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Posts Tagged ‘Economics’

Back in January, I compared Reagan’s pro-trade views with Trump’s cramped protectionism.

Well, here’s another video of the Gipper talking about trade. I especially like how he used “destructionism” to describe protectionism.

And let’s consider exactly the kind of destruction that may occur.

ScotiaBank in Canada has crunched numbers on the possible consequences to North America in a world of Trump-style tariffs. The “good news” is that the United States suffers the least amount of damage.

The bad news (actually the worse news) is that the American people will suffer a significant and sustained loss of economic growth. And that has very negative implications for long-run prosperity.

But this isn’t just about macroeconomic aggregates.

Here’s an example from the Wall Street Journal of how protectionism backfires.

Lyon Group Holding…is struggling to survive as Donald Trump’s steel tariff gives his Chinese competitors an unfair advantage. Meet the law of unintended tariff consequences with arbitrary harm to the innocent. …Steel has long accounted for 45% of the cost of making lockers at Lyon and Republic, the single biggest expense. Mr. Trump’s 25% tariff has driven up the price of foreign steel and given domestic steel the chance to raise prices. American hot-rolled steel coil recently sold for $900 per short ton…up 38%, or $248 per ton, since the beginning of January. …Raising locker prices isn’t an option. Even before the tariffs, Lyon and Republic’s clients were paying a 10% premium for the convenience of buying American instead of Chinese, and they can’t afford to go any higher, Mr. Altstadt says. …foreign manufacturers are benefiting from Mr. Trump’s steel protectionism.

And here are some of the real-world costs.

If the tariffs remain in place, Mr. Altstadt says he’ll have no choice but to buy foreign-made locker components. Reluctantly, he’s visited factories in China to consider his options. But if Lyon and Republic outsource locker parts from abroad, Mr. Altstadt says he’ll have to lay off at least one-fourth of his American workforce and perhaps shutter and sell one of his metalworking factories. …he is haunted by “the devastating effect on real people.” Two-thirds of his workforce is unskilled.

I feel sorry for Mr. Altstadt, but I won’t lose sleep about his plight. I assume he’s at least in the top-5 percent for income and wealth.

The real victims of Trump’s protectionism are the ordinary workers at the company. These people may not have high skills, but they are playing by the rules and doing the right thing instead of living off the government. Yet now many of them may lose their jobs because the President doesn’t like America’s system of free enterprise.

Disgusting. Protectionism isn’t just bad economics. It’s immoral as well.

P.S. Reagan’s rhetoric on trade was perfect, but not his policy. As I explained last year, his generally strong economic record was marred by some protectionist initiatives.

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One of the core principles of economics is that prices are determined by supply and demand. That includes the price of labor – i.e., the wages received by workers.

Another core principle is that taxes create distortions by reducing demand and supply. Which is why it’s not a good idea to impose high tax rates on behaviors that contribute to prosperity, such as work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

That’s the theory. Now let’s consider some real-world implications of taxes on work.

Here are some excerpts from new research by the European Central Bank.

Several reforms can be enacted to reduce the unemployment rate in the euro area. Among them is a permanent reduction in the labour tax. Typically, a decrease in labour taxes reduces labour costs to employers and increases the net take-home pay of employees, positively impacting both labour demand and labour supply. Reducing taxes on labour can contribute to increase employment and activity rates in the EA, by increasing incentives to hire, to look for, and take up, work. …In this paper we contribute to the debate on those issues by evaluating the macroeconomic effects of a fiscal reform in the EA countries.

The study look at what happens with employment-related taxes are lowered at either the employer level or the employee level.

Permanently reducing labour tax rates paid by Home firms would have stimulating effects on economic activity and employment, and would permanently reduce the unemployment rate. The same is true when tax rates paid by Home households are reduced.

Here are some of the specific estimates of the positive impact of lower labor taxes at the firm level.

The tax rate is reduced by almost 2 p.p. (trough level). The reduction of labour taxes paid by firms reduces the gross wage bill of firms and hence increases the value of having a worker. Workers are able to obtain part of the increase in firms’ surplus in the bargaining process, which results in a real wage increase. Nevertheless, the wage increase is not sufficient to undo the increase in the value of having a worker for firms, which leads to an increase in labour demand through vacancy posting. The number of matches increases as well and, consistently, the probability of finding a job and that of filling a vacancy increases and decreases, respectively. Employment increases (and unemployment rate decreases) by roughly 0.3 p.p. after two years and 0.4 p.p. in the medium and in the long run, respectively. …Home GDP increases by 0.5% after two years. Both consumption and investment increase. Consumption increases because of households’ larger permanent income, associated with the increase in employment, hours and production. Investment increases because firms augment physical capital to accompany the rising employment.

I’ve combined some of the key results from Figures 3 and 4, all of which show the benefits over time of lower tax rates on work (the horizontal axis is quarters, so 20 quarters equals five years).

And here are the specific estimates of the good outcomes when labor tax are reduced at the household level.

Qualitatively, results are similarly expansionary as those obtained when reducing labour taxes paid by firms. Hours worked, employment, matches, and the probability of finding a job increase, while the probability of filling a vacancy decreases. …hours worked now increase by 0.4% (0.3% in the previous simulation), employment by almost 0.5% (0.35% in the previous simulation), while the unemployment rate falls by almost 0.5 p.p. (0.4 p.p. in the previous simulation). …Home GDP increases by around 0.7% after two years.

Once again, let’s look at some charts showing the benefits over time of lower tax rates on workers.

Interestingly, it appears that there are slightly better outcomes if labor taxes are reduced for workers rather than employers, but the wage numbers are better if the tax cuts take place at the business level.

I’ll take either approach, for what it’s worth.

Let’s close with one additional excerpt. The study incorporated the impact of government employment, which can have a very distorting effect on private employment given the excessive size of the bureaucracy and above-market compensation for bureaucrats.

…we allow for public sector employment and for the possibility of directed search between the private and public sector labour market… In fact, a proper assessment of the impact of the labour market reforms on private-sector employment should take into account that a common characteristic of the EA labour market is the important share of the public employment in total employment, which is, according to OECD (2015), around 20% in France, 15% in Spain, Italy and Portugal, and 13% in Germany. Thus, this component is important to understand the labour market dynamics in the EA, given also that, during a crisis period, public and private labour markets tend to be more inter-related (when the unemployment rate is high, the number of applicants to the public sector is larger).

P.S. I’m periodically asked whether I’m exaggerating when I assert that something (such as taxes distorting the supply and demand for labor) is a “core principle” in economics. But I don’t think left-leaning economists (and there are plenty) would disagree about taxes impacting supply and demand. But they presumably would quibble about the “elasticity” of supply and demand curves (in other words, how sensitive are people to changes in tax rates). Moreover, they surely would claim in some instances that any “deadweight loss” would be offset by supposed economic benefits of government spending (and pro-market people acknowledge that’s possible, at least when government is small). And, when push comes to shove, some folks on the left would openly argue that it’s okay to have less prosperity if there’s more equality.

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Back in 2015, I wrote about the scandal involving former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and said we got the right result (legal trouble for Hastert) for the wrong reason (government spying on financial transactions).

Something similar happened over the weekend with the G-7 meeting.

Largely because of his misguided protectionist views, Donald Trump refused to sign a joint statement with the other G-7 leaders (Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom).

Trump’s protectionism is deeply troubling. It threatens American prosperity and could lead to tit-for-tat protectionism that caused so much damage to the global economy in the 1930s.

That being said, we shouldn’t shed any tears because a G-7 Summit ended in failure or that Trump didn’t sign the communique.

To be sure, the vast majority of the language in these statements is anodyne boilerplate. Sort of the international equivalent of “motherhood and apple pie.”

But it’s not all fuzzy rhetoric about “inclusive growth” and “clean water.” The bureaucrats who craft these statements for their political masters regularly use the G-7 to endorse statist policies.

It’s all very reminiscent of what Adam Smith wrote about how people in the same profession would like to create some sort of cartel to extract more money from consumers.

But Smith went on to explain that such efforts can’t succeed in the private sector unless there is some sort of government intervention to prohibit competition.

Unfortunately, when politicians meet to craft cartel-type policies to extract more money from their citizens, they rely on the power of government to enforce their anti-market policies.

Let’s look at some of the dirigiste language in the communique from this weekend, starting with the ever-present embrace of class warfare tax policy and support for tax harmonization.

…support international efforts to deliver fair, progressive, effective and efficient tax systems. We will continue to fight tax evasion and avoidance by promoting the global implementation of international standards and addressing base erosion and profit shifting. …We welcome the OECD interim report analyzing the impact of digitalization of the economy on the international tax system.

Keep in mind that “international standards” is their way of stating that low-tax jurisdictions should have to surrender their fiscal sovereignty and agree to help enforce the bad tax laws of uncompetitive nations (such as G-7 countries).

And the BEPS project and the digitalization project are both designed to help other governments skim more money from America’s high-tech companies.

The G-7 communique also endorsed the anti-empirical view that more foreign aid and higher taxes are necessary to generate more prosperity in the developing world.

Public finance, including official development assistance and domestic resource mobilization, is necessary to work towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

The statement also recycled the myth of a big gender wage gap, even though even the female head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers admitted the wage gap numbers are nonsense.

Our path forward will promote women’s full economic participation through working to reduce the gender wage gap.

And there was the predictable language favoring more government intervention in energy markets, along with a threat that the hypocritical ideologues at the United Nations should have power over the global economy.

We reaffirm the commitment that we have made to our citizens to reduce air and water pollution and our greenhouse gas emissions to reach a global carbon-neutral economy over the course of the second half of the century. We welcome the adoption by the UN General Assembly of a resolution titled “Towards a Global Pact for the Environment” and look forward to the presentation of a report by the Secretary-General in the next General Assembly.

Given the G-7’s embrace of one-size-fits-all statism and government cartels, let’s look at how Professor Edward Prescott (awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2004) modified Adam Smith’s famous quote.

I’ll close by reporting that I asked several experts in international economics, mostly from the establishment (and therefore instinctively sympathetic to the G-7), whether they could tell me a single pro-growth accomplishment since these meetings started in the 1970s.

They couldn’t identify a single concrete achievement (several said it was good for politicians from different countries to develop relationships and some speculated that useful things may get done in so-called side meetings, but all agreed those things could – and would – happen without the G-7).

So why spend lots of money just so a bunch of politicians can have an annual publicity photo? And why give their retinues of hangers-on, grifters, hacks, and bureaucrats a taxpayer-financed annual vacation?

Needless to say, I’d much rather focus on defunding the OECD or defanging the IMF. But if Trump’s nonsensical protectionism somehow leads to the disintegration of annual G-7 schmooze-fests, I’ll view that as a silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud.

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During the Obama years, I criticized the President for various green-energy scams that squandered money and produced scandals such as Solyndra.

And I also noted that many Republicans were happy to support corrupt subsidies to inefficient sources of energy so long as their voters got a slice of the loot.

Sadly, the same thing is happening with Trump in the White House. All that’s changed is that there are different groups sucking at the federal teat.

Catherine Rampell’s column points out how Trump wants the government to pick winners and losers in energy markets.

The GOP…definition of free markets turns out to be pretty confusing… It apparently includes allowing the president to personally dictate what companies must buy, from whom, and at what price; what products they should sell; which employees they should hire and fire; where they should locate… The Trump administration has taken action or raised questions in all these areas… And President Trump’s supposedly laissez-faire co-partisans in Congress have barely said boo. …If that doesn’t count as “picking winners and losers,” it’s hard to say what would. Efforts to prop up inefficient coal-fired plants are…a terrible idea from an economic perspective. The reason these plants are struggling, after all, is that they can’t compete with cheaper natural gas and renewables. Trump is wielding the power of the state to keep uncompetitive companies in business, and costing taxpayers and consumers lots of money in the process.

And remember that this intervention will destroy more jobs than it saves, just as was the case with Obama’s interventions.

This sordid story also is a perfect example of why politicians should never be granted open-ended power.

Trump is now defiantly claiming that “national security” requires bailing out his political allies in the coal industry. It’s the same absurd rationale he has lately invoked for other unfree-market interventions — including, ironically, our military-alliance-straining steel and aluminum tariffs and, perhaps soon, automobile tariffs. …Leave it to Trump to try to strong-arm the invisible hand.

The Wall Street Journal has a hard-hitting editorial castigating the Trump Administration for considering back-door bailouts and special subsidies.

…all of a sudden the Administration wants to do a Barack Obama imitation and play energy favorites. …The supposed problem is that the U.S. is producing an abundance of cheap natural gas thanks to the shale fracking revolution. As a result, national electric wholesale prices for natural gas have plunged by half since 2008… Meanwhile, government subsidies such as the 30% federal investment tax credit have boosted solar and wind production while driving down the wholesale cost. Many nuclear and coal plants unable to compete with renewables and natural gas may have to shut down over the next few years. …Thus, the rescue plan—er, regulatory bailout. According to the Trump memo, Section 202 of the 1920 Federal Power Act lets the Energy Secretary mandate the delivery or generation of electricity during an emergency. It also suggests that the President could use his authority under the 1950 Defense Production Act to “construct or maintain energy facilities” to protect national defense. …Mandating that grid operators buy more expensive coal and nuclear power would raise consumer prices and could reduce natural gas production that has been a boon to many states. And note to Mr. Trump: Energy is one of the biggest costs for steel and aluminum manufacturers. The government rescue for coal and nuclear is as politically abusive as Mr. Obama’s lawless policy to punish fossil fuels. A better way to make coal and nuclear more competitive is to keep chipping away at renewable subsidies and cutting regulation.

The editorial concludes with a very appropriate observation.

As Governor of Texas, Mr. Perry often visited our offices to explain why the U.S. government shouldn’t pick energy winners and losers. He’s still right even if he has moved to Washington.

Amen. Intervention in energy markets is bad when “green” groups get the handouts, and intervention also is bad when coal gets the goodies. That’s true in America and it’s true in other nations.

The Washington Post also correctly opined against this heavy-handed government intervention.

President Trump is preparing what could be the most astonishing and counterproductive instance of central planning the nation has seen in decades.

Mr. Trump last Friday ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to recommend ways to prop up struggling coal and nuclear power plants. …One option would require the purchase of electricity from coal and nuclear plants under a law meant to keep power flowing during emergencies, such as hurricanes. Another scheme would hijack the 1950 Defense Production Act, which allows presidential intervention to secure critical goods when national security is at stake. …Americans could pay hundreds of millions, and perhaps billions, more every year for energy. Wholesale electricity markets could collapse as efficient power plants failed to compete with subsidized dinosaurs.

The editorial wisely notes that Trump’s intervention will create a bad precedent that will be abused by a future Democrat president (actually, he’s building on Obama’s bad precedent, but it doesn’t help that Trump is making intervention a pattern).

If Mr. Trump proceeds and the courts somehow allow such a perversion of the law, it would be hard to stop the next Democratic president from, say, using emergency powers to force the purchase of renewables at the expense of coal, oil and natural gas. The president’s latest turn toward economic statism should be no surprise; it has been an animating principle of his presidency. …Mr. Trump is in the midst of picking unnecessary and increasingly costly trade fights with once-close allies, while assuring U.S. farmers that he will use state power — and, presumably, everyone else’s tax dollars — to preserve their margins. Now he is on the verge of asserting dictatorial control over energy markets, using powers meant to be reserved for real emergencies.

Call me crazy, but I want consumers to have the power. And that means allowing competitive markets to allocate resources and determine profitability.

Trump, by contrast, doesn’t seem to have any guiding principles. Yes, he sometimes supports good policy, but he’s also just as likely to favor intervention.

By the way, the Washington Post picked the wrong word in the title of its editorial. At least in theory, socialism means government ownership of the “means of production.” Trump doesn’t want the government to own energy companies. Instead, he wants to control them.

As Thomas Sowell observed when writing about Obama-era intervention, that’s technically fascism.

But since that term is now associated with other nasty attributes, let’s call Trump’s policy statism, corporatism, or cronyism. Or, if you like oxymorons, call it state-led capitalism.

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Since I consider myself the world’s biggest advocate for tax competition and tax havens (even when it’s risky), I’m always on the lookout for new material to share.

So I was delighted to see a new monograph from the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs on the benefits of “offshore” financial centers. Authored by Diego Zuluaga, it explains why low-tax jurisdictions are good news for those of us laboring in less-enlightened places.

Offshore finance serves several purposes, the most salient of which is the efficient allocation of capital. Some of this activity is tax-related, aimed at raising after-tax investment returns. If it were not for offshore jurisdictions, much foreign investment would be vulnerable to double or triple taxation. Because, under such punitive rates of tax, some of this investment would not take place, the existence of offshore centres has real positive effects on economic activity alongside the (plausibly) negative impact on the tax revenue of individual countries. These welfare gains have been amply documented… Beyond their impact on aggregate investment, research shows that the existence of an OFC is associated with better economic outcomes in neighbouring countries. Contrary to the popular narrative, these jurisdictions are well-governed and peaceful. Who, after all, would wish to use intermediaries in places where investors were regularly expropriated or harassed? …It is difficult to imagine the process of globalisation that has taken place over the last fifty years, bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, happening without the robust financial and legal framework which offshore jurisdictions provide for investment. It would be counterproductive, for both the developing and the rich world, to undermine their essential functions. …Clamping down on offshore centres…would make societies less productive and prosperous, and this effect would compound over time.

He provides some fiscal history, including the fact that government used to be very small in the industrialized world (indeed, that’s one of the big reasons why today’s rich nations got that way).

And he notes that low-tax jurisdictions became more important to global commerce as governments adopted dirigiste policies.

Before World War I, governments played only a small role in economic activity, rarely taking up shares of national income in excess of 15 per cent during peacetime. After the Great War, they took upon themselves ever larger fiscal and administrative functions, notably trade restrictions and capital controls. …In a context of punitive marginal tax rates, constrained capital movements…, OFCs were vital to the revival of cross-border trade and investment after World War II. Without stable intermediary jurisdictions with robust rule of law and low taxation, much international investment would have been too costly, whether because of the associated tax burden or the risks of expropriation and inflation.

Zuluaga notes that tax competition ties the hands of politicians.

Theory and evidence suggest that countries may have any two of free capital mobility, an independent tax policy and no tax competition (Figure 2). But they cannot have all three.

And here is the aforementioned Figure 2 from the report.

I wrote about a version of the tax trilemma two years ago and noted that there’s only a problem if a country has high taxes.

So I made the following correction.

Returning to the article, Zuluaga points out that low-tax jurisdictions have a much better track record in the fight against bad behavior than high-tax nations.

OFCs are neither the original source nor the ultimate destination of illegal financial flows. So long as there remain corrupt politicians, drug users and people willing to engage in terrorist acts, history suggests that some illegal financial activity will take place to make it possible. Furthermore, as we saw above, OFCs are as a rule far more compliant and transparent in their prevention of unlawful activities than onshore jurisdictions, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

Zuluaga concludes with a warning about how the attack on tax havens is really an attack on globalization. And the global economy will suffer if the statists prevail.

…an ominous alliance of revenue-greedy politicians, ideological campaigners and rent-seekers has emerged in recent years. Gradually, but relentlessly, they aim to dismantle the liberal financial order of which free capital movement is a fundamental component. …the alliance’s real goal: to eliminate tax competition and constrain the movement of capital in order to bring it under their control. The consequences of this effort would be long-standing and go far beyond a few tiny offshore financial centres.

Excellent points. I strongly recommend reading the entire publication.

Though I’m not sure Zuluaga and I agree on everything. His article notes, seemingly with approval, that offshore jurisdictions largely have agreed to help enforce the bad tax laws of onshore nations. Yet that’s a recipe for the application of more double taxation on income that is saved and invested, which he acknowledges is a bad thing.

In other words, I think financial privacy is a good thing since predatory governments are less likely to misbehave if they know taxpayers have safe (and confidential) places to put their money. Now that privacy has been weakened, however, anti-tax competition folks at the OECD are openly chortling that there can be higher taxes on capital.

The bottom line is that tax competition without privacy is not very effective. I wonder if Zuluaga understands and agrees.

Another IEA author, Richard Teather, got that key point.

In a 2005 monograph, he explained the vital role of financial privacy.

Although the country of residence may theoretically impose taxes on foreign income, it can only do so practically if its tax authorities have knowledge of that income. It is therefore common for tax havens to have strong privacy laws that protect investors’ personal information from enquirers (including foreign tax authorities). The best-known of these was Switzerland, which introduced banking secrecy to protect Jewish customers from Nazi confiscation, and there remains a genuine strong feeling in many of these countries that privacy is about more than just tax avoidance.

But I’m digressing. Since we’ve looked at one U.K.-based defense of low-tax jurisdictions, let’s also look at some excerpts from a column by Matthew Lynn in the London-based Spectator.

He makes a very interesting point about how so-called tax havens are basically the financial equivalent of free zones for goods.

…in a globalised economy, offshore finance plays an important role, enabling money to move across borders relatively easily. Rather oddly, a lot of the media seem to have decided that while it is fine for people and goods to move around the world, having a bank account or an investment in a different country makes you virtually a criminal. …The world already has an extensive network of free ports, tax-free zones where goods in transit can be processed or temporarily stored without having to pay local tariffs. There are an estimated 3,500 of them across 135 countries, facilitating the movement of goods around the world. They have helped trade grow hugely over the past couple of decades. Offshore centres…are now mainly financial ‘free ports’ — places where cash can easily be parked and transferred as it moves around the world.

He also makes a very important observation about how the theft of data leading to the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers revealed very little illegal behavior.

…one of the interesting things about the leaks is not how much wrongdoing they expose, but how little. Take last year’s Panama Papers scandal, for example. …For all the drama, it was pretty small beer. The reason? All the data revealed might have been interesting, and made for some lurid headlines, but very few people turned out to be breaking any laws. In only a handful of cases were taxes being evaded or money-laundered.

Which is a point I’ve made as well.

And here’s his conclusion.

…it turns out that offshore centres are used by just about everyone. Most pension funds use them, including those looking after the savings of the politicians queuing up to condemn them. They are part of the infrastructure of globalisation, as much as the container ships, airports and fibre optic cables. It is ironic that many of the same people who proudly describe themselves as citizens of the world think that applies to everything except money.

Amen. Once again, this is really a fight about globalization. Or, to be more accurate, a fight between good globalism and bad globalism.

To wrap up, here’s the video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity on the economic benefits of tax havens.

P.S. I’ve previously cited other tax haven-related research and analysis from the United Kingdom, most notably from Allister Heath, Dan Hannan, Philip Booth, Godfrey Bloom, and Mark Field.

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Normally when I write about Georgia, it’s to wax poetic about the Glorious Bulldogs. But I’m currently in Tbilisi, the capital of the nation of Georgia, which is wedged between Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

So allow me to take this opportunity to highlight the benefits of sweeping pro-market reform. Georgia is ranked #8 according to Economic Freedom of the World and it doesn’t get nearly enough attention considering that lofty score.

This chart from EFW shows Georgia’s score since the reform wave started in 2004.

The fact that Georgia’s score jumped by one full point over 11 years is impressive, but it’s even more impressive to see how the country’s relative ranking has increased from #56 to #8.

Here are the numbers for 2004 and 2015. As you can see, there were particularly dramatic improvements in trade, regulation, and quality of governance (legal system and property rights).

My friend from Georgia, Gia Jandieri, said one of the worst legacies of Soviet rule was corruption. He and his colleagues at the local pro-market think tank explained to policymakers that reducing the size and scope of government was a good strategy to address this problem.

And they were right.

Georgia was ranked near the bottom by Transparency International in 2004, scoring just a 2 (on a 1-10 scale) and tied for #133 out of 146 nations. Now Georgia’s score has jumped to 56 (on a 1-100 scale), which puts it #46 out of 180 nations.

And a big reason why corruption has plummeted is that you no longer need all sorts of permits when setting up a business. Indeed, Georgia ranks #9 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business.

For what it’s worth, Georgia is only three spots behind the United States (the previous year, they were eight spots behind America).

And I definitely shouldn’t forget to mention that Georgia is part of the global flat tax revolution.

So what does all this mean? Well, according to both the IMF data and the Maddison database, per-capita GDP in Georgia has more than doubled since pro-market reforms were enacted.

In other words, ordinary people have been the winners, thanks to a shift to capitalism.

P.S. Since I just wrote about my visit to the anti-Nazi/anti-Marxist House of Terror Museum in Budapest, I should mention that the “lowlight” of my visit to Georgia was seeing Stalin’s boyhood home earlier today. I realize “thumbs down” is a grossly inadequate way of expressing disapproval for a tyrant who butchered millions of people, but I didn’t want to get arrested for urinating in public.

I wonder if Hitler’s boyhood home still exists? I could visit and then say I covered both ends of the socialist spectrum.

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I received my Ph.D. from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and I have very fond memories of that experience, including interactions with great economists such as James Buchanan and Walter Williams.

But not everyone has favorable views of GMU’s market-friendly program. There’s a group, UnKoch My Campus, that pretends to be horrified that the school has attracted contributions from philanthropists such as Charles Koch and David Koch.

In a column for the Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein opines about the ostensible controversy.

Thanks to a group of courageous and persistent students, George Mason University was recently forced to acknowledge that it had accepted millions of dollars from billionaire Charles Koch and other conservatives under arrangements that gave the donors input into several appointments at the university’s famously libertarian economics department. These arrangements violated traditional norms meant to insulate academic institutions from donor influence… The story fits neatly into the liberal narrative that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, have used their inherited oil wealth to fund the development of radical economic theories at Koch-funded universities.

At the risk of digressing before I even get started, I have to correct Pearlstein’s snide comment about “inherited oil wealth.”

The Koch brothers did inherit a valuable company, but they are not dilettantes with trust funds. They took a successful company and built it into an extremely successful firm. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 90 percent of any contributions they make are a result of value they created.

Also, Charles Koch is a libertarian rather than a conservative.

Anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Pearlstein may have taken a cheap shot at the Kochs, but at least he doesn’t blindly parrot the leftist narrative.

…at Mason, the story is more complicated… I’ve been a professor at Mason. …I’m not a member of the economics department — they wouldn’t have me. But over the years, I’ve gotten to know and admire many of the economists there. For the most part, I have found them to be good economists and teachers, incredibly smart, intellectually honest and curious. …In the case of Mason’s economics department, the faculty have driven the donor relationships. In most instances, it was the faculty who approached and solicited Koch and other donors with specific projects in mind, not the other way around. …Our economics department is not libertarian and conservative because it is funded by Koch and his friends; they fund our economics department because its faculty is — and always has been — overwhelmingly conservative and libertarian. …rules and norms of university governance give faculty the power to hire people who think like they do. …Sorting by political or academic ideology is a naturally occurring phenomenon at universities.

Pearlstein suggests that university administrators should insist on more intellectual diversity.

The challenge is figuring out what to do about it. …It would have been better if Mason’s presidents and provosts had insisted on more ideological diversity in the law school and the economics department.

Perhaps there’s merit to that idea.

But if that’s Pearlstein’s goal, he should first focus on other departments at other schools. Because there’s an overwhelming bias in the other direction when looking at America’s system of higher education.

Here’s a report from Inside Higher Ed about some academic research by Mitchell Langbert, Anthony Quain, and Daniel Klein.

A new study…, published online by Econ Journal Watch, considered voter registration data for faculty members at 40 leading U.S. institutions in economics, history, communications, law and psychology. Of 7,243 professors total, about half are registered. Some 3,623 are Democrats while just 314 are Republicans. Economists are the most mixed group, with a ratio of 4.5 Democrats for every Republican. Historians as a group are the most lopsided, at 33.5 to one… There are also regional effects, with ratios highest in New England. …Women are much more likely to be registered Democrats, at 24.8 to one. Among men, the ratio is nine to one. …Brown University has the highest ratio for all five disciplines combined, at 60 to one, Democrat to Republican. It’s followed by Boston University (40 to one), Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester (both 35 to one), and Northeastern University (33 to one). The lowest ratio — that is, the most even mix of registered Democrats and Republicans — is at Pepperdine University, at 1.2 registered Democrats for every Republican. Case Western Reserve University is next, at 3.1 to one.

Here’s a chart from the report showing that economics is the most balanced discipline, but even in that field Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 4.5:1 margin.

Professor Langbert has some new research on this topic.

And, as pointed out in this report, the problem isn’t getting better.

An extensive study of 8,688 tenure-track professors at 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges in the U.S. published by the National Association of Scholars found that the ratio of faculty members registered as Democrats compared to those registered Republican is now a stunning 10.4 to 1. If two military colleges that are technically described as “liberal arts colleges” are removed from the calculations, the ratio is 12.7 to 1. …nearly 40% of the colleges in the study had zero faculty members who were registered Republican. Not a single one. Nearly 80% of the 51 colleges had so few Republican faculty members that they were statistically insignificant. …this trend toward an increasingly uniformly left-leaning faculty has spanned decades, both in the United States and Britain. “More than a decade ago, Stanley Rothman and colleagues provided evidence that while 39 percent of the professoriate on average described itself as Left in 1984, 72 percent did so in 1999,” Langbert writes. “They find a national average D:R ratio of 4.5:1.

Wow. University professors may be even further to the left than journalists.

Let’s circle back to the controversy at George Mason University.

The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized on the faux controversy.

Progressives dominate all but a few corners of American academia, but apparently they want it all. Witness the political and media assault on George Mason University, an island of intellectual diversity in Northern Virginia… an outfit called UnKoch My Campus…claims that donors like Charles and David Koch inappropriately influence university decisions. The demand is for “transparency” but the real goal is to silence conservative views. …Among the horrors supposedly uncovered by UnKoch is that one condition of these gifts was that George Mason rename its law school after Antonin Scalia. …The truth is that the naming request and decision went through normal university channels that included a vote by the university’s Board of Visitors, as well as the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia. …Donors are committing no crime in trying to judge if their philanthropy is fulfilling its purpose. The Kochs, God bless them, believe in supporting academics who believe in the principles of liberty and market economics. …Researchers from Stanford, Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School found last year that only 15% of American law school professors are conservative. We’re surprised it’s that many.

My two cents is that universities – either faculty and/or administrators – should be free to hire whoever they want under whatever rules they want. And students (or their parents) should be able to say no to schools that go overboard.

But here’s the catch. I don’t want to pay for any of it, either directly or via my kids. Let’s get rid of federal handouts for higher education.

The good news is that the no-subsidy approach also would reduce tuition costs since there no longer would be a third-party-payer problem.

Sounds like a win-win scenario.

P.S. My dissertation topic at GMU was Australia’s private retirement system, which was a clever decision on my part. Nobody in the United States at the time knew anything about the Aussie approach, which meant it was a) comparatively easy to make a contribution to the literature, and b) the professors on my committee didn’t know enough about the topic to nit-pick. Best of all worlds.

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