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In my first column on jury nullification, I applauded ordinary citizens for producing a not-guilty verdict when the federal government tried to impose bad U.S. tax law on a Swiss banker who lived in Switzerland and obeyed Swiss law. Simply stated, borders should limit the power of a government.

In my second column on jury nullification, I approvingly wrote about how citizens on another jury rebelled against the government’s persecution of western ranchers (while also noting that dramatically reducing government land ownership would be the solution to the underlying controversy).

To be sure, I don’t think jury nullification is the ideal way of dealing with over-criminalization and abusive law enforcement. It would be much better to repeal bad laws and get rid of the bad people working for government. But until those things happen, I’m glad nullification exists as a last line of defense.

Now let’s look at a third example. Except it’s probably more accurate to say it’s an example of pre-jury nullification.

Here are some excerpts from a heartwarming story from New Mexico (oops, I mean Arizona…I blame Chuck Asay!).

You may have heard that saying: If prosecutors want to, they could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. It’s a knock on how much control prosecutors hold over the grand juries to whom they give evidence for possible indictments. The 269th Pima County Grand Jury could not be controlled like that. …this one was led by a criminal-defense attorney and populated by freethinkers who took to heart their role as “conscience of the community.” They went so far as to decline to indict people even though there was enough evidence to show probable cause, foreman Natman Schaye and others told me. That, in essence, is grand-jury nullification — not carrying out the law because, in the jury’s opinion, it is unjust.

This grand jury, which was labeled as “The Notorious 269th” by the press, decided that justice was more important than obeying the government.

Rick Myers, a well-known Tucsonan who is a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, also was on the Notorious 269th. What bothered him was the many cases of small quantities of drugs that were charged as Class 4 felonies, as state law dictates. He said he began making a distinction between what’s actually a “crime” and what’s “breaking the law.” The reason, another grand juror, Jodi Kautz, said was: They were presented with possession cases involving drug amounts as tiny as 2/100th of a gram, a trace amount. …Myers said. “There’s a whole lot of people getting charged for things that are not hurting other people.”

Here’s some background info on the role of the grand jury.

Grand juries have their roots in 12th-century England, but in early America took on more of a judicial role — that of a body of citizens standing between the government and a person accused of a crime. The grand jury eventually came to stand as a check, ensuring the government had enough evidence to pursue a criminal case. …Prosecutors run the grand-jury sessions… They bring proposed indictments to the jurors and call police officers as witnesses, without a defendant or a defense attorney present. The grand jurors, though, make the ultimate decision as to whether to indict, and on what charges.

Unsurprisingly, government officials don’t approve of grand jurors exercising independent thought.

As to the grand jurors’ decision to reject some cases with adequate evidence, Acosta said that really isn’t their place. They take an oath to follow the law before taking their seats, she said. “If somebody has a particular agenda, I suppose they can go to the Legislature and say, ‘We don’t like this law, maybe you should change it.’ But the grand jury isn’t the place for that kind of activity,” she said.

Sorry, Ms. Acosta, that’s not right.

The grand jury (or regular jury) may not be the ideal place to protect against injustice, but it’s better than nothing when governments have bad laws and/or government officials abuse citizens.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Andy JohnsonAnthony Smelley, the Hammond familyCharlie EngleTammy CooperNancy BlackRuss CaswellJacques WajsfelnerJeff CouncelllerEric GarnerMartha Boneta, Corey Statham, James SlaticCarole HindersSalvatore Culosi, and James Lieto, as well as the Sierra Pacific Company and the entire Meitev family.

There’s a philosophical principle involved. In many cases, nullification is appropriate because governments have criminalized actions that have no victims. Which is why the movement’s motto, as noted in this Ron Swanson meme, is that there is no crime when there’s no victim.

I’ll close on a personal note. I’ve lived in Fairfax County for almost three decades and I’ve only received one summons for jury duty. When that happened, I immediately fantasized about being a hero and using nullification to block an unjust gun prosecution or unjust drug prosecution. But it turned out that the case was a lawsuit between a contractor and consumer, so I was happy they wound up finding enough people before my name was called.

But maybe my nullification fantasy eventually will become a reality. Though I’ve noted that my fantasies (at least the ones involving public policy) never seem to happen.

The biggest victory for taxpayers during the Obama years was the Budget Control Act in 2011, which imposed sequester-enforced caps on discretionary spending.

Indeed, that legislation was then followed by a sequester in early 2013, which was a stinging defeat for Obama (he tried to forestall the sequester with hysterical predictions of doom).

But politicians don’t like fiscal restraint. Spending caps limit their ability to buy votes with other people’s money. So they evaded the spending caps in late 2013. Then they did the same thing in late 2015.

And now it’s happened again. The budget caps have been busted again as part of a new agreement. To be blunt, the swamp has triumphed over taxpayers. The politicians who promised to clean up the mess in Washington have decided that the cesspool is actually a hot tub.

Most critics of the deal are focusing on how it means more red ink. But that’s a secondary problem. The real mistake is that government is getting bigger, and that means private sector activity is being displaced.

Here’s everything you need to know about what’s happening to overall discretionary spending, captured in a chart from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The blue bars in the above chart show what happened in the real world (technically, they show annual “budget authority,” which is sort of like the money that gets deposited in a checking account and “outlays” are when checks are written). The green line shows the spending-on-autopilot forecast from early 2011. The red line shows the discretionary spending allowed by the Budget Control Act. And the yellow line shows what spending should have been if the sequester was left unchanged.

The bottom line is that the spending levels for 2018 and 2019 mean that the victory of the Budget Control Act has been almost entirely undone.

Now let’s look at the numbers for non-defense discretionary spending, based on data from the Congressional Research Service and the Office of Management and Budget.

Once again, we see the same pattern of good promises and bad results. And this happened with Republicans in partial control or (now) complete control of the process.

Needless to say, I tried to convince GOPers to do the right thing. But I failed.

Republicans claim, for what it’s worth, that the deal was necessary to get higher defense spending. I question that goal (we already spend enormous amounts of money compared to any potential adversaries, and I also think we shouldn’t squander blood and treasure on  overseas nation building). But even if one believes in more defense spending, why add huge increases in domestic spending?

Why not copy Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, both of whom reduced the burden of domestic spending when increasing defense outlays?

My pro-GOP friends in Washington respond by stating that Republicans didn’t have 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. That’s a legitimate point, but I respond by asking why they didn’t force Democrats to conduct a real filibuster (hold the floor for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)?

They then tell me that a filibuster (assuming Democrats didn’t get tired of holding the floor) would mean stalemate and eventually could result in a shutdown. Another fair point, but I then point out that left-wing constituencies are the ones that will feel the pinch if non-essential parts of the government cease operating.

At this point, the truth usually comes out and they tell me that Republican leaders can’t play hardball because too many of their members actually like big government.

By the way, I put a greater share of the blame on the Trump Administration. If the White House drew a line in the sand and told Congress it would block any spending above the caps, lawmakers would have been forced to prioritize. But since Trump doesn’t seem to have any interest in fiscal restraint, we’re getting a repeat of the profligate Bush years – with congressional Republicans figuring they may as well take part in the feeding frenzy.

I’ll close by noting that this isn’t the end of the world. Yes, we have far too much discretionary spending, and the additional spending in this agreement is bad news. That being said, the extra outlays are relatively trivial compared to the gigantic problem of ever-expanding entitlement spending.

But the fact that Republicans aren’t willing to enforce any discipline on discretionary outlays certainly does not bode well for the presumably more-difficult battle for genuine entitlement reform.

P.S. I’ll make a prediction right now (and I’ll even make a wager with any interested parties) that inflation-adjusted domestic spending will climb faster under Trump than it did under Obama.

I strongly applauded the tax reform plan that was enacted in December, especially the lower corporate tax rate and the limit on the deduction for state and local taxes.

But I’m not satisfied. Our long-run goal should be fundamental tax reform. And that means replacing the current system with a simple and fair flat tax.

And the recent tax plan only took a small step in that direction. How small? Well, the Tax Foundation just calculated that it only improved the United States from #30 to #25 in their International Tax Competitiveness Ranking. In other words, we have a long way to go before we catch up to Estonia.

 

It’s possible, of course, to apply different weights and come up with a different list. I think the Tax Foundation’s numbers could be improved, for instance, by including a measure of the aggregate tax burden. And that presumably would boost the U.S. score.

But the fact would remain that the U.S. score would be depressingly low. In other words, the internal revenue code is still a self-imposed wound and huge improvements are still necessary.

That’s why we need another round of tax reform, based on the three core principles of good tax policy.

  1. Lower tax rates
  2. Less double taxation
  3. Fewer loopholes

But how is tax reform possible in a fiscal environment of big government and rising deficits?

This is a challenge. In an ideal world, there would be accompanying budget reforms to save money, thus creating leeway for tax reform to be a net tax cut.

But even in the current fiscal environment, tax reform is possible if policy makers finance pro-growth reforms by closing undesirable loopholes.

Indeed, that’s basically what happened in the recent tax plan. The lower corporate rate was financed by restricting the state and local tax deduction and a few other changes. The budget rules did allow for a modest short-run tax cut, but the overall package was revenue neutral in the long run (i.e., starting in 2027).

It’s now time to repeat this exercise.

The Congressional Budget Office periodically issues a report on Budget Options, which lists all sort of spending reforms and tax increases, along with numbers showing what those changes would mean to the budget over the next 10 years.

I’ve never been a huge fan of this report because it is too limited on the spending side. You won’t find fleshed-out options to shut down departments, for instance, which is unfortunate given the target-rich environment (including TransportationHousing and Urban DevelopmentEducationEnergy, and Agriculture).

And on the tax side, it has a lengthy list of tax hikes, generally presented as ways to finance an ever-expanding burden of government spending. The list must be akin to porn for statists like Bernie Sanders.

It includes new taxes.

And it includes increases in existing taxes.

But the CBO report also includes some tax preferences that could be used to finance good tax reforms.

Here are four provisions of the tax code that should be the “pay-fors” in a new tax reform plan.

We’ll start with two that are described in the CBO document.

Further reductions in itemized deductions – The limit on the state and local tax deduction should be the first step. The entire deduction could be repealed as part of a second wave of tax reform. And the same is true for the home mortgage interest deduction and the charitable contributions deduction.

Green-energy pork – The House version of tax reform gutted many of the corrupt tax preferences for green energy. Unfortunately, those changes were not included in the final bill. But the silver lining to that bad decision is that those provisions can be used to finance good reforms in a new bill.

Surprisingly, the CBO report overlooks or only gives cursory treatment to a couple of major tax preferences that each could finance $1 trillion or more of pro-growth changes over the next 10 years.

Municipal bond interest – Under current law, there is no federal tax on the interest paid to owners of bonds issued by state and local governments. This “muni-bond” loophole is very bad tax policy since it creates an incentive that diverts capital from private business investment to subsidizing the profligacy of cities like Chicago and states like California.

Healthcare exclusion – Current law also allows a giant tax break for fringe benefits. When companies purchase health insurance plans for employees, that compensation escapes both payroll taxes and income taxes. Repealing – or at least capping – this exclusion could raise a lot of money for pro-growth reforms (and it would be good healthcare policy as well).

What’s potentially interesting about the four loopholes listed above is that they all disproportionately benefit rich people. This means that if they are curtailed or repealed and the money as part of tax reform, the left won’t be able to argue that upper-income taxpayers are getting unfair benefits.

Actually, they’ll probably still make their usual class-warfare arguments, but they will be laughably wrong.

The bottom line is that we should have smaller government and less taxation. But even if that’s not immediately possible, we can at least figure out revenue-neutral reforms that will produce a tax system that does less damage to growth, jobs, and competitiveness.

On the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, I graded Trump’s overall record on economic policy and specifically observed that his trade rhetoric was worse than his trade policy. But I added a caveat about the North American Free Trade Agreement.

…he’s been doing a lot of saber-rattling, but fortunately not drawing too much blood. That being said, he is threatening to pull the United States out of NAFTA, which would be a very big mistake.

Unfortunately, this is not an idle threat. So let’s look at what some experts have said about the value of NAFTA to the American economy.

We’ll start with a column from today’s Washington Post by the CEO of Union Pacific. He worries that the good news on taxes will be offset by bad news on trade.

Freight railroads are the bloodstream of U.S. business, supporting the livelihoods of employees in nearly every sector of the economy. …From my vantage point, it is clear that the recently adopted tax-reform law will provide meaningful stimulus for the U.S. economy. …our economy is on the rise, and tax reform will help generate even more momentum. But America’s potential exit from the North American Free Trade Agreement threatens to undo much of that progress. …About 60 percent of U.S. imports are intermediate goods for U.S. production, so raising costs through what will be functionally higher taxes on production would make U.S. businesses less competitive — thwarting tax reform’s goal of allowing people and businesses to invest their money as they see fit. …executives who are excited about the economic benefits of the tax cuts are facing equal, if not greater, economic losses if NAFTA is eliminated. …At Union Pacific, …nearly 40 percent of our shipments now have an international component — coming from or headed to Canada, Mexico, Asia, Europe and beyond. …it will be critical for the United States to strengthen its most important trade partnerships, not abandon them. …the recent tax legislation is clearly a strong tail wind for future growth and expansion. Let’s not ruin the momentum by abandoning NAFTA.

I fully agree. It’s worth noting that trade policy is just as important as fiscal policy according to Economic Freedom of the World.

Which is why it makes no sense for Trump to undermine his achievement on tax reform.

Here are some excerpts from a study by a Dartmouth professor. He starts by outlining some of the benefits that have been produced by NAFTA.

U.S. trade in goods and services with Canada and Mexico has nearly quadrupled under NAFTA—from $337 billion in 1994 to about $1.4 trillion in 2016. …NAFTA partners have become the largest destination for U.S. small-business exporters. In 2014, more than 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses (SME) exported to Canada and/or Mexico: this was over 95 percent of all U.S. exporters into the NAFTA market. For these small U.S. exporters that year, Canada and Mexico were the top two export destinations. The total value of these 2014 exports was $136 billion, fully 25 percent of all U.S. SME exports. Under NAFTA, cross-border investment among the three member countries has surged as well: from $126.8 billion in 1993 to $731.3 billion in 2016. …A reasonable conclusion from…studies is that NAFTA in its entirety has elevated U.S. GDP by somewhere between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent of GDP. …boosting U.S. GDP by between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent means U.S. output and income is somewhere between about $40 billion to nearly $60 billion higher than it would be without NAFTA. …representative studies calculated that NAFTA raised average U.S. wages by somewhere between 0.2 and 0.3 percent–a boost to workers’ wages that, like the boost to national GDP, recurs every year.

Needless to say, wrecking NAFTA would unwind all these benefits.

…studies that have carefully modeled the United States withdrawing from NAFTA share a central estimate of withdrawal damages of about 0.3 percent of GDP. In 2017, a loss of national output approaching 0.3 percent of GDP would have been a loss of about $50 billion. …Withdrawing would reduce trade, lower national output and income, and destroy U.S. jobs and lower average U.S. real wages. In an increasingly competitive global economy, many U.S. companies and their workers would suffer, not win.

Another study had a similarly grim assessment.

…termination of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would have significant net negative impacts on the U.S. economy and U.S. employment, particularly over the immediate years after termination. Termination would re-impose high costs of tariffs on U.S. exports and imports, which would reduce the competitiveness of U.S. businesses both domestically and abroad. U.S. exports would drop, both to Canada and Mexico and globally, as U.S. output becomes more expensive and therefore U.S. businesses would be less competitive in these markets. Foreign purchasers would shift away from U.S. goods and services in favor of lower-cost goods and services made in other international markets, particularly those made in Asia.

This study calculated the economic damage in each state, including estimated job losses.

Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute put that data into a map.

Let’s close with Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center, who echoes the observation that Trump may be about to sabotage the benefits of tax reform by throwing sand in the gears of international trade.

…for the first time in decades. U.S.-based businesses can now compete against their foreign counterparts without starting from an immediate disadvantage… The change should result in faster growth, higher wages and more jobs. Unfortunately, those gains may be undone this year with a wrong step on trade. …NAFTA has benefited American business. …But ramping up economic protectionism would undermine these gains and harm the economy. Many U.S. manufacturers have global supply chains, meaning they import materials and other inputs, even if the final product might then be exported. Raising the prices of these goods with tariffs makes it harder for U.S.-based businesses to compete. …Canada and Mexico are our top trading partners. If they were to increase foreign tariffs on U.S.-manufactured goods — absent a free trade pact or as retaliation for new tariffs imposed by Trump — that would significantly harm U.S. exporters.

So why is Trump threatening to do something so foolish?

Based on his public statements, he simply doesn’t understand trade. He thinks it is a contest between countries and whichever one has a trade surplus is the winner. And to fix this supposed problem, he wants to wreck NAFTA unless politicians and bureaucrats somehow have the power to dictate equal levels of trade (sort of like the way class-warfare advocates want to dictate equal levels of income).

This is wrong on many levels.

  • There is zero evidence that a trade deficit is an indication of economic weakness. Indeed, since wealthier people can afford to buy more goods and services than poor people, a trade deficit oftentimes is a sign that a nation has a prosperous economy.
  • Moreover, the flip side of a trade deficit is a capital surplus. In other words, foreigners who earn dollars by selling to consumers in the United States sometimes decide that investing in America is the best use of those dollars. That’s a positive indicator.
  • Last but not least, it’s worth noting that countries don’t trade. Instead, trade is between consumers and businesses and those transaction are – by definition – mutually beneficial. Interfering with those transactions is pernicious government intervention.

The bottom line is that I’m still waiting for someone to successfully answer my eight questions for protectionists.

P.S. Unlike the current president, Reagan had the right approach.

According to bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, so-called tax havens are terrible and should be shut down. Their position is grossly hypocritical since they get tax-free salaries while pushing for higher taxes on everyone else, but not very surprising since the OECD’s membership is dominated by increasingly uncompetitive European welfare states.

Many economists, by contrast, view tax havens favorably since they discourage politicians from over-taxing and over-spending (thus protecting nations from “goldfish government“).

I agree with this economic argument for tax havens, but I also think there’s a very strong moral argument for these jurisdictions since there are so many evil and incompetent governments in the world.

But I don’t want to rehash the argument about the desirability of tax havens in this column. Instead, we’re going to focus on a nation that is becoming the world’s premier “offshore” center.

But it’s not a Caribbean island or a micro-state in Europe.

Instead, as noted in a recent Bloomberg editorial, the United States is now the magnet for global investment.

…the U.S. is becoming one of the world’s best places to hide money from the tax collector. …Congress rejected the Obama administration’s repeated requests to make the necessary changes to the tax code. As a result, the Treasury cannot compel U.S. banks to reveal information such as account balances and names of beneficial owners. The U.S. has also failed to adopt the so-called Common Reporting Standard, a global agreement under which more than 100 countries will automatically provide each other with even more data than FATCA requires. …the U.S. is rapidly becoming the new Switzerland. Financial institutions catering to the global elite, such as Rothschild & Co. and Trident Trust Co., have moved accounts from offshore havens to Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota. New York lawyers are actively marketing the country as a place to park assets. …From a certain perspective, all this might look pretty smart: Shut down foreign tax havens and then steal their business.

The Economist also identified the U.S. as a haven.

America seems not to feel bound by the global rules being crafted as a result of its own war on tax-dodging. It is also failing to tackle the anonymous shell companies often used to hide money. …All this adds up to “another example of how the US has elevated exceptionalism to a constitutional principle,” says Richard Hay of Stikeman Elliott, a law firm. …America sees no need to join the CRS. …reciprocation is patchy. It passes on names and interest earned, but not account balances; it does not look through the corporate structures that own many bank accounts to reveal the true “beneficial” owner; and data are only shared with countries that meet a host of privacy and technical standards. That excludes many non-European countries. …The Treasury wants more data-swapping and corporate transparency, and has made several proposals to bring America up to the level of the CRS. But most need congressional approval, and politicians are in no rush to enact them. …Meanwhile business lobbyists and states with lots of registered firms, led by Delaware, have long stymied proposed federal legislation that would require more openness in corporate ownership. (Incorporation is a state matter, not a federal one.) …America is much safer for legally earned wealth that is evading taxes… It has shown little appetite for helping enforce foreign tax laws.

And here are some passages from a recent column in Forbes.

…foreign financial institutions are required to report the identities and assets of United States taxpayers to the IRS. Meanwhile, U.S. financial institutions cannot be compelled to reveal the same information to foreign countries. Additionally, the United States has not adopted the Common Reporting Standard. …So, the United States government obtains tax and wealth information from other countries, but fails to share information about what occurs in the U.S. with those other counties. …the U.S. is among the top five best countries for setting up anonymous shell companies. Tax havens deliver a set of benefits including secrecy, potential tax minimization, and the ability of the wealthy to access their monies from anywhere in the world. For a substantial percentage of the global super-rich, the United States is regularly unmatched.

Here’s some of what was reported by the U.K.-based Financial Times.

South Dakota is best known for its vast stretches of flat land and the Mount Rushmore monument… Yet despite its small town feel, Sioux Falls has become a magnet for the ultra-wealthy who set up trusts to protect their fortunes from taxes… Assets held in South Dakotan trusts have grown from $32.8bn in 2006 to more than $226bn in 2014, according to the state’s division of banking. The number of trust companies has jumped from 20 in 2006 to 86 this year. The state’s role as a prairie tax haven has gained unwanted attention… The Boston Consulting Group estimates that there is $800bn of offshore wealth in the US, nearly half of which comes from Latin America. …Bruce Zagaris, a Washington-based lawyer at Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, says the US offshore industry is even bigger than people realise. “I think the US is already the world’s largest offshore centre. It has done a real good job disabling competition from Swiss banks.”

If this sounds like the United States is hypocritical, that’s a very fair accusation.

Indeed, it was the topic of an entire panel at an Offshore Alert conference. If you have a lot of interest in this topic, here’s the video.

This is an odd issue where I agree with statists (though only with regard to which jurisdictions are “havens”). For instance, the hard-left Tax Justice Network has calculated that the United States is not the biggest offshore jurisdiction. But America is close to the top.

In the TJN’s most-recent Financial Secrecy Index, the United States ranks #2. They think that’s a bad thing (indeed, one of their top people actually asserted that all income belongs to the government), but I’m happy we’ve risen in the rankings.

TJN also has specific details about U.S. law and I think they’ve put together a reasonably accurate summary.

The bottom line is that America is a haven, though it’s probably worth noting that we’ve risen in the rankings mostly because other nations have been coerced into weakening their human rights laws on financial privacy, not because the United States has improved.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, TJN and I part ways on whether it’s good for the United States to be a tax haven.

I already explained at the start of this column why I like tax havens and tax competition. Simply stated, it’s good for taxpayers and the global economy when governments are forced to compete.

But there’s also a good-for-America argument. Here’s the data from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis on indirect investment in the U.S. economy. As you can see, cross-border flows of passive investment have skyrocketed. It’s unknown how much of this increase is due to overall globalization and how much is the result of America’s favorable tax and privacy rules for foreigners.

But there’s no question the U.S. economy benefits enormously from foreigners choosing to invest in America.

All of which helps to explain why it would be a big mistake for the United States to ratify the OECD’s Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.

Unless, of course, one thinks it would be good to undermine American competitiveness by creating a global tax cartel to enable bigger government.

P.S. The OECD doesn’t like me, but I don’t like them either.

P.P.S. The TJN folks and OECD bureaucrats claim that their goal is to reduce tax evasion. My response is that a global tax cartel is a destructive way of achieving that goal. There’s a much better option available.

P.P.P.S. Rand Paul is one of the few heroes on this issue.

States such as Illinois, California, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey have very serious structural problems because of high tax burdens and unsustainable spending levels (often associated with excessive pay and benefits for bureaucrats).

I frequently write about those big issues, but I also like to periodically share examples of other bone-headed policies at the state level. These are not the types of policies that threaten bankruptcy, but they illustrate why it’s not a good idea to give power to politicians and bureaucrats.

Here are some new examples.

We have a column in Forbes about the dangerous plague of unlicensed and unregulated (gasp!) cakes in New Jersey.

At first, she sold her baked goods to support her son’s school fundraisers. …Soon Heather started receiving requests from family, friends, sports fundraisers, and even a wedding venue. …With this business, Heather hoped she could pay for her son’s college education and one day open her own brick-and-mortar cake pop shop. Unfortunately, her dreams were dashed thanks to a law that exists only in New Jersey. Unlike 49 other states, selling baked goods made at home is illegal in the Garden State. Baking and selling just one cake, cookie or muffin risks fines as high as $1,000. When Heather learned she had to shut down her cake pop sideline, the news was “crushing,” she said.

As is so often the case when governments are suppressing liberty, “health and safety” is the excuse.

New Jersey’s main justification for the ban is to protect the public’s health and safety—a claim that’s belied by the fact that nearly every other state has a “cottage food” law on the books, which legalizes the sale of homemade cakes, cookies, jams and other food deemed “not potentially hazardous.” …In order to sell cake pops, cookies or other shelf-stable treats in New Jersey, Heather must either build a licensed “retail food establishment” separate from her home kitchen or she can rent a commercial kitchen, which can easily cost $35 an hour.

Fortunately, the Institute for Justice is fighting to overturn the law.

Heather and two other home bakers joined with the Institute for Justice and filed a lawsuit against the state earlier this month. …A similar IJ lawsuit has already defeated a pastry prohibition in Wisconsin. Over the summer, a Wisconsin judge struck down the state’s ban on selling home-baked goods because there was “no real or substantial connection” between the law and public safety. …In his ruling, Lafayette Circuit Court Judge Duane Jorgenson noted that the ban protected established businesses from greater competition, which is why groups like the Wisconsin Bakers Association heavily backed the law. …Those rulings followed a 2015 IJ court victory on behalf of home bakers in Minnesota, which galvanized the state to expand its cottage food laws. Now the state boasts over 3,000 cottage food producers.

Notice, by the way, that protecting an established interest group was the real purpose of the law. In other words, the law was basically similar to schemes for occupational licensing.

This next item is so strange that I wonder whether it is somehow fake. But I also suspect it’s too bizarre to be fake. In any event, I wonder about the reason for this government-mandated notice?!? And if you find a (gasp!) vending machine without the notice, what purpose is served by calling the number? And do the bureaucrats expect people to memorize the number in case they stumble upon a rogue vending machine?!?

Oh, and how long before some people figure out how to remove the notice and then call the government in hopes of getting the “cash reward”?

If anybody knows the answer to any of these questions, feel free to share your thoughts. In the meantime, I’ll simply assume that the notice presumably isn’t as pointless and stupid at this pedestrian sign and definitely not as creepy and malevolent as this “public service” notice.

Next, we have a story from ABC News about taxpayer-funded generosity to pets in Michigan.

A dog in western Michigan has been approved for unemployment benefits — and he’d be bringing in a cool $360 a week. Michael Haddock, of Saugatuck, Michigan, says he received a letter on Saturday from the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) addressed to Michael Ryder, according to Grand Rapids ABC affiliate WZZM. Michael is his name. Ryder is his dog’s name. …Haddock says the employer listed on the letter was a restaurant chain in Metro Detroit. After receiving the letter, Haddock contacted the restaurant chain and the state unemployment office. …The Michigan UIA announced Tuesday it was creating a special investigative unit to handle the recent increase in fake unemployment claims. The agency attributes many of the claims to recent data breaches. Haddock isn’t sure how scammers got his dog’s name.

I’m clearly behind the times. I have some cats that need to sign up for handouts!

On a more serious note, I confess that I’m not aware of the degree to which unemployment benefits are fraudulent. Hopefully it’s not as bad as the EITC, though I’m confident that problem is bigger than politicians and bureaucrats would ever admit.

And why would folks in the government even care? After all, it’s our money they’re squandering rather than their own. And Milton Friedman educated us on what that means.

From the perspective of good public policy, though, the real problem with such benefits (as personalized here and here) is that they lure people into extended periods of joblessness.

I realize that such exercises are probably “click-bait,” but I generally can’t resist taking tests/quizzes designed to identify my philosophical/political orientation.

Here are some previous examples, all of which made sense.

But there was also a political quiz that pegged me as a “moderate,” which might be reasonable conclusion since libertarians have some right-wing views and some left-wing views. But that quiz also concluded that I had “few strong opinions,” which is a nonsensical result.

But maybe I really am a moderate because there’s a new 20-question quiz from IDRlabs and – as you can see – I’m exactly in the middle.

What makes this quiz interesting (or bizarre, depending on your outlook) is that none of the questions are about issues. Instead, you’re asked about lifestyle. Such as:

  • Are you orderly or messy?
  • Do you prefer country music or classical music?
  • Do you want your home on a busy street or quiet street?
  • Are philosophical discussions fun, boring, or pointless?
  • Do you like arugula?

At the risk of over-simplifying, if you give answers suggesting you prefer a quiet and conventional life, you’ll get a right-wing score. And you’ll get a left-wing score if your answers suggest you have a more eclectic approach to life (and, if you’re like me, you don’t know whether you like arugula, so you have a hard time answering certain questions).

For what it’s worth, I think the quiz does capture something important. There is research indicating that people’s policy views are largely determined by underlying values.

And these values are more important than economics. Coming from a leftist perspective, Thomas Frank wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas last decade to address the supposed paradox of people with modest incomes voting for conservative politicians. And Thomas Edsall, also coming from the left, observed in the New York Times that wealthy people have become Democrats.

So much for Marx’s theory of economic determinism!

This is outside of my area of expertise, but I’m interested in this type of analysis because it’s my job to proselytize in favor of freedom. So I often try to convince right wingers to have a more laissez-faire approach to social and international matters and I often try to convince left wingers to have a more laissez-faire approach to economic issues.

But how do you convince people about issues if their views are dependent on an underlying value system?

And it gets more complicated because of what’s happening in society.

I’ll share a couple of items that struck me as important. First, here’s some of what Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

There are the protected and the unprotected. The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. …The protected are the accomplished, the secure, the successful—those who have power or access to it. They are protected from much of the roughness of the world. …They are figures in government, politics and media. They live in nice neighborhoods, safe ones. Their families function, their kids go to good schools, they’ve got some money. All of these things tend to isolate them, or provide buffers. …They’re insulated from many of the effects of their own decisions. …This is a terrible feature of our age—that we are governed by protected people who don’t seem to care that much about their unprotected fellow citizens.

And here’s a video featuring David Goodhart of London’s Policy Exchange, who says that the split is now between the “anywheres” who are cosmopolitan and the “somewheres” who are traditional.

In some sense, it seems that politics is being determined by class.  The “protected” and the “anywheres” are increasingly on the left (the “rational left” rather than the Bernie variety). And the “unprotected” and the “somewheres” are voting blocs for the right.

Incidentally, this worries me because elites have a disproportionate influence on public policy, And there’s now cultural pressure for such people to adopt left-wing views (a good example is the condescending tone of this Washington Post column). Simply stated, most educated people want to be seen as urbane and cosmopolitan, characteristics that are now associated with the left.

And it goes without saying that Trump is probably accelerating this process – which is doubly frustrating to me because his occasional support for good policy doesn’t change the fact that he’s not a supporter of free markets and limited government. Yet because he is now an avatar for the right, many educated people will now decide they should support statist policies and candidates.

The bottom line is that being an advocate for liberty is becoming an even bigger challenge!

P.S. Returning to the original topic of online tests, Reason’s political candidate quiz produced a logical conclusion.

P.P.S. By contrast, I thought the quiz on supposed libertarian hypocrisy was largely a straw-man exercise.

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