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I don’t like election years because the policy debate tends to revolve around the various proposals put forth by candidates. And since those ideas generally don’t make much sense, it’s a frustrating period.

But the silver lining to that dark cloud is that it does create opportunities to comment on what the candidates are saying…and hopefully steer the discussion in a more productive direction.

For instance, I just authored a column about Trump’s plan for Time. I pointed out what’s good (such as a lower corporate rate and death tax repeal), what’s bad (pork-barrel infrastructure and a whiff on entitlement reform), and what’s ugly (protectionism and a new loophole for childcare costs).

But my biggest complaint, which was part of the “bad” section, dealt with Trump’s failure to produce any plan to control the size of government. And echoing a point I made late last year, a big tax cut simply isn’t viable unless it’s accompanied by a credible proposal to rein in Leviathan.

It will be very hard to have a tax cut of any size unless Trump also has some sort of plan to limit the growth of government spending. Unfortunately, outside of vague rhetoric about “waste, fraud, and abuse,” it’s unclear that he is serious about the spending side of the fiscal ledger.

I also made similar points in this CNBC interview, which covered all of the main features of Trump’s economic agenda.

You’ll notice in the interview that I said Trump should propose some sort of spending cap.

Well, maybe my wish will be granted. A story published by Bloomberg looks at Trump’s flirtation with a specific form of spending cap known as the Penny Plan.

Donald Trump on Tuesday revisited a budget-trimming measure called the “penny plan” in response to fresh questions about how he’d finance his agenda. “Well, we’re cutting back, I mean whether it’s a penny plan—which is something that, as simple as it is, I’ve always sort of liked,” the Republican presidential nominee said on Fox Business… Trump remained short on further specifics about how he’d pay for his proposals.

But let’s say he goes beyond sympathetic comments and actually embraces the Penny Plan. The article gives some detail of the proposal.

In variations of the “penny plan,” …one cent is cut per dollar in the federal budget over a period of six or seven years and a spending cap is imposed until the budget is balanced. Different programs can see greater than 1 percent cuts—or no cuts—as long as overall spending is reduced by 1 percent each year… The math generally works out, the nonpartisan fact-checking website PolitiFact found in 2012 when analyzing a Republican lawmaker’s version of the proposal.

And for further detail, Justin Bogie and Romina Boccia have a column in the Daily Signal.

Last week, a House Budget Committee member, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and the Senate Budget Committee chairman, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introduced the “Penny Plan,” which would implement an aggregate spending cap beginning in 2017 and “would cut a single penny from every dollar the federal government spends.” Under this plan, for fiscal year 2017, the cap would be $3.6 trillion for total noninterest outlays minus 1 percent. For each subsequent year through 2021, outlays would be capped at the previous year’s level (not including net interest payments) minus 1 percent.

Wow, this is hard-core spending restraint.

I have written favorably about the Penny Plan, but I normally promote the Swiss Debt Brake, which is a spending cap that has allowed government spending to grow each year by an average of 2 percent.

I must be a big-government squish!

Here are more details on the Penny Plan. Most important, it is enforced by sequestration.

…spending reductions necessary to arrive at the capped level would be enforced by sequestration. Unlike the current form of sequestration applied to the Budget Control Act spending caps, the Penny Plan would not exempt any of the programs listed under the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, except payments for net interest. …Spending caps, enforced with automatic cuts, serve to motivate Congress to prioritize among competing demands for resources. Designed properly, caps can curb excessive spending growth over the long run.

The bottom line, according to Bogie and Boccia, is that a sequester-enforced spending cap is critical for good long-run fiscal policy.

The Penny Plan takes a step toward consideration of a statutory spending cap to limit the growth in government and improve the nation’s fiscal course. Congress must put the country’s budget on a sustainable path to secure prosperity for current and future generations, and a spending cap is one important tool to get there.

My bottom line is similar. I’m a huge fan of spending caps (which have a much better track record than balanced budget requirements).

The key is to make sure that government grows slower than the private sector. And the more spending is restrained (especially if it’s actually cut 1 percent each year), the quicker and better the results.

There’s lots of evidence of nations getting good results when they cap spending. I don’t know if Donald Trump is serious about a spending cap (or whether he’s serious about the policies needed to make sure overall spending stays within a cap), but I know it’s the right policy.

Okay, I’ll admit the title of this post is an exaggeration. There are lots of things you should know – most bad, though some good – about international bureaucracies.

That being said, regular readers know that I get very frustrated with the statist policy agendas of both the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I especially object to the way these international bureaucracies are cheerleaders for bigger government and higher tax burdens. Even though they ostensibly exist to promote greater levels of prosperity!

I’ve written on these issues, ad nauseam, but perhaps dry analysis is only part of what’s needed to get the message across. Maybe some clever image can explain the issue to a broader audience (something I’ve done before with cartoons and images about the rise and fall of the welfare state, the misguided fixation on income distribution, etc).

It took awhile, but I eventually came up with (what I hope is) a clever idea. And when a former Cato intern with artistic skill, Jonathan Babington-Heina, agreed to do me a favor and take the concept in my head and translate it to paper, here are the results.

I think this hits the nail on the head.

Excessive government is the main problem plaguing the global economy. But the international bureaucracies, for all intents and purposes, represent governments. The bureaucrats at the IMF and OECD need to please politicians in order to continue enjoying their lavish budgets and exceedingly generous tax-free salaries.

So when there is some sort of problem in the global economy, they are reluctant to advocate for smaller government and lower tax burdens (even if the economists working for these organizations sometimes produce very good research on fiscal issues).

Instead, when it’s time to make recommendations, they push an agenda that is good for the political elite but bad for the private sector. Which is exactly what I’m trying to demonstrate in the cartoon,

But let’s not merely rely on a cartoon to make this point.

In an article for the American Enterprise Institute, Glenn Hubbard and Kevin Hassett discuss the intersection of economic policy and international bureaucracies. They start by explaining that these organizations would promote jurisdictional competition if they were motivated by a desire to boost growth.

…economic theory has a lot to say about how they should function. …they haven’t achieved all of their promise, primarily because those bodies have yet to fully understand the role they need to play in the interconnected world. The key insight harkens back to a dusty economics seminar room in the early 1950s, when University of Michigan graduate student Charles Tiebout…said that governments could be driven to efficient behavior if people can move. …This observation, which Tiebout developed fully in a landmark paper published in 1956, led to an explosion of work by economists, much of it focusing on…many bits of evidence that confirm the important beneficial effects that can emerge when governments compete. …A flatter world should make the competition between national governments increasingly like the competition between smaller communities. Such competition can provide the world’s citizens with an insurance policy against the out-of-control growth of massive and inefficient bureaucracies.

Using the European Union as an example, Hubbard and Hassett point out the grim results when bureaucracies focus on policies designed to boost the power of governments rather than the vitality of the market.

…as Brexit indicates, the EU has not successfully focused solely on the potentially positive role it could play. Indeed, as often as not, one can view the actions of the EU government as being an attempt to form a cartel to harmonize policies across member states, and standing in the way of, rather than advancing, competition. …an EU that acts as a competition-stifling cartel will grow increasingly unpopular, and more countries will leave it.

They close with a very useful suggestion.

If the EU instead focuses on maximizing mobility and enhancing the competition between states, allowing the countries to compete on regulation, taxation, and in other policy areas, then the union will become a populist’s dream and the best economic friend of its citizens.

Unfortunately, I fully expect this sage advice to fall upon deaf ears. The crowd in Brussels knows that their comfortable existence is dependent on pleasing politicians from national governments.

And the same is true for the bureaucrats at the IMF and OECD.

The only practical solution is to have national governments cut off funding so the bureaucracies disappear.

But, to cite just one example, why would Obama allow that when these bureaucracies go through a lot of effort to promote his statist agenda?

It’s no secret that I’m very leery of Donald Trump. Simply stated, I don’t sense any genuine commitment to smaller government and free markets.

In addition to fretting about his overall approach on the big issue of liberty vs. government, I’ve specifically criticized his views on protectionism, on bailouts, on entitlements, monetary policy, tax policy, and (just yesterday) distorting tax loopholes.

But skepticism isn’t the same as bias.

I commend Trump when he says something accurate or when he proposes good policies, and I defend him when he’s unfairly attacked.

With this in mind, it’s time to point out something very accurate in his big speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club.

He issued a strong and effective indictment of Obamanomics.

…let’s look at what the Obama-Clinton policies have done nationally. Their policies produced 1.2% growth, the weakest so-called recovery since the Great Depression… There are now 94.3 million Americans outside the labor force. …We have the lowest labor force participation rates in four decades. …Meanwhile, American households are earning more than $4,000 less today than they were sixteen years ago.

Trump’s basically right. No matter how you slice and dice the data, Obamanomics (which he refers to as Obama-Clinton policies for obvious reasons) clearly hasn’t worked.

We’ve had the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. Labor-force participation is dismal. And median household income has lagged.

I touched on some of those issues in this discussion on Fox Business News.

But you don’t have to believe me.

Former Senator Phil Gramm and former Senate staffer Mike Solon dissect Obamanomics in a column for the Wall Street Journal.

When President Obama took office during the 2007-09 recession no president was ever better positioned to lead a strong recovery. With an impressive electoral mandate, Mr. Obama enjoyed a filibuster-proof Senate supermajority, a 79-vote House majority and a nation ready for change. History too seemed to smile on Mr. Obama’s endeavor. The recession ended just six months into his first term and, with the sole exception of the Great Depression, every severe recession since 1870—when reliable annual data were first collected—had been followed by a vigorous recovery.

They point out that President Obama used the opportunity to push Keynesian fiscal and monetary policy.

No resources were spared. The Obama $836 billion stimulus exceeded all previous U.S. economic stimulus programs combined. The Treasury borrowed over $1 trillion a year for four years in a row, according to Office of Management and Budget data. The Federal Reserve injected $3 trillion of new reserves into the banking system, generating record-low interest rates.

And the institutions with Keynesian models predicted (what a surprise) that we would get good results.

In August 2010, the Congressional Budget Office projected 3.3% average real GDP growth for 2010-15. The Federal Reserve forecast growth as strong as 3.7%. Mr. Obama’s own Office of Management and Budget expected peak growth of 4.5%.

Unfortunately, these models were wrong. Wildly wrong.

…not once in the last seven years has annual economic growth ever reached 3%. Average real per capita income grew five times faster during the Clinton recovery, seven times faster during the Reagan recovery and 10 times faster during the Kennedy/Johnson recovery than during the Obama recovery.

Gramm and Solon point out that there’s only been one other “recovery” remotely similar to the one we’re having now.

…in only two recoveries did government impose economic policies radically different from the policies pursued in all the other recoveries—different than traditional policy but similar to each other— FDR’s Great Depression and Mr. Obama’s Great Recession. …When Mr. Obama replicated some of FDR’s “progressive” policies, history was there to reteach its lessons.

Amen.

The so-called New Deal was a statist disaster than lengthened and deepened the Great Depression.

Indeed, it was only a Great Depression because of awful policies that began under Herbert Hoover and then continued under Franklin Roosevelt.

Obama wanted the second coming of the New Deal.

The good news is that he wasn’t able to impose nearly as much bad policy as Hoover and FDR.

The bad news is that he imposed enough bad policy to produce an abnormally weak recovery.

Which leads to the lesson that everyone should learn.

The dominant lesson of the Great Depression and the Great Recession is that when government overspends, overtaxes and over-regulates, economic freedom is suppressed and economic growth vanishes.

Sadly, I don’t think either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton understand this lesson.

When I wrote last year about “Hillary Clinton’s Plan to Increase the Cost of College,” I explained that colleges and universities boost tuition when the government hands out more subsidies to students, so the main effect is to make higher education even more expensive.

Today, let’s look at Donald Trump’s plan to increase the cost of childcare. And this is a very easy column to write because the economic consequences of Trump’s plan to make childcare expenses deductible are the same as Hillary’s misguided plan to subsidize tuition.

Let’s start with a caveat. We don’t know a lot about Trump’s new scheme. All we know is that he said in his big speech to the Economic Club of Detroit earlier today that “My plan will also help reduce the cost of childcare by allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes.”

From an economic perspective, Trump’s statement doesn’t make sense. At best, creating a big deduction for childcare expenses simply creates the illusion of lower cost because of the tax loophole.

But that’s the best-case scenario. The actual result will be to increase costs and make the tax code even more convoluted.

When income is shielded from taxation, either based on how it is earned or how it is spent, that creates an incentive for taxpayers to make economically irrational decisions solely to benefit from the special tax preference. And just as the healthcare exclusion has led to ever-higher prices and ever-greater levels of bureaucracy and inefficiency in the health sector, a deduction for childcare expenses will have similar effects in that sector of the economy. Providers will boost prices to capture much of the benefit (much as colleges have jacked up tuition to capture the value of government-provided loans and grants).

Creating a new distortion in the tax code also will have a discriminatory impact. The tax loophole will only have value for parents who use outside care for their kids. Parents who care for their own kids get nothing. Moreover, the new loophole also won’t have any value for the millions of people who don’t earn enough to have any tax liability. Yet these people will be hurt when childcare providers increase their prices to capture the value of the deduction for parents with higher levels of income.

And that will probably lead politicians to make the tax loophole “refundable,” which is a wonky way of saying that people with low levels of income will get handouts from the government (in other words, “refundable” tax breaks are actually government spending laundered through the tax code, just like much of the EITC).

So we’d almost certainly be looking at a typical example of Mitchell’s Law, where one bad policy leads to another bad policy.

And when the dust settles, government is bigger, the tax code is more convoluted, and the visible foot of government crowds out another slice of the invisible hand of the market.

Remember, bigger government and more intervention is a mistake when Republicans do it, and it’s a mistake when Democrats do it.

I want fewer favors in the tax code, not more. I want rationality to guide economic decisions, not distorting tax preferences. Most of all, I don’t want politicians to have more power over the economy. I wish Trump listened to Ben Carson when putting together a tax plan.

My biggest complaint about government employees is that they work for bureaucracies that shouldn’t exist. As far as I’m concerned, they may be the most wonderful, conscientious, and hard-working people in the world, but we shouldn’t have a Department of Housing and Urban Development or a Department of Agriculture, so these folks – by definition – are getting dramatically overpaid (i.e., anything about $0).

My second main complaint is that bureaucrats are overpaid relative to their counterparts in the private sector. About twice as much when you include the value of both wages and benefits.

The unions representing bureaucrats sometimes try to argue that this isn’t true, but I always point out the data on voluntary quit rates, which are much higher in the private sector compared to government. Needless to say, this is because folks who get cushy government jobs know they’ve won the employment lottery and have very little desire to switch to the private sector (where, as Dan Aykroyd explained in Ghostbusters, “they expect results”).

A third complaint is that politicians can’t resist catering to the unions that represent government employees, which means not only excessive compensation but also absurdly inefficient rules designed to protect loafers, scroungers, and con artists in the bureaucracy.

Let’s review the example of Queon Jackson. As reported by the Boston Globe, he’s pocketed a lot of money while doing absolutely nothing.

A former acting headmaster in Boston, placed on paid leave more than three years ago amid an investigation into credit card fraud, collected $375,000 in pay during his absence.

In the private sector, employment often is a tenuous situation. You can be fired “at will,” which means for just about any reason.

But unions strike deals with compliant politicians (from the perspective of elected officials, bureaucrats are a special interest group with lots of voters and lots of campaign cash) to provide so-called employment-protection rules for government employees.

And these rules make it very difficult and very expensive to deal with bad bureaucrats.

And it seems that Mr. Jackson meets that definition.

Jackson’s case reflects the thorny issues school systems face when union-protected employees are under federal investigations that drag on for months or years without charges being filed. Jackson, who was classified as an assistant director at the time of his paid leave, is a member of the school system’s union for midlevel school administrators, and the school system would have had to establish just cause to fire him. Thomas Scott, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said…The choice…comes down to this: Either put the person in a low-profile desk job and face a potential public backlash, or fire the employee and run the risk of a lawsuit.

Here’s why Jackson got in trouble.

The school system originally placed Jackson on leave in February 2013, after learning the Secret Service was investigating him for an alleged role in fraudulently obtaining credit and then not paying the bills. But Jackson had contended that he was victimized by someone who stole his identity in an attempt to buy a car.

Though he already had a shady background when he first entered the bureaucracy.

In 2000, a few months before the district hired Jackson as a teacher, he admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty in a drug case and a domestic abuse case that required him to take an anger-management course. That type of plea is commonly used by defendants to avoid a criminal record. …Jackson, who was a state social worker at the time, was charged with possession with intent to distribute counterfeit drugs.

Returning to the current situation, it’s not clear from the story, but I gather investigators from the Secret Service didn’t have enough evidence to nail Jackson, so the school system had no choice but to not only keep him on the payroll, but also to give him a new position.

Now Queon Jackson…is back. …The school system quietly cleared Jackson to return to work on May 9 and gave him a desk job at the agency’s headquarters and the title “special assistant.” The move ended a paid leave of three years and three months, during which he did no work for the school system. …He is receiving an annual salary of about $120,000, equivalent to what he made as a school administrator.

Though he apparently hasn’t been a model employee since his return.

Jackson has been accumulating many absences over the last two months, missing at least 16 days, including seven without pay, according to a Globe review of payroll records. The tally doesn’t include time he took off in mid-July.

Oh, by the way, Jackson is just one of many bureaucrats who get this strange form of paid vacation.

Boston’s school system currently has 34 employees on paid leave.

I shudder to think what the nationwide number looks like, but apparently there are tens of thousand federal bureaucrats getting paid leave. You can see a couple of strange examples by clicking here and here.

The bottom line is that Mr. Jackson isn’t special. Lots of bureaucrats get to scam the system because union contracts protect dodgy employees. So he doesn’t merit membership in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame, but it’s still outrageous that taxpayers in the productive sector pay extra tax to subsidize this nonsense.

If you like humor about overpaid government employees (and you’re paying for it, so you may as well get some enjoyment), here’s a great top-10 list from Letterman and here’s a cartoon about the relationship of bureaucrats and taxpayers. Looking through my archives, I also found a joke about an Indian training for a government job, a slide show on how bureaucracies operate, a cartoon strip on bureaucratic incentives, a story on what would happen if Noah tried to build an Ark today, and these two posters. There’s also a good one-liner from Craig Ferguson, along with this political cartoons from  Henry Payne.

When I was young and innocent, I thought that giving welfare handouts to advocates of terrorism was the most perverse and disgusting way to abuse taxpayers.

Now that I’m old and jaded, I’ve learned that governments are so masochistically stupid that they routinely give taxpayer-financed goodies directly to the people who actually engage in terrorist attacks.

The U.K. government provided lots of handouts to Jihadi John, the ISIS psychopath who likes to sever heads.

The French government generously subsidized Mohammed Merah, the thug who executed a little girl.

The Danish and Austrian governments give welfare payments that get used to finance ISIS fighters going to Syria.

And there are plenty of other examples.

So should any of us be surprised to learn that the human scum who planned and executed the recent terror attacks in France and Belgium were mooching off taxpayers as well?

The Wall Street Journal has a very disturbing story revealing the degree to which Islamo-terrorists in Europe relied on welfare handouts as they plotted and schemed to brutally murder innocent people.

Belgian financial investigators looking into recent terror plots have discovered a disturbing trend: Some of the suspects were collecting welfare benefits until shortly before they carried out their attacks. At least five of the alleged plotters in the Paris and Brussels terror attacks partly financed themselves with payments from Belgium’s generous social-welfare system, authorities have concluded. In total they received more than €50,000, or about $56,000 at today’s rate. The main surviving Paris suspect, Salah Abdeslam, collected unemployment benefits until three weeks before the November attacks—€19,000 in all, according to people familiar with the case. At the time, he was manager and part-owner of a bar, which Belgian officials say should have made him ineligible. Many of the participants in a disrupted Belgian terror plot also had been on the dole, according to the judge who sentenced more than a dozen people in the so-called Verviers cell last month.

Unsurprisingly, government officials seem incapable of drawing the right conclusion.

Instead, we get navel-gazing exercises.

The revelations raise a difficult conundrum for Europe. On one hand, the modern welfare state is a primary tool for combating poverty as well as integrating immigrants. On the other, officials are working hard to find and stop potential sources of revenue for those bent on committing terrorist atrocities.

I’m tempted to respond with a word describing the manure of male bovines.

Instead, I’ll simply note that the welfare state is a system that subsidizes and exacerbates poverty, while also hindering assimilation.

And, as the enemies of modernity have learned, it’s a handy way to finance terrorism.

Islamic State itself suggested welfare benefits as a financing source, in a 2015 manual called “How to Survive in the West: A Mujahid Guide.” In a section headed “Easy Money Ideas,” the manual suggested “if you can claim extra benefits from a government, then do so.”

Here are some more details

In Belgium, people exiting prison often receive social benefits to help reintegrate into society. This was the case with Khalid el-Bakraoui,who served two years in prison before blowing himself up in the Maelbeek subway station in Brussels in March. Bakraoui was given jobless benefits in early 2014, after a stint in prison for armed robbery and carjacking. In total, he collected about €25,000 in unemployment, medical and other benefits, according to one of the people familiar with the case. He wasn’t shut off until last December, when Belgian authorities issued a warrant for him in connection with the Paris attacks.

Sounds like Bakraoui used his handouts to reintegrate into terrorism.

Investor’s Business Daily also weighed in on this issue, pointing out that the welfare state in Europe subsidizes terrorists.

Belgium’s government has been extremely generous toward its Muslim population. Most of its welfare goes to Muslims, and it even subsidizes their mosques and imams. Many of these young Muslim men who supposedly can’t find gainful employment don’t want to work. Why would they, when welfare checks are normally 70% to 80% of their income?

The editorial notes that generous handouts hinder assimilation.

Far from being mistreated, Belgian Muslims are one of the most pampered minorities in Western history. Lest it offend its burgeoning Muslim population, Belgium has “de-Christianized” its Christian holidays. The holiday previously known as All Saints Day is now referred to as Autumn Leave, Christmas Vacation is now Winter Vacation, Lenten Vacation is now Rest and Relaxation Leave and Easter is now Spring Vacation…  .Heavily subsidized by Belgium’s overgenerous welfare system, North African immigrants have little incentive to integrate. Instead they turn inward, creating Islamic no-go zones divorced from and hostile to Western society.

The problem may be especially acute in Belgium, but it’s a problem all across Europe.

…welfare is abused by Muslims across Europe — some 80% of Muslim immigrants to Europe are on the dole, and more than half are “economically inactive.” Muslims claim disability more than any other group. In the EU capital of Belgium, as well as neighboring Netherlands, Muslims are roughly 5% of the population yet consume 40% to 60% of the welfare budget. Belgium spends more on unemployment benefits than any other country outside Denmark. European society isn’t oppressing Muslim immigrants. Far from it. It’s coddling them

If those numbers are anywhere close to accurate, the problem of welfare-subsidized terrorism is going to get worse before it gets better. If it ever gets better.

By the way, this also is a problem in the United States.

The low-life losers who bombed the Boston Marathon got handouts.

And the State Department actually has a program that takes “refugees” from countries with terrorism problems and signs them up for government dependency.

P.S. The U.K. government has decided that giving welfare to jihadists isn’t enough. It now sometimes hires them and makes them part of the law enforcement bureaucracy.

P.P.S. Though that’s not as bad as the Danish government, which persecutes people who fight back against attackers.

P.P.P.S. But officials representing the bloated Belgian government surely deserves some sort of prize for claiming that the nation’s government is too small to fight terrorism. Especially when that government is famously incompetent in thwarting obvious terror suspects.

P.P.P.P.S. Unsurprisingly, folks in Texas are smarter than Europeans about responding to terror attacks.

I thought it was a remarkable development last year when a columnist from the New York Times reported that supposedly pro-feminist policies actually backfire against women.

Maybe this would help readers recognize that there are adverse unintended consequences of government intervention. Bastiat would be very happy!

Now we have a new example from the academic world. Two economists, one from the University of Virginia and the other from the University of Oregon, conducted a study of “ban the box” laws that restrict employers from figuring out whether job applicants have criminal records.

The purpose of these laws almost surely is noble. Everyone presumably would like to help ex-convicts mainstream back into society. Especially since many of them are minorities who may already face discrimination and other challenges (and maybe they were thrown in jail for silly reasons, such as draconian drug laws).

So it sounds very compassionate to impose these laws, right? Who could object to helping ex-cons get in the door for interviews, at which point they can hopefully show potential employers that they have value.

Well, the study shows that these laws hurt more than they help. Here are some passages from the abstract.

Jurisdictions across the United States have adopted “ban the box” (BTB) policies preventing employers from conducting criminal background checks until late in the job application process. Their goal is to improve employment outcomes for those with criminal records, with a secondary goal of reducing racial disparities in employment. However, removing information about job applicants’ criminal histories could lead employers who don’t want to hire ex-offenders to try to guess who the ex-offenders are, and avoid interviewing them. In particular, employers might avoid interviewing young, low-skilled, black and Hispanic men when criminal records are not observable. This would worsen employment outcomes for these already-disadvantaged groups. In this paper, we use variation in the details and timing of state and local BTB policies to test BTB’s effects on employment for various demographic groups. We find that BTB policies decrease the probability of being employed by 3.4 percentage points (5.1%) for young, low-skilled black men, and by 2.3 percentage points (2.9%) for young, low-skilled Hispanic men. These findings support the hypothesis that when an applicant’s criminal history is unavailable, employers statistically discriminate against demographic groups that are likely to have a criminal record.

The most relevant bit of info from the abstract is that these laws reduce employment for young black men and young Hispanic men with low skill levels (and don’t forget these are groups that already are disadvantaged thanks to minimum wage laws).

And if you dig into the study, you can learn more about what’s really happening.

Figure 2 shows a local linear graph of the residuals from equation 1, for young, low-skilled black men. Time is recentered so that 0 is the effective date of a jurisdiction’s BTB policy. …Based on the pre-BTB period, the identifying assumption that BTB and non-BTB jurisdictions would evolve similarly in the absence of BTB…looks reasonable: the two lines follow each other closely before the date-zero threshold. After that date, however, the lines quickly diverge, with employment outcomes worsening in BTB-adopting places and improving slightly elsewhere. …it appears that BTB dramatically hurt employment outcomes for this group.

And here’s the accompany chart from the study.

Here’s another section that I found fascinating.

The laws restricting criminal background checks lead to more discrimination all across the nation, but the least amount of additional discrimination against African-Americans is in the south.

Given differences in racial composition and labor markets across the country, we might expect BTB to have different effects in different places. …young, low-skilled white men are not affected by BTB anywhere. However, the employment probabilities of their black peers are significantly reduced in three regions: the Northeast (7.4%), the Midwest (7.5%), and the West (8.8%). The negative effect on black men is much smaller (2.3%) and not statistically significant in the South… These results suggest that the larger the black or Hispanic population, the less likely employers are to use race/ethnicity as a proxy for criminality.

For what it’s worth, I also wonder if the South, on a person-to-person basis, actually is less racist.

Here’s another interesting – albeit discouraging – bit of information from the study. When the economy is weak, these laws are even more damaging for minorities.

…at all unemployment rates the effect of BTB on white men is near-zero and statistically insignificant. …the effect on black men…is more negative when unemployment is high, but now the estimated total effects are relatively large and negative even at low unemployment. The negative total effect becomes statistically significant at 7% or 8% unemployment, and at 9% unemployment the total effect of BTB on black men is over 3.6 percentage points and statistically significant.

The most logical interpretation of these results it that there’s more discrimination when employers have a buyer’s market, meaning lots of potential job applicants for each position.

Here’s the most depressing bit of data from the study. The effects of these laws last a long time.

BTB’s effect on black men is large and grows over time. BTB reduces employment for black men by 2.7 percentage points (not statistically significant) during the first year, 5.1 percentage points (p < 0.01) during the second year, 4.1 percentage points (p < 0.10) during the third year, 8.4 percentage points (p < 0.01) during the fourth year, and an average of 7.7 percentage points (p < 0.05) during the fifth and later years. This suggests that BTB has a permanent effect on employment for black men.

And here’s the man-bites-dog conclusion. Blacks and other minorities are hurt by the laws, so guess which group benefits?

BTB has a positive effect on white men with no high school diploma. On average, white men in this group are 3.9 percentage points (5.6%) more likely to be employed after BTB than before.

That may be the perfect (in a bad way) example of government in action: Good intentions leading to bad results. Just like the War on Drugs. And the War on Poverty. And licensing laws. And antitrust laws. And…oh, never mind. You get the idea.

No wonder this is my favorite poster.

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