Not all leftists are alike.

I speculated a couple of years ago that there were four types of statists and put them on a spectrum. I put “rational leftists” at one end. If you wanted to pick a nation that represents this mindset, think Sweden. Nice, civilized, market-oriented, but plenty of redistribution.

On the other end of the spectrum were three less-palatable types.

  1. The “totalitarians,” which means a dictatorial state-run economy, as represented by the Soviet Union and China.
  2. The “socialists,” a democratically elected form of a state-run economy, as represented by post-WWII United Kingdom.
  3. The “crazies,” which I confess is a catch-all category to capture visceral, unthinking, and punitive intervention.

And for that final category, I listed Bernie Sanders and Greece as representatives.

And if you want to know why I listed Sanders, here’s some of Jeffrey Tucker’s FEE column from 2015.

Bernie Sanders, that sweet old socialist who we would have to invent if he didn’t exist in real life, elicited guffaws all over the Internet with his now famous comment about deodorant choice. “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers,” he said, “when children are hungry in this country.” …The underlying theory here is that the proliferation of deodorant and tennis shoes come at the expense of food for the poor. There is only a certain amount of wealth in the world, this thinking goes.

In practical terms, Sanders must think the world is zero-sum. I can’t be rich unless you are poor, and vice-versa.

Tucker explains that this isn’t true. Or, to be more accurate, it’s not true when markets are allowed to function.

That’s what was so captivating about the Industrial Revolution. All kinds of people were suddenly getting richer, and not by grabbing other people’s stuff. Wealth seemed to be actually expanding. ..Adam Smith…patiently observed how expansion of the division of labor, innovation, and trade — all based on secure ownership titles and free association — were working together to make everyone better off. This was not a zero-sum world. We escaped that fate long ago. …This was the single most marvelous discovery that economics made.

But because of his visceral disdain for markets, Sanders doesn’t trust free people to make decisions.

People who talk like Sanders imagine themselves in the position of dictators, deciding what social priorities ought to be. …What if they got their way? They would have to override billions of decentralized decisions. They would have to reject the judgements of millions of balance sheets. They would have to use massive force to prevent people from inventing, making bargains, striking deals, and buying and selling. It really does mean the end of freedom… It is for this reason that socialist central planning has brought reduced standards of living, poverty, and economic stagnation and chaos everywhere it has been tried.

And Sanders isn’t the only crazy.

Jeremy Corbyn’s economic views are also astoundingly bad, as explained by Andrew McKie for CapX.

…no matter how clueless and unrealistic the Labour leader is when it comes to Europe, that’s nothing compared with his failure to come to grips with the real world. Corbyn said: “I do not agree with or accept the idea there has to be competition in mail delivery. After all, we all have one letterbox, and it is much more efficient to have one postal delivery person coming down the street rather than three or four from different or competing companies.” …Corbyn isn’t just saying that Labour plans to renationalise the Royal Mail. …wave goodbye to Amazon Prime and next-day delivery from Asos, and say so long to FedEx, DHL or UPS and their guarantees. As for innovations that have just arrived or are in the works, such as universal same-day delivery and the use of drones, forget it.

McKie delves into the many reasons why Corbyn is so misguided.

The extraordinary point is that Corbyn really seems to think that, if there’s one of something, it’s neither realistic nor desirable that there should be any alternative on offer. Heaven forbid that you might think that you could make a choice, or that anyone else might provide a better, a cheaper or – in any way at all – a different service. …Corbyn’s “one-size fits all” approach ought to seem ridiculous, even if no one would laugh if they had to live in a country that operated that way. But he’s not joking; he really seems to think that all the reforms, the improvements in living standards, the economic growth and consumer choice of the last 40 years were a mistake, and that the state-run companies of Britain (then known as ‘the sick man of Europe”) were better. He doesn’t seem to realise that it is exactly the market – the existence of choice and competition – which led to those improvements, which drove innovation, drove up living standards, and drove down prices.

Everything Tucker and McKie says is spot on.

My two cents on this issue is that Sanders and Corbyn are guilty of two huge mistakes.

  • First, they think the economy is a fixed pie, which is laughably false. Just watch these videos by Don Boudreaux and Deirdre McCloskey. The simple lesson is that everyone can become richer at the same time. At least if they have decent policy.
  • Second, they have no idea of the valuable role of “creative destruction” in encouraging ever-more efficient and less costly ways of generating ever-more valuable goods and services. Watch this video and this video for more details.

You don’t need to be an economist to understand why Sanders and Corbyn are wrong. Normal people can look at how fast various nations grow (or don’t grow) and draw the appropriate conclusions.

It’s been several weeks since the awful tragedy in Parkland, FL, where 17 students were killed by an evil loser. Since I written several times about the utter impracticality of gun control, and since a growing number of honest liberals (see here, here, here, and here) also acknowledge that such laws are ill-advised, I didn’t think another column would be necessary.

However, the controversy isn’t going away. Left-wing groups are using some of the students as props in a campaign to push restrictions on private gun ownership.

So I decided to take part in a four-person debate on the issue for France 24. Needless to say, I was the only pro-Second Amendment person on the show (it was 4-1 against me if you include the moderator). You can watch the entire 45 minutes by clicking here, but you can get a good idea of the one-sided nature by simply watching this excerpt from the introduction.

Here’s the first question I fielded, which gave me a chance to knock our unprincipled President.

But more importantly, I noted that gun control doesn’t succeed because ordinary Americans are very diligent about protecting their constitutional rights.

This next segment gave me an opportunity to make several points.

  • The silliness of banning “scary looking” rifles when there are hundreds of millions of other weapons that work the same way.
  • Democrats have rallied behind truly radical legislation targeting all semi-automatic weapons (knowing that non-gun people don’t know what that term means, I used “non-revolver” as a synonym, but I admit that probably isn’t any better).
  • Gun bans are especially absurd in a world with 3D printers.
  • Censorship would probably be effective in reducing mass shooters, but I don’t want to repeal the First Amendment.
  • Rising levels of gun ownership are correlated with lower levels of crime.

By the way, none of the other guests ever tried to refute any of my points. Check the full video if you doubt me.

I also was asked about private companies restricting gun sales.

And since I believe in freedom of association, I said that was their right, even if such steps are both futile and bad for business.

In my final segment, I noted the good news that states are liberalizing gun laws, while also pointing out that global evidence also shows why gun control is a bad idea.

And you’ll notice I took another shot at our unprincipled president. Our Constitution is not a pick-and-choose document.

So what’s the practical impact of all this?

Gun-control proposals generally fall into two categories. Some politicians go after the “military-style” weapons, which is empty posturing that will no (positive) impact on crime. I wrote about this issue in the past, and you can click here and here for added info on the failed 1994 ban.

Or they go for sweeping gun bans and confiscation. Which, if ever enacted, would lead to widespread civil disobedience.

So we know that’s not the answer.

But what is the right approach? As I noted in the interview, there probably is no complete solution.

That being said, let’s dig into the issue of whether teachers and other school personnel should be allowed to carry concealed weapons are a last line of defense of nutjobs.

Here’s  story on the issue from Kentucky.

Teachers could soon be carrying concealed guns inside schools in Pike County under a proposal that was preliminarily approved Monday evening by the Pike County School Board. The unanimous decision…was prompted by multiple school shootings in recent weeks… Schools Superintendent Reed Adkins said he hopes the board will give final approval within two to three weeks, and to have armed staff in schools by fall, if not sooner. …State Sen. John Schickel, R- Union, has introduced Senate Resolution 172 that would urge boards of education to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry firearms for their own protection. …Multiple mothers of Pike County students urged quick action Monday to provide schools with some type of security, saying their children have been scared to attend school.

And we also have a news report from Colorado.

One of the first school districts in the state of Colorado to implement such a policy was in eastern El Paso County… A decision made in hopes of preventing another school shooting here at home and more than a year later, most people are grateful this was put into place. “Our school’s pretty much a model for school safety,” Terry Siewiyumptewa, a parent said. …”Our staff members, it could be 100 percent, are armed and are here to protect and keep our students safe,” Dr. Grant Schmidt, Superintendent for Hanover School District 28 said. Now, teachers, administrators, custodians and even bus drivers can all volunteer to conceal carry in school… “We need safe schools and our school is providing us what we’ve asked for,” Siewiyumptewa said. …”The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun,” she said. …Students we spoke with say it has added an extra level of comfort. …Dr. Schmidt says he’s been getting calls from other school districts across the country all year, wanting to know how they put this into place, asking for guidance, research and other documents to use as a model.

Unsurprisingly, Texas is another example.

…at Argyle High School, the..teachers are packing handguns. A sign outside campus warns: “Please be aware that the staff at Argyle [Independent School District] are armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.” …In about two dozen states, including California, schools can allow staff to carry guns on campus, although some require concealed-carry licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. …Officials at Argyle and other districts say the policies deter shooters and provide peace of mind, and that other schools should follow their lead. Scores of Texas school districts allow teachers to carry arms. …”It’s essential to keep us safe,” said Lizzie Dagg, 18, Argyle senior class president, who spent part of lunch Thursday signing a banner expressing sympathy to Parkland students. …history teacher Sharon Romero…said. “I feel safer coming to work than a lot of other teachers in this country do.” …Argyle High Principal James Hill, who has three children in the school system, was skeptical about the policy when he was hired in 2015, but said, “Now I’m a believer.” …he said of school shootings. “… I want to give our kids a fighting chance.”

Here are two maps from the article, showing who is allowed to have guns in a school. Here’s the map for the general public.

And here’s the map for government employees.

Amazingly, there is an outpost of common sense in California.

One California school district has voted to allow staff members to carry guns on campus. The district says the policy was put in place to ensure the safety of students in case there is an active shooter situation. …Kingsburg High School District, near Fresno, is just the second district in the state to allow concealed weapons at school buildings.

Even the New York Times has noticed this growing trend.

For all the outcry, though, hundreds of school districts across the country, most of them small and rural, already have. Officials…do not see the weaponry scattered through their schools as a political statement, but as a practical response to a potent threat. …At least 10 states allow staff members to possess or have access to a firearm on school grounds, according to an analysis by the Education Commission of the States. And local districts have varied their approach to arming educators — in Ohio, guns are kept in safes; in Texas, they can be worn in holsters or kept in safes within immediate reach. …In Texas, some public school systems have been quietly arming teachers and administrators for more than a decade.

This part of the story is very powerful.

Sidney City Schools was shaken by the slaughter of 20 first graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook in 2012. In the following days, Sheriff Lenhart presented Mr. Scheu with an equation: Every 17 seconds after the first shots are fired and the first 911 call is made, somebody gets hurt or dies. “Even in the best-case scenario, we could get here in four to five minutes,” Sheriff Lenhart said. “You do the math.” …Sheriff Lenhart…led what he calls a “layered” approach to school security and a “conservative” approach to arming teachers in the 3,400-student school district. The district spent about $70,000 on safes, bulletproof vests, cameras, guns, radios and ammunition…negligible costs for a school district with a $36 million budget… there’s a secret group of 40 educators — teachers, principals, custodians, secretaries — called a “first responder team” that can retrieve firearms in under a minute.

Bureaucrats weren’t happy about this development, but guess who is pleased?

The measures here met some opposition at first, from the town’s teachers union and police chief, who were concerned about gun safety. …Nicki New, the parent of three students in Sidney City Schools, said she felt safer dropping off her children knowing there were staff members equipped to respond to a parent’s worst nightmare.

Does that guarantee safety? Nope. Is it possible a teacher might shoot an innocent person in the stress and chaos of an active-shooter situation? Yup. There are no sure-fire, cost-free solutions to this horrible problem. It’s all about the policies that will improve the odds of good outcomes and reduce the likelihood of bad outcomes.

But here’s my bottom line. If my kids were still young and some miserable excuse for a human being came into one of their schools and started shooting, there’s no question that I would want some of the teachers to be armed.

Moreover, ask yourself whether a nutjob shooter is more likely or less likely to target a school with armed teachers. Like other mass shooters, they almost universally wreak their havoc in so-called gun-free zones.

Why? Because they know that simply means there are no good people with guns who can fight back.

I’ll close with one final observation. Teacher unions are controlled by leftist ideologues and claim that it’s a bad idea to allow armed teachers. They’re wrong, but the really preposterous part of their argument is that teachers shouldn’t be forced to carry guns.

But nobody is suggesting that. Instead, it’s an option for teachers who are prefer fighting to cowering in a corner waiting to be shot.

And lots of teachers don’t like the latter option, as indicated by this story in the Washington Examiner.

A sheriff in Ohio has already started the process of training school personnel on how to carry a concealed weapon, and predicted on Friday that hundreds would soon be trained and ready. …”While our gov still debates what 2 do we will have trained over 100 school personnel by Saturday,” he added. …Sheriff Jones said his offer to train teachers has been met with an overwhelming response. On Tuesday, he said he cut off requests at 300.

Makes me proud of America’s teachers. Their union stinks, but three cheers for the rank and file.

P.S. Since I’m a fiscal wonk, I rarely get to publicly pontificate on gun rights. Here’s my only other interview on the topic.

I sometimes feel guilty when I mock communism. Should I really be joking about an ideology that directly or indirectly caused 100 million deaths? Are laughs appropriate when there is ongoing torture, abuse, and starvation in communist hellholes such as North Korea and Cuba?

Seems on the same level as cracking jokes about the holocaust.

But I think there’s a difference. Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Workers Party is gone and every single educated and civilized person agrees we never want something similar to reemerge.

By contrast, there are still modern-day Marxists. They’re in the Antifa movement. There are Marxist professors with tenure on college campuses. I certainly don’t think it’s a dominant ideology on the left, but there are far too many Marxists and Marxist apologists.

Indeed, this is why I think there’s a big difference between liberal socialism and Marxist socialism.

Anyhow, I’ll continue to share anti-communism humor for the simple reason that we still need to discourage this evil ideology from gaining more adherents. And since people don’t like to be mocked and ridiculed, it’s good to use humor to make Marxism toxic.

We have three items today, starting with some very clever Twitter satire.

The millions of people who starved to death under Mao’s reign in China and during the oppression of the Ukraine certainly wouldn’t laugh at this joke, but I found it amusing.

Next, we have one of Fidel’s chief butchers. Vapid college kids may put Che Guevara on a t-shirt, but the rest of us should put his image in urinals.

I’ve saved the best for the last.

Here’s the communist version of monopoly, featuring many chances to go the gulag. But if you’re lucky, you get food rations!

My only quibble is that “pay luxury tax” is a real thing in the real Monopoly. Certainly seem that it also belongs in the commie version.

P.S. Previous collections of ant-communism mockery can be found here, here, and here.

There’s an easy way to judge whether countries have good economic policy or bad economic policy. Simply look at the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World and check out a nation’s absolute score as well as how it ranks relative to other nations.

The EFW report even allows readers to see how nations score in the five major policy areas the are used to produce the overall grade. These categories are:

  • Size of Government – A measure of the burden of taxes and spending.
  • Regulation – A measure of intervention and red tape.
  • Sound Money – A measure of monetary stability and financial freedom.
  • Freedom to Trade Internationally – A measure of liberty to engage in cross-border commerce.
  • Legal System and Property Rights – A measure of the quality of governance.

This last category sometimes doesn’t get enough attention. I sometimes refer to it as the rule-of-law measure. It’s basically a way of trying to estimate whether government is doing a good job with institutional public goods. The variables used include 1) Judicial independence, 2) Impartial courts, 3) Protection of property rights, 4) Military interference in rule of law and politics, 5) Integrity of the legal system, 6) Legal enforcement of contracts, 7) Regulatory costs of the sale of real property 8) Reliability of police, and 9) Business costs of crime.

Let’s look today at property rights. And I’m motivated to address this issue because of some horrifying news from South Africa. The Wall Street Journal opined on the issue this morning.

No country ever became rich through its government’s seizure of private property (exhibit A: the Soviet Union), but politicians in South Africa want to give it another go. That’s the disheartening news from Cape Town this week, where the National Assembly voted 241-83 on Tuesday to start a process to amend the constitution and allow land expropriation without compensation.

When I saw the headline and read the opening paragraph, my initial instinct was “so what?” After all, the whites probably stole the land from the blacks in the first place.

But then I found out that issue already has been handled.

Post-apartheid, the government bought land and offered compensation to South Africans whose property had been forcibly seized after 1913. Many of those claims are now settled… According to a 2016 Institute of Race Relations survey, less than 1% of South Africans think land is one of the country’s “serious unresolved problems.” Unemployment, public services, housing and crime rank far higher.

What’s actually happening is hard-core leftist populism. And it may turn South Africa into another Zimbabwe.

Julius Malema of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party…believes the state should be the “custodian” of the nation’s property… His party says the expropriation “should apply to all South Africans, black and white.”

Huh? Stealing property from everybody, regardless of race, while calling your party Economic Freedom Fighters?!?

I guess their idea of freedom means freedom to loot, which is sometimes called – rather perversely – positive liberty. But I shouldn’t laugh too hard because the United States actually had a president with the same twisted mindset.

In any event, the WSJ reminds us that this won’t produce good results.

The idea is likely to duplicate the awful experience of Zimbabwe during the Robert Mugabe era, a case study in the reality that bureaucrats can’t distribute resources more efficiently or productively than private markets. Mugabe’s confiscations spooked investors, the agricultural industry collapsed, and a once prosperous country became known for hyperinflation and poverty. …the ruling African National Congress is supporting the measure to distract attention from its own failed statist economic policies, which have produced subpar growth and denied opportunity to poor South Africans. …South Africa needs more capital, more investment and a favorable business environment. Seizing private property has produced misery everywhere it has been tried.

This is very troubling, especially since South Africa, compared to other nations on the continent, maintained semi-decent policies after dismantling the racist apartheid regime.

I wrote back in 2014 about South African economic policy and shared data about the nation’s EFW score. I was worried about the trend, and I’m now even more pessimistic.

Since today’s topic is property rights, let’s look at the global scores from the International Property Rights Index, which is published each year by the Property Rights Alliance.

As you can see, South Africa currently is in the second quintile. Best score of any African country, and above some European nations as well.

But if the South African constitution is changed and land expropriation is allowed, it’s a foregone conclusion that the country will suffer a precipitous fall in the rankings.

And here’s the map accompanying the study. The bottom line is that blue is good and purple/maroon (or whatever that color is…mauve?) is bad.

Switching to other nations, notice that all the Nordic nations are highly ranked. Indeed, they hold three of the top five slots. No wonder they score highly in that part of Economic Freedom of the World. Moreover, they also get very good scores for monetary policy, regulatory policy, and trade policy. Which explains why their economies get decent performance notwithstanding very bad fiscal policy.

And I’m certainly not surprised that New Zealand has the top spot.

The United States also does reasonably well. Not in the top 10, but at least in the top quintile.

P.S. In addition to moving in the wrong direction on property rights, South African politicians are making the tax code more destructive.

P.P.S. There is a country in sub-Saharan Africa to emulate.

I write constantly (some would say incessantly and annoyingly) about entitlement spending. And I occasionally write about discretionary spending.

It’s time to address the budget in a comprehensive fashion. Let’s look at five charts to put everything in context and to show how we got into our current mess.

Our first chart (based on Table 8.2 from the Office of Management and Budget’s Historical Tables) shows what has happened to major spending categories from 1962 to 2017. And all the data is in inflation-adjusted dollars (2009 benchmark) to accurately gauge how and why the burden of federal spending has grown.

This next chart shows the actual percentage increases in the major spending categories during this time period. The two big takeaways are that 1) the defense budget is not the cause of our long-run fiscal problems (though that doesn’t mean it should be exempt from cuts), and 2) entitlement expenditures have exploded.

And if you look at the data I shared from the Congressional Budget Office’s long-run forecast, you would see that these same trends will prevail for the next three decades.

In other words, our fiscal problems start with entitlements and end with entitlements.

If you want to look at the problem with a broader lens, this next chart shows that the problem is domestic spending (i.e., the combination of entitlement and domestic discretionary outlays).

If you’re pressed for time, you can stop reading now. You have the key information already.

But if you want to get a bit wonky, here are two other charts that help explain the intricacies of how budgets work (or don’t work!) in Washington.

The first thing to realize is that there are two budget processes in Washington. There are entitlement programs, which basically operate on autopilot. For all intents and purposes, the President and Congress could go on vacation for the next three years and programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare would mechanically continue. But there is also “discretionary” spending for the Pentagon and various domestic programs, all of which is determined through an annual “appropriations” process. Whenever you read about a government shutdown, it’s because politicians can’t agree on the level of funding for the discretionary part of the budget.

Now let’s get to my favorite part, which is figuring out how to limit the size of the federal leviathan.

This last chart shows that net interest spending is genuinely untouchable (unless one wants a Greek-style or Argentine-style default). The rest of the budget, however, can be addressed. Entitlements can be changed through “reconciliation”, which is a legislative process designed to minimize procedural roadblocks (in general, tax bills also use reconciliation legislation). And discretionary programs can be changed via annual appropriations legislation.

I should add that net interest may not be directly touchable, but interest payments can be reduced by controlling spending and thus reducing red ink.

Another thing to understand is that the budget caps (yes, the ones that were weakened in 2013, 2015, and earlier this year) only apply to discretionary spending.

And the most important thing to realize is that the only solution to our budget mess is genuine entitlement reform. Which is why we need constitutional (and comprehensive) limits on total outlays. Politicians will only do what’s right if every other option is off the table.

I sometimes sardonically comment about Democratic politicians playing Santa Claus, but Republicans can play that game as well.

Trump and his allies in Congress recently agreed on a big-spending budget deal that lavishes more money on both the Pentagon and domestic programs, and that was only a few weeks after agreeing on a tax reform plan that lower taxes (though only for nine years).

Even if I like part of what’s been happening, that kind of populist approach at some point becomes unsustainable. And when the D.C. swamp ultimately has to choose between lower taxes or higher spending, they’ll go with the latter and make things even worse by jacking up the tax burden.

My frustration is apparent in this recent interview.

And I’m not the only one who sees the long-run dangers.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Professor Edward Lazear of Stanford explores the economic damage of ever-expanding government.

The budget deal President Trump signed earlier this month will send federal spending and the deficit skyrocketing. On top of this spending explosion, the administration now plans to add a $500 billion infrastructure bill. …over time high spending necessitates high taxes, and high taxes reduce work and restrain growth. Economic trends in developed nations consistently show that low taxes and hard work are linked to robust growth.

He looks at some of the cross-country evidence.

European countries trail the U.S. in working hard and controlling taxes, and their economies have lagged in comparison. France has a tax-to-GDP ratio of about 44%, and in Italy it’s 43%. The French and Italians work almost 30% fewer hours per person than Americans. Notably, the French economy has flatlined since 2010 while Italy’s has contracted. …Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that a 1% increase in a nation’s tax rate is associated with a 1.4% decrease in hours worked per person in the working-age population.

Here’s the part that resonated with me. It’s excessive spending that ultimately is the problem.

…taxes are ultimately dictated by spending. Countries can borrow to finance short-run spending, but they must eventually levy taxes to repay the loans. Whether a government raises taxes now or later to pay for expenditures is a minor consideration compared with its decision to spend in the first place. …Higher spending goes hand in hand with higher taxes, higher deficits, fewer worked hours and less growth. The international comparisons suggest that a 4% increase in spending is associated with a decrease of roughly 0.5 percentage point in the average annual growth rate. Furthermore, it is spending—rather than the deficit—that correlates with sluggish growth. …Deficits often coincide with low growth because deficit increases are usually caused by heightened spending, not reduced taxes. Raising taxes, or keeping them high without lowering spending, stifles growth.

Heck, even the OECD has produced research on the negative impact of government spending on economic performance.

And this approach can lead to a downward spiral.

To the extent that government spending goes to programs such as welfare that directly discourage work, it has an additional growth-reducing effect. When fewer people work, those who do must be taxed even more to cover public expenses. These heightened taxes on labor discourage work in turn, pushing more potential workers toward government support.

In other words, if we stay on this path, we’ll eventually become Greece. Not a good idea, to put it mildly.

Since we’re on the topic, let’s look at some additional evidence. Three economists from Australia and the United Kingdom did a meta-analysis of studies on the relationship between government spending and economic growth. Here are some of the findings.

One of the most contentious issues in economics is whether ‘big government’ is good or bad for economic growth. …Theoretically, big government can have both negative and positive effects on growth. …In this study, we include all effect-size estimates reported by empirical studies that examine the direct effect of government size on growth.

Here’s what they found.

… findings indicate that: (i) total government expenditures have a medium and adverse effect on per-capita income growth in developed countries only; (ii) the effect of government consumption on per-capita income growth is also medium in developed countries and in developed and LDCs pooled together; and (iii) neither total expenditures nor government consumption has a significant effect on per-capita income growth in LDCs.

I’m not surprised that they didn’t find a strong link in poor nations. The data show that those countries are generally too mismanaged and corrupt to collect much revenue. Therefore, as I noted in my recent analysis of Indian economic policy, they can’t spend much.

What’s primarily holding back those countries is weak rule of law, excessive regulation, and protectionism.

But I’m digressing. The study also acknowledges the Rahn Curve, though they call it the Armey Curve.

…government size tends to have a negative effect on per-capita income growth as the level of income increases. This finding ties in with the Armey curve hypothesis (Armey, 1995), which posits an inverted-U relationship between government size and economic growth. The theoretical argument here is that government size may be characterised by decreasing returns. Another theoretical argument relates to the distortionary nature of taxes, which is minimal for low levels of taxation, but beyond a certain threshold, they grow rapidly and become extremely large.

Quite true.

Sadly, some people mistakenly conclude that if a little bit of government is associated with more prosperity, then a bloated public sector must be even better.

On a related note, Professor Alexander Salter dismisses the assertion (pushed by international bureaucracies) that big government is a pre-condition for prosperity. Here’s some of what he wrote.

Why are Western countries like the United States and Germany so much richer today than other countries around the world? …One explanation for the success of the West is, in a word, liberty. Over the last few hundred years, classical liberal ideas such as the rights of man and the rule of lawput constraints on European governments’ power, which resulted in a strong protection of private property rights. This resulted in meteoric economic growth, which delivered the modern cornucopia of wealth. …Free countries get rich; unfree countries stay poor.

But there’s a competing theory.

…another explanation — state capacity…is the idea that economic development requires strong, centralized states to uphold the rule of law and provide crucial public goods. …The state capacity literature in economics…places heavy emphasis on a single, strong, central legal authority. In this framework, the fractured and decentralized legal authorities in medieval and early modern Europe are now seen as antithetical to economic development.

Salter is skeptical of the second theory.

…it is undeniable that economic growth in the West did not take off until the rise of modern nation-states. … While governance institutions obviously began centralizing at the beginning of the modern era, …that’s insufficient as a causal explanation. …the state capacity literature has a hard time dealing with a very troubling counterexample: the totalitarian states of the 20th century: like the USSR and China. These states had plenty of capacity, as evidenced by their ability to murder millions of their own citizens… Needless to say, these kinds of things aren’t conducive to economic development.

So he concludes that the first theory must be the answer, at least in part.

…whatever is “doing the work” of promoting economic growth, it is upstream of the creation of states. …State capacity may or may not be a valuable steppingstone to an explanation, but it is not itself an explanation that social scientists should accept. …it seems the old hypothesis — that the big ideas of classical liberalism created Western economic growth — is worth another look!

My bottom line, for what it’s worth, is that the classical-liberalism approach is the necessary condition, but that doesn’t automatically make it a sufficient condition.

In a column last year on the emerging micro-state of Liberland, I tried to square the circle. Here’s some of what I wrote after looking at the literature on state capacity.

…the key to prosperity is having a state strong enough and effective enough to provide rule of law, but to somehow constrain that state so that it doesn’t venture into destructive redistribution policies. This is why competition between governments played a key role in the economic development of the western world. When governments have to worry about productive resources escaping, that forces them to focus on things that help an economy (i.e., rule of law) while minimizing the policies that hinder prosperity (i.e., high taxes and spending). …America’s Founding Fathers dealt with the same issues… Their solution was a constitution that explicitly limited the size and scope of the federal government. …that system worked reasonably well until the 1930s.

I find this issue fascinating, but I suspect most people are more concerned about the real-world consequences rather than the theoretical underpinnings.

So I’ll end on a pessimistic note by observing that we normally get bad fiscal policy from Democrats and worse fiscal policy from Republicans (Reagan being the only modern-era exception).

I periodically fret that individualism is dying in the United States and that Americans are morphing into handout-loving Europeans.

Well, the spirit of 1776 is not completely dead. There are still some Americans who stand up against the greedy, grasping, and oppressive state. I heartily applaud the guy in this video (and not just for personal reasons) for doing what I have thought about many times.

Sonny Bunch, writing for the Washington Free-Beacon, applauds pro-liberty vandalism.

Obviously we shouldn’t cheer all those who destroy the state’s property or all those who circumvent efforts to enforce the law. But some laws are unjust. Some of the state’s property serves to oppress. Sometimes you need a hero. …some laws are good and just. Prohibitions against rape and murder, for instance. We need them. Without laws we are savages. But speed cameras are not included in the “good and just” category. They are revenue-producing monstrosities designed to suck people of their money in order to fill the coffers of bureaucrats… If the corruptocrats in D.C. try to imprison this hero, I promise to lead the resistance in an effort to spirit him southward. We shall protect you, brother. You are one of us now.

I fully concur.

Moreover, this apparently wasn’t a one-off gesture. Washingtonian reports that numerous cameras were knocked out of action.

An unidentified man suspected of smashing 11 of the District’s traffic cameras that produce tickets for drivers who speed or run red lights is being celebrated by some as a hero after DC Police released footage of one camera’s violent demise. Police say that the cameras, located mostly around Northeast DC, were reported to be malfunctioning last Tuesday. When officers checked out the locations, they found the cameras damaged as a result of vandalism.

By the way, I have no objection to cameras that nail jerks who blow through an intersection 3 seconds after a light has turned red. Those are people who risk innocent lives.

But the cameras I’ve noticed are set in spots where the speed limit is set absurdly low. In other words, they are the modern-day version of the speed traps that used to characterize corrupt small towns.

Some people object to speed cameras but think red-light cameras are okay. As already noted, I agree with their safety concerns, but that’s not how government operates.

They’ve turned red-light cameras into a scam, as explained in this Reason video. Greedy politicians actually do dangerous things like shortening the yellow light simply because they want to produce more cash. No wonder they actually cause accidents!

Moreover, Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal explained several years ago how cameras are first and foremost set up to generate money, not to promote safety.

And here’s something else that irritates me. I’m guessing that the cops will put a lot of time and energy into tracking down the guy who knocked the cameras out of commission. Why? Because this is an issue that generates revenue for politicians.

Which raises the bigger issue of whether law enforcement resources are wisely allocated. We saw in Florida that local cops ignored dozens of calls and warnings about the nutjob loser who killed the students in Parkland, Florida (the FBI also dropped the ball as well since they were tipped off). I wonder how often those same cops were busy operating speed traps, engaging in asset forfeiture, and otherwise shaking down residents for cash?

The good news is that the heroic vandal who has gone after D.C.’s cameras is just the tip of the iceberg. Arizona residents basically killed a revenue-camera scam with civil disobedience. And Houston voters voted to shut down the shakedown being operated by their city government.

This spirit of resistance should be nationwide.

Here are three closing observations.

  1. Let’s hope this guy doesn’t get caught.
  2. Let’s also hope that other motorists follow his example and destroy other speed-trap cameras.
  3. Finally, let’s hope that a jury will engage in nullification if the guy is caught.

P.S. There’s also a group of people in England who are acting to thwart greedy, grasping government, albeit in a less revolutionary way.

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