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Posts Tagged ‘Big Government’

The Nordic nations punch above their weight in global discussions of economic policy.

Advocates of bigger government in the United States, such as Bernie Sanders, claim that those countries are proof that socialism can work.

But there’s a big problem with that claim. The Nordic nations don’t have any of the policies – government ownership, central planning, or price controls – that are characteristics of a socialist economy.

But they do have high taxes and big welfare states. And since some politicians seem to think America should copy those policies, let’s see what we can learn by examining the Nordic nations.

NIma Sanandaji, writing for Foreign Policy, highlights what is good – and not so good – about government policy in the region. He starts by looking specifically at Norway.

Erlend Kvitrud, a member of the Norwegian Green Party, links democratic socialist economic policies and Nordic countries’ prosperity. …the left has for decades showcased the Nordic nations as proof that socialism can work not only in theory but also in practice. …Inconveniently for fans of the Nordic welfare model, though, Norway’s actual economic success rests on its wealth of natural resources. …Norway’s oil fund is the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, worth around $200,000 per citizen. It wasn’t Norway’s social democratic economic policies that created the country’s wealth. It was nature. …The other Nordic countries, which lack Norway’s oil and natural gas riches, have lower living standards than the United States.

He’s certainly correct in highlighting the role of oil wealth in Norway.

And he also points out that Norway became a successful and prosperous nation before the welfare state was imposed.

What’s more, the Nordic countries’ social successes predate their high-tax, high-social spending policies. …economists Anthony Barnes Atkinson and Jakob Egholt Sogaard shows that most of the progress toward income inequality in Norway and Sweden happened before 1970, at a time when the two countries had low tax regimes and less redistributive policies. Similarly, the Nordic countries’ social successes were more pronounced in those years. Relative to the rest of the world, for example, they had a greater advantage in life span and child mortality in 1970 than they do today. In other words, the Nordic model arose after those countries were already prosperous and egalitarian.

These are all good points, but I think Nima actually overlooks one very powerful argument.

Yes, per-capita GDP in Norway is very similar to the United States, but gross domestic product is an imperfect measure of living standards. The data in relatively small economies can be misleading if there is a particular sector that distorts national statistics – such as financial services in Luxembourg or corporations in Ireland.

That’s why, if you want to measure the prosperity of households, it’s best to review the OECD’s data on “actual individual consumption.”

I’ve shared that data for all developed nations in the past, and the Council of Economic Advisers recently did a specific comparison of the United States and Nordic nations.

Norway is still impressive, ranked higher than its neighbors, but not in the same league as the United States.

By the way, in another article, this time for National Review, Nima explains that America actually has more women in management than any of the Nordic nations.

Science Daily once bluntly stated that “the Nordic countries are the most gender equal nations in the world.” There is some truth to this. …A common assumption is that the gender-equality progress of the Nordics is due to their social-democratic welfare policies. …The truth is that Nordic countries have a long history of gender equality, stretching back to the time of the Vikings. …One might expect this to translate into many women reaching the top of the business world. But this clearly is not the case. …the share of women among managers, as recorded by the International Labour Organization, is 43 percent in the United States, compared with 36 percent in Sweden and 28 percent in Denmark. …a pattern emerges: Those with more extensive welfare-state policies have fewer women on top. Iceland, which has a moderately sized welfare state, has the most women managers. Second is Sweden, which has opened up welfare services such as education, health care, and elder care for private-sector competition. Denmark, which has the highest taxes and the biggest welfare state in the modern world, has the lowest share of women in managerial positions. …The true lesson, that a large welfare state actually can impede women’s progress.

Let’s return to the big-picture economic comparisons.

Professor Hannes Gissurason of the University of Iceland authored a report on the Nordic model for the Foundation for European Reform.

It’s a very detailed study covering lots of issues.

The five Nordic countries, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Iceland, are rightly regarded as successful societies. They are affluent, but without a wide gap between rich and poor. They provide social security, but without a significant erosion, it seems, of their freedoms. They are small, but they all enjoy a good reputation around the world as peaceful, civilised democracies. The Nordic nations are healthy and well-educated and the crime rate is low. But what is it that other nations can learn from the Nordic success story?

For today, let’s focus on the third chapter, which look at three distinct eras of Swedish economic history.

…a distinction can be made between three Swedish models. The liberal model was developed in the mid-19th century, when liberal principles of free trade and unfettered competition were generally accepted and implemented in Sweden. The years between 1970 and 1990 were the heyday of the social democratic welfare model, although it had of course started its development much earlier and was to last for a few more years. The third model emerged in the 1990s after the experience of the social democratic model: this was the liberal welfare model.

The first era, which was based on classical liberal principles of free markets and limited government, is when Sweden became rich.

It was the liberal model which made Sweden wealthy, as Swedish economist Nima Sanandaji has well documented. Between 1870 and 1936, Sweden enjoyed the highest growth rate in the industrialised world… What produced the astonishing growth after 1870 was the introduction of economic freedom into a relatively poor society, but with strong traditions of self-reliance, hard work, thriftiness, and respect for the law and a high level of education. Money was sound, with the Swedish krona being on the gold standard… The environment was friendly to business and taxes were relatively low, even after the Social Democrats took over. In 1955, for example, tax revenues in Sweden, as a proportion of GDP, were the same as in the US, 24%.

The second era is when Sweden shifted to what some people call democratic socialism, but more accurately should be called the era of big government.

There were high taxes and lots of redistribution programs. And, not surprisingly, this led to economic stagnation.

…In 1975, tax revenues, as a proportion of GDP, had risen to 39% in Sweden, but was still only 25% in the US… In 2004, 38 of the largest companies in Sweden were entrepreneurial which means that they had been started as privately owned enterprises within the country. …Only two had been formed after 1970. While the public sector grew, the private sector stagnated. Between 1950 and 2000, the Swedish population grew from seven to almost nine million. Incredibly, the net job creation in the private sector during this period was close to zero. All the new jobs were in the public sector. …Many entrepreneurs left the country, including the founders of IKEA, Tetra Pak, and H&M.

Big government undermines initiative and weakens economic performance.

The study includes this data on how Swedes get richer in America than they do back home.

All this bad news created the conditions for the third era, which featured market-based reforms – regardless of which party or parties were in control of government.

Reluctantly, the Social Democrats started some reforms, deregulating credit and foreign exchange markets and changing the tax system, lowering marginal income tax from 73% to 51% and the capital gains tax to 30%. In 1991 a non-socialist government was voted in again. Now it was also anti-socialist, and it immediately abolished the wage earner funds… energy, postal, telephone, railway, and airline markets were all deregulated. …The government introduced school vouchers, sold stateowned companies, and carried out reforms in the labour market, especially designed for small businesses and private job agencies. The government also allowed for some choice in health care and assistance to the elderly. …when the Social Democrats returned to power in 1994…welfare benefits were cut; a new pension system was established, partly with self-funded pensions; collective bargaining was reformed; the inheritance tax was abolished. The centre-right government which was in power 2006–2014 continued liberalising the Swedish economy: the wealth tax was abolished, …property rights were strengthened, and the corporate tax was cut to 22%.

In other words, for the past twenty or so years, Sweden has been a leader in pro-market reforms.

Yes, there’s still a big government. But not as big as it used to be.

Yes, there are still high taxes. But not as high as they used to be.

And what’s the lesson we can learn?

This chart is very persuasive. It shows how Swedish prosperity, measured relative to the United States, declined during the era of big government.

But there’s been some convergence ever since policy makers started liberalizing the Swedish economy.

And we see a similar pattern if we compare Sweden to all other industrialized nations.

P.S. A very interesting study suggests that widespread migration to America made Sweden more statist.

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One of the worst examples of Washington cronyism is the Export-Import Bank, which has provided subsidies for big companies that sell to foreign buyers.

Corrupt firms such as Boeing and General Electric argue that they need help from the Ex-Im Bank in order make those sales.

Is that true?

Interestingly, we had a real-world test earlier this decade when the Ex-Im Bank was temporarily shut down and then, after re-opening, was largely unable to provide subsidies to big corporations.

So what happened? Veronique de Rugy of Mercatus explains that exporters did just fine when the Ex-Im Bank was curtailed.

Back in 2015, there was widespread agreement in Congress that the Export-Import Bank — the U.S. government’s export credit agency — was nothing but a crony bank, mostly serving the greedy interests of Boeing and other large companies. As a result, Congress let the bank’s charter expire. It was reauthorized a few months later but in a much-diminished form, operating at 15% capacity. …A thorny problem for those supporting Ex-Im’s revival is that we now have nearly a half-decade’s worth of data on what happened to U.S. exports, economic growth, jobs and beneficiaries while the institution was mostly dormant between 2015 and 2019. During that time, …its activities dropped from $21 billion in 2014 (the last year the bank functioned at full capacity) to $3.6 billion in 2018. …Back in 2014, 65% of the bank’s activities benefited 10 giant companies. Boeing alone got 40% of Ex-Im’s largesse. On the foreign side, the bank’s clients belong to a who’s who list of large, wealthy, successful and often state-owned companies. …Most of this profligacy ended between 2015 and 2018. During that time, the share of funding that benefited large firms dropped by 93%. …once Ex-Im stopped extending giant deals to giant companies, American taxpayers’ liability fell from $112 billion in 2014 to $72.5 billion in 2018. U.S. exports continued to grow without being impacted whatsoever by Ex-Im limitations, and many beneficiaries of the bank had their best year ever in 2018, demonstrating that none of these subsidies are necessary for their success.

Sadly, the Ex-Im Bank is now back in business (and President Trump deserves a big chunk of the blame).

But its charter has to be renewed this year.

There’s no chance of killing the program, but there may be an opportunity to at least curtail its power and authority.

Negotiations on Capitol Hill have produced a compromise package between the top Democrat and top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee.

But not everyone is a fan. The Washington Examiner opined that the deal should be rejected.

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., has drafted a bill that would expand the Ex-Im Bank, rename it, free it from oversight, and charge it with a handful of irrelevant liberal mandates. The committee’s top Republican, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., has unfortunately agreed to Waters’ bill. …Republicans should outright reject Waters’ proposal. It’s pitched as a compromise, but the Senate GOP has no reason to compromise. Either fix Waters’ bill or let the Ex-Im Bank’s charter expire in the fall. The “reforms” in Waters’ bill are weak tea. They don’t do anything to steer the Ex-Im Bank away from being welfare for America’s largest corporations.

So did House Republicans kill the deal, which should have been an easy decision?

Not exactly. According to a Politico report, House Democrats stopped it.

But not because they’re opposed to corporate welfare. They rebelled because they want a deal that’s even worse.

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters on Wednesday shelved a bipartisan Export-Import Bank bill that sparked a fierce backlash from her own caucus… The delay raises questions about the fate of the beleaguered bank, which, without action by Congress, will see its operating charter lapse in September. …the original compromise she drafted with McHenry ignited criticism from a wide swath of the Democrats on the committee… They objected to new restrictions that would be imposed on the bank and big manufacturers such as Boeing, that benefit from its loan guarantees… Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.)…had been raising concerns about sections of the bill that would impose new disclosure requirements on major manufacturers and restrict the agency from providing financial support for deals with Chinese state-owned enterprises. …The restrictions turned out to be one of the biggest sticking points for Democrats. …The bank is only now returning to full operation after years of being hobbled by conservative Republican lawmakers who criticized the agency as engaging in “crony capitalism” and posing a risk to taxpayers.

The moral of the story is that big government and big business shouldn’t be in bed together.

The federal government shouldn’t redistribute money, and it’s especially offensive to have programs that give handouts to rich and powerful companies.

And it’s not just the Ex-Im Bank.

P.S. If you want to understand why export subsidies are economically harmful, I strongly recommend this video from Mercatus.

P.P.S. I have no objection to companies getting profits, but I want them to earn money by serving consumers and not steal money by fleecing taxpayers.

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By offering all sorts of freebies to various constituencies, Bernie Sanders has positioned himself as the true-believing socialist in the Democratic race (even though he’s actually a member of the “top-1 percent”).

But he has plenty of competition. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren are strong competitors in the free-lunch Olympics, and most of the rest of the candidates are saying “me, too” as well.

Assuming these candidates get a warm reception, this is a worrisome development.

Part of America’s superior societal capital is (or has been) our immunity to the free-lunch message.

If that’s changing, it will be very hard to be optimistic about the future.

Antony Davies of Duquesne University and James Harrigan of the University of Arizona wrote for FEE about the dangerous – and seductive – ideology of something-for-nothing.

…politicians are tripping over each other to offer voters more “free” things, including everything from health care and college to a guaranteed basic income. But voters should be fostering a healthy sense of skepticism. If there is one eternal and immutable fact in economics, it is that nothing is free. Nothing. …as voters, our healthy skepticism seems to go right out the window. When politicians promise all sorts of “free” things, it doesn’t occur to many of us that those things can’t possibly be free. It doesn’t occur to us that, like businesses seeking our dollars, politicians will tell us whatever it takes to get hold of our votes. …Don’t be so gullible…when you hear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders tell you how health care and higher education will be free for everyone, remember that…health care and higher education cannot and will never be free.

Davies and Harrigan are economically right. Indeed, they are 100 percent right.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

But there are lunches that financed by others. And that’s why I’m worried about support for Sanders and other hard-left Democrats.

I don’t want America to turn into Europe, with people thinking they have a “right” to a wide array of goodies, paid for by someone else.

So what’s the alternative to the something-for-nothing ideology of the modern left?

Bobby Jindal, the former Louisiana governor, recently opined on this topic in the Wall Street Journal.

Progressives are changing the Democratic Party’s focus…to subsidizing everything for everybody. …Democrats now promise free college, free health care and more—for everyone. Republicans can’t outspend Democrats, but they can make the case for freedom and against the idea that everything is “free”… The Republican ideal is…an aspirational society. …becoming dependent on government is the American nightmare. …Republicans have to do more than mock the Green New Deal…if they want to persuade young voters of the case for limited government and personal freedom. …“free” means more government control at the expense of consumer autonomy. When progressives promise government will pay for health care and college, they are really saying government will run medicine and higher education. …“Free” means less efficiency, more expense and lower quality. …“Free” means robbing from America’s children. …Despite proposed marginal rates as high as 70% or even 90%, none of the tax plans Democrats have put forward would raise nearly enough revenue to pay for the promised spending. …Republicans can’t outbid Santa Claus. Americans are willing to work hard and sacrifice for a better life but need to know how pro-growth policies benefit them. Voters may be tempted by progressives’ crazy plans… They will embrace effective market-based solutions that promote freedom if Republicans offer them.

Gov. Jindal has a great message about trumpeting growth as an alternative to redistribution.

Though I’m not brimming with confidence that Republicans are overly sincere when they use this type of rhetoric.

And some of them, like Trump, don’t even bother with pretending that they want to curtail dependency and shrink the social welfare state.

And that does not bode well for America’s future.

P.S. As is so often the case on issues of policy and ethics, Professor Walter Williams is a great source of wisdom.

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I wrote five years ago about the growing threat of a wealth tax.

Some friends at the time told me I was being paranoid. The crowd in Washington, they assured me, would never be foolish enough to impose such a levy, especially when other nations such as Sweden have repealed wealth taxes because of their harmful impact.

But, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, nobody ever went broke underestimating the foolishness of politicians.

I already wrote this year about how folks on the left are demonizing wealth in hopes of creating a receptive environment for this extra layer of tax.

And some masochistic rich people are peddling the same message. Here’s some of what the Washington Post reported.

A group of ultrarich Americans wants to pay more in taxes, saying the nation has a “moral, ethical and economic responsibility” to ensure that they do. In an open letter addressed to the 2020 presidential candidates and published Monday on Medium, the 18 signatories urged political leaders to support a wealth tax on the richest one-tenth of the richest 1 percent of Americans. “On us,” they wrote. …The letter, which emphasized that it was nonpartisan and not to be interpreted as an endorsement of anyone in 2020, noted that several presidential candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, have already signaled interest in addressing the nation’s staggering wealth inequality through taxation.

I’m not sure a please-tax-us letter from a small handful of rich leftists merits so much news coverage.

Though, to be fair, they’re not the only masochistic rich people.

Another guilt-ridden rich guy wrote for the New York Times that he wants the government to have more of his money.

My parents watched me build two Fortune 500 companies and become one of the wealthiest people in the country. …It’s time to start talking seriously about a wealth tax. …Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating an end to the capitalist system that’s yielded some of the greatest gains in prosperity and innovation in human history. I simply believe it’s time for those of us with great wealth to commit to reducing income inequality, starting with the demand to be taxed at a higher rate than everyone else. …let’s end this tired argument that we must delay fixing structural inequities until our government is running as efficiently as the most profitable companies. …we can’t waste any more time tinkering around the edges. …A wealth tax can start to address the economic inequality eroding the soul of our country’s strength. I can afford to pay more, and I know others can too.

When reading this kind of nonsense, my initial instinct is to tell this kind of person to go ahead and write a big check to the IRS (or, better yet, send the money to me as a personal form of redistribution to the less fortunate). After all, if he really thinks he shouldn’t have so much wealth, he should put his money where his mouth is.

But rich leftists like Elizabeth Warren don’t do this, and I’m guessing the author of the NYT column won’t, either. At least if the actions of other rich leftists are any guide.

But I don’t want to focus on hypocrisy.

Today’s column is about the destructive economics of wealth taxation.

A report from the Mercatus Center makes a very important point about how a wealth tax is really a tax on the creation of new wealth.

Wealth taxes have been historically plagued by “ultra-millionaire” mobility. …The Ultra-Millionaire Tax, therefore, contains “strong anti-evasion measures” like a 40 percent exit tax on any targeted household that attempts to emigrate, minimum audit rates, and increased funding for IRS enforcement. …Sen. Warren’s wealth tax would target the…households that met the threshold—around 75,000—would be required to value all of their assets, which would then be subject to a two or three percent tax every year. Sen. Warren’s team estimates that all of this would bring $2.75 trillion to the federal treasury over ten years… a wealth tax would almost certainly be anti-growth. …A wealth tax might not cause economic indicators to tumble immediately, but the American economy would eventually become less dynamic and competitive… If a household’s wealth grows at a normal rate—say, five percent—then the three percent annual tax on wealth would amount to a 60 percent tax on net wealth added.

Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute makes the same point in a column for the Hill.

Wealth taxes operate differently from income taxes because the same stock of money is taxed repeatedly year after year. …Under a 2 percent wealth tax, an investor pays taxes each year equal to 2 percent of his or her net worth, but in the end pays taxes each decade equal to a full 20 percent of his or her net worth. …Consider a taxpayer who holds a long term bond with a fixed interest rate of 3 percent each year. Because a 2 percent wealth tax captures 67 percent of the interest income of the bondholder makes each year, it is essentially identical to a 67 percent income tax. The proposed tax raises the same revenue and has the same economic effects, whether it is called a 2 percent wealth tax or a 67 percent income tax. …The 3 percent wealth tax that Warren has proposed for billionaires is still higher, equivalent to a 100 percent income tax rate in this example. The total tax burden is even greater because the wealth tax would be imposed on top of the 37 percent income tax rate. …Although the wealth tax would be less burdensome in years with high returns, it would be more burdensome in years with low or negative returns. …high rates make the tax a drain on the pool of American savings. That effect is troubling because savings finance the business investment that in turn drives future growth of the economy and living standards of workers.

Alan is absolutely correct (I made the same point back in 2012).

Taxing wealth is the same as taxing saving and investment (actually, it’s the same as triple- or quadruple-taxing saving and investment). And that’s bad for competitiveness, growth, and wages.

And the implicit marginal tax rate on saving and investment can be extremely punitive. Between 67 percent and 100 percent in Alan’s examples. And that’s in addition to regular income tax rates.

You don’t have to be a wild-eyed supply-side economist to recognize that this is crazy.

Which is one of the reasons why other nations have been repealing this class-warfare levy.

Here’s a chart from the Tax Foundation showing the number of developed nations with wealth taxes from1965-present.

And here’s a tweet with a chart making the same point.

 

P.S. I’ve tried to figure out why so many rich leftists support higher taxes. For non-rich leftists, I cite IRS data in hopes of convincing them they should be happy there are rich people.

P.P.S. I’ve had two TV debates with rich, pro-tax leftists (see here and here). Very strange experiences.

P.P.P.S. There are also pro-tax rich leftists in Germany.

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‘Two years ago, I wrote about how Connecticut morphed from a low-tax state to a high-tax state.

The Nutmeg State used to be an economic success story, presumably in large part because there was no state income tax.

But then an income tax was imposed almost 30 years ago and it’s been downhill ever since.

The last two governors have been especially bad news for the state.

As explained in the Wall Street Journal, Governor Malloy did as much damage as possible before leaving office.

The 50 American states have long competed for people and business, and the 2017 tax reform raises the stakes by limiting the state and local tax deduction on federal returns. The results of bad policy will be harder to disguise. A case in point is Connecticut’s continuing economic decline, and now we have even more statistical evidence as a warning to other states. The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis recently rolled out its annual report on personal income growth in the 50 states, and for 2017 the Nutmeg State came in a miserable 44th. …the state’s personal income grew at the slowest pace among all New England states, and not by a little. …The consistently poor performance, especially relative to its regional neighbors, suggests that the causes are bad economic policies… In Mr. Malloy’s case this has included tax increases starting in 2011 and continuing year after year on individuals and corporations… It is a particular tragedy for the state’s poorest citizens who may not be able to flee to other states that aren’t run by and for government employees.

Here’s some of the data accompanying the editorial.

Eric Boehm nicely summarized the main lesson from the Malloy years in a column for Reason.

If it were true that a state could tax its way to prosperity, Connecticut should be on a non-stop winning streak. Instead, state lawmakers are battling a $3.5 billion deficit. Companies including General Electric, Aetna, and Alexion, a major pharmaceutical firm, have left the state in search of a lower tax burden. Connecticut is looking increasingly like the Illinois of New England: A place where tax increases are no longer fiscally or politically realistic, even though budgetary obligations continue to grow and spending is completely out of control.

Unfortunately, the new governor isn’t any better than the old governor. The Wall Street Journal opined on Ned Lamont’s destructive fiscal policy.

Connecticut desperately needs a new economic direction. Unfortunately, the biennial budget soon to be signed by new Gov. Ned Lamont doubles down on policies that have produced abysmal results.The state’s economic indicators are grim. Connecticut routinely ranks near the bottom in surveys of economic competitiveness. Residents and businesses have been voting with their feet. According to the National Movers Study, only Illinois and New Jersey suffered more out-migration in 2018. General Electric left for Boston in 2016. This week, Farmington-based United Technologies Corp. announced it too will move its headquarters… Mr. Lamont’s budget seems designed to accelerate the decline. It increases spending by $2 billion while extending the state’s 6.35% sales tax to everything from digital movies to laundry drop-off services to “safety apparel.” It adds $50 million in taxes on small businesses, raises the minimum wage by 50%, and provides the country’s most generous mandated paid family medical leave. Florida and North Carolina must be licking their lips. …The state employee pension plan is underfunded by $100 billion—$75,000 per Connecticut household. A responsible budget would try to start filling the gap; the Lamont budget underfunds the teachers’ plan by another $9.1 billion, increasing the long-term liability by $27 billion. …Mr. Lamont proposes to slap a 2.25% penalty on people who sell a high-end home and move out of state. Having given up on attracting affluent families, he’s trying to prevent the ones who are here from leaving.

As one might expect, all this bad news is generating bad outcomes. Here are some details from an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal.

…as a new study documents, more businesses are leaving Connecticut as they get walloped with higher taxes that are bleeding the state. Democrats in 2015 imposed a 20% surtax on top of the state’s 7.5% corporate rate, effectively raising the tax rate to 9%. They also increased the top income tax rate to 6.99% from 6.7% on individuals earning more than $500,000. The state estimated the corporate tax hike would raise $481 million over two years, but revenue increased by merely $323 million… Meantime, the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, whose job is to strengthen “Connecticut’s competitive position,” in 2016 alone spent $358 million…to induce businesses to stay or move to the state. This means that Connecticut doled out twice as much in corporate welfare as it raked in from the corporate tax increase. …Thus we have Connecticut’s business model: Raise costs for everyone and then leverage taxpayers to provide discounts for a politically favored few. …The state has lost population for the last five years. …The exodus has depressed tax revenue.

And there’s no question that people are voting with their feet, as Bloomberg reports.

Roughly 5 million Americans move from one state to another annually and some states are clearly making out better than others. Florida and South Carolina enjoyed the top economic gains, while Connecticut, New York and New Jersey faced some of the biggest financial drains, according to…data from the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Census Bureau. Connecticut lost the equivalent of 1.6% of its annual adjusted gross income, as the people who moved out of the Constitution State had an average income of $122,000, which was 26% higher than those migrating in. Moreover, “leavers” outnumbered “stayers” by a five-to-four margin.

Here’s a chart from the article showing how Connecticut is driving away some of its most lucrative taxpayers.

Here’s a specific example of someone voting with their feet. But not just anybody. It’s David Walker, the former Comptroller General of the United States, and he knows how to assess a jurisdiction’s financial outlook.

…my wife, Mary, and I are leaving the Constitution State. We are saddened to do so because we love our home, our neighborhood, our neighbors, and the state. However, like an increasing number of people, the time has come to cut our losses… current state and local leaders have the willingness and ability to make the tough choices needed to create a better future in Connecticut, especially in connection with unfunded retirement obligations. …Connecticut has gone from a top five to bottom five state in competitive posture and financial condition since the late 1980s. In more recent years, this has resulted in an exodus from the state and a significant decline in home values.

All of this horrible news suggests that perhaps Connecticut should get more votes in my poll on which state will be the first to suffer fiscal collapse.

Incidentally, that raises a very troubling issue.

The former Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, wrote last year for the Washington Post that we should be worried about pressure for a bailout of profligate states such as Connecticut.

…several of today’s 50 states have descended into unmanageable public indebtedness. …in terms of per capita state debt, Connecticut ranks among the worst in the nation, with unfunded liabilities amounting to $22,700 per citizen. …More and more desperate tax increases haven’t cured the problem; it’s possible that they are making it worse. When a state pursues boneheaded policies long enough, people and businesses get up and leave, taking tax dollars with them. …So where is a destitute governor to turn? Sooner or later, we can anticipate pleas for nationalization of these impossible obligations. …Sometime in the next few years, we are likely to go through our own version of the recent euro-zone drama with, let’s say, Connecticut in the role of Greece.

And don’t forget other states that are heading in the wrong direction. Politicians from California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois also will be lining up for bailouts.

Here’s the bottom line on Connecticut: As recently as 1990, the state had no income tax, which put it in the most competitive category.

But then politicians finally achieved their dream and imposed an income tax.

And in a remarkably short period of time, the state has dug a big fiscal hole of excessive taxes and spending (with gigantic unfunded liabilities as well).

It’s now in the next-to-last category and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s in the 5th column.

P.S. While my former state obviously has veered sharply in the wrong direction on fiscal policy, I must say that I’m proud that residents have engaged in civil disobedience against the state’s anti-gun policies.

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As reported by the Washington Examiner, Crazy Bernie thinks the American people will be happy to pay more taxes in exchange for more goodies from Washington.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said more taxes would be necessary in order to pay for things like universal healthcare and tuition-free college. …”a lot of people in the country would be delighted to pay more in taxes if they had comprehensive healthcare as a human right,” Sanders said. …Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, said there is a “tradeoff” but he believes “most people will believe they will be better off…when they have healthcare as a human right and they have affordable housing, decent retirement security, and most Americans will understand that that is a good deal.”

I’m very skeptical of this claim.

When people are given the opportunity to voluntarily pay additional tax, whether to the federal government or state governments, they almost never cough up additional money.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders might claim that I’m being unfair. After all, he’s claiming that people would be happy to pay additional tax for additional spending, not additional tax for the current level of spending.

That’s a fair point.

So I’m willing to meet Crazy Bernie at the halfway point.

He says people would be happy to pay more tax and I think that’s wrong. How can we figure out which one of us is correct?

Simple. Let people choose. There are two ways to make this happen.

  1. Make socialism voluntary. If Crazy Bernie is correct about people wanting to pay more to get more, why not create a system where people can opt in or opt out? That shouldn’t be too difficult. Just create two tax systems, one for people who want to pay more to get more goodies, and another for people who don’t want that option. Heck, we could even create a third system for people (like me) who would like to opt out of existing redistribution and social insurance programs.
  2. Comprehensive federalism. Let’s basically repeal the Washington-centric welfare state and let states decide whether to impose such programs. If people like paying high taxes in exchange for big government, I’m sure politicians in New Jersey, California, and Illinois will be happy to oblige. But if Crazy Bernie is wrong, maybe people will vote with their feet and migrate to states that presumably would forego the opportunity to replicate the programs currently imposed from D.C.

Needless to say, I very much doubt whether Crazy Bernie or any of his supporters will go for either choice.

They know that voluntary socialism inevitably breaks down.

And folks on the left favor tax and spending harmonization precisely because they know that federalism and decentralization will lead to a smaller welfare state.

Which is why, notwithstanding Crazy Bernie’s claim, I described this tweet as perfectly capturing “the essential difference between libertarians and statists.”

Amen.

Statists don’t support choice. They don’t like federalism. The bottom line is that they know their intended victims will opt out.

Crazy Bernie is bluffing. He knows people don’t favor higher taxes. This cartoon explains everything.

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Since I think comparative economics can be very enlightening, I’m quite pleased to see a new study by David Burton of the Heritage Foundation, which uses several metrics to assess the relative merits of socialism and free enterprise.

This is not necessarily an easy task since socialism is a moving target.

Some people still adhere to the technical definition, which means government ownership, central planning, and price controls. While others assume that socialism is high tax rates and lots of redistribution.

Here’s David’s summary.

State ownership of the means of production is the central tenet of traditional socialist or communist thought. Traditional socialist and communist economic policies involve state-owned enterprises and a high degree of state control over all aspects of economic life. Over time, politicians came to understand that they did not need to have legal ownership of, or legal title to, businesses or other property in order to control them by regulation, administrative actions, or taxation. Furthermore, not having legal title meant that they could disclaim responsibility when government control did not work out well. Thus, the meaning of the term “socialist” evolved considerably during the last half of the 20th century to mean a strong state role in the economy, the pursuit of aggressive redistributionist policies, high levels of taxation and regulation, and a large welfare state—but not necessarily government ownership of the means of production.

Regardless of how it’s defined, it doesn’t work. And the closer a country is to technical socialism, the greater the economic misery.

David reviews and analyzes a lot of material and I recommend the entire report.

For today’s purposes, though, I want to focus on his ethical arguments.

Here’s how he describes the morality of capitalism.

As a libertarian, I’m especially sympathetic to the argument about cooperative exchange versus coercion.

As an economist, I’m naturally sympathetic to the argument about prosperity versus poverty.

And I hope everyone agrees with the arguments about individual choice and civil society.

Now let’s look at David’s description of the morality of socialism.

For what it’s worth, I think the final point is the most compelling.

Socialism (whether the technical version or the redistribution version) basically creates a zero-sum game in which people are told it is moral to take from others simply because they produce more.

And this doesn’t necessarily mean the poor taking from the rich. Yes, that’s a big part of it, but there are all sorts of government programs that burden lower-income and middle-class people in order to line the pockets of the well-connected.

Last but not least, David charitably focuses on democratic socialism rather than Marxist socialism, so he’s not even counting the horrible abuses that you find in socialist regimes such as Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela.

P.S. While I realize we shouldn’t laugh about an ideology that has produced so much misery, I do have a collection of anti-socialist humor.

P.P.S. I strongly recommend this speech by Dan Hannan about the superiority of markets over socialism.

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