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Posts Tagged ‘Administrative State’

Everyone likes the idea of “state capacity,” at least when it means competent, honest government rather than dysfunctional, corrupt government.

But the consensus disappears when some folks argue that you achieve this goal by making government bigger.

It’s especially disappointing when international bureaucracies such as the OECD and IMF argue that poor countries somehow can become richer by imposing higher taxes and increasing the burden of government spending.

At the risk of understatement, that’s nonsense.

But this is not just an issue in developing nations.

In his New York Times column, Ezra Klein worries that his fellow leftists do not pay enough attention to what he perceives to be insufficient state capacity in the United States.

He starts by citing one of Biden’s top economists.

You can’t transform the economy without first transforming the government. …Brian Deese, the director of Biden’s National Economic Council, gave an important speech on the need for “a modern American industrial strategy.” …For decades, the idea has been disreputable, even among Democrats. You don’t want government “picking winners and losers,” as the adage goes. …But societies have richer, more complex goals. …So I won’t say markets failed. We failed. …Deese, in his speech to the Economic Club of New York., declared the debate over: “The question should move from ‘Why should we pursue an industrial strategy?’ to ‘How do we pursue one successfully?’”

He then describes how government fails.

…we need a liberalism that builds. Scratch the failures of modern Democratic governance, particularly in blue states, and you’ll typically find that the market didn’t provide what we needed, and government either didn’t step in, or made the problem worse through neglect or overregulation. …At the national level, much can be blamed on Republican obstruction and the filibuster. But that’s not always true in New York or California or Oregon. It is too slow and too costly to build even where Republicans are weak — perhaps especially where they are weak. …What we have is a government that is extremely good at making building difficult.

And he gives examples of government failure.

The Transit Costs Project tracks the price tags on rail projects in different countries. …the United States is notable for how much we spend and how little we get. It costs about $538 million to build a kilometer of rail here. Germany builds a kilometer of rail for $287 million. Canada gets it done for $254 million. Japan clocks in at $170 million. …The problem isn’t government. It’s our government. …When a government can’t…build the sign-up portal to its new health insurance plan or construct the high-speed rail it’s already spent billions of dollars on, that’s a failure of state capacity.

Klein quotes Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan, about the “adversary legalism” that makes government slow and inefficient in the United States.

…a way that America differs from peer countries… “Inflexible procedural rules are a hallmark of the American state,” he writes. “The ubiquity of court challenges, the artificial rigors of notice-and-comment rule-making, zealous environmental review, pre-enforcement review of agency rules, picayune legal rules governing hiring and procurement, nationwide court injunctions — the list goes on and on.”

Klein concludes by stating that his side needs to focus not just on ideas, but also on how to reform government so that those ideas can be implemented.

When I go looking for ideas on how to build state capacity on the left, I don’t find much. …health, climate and education plans depend, crucially, on a state capable of designing and executing policy effectively. This is true at the federal level, and it is even truer, and harder, at the state and local level. So this is what I have become certain of: Democrats spend too much time and energy imagining the policies that a capable government could execute and not nearly enough time imagining how to make a government capable of executing them.

In the column, Klein does not offer any concrete solutions, but he does acknowledge that cutting back on “adversary legalism” will cause divisions on the left.

Which sound potentially amusing, but it’s important to acknowledge that libertarians are not united on this topic, either.

Though I’m very skeptical.

As I noted two years ago, my view of state capacity libertarianism is the same as my view of national conservatism. And compassionate conservatismkinder-and-gentler conservatismcommon-good capitalism, and reform conservatism as well.

Before I embrace any trendy new idea, someone needs to show me the tiniest shred of evidence that further reducing economic liberty can lead to more prosperity.

I suppose that’s possible, just as it’s possible I might be playing for the Yankees in the World Series later this year. But neither of those outcomes is likely for those of us who care about real-world evidence.

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One of the interesting games in Washington is deciding who on the right (however defined) is a “Trumpie” and who is a “Reaganite.”

Here are a few indicators.

But, given the huge gap in their views, trade is probably the biggest way of separating the Trumpies from the Reaganites.

And if you want a clear dividing line for Members of Congress, just see whether they support the “Reciprocal Trade Act” or the “Congressional Trade Authority Act.”

The former is sponsored by Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and would empower Trump to impose more taxes on trade.

Bryan Riley of the National Taxpayers Union is wisely skeptical.

…treating our trading partners as allies rather than adversaries has paid enormous dividends for Americans. Just since 1990, world tariffs fell by nearly two-thirds as U.S. exports more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation. …The Reciprocal Trade Act would turn this successful approach to trade on its head. …proponents who endorse this approach often argue that tariff reciprocity is needed to as a lever to reduce foreign trade barriers. But the White House’s own case studies show this is untrue. …Trump wants to replace a successful post-World War II policy based on the understanding that trade is win-win with one that is likely to encourage foreign governments to retaliate against Americans. …History shows trade policy is more likely to succeed if it is based on the Golden Rule instead of on hostile eye-for-an eye reciprocity. It turns out that the United States benefits when we treat our trading partners the way we would like them to treat us. …Princeton University’s Robert Keohane described how countries benefit from this “sequential reciprocity”… The goal of the Trump administration’s trade policy should be to promote reciprocal trade, not reciprocal taxes.

Here’s a chart from Bryan’s study that shows how trade liberalization in recent decades has been very successful.

In an article for National Interest, Clark Packard also pours cold water on the Reciprocal Trade Act.

The United States Reciprocal Trade Act, which will soon be introduced by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), would expand the president’s already enormous unilateral authority to impose tariffs and other import restrictions. …the Reciprocal Trade Act would grant the president the authority to match the tariff applied to any given product by a trading partner. To use one of the administration’s favorite examples, the Europe Union applies a 10 percent tariff on imported automobiles, while the United States levies a 2.5 percent tariff on its imports. The Reciprocal Trade Act would allow the president unilaterally to raise the tariff to 10 percent on European cars as leverage for further negotiations.

He lists some of the reasons why the proposed law is bad policy.

The bill is enormously flawed and should be a nonstarter for myriad reasons. …violates U.S. commitments to the WTO’s Most-Favored Nation (MFN) principle of nondiscrimination. …The bill also would violate U.S. commitments under Article II of GATT. …the effect of the law would be that countries would retaliate against American exports and ensnare unrelated industries in a tit-for-tat. …The United States has been successful in getting other countries to lower tariffs and other trade barriers through negotiations. …the Reciprocal Trade Act would jeopardize this American-led system that has paid enormous dividends.

All of his points are accurate, though I don’t expect the president’s supporters would care about violating WTO obligations since they presumably would cheer if Trump pulled the U.S. out of the the agreement – even though it has been very beneficial for the United States.

Now let’s look at the Congressional Trade Authority Act, which would restrict rather than expand the ability of the executive branch to impose higher taxes on trade.

Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks explains the principles at stake.

…the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act would ensure that all tariffs imposed by the executive branch in the name of national security must first be approved by Congress. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution establishes that Congress “shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.” The framers, in their wisdom, made this the very first power they delegated specifically to the legislative branch of the United States. Tariffs are taxes, and they adversely impact American consumers. Such measures should be enacted only after thoughtful debate by the elected representatives most accountable to the people of the United States. They should not be handed down unilaterally from the White House. …it’s time for Congress to reclaim their enumerated Article I power over trade. …FreedomWorks agrees with Rep. Gallagher and Sen. Toomey on the need to respect our Constitution and ensure Congress has full control over its Article I authority.

The Wall Street Journal opines favorably about Senator Toomey’s legislation.

…some on Capitol Hill are trying again to rein in the President’s tariff powers. …the Pennsylvania Republican…Mr. Toomey’s bill would require Congress’s blessing. Once a tariff is proposed, lawmakers have 60 days to pass a privileged resolution—no Senate filibuster to block consideration—authorizing it. No approval, no tariff.This is a serious reassertion of the Article I trade powers that Congress has long shirked. Since the bill is retroactive, President Trump would have to convince Congress that his tariffs on steel and aluminum are necessary. If lawmakers didn’t agree, the tariffs would end. …But that’s not all. The Commerce Secretary is now responsible for declaring that an import endangers national security. This bill would give the task, sensibly, to the Defense Secretary.

I like what Senator Toomey is trying to achieve. And I like it, not only because I don’t want politicians interfering with trade, but also because I support the Constitution.

America’s Founders deliberately set up a system based on Separation of Powers because they understood that unilateral power was a recipe for government abuse.

Interestingly, many Trumpies also claim to support the Constitution. Indeed, they are some of the biggest critics of the “administrative state,” which developed as federal agencies began to exercise legislative powers.

Which gives me an opportunity to contribute something to this discussion. I’m a great admirer of the American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry, in part because of his very clever hypocrisy-exposing Venn Diagrams (taxation and incentives, the War on Drugs, minimum wage, Food and Drug Administration, and consenting adults).

So, in hopes of showing Trumpies the error of their ways, here’s my humble attempt to copy Mark.

P.S. Even though open trade is very beneficial for American prosperity, I would not want a future president to assert unilateral power to eliminate tariffs. Yes, I want better policy, but I also support the Constitution and the rule of law.

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