster than I’m getting richer, so long as there’s an economic environment that gives both of us a chance to prosper based on how much value we are providing to others.

But some folks are fixated on how the pie is sliced.

For instance, the Peterson Institute for International Economics recently tweeted that there is too much inequality in the United States (compared to Europe) and that something should be done to “fix” this supposed problem.

This type of data irks me because some people will assume that rising levels of income for the rich somehow imply falling levels of income for everyone else.

That may be true in nations with despotic socialist governments, such as Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela, where the ruling class lines it pockets at the expense of the general population.

However, let’s focus on the United States and Europe, since the Peterson Institute wants readers to think that politicians in Washington should “fix” the distribution of income in America so that we resemble our friends on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

But first we must answer two very important questions: Are the non-rich in the United States suffering because rich people are doing well? And are the non-rich in Europe better off than the non-rich in America?

Earlier today, I answered those questions with three tweets.

I started with this tweet pointing out that average living standards are far higher in the United States than they are in Europe.

I then shared this tweet pointing out that the bottom 10 percent of people in America would be middle class compared to their counterparts in Europe.

I then concluded with this tweet showing that the bottom 20 percent of people in the United States have incomes higher than the average income in most European countries.

The moral of this story is that ordinary people are better off in America.

And that’s almost certainly because there’s generally more economic freedom in the United States – including lower tax burdens and less enervating redistribution.

P.S. While the Peterson Institute is very misguided on the tradeoff between inequality and growth, it is quite good on trade-related issues (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

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According to the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America, the most economically free jurisdiction in North America used to be the Canadian province of Alberta.

But Alberta then slipped and New Hampshire claimed the top position. And, according to the the 2020 edition of Economic Freedom of North America, the Granite State is still the best place to live.

But since most of my readers are from the United States, let’s focus just on American states, and specifically look at how they rank based on the policies they control.

On this basis, you can see that New Hampshire is in first place, followed by Florida, Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee (if you’re looking for a common thread, four of the five have no state income tax).

Here are some highlights from the Fraser Institute’s summary.

Economic Freedom of North America 2020…measures the extent to which…individual provinces and states were supportive of economic freedom… There are two indices: one that examines provincial/state and municipal/local governments only and another that includes federal governments as well. …The all-government index includes data from Economic Freedom of the World… The top jurisdiction is New Hampshire at 8.16, followed by Florida and Idaho at 8.10 , then Wyoming (8.09) and Utah (8.08). Alberta is the highest ranking Canadian province, tied for 9th place with a score of 8.06. The next highest Canadian province is British Columbia in 27th at 7.98. …The highest-ranked Mexican state is Jalisco with 6.70… The lowest-ranked states in the United States are Delaware at 7.72 in 56th place, following Rhode Island (7.76 in 54th) and New York (7.77 in 53rd).

As I noted above, I think it’s especially instructive to see how jurisdictions compare when looking at the policies they control.

Here’s what the study says about the subnational index.

For the subnational index, Economic Freedom of North America employs 10 variables for the 92 provincial/state governments in Canada, the United States, and Mexico in three areas: 1. Government Spending; 2. Taxes; and 3. Labor Market Freedom. …There is a separate subnational index for each country. In Canada, the most economically free province in 2018 was again Alberta with 6.61, followed by British Columbia with 5.98… The least free by far was Quebec at 2.84… In the United States, the most economically free state was New Hampshire at 7.84, followed by Florida at 7.73. …(Note that since the indexes were calculated separately for each country, the numeric scores on the subnational indices are not directly comparable across countries.) The least-free state was New York at 4.25… In Mexico, the most economically free state was Jalisco at 6.57.

One obvious takeaway is to avoid Quebec and New York.

And almost all of Mexico as well.

One of the many great things about the Fraser Institute is that they are very good at sharing their data.

And, because I was curious to know what states are moving in the right direction and wrong direction, I downloaded the excel file so I could make the relevant calculations.

Here are the numbers, showing the both the overall shift since 1981 as well as the data for 1981-2000 and 2000-2018.

The good news is that every single state has more economic freedom today that it had in 1981. Michigan and Massachusetts enjoyed the biggest increases over the past four decades, though both of them still plenty of room for upward improvement.

Looking at the 1981-2000 and 2000-2018 periods, there was much more reform at the end of last century than there has been at the beginning of this century. So maybe the “Washington Consensus” influenced American states as well as foreign nations.

I realize I’m a dork about such things, but I was especially interested to see that some states (Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Colorado) were very good performers in 1981-2000, but fell to the bottom group in 2000-2018.

By contrast, other states (Montana, North Dakota, Washington, and New Mexico) jumped from the bottom 10 to the top 10.

P.S. Texas ranked #1 in 1981, and by a comfortable margin, so even though it was among the bottom-10 performers for 1981-2018, it still ranks #4 overall for good economic policy.

P.P.S. Colorado dropped from #8 in 1981 to #23 in 2018, which may be a sign that the pro-growth impact of TABOR is more than offset the anti-growth impact of all the Californians that have moved to the state.

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Japan is an interesting country to examine if you want insights about public policy.

Overall, I have a pessimistic view of Japan, but not because it has terrible policy by world standards (it’s currently ranked #20 for economic liberty).

Instead, my concern is that it is drifting in the wrong direction (it was ranked in the top 10 for economic freedom in the mid-1950s) and the country is dealing with grim demographics.

But not everyone shares my view. Indeed, some people even think Japan is a role model. Here are some excerpts from a column in the Japan Times by Jesper Koll of Wisdomtree Investments.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden can learn a lot from Japan. …the overall result generated by the Japanese economic system is extremely positive. Japan is the global best-in-class for balancing both income growth and income distribution. …an economy must both grow and distribute the spoils of wealth creation in a fair and equitable way.

So why does Mr. Koll think Japan does a good job?

Mostly because of economic outcomes for lower-income people.

At the end of last year, the median net financial wealth — all financial assets minus liabilities — for households in Japan stood at $104,000. In the United States, it was $62,000. …Japan does have an underbelly of poor people, but compared to America, relatively few are truly left behind financially. …America has more than two times more very wealthy people than Japan, but it also has more than five times more poor people. …In the past eight years, the bottom 10% of income earners saw a $15,000 rise in earnings in Japan, from $17,000 to $32,0000. In contrast, their American counterparts got only $10,000 more income, from $18,000 to $28,000.

For what it’s worth, I’m a bit skeptical of whether the experiences of ethnically homogeneous Japan are directly applicable to an ethnically heterogeneous society such as the United States.

I also think it’s strange that Koll compares the last eight years, which mixes the stagnation of the Obama years with the somewhat better performance of the Trump years.

But it’s interesting that he concludes by observing that you help low-income people with tight labor markets rather than the kind of class-warfare tax policy that Biden has been advocating.

How did Japan successfully bring up the poor? Not by taxing the rich, but by…positive demographic dynamics…because the growing scarcity of labor is forcing steadfast improvement in the type of employment contracts offered, i.e., not just part-time, but full-time as well as solid pay increases at the bottom end of the employment attractiveness spectrum.

But what about Koll’s point about lower-income people being better off in Japan than in the United States?

On that issue, I’m very skeptical.

His article doesn’t include links to data sources, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of his numbers.

But here’s a chart that I first shared earlier this year, which I’ve augmented in red to highlight how the bottom 10 percent of people in the United States are at the same level of middle-income people in Japan.

Call me crazy, but the above data don’t suggest that the United States should copy Japan.

Or what about this chart, which I originally shared back in 2019. It shows that the bottom 20 percent of people in the United States are doing better than the average person in Japan (highlighted in red).

Once again, these numbers don’t lead me to think that America should be copying Japan.

I won’t bother with another chart, but I also invite readers to peruse the OECD’s AIC data, which shows the average person in the United States being way ahead of the average person in Japan.

The bottom line is that I’m all in favor of Joe Biden using other nations as role models. But I would go with Singapore before Japan. Or perhaps he could adopt an a la carte approach, picking the best of the best from around the world (Switzerland’s fiscal rule, Monaco’s tax system, Chile’s private pension regime, etc).

P.S. Japan only ranks in the middle third when looking at the societal capital of nations.

P.P.S. I used to assume that Japan had a competent government sector, stories like this and this have changed my perspective.

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The latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World has been released by the Fraser Institute. The good news is that the United States is in the top 10 (we dropped as low as #18 during Obama’s first term).

The bad news is that Australia jumped in front of the United States, so America is now #6 instead of #5 like last year.

Here are the 20 jurisdictions in the world with the highest levels of economic liberty.

Here are some of the highlights from the report.

Hong Kong and Singapore, as usual, occupy the top two positions. The next highest scoring nations are New Zealand, Switzerland, United States, Australia, Mauritius, Georgia, Canada, and Ireland. The rankings of some other major countries are Japan (20th), Germany (21st), Italy (51st), France (58th), Mexico (68th), Russia (89th), India (105th), Brazil (105th), and China (124th). The 10 lowest-rated countries are: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Republic of Congo, Algeria, Iran, Angola, Libya, Sudan, and, lastly, Venezuela.

It’s not exactly a surprise that Venezuela is in last place, though keep in mind that a few basket-case nations aren’t included in the rankings because of inadequate data (most notably, North Korea and Cuba).

Some people may be surprised that Hong Kong is still #1, but there’s a good (albeit temporary) reason.

Between 1997 and 2018, there was no evidence of significant policy changes in Hong Kong as the result of the 1997 establishment of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region within China. Our data indicate that there have not been any major changes in tax and spending policy, monetary stability, or regulatory policy. In fact, Hong Kong’s 2018 rating of 8.94 is its highest since the financial crisis in 2008. However, it will be surprising if the apparent increase in the insecurity of property rights and the weakening of the rule of law caused by the interventions of the Chinese government in 2019 and 2020 do not result in lower scores

For those interested in the United States, here are the scores for the five major components.

For what it’s worth, I think American monetary policy should be ranked lower, but I admit that’s a subjective opinion that can’t be quantified (at least not yet).

Our worst score is for trade. Though that’s not just the fault of Trump. Yes, he’s caused a decline, but the U.S. score has been on a downward trajectory for almost 20 years.

Speaking of Trump, readers who get upset by my periodic criticisms of the President (such as what I wrote yesterday) may be interested in knowing that the U.S. now has a lower score (8.22 out of 10) than it did in Obama’s last year (8.32 out of 10).

P.S. Last but not least, here’s a map showing which nations are in various categories. All you really need to know is that it’s good to be blue and bad to be red.

P.P.S. China’s low score explains why I don’t think there’s any danger of that nation becoming an economic powerhouse (a point I first made back in 2010). At least not until and unless President Xi has the wisdom to allow a second wave of pro-growth reform.

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My view of the U.S. economic policy often depends on whether I’m writing about absolute levels of laissez-faire or relative levels of laissez-faire.

If my column is about the former, I generally complain about excessive spending, punitive taxation, senseless red tape, easy-money monetary policy, and trade protectionism.

But if I’m writing about relative levels of economic liberty, I often turn into a jingoistic, pro-American flag-waver.

That because – with a few exceptions such as Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Switzerland – the United States enjoys more economic freedom than other nations.

And because of the relationship between policy and prosperity, this means that Americans tend to have much higher living standards than their counterparts in other nations. Even when compared to people in other developed countries.

(Which is why it’s so disappointing that many American politicians want to make the U.S. more like Europe.)

Let’s examine some data. In a column for National Review, Joseph Sullivan compares recent increases in living standards for major nations.

If you want to answer questions about how economic wellbeing for individuals in a country has evolved, the actual change in the value of real GDP per capita may tell you more than the rate of its change. Why? Individuals buy goods and services with dollars and cents — not the rates of change that economists, politicians, and pundits tend to focus on when it comes to growth. …By this metric, between 2016 and 2019, economic growth in the U.S. was the best in its class. …The U.S. surpasses…its peers…by no small margin. It bests the silver medalist in this category, Finland, by $1,100. That is almost as big as the $1,160 that separates the runner-up from the peer country that comes in dead last, Sweden.

Here’s the chat from his article.

The key takeaway is that Americans started the period with more per-capita GDP and the U.S. lead expanded.

That’s one way of looking at the data.

A 2017 report from the Pew Research Center also has some fascinating numbers about the relative well-being of the middle class in different nations.

…the middle class in a country consists of adults living in households with disposable incomes ranging from two-thirds to double the country’s own median disposable household income (adjusted for household size). This definition allows middle-class incomes to vary across countries, because national incomes vary across countries. …That raises a question: What shares of adults in Western European countries have the same standard of living as the American middle class? …When the Western European countries the Center analyzed are viewed through the lens of middle-class incomes in the U.S., the share of adults who are middle class decreases in most of them. …In most Western European countries studied, applying the U.S. standard shrinks the middle-class share by about 10 percentage points… Applying U.S. incomes as the middle-class standard also boosts the estimated shares of adults who are in the lower-income tier in most Western European countries… Overall, regardless of how middle class fortunes are analyzed, the material standard of living in the U.S. is estimated to be better than in most Western European countries examined.

The main thing to understand is that there’s a big difference between being middle class in a rich country and being middle class in a not-so-rich country.

And if you peruse the chart from the Pew Report, you’ll notice that a lot of middle-class Europeans would be lower-income if they lived in the United States.

And if you looked at the issue from the other perspective, as I did last year, many poor Americans would be middle class if they lived in Europe.

Let’s augment that analysis by looking at a graphic the Economist put together several years ago. It’s based on the OECD’s Better-Life Index, which is a bit dodgy since it includes measures such as the Paris-based bureaucracy’s utterly dishonest definition of poverty.

That being said, notice that the bottom 10 percent of Americans would be middle class (or above!) if they lived in other nations.

I’ll close with the data on Actual Individual Consumption from the OECD, which are the numbers that (I believe) most accurately measure relative living standards between nations (indeed, I shared data from this source in 2010, 2014, and 2017).

As you can see, the United States easily surpasses other industrialized nations, with a score of 145.9 in 2017 (compared to the average of 100).

My final observation is that all this data is contrary to traditional convergence theory, which assumes that poor nations should grow faster than rich nations.

In other words, Europe should be catching up to the United States.

Indeed, that actually happened for a couple of decades after World War II, but then many European nations expanded welfare states in the 1960s and 1970s, while the U.S. for more economic freedom under both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the 1980s and 1990s.

And since policies diverged, convergence stalled.

The bottom line is that rich nations can consistently out-perform poor nations if they have allow more economic freedom.

P.S. Not only do ordinary Americans have a big edge over their European counterparts, they also enjoy much lower taxes.

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When writing yesterday’s column about new competitiveness rankings from the IMD business school in Switzerland, I noticed that I have not yet written about this year’s edition of the Index of Economic Freedom.

Time to rectify that oversight.

We’ll start with a look at the nations with the most economic freedom. Interestingly, Singapore has now displaced Hong Kong as the world’s most market-friendly jurisdiction (because Hong Kong’s score declined, not because Singapore’s score increased), with New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland rounding out the top 5.

The United States, meanwhile, isn’t even in the top 10. Instead, America dropped from #12 last year to #17 this year.

The decline is partly due to a lower score (with Trump’s protectionist policies deserving the biggest share of the blame), but mostly caused by better scores from nations such as Chile, Georgia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

What may shock people, though, is that even supposedly socialist Denmark (score of 78.3) ranks above the United States (score of 76.6). Here’s a look at U.S. and Danish scores from 1995-present.

Regular readers already know that Denmark is not a socialist nation. Indeed, it’s never been socialist. By world standards, there’s basically no history of government ownershipcentral planning, or price controls.

The most accurate way of describing Denmark is that it combines laissez-faire economics with tax-and-spend redistributionism.

Since this is a common approach among nations in that part of the world, some people even refer to this set of economic policies as the Nordic model.

So how does this approach compare to policy in the United States? The short answer, as illustrated by this table, is that America generally does better on fiscal policy, but gets lower scores when looking at almost every other type of policy.

The great irony of all this is that Bernie Sanders wants the U.S. to be more like Denmark, but he only says that because he doesn’t realize it would mean reducing the negative impact of government.

P.S. While Denmark has some awful fiscal policies (the tax burden is terrible), there are some bright spots. It has done a good job in recent years of restraining the growth of government, and it also has a partially private retirement system.

P.P.S. Not that any of these will be a surprise, but the three lowest-ranked nations in the Index of Economic Freedom are Cuba (26.9), Venezuela (25.2), and North Korea (4.2).

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Last week, I participated in a webinar with IES Europe. The program covered a wide range of issues, including tax competition, Social Security reform, and the recipe for national prosperity.

Here’s what I said on the topic of federalism.

To add some hard data to the discussion, let’s compare the degree of fiscal decentralization in the United States in both 1902 and 2019, based on numbers from the Census Bureau (click on Govt_Finances) and the Office of Management and Budget (click on Table 14.3).

As you can see from the chart, Washington now accounts for a much bigger share of overall government spending.

By the way, these numbers should not be misinterpreted.

There’s been no reduction in the burden of state and local government outlays. Indeed, there’s been a steady increase in such spending, even after adjusting for inflation.

But the federal government has grown far more rapidly.

Indeed, the fiscal history of the United States is a sad story about the loss of almost all constraints and limits that America’s Founders put in the Constitution in hopes of controlling the size and scope of Washington.

The bottom line is we now have much bigger government and it’s more remote because of centralization.

I mentioned Switzerland in the latter part of my answer.

Here’s the data comparing Switzerland and the United States. As you can see, Switzerland has been more successful in retaining genuine federalism.

Indeed, the two countries are mirror images, with nearly 2/3rds of government spending in the U.S. coming from Washington and nearly 2/3rds of government in Switzerland taking place a the level of cantons and municipalities.

P.S. Here’s what scholars from the Austrian School have said about federalism.

P.P.S. Here’s my two cents on federalism in the context of issues such as welfare, natural disasters, transportation, coronavirus, infrastructure, and Medicaid,

P.P.P.S. Because there’s strong evidence that decentralization produces better outcomes, I’m even willing to accept bad examples of federalism.

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As part of my collection of honest leftists, I have a bunch of columns highlighting how some advocates of big government (including, to their credit, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang) don’t hide from reality.

I’m unalterably opposed to their policies, but at least they openly admit that huge tax increases on ordinary people are needed in order to finance a European-style welfare state.

Now we have two more honest statists to add to our list.

In a column for the Washington Post, Eric Harris Bernstein and Ben Spielberg openly embrace huge tax increases on Americans with modest incomes.

They start by complaining that the tax burden is lower in the United States compared to other western nations.

A no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge…is seriously misguided. Middle-class taxes are a necessary and desirable part of a comprehensive, progressive policy framework… Democratic presidential candidates should make the case for middle-class taxes, not run from them. Here is a basic fact: The United States is a low-tax country. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the United States ranked fourth-lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (a consortium of 36 economically developed countries) in terms of tax revenue collected as a percentage of the economy — behind nations like Germany, Israel, Latvia and Canada. The gap between U.S. and average OECD revenue has widened over time, from 1.3 percentage points of gross domestic product in 1965 to 10 percentage points more recently. That’s nearly $2 trillion per year in forgone revenue from lower tax rates.

Interestingly (though not surprisingly), they don’t acknowledge that Americans are far richer than people in other advanced nations.

So maybe, just maybe, there’s a relationship between tax policy and economic outcomes.

The authors then complain that Reagan triggered an era of lower taxes for the non-rich. Oh, the horror!

In 1979, the year before Ronald Reagan was elected president, the average household in the middle quintile of the income distribution paid 19.1 percent of its income in federal taxes, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office. By 2016, that rate had dropped 5.2 percentage points, more than a quarter, to 13.9 percent. The story is similar for the second and fourth quintiles, which saw their rates decline by 5.6 and 3.8 percentage points respectively over the same period.

Here’s a graphic that accompanied the column.

As you can see, readers are supposed to conclude that the United States is “below average” compared to other developed nations.

What would it mean if politicians reversed all the tax cuts that started under Reagan?

The most revealing factoid from the column is their calculation that middle-income families should be paying $3800 more to the IRS every year.

In 2016, middle-quintile families paid $3,800 less in taxes than they would have at 1979 rates… Low middle-class taxes in the United States stand in stark contrast to the approach in other developed countries, which raise more revenue from the middle class through some combination of taxes on goods and services, payroll taxes, and income taxes.

And don’t forget that the authors don’t just want to go back to 1979 tax rates.

They want America to become another France.

Somehow, I suspect America’s middle-class does not want to be pillaged like their European counterparts.

Amazingly, it gets even worse. The authors want more debt-financed spending and they even endorse the perpetual motion machine of “modern monetary theory.”

Of course, middle-class tax increases are not the only means of providing these public goods. Trillions of dollars can be raised through various taxes on the rich… And funding public investments with government debt, which modern monetary theory’s adherents recommend, is a far better approach than requiring every program to have a designated “payfor.” The government is uniquely positioned to borrow money, and we shouldn’t let unsubstantiated, theoretical concerns about debt levels prevent us from addressing the concrete and urgent needs of today.

I could end the column at this point and simply observe that it’s good to find honest folks on the left, even if they’re wildly wrong.

But the authors of the column unintentionally have given me an excuse to make a key point about taxes, growth, the economy, and the Laffer Curve.

Their graphic inserted above reveals that the overall tax burden in France consumes 46.1 percent of GDP in France, nearly twice as high as the United States.

But high tax rates don’t necessarily produce high tax revenues.

Indeed, I crunched data from the International Monetary Fund and found that per-capita revenues in France are only about 10 percent higher than they are in the United States.

I’m sure Art Laffer won’t be surprised by these results. Neither would Ibn Khaldun.

The bottom line is that most people in Europe are subject to much higher tax rates, which leads to lower living standards and weaker economies, which means there’s not even a lot of tax revenue to spend.

Would your family be willing to give up $10,000, $15,000, or $20,000 of income just so politicians could spend an extra $2,000 per household?

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My favorite publication from the Canada-based Fraser Institute is Economic Freedom of the World, which ranks nations based on economic liberty.

I religiously write about each year’s report (starting back in 2011), and I also cite the data dozens of time each year when analyzing policy in various nations.

The second-best report from the Fraser Institute is Economic Freedom of North America, which ranks economic liberty in all American states, Canadian provinces, and Mexican states. Here’s the headline data from the most-recent edition, with Canadian provinces highlighted in brown and Mexican states highlighted in green.

I’m not surprised to see New Hampshire in first place, and I’m not surprised to see Florida in second place.

Both states rank near the top in various measures of economic liberty in the United States.

I’m also not surprised to see Mexican states clustered at the bottom.

What’s particularly interesting is to see how rankings have changed for the United States and Canada.

…economic freedom had been declining in all three countries until recently. From 2004 to 2013, the average score for all 92 jurisdictions fell from 7.64 to 7.09. Canadian provinces saw the smallest decline, only 0.08, whereas the decline in the United States was 0.59 and in Mexico, 0.63. However, economic freedom has increased in the United States and Mexico since 2013. In contrast, in Canada, after an increase in 2014, it has fallen back below its 2013 level. …on the all-government index the highest ranked jurisdiction is New Hampshire with a score of 8.13. After six straight years in first, Alberta fell to a tie for 6th last year, and fell further to a tie for 24th place at 7.94 in this year’s report. Florida is in 2nd with 8.07… The highest-rated Mexican state is Guanajuato at 61st with 6.49, behind all 50 US states and 10 Canadian provinces, and below 60th place by more than one full point.

Here’s a look at the biennial numbers for the three nations.

I’ve highlighted in green the two recent times Canada ranked about the United States (gee, thanks Obama) and highlighted in red the two recent times Canada ranked below the United States (gee, thanks Trudeau).

In my humble opinion, a key takeaway in the report is what happened to Alberta.

Here are some relevant excerpts.

Alberta, for seven years in a row up to 2015, was the top jurisdiction among the 92 jurisdictions in the index in the all-government index, as it was among Canadian prov-inces in the subnational index. However, in 2015, Alberta elected new political leaders who made changes in taxation, spending, and regulation that have had a significant negative effect on economic freedom. …Since 2015, Alberta has fallen from 1st to a tie for 24th place in the 2017 all-government index. It scored 8.31 in 2014 in this index, falling by 0.37 points in the 2017 index, the largest fall over that period of the 92 jurisdictions in the all-government index. Alberta’s decline in the subnational index, where of course provincial leader-ship has its greatest impact, was much larger, 1.42 points, between 2014 and 2017.

And here’s a table that shows what has happened over the past few years.

I actually warned about Alberta’s fiscal deterioration back in 2015, so I’ll be interested to see if the province can restore some budgetary sanity.

To be sure, Alberta is still the top-ranked province, but that’s more a reflection of bad policy elsewhere in Canada.

P.S. In general, Canada is a sensible, market-oriented nation. Indeed, the United States should copy its northern neighbor on issues such as spending restraintwelfare reformcorporate tax reform, bank bailoutsregulatory budgeting, the tax treatment of savingschool choice, and privatization of air traffic control.

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The Tax Foundation churns out lots of good information, but I especially look forward to their International Tax Competitiveness Index.

It shows how nations rank based on key tax variables such as corporate taxation, personal income tax, and international tax rules.

The latest edition shows good news and bad news for the United States. The good news, as you see in this chart, is that the 2017 tax reform improved America’s ranking from 28 to 21.

The bad news is that the United States is still in the bottom half of industrialized nations.

We should copy Estonia, which has been in first place for six consecutive years.

For the sixth year in a row, Estonia has the best tax code in the OECD. Its top score is driven by four positive features of its tax code. First, it has a 20 percent tax rate on corporate income that is only applied to distributed profits. Second, it has a flat 20 percent tax on individual income that does not apply to personal dividend income. Third, its property tax applies only to the value of land, rather than to the value of real property or capital. Finally, it has a territorial tax system that exempts 100 percent of foreign profits earned by domestic corporations from domestic taxation, with few restrictions. …For the sixth year in a row, France has the least competitive tax system in the OECD. It has one of the highest corporate income tax rates in the OECD (34.4 percent), high property taxes, a net tax on real estate wealth, a financial transaction tax, and an estate tax. France also has high, progressive, individual income taxes that apply to both dividend and capital gains income.

Here are some other important observations from the report, including mostly positive news on wealth taxation as well as more information on France’s fiscal decay.

…some countries like the United States and Belgium have reduced their corporate income tax rates by several percentage points, others, like Korea and Portugal, have increased them. Corporate tax base improvements have been put in place in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, while tax bases were made less competitive in Chile and Korea. Several EU countries have recently adopted international tax regulations like Controlled Foreign Corporation rules that can have negative economic impacts. Additionally, while many countries have removed their net wealth taxes in recent decades, Belgium recently adopted a new tax on net wealth. …Over the last few decades, France has introduced several reforms that have significantly increased marginal tax rates on work, saving, and investment.

For those who like data, here are the complete rankings, which also show how countries score in the various component variables.

Notice that the United States (highlighted in red) gets very bad scores for property taxation and international tax rules. But that bad news is somewhat offset by getting a very good score on consumption taxation (let’s hope politicians never achieve their dream of imposing a value-added tax!).

And it’s no big surprise to see countries like New Zealand and Switzerland get high scores.

P.S. My only complaint about the International Tax Competitiveness Index is that I would like it to include even more information. There presumably would be challenges in finding apples-to-apples comparative data, but I’d be curious to find out whether Hong Kong and Singapore would beat out Estonia. And would zero-tax jurisdictions such as Monaco and the Cayman Islands get the highest scores of all? Also, what would happen if a variable on the aggregate tax burden was added to the equation? I’m guessing some nations such as Sweden and the Netherlands might fall, while other countries such as Chile and Poland (and probably the U.S.) would climb.

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My primary job is dealing with misguided public policy in the United States.

I spend much of my time either trying to undo bad policies with good reform (flat tax, spending restraint, regulatory easing, trade liberalization) or fighting off additional bad interventions (Green New Deal, protectionism, Medicare for All, class warfare taxes).

Seems like there is a lot to criticize, right?

Yes, but sometimes the key to success is being “less worse” than your competitors. So while I’m critical of many bad policies in the United States, it’s worth noting that America nonetheless ranks #6 for overall economic liberty according to the Fraser Institute.

As such, it’s not surprising that America has higher living standards than most other developed nations according to the “actual individual consumption” data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

And America’s advantage isn’t trivial. Our consumption levels are more than 46 percent higher than the average for OECD member nations.

The gap is so large that I’ve wondered how lower-income people in the United States would rank compared to average people in other countries.

Well, the folks at Just Facts have investigated precisely this issue using World Bank data and found some remarkable results.

…after accounting for all income, charity, and non-cash welfare benefits like subsidized housing and Food Stamps—the poorest 20% of Americans consume more goods and services than the national averages for all people in most affluent countries. …In other words, if the U.S. “poor” were a nation, it would be one of the world’s richest. …The World Bank publishes a comprehensive dataset on consumption that isn’t dependent on the accuracy of household surveys and includes all goods and services, but it only provides the average consumption per person in each nation—not the poorest people in each nation. However, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis published a study that provides exactly that for 2010. Combined with World Bank data for the same year, these datasets show that the poorest 20% of U.S. households have higher average consumption per person than the averages for all people in most nations of the OECD and Europe… The high consumption of America’s “poor” doesn’t mean they live better than average people in the nations they outpace, like Spain, Denmark, Japan, Greece, and New Zealand. …Nonetheless, the fact remains that the privilege of living in the U.S. affords poor people with more material resources than the averages for most of the world’s richest nations.

There are some challenges in putting together this type of comparison, so the folks at Just Facts are very clear in showing their methodology.

They’ve certainly come up with results that make sense, particularly when comparing their results with OECD AIC numbers.

Here’s one of the charts from the report.

You can see that the bottom 20 percent of Americans do quite well compared to the average persons in other developed nations.

By the way, the report from Just Facts also criticizes the New York Times for dishonest analysis of poverty. Since I’ve felt compelled to do the same thing, I can definitely sympathize.

The bottom line is that free markets and limited government are the best way to help lower-income people enjoy more prosperity.

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Since I’ve been writing a column every day since 2010, you can imagine that there are some days where that’s a challenge.

But not today. The Fraser Institute has released a new edition of Economic Freedom of the World, which is like a bible for policy wonks. So just like last year, and the year before, and the year before, and so on (you may sense a pattern), I want to share the findings.

First, here’s what EFW measures.

The cornerstones of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, open markets, and clearly defined and enforced property rights. …The EFW measure might be thought of as a measure of the degree to which scarce resources are allocated by personal choices coordinated by markets rather than centralized planning directed by the political process. It might also be thought of as an effort to identify how closely the institutions and policies of a country correspond with the ideal of a limited government, where the government protects property rights and arranges for the provision of a limited set of “public goods” such as national defense and access to money of sound value, but little beyond these core functions.

Now let’s get to the good stuff.

Unsurprisingly, Hong Kong is at the top of the rankings, followed closely by Singapore. Those jurisdictions have been #1 and #2 in the rankings every year this century.

The rest of the top 5 is the same as last year, featuring New Zealand, Switzerland, and Ireland.

The good news for Americans is that we’re back in the top 10, ranking #6.

Here’s what the report says about the United States.

…the United States returned to the top 10 in 2016 after an absence of several years. During the 2009–2016 term of President Obama, the US score initially continued to decline as it had under President Bush. From 2013 to 2016, however, the US rating increased from 7.74 to 8.03. This is still well below the high-water mark of 8.62 in 2000 at the end of the Clinton presidency.

It’s important to understand that the improvement in the U.S. score has nothing to do with Trump. The EFW ranking is based on America’s economic policies as of 2016 (there’s always a lag in getting hard data).

President Trump’s policies may increase America’s score (think taxes and regulation) or they may decrease America’s score (think trade and spending). But we won’t know for sure until we see future editions.

Here’s what’s happened to economic liberty in America between 1970 and 2016.

As you can see from the historical data, the U.S. enjoyed progress through the Reagan and Clinton years, followed by decline during the Bush years and early Obama years. But we’ve trending in the right direction since 2013.

Let’s look at other nations that get decent scores.

Here are the other nations that are in the top quartile.

Canada and Australia were tied for #10, so the rest of the rankings start with the under-appreciated success story of Taiwan at #12.

All the Baltic nations do well, especially Estonia and Lithuania. Chile also remains highly ranked, as is the supposedly socialist nation of Denmark.

Luxembourg, which was ranked #1 as recently as 1985, is now #25.

I also noticed that Rwanda (#40) has eased past Botswana (#44) to become the highest-ranked nation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

By the way, I’m not going to bother showing the bottom nations, but nobody should be surprised to learn that Venezuela is in last place.

Though that may simply be because there’s isn’t adequate data to include North Korea and Cuba.

Let’s close by including a chart that hopefully will show why economic liberty is important.

Simply stated, people enjoy much higher living standards in nations with free markets and small government. Conversely, people living under statist regimes suffer from poverty and deprivation.

The bottom line is that Economic Freedom of the World shows the recipe for growth and prosperity.

Sadly, very few nations follow the instructions because economic liberty is not in the interests of politicians.

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Over the years, I’ve shared some rankings that are utterly preposterous.

Needless to say, none of these ranking pass the laugh test. You know the people involved are either deluded or dishonest.

Well, we have a new addition to this disreputable collection, as reported by CBS.

The United States has been ranked for the first time among the 10 nations deemed to be the most dangerous for women by experts in the field. A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation of about 550 experts in women’s issues around the globe labeled the U.S. the 10th most dangerous nation in terms of the risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex. …According to the survey, which was last carried out in 2011 and did not then rank the U.S. among the top 10 most dangerous nations, India is the most perilous country for women… Most of the other countries in the top-10 determined by the foundation’s survey are countries with ongoing military conflicts or insurgencies, or where long-held religious and political views have kept women on an unequal footing in terms of law enforcement and treatment in society generally. …The foundation asked the experts which five of the 193 United Nations member states they felt were “most dangerous for women and which country was worst in terms of health care, economic resources, cultural or traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking,” according to the foundation.

And here’s their list of the supposed 10-worst countries for women.

I’m assuming that the top-9 countries are not good places for women, but think about what sort of person would put the United States at #10.

  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than Egypt, where about 90 percent of females are subject to the horrifying practice of female genital mutilation?
  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than South Africa, where the rape rate is five times higher?
  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than Nepal, where per-capita income is just 1.3 percent of American levels?
  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than Angola, where the average woman dies nearly three decades sooner?
  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than China, where girl children are much more likely to be aborted or subject to infanticide?

In other words, the list is a joke. And the 550 supposed “experts” in women’s issues beclowned themselves.

By the way, my criticisms have nothing to do with ideology. There are many lists from left-wing groups that are intellectually rigorous. I strongly disagree with the folks at the Tax Justice Network, for instance, but their Financial Secrecy Index is methodologically honest and sound.

I also should point out that my objections have nothing to do with the USA looking bad. I don’t like it when the United States doesn’t crack the top-10 in measures of rule of law, tax competitiveness, or economic liberty, yet I share such data with no hesitation.

Shame on the Thomson Reuters Foundation is a joke for publishing such a list.

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When writing about the statist agenda of international bureaucracies, I generally focus my attention on the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Today, let’s give some attention to the United Nations.

Based on this story from the Washington Post, the bureaucrats at the UN have concluded that America is a miserable and awful nation.

…a new United Nations report that examines entrenched poverty in the United States…calls the number of children living in poverty “shockingly high.” …the report, written by U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, says the United States tops the developed world with the highest rates of youth poverty… The results of the report are not out of line with a number of others…in recent years by different organizations in which the United States has turned up at or near the top on issues such as poverty rates.

But I’ve learned from personal experience (see here and here) that the United Nations is guided by statist ideology and I should be extremely skeptical of any of its findings.

For instance, when it intervenes in policy (global warming and gun control, for instance, as well as the Internet, the War on Drugs, monetary policy, and taxpayer-financed birth control), the UN inevitably urges more power and control for government.

So let’s take a jaundiced look at some of the assertions in this new report, starting with that dramatic claim of record child poverty in America.

The United States…has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)… The consequences of neglecting poverty… The United States has one of the highest poverty…levels among the OECD countries… the shockingly high number of children living in poverty in the United States demands urgent attention. …About 20 per cent of children live in relative income poverty, compared to the OECD average of 13 per cent.

So is it true that poverty is very high in the USA and is it also true that America has the highest rate of child poverty of all OECD countries? Even higher than Mexico, Greece, and Turkey? And what is the source of this remarkable assertion?

If you look at footnote #51, you’ll see reference to an OECD publication that contains this supposedly damning chart.

But if you look at the fine print at the bottom, you’ll discover that the chart on child poverty doesn’t actually measure child poverty. Instead, the bureaucrats at the OECD have put together a measure of income distribution and decided that “relative poverty” exists for anyone who has less than 50 percent of the median level of disposable income.

In other words, the United States looks bad only because median income is very high compared to other nations.

Which is the same dishonest data manipulation that the OECD uses when exaggerating America’s overall poverty rate (other groups that have used this deliberately dishonest methodology include the Equal Welfare Association, Germany’s Institute of Labor Economics, and the Obama Administration).

The bottom line is that the key finding of the UN report is based on a bald-faced lie.

By the way, I’m not surprised to see that the UN report also cites the IMF to justify statist policies.

In a 2017 report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) captured the situation…, stating that the United States economy “is delivering better living standards for only the few”, and that “household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy” …A much-cited IMF paper concluded that redistribution could be good for growth, stating: “The combined direct and indirect effects of redistribution — including the growth effects of the resulting lower inequality — are on average pro-growth.”

For what it’s worth, the IMF’s research on growth and inequality is embarrassingly bad.

Here’s another big takeaway from the UN report.

The United States…has the highest…infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. …The infant mortality rate, at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is almost 50 per cent higher than the OECD average of 3.9.

I’m not an expert on infant mortality. Indeed, I’ve never looked at infant mortality data. But given the UN’s reliance on dodgy and dishonest numbers in other areas, I’m skeptical whether these numbers are true.

And, according to Johan Norberg, the numbers about high levels of infant mortality in the United States are false.

The UN report contains many other ideologically motivated attacks on the United States.

For instance, America is a bad country because taxes supposedly are too low.

The United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries. The $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality. …The tax cuts will fuel a global race to the bottom, thus further reducing the revenues needed by Governments to ensure basic social protection and meet their human rights obligations. …There is a real need for the realization to sink in among the majority of the American population that taxes are not only in their interest, but also perfectly reconcilable with a growth agenda.

While the above passage is remarkable for the level of economic illiteracy, I confess that I chortled with glee when I read the part about how the recent tax reform “will fuel a global race to the bottom.”

As I wrote last year and this year, the fact that other governments will face pressure to reduce tax rates is something to celebrate.

Here’s one final excerpt. The UN report also bashes the United States because we don’t view dependency as a human right.

Successive administrations, including the current one, have determinedly rejected the idea that economic and social rights are full-fledged human rights, despite their clear recognition not only in key treaties that the United States has ratified… But denial does not eliminate responsibility, nor does it negate obligations. International human rights law recognizes a right to education, a right to health care, a right to social protection for those in need and a right to an adequate standard of living.

Needless to say, a problem with this vision of “positive rights” is that it assumes there will always be a supply of chumps willing to work hard so the government can tax away their money to finance all the goodies. But Greece shows us that it’s just a matter of time before that games ends with disaster.

In other words, Thomas Sowell is right and Franklin Roosevelt was wrong.

Let’s close with some good news. As the Washington Post just reported, the UN’s dishonest anti-American screed apparently will prove costly to that bloated bureaucracy.

Alston arrived in Washington last fall on a mission from the U.N. Human Rights Council to document poverty in America. …he was told by a senior State Department official that his findings may influence the United States’ membership in the human rights body. …“I think I was being sent a message.” Two other people at the meeting, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Alston’s account. …Nikki Haley announced this week that the United States would withdraw from the Human Rights Council.

Good for Ambassador Haley.

Her actions stand in stark contrast to some of her predecessors, who apparently believed in taxpayer-financed self-flagellation.

Alston said he was initially invited by the U.S. government under President Barack Obama to study poverty in America. The invitation was extended again by U.S. officials under then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, he said. “We look forward to welcoming Mr. Alston to the United States for a country visit this December,” Flacelia Celsula, part of the U.S. delegation at the United Nations, said in a meeting of the Human Rights Council on June 8, 2017.

It goes without saying that Mr. Alston should have the freedom write leftist reports. He also should have the freedom to spread lies in those reports. But I don’t want American tax dollars to finance his ideological bilge.

Which brings us to the obvious takeaway. As seems to be the case with all international bureaucracies, the United Nations wastes money at a prodigious pace. With any luck, Alston’s nonsense will convince American policymakers that deep budget cuts for the UN are long overdue.

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I don’t think I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person, but I realized that I have a habit of sharing “depressing” charts.

Well, as the Monty Python folks advised, it’s time to look on the bright side of life.

So here’s the most enjoyable chart of 2018, courtesy of the Washington Post.

By the way, it’s not “enjoyable” because it shows more gun ownership.

Yes, I believe in private gun ownership, because I respect the Constitution, because I want to discourage crime, because I support liberty, and because I believe in the right of self-defense in case society goes off the rails. But those reasons don’t bring a smile to my face.

The reason the chart is so enjoyable is that it nicely captures Obama’s total failure to impose gun control. Heck, he didn’t just fail to change policy, he actually wound up being the best thing that ever happened to gun manufacturers. And I confess that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

But let’s set that aside and actually take a closer look at gun ownership numbers. The data in the chart come from a global survey. Here’s some of the coverage of those numbers from the Associated Press.

The Small Arms Survey says 393 million of the civilian-held firearms, 46 percent, are in the United States, which is “more than those held by civilians in the other top 25 countries combined.” …the report’s author, Aaron Karp, said at a news conference. “American civilians buy an average of 14 million new firearms every year, and that means the United States is an overwhelming presence on civilian markets.” …The estimate of over 1 billion firearms worldwide at the end of 2017 also includes 133 million such weapons held by government military forces and 22.7 million by law enforcement agencies, it said. …The Small Arms Survey released its study to coincide with the third U.N. conference to assess progress on implementing a 2001 program known as Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms… According to the report, the countries with the largest estimated number of civilian-held legal and illegal firearms at the end of 2017 were the United States with 393.3 million, India with 71.1 million, China with 49.7 million, Pakistan with 43.9 million and Russia with 17.6 million. …Americans, who own 121 firearms for every 100 residents. They are followed by Yemenis at 53, Montenegro and Serbia with 39, Canada and Uruguay about 35, and Finland, Lebanon and Iceland around 32.

Given America’s status, I’m tempted to start chanting “USA, USA, USA,” but there are some very important factoids buried in the AP report.

Anna Alvazzi del Frate, the institute’s program director, said that “the countries with the highest level of firearm violence — they don’t rank high in terms of ownership per person.” “So what we see is that there is no direct correlation at the global level between firearm ownership and violence,” she said.

Wow, that’s a remarkable admission. It turns out that more guns don’t lead to more crime. But we already knew that.

Now let’s look at some excerpts from the aforementioned story about the same report from the Washington Post.

There are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, or enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over. Those numbers come from the latest edition of the global Small Arms Survey… The report, which draws on official data, survey data and other measures for 230 countries, finds that global firearm ownership is heavily concentrated in the United States. In 2017, for instance, Americans made up 4 percent of the world’s population but owned about 46 percent of the entire global stock of 857 million civilian firearms. …the United States stands out among the world’s wealthiest nations, with an ownership rate more than three times higher than the rate in the next-highest country, Canada. …Measured in rates or in raw terms, the United States is the civilian gun capital of the world.

Since I already shared the chart about the U.S. having more guns than people, here’s another chart from the story showing how Americans are far better armed than their counterparts in other advanced countries.

I’m surprised Switzerland isn’t in second place, but I’m glad to see good numbers from the Nordic nations (Bernie Sanders may have to reconsider his affection for those countries).

P.S. Thinking about whether to create a collection of “enjoyable charts,” the obvious choice would be the one from 2014 that showed how effectively the Tea Party-influenced GOP stymied Obama’s spending plans (that was back when Republicans were in favor of smaller government, unlike 2018).

P.P.S. The AP story mentioned that the United Nations has a pact to restrict private gun ownership. I explained in 2013 why that’s an awful scheme. The good news is that Trump’s new National Security Adviser is very solid on that issue.

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