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My original intent today was to write about Hungary’s economic policy, presumably focusing on the country’s sometimes good and sometimes bad tax policies.

Why Hungary? Because I’m in Budapest for the next stop on the Free Market Road Show.

But I’ve decided to change topics because of this advertisement that I saw as I got off the plane this morning.

This is not just an example of random national boosterism.

There is a demographic problem in Europe, and it’s particularly acute in Eastern Europe.

Simply stated, people are living longer and having fewer kids. And this has very negative implications for modern welfare states.

So Hungarian politicians decided that the best solution was to spend a lot of money to encourage more children.

Has this effort to create a “Family Friendly Hungary” been successful?

In an article for the Catholic Herald, Professor C.C. Pecknold of Catholic University is a fan of the government’s policies.

…one country has seen marriage rates increase by a whopping 43 per cent… Unsurprisingly, with the increase in marriage, …the national birth rate is currently at its highest in 20 years. The country is Hungary. …Hungary’s Minister for the Family, Katalin Novak, explains… “After we won the election in 2010 with a two-thirds majority, we decided to build a family-friendly country and to strengthen families raising children. …a comprehensive family-support system, a family-friendly tax system, a housing program…” The new law…has a new set of pro-family incentives such as a 3,000 euro mortgage reduction for a second child, and a 12,000 euro reduction for a third. Effective in 2020, mothers with 4 or more children will enjoy a lifetime personal tax exemption.

Robert VerBruggen of the Manhattan Institute says these policies are working.

Here are excerpts from his article published by Law & Liberty.

The experience of Hungary is…instructive… Pronatal policy works, but you have to go big. …the country was spending 5 percent of its GDP on family support, including massive housing subsidies for families with three kids. …Its more recent efforts include loans of up to $33,000 to married couples that are partly forgiven if they have two kids and fully forgiven if they have three, subsidized fertility treatments, and total exemption from income taxes for women with four kids. Hungary is strongly advancing the message that fertility is a good thing and spending lots of money to encourage it, to an extent that would probably be hard to match in the U.S. The much-heralded result has been a “total fertility rate” of about 1.6 children per woman in 2021, a number not seen since the 1990s and an increase of more than a fifth since the 2000s, when the rate fluctuated around 1.3. …Hungary’s income-tax exemption for women with four kids and subsidies restricted to married couples

Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Studies, writing for National Review, has a mixed view of the Hungarian government’s approach.

Hungary’s overt effort to boost birth rates…is an extraordinary experiment in demographic policy, and one with enormous political ramifications. …it is vital to understand what Hungary’s population policies actually are, and what effects they are having on Hungarian society. …First, in 2015, came CSOK, a program that subsidized credit for home loans for couples having three kids. Then came related programs subsidizing education, minivans, home renovations, and other expenses. Then there was an income-tax program: Women who had four or more children would be exempt from income taxes. Most recently, there’s a “baby loan,” worth over $30,000, which couples can apply for after getting married, and which is forgiven in tranches as they have children. Unfortunately, however, fertility in Hungary has barely budged. …since the financial incentives for a second child were over four times as generous as those for a first child, and for three or more children they were another four times more, Orbán’s government expected a big increase in third or subsequent births. But that isn’t what happened. …in Hungary big families got rarer. …CSOK was a flop. Hungarian fertility rates performed no better than, indeed somewhat worse than, the fertility rates of nearby countries.

As you read these numbers, don’t forget that Hungarians are much poorer than Americas (notwithstanding nonsensical analysis from the OECD).

In other words, $30,000 is a very significant amount of money.

And since economics teaches us you get more of things that are subsidized, Stone points out that fertility is increasing.

But there is some good news: The latest addition to Hun­gary’s suite of baby policies actually seems to be working. Beginning in 2019, Hungarian newlyweds under a certain age and without prior children could apply for a loan with an extremely heavily subsidized interest rate and with payments deferred. As the couple had children, chunks of the loan would be forgiven, so that if they had three children within ten years, they would have gotten a $35,000 cash grant with no strings attached (beyond, of course, having babies). Births in Hungary jumped upwards nine months after this program rolled out… it is similar in principle to the generous baby bonuses that existed at various times in Australia and Quebec, which are widely known to have increased birth rates.

By the way, there’s a critical difference between what is happening in Hungary and the per-child handouts that Biden is proposing in the United States.

Financial support for married childbearing may have actually improved family stability. Notably, the share of children born to unmarried mothers fell from 48 percent in 2015 to just 30 percent in 2020, an extraordinary decline.

So what’s the bottom line?

I’m not a fan of government subsidies for child-bearing, jut as I’m not a fan of onerous fiscal policies that discourage families from having kids.

For what it’s worth, nations generally have not been successful in boosting fertility. But, then again, I doubt any country has been as aggressive as Hungary.

I’ll close with one semi-dour observation.

Let’s assume that Hungary’s pro-natalist policies deserve credit for boosting the fertility rate from 1.3 to 1.6. That seems impressive, but it’s still well short of the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.

As such, there’s still a desperate need for genuine entitlement reform (including in the United States) regardless of whether a government tries to subsidize bigger families.

Back in 2012, I endorsed a wretched socialist, Francois Hollande, to be president of France.

I knew he was terrible, but the supposedly right-wing incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, also was a proponent of dirigisme. As I wrote at the time, “it’s always better to let the left-wing party win when the supposedly right-wing party has a statist candidate.”

In France’s next election, in 2017, French voters faced a similarly dismal choice. Emmanuel Macron ran against Marine Le Pen and I urged voters to “pick the socialist over the socialist.”

Macron prevailed in that race and just won a rematch against Le Pen on Sunday.

I didn’t bother writing about the race ahead of time because it didn’t matter. Neither candidate promoted good ideas.

If you want to know France’s problems, the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World is a good place to start.

According to the most recent edition, France ranks #53, which is a very poor grade for a developed nation.

The country’s biggest problem is fiscal policy. Out of 163 nations, it ranks #155 for “size of government.”

That’s even worse than Greece.

And if you look at the historical data from the Fraser Institute, you’ll see that France’s score actually has declined since Macron won in 2017.

Not by much, to be sure, but still a move in the wrong direction. Moreover, given France’s demographic outlook, things will get much worse in the not-too-distant future.

All the more reason why I’m not excited about Macron’s reelection victory.

But what do others say?

If you want a semi-optimistic perspective, the Wall Street Journal opined on the potential implications and seems to think Macron’s heart is in the right place.

The question is whether Mr. Macron will do more in the next five years to make France great again. …Mr. Macron defies traditional political divisions. In his first term he appointed center-right figures to key positions and made progress with tax and labor reform.  …Ms. Le Pen…ran to his left on economics, calling for a wealth tax on financial assets and trade protectionism. …While Mr. Macron showed free-market instincts in his first term, he has tacked to the left recently to shore up support from young and progressive voters. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon says he wants to be prime minister, and the coming National Assembly elections could be decisive in determining the direction of the country. Focusing on pro-growth reform—rather than climate obsessions or populist gestures like limiting executive pay—would help restore the economic vitality that Mr. Macron originally promised. It would also make it less likely for a radical like Ms. Le Pen or Mr. Mélenchon to take power in five years.

For a more negative perspective, here’s a CapX column from 2019, authored by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet.

…tax increases; a ballooning national debt and the highest government spending ratio to GDP in Europe… It’s become harder than ever to pinpoint a specific “Macron line”, but whatever it is, it isn’t a liberal one. …The president’s idea for modernising France’s industry is a mix of high-handed, interventionist industrial policy and a brushed-up reliance on top-down sectoral choices reminiscent of every single one of his predecessors, from de Gaulle onwards. …he announced €5bn investment into Le French Tech from well-coaxed institutional investors, with the aim of creating “25 French unicorns by 2025”. (The irony of having a government programme dedicated to create privately-held tech start-ups valued above $1bn seems to have escaped him). …The president’s policies oscillate according to polling and estimated image gains. As a result, the supposedly “courageous” reforms promised…are…watered down. …Macron believes sincerely in his top-down…plans.

For what it’s worth, I suspect Macron understands that his nation needs pro-market reform, but I also think he isn’t willing to take any risks to make it happen.

P.S. A few years ago, I shared a story that told you “everything you need to know about France.” Here are some excerpts from another story that captures the awful mindset holding back that country.

In less than three weeks, board game lovers in France bought all 10,000 copies of Kapital!, a new game about class struggle, injustice and French politics created by French sociologists. …One player will draw the good lot and fall among the rich; others will be the struggling poor and middle class. All players have to fight their way to the “tax haven” at the conclusion of the board. …The sociologists created the game to raise awareness about social injustice and the gap between the rich and poor. …The game was an instant success, selling out in less than three weeks.

This is almost as bad as the European Commission’s online game that was designed to brainwash children in favor of higher taxes.

P.P.S. Here’s a must-watch video explaining why America shouldn’t become another France.

I’m in the United Kingdom for the Free Market Road Show and had planned on writing today about the awful economic policies of Boris Johnson, the supposedly Conservative Prime Minister.

Yes, he produced an acceptable Brexit, but otherwise has been a big spender. Sort of the a British version of Trump or Bush.

But I’m going to give Boris a (temporary) pass because I can’t help but vent my spleen about this sign I saw yesterday while touring the Imperial War Museum in London.

As you can imagine, I was irked by this bit of pro-socialist propaganda.

Since when does a government takeover of private industry lead to “a fairer, more caring society”?!?

Maybe that was the intention of the voters who elected Clement Attlee, the Labour Party who became Prime Minister after the 1945 election.

The real-world results, though, were disappointing. Indeed, the sign acknowledges that the post-war recovery was anemic.

But it then put the blame on conscription.

As a sensible Brit would say, this is utter bollocks.

Plenty of other nations drafted men into military service, yet they still managed to enjoy decent growth.

Why did those countries enjoy more prosperity? Because they didn’t copy Clement Attlee’s horrible mistake of nationalizing industry (genuine socialism, by the way).

Indeed, while the United Kingdom was becoming the “sick man of Europe,” West Germany boomed in large part because it went in the other direction, getting rid of dirigiste policies such as price controls.

There is a happy ending to this story.

Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979 and privatized industries – in addition to other pro-growth reforms such as spending restraint and tax-rate reductions.

As a result, the United Kingdom in a very short period of time managed to overtake Germany in the Fraser Institute’s rankings for economic liberty.

I’ll close with a thoughtful and magnanimous offer.

I’ve corrected the mistaken wording on the sign at the Imperial War Museum. I hereby offer – free of charge – this new version.

P.S. It’s a long program, but I strongly encourage readers to watch Commanding Heights: The Battle of Ideas, which tells the economic history of the 20th century. You’ll learn how Thatcher saved the U.K. economy and how Reagan saved the U.S. economy.

No sensible person wants to copy the big-spending policies of failed welfare states such as Greece.

Unfortunately, many politicians lack common sense (or, more accurately, they are motivated by short-run political ambition rather than what’s in the long-run best interest of their nations).

So if they decide that they politically benefit by spending lots of other people’s money, they have to figure out how to finance that spending.

One option is to use the central bank. In other words, finance big government with the figurative printing press.

This is what’s know as Modern Monetary Theory.

From a theoretical perspective, it’s crazy. And if Sri Lanka is any indication, it’s also crazy based on real-world evidence.

In an article for The Print, based in India, Mihir Sharma looks at that government’s foolish monetary policy.

Cranks are considered cranks for a reason. That is the lesson from Sri Lanka… How did this tiny Indian Ocean nation end up in such straits? …the Rajapaksas turned Sri Lanka’s policymaking over to cranks… The central bank governor at the time, Weligamage Don Lakshman, informed the public during the pandemic that nobody need worry about debt sustainability…since “domestic currency debt…in a country with sovereign powers of money printing, as the modern monetary theorists would argue, is not a huge problem.” Sri Lanka is the first country in the world to reference MMT officially as a justification for money printing. Lakshman began to run the printing presses day and night; his successor at the central bank, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, who also denied the link between printing money and inflation or currency depreciation, continued the policy. …Reality did not take long to set in. By the end of 2021, inflation hit record highs. And, naturally, the clever plan to “increase the proportion of domestic debt” turned out to be impossible… Proponents of MMT will likely say that this was not real MMT, or that Sri Lanka is not a sovereign country as long as it has any foreign debt, or something equally self-serving.

Professor Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University also discussed Sri Lanka’s crazy monetary policy in an article for National Review. And he also offered a way to reverse the MMT mistake.

This slow-motion train wreck first began in November 2019 when Gotabaya Rajapaksa won a decisive victory in the country’s presidential elections. …In total control, President Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda, the prime minister, went on a spending spree that was financed in part by Sri Lanka’s central bank. The results have been economic devastation. The rupee has lost 44 percent of its value since President Rajapaksa took the reins, and inflation, according to my measure, is running at a stunning 74.5 percent per year. …What can be done to end Sri Lanka’s economic crisis? It should adopt a currency board, like the one it had from 1884 to 1950… Most important, the board could not loan money to the fiscal authorities, imposing a hard budget on Ceylon’s fiscal system. The net effect was economic stability — and while stability might not be everything, everything is nothing without stability.

For readers who are not familiar with currency boards, it basically means creating a hard link with another nation’s currency – presumably another nation with a decent history of monetary restraint.

It’s what Hong Kong has with the United States (even though U.S. monetary policy over time has been less than perfect).

A currency board is not quite the same as “dollarization,” which is actually adopting another nation’s currency, but it’s a way of making sure local politicians have one less way of ruining an economy.

Let’s conclude with a story from the U.K.-based Financial Times, written by Tommy Stubbington and Benjamin Parkin. They provide some grim details about Sri Lanka’s plight.

Sri Lanka owes $15bn in bonds, mostly dollar-denominated, of a total $45bn long-term debt, according to the World Bank. It needs to pay about $7bn this year in interest and debt repayments but its foreign reserves have dwindled to less than $3bn. …Sri Lanka has never defaulted and its successive governments have been known for a market-friendly approach. …Sri Lanka has previously entered 16 programmes with the IMF.

By the way, I can’t help but comment about a couple of points in the article.

The reporters claim that Sri Lanka has been “known for a market-friendly approach.”

To be blunt, this is nonsense. I’ve been dealing with international economic policy for decades and no supporter of free markets and limited government has ever claimed the country was anywhere close to being a role model for good policy.

And if you peruse the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World, you’ll see that Sri Lanka has very low scores, far below Greece and only slightly ahead of Russia.

And you can click here to see that it has always received dismal scores.

But maybe it’s “market-friendly” by the standards of left-leaning journalists.

I also can’t resist noting that Sri Lanka has already received 16 bailouts from the International Monetary Fund, according to the article.

This is further evidence that it’s not a market-oriented nation.

And it’s also evidence that IMF intervention does not make things better. In many cases, it’s akin to sending an arsonist to put out a fire.

P.S. The Mihir Sharma article also discusses the Sri Lankan government’s crazy approach to agriculture.

Last April, the government followed through on a campaign promise to transition Sri Lanka to organic farming by banning the import and use of synthetic fertilizers. More than two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s people are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture; economists and agronomists warned that a transition to organic farming on that scale would destroy productivity and cause incomes to crash. …Unsurprisingly, the cranks were wrong. The production of rice — the basic component of Sri Lankans’ diet — and of tea — the country’s main export — sank precipitously.

Needless to say, it’s not a good idea for politicians to deliberately hurt a nation’s agriculture sector.

Just like it’s not a good idea for politicians in places like the United States to deliberately subsidize the sector. The right approach is to be like New Zealand and have no policy.

Looking back on the 2008 financial crisis, it seems clear that much of that mess was caused by bad government policy, especially easy money from the Federal Reserve and housing subsidies from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Many of my left-leaning friends, by contrast, assert that “Wall Street greed” was the real culprit.

I have no problem with the notion that greed plays a role in financial markets, but people on Wall Street presumably were equally greedy in the 1980s and 1990s. So why didn’t we also have financial crises during those decades?

Isn’t it more plausible to think that one-off factors may have caused markets to go awry?

I took that trip down Memory Lane because of a rather insipid tweet from my occasional sparring partner, Robert Reich. He wants his followers to think that inflation is caused by “corporate greed.”

For what it’s worth, I agree that corporations are greedy. I’m sure that they are happy when they can charge more for their products.

But that’s hardly an explanation for today’s inflation.

After all, corporations presumably were greedy back in 2015. And in 2005. And in 1995. So why didn’t we also have high inflation those years as well?

If Reich understood economics, he could have pointed out that today’s inflation was caused by the Federal Reserve and also absolved Biden by explaining that the Fed’s big mistake occurred when Trump was in the White House.

I don’t expect Reich to believe me, so perhaps he’ll listen to Larry Summers, who also served in Bill Clinton’s cabinet.

But I won’t hold my breath.

As Don Boudreaux has explained, Reich is not a big fan of economic rigor and accuracy.

P.S. Reich also blamed antitrust policy, but we have had supposedly “weak antitrust enforcement” since the 1980s. So why did inflation wait until 2021 to appear?

P.P.S. In addition to being wrong about the cause of the 2008 crisis, my left-leaning friends also were wrong about the proper response to the crisis.

Since I just landed in London, it appropriate that today’s column will be based on an article in the U.K.-based Economist.

A recent issue of the magazine included an article lauding the Internal Revenue Service.

Why?

What could the bureaucrats have done to earn praise?

You’ll be amazed to learn that the Economist believes the IRS helped the economy by becoming a vehicle for income redistribution.

I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from the article.

Despite its awful backlog, the irs has, from another perspective, had a very good pandemic. It has played a critical role in delivering support to Americans. And it has been surprisingly efficient at it. For each of the three rounds of stimulus payments, the irs was the conduit. Within two weeks of Mr Biden’s signing of the stimulus bill in March 2021, for instance, it sent out $325bn via 127m separate payments, mainly by direct bank deposit. Some people fell through the cracks and cheques took longer. But most got the money quickly. The irs operated at even greater frequency in making child-tax-credit payments every month. …It also expanded the earned-income tax credit, a subsidy given to low earners, one of America’s biggest anti-poverty programmes. Putting it together, a poor family with two young children could expect $20,000 from the irs last year, double what they would normally receive.

The Economist seems to think it’s wonderful that the IRS now plays a big role in distributing goodies.

In all, the agency paid out more than $600bn in pandemic-related support in 2021, equivalent to about two-thirds of Social Security spending in the federal government’s budget. “We have seen a substantial share of what used to be the social safety-net migrate from the public-expenditure side of the federal ledger to being run through the tax code,” points out Gordon Gray of the American Action Forum, a think-tank. …the irs…stands as one of the few federal agencies that would generate a large and nearly immediate return on investment were the government to spend more on it. The hope for the harried tax agents is that…irs performance during the pandemic will have earned it grudging support in Washington, demonstrating that it is both overstretched and indispensable.

Needless to say, “delivering support to Americans” should not be an “indispensable” function of the a bureaucracy that was created to collect tax revenue.

Even more problematic, giving out record amounts of money is not what “has kept the economy going.” This is a Keynesian view of the world.

In reality, the borrow-and-spend approach is akin to thinking you are richer after taking money out of the right pocket and putting it in the left pocket.

Sort of the economic version of a perpetual motion machine, all based on the broken-window theory of economics.

P.S. The article also cites the bogus estimate of a $1 trillion tax gap. If the Economist now is in the business of uncritically regurgitating make-believe numbers, I’m also willing to play that game. I encourage that magazine’s reporters to call me and I’ll blindly claim that all tax cuts pay for themselves and that we can have entitlement reform without transition costs.

Actually, I have ethics, so I won’t make those over-the-top claims.

P.P.S. Amazingly (but predictably), the Economist never mentioned past or present IRS scandals.

P.P.P.S. This isn’t the first time the Economist has engaged in anti-economics journalism. The magazine also has been guilty of dishonest journalism.

Like any practical libertarian, I prefer decentralization (Switzerland is a great role model). My default view is that it is better for things such as roads and schools to be handled at the local level.

But I’m also an impractical libertarian. I fantasize about privatizing things (including roads and schools) that most people think can only be handled by government.

It’s why I’ve written favorably about Liberland. And I’ve also lauded examples of private local governance in some unexpected places.

By the way, we also have examples of private local governance in the United States.

Such as Disney World in Florida.

To elaborate, Disney struck a deal with Florida lawmakers back in the 1960s. The company agreed to invest billions of dollars and create tens of thousands of jobs and the state agreed to let Disney govern itself.

That approach has worked very well. But it’s now at risk because state lawmakers are upset that the company opposed a bill to limit discussion of certain sexual topics for kids in kindergarten through the 3rd grade.

Those lawmakers are so angry that they want to undo a successful example of private governance.

I’m not the only one who is worried about this development. Charles Cooke of National Review is not impressed by the state’s attack on the company’s self-governance.

Governor Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation instructing a special session of the Florida legislature to review whether Walt Disney World’s 50-year-old “independent special district” status should be rescinded now that the Walt Disney Company has had the temerity to annoy the Republican Party. …There is no need for the Republican Party of Florida to salt the earth… Presented with this objection, advocates of further retribution tend to switch gears and contend that…Disney’s special status, granted before 1968, was probably due for “reconsideration” anyway. …Florida has 1,844 special districts, of which 1,288 are, like Walt Disney World, “independent.” The Villages — where Governor DeSantis made his announcement about the review of Walt Disney World’s status — is “independent,” as are Orlando International Airport and the Daytona International Speedway. …Walt Disney World is deeply rooted in Florida’s soil, as a result of agreements the Florida legislature made with it in good faith. To poison that soil over a temporary spat would be absurd.

Scott Shackford also argues in favor of Disney’s legal status. Here’s some of his Reason column.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in 1967, grants Disney the legal authority over and responsibility for 25,000 acres of land in Orange and Osceola counties. This includes planning and zoning authorities, as well as the responsibility to provide police, fire, and utilities in the area. …It’s a bit simplistic to think that giving Walt Disney World Resort the power of self-rule is some sort of gift or privilege. That the park, given self-governance, has managed to maintain itself as a generally safe and stable environment that people flock to from across the world is a pretty good indication that the company knows what it’s doing. Any contention that DeSantis is eliminating some sort of “special treatment” for Disney comes with it the perhaps mistaken assumption that the two counties suddenly in charge of all of this infrastructure will somehow make the park better and not worse. In reality, putting Disney parks at the mercy of two different counties with different laws will be a huge mess for everybody involved.

By the way, my defense of Disney’s legal structure does not mean I agree with the company’s political posturing. To the extent that we have to have government schools, I don’t see any problem with focusing on teaching small children the basic of reading and math, while leaving human sexuality for later ages.

In an ideal world, of course, we would have widespread school choice and the teaching of various subjects would be governed by market demand.

During the debate about the Trump tax plan, proponents made three main arguments in favor of reducing the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

  1. A lower rate would be good for workers, consumers, and shareholders.
  2. A lower rate would boost American competitiveness.
  3. A lower rate would produce some revenue feedback for the IRS.

The last item involves the “Laffer Curve,” which is a graphical representation of the non-linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue.

Put in simple terms, entrepreneurs, investors, and business owners have more incentive to earn money when tax rates are modest.

High tax rates, by contrast, discourage productive behavior while also giving people a bigger incentive to find loopholes and other ways of avoiding tax.

This does not mean that lower tax rates produce more revenue, though that sometimes happens.

The main takeaway is the most modest observation that lower tax rates will lead to more taxable income, which means some revenue feedback.

In other words, tax cuts don’t lose as much revenue as predicted by simplistic models (and tax increases don’t generate as much revenue as predicted).

I’ve shared many, many realworld examples of this phenomenon.

And here’s another. Look at how corporate tax revenues in the United States are increasing at a faster rate than projected.

The chart comes from Chris Edwards, and he helpfully explains what has happened.

The revenue surge came as a surprise to government economists. The chart…compares the new Office of Management and Budget March 2022 baseline projections to prior baseline projections from the OMB in May 2021 and the Congressional Budget Office in July 2021. …congressional estimators figured that the government would lose an average $76 billion a year the first four years… Corporate tax revenues were down from 2018 to 2020, but then soared in 2021. Revenues in 2021 of $372 billion (with a 21 percent tax rate) are 25 percent higher than revenues in 2017 of $297 billion (with a 35 percent tax rate). …we’re learning that a lower corporate tax rate is consistent with strong corporate tax revenues. …lower rates…broaden bases automatically through reduced tax avoidance and higher economic activity. Other nations have learned the same lesson. Keeping the corporate tax rate low is a winner for businesses and workers, but it can also be a winner for government budgets.

The Wall Street Journal has a new editorial on this topic. Here are some relevant excerpts.

…the 2017 tax reform that cut corporate tax rates…has been a winner for the economy and federal tax coffers. …Corporate revenue was supposed to fall to historic lows as a share of the economy. Big business supposedly got a windfall and government was robbed. It hasn’t turned out that way. …the big news now is that more corporate tax revenue is flowing into the Treasury at record levels even with the lower rate. …In June 2017, before tax reform passed, CBO predicted corporate tax revenue of $383 billion in fiscal 2021. But in April 2018, after reform passed, CBO lowered its estimate to $327 billion.

So what happened in the real world?

Actual corporate income tax revenue in 2021 was $372 billion—nearly as much at a 21% rate as CBO expected at the 35% rate that was among the highest in the world. Fiscal 2022 is turning out to be even better for the Treasury. Corporate tax revenue for the first six months was up 22% from a year earlier to $127 billion. …What accounts for this windfall for Uncle Sam…? …the Occam’s razor policy answer is that corporate tax reform worked as its sponsors predicted: Lowering the rates while broadening the base by eliminating loopholes created incentives for more efficient investment decisions that paid off for shareholders, workers and the government.

Notice, by the way, that corporate tax revenues have increased faster than projected in both the 2017 forecast and the 2021 forecast.

All of which shows that I may have been insufficiently optimistic when I wrote about this issue last year.

P.S. The goal of tax policy (either in general or when looking at business taxation) is not to maximize revenue for politicians, but rather to maximize prosperity for people. Indeed, if better tax policy leads to a lot of revenue feedback, that’s an argument for further reductions in tax rates.

P.P.S. Both the IMF and OECD have research showing that lower corporate tax rates do not necessarily lead to lower corporate tax revenues.

In my libertarian fantasy world, schools and libraries would be private institutions, which means market forces would determine which books would be available.

This would mean plenty of diversity.

Private schools in rural Oklahoma presumably would opt for content that reflects traditional values, for example, while private libraries in San Francisco would be more likely to feature salacious content.

But there also would be entrepreneurs who would cater to the needs and interests of left-wingers in Oklahoma and right-wingers in San Francisco.

The bottom line is that there’s no need for a one-sized-fits-all approach if a market is allowed to operate.

All that sounds nice, but my libertarian fantasy world doesn’t exist (even though it already has an anthem).

In the real world, we have government schools and government libraries. So what should the rules be for which books get selected?

As you might imagine this gets very contentious.

Valerie Strauss and Lindsey Bever have a story in the Washington Post about a battle in Florida over what math books to use.

Florida said it has rejected a pile of math textbooks submitted by publishers in part because they “contained prohibited subjects,” including critical race theory. The Florida Department of Education announced…41 percent of the submitted textbooks were rejected — most of them in elementary school. …“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was quoted as saying in the announcement.

And a report by Annie Gowen in the Washington Post examines the fight over which books should be in public libraries.

…a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. …Gov. Greg Abbott (R) jumped into the fray, calling for an investigation of “pornography” in school libraries. …challengers are being assisted by growing national networks such as the parental rights group Moms for Liberty or spurred on by conservative public policy organizations like Heritage Action for America, the ALA has said.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think libertarians have a dog in this fight.

We viscerally oppose government-mandated censorship, of course, but that’s not what is being debated.

The fight is not over which books to ban. It’s about which books to buy.

And since schools and libraries obviously don’t have the ability to purchase every book ever written, somebody will need the authority to choose.

  1. Should local librarians and local principals have that authority?
  2. Should local and state elected officials have that authority?
  3. Should politicians and bureaucrats in D.C. have that authority?

The worst outcome is allowing the crowd in Washington to have any power. That leads to one-size-fits-all and it is a recipe for endless conflict.

Moreover, the federal government has a terrible track record, especially with regards to education. And I can’t imagine the folks in D.C. would do any better if they got involved with libraries.

So we are left with options #1 and #2.

But that’s somewhat misleading because local politicians already have a lot of power over which principals and librarians get hired. They may delegate that authority, to be sure, but they have the ultimate power.

Indeed, the two stories cited above are about citizens pushing elected officials to make certain choices.

That’s democracy in action, for better or worse.

P.S. Libertarians favor democracy, but we very much want to limit the size and scope of government. In other words, for everything other than genuine “public goods,” we prefer markets over majoritarianism.

P.P.S. I don’t want to ban any book, but I definitely would be happy if fewer schools and libraries chose to buy Howard Zinn’s inaccurate book on American history.

April 15 is usually the worst day of the year, giving Americans ample reasons to both laugh and cry.*

Because of a holiday in Washington, D.C., however, tax returns this year are due on April 18.

So let’s celebrate (or commiserate) this awful day by wading into the debate about whether the Internal Revenue Service should have a bigger budget.

Proponents usually claim the IRS is under-funded by comparing today’s budget to how much the bureaucracy received in 2011.

But that was a one-year spike because of all the money in Obama’s failed stimulus package. If you review long-run data, you can see that the IRS’s budget has increased significantly.

And these numbers are adjusted for inflation.

But perhaps proponents are right, even if they use deceptive numbers.

The Washington Post has a new editorial on this topic, arguing that the bureaucracy needs more money.

The IRS is currently limping along without enough staff or funding. Congress, especially Republicans, needs to face up to reality. …It’s not a mystery how the IRS deteriorated. …the core problem is that Republicans slashed the IRS budget about 18 percent in the past decade. That’s not belt-tightening, it’s gutting an agency. …The Biden administration is rightly asking for a big increase for 2023 (a request of $14.1 billion). This isn’t some Democratic wish list item; it’s about restoring the basic functions of America’s tax collection agency.

When this topic was being debated last year, Ryan Ellis explained that the IRS will target small businesses if it gets a bigger budget.

Here are some excerpts from his piece in National Review.

…the idea is that if taxpayers fund the IRS to the tune of $40 billion over the next decade, the IRS will step up audits and collect an additional $100 billion in tax revenue, penalties, and interest. This is lauded as a good because of the supposed “tax gap,”… Apparently, it doesn’t occur to anyone that the IRS, which is seeking this extra $40 billion in taxpayer funding, has every incentive in the world to exaggerate this “tax gap” and to make wild promises about the new money that additional enforcement will yield for the Treasury. …Giving money to IRS bureaucrats to conduct fishing expedition audits on millions of honest self-employed people? The same IRS behind the Lois Lerner scandal a decade ago, when the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative political groups during the 2012 election season, when Obama was running for reelection?

Ryan is right to point out that the IRS is undeserving because of bad behavior.

He mentions the Lois Lerner/Tea Party scandal. I think the recent leak of taxpayer data is equally reprehensible.

Advocates of more funding will argue that the bureaucracy’s malfeasance is a separate issue and that more employees and more audits are needed regardless of whether criminals at the IRS are caught and punished.

But this brings us to another important topic, which is whether it would be best to fix the underlying tax laws instead of throwing more money at the IRS.

In a column for the Louisville Courier-Times, we get this point of view from Richard Williams of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

…money won’t fix this problem. …Another approach would be drastically reducing the complexity of federal taxes. …The Tax Foundation estimates that we give up 3.24 billion hours and $37 billion to comply with federal taxes each year. Given the headaches and anxiety that come with this, Americans don’t need more IRS workers. We need a leaner agency…individual filers and small businesses represent a huge proportion of the public who would gain from simplification. …There is no need to hire more people to oversee a reformed system. What’s not to like?

Amen.

When proponents say the IRS needs more money, they implicitly are arguing for the current, convoluted tax system.

They want the IRS to be in the business of collecting revenue. But that’s just one role.

And that’s just a brief list of the things that the IRS now does in addition to generating revenue.

Get rid of these added roles, ideally as part of a total replacement of the tax code with a flat tax, and the discussion would be about how much money could be saved by reducing the IRS’s budget.

But that means less power for politicians, so don’t hold your breath waiting for genuine tax reform.

That being said, supporters of good policy should feel no obligation to help prop up the current system by shoveling more money to the IRS.

An underfunded corrupt IRS administering a bad tax code is better than a well-funded corrupt IRS administering a bad tax code.

*April 15 may be the worst day of the year, but there’s an argument to be made that October 3 is the worst day in history.

P.S. From my archives, here are some examples of the bureaucrats who will benefit from a bigger IRS budget.

P.P.P.S. And since we’re recycling some oldies but goodies, here’s my collection of IRS humor, including a new Obama 1040 form, a death tax cartoon, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon of how GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, two Obamacare/IRS cartoons (here and here), a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), a song about the tax agency, the IRS’s version of the quadratic formula, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

Whether they are based on 10 questions or 144 questions, I can’t resist taking quizzes that supposedly identify one’s political or economic philosophy.

The good news, according to various quizzes, is that I’m 92 percent minarchist and only 6 percent communist.

Today, we are going to take a quiz prepared by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. It is designed to determine fiscal priorities. You can click here to answer the 21 questions.

As is often the case with online tests and quizzes, I’m frustrated by the sloppy wording of certain questions.

Question #8 asks if we should spend more or less on interest. I answered “less,” of course, but the only way to make that happen (other than default) is to change policies so that the government borrows less money.

I imagine 99 percent of people who take the quiz will also answer “less,” but those results mean nothing without follow-up questions about whether they want less spending or higher taxes.*

Question #17 asks if we should spend more or less on seniors or children. Like any sensible libertarian I want to spend less on both categories, so how do I answer?

Question #19 asks if we should spend more or less on seniors or welfare. Once again, the correct answer is to spend less on both categories, so there’s no logical way to respond.

For what it’s worth, I opted to spend less on both children and welfare for the simple reason that – in my libertarian fantasy world – it would take longer to implement reforms to replace Medicare and Social Security.

Given the inadequate wording of the quiz, I’m not surprised I got these strange results.

Notwithstanding what the top panels says, I don’t want to spend more on so-called public investment, regardless of whether that means infrastructure or research and development.

With regards to the bottom panel, I do want to spend less on children. Or, to be more accurate, I want the government to spend less on children so that families will have greater ability to spend more on children.

I’ll close by stating that I much prefer the CRFB quiz I took last year. The questions were better designed and it gave me very accurate results (i.e., I’m a “minimalist” who is “in favor of smaller government”).

*On paper, tax increases reduce debt and therefore reduce interest costs. In the real world, higher taxes lead to weaker economic performance and a larger burden of spending, thus producing more debt and higher interest costs.

I’m more than happy to condemn Joe Biden for his bad policy proposals, such as higher tax rates, fake stimulus, red tape, and a bigger welfare state.

But as I discuss in this segment from a recent interview, he bears very little blame for today’s high inflation rate.

If you want to know who is responsible for 8.5 percent inflation, the highest in four decades, this chart tells you everything you need to know.

Simply stated, the Federal Reserve has created a lot more money by expanding its balance sheet (which happens, for example, when the central bank purchases government bonds using “open market operations”).

Notice, by the way, that the Fed dramatically expanded its balance sheet beginning in March 2020. That was almost one year before Biden was inaugurated.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Biden does not have the power of time travel. He can’t be at fault for a monetary policy mistake that happened when Trump was president.

That being said, I don’t want anyone to think that Biden believes in good monetary policy.

  • Biden has never made any sort of statement favoring monetary restraint by the Fed.
  • Neither the president not his senior advisors have urged the Fed to reverse its mistake.
  • Biden renominated Jerome Powell to be Chairman of the Fed’s Board of Governors.
  • None of Biden’s other nominees to the Federal Reserve have a track record of opposing easy money.

The bottom line is that the Fed almost surely would have made the same mistake in 2020 if Biden was in the White House.

But he wasn’t, so he gets a partial free pass.

P.S. Speaking of time travel, Paul Krugman blamed Estonia’s 2008 recession on spending cuts that took place in 2009.

P.P.S. Here’s my two cents on how people can protect themselves in an inflationary economy.

P.P.P.S. Only one president in my lifetime deserves praise for his approach to monetary policy.

At the risk of understatement, I am not a fan of the Internal Revenue Service. But, as shown in this closing segment from a recent interview, I get especially outraged when IRS bureaucrats engage in criminal behavior and nobody cares.

This should outrage everyone that we have officials at a powerful agency illegally leaking confidential information.

My daughter’s dogs even registered their disapproval during the interview (I’m dog sitting for a few days).

We don’t know how many IRS bureaucrats were involved, and we also don’t know whether the motive was money, ideology, or partisanship.

Maybe all three.

This is very reminiscent of what happened about a dozen years ago when other IRS bureaucrats stifled Tea Party groups in order to boost President Obama’s reelection prospects.

Despicable then, and despicable now.

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal editorialized about this latest scandal.

Democrats want to give $80 billion to the Internal Revenue Service to audit millions of Americans each year. Yet…after the progressive website ProPublica first published the secret tax information of rich Americans, the tax agency still can’t explain what happened. …IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig…promised when the leak occurred…to find out what happened, but in September he told Senators, “We do not yet have any information concerning the source.” Since then it’s been crickets. …The leak is a crime, but tracing it isn’t merely a matter of criminal enforcement. The breach highlights the general failure of the IRS to protect taxpayer data.  …As troubling is the limp response by the IRS. A separate GAO report this May found that the tax agency failed even to enforce its own authentication protocols, which would help to detect breaches when they occur. …The new money for the IRS is harmful on its own terms, but it’s all the worse when it is provided without strings to an agency that has no idea who is stealing private tax data.

Amen.

Hopefully Republicans won’t be stupid (again) and go along with big budget increases for the corrupt IRS bureaucracy.

By the way, ProPublica this morning published a new story based on their stolen data.

Written by Paul Kiel, it claims rich people pay a very low tax rate.

If your company’s stock shoots up and you grow $1 billion richer, that increase in wealth is real. …From 2014 to 2018, the 25 wealthiest Americans grew about $400 billion richer, according to Forbes. To an economist, this was income, but under tax law, it was mere vapor, irrelevant. And so this group, including the likes of Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett, paid federal income taxes of about 3.4% on the $400 billion, ProPublica reported. We called this the group’s “True Tax Rate.”

There are two points worth making after reading this nonsense.

  1. The left generally makes misleading claims about the tax rate on rich people by ignoring the fact that any dividends and capital gains they receive also are subject to the corporate income tax. The bottom line is that Warren Buffet does not pay a lower tax rate than his secretary.
  2. The new version of this claim, as illustrated by the ProPublica excerpt, is that the rich have a low tax rate because they aren’t hit with a tax when their assets increase in value. But that’s because an increase in wealth is not an increase in income, just as a decrease in wealth isn’t a loss of income.

If ProPublica wants to add a wealth tax on top of the current income tax, they should be honest and openly make that argument.

Instead, they opted to concoct and disseminate a make-believe tax rate.

The takeaway is that the IRS budget should not be increased, period. And it definitely should not be increased because that would reward criminal bureaucrats.

P.S. Don’t forget that the IRS has embraced a ludicrous claim about a $1 trillion tax gap.

I shared some tax-themed humor for tax day in 2021, so let’s do the same thing this year (other examples here, here, here, here, and here).

We’ll start with a satirical video from Reason.

For our next item, the pain that Chris Rock felt is probably trivial compared to the pain the rest of are feeling as we finalize our tax returns.

I don’t mind sharing clever left-wing humor, so our next item envisions a billionaire going up in space while his taxes go down to zero.

At the risk of injecting some serious analysis, here’s my analysis of how to reduce tax evasion/avoidance and here are some of my thoughts of so-called offshore tax havens.

Now let’s return to satire.

IRS bureaucrats have been breaking the law by leaking tax returns, so this is an example of humor that is painfully real.

Per tradition, I’ll close with my favorite.

There’s been a campaign to tear down certain statues and monuments. Some of that energy should be channeled in this direction.

If you want some serious analysis of taxes, here’s an explanation of the economics of taxation and here’s a tutorial on fundamental tax reform.

Gun Control Humor

I shared four editions of gun control humor (here, here, here, and here) in 2021, but none so far this year.

Time to rectify that oversight, starting with this amusing video.

Next, we have a message for leftists who think America is a horrible society, yet for inexplicable reasons always want government to have more power and authority.

Our third item deals with America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was the right policy but the wrong implementation.

One consequence is that the Taliban gained control over billions of dollars of sophisticated weaponry.

Needless to say, that made many Americans jealous.

This next item made me laugh.

In part because some people are dumb enough to think it’s easier to get a gun than vote and in part because Martin deserves an award for cleverest comeback.

Here’s my favorite item from today’s collection.

The United States arguably leads the world in gun ownership. That would not be good news for any invaders.

The jab at Oregon was particularly amusing. People who vote higher taxes on themselves obviously are incapable of self-government, much less self-defense.

If anyone knows what is meant by “contractors” and “CMP people,” please let me know if the comments section.

P.S. If you want more gun control humor, click here.

Thomas Piketty is a big proponent of class-warfare tax policy because he views inequality as a horrible outcome.

But a soak-the-rich policy agenda, echoed by many other academics such as Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, is fundamentally misguided. If people really care about helping the poor, they should focus instead on reforms that actually have a proven track record of reducing poverty.

The fact that they fixate on inequality makes me wonder about their motives.

And it also leads me to find their work largely irrelevant. I don’t care if they produce detailed long-run data on changes in inequality.

I prefer detailed long-run data on changes in poverty.

That being said, it appears that some of Piketty’s data is sloppy.

I shared some evidence about his bad numbers back in 2014. And, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, Phil Magness of the American Institute for Economic Research and Professor Vincent Geloso of George Mason University expose another glaring flaw

…the Piketty-Saez theory is less a matter of history than an accounting error caused by their misunderstanding of World War II-era tax statistics. …It’s true that income inequality declined in the early part of the 20th century, but the cause had more to do with the economic devastation of the Great Depression than the New Deal tax regime. …they failed to account properly for historical changes in how the Internal Revenue Service reported income-tax statistics. As a result, their numbers systematically overstate the levels of top income concentrations by as much as a third …Between 1943 and 1944 the tax collection agency shifted from tracking “net income” to “adjusted gross income,” or AGI…a truer depiction of annual earnings… Yet Messrs. Piketty and Saez didn’t bring pre-1944 IRS records into line with AGI accounting standards. Instead, they applied a fixed and arbitrary adjustment to all years before the AGI accounting change that conveniently scaled upward to the highest income brackets. …They used the wrong accounting definition for personal income and neglected to adjust their data for wartime distortions on tax reporting. When we corrected these problems, something stunning happened. The overall level of top income concentration flattened, and the timing of its leveling shifted away from the World War II-era tax rates that Messrs. Piketty and Saez place at the center of their story.

Here’s a chart that accompanied the column, showing how accurate data changes the story.

Since today’s column debunks sloppy class warfare, let’s travel back to 2014, when Deirdre McCloskey reviewed Pikittey’s tome for the Erasmus Journal of Philosophy and Economics.

She also thought his fixation on envy was misguided.

…in Piketty’s tale the rest of us fall only relatively behind the ravenous capitalists. The focus on relative wealth or income or consumption is one serious problem in the book. …What is worrying Piketty is that the rich might possibly get richer, even though the poor get richer too. His worry, in other words, is purely about difference, about the Gini coefficient, about a vague feeling of envy raised to a theoretical and ethical proposition. …Piketty and much of the left…miss the ethical point…of lifting up the poor…by the dramatic increase in the size of the pie, which has historically brought the poor to 90 or 95 percent of “enough”, as against the 10 or 5 percent attainable by redistribution without enlarging the pie. …the main event of the past two centuries was…the Great Enrichment of the average individual on the planet by a factor of 10 and in rich countries by a factor of 30 or more.

But she also explained that he doesn’t understand how the economy works.

The fundamental technical problem in the book…is that Piketty the economist does not understand supply responses. In keeping with his position as a man of the left, he has a vague and confused idea about how markets work, and especially about how supply responds to higher prices. …Piketty, it would seem, has not read with understanding the theory of supply and demand that he disparages, such as in Smith (one sneering remark on p. 9), Say (ditto, mentioned in a footnote with Smith as optimistic), Bastiat (no mention), Walras (no mention), Menger (no mention), Marshall (no mention), Mises (no mention), Hayek (one footnote citation on another matter), Friedman (pp. 548-549, but only on monetarism, not the price system). He is in short not qualified to sneer at self-regulated markets…, because he has no idea how they work.

And she concludes with a reminder that some of our left-wing friends seem most interested in punishing rich people rather than helping poor people.

The left clerisy such as…Paul Krugman or Thomas Piketty, who are quite sure that they themselves are taking the ethical high road against the wicked selfishness…might on such evidence be considered dubiously ethical. They are obsessed with first-act changes that cannot much help the poor, and often can be shown to damage them, and are obsessed with angry envy at the consumption of the uncharitable rich, of which they personally are often examples, and the ending of which would do very little to improve the position of the poor. They are very willing to stifle through taxing the rich the market-tested betterments which in the long run have gigantically helped the rest of us.

Amen. If you want to know what Deirdre means by “betterment,” click here and watch her video.

P.S. Click herehere, here, and here for my four-part series on poverty and inequality. Though what Deirdre wrote in 2016 may be even better.

P.P.S. I also can’t resist calling attention to the poll of economists at the end of this column.

Keynesian economics is based on the misguided notion that consumption drives the economy.

In reality, high levels of consumption should be viewed an indicator of a strong economy.

The real drivers of economic strength are private investment and private production.

After all, we can’t consume unless we first produce.*

Not everyone agrees with these common-sense observations. The Biden Administration, for instance, claimed the economy would benefit if Congress approved a costly $1.9 trillion “stimulus” plan last year.

Yet we wound up with 4 million fewer jobs than the White House projected. We even wound up with fewer jobs than the Administration estimated if there was no so-called stimulus.

So what did we get for all that money?

Some say we got inflation. In a column for the Hill, Professor Carl Schramm from Syracuse is unimpressed by Biden’s plan. And he’s even less impressed by the left-leaning economists who claimed it is a good idea to increase the burden of government.

Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz rounded up another 16 of the 36 living American Nobel Prize economists to declare, in an open letter, that…there was no threat of inflation. …The Nobelists’ letter showed that those signing had bought Team Biden’s novel argument that its enormous expansion of social welfare programs really was just a different form of infrastructure investment, just like roads and bridges. …The laureates seemed to have overlooked that previous COVID benefits had often exceeded what tens of millions of workers regularly earned and that recipients displaced by COVID were never required to look for other work. While the high priests of economic “science” were cheering on higher federal spending, larger deficits and increased taxes, employers were and are continuing to deal with inflation face-to-face. …The Nobelists assured that we would see a robust recovery because of President Biden’s “active government interventions.” Their presumed authority was used to give credence to the president’s continuously twisting storyline on inflation — that it was “transitory,” good for the economy, a “high-class problem,” Putin’s fault for invading Ukraine, and the greed of oil and food companies… Today’s fashionable goals seem to have displaced the no-nonsense pragmatism that has long characterized economics as a discipline. …Don’t expect a mea culpa from Stiglitz or his coauthors any time soon. …They can be wrong, really wrong, and never pay a price.

The New York Post editorialized about Biden’s economic missteps and reached similar conclusions.

President Joe Biden loves to blame our sky-high inflation on corporate greed and Vladimir Putin. But a new study from the San Francisco Fed shows it was Biden himself who put America on this grim trajectory. …other advanced economies…haven’t seen anything like the soaring prices now punishing workers across America. Which means that the spike is due to something US-specific, rather than global prevailing conditions. That policy, was, of course, Biden’s signature economic “achievement.” …The damage it did has been massive. …inflation…to 7%… Put in concrete terms, a recent Bloomberg calculation translates this to an added $433 per month in household expenses for 2022. And historic producer price inflation, a shocking 10%, guarantees even more pain ahead.

For what it’s worth, I don’t fully agree with Professor Schramm or the New York Post.

They are basically asserting that Biden’s wasteful spending is responsible for today’s grim inflation numbers.

I definitely don’t like Biden’s spending agenda, but I agree with Milton Friedman that it is more accurate to say that inflation is a monetary phenomenon.

In other words, the Federal Reserve deserves to be blamed.

The bottom line is that Keynesian monetary policy produces inflation and rising prices while Keynesian fiscal policy produces more wasteful spending and higher levels of debt.

I’ll close with a couple of caveats.

  • First, Friedman also points out that there’s “a long and variable lag” in monetary policy. So it is not easy to predict how quickly (or how severely) Keynesian monetary policy will produce rising prices.
  • Second, Keynesian deficit spending can lead to Keynesian monetary policy if a central bank feels pressure to help finance deficit spending by buying government bonds (think Argentina).

*Under specific circumstances, Keynesian policy can cause a short-term boost in consumption. For instance, a government can borrow lots of money from overseas lenders and use that money to finance more consumption of things made in places such as China. The net result of that policy, however, is that American indebtedness increases without any increase in national income.

P.S. You can read the letter from the pro-Keynesian economists by clicking here. And you can read a letter signed by sensible economists (including me) by clicking here.

P.P.S. Keynesianism is a myth with a history of failure in the real world.

It’s also worth pointing out that Keynesians have been consistently wrong with predicting economic damage during periods of spending restraint.

  • They were wrong about growth after World War II (and would have been wrong, if they were around at the time, about growth when Harding slashed spending in the early 1920s).
  • They were wrong about Thatcher in the 1980s.
  • They were wrong about Reagan in the 1980s.
  • They were wrong about Canada in the 1990s.
  • They were wrong after the sequester in 2013.
  • They were wrong about unemployment benefits in 2020.

Call me crazy, but I sense a pattern. Maybe, just maybe, Keynesian economics is wrong.

I’m a big fan of federalism.

Switzerland is the gold standard for federalism. Unlike the United States, the Swiss have resisted centralization. Most spending and taxation still occurs at the sub-national level.

But there are other examples of decentralized systems, with Canada also deserving plenty of praise.

Today, though, I want to write about Spain.

I had an opportunity to learn about the Spanish system while giving speeches last week in Castellon, Barcelona, and Madrid as part of the Free Market Road Show.

Let’s look at some data from Liberalismo a la madrileña, written by Diego Sánchez de la Cruz, the head of Foro Regulación Inteligente.

His book documents how pro-market reforms in the Madrid region have resulted in greater prosperity.

We’ll start with a look at the level of economic freedom in different Spanish regions. Madrid is at the top and Extremadura (bordering Portugal) is at the bottom.

Does a higher level of economic freedom produce better results, as measured by per-capita economic output?

The answer is yes. Madrid ranks first and Extremadura ranks last.

This certainly seems like strong evidence for free markets and limited government.

And one of Diego’s earlier publications graphed the relationship between economic freedom and per-capita output.

Definitely a strong correlation.

But what about causation? For instance, some of my left-leaning friends may wonder if there’s some other reason for the superior performance of the Madrid region. Maybe it was always the richest part of Spain and its current prosperity has nothing to do with current policy.

People always should be skeptical about data, particularly when looking at one-year snapshots.

That’s why I’m a big fan of looking at long-run trends. And this chart showing how Madrid has overtaken Catalonia helps confirm that good policy produces good results.

To elaborate, Madrid enjoyed rapid convergence over the past two decades, a period where there was lots of economic liberalization (including de jure elimination of a wealth tax and de facto abolition of a death tax).

By the way, based on current trends, Madrid and Catalonia now may become members of the anti-convergence club.

P.S. There has been some discussion of decentralizing in Australia and the United Kingdom, but no actual progress so far.

P.P.S. Leading scholars from the Austrian school of economics wrote in favor of decentralization.

P.P.P.S. There are some simple steps to restore and rejuvenate federalism in the United States, such as block granting Medicaid and shutting down the Department of Transportation.

As a fan of sensible tax policy and tax competition, I could not resist the opportunity to visit Andorra on my current trip to Europe (as part of the Free Market Road Show).

Here’s a chart that will tells you everything you need to know. Andorra’s top tax rate is just 10 percent, while its neighbors (Spain and France) have top tax rates of more than 40 percent.

Not as good as the Cayman Islands and Monaco, to be sure, but it is obviously better to keep 90 percent of the income you earn rather than only about 50 percent in Spain or France.

Actually, you probably only get to benefit from the use of about 40 percent of your income in those two nations when you factor in the value-added tax.

Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education recently wrote about the virtues of Andorra, including its superior tax regime.

…one of Europe’s seven “micro-states,” quaint and tiny nations which are political holdovers from the distant past. The other six are San Marino, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Malta, and Vatican City. Andorra is landlocked and sandwiched in the eastern Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. …Micro-states are fascinating and among the freest enclaves in the world. …Freedom House ranks Andorra in its highest category—a “Free” country scoring an impressive 93 on a 100-point scale of political and civil liberties. …“The legal and regulatory framework,” the survey reports, “is generally supportive of property rights and entrepreneurship, and there are few undue obstacles to private business activity in practice.” …writes Guy Sharp, a native Andorran financial advisor…“you get many of the benefits of Europe without the high taxes.” …The maximum personal income tax rate, as well as the capital gains rate, is just 10 percent. …Most goods are subject to a modest value-added tax rate of less than five percent.

I can vouch for the fact that everything is more affordable in Andorra. That nation’s 4.5 percent value-added tax is akin to a modest sales tax in American states. When I’m in Spain, France, or other European countries, by contrast, you definitely feel the pain of 20 percent-plus VATs.

That being said, it’s the low-rate income tax that is a magnet for jobs and investment. The nation’s tax system is even attracting Spanish tax exiles.

Especially entrepreneurs who are making money online. Miodrag Pepic reports for the Valencian.

When the famous YouTube star ElRubius announced last month that he is permanently moving to Andorra, the Spanish public became aware for the first time that the most popular YouTubers are leaving the country, taking their earnings with them as well. The reason is very simple – Andorra has become a tax haven for this type of activity…many Spanish YouTubers have moved there. But ElRubius is one of the most famous. …In Spain, he would have paid up to 54% of his income in taxes, while in Andorra, the top income tax is only 10%. …The decision of ElRubius was criticised in the Spanish media as unpatriotic. …his popularity on YouTube remained undeterred, and in fact, his subscription base even grew. …There are quite a few other countries that have begun to lose their top earners, notably France and the Netherlands

Predictably, the Spanish government is not amused, as reported by Aida Pelaez-Fernandez of Reuters.

Spain’s tax agency said on Monday it would start using “big data” to track wealthy individuals who pretend to reside abroad for tax purposes. The crackdown comes after some of Spain’s most popular YouTube personalities moved their residency to Andorra, a wealthy microstate perched in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, with lower tax rates than its larger neighbours. …In Spain, anyone who earns above 300,000 euros per year must pay income tax of 47%, compared with a 10% flat rate charged by Andorra on earnings of more than 40,000 euros.

As you might expect, the Spanish government is not considering lower tax rates, which would be the best way of retaining successful entrepreneurs.

Instead, politicians are pushing tax policy in the wrong direction.

P.S. Here’s my tourist shot from Andorra.

P.P.S. Of the seven European micro-states mentioned by Lawrence Reed, I’ve now visited San Marino, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, and Vatican City. I still need to get to Malta.

You can actually learn a lot about sensible tax policy by looking at the behavior of professional athletes and sports franchises.

Simply stated, people respond to incentives.

That’s true in the United States. And it’s true overseas.

We can also learn about the pitfalls of cronyism by looking at sports.

And maybe we can also learn why socialism is a mistake.

Not just watered-down tax-and-spend socialism-lite. In this case, we’re talking unvarnished government-ownership-of-the-means-of-production socialism.

At least sort of. Matthew Walther wrote a satirical column (or was it semi-satirical?) for the New York Times about how politicians should take over baseball to save it.

It pays to be honest up front about what nationalizing baseball would entail. While I like to think the Biden administration could seize all 30 teams and dissolve the league by executive order, citing language buried somewhere in the text of the Patriot Act, it’s more realistic to assume that Congress should be involved. . The legislation would allow teams to be purchased at their current (and absurdly inflated) market value. Players, coaches and other staff would become federal employees. The general manager would be appointed by the governor of the state in which the team plays its home games; manager would be a statewide office that citizens vote for every six years. There would be no term limit. …Revenues, though reduced, would be more equitably distributed. I imagine gate receipts and merchandise sales are being given en bloc to local authorities in cities where teams play, bolstering the coffers of many struggling municipalities. Public funding of stadiums would continue, but instead of being a cynical grab of money by destitute owners, it would be a noble enterprise, accepted by indifferent citizens as one of those worthwhile cultural enterprises like the Smithsonian Institution that governments are obliged to support.

The lesson the rest of us should take from this column is that baseball may be declining in popularity…and a government takeover would be the surest way of completely killing the sport.

Matt Welch of Reason understands. He responded to Walther’s column with a serious point about the baleful impact of government-subsidized stadiums.

…both the essay and the spectacle of an ambivalent Opening Day are timely reminders that much of what plagues the sport is not solvable by government, it emanates from government. …Giving out subsidies and tax breaks for sports business owners is self-evidently terrible enough, as have concluded virtually every non-corrupted economist who has ever studied the issue. …Self-funders are also incentivized to stay put, rather than jilting the local fan base. “When governments become landlords,” I wrote last year, “sports businesses, no matter how deep their pockets, start acting like tenants: always eyeing the exits for a potentially better deal. If you build it, they will leave.” Baseball doesn’t need to be nationalized, it needs to be privatized—no more subsidies, no more finger-wagging congressional hearings, no more State of the Union address moralizing, no more unique-to-this-one-sport carve outs from federal law. It’s time for these welfare queens to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and compete for audience share as if their bottom lines depended on that as much as it does on the ribbon-cutting innumeracy of dull-witted politicians.

Amen.

P.S. Back in 2012, I waxed poetic in a TV interview about politicians investigating steroid use.

P.P.S. I also opined that year about Olympic athletes being taxed by the IRS.

P.P.P.S. In 2016, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers learned a very painful lesson about marginal tax rates.

I wrote a few days ago about Biden’s plan to impose punitive double taxation on dividends.

But that’s not an outlier in his budget. As you can see from this table from the Tax Foundation, he wants to violate the principles of sensible fiscal policy by having high tax rates on all types of income.

What’s especially disappointing is that he wants tax rates in the United States to be much higher than in other developed nations.

At the risk of understatement, that’s not a recipe for jobs and investment.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized about Biden’s taxaholic preferences.

Mr. Biden…is proposing $2.5 trillion in new taxes that would give the U.S. the highest or near-highest tax rates in the developed world. …The biggest jump is in taxes on capital gains, as the top combined rate would rise to 48.9% from 29.2% today. That’s a 67% increase in the government’s take on long-term capital investments. The new top rate would be more than 2.5 times the OECD average of 18.9%. Nothing like reducing the U.S. return on capital to get people to invest elsewhere. Mr. Biden would also lift the top combined tax rate on corporate income to 32.3% from 25.8%. That would leap over Australia and Germany, which have top rates of 30% and 29.9% respectively, and it would crush the 22.8% OECD average. …Mr. Biden would also put the U.S. at the top of the noncompetitive list for personal income taxes, with multiple increases that would put the combined American rate at 57.3%. Compare that with 42.9% today and an average of 42.6% across the OECD.

The WSJ‘s editorial contained this chart.

The United States would be on top for corporate tax rates if Biden’s plan is adopted (which actually means on the bottom for competitiveness).

The bottom line is that Biden wants the U.S. to have the highest corporate rate, highest double taxation of dividends, and highest double taxation of capital gains.

To reiterate, not a smart way of trying to get more jobs and investment.

P.S. The “good news” is that the United States would not be at the absolute bottom for international tax competitiveness.

I’m not a fan of the government-distorted health system in the United States.

Various laws and programs from Washington have created a massive problem with third-party payer, which makes America’s system very expensive and inefficient.

But it’s possible to have a system that is even worse. Americans can look across the ocean at the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

Our British friends are burdened with something akin to “Medicare for All.”

But it’s even worse because doctors and nurses are directly employed by government, which means they have been turned into government bureaucrats.

And government bureaucrats generally don’t have a track record of good performance. That seems to apply to health bureaucrats, as captured by this Alys Denby column for CapX.

Numbers are no way to express a human tragedy, but those in the Ockenden Report into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust are nonetheless devastating. The inquiry examined 1,592 incidents since 2000. It found that poor care led to the deaths of 201 babies and nine mothers; 94 babies suffered avoidable brain damage; and one in four cases of stillbirth could have had a different outcome. That’s hundreds of lives lost, and hundreds of families suffering unimaginable pain, all on the watch of ‘Our NHS’. …the report is strewn with examples of individual cruelty and incompetence. Bereaved parents…were given excuses, false information and even blamed for their own child’s death. The Health Secretary has said that vital clinical information was written on post-it notes that were swept into the bin by cleaners. …The NHS has a culture of arrogance, sanctimony and impunity.

And here are some excerpts from a 2021 article in National Review by Cameron Hilditch.

The NHS has proven itself comprehensively and consistently incapable of dealing with a regular flu season, something that crops up at the same predictable time of year in every country north of the equator. It has long been obvious that Britain’s single-payer health-care system isn’t fit for purpose even in normal times, much less during a global pandemic. Yet the NHS’s failures are systematically ignored. …age-standardized survival rates in the U.K. for the most common kinds of cancer are well below those of other developed countries, which translates into thousands of needless deaths… The excess deaths that the U.K. is suffering…along with the crushing physical and mental burdens borne by British doctors and nurses ultimately redound to this long-term failure of British culture. By transforming a medical institution into a cultural institution for the sake of forging a new, progressive national identity, Britons have underwritten decades of deadly failure.

This is damning information.

To be sure, mistakes will happen in any type of health system. But when government runs the show, the odds of appropriate feedback are much lower.

If you don’t believe me, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, hereand here.

Modern tax systems tend to have three major deviations from good fiscal policy.

  1. High marginal tax rates on productive behavior like work and entrepreneurship.
  2. Multiple layers of taxation on income that is saved and invested.
  3. Distortionary loopholes that reward inefficiency and promote corruption.

Today, let’s focus on an aspect of item #2.

The Tax Foundation has just released a very interesting map (at least for wonks) showing the total tax rate on dividends in European nations, including both the corporate income tax and the double-tax on dividends.

Because it has a reasonably modest corporate income tax rate, some of you may be surprised that Ireland has the most onerous overall burden on dividends. But that’s because there are high tax rates on personal income and households have to pay those high rates on any dividends they receive (even though companies already paid tax on that income).

It’s less surprising that Denmark is the second worst and France is the third worst.

Meanwhile, Estonia and Latvia have the least-onerous systems thanks to low rates and no double taxation.

But what about the United States?

There’s a different publication from the Tax Foundation that shows the extent – a maximum rate of 47.47 percent – of America’s double taxation.

The bottom line is that the United States would rank #7, between high-tax Belgium and high-tax Germany, if it was included in the above map.

That’s not a very good spot, at least if the goal is more jobs and more competitiveness.

To make matters worse, Joe Biden wants America to be #1 on the list. I’m not joking.

I’ve already written about his plan for a higher corporate tax rate.

But he wants an even-bigger increases in the second layer of tax on dividends.

How much bigger?

Pinar Cebi Wilber of the American Council for Capital Formation shared the unpleasant details in a column last year for the Wall Street Journal.

The Biden administration has released a flurry of tax proposals, including a headline-grabbing tax hike on capital gains that would apply retroactively from April. Dividends would be subject to the same treatment, according to a recently released Treasury Department document. …the proposal would tax qualified dividends—dividends from shares in domestic corporations and certain foreign corporations that are held for at least a specified minimum period of time—at income-tax rates (currently up to 40.8%) rather than the lower capital-gains rates (23.8%).

I also like that the column includes references to some academic research.

A 2005 paper by economists Raj Chetty and Emmanuel Saez looked at the effect of the 2003 dividend tax cuts on dividend payments in the U.S. The authors “find a sharp and widespread surge in dividend distributions following the tax cut,” after a continuous two-decade decrease in distributions. …Princeton’s Adrien Matray and co-author Charles Boissel looked at the issue the other way around. In a 2019 study, they found that an increase in French dividend taxes led to decreased dividend payments. …Another study from 2011, looking at America’s major competitor, reached the same directional conclusion: A 2005 reduction in China’s dividend tax rate led to an increase in dividend payments.

Not that anyone should be surprised by these results. The academic literature clearly shows that it’s not smart to impose high tax rates on productive behavior such as work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

Unless, of course, you want more people dependent on government.

P.S. Biden also wants American to be #1 for capital gains taxation. So at least he is consistent, albeit in a very perverse way.

In Part I of this series, Professor Don Boudreaux explained the folly of price controls, and Professor Antony Davies was featured in Part II.

Now let’s see some commentary from the late, great, Milton Friedman.

As Professor Friedman explained, the economics of price controls are very clear.

When politicians and bureaucrats suppress prices, you get shortages (as all students should learn in their introductory economics classes).

Sometimes that happens with price controls on specific sectors, such as rental housing in poorly governed cities.

Sometimes it happens because of economy-wide price controls, as we saw during Richard Nixon’s disastrous presidency.

In all cases, price controls are imposed by politicians who are stupid or evil. That’s blunt language, but it’s the only explanation.

Sadly, there will never be a shortage of those kinds of politicians, as can be seen from this column in the Wall Street Journal by Andy Kessler.

Here are some excerpts.

On the 2020 campaign trail, Joe Biden declared, “ Milton Friedman isn’t running the show anymore.” Wrong! …Lo and behold, inflation is running at 7.9%, supply chains are tight, and many store shelves are empty. Friedman’s adage “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” has stood the test of time. But what scares me most is the likely policy responses by the Biden administration that would pour salt into this self-inflicted wound. It feels as if price controls are coming. …Prices set by producers are signals, and consumers whisper feedback billions of times a day by buying or not buying products. Mess with prices and the economy has no guide. The Soviets instituted price controls on everything from subsidized “red bread” to meat, often resulting in empty shelves. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Recovery Agency fixed prices, prolonging the Depression, all in the name of “fair competition.” …Price controls don’t work. Never have, never will. But we keep instituting them. Try finding a cheap apartment in rent-controlled New York City. …Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leader among our economic illiterate, noted in February that high prices are caused in part by “giant corporations…”

He closes with a very succinct and sensible observation.

Want to whip inflation now? Forget all the Band-Aids and government controls. Instead, as Friedman suggests, stop printing money.

In other words, Mr. Kessler is suggesting that politicians do the opposite of Mitchell’s Law.

Instead of using one bad policy (inflation) as an excuse to impose a second bad policy (price controls), he wants them to undo the original mistake.

Will Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren take his advice?

That’s doubtful, but I’m hoping there are more rational people in the rooms where these decisions get made.

Maybe some of them will have read this column from Professor Boudreaux.

Prices are among the visible results of the invisible hand’s successful operation, as well as the single most important source of this success. Each price objectively summarizes an inconceivably large number of details that must be taken account of if the economy is to perform even moderately well. Consider the price of a loaf of a particular kind and brand of bread. …The price at the supermarket of a loaf of bread, a straightforward $4.99, is the distillation of the economic results of the interaction of an unfathomably large number of details from around the globe about opportunities, trade-offs, and preferences. The invisible hand of the market causes these details to be visibly summarized not only in the price of bread, but in the prices of all other consumer goods and services, as well as in the prices of each of the inputs used in production. …These market prices also give investors and entrepreneurs guidance on how to deploy scarce resources in ways that produce that particular mix of goods and services that will today be of greatest benefit for consumers.

I have two comments.

First, Don obviously buys fancier bread than my $1.29-a-loaf store brand (used to be 99 cents, so thanks for nothing to the Federal Reserve).

Second, and far more important, he’s pointing out that market-based prices play an absolutely critical role in coordinating the desires of consumers and producers.

When politicians interfere with prices, it’s akin to throwing sand in the gears of a machine.

For more information on the role of prices, I strongly recommend these videos from Professors Russ Roberts, Howard Baetjer, and Alex Tabarrok.

Since I wrote yesterday about Ukraine’s terrible economic policy, fairness requires that I make the same points about Russia’s similarly dirigiste system.

We’ll start with Russia’s scores from the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World.

Not exactly a good set of numbers, particularly with regards to “size of government.” And it’s safe to assume that Russia’s overall score will decline when a new version is released later this year.

But I want to make the point that Russia faced serious economic problems well before Putin decided to invade Ukraine.

Indeed, he may have attacked in part to distract from Russia’s ongoing economic problems.

To some degree, this is a story of weak demographics, as I observed last month.

But Putin is making a bad situation worse.

Consider what George Will wrote for the Washington Post back in 2020.

n Putin’s ramshackle Russia…as recently as 2018, almost a third of medical facilities lacked running water, 40 percent lacked central heating and more than half lacked hot water. …in Catherine Belton’s exhaustive new book…, “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West…” says that “by 2012 more than 50 percent of Russia’s [gross domestic product] was under the direct control of the state and businessmen closely linked the Putin.” …state-directed capital allocation actually is crony socialism.

It’s sometimes not easy to measure crony socialism (which technically should be called fascism), but even the International Monetary Fund recognizes its downsides.

Here’s some research from the IMF, authored by Gabriel Di Bella, Oksana Dynnikova, and Slavi Slavov.

The size of the Russian State…economic footprint remains significant. Concretely, the state’s size increased from about 32 percent of GDP in 2012 to 33 percent in 2016, not far from the EBRD’s estimate of 35 percent for 2005-10. …a deep state footprint is reflected in a relatively high state share in formal sector activity (close to 40 percent) and formal sector employment (about 50 percent). The deep footprint is also reflected in market competition and efficiency. Although sectors in which the state is present are more concentrated, concentration is large even in sectors where the state’s share is low. …Finally, state-owned enterprises’ performance appears weaker than that of privately-owned firms, which may be subtracting from growth.

Last December, Jarret Decker analyzed Russia’s state-controlled economy in an article for Reason.

There’s a thorough discussion of how the oligarchs gained control of key sectors of the economy, as well as this discussion of other policy mistakes.

The 1990s in Russia and throughout most of the former Soviet Union were a time of dizzying change… As price controls were lifted and the money supply increased, inflation exploded. In 1992, Russian inflation was about 2,000 percent, with another 1,000 percent inflation the following year. Life savings disappeared almost overnight. …plummeting social indicators were all tied to the disastrous performance of the Russian economy, a chaotic mix of large enterprises still under state control, a central government heavily in debt…the “crown jewels” of the former Soviet economy—in sectors such as oil and gas, mining, and steel production—remained under state control. …in GDP per capita, Russia has fallen far behind its fellow former Soviet republics in the Baltic region, with output per person about half of Estonia’s and about 40 percent less than Lithuania’s and Latvia’s. Not coincidentally, the Baltic countries all rank in the top 30 in the world in the Heritage Foundation’s 2021 Index of Economic Freedom.

I’ll wrap up with a story that is particularly disappointing to me.

One of the few good policies Putin implemented was a flat tax.

But rather than build on that successful reform, he decided to reverse it and adopt a system with discriminatory rates. Here are some excerpts from a 2020 report in the Moscow Times.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a law on increasing income tax for high earners in the first move away from a flat tax system in place since 2001. Starting next year, the tax rate will rise from 13% to 15% on incomes over 5 million rubles (about $65,800/55,370 euros at the current exchange rate). …The reform is expected to give state coffers an additional 60 billion rubles, the president said… The current flat tax system was introduced in 2001 and was among the key reforms of Putin’s first presidential term.

The bottom line is that the yoke of communism has been removed but statism remains.

Which explains why Russia is not converging with the United States, as theory would predict. Here is a chart based on the Maddison database.

This is quite depressing, especially if the economy’s poor performance gave Putin an extra incentive to “wag the dog” with military aggression.

But let’s end on an optimistic note. It’s possible that Putin has miscalculated and his attack on Ukraine eventually will result in his ouster.

The best-case scenario is that he gets replaced with a free-market reformer. The Russian version of Mart Laar, perhaps. Then Russia could become a success story, which is exactly what we’ve seen in the Baltic nations.

Regarding Russia’s reprehensible attack on Ukraine, I’ve written three columns.

Today, let’s address the topic of foreign aid for Ukraine, specifically whether American taxpayers should help restore that country’s economy once the conflict ends.

I’ll start by recycling an observation I made back in 2014, which is that Ukraine has been an economic laggard because of statist economic policies.

More specifically, I compared Poland (which has engaged in substantial liberalization) and Ukraine (which has not) and showed a growing gap between the two nations (another case study for the anti-convergence club).

Now let’s look at some updated data from the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World.

As you can see, Ukraine is a cesspool of statism, ranking a miserable #129 out of 165 jurisdictions.

That’s lower than Russia, which is #100.

And the same is true if you look at the latest edition of the Index of Economic Freedom, which ranks Ukraine #130 and Russia #113.

At the risk of stating the obvious, giving economic aid to Ukraine would be flushing money down the toilet.

Unless, of course, western nations such as the United States somehow made aid contingent on sweeping economic liberalization.

We know what works. Don BoudreauxDeirdre McCloskey, and Dan Hannan have all explained how Western Europe and North America became rich in the 1800s and early 1900s with the tried-and-true approach of free markets and limited government.

Even a curmudgeonly libertarian like me would relax my long-standing hostility to aid under those conditions.

The odds of that happening, however, are slim to none. And I would put my money on none, as explained by the “Foreign Aid Paradox.”

P.S. Some people incorrectly claim Western Europe recovered after World War II because of government aid (the “Marshall Plan”). The real credit belongs with people like Ludwig Erhard.

I’ve already written that massive spending increases for various bureaucracies is the most offensive part of Biden’s new budget.

But I explicitly noted that these huge budgetary increases (well above the rate of inflation, unlike what’s happening to incomes for American families) were not the most economically harmful feature of Biden’s plan.

That dubious honor belongs to either his massive expansion of the welfare state or his big tax increases.

In today’s column, we’re going to focus on his tax plan.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized a couple of days ago about what the president is proposing.

A President’s budget is a declaration of priorities, so it’s worth underscoring that President Biden’s new budget for fiscal 2023 proposes $2.5 trillion in tax increases over 10 years. His priority is taking money from the private economy and giving it to politicians to spend. …Raising the top income-tax rate to 39.6% from 37% would raise $187 billion. Raising capital-gains taxes, including taxing gains like ordinary income for taxpayers earning more than $1 million would snatch $174 billion. Raising the top corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%—a tax on workers and shareholders—would raise $1.3 trillion. Fossil fuels are hit up for $45 billion. We could go on… Let’s hope none of these tax-increases pass, but the Democratic appetite for your money really is insatiable.

That’s a damning indictment.

But the WSJ actually understates the problems with Biden’s tax agenda.

That’s because the White House also is being dishonest, as explained by Alex Brill of the American Enterprise Institute.

The budget proposes $2.5 trillion in net tax hikes, almost entirely from businesses and high-income households, and touts policies that would “reduce deficits by more than $1 trillion” over the next decade. But a short note in the preamble to the Treasury Department’s report on the budget reveals a sleight of hand: “The revenue proposals are estimated relative to a baseline that incorporates all revenue provisions of Title XIII of H.R. 5376 (as passed by the House of Representatives on November 19, 2021), except Sec. 137601.”In other words, the budget pretends that the failed effort to enact President Biden’s Build Back Better Act was a success and considers new budget proposals in addition to those policies. But you won’t find the price of the Build Back Better (BBB) Act (including its roughly $1 trillion in net tax hikes) in the budget tables.

I’m going to use this trick during my next softball tournament. I’m going to assume at the start that I’ve already had 20 at-bats and that I got an extra-base hit each time.

So even if I have a crummy performance during my real at-bats, my overall average and slugging percentage will still seem impressive.

Needless to say, my teammates would laugh at me, just as serious budget people understand that Biden’s budget is a joke.

But there is some good news. Barring something completely unexpected, Congress is not going to approve the president’s farcical plan.

P.S. Don’t fully celebrate. As I noted in my “Hopes and Fears for 2022” column, there is a risk that some sort of tax-and-spend plan might get approved. The only silver lining to that dark cloud is that it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as Biden’s full budget.

P.P.S. If that prospect gets you depressed, here are a couple of humorous images depicting Biden’s fiscal agenda.

How do we know people don’t like taxes?

  • They tend to reject candidates who support higher taxes, as George H.W. Bush and other politicians have learned.
  • Then tend to vote against higher taxes when given an opportunity (though they sometimes will vote to tax other people)
  • They tend to migrate from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax jurisdictions for direct and indirect reasons.

Today, we’re going to elaborate on the final reason.

Let’s start with this chart from one of the daily missives from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. As you can see, it’s not just people that move. It’s their money as well.

The bottom line is that the two states – California and New York – with ultra-high tax rates are losing the most taxable income.

Let’s call this the revenge of the Laffer Curve because it shows us that high tax rates can backfire.

Jon Miltimore addressed this topic in a new column for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Here are some of the highlights, starting with some data on how some poorly governed cities are losing residents.

Three of the top five metros that saw sharp declines between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021 were in California. Leading the way was the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area, which lost 176,000 residents, a 1.3 percent drop. Next was the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley metro, which saw a decline of 116,000 residents (2.5 percent decline), followed by San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, which shed some 43,000 residents (2.2 percent drop). …The New York-Newark-New Jersey metropolitan area saw a decline of 328,000 residents, the highest in the nation in raw numbers. The Chicago area, meanwhile, saw a decline of some 92,000 residents.

Here’s a chart from his article.

I’m definitely not surprised to see New York, San Francisco, and Chicago on the list. After all those cities have crummy governments.

The other two cities, by contrast, just have the misfortune of being in a poorly governed state.

Jon explains a big reason why this domestic migration is taking place.

…the reasons people choose to migrate tend to be complex and varied… However, we can see the US flight from its largest metropolitan is part of a bigger trend. North American Van Lines (NAVL), a trucking company based in Indiana, puts out an annual report that tracks migration patterns in the United States. The states with the most inbound migration in 2021 were South Carolina, Idaho, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida. The leading outbound states were Illinois, California, New Jersey, Michigan, and New York. The pattern here is clear. Americans are fleeing highly-regulated, highly taxed states. They are flocking to freer states. …We heard a great deal about “the Great Reset” during the pandemic. …It may be that “the reset” involves Americans abandoning high-tax, high-regulatory cities and states for freer ones.

To be sure, there are factors other than taxation. And there are factors other than government policy (people really like California’s wonderful climate, for instance, but they will escape when policy becomes unbearable).

The bottom line is that people are slowly but surely voting with their feet against statism. They are choosing red states over blue states. There’s a lesson for Joe Biden, though he’s probably not listening.

I’ve already shared a “Tweet of the Year” for 2022, as well the “Most Enjoyable Tweet” of the year.

I’m going to call this the “Most Obvious Revelation Tweet” since it reaches a should-have-been-immediately-clear conclusion that the Department of Education is a net negative for the United States.

I’ve already provided my two cents on why the Department of Education should be eliminated.

So let’s look at what others have said.

In a column for National Review, Charles Cooke says it’s time for the bureaucracy to be retired.

In our constitutional order, education is the preserve of the states, and it ought to be the preserve of the states — not only because educational institutions work best when they are close to their benefactors and beneficiaries, but because education is power and because the centralization of power presents enticements that are beyond any human being’s ability to resist. …We have now seen the failure of nationalized education policy under presidents of both parties: George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” was a signature of his campaign in 2000 and his pre-9/11 presidency and has been largely abandoned, as has Common Core, which started life as a “conservative” idea but was quickly sucked into the maw under President Obama. The problem, as so often, is the system itself.

And here’s some of what Neil McCluskey wrote back in 2020.

Department of Education…was basically a payoff to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, for their 1976 support of Jimmy Carter’s presidential candidacy. …What we have gotten… One thing we do know is that total, inflation‐​adjusted federal education spending, including K‑12 programs and college student aid, has risen greatly since 1980, from $115 billion to $296 billion. Meanwhile, national test scores for 17‐​year‐​olds have been basically flat… Federal education meddling, especially since the advent of the Department of Education, has been of questionable value at best, and a high‐​dollar, bureaucratic failure at worst.

Needless to say, I agree with both of them. The current system is bad for America’s kids.

If you’re wondering why I have that view, just click here, here, here, here, and here.

By the way, it’s not just that the Department of Education has been a failure for K-12 kids. It’s also been bad news for college students.

Here are some excerpts from a 2015 column that Richard Vedder wrote for the Foundation for Economic Education.

He observes that higher education was a success story before the Department of Education was created.

The 30 years between 1950 and 1980 were the Golden Age of American higher education. The proportion of adult Americans with college degrees nearly tripled, going from 6 to 17 percent. Enrollments quintupled, going from 2.3 to 12.1 million. …This was the era in which higher education went from serving the elite and mostly well-to-do to serving many individuals from modest economic circumstance. …During this period, however, the federal role was quite modest. …College costs remained remarkably stable. Tuition fees typically rose only about one percent a year, adjusting for inflation. At the same time, high economic growth (real GDP was rising nearly four percent annually) led to incomes rising even faster, so in most years the tuition to income ratio fell. In other words, college was becoming a smaller financial burden for families.

But things took a wrong turn after a new federal bureaucracy was created. Here are some of the reasons Prof. Vedder has identified.

First, of course, education costs have soared. Tuition fees rose more than three percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms, far faster than people’s incomes. …rising federal student financial aid programs are the primary factor in this phenomenon. …Second, if anything, college has become more elitist and less accessible to low income students. The proportion of recent graduates who are from the bottom quartile of the income distribution has declined since 1970 or 1980. …Third, there has been a shocking decline in academic standards. Grade inflation is rampant. …Fourth, accreditation of colleges, overseen by the Department of Education, is expensive and ineffective. …Fifth, the federal aid programs and “college for all” propaganda promoted by the Department have led to a large proportion (probably over 40 percent) of recent graduates being underemployed… Sixth, the Department is guilty of regulatory excesses and bureaucratic blunders. …the form required of applicants for federal student aid (FAFSA) is byzantine in its complexity.

For what it’s worth, I think Rich’s first item deserves some sort of special emphasis. Maybe a couple of exclamation points to drive home the point that higher education is absurdly over-priced today precisely because of government intervention to supposedly make it more affordable.

Now politicians are reacting to this mess by urging even more subsidies. Which will simply make the problem worse. Lather, rinse, repeat.

P.S. Here’s a bit of humor to compensate for the depressing news in today’s column.

My other examples of education-themed humor can be found here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. Biden wants to reward failure with a 21 percent increase in the Department of Education’s budget.

Since the economy suffers when tax rates go up and the burden of government spending increases, there obviously are plenty of awful features in President Biden’s newly released budget.

If I had to select a worst feature, though, I’d be tempted to pick the proposed spending hikes that Biden is seeking for some of Washington’s most-wasteful bureaucracies.

Here’s a chart from a story in today’s Washington Post (based on Table S-8 in the budget), which summarizes how much additional “discretionary spending” Biden is seeking.

Why am I upset about these proposed spending increases?

From a big-picture economic perspective, it’s bad fiscal policy to allow the burden of government spending to grow faster than the private sector.

And since Biden is projecting that real GDP will grown by 2.8 percent next year and inflation will be 2.1 percent during the same period (see Table S-9 of the budget), he obviously wants all these bureaucracies to enjoy big increases (unlike families, who are losing ground compared to inflation).

But I’m also irked from a targeted fiscal perspective. That’s because Biden wants giant spending increases for bureaucracies that should not even exist.

Here’s what I’ve written about some of them.

By the way, “worst feature” is not the same as most economically damaging feature.

There are two other parts of Biden’s budget that definitely will cause more harm.

These tax increases and entitlement expansions will do considerably more damage than the discretionary spending increases excerpted above.

But it’s still an outrage that Biden is shoveling more money at some of Washington’s most wasteful and counterproductive bureaucracies.

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