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Posts Tagged ‘Fiscal Policy’

Remember when I wrote about a week ago that I was somewhat optimistic about entitlement reform?

Well, given what just happened in New Hampshire, I must have been smoking crack. It would now be more accurate to say something will happen with entitlements, but it will be deform rather than reform.

That’s because a Bernie Sanders nomination victory followed by a win in November might pave the way for a massive expansion of government. Much of this would be a result of a single-payer healthcare scheme (oh, and don’t forget that the Republican victor in New Hampshire also has endorsed government-run healthcare).

Now that we have to take Senator Sanders seriously, let’s investigate his agenda.

Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal is not a fan of the Vermont Senator’s statism.

His socialism is farcical in a country that can’t afford the entitlements it already has. …Mr. Sanders, far from being a radical departure, is merely a perfection of what Democrats have offered since the Clinton era, namely denial. Ignore the problem. If forced to acknowledge it, insist there’s no problem because the rich will pay. In the meantime, savage every reform proposal as an attack on “unmet needs.” Collect the political rents from serving as defender of every spending interest in our overcommitted republic. …Bernie…, for all his exotic pretenses, is just another machine Democrat.

I think Holman nails it. Sanders’ socialism is just a gimmick. He just a standard-issue redistributionist, and he doesn’t even have any idea of how to finance those empty promises.

Like many other leftists, Sanders presumably knows that “taxing the rich” doesn’t work because they can alter their behavior.

As Europe demonstrates, the only way to finance large government is to have big tax burdens on ordinary people.

Yes, Sanders endorses a few tax hikes on the middle class, but mostly he relies on unicorns and fairy dust.

Consider, for instance, his very prominent proposal for a single-payer health system. Avik Roy of Forbes digs into the details.

In Sanders’ eight-page campaign white paper, entitled “Medicare for All,” the self-described “democratic socialist” outlines his plan’s core principles. The plan would effectively abolish the private health insurance industry… Berniecare would also abolish cost-sharing by patients; i.e., no co-pays, deductibles, or coinsurance payments, and minimal premiums. …Berniecare would also abolish cost-sharing by patients; i.e., no co-pays, deductibles, or coinsurance payments, and minimal premiums.

And what would all this cost?

Citing estimates prepared by Gerald Friedman, an economist retained by the Sanders campaign, Avik finds the numbers very unconvincing.

…even by Friedman’s own optimistic projections about what single-payer health care could save, Berniecare would increase federal spending by $28.3 trillion over ten years. If Friedman is wrong, and the plan fails to reduce the growth of health care spending, it would result in $32.7 trillion in new federal spending. The Congressional Budget Office projects that total federal spending from 2017 to 2026, under current law, will exceed $51 trillion. So, under Friedman’s rosy scenario, Sanders’ health care plan would increase federal spending by an astounding 55 percent. If the promised savings fail to materialize, it would increase federal spending by 64 percent—or more.

That’s a huge expansion in the burden of government, even by Washington standards.

But Avik may be an optimist.

Also writing for Forbes, Professor Chris Conover of Duke thinks the spending increase would be even larger.

the actual cost of the Sanders health plan will be at least 40% more than he claims. In the worst case, it will be 49% higher….In short, the Sanders health plan would require a 71% increase in federal spending over the next decade. …everyone with even a passing knowledge of economics knows that if you lower the cost of something, demand for it will increase.

Based on a RAND Corporation study, he looks at behavioral responses.

So the empirical question is how much of an increase in demand to expect from this expansion in coverage. …The HIE demonstrated convincingly that among those with “free” health of the sort being proposed by Senator Sanders–i.e., zero copays or deductibles–health spending was 32% higher compared to those who had been randomly assigned to a cost-sharing plan having no deductible but required patients to pay 25% of every bill up to a maximum out-of-pocket limit of $1,000 (about $1,972 in 2016 dollars. …the RAND study showed the actual figure will be more than 10 times that amount. Correcting this error adds $12 trillion to the cost of the Sanders plan (whoops!).

In effect, Conover is generating more accurate numbers based on dynamic analysis (in the same way advocates of dynamic scoring try to fix mistakes in revenue estimates that assume no behavioral responses).

He includes a pie chart is his column so readers can get a sense of proportion.

By the way, guess what? All the new spending will mean lots of new taxes.

…the actual increase in federal taxes required by the Sanders plan is $28 trillion over 10 years, not the $13.8 trillion originally estimated by Prof. Friedman. When we further adjust this figure to more realistically account for higher demand due to moral hazard, the figure comes to $36.3 trillion

Yet if you look at all the new taxes proposed by Senator Sanders (including those designed to finance other expansions of government), the total is nowhere near $28 trillion or $36 trillion.

So when you look at this horrifying list, which the Washington Examiner estimates is a 47 percent increase in the tax burden, keep in mind that the actual increase would be larger and more pervasive.

And we shouldn’t forget that Senator Sanders wants lots of spending in other areas, not just government-run healthcare.

So everything you’ve already read is actually the best-case scenario.

P.S. These images (here, here, and here) tell you everything you need to know about socialism/statism vs markets/liberty.

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We have good news and bad news.

The good news is that President Obama has unveiled his final budget.

The bad news is that it’s a roadmap for an ever-growing burden of government spending. Here are the relevant details.

  • The President wants the federal budget to climb by nearly $1.2 trillion over the next five years.
  • Annual spending would jump by an average of about $235 billion per year.
  • The burden of government spending would rise more than twice as fast as inflation.
  • By 2021, federal government outlays will consume 22.4% of GDP, up from 20.4% of economic output in 2014.

I guess the President doesn’t have any interest in complying with Mitchell’s Golden Rule, huh?

While all this spending is disturbing (should we really step on the accelerator as we approach the Greek fiscal cliff?), the part of this budget that’s really galling is the enormous tax increase on oil.

As acknowledged in a report by USA Today, this means a big tax hike on ordinary Americans (for what it’s worth, remember that Obama promised never to raise their taxes).

Consumers will likely pay the price for President Obama’s proposed $10 tax per-barrel of oil, an administration official and a prominent analyst said Thursday. Energy companies will simply pass along the cost to consumers, Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, which tracks gas prices nationwide, said in an interview with USA TODAY. ….a 15-gallon fill-up would cost at least $2.76 more per day.  It would also affect people who use heating oil to warm their homes and diesel to fill their trucks.

Isn’t that wonderful. We’ll pay more to fill our tanks and heat our homes, and we’ll also pay more for everything that has oil as an input.

While middle-class consumers will see a big hit on their wallet, the Washington Post explains that Obama wants the new tax revenue to fund an orgy of special-interest spending.

…the tax would raise about $65 billion a year when fully phased in. …The administration said it would devote $20 billion of the money raised to expand transit systems in cities, suburbs and rural areas; make high-speed rail a viable alternative to flying in major regional corridors and invest in new rail technologies like maglev; modernize the nation’s freight system; and expand the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program launched in the 2009 economic stimulus bill to support local projects. …The budget would also use roughly $10 billion per year in revenues for shifting how local and state governments design regional transportation projects. Obama would also propose investing just over $2 billion per year in “smart, clean vehicles” and aircraft.

More railway money pits and Solyndra-style boondoggles? Gee, what could go wrong?

By the way, the Administration is claiming that the big new energy tax won’t really hurt our pocketbooks because oil prices have been falling. Here are parts of a story by the Washington Examiner.

President Obama said the oil supply glut that has forced prices down to about $30 a barrel makes his proposal to levy a $10 per-barrel tax on crude oil timely. …the White House appears to be of the view that consumers would have an easier time paying it during record low prices.

Gee, how thoughtful of them.

But is anybody under the illusion that the politicians in Washington will repeal the tax when energy prices rise?

Anybody? Bueller?

Here’s one last gem. As cited by the Los Angeles Times, the President offered this pithy statement.

“Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future,” Obama said during his weekly Saturday address.

Now think about what he’s saying. Obama wants us to believe that the absence of a tax today and in the past is actually a subsidy!

Not that we should be surprised. Our friends on the left have a strange habit of arguing that we’re getting a subsidy when we’re allowed to keep our own money. Indeed, they even have a concept called “tax expenditures” that is based on that perverse notion.

P.S. The folks at Politico have a story about Obama’s plan, and there’s a bit of speculation about how it could become an issue for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

…the proposal could be particularly awkward for Hillary Clinton, who has embraced most of Obama’s policies but has also vowed to oppose any tax hikes on families earning less than $250,000 a year.

I think this analysis is absurd.

Hillary will promise all through the campaign that she opposes tax hikes on everyone other than the rich. But then, just like Obama, she’ll break that promise if she gets to the White House.

P.P.S. Lest anyone think I’m taking a partisan jab at Hillary because she’s a Democrat, keep in mind that I’m terrified that Republicans may decide (not withstanding their “dead on arrival” comments) to like Obama’s scheme. After all, many of them last year were very tempted by gas tax hikes to fund more pork-barrel spending.

P.P.P.S. And what’s really depressing is that I explained just last month that it would be very simple to shrink the relative burden government (and also balance the budget very quickly if that’s what you care about) if the federal budget “only” grew by the rate of inflation.

P.P.P.P.S. One final comment is that I might be tempted to accept an oil tax in exchange for the abolition of a tax – perhaps the death tax or capital gains tax – that collects a similar amount of revenue.

But I’d have two condition: First, the net result has to be a tax system that is less destructive to prosperity. Second, I’d have to be convinced that the swap wouldn’t backfire, with politicians somehow winding up with more power and/or money when the dust settles (which has been my concern about the Rand Paul and Ted Cruz plans to impose a value-added tax, even though their plans theoretically would produce a much less destructive tax system).

P.P.P.P.P.S. Oops, several people have reminded me that I forgot to include predictions for New Hampshire. These are only worth what you’re paying for them (in other words, nothing).

Trump  31
Kasich  17
Bush     12
Rubio   11
Cruz     10
Christie  7
Fiorina   5
Carson   4

Sanders   57
Clinton    42

Given what he did to expand Medicaid dependency in Ohio, I’m not sure I’m happy about Kasich’s strong showing. On the other hand, he played a key role in the spending restraint of the 1990s.

Since Hillary and Bernie are two peas in a pod, I have no strong thoughts about that race.

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Whenever there’s a fight over raising the debt limit, the political establishment gets hysterical and makes apocalyptic claims about default and economic crisis.

For years, I’ve been arguing that this Chicken-Little rhetoric is absurd. And earlier this week I testified about this issue before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee.

By the way, when I first showed up, my placard identified me as Ms. Mitchell.

Since I work at a libertarian think tank, I reckon nobody would object if I wanted to change my identity. But since I’m the boring rather than adventurous kind of libertarian, I guess it’s good that I wound up being Dr. Mitchell.

More important, here’s some elaboration and background links to some of the information from my testimony.

America’s long-run fiscal problem isn’t debt. That’s just a symptom. The real challenge is a rising burden of government spending, largely because of demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs.

Measured as a share of economic output, the tax burden already is above historical levels. Moreover, taxes are projected to rise even further, so there is zero plausible evidence for the notion that America’s future fiscal crisis is the result of inadequate tax revenue.

International bureaucracies such as the IMF, BIS, and OECD show America in worse long-run shape than Europe, but the U.S. is actually in a better position since a spending cap easily would prevent the compounding levels of debt that are driving the terrible long-run outlook in the United States.

It’s good to have debt limit fights today if such battles enhance the possibility of averting a future Greek-style economic calamity.

Arguments against using the debt limit as an action-forcing event usually are based on the bizarre claim that an inability to borrow more money would cause a default and wreck the “full faith and credit” of the United States. Nonsense. Treasury would be able to avoid default in the absence of a higher debt limit for the simple reason that tax receipts are far greater than what’s needed to pay interest on the debt.

This last point is worth some extra attention. I’ve been arguing for years that debt limit fights are harmless since there’s no risk of default. I even explained to the Senate Budget Committee a few years ago that it would be easy for the Treasury Department to “prioritize” payments to ensure that bondholders would never be adversely impacted.

The Obama Administration routinely denied that it was sufficiently competent to engage in “prioritization” and even enlisted the then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to dishonestly fan the flames of economic uncertainty.

Well, thanks to the good work of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, we now have a report outlining how the White House was prevaricating. Simply stated, of course there were and are contingency plans to prioritize in the event of a standoff on the debt limit.

By the way, I didn’t get the chance to mention it in my oral testimony, but my full written testimony addressed the silly assertion that any delay in a government payment is somehow a “default.”

I will close by noting the utterly disingenuous Administration tactic of trying to…make it seem as if delaying payments of things like crop subsidies and Medicaid reimbursements is somehow equivalent to default on interest payments.

One final point. Let’s imagine that we’re four years in the future and political events somehow have given us a Republican president and a Democratic Congress. Don’t be surprised if the political parties then reverse their positions and the GOPers argue for “clean” debt limits and make silly claims about default and Democrats argue the opposite.

That’s why I’m glad I’m at the Cato Institute. I can simply tell the truth without worrying about partisanship.

P.S. Here are some jokes about the debt limit, and you can find some additional humor on the topic here and here.

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The left is very clever about accepting “compromise,” so long as the result is a larger burden of government.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so concerned about Senator Cruz’s proposal for a value-added tax. Even though he wants a VAT for good reasons (to finance lower tax rates and also to reduce the tax bias against saving and investment), my fear is that the statists will say yes, then quickly use the VAT to finance a big expansion of the welfare state.

Which is exactly what happened in Europe.

Some folks think I’m being paranoid, to which there are two responses. First, there’s the old joke that even paranoid people have enemies.

But the second and more serious response is to point out that lots of statists openly say they want a VAT to make government bigger.

Indeed, some of these folks already are semi-embracing Cruz’s VAT because of their desire to have a new source of revenue for Washington. Consider, for instance, these excerpts from an editorial in USA Today.

The VAT is a kind of national sales tax used by virtually every other nation in the world because it can raise lots of money …partly because deficits are set to explode again as Baby Boomers retire, the VAT is back. Texas Republican Ted Cruz, winner of the Iowa GOP caucuses, is proposing a VAT… The concept has a lot going for it. …Cruz’s plan is flawed, but he’s on to something. A more progressive, phased-in VAT deserves to be part of any future conversation

You don’t have to read between the lines to understand that the editors at USA Today want a VAT to expand the public sector. The editorial even favorably cites Senator Cardin and former Treasury official Michael Graetz.

Do they want a VAT for the same reasons as Senator Cruz?

Not exactly. Senator Cardin acknowledges that the VAT could lead to a spigot of new tax revenue (“enacting a consumption tax could mean enacting a new and easy-to-adjust lever to raise taxes irresponsibly”), but he claims to have a mechanism that supposedly will guard against ever-higher tax burdens.

The Progressive Consumption Tax Act addresses this concern with a circuit breaker that returns overages from the PCT to taxpayers when revenues exceed predetermined levels.

This is a joke. The politicians in Washington get to set the “predetermined levels,” so it goes without saying that those levels will go from predetermined to redetermined in a blink of an eye, just as we’ve seen in other nations.

And what about Michael Graetz’s plan? Well, here are a few excerpts from an article he wrote.

…tax increases will be necessary to…address the nation’s unsustainable fiscal condition fairly… With this plan in place, our ability to raise additional revenue would be increased…

To be fair, Graetz is not a leftist. He basically wants a VAT because it’s a less-destructive way of financing bigger government.

I agree. It’s highly likely that a $100 billion VAT hike would do less damage than a $100 billion increase in income taxes, but why on earth would anyone want higher taxes to fund bigger government, particularly when we know sensible entitlement reforms could fix the nation’s long-run fiscal problem?

No wonder Avik Roy, writing for Forbes, is so worried about a VAT.

Sen. Ted Cruz…favors replacing the corporate income tax with what Cruz calls a “business flat tax,” and what Canadians and Europeans call a “value-added tax.” But the real debate isn’t about terminology; it’s about whether or not Cruz’s approach would drive an explosion of government taxes—and spending—over the mid- to long-term.

One reason it’s a money machine is that it’s actually a hidden tax on wages and salaries.

…businesses would no longer be able to deduct the cost of labor. As my colleague Ryan Ellis has detailed, that amounts to a “16 percent wage tax withheld at the employer level under the Cruz plan.”

And that creates a very large tax base, so any increase in the tax rate transfers a lot of money from the private sector to Washington.

…the most important problem with the Cruz plan is how Democrats would take advantage of it. Cruz envisions a VAT tax rate of 16 percent. But his plan would hand progressives a simple tool to raise taxes to far higher rates in the future. …the vast majority of federal revenue will hit voters indirectly, because it will come from businesses. From a political standpoint, Cruz’s plan would pave the way to higher tax rates in the future. …every one percent increase in the VAT would yield $1.6 trillion in new revenue over a decade. The temptation for a Democratic president and Congress to raise VAT rates to higher levels will be enormous.

And Avik echoes one of my concerns, warning that a VAT will greatly undermine and perhaps even kill any opportunity for genuine entitlement reform.

Under Cruz’s tax system, there would be absolutely no pressure on Washington to reform Medicare and Medicaid. Why reform entitlements when you can simply increase the “business flat tax” rate from 16 percent to 17 percent to 18 percent to 19 percent? This is exactly what has happened in Canada and Europe, where VAT rates started out low, and have gone up and up over time.

I should point out (as he does in his column) that Avik supports Marco Rubio, so he has a political motive to trash the VAT.

Indeed, he even makes some anti-VAT arguments that strike me as unfair, so I’ve omitted them from this analysis.

But the parts I have shared are completely accurate and they are more than adequate to make a very powerful case against giving Washington a new source of revenue.

Let’s close with some wisdom from the 1980s. I wrote that one of America’s worst presidents wanted a VAT to expand the welfare state. And I also mentioned that one of the best presidents in American history was on the right side of the issue. And it’s worth listening to the Gipper’s wisdom on this issue.

P.S. Here’s a short update to my recent post about the craziness of Keynesian economics. You may recall that the economic illiterates at the International Monetary Fund said diverting money from the private sector to finance government outlays on refugees would be good for growth.

Well, we now have estimates of how much will be spent on this so-called stimulus.

Shelter, medical care and integration policies for refugees will cost the German state €22 billion in 2016, and €27.6 billion in 2017.

Gee, according to the perpetual motion machine of Keynesianism, maybe the German government should put the entire population on welfare and the economy will really boom.

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If pessimism was an Olympic event, I used to think I might be favored to win a medal. After all, growing levels of dependency outside of Washington and rampant corruption inside of Washington sometimes lead me to conclude that America is doomed to a Greek fiscal future.

But compared to some people, maybe I’m just an amateur Cassandra. Or even a Pollyanna.

Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal has an ultra-pessimistic column today arguing that “many of us believe the entitlement programs need to be reformed” but worrying about “Republicans who pose as ‘conservative’ defenders of Social Security and Medicare.”

And part of his column is rather convincing since he points out that Donald Trump has criticized Republicans who favor reform.

…the meaning of Trumpism…goes like this: “…Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want [it] to be cut.” Mr. Trump is a political harbinger here of a new strand of populist Republicanism.

To be fair, Trump’s comments aren’t necessarily anti-reform. One could argue that he’s simply saying that benefits for existing retirees and older workers shouldn’t be adversely impacted.

But since “The Donald” hasn’t expressed any support for reforms that would create better and more viable options for younger workers, Jenkins is probably right to be pessimistic.

But he also argues that Tea Party-type Republicans are opposed to reform.

The tea party animus toward ObamaCare is…means-tested new entitlements…are viewed as a threat to the traditional, universal, “earned,” middle-class retirement programs of Social Security and Medicare. …The unspoken tea party stance of defending the good old-fashioned entitlements of “real” Americans is increasingly, in dog-whistle terms, what differentiates one Republican from another.

While it’s almost certainly true that there’s more animosity to redistribution-oriented programs such as Obamacare than there is to so-called earned entitlements, I think Holman misreads the Tea Party crowd.

Based on my speeches to – and other interactions with – these activists, I have never detected any measurable hostility to Social Security reform and Medicare reform. Fixing those programs may not be at the top of their agenda, but they’re not on the wrong side.

Moreover, I work closely with folks on Capitol Hill and I almost never hear about any meaningful opposition from Tea Partiers. And since House GOPers have approved budgets with genuine entitlement reform for five consecutive years, there’s been plenty of time for opposition to materialize.

Jenkins also is glum because Governor Christie, who has openly expressed support for reform, hasn’t fared well. And he notes that Senator Rubio has rejected reforms that would harm current seniors.

Chris Christie, who went nowhere in Iowa, did himself no favor by dragging Social Security and Medicare into every debate, however much those programs need to be addressed. Marco Rubio was just as quick to modify any implication that Republicans therefore are entitlement reformers: “We are talking about reforms for future generations. Nothing has to change for current beneficiaries. My mother is on Medicare and Social Security. I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.”

I’m not a political expert, so I won’t pretend to know why Chris Christie didn’t get many votes in Iowa, but I don’t think it’s right to label Marco Rubio as an opponent. He’s been very upfront about supporting much-needed structural reform of Medicare and Medicaid. He simply doesn’t want to change the rules for existing retirees and older workers.

You can argue that such a condition makes it harder to save money in the short run, but I’m more concerned about dealing with the long-run fiscal challenge (as seen in these IMF, BIS, and OECD numbers). So Rubio’s position doesn’t strike me as a problem. Indeed, I think he’s pushed the envelope in the right direction, particularly since he comes from a state with so many seniors.

And since Ted Cruz also has said similar things about entitlement reform, that means both top-tier GOP candidates (other than Trump) are willing to do the right thing to restore fiscal sanity.

To be sure, maybe I am being naively optimistic. Perhaps Rubio or Cruz will win and will decide to kick the can down the road, even with a GOP Congress that might be primed for reform.

If that happens and we miss what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for genuine entitlement reform, I’ll be very unhappy and Holman Jenkins will have demonstrated that pessimism is a much smarter assumption when contemplating the actions of politicians.

In which case my already-low opinion of politicians would drop to a record depth. And it also might be time to escape to a country that still has some sensible people and is less likely to suffer fiscal collapse.

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There is some very good news to share. The income tax will disappear in April.

But there’s also some bad news. The income tax is only being abolished in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, and there’s little reason to think that America’s awful internal revenue code will disappear anytime soon.

Nonetheless, we should celebrate this development because it shows that fiscal mistakes can be reversed.

A report from Caribbean News Now has some of the highlights.

The people of Antigua and Barbuda will from April receive tax relief when the government plans to abolish personal income tax (PIT).  PIT, introduced by the now opposition United Progressive Party upon coming into office in 2004, imposes a tax of 8% on residents earning an income above $3,500 and 15% on those earning an income above $25,000. …Prime Minister Gaston Browne…noted that previous Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party administrations governed Antigua and Barbuda successfully for 27 years without personal income tax. He said that the cost of collecting PIT, the difficulty of enforcement, and its unfairness, make it sensible to remove the PIT from the books.

Wow, the Antigua and Barbuda version of the Labour Party obviously is much better than the crazed British version.

But let’s not get sidetracked. Here are some additional details from a story in the Jamaica Observer.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne yesterday announced that, effective April, personal income tax will be abolished in its entirety. …”Abolishing personal income tax is an important reform. Not only will it put more money in the pockets of the people, so that they can save or spend more for the benefit of the economy as whole, it will help to re-establish our country as one of the most competitive in the Caribbean and beyond.” …He noted that with this move, Antigua and Barbuda will be a location that is competitive and also the choice of retirees.  “Antigua and Barbuda will become a competitive location to attract the headquarters of companies and for professionals to relocate, thereby creating more jobs. Retirees will choose Antigua and Barbuda as their retirement home; Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) investors will invest and choose Antigua and Barbuda over our competitors,” said the prime minister. …”taxing income is destructive to investment, savings and consumption. Also, it penalises entrepreneurship.”

For a politician, Mr. Browne has a good understanding of economics. I don’t like the “money in the pockets” rhetoric because it implies a bit of Keynesianism, but everything else he said is based on solid, microeconomic observations about incentives. Very reminiscent of JFK.

And I also like his point about wanting to be a “competitive location.” Yet another example of why tax competition is such a wonderful force for good policy. It encourages governments to do the right thing even when they don’t want to.

I bet, for instance, that the good reform in Antigua and Barbuda will put an end to the suicidal talk of an income tax in the Cayman Islands.

But what about the United States? Is there any chance that good policy in the Caribbean will encourage tax reform in the United States?

Unfortunately, most politicians couldn’t find Antigua and Barbuda on a map, much less care about that nation’s fiscal policy. So I’m not holding my breath that we’ll reverse the horrid mistake that was made in 1913.

But maybe, just maybe, we can at least figure out a less corrupt and less destructive way for the politicians to grab our money.

P.S. Antigua and Barbuda is a beautiful place, but I’ve noted before that government always has the ability to turn Heaven into Hell.

P.P.S. By the way, because of our awful worldwide tax system, American citizens can’t move to Antigua and Barbuda and benefit from that nation’s good tax policy. But there is a Caribbean island where you can legally slash your tax burden.

P.P.P.S. For those who follow Caribbean tax policy, we also enjoyed a fiscal victory a few years ago when a value-added tax was rejected in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

P.P.P.P.S. On an unrelated topic, I want to augment my observations on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by citing some very important analysis by Reason‘s Shikha Dalmia. While a wasteful and incompetent local government caused the mess, she explains that state officials deserve some blame because they wanted to “create jobs” with an infrastructure project instead of accepting a good water deal from Detroit.

…the debacle is the result of Snyder’s efforts to stimulate the local economy—the exact opposite of the liberal line. …the then DWSD Director Susan McCormick presented two alternatives to Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz that slashed rates for Flint by nearly 50 percent, something that made Detroit far more competitive compared to the KWA deal. …Genesee County and Flint authorities saw the new water treatment as a public infrastructure project to create jobs… And neither Snyder nor his Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz nor the state treasurer Andy Dillon had the heart to say “no,” especially since to hand Flint to DWSD would have made the whole project less viable. …the Flint water crisis is the result of a Keynesian stimulus project gone wrong.

Hmmm…, statists make silly claims about terrorism being caused by climate change or inequality. Maybe I can be equally silly and now argue that stimulus schemes cause poisonous water!

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The Congressional Budget Office has just released its new 10-year fiscal forecast and the numbers are getting worse.

Most people are focusing on the fact that the deficit is rising rather than falling and that annual government borrowing will again climb above $1 trillion by 2022.

This isn’t good news, of course, but it’s a mistake to focus on the symptom of red ink rather than the underlying disease of excessive spending.

So here’s the really bad news in the report.

  • The burden of government spending has jumped from 20.3 percent of GDP in 2014 to 21.2 percent this year.
  • By the end of the 10-year forecast, the federal government will consume 23.1 percent of the economy’s output.

In other words, the progress that was achieved between 2010 and 2014 is evaporating and America is on the path to becoming a Greek-style welfare state.

There are two obvious reasons for this dismal trend.

Here’s a chart that shows what’s been happening. It shows the rolling average of annual changes in revenue and spending. With responsible fiscal policy, the red line (spending) will be close to 0% and have no upward trend.

Unfortunately, federal outlays have been moving in the wrong direction since 2014 and government spending is now growing twice as fast as inflation.

By the way, don’t forget that we’re at the very start of the looming tsunami of retiring baby boomers, so this should be the time when spending restraint is relatively easy.

Yet if you’ll allow me to mix metaphors, bipartisan profligacy is digging a deeper hole as we get closer to an entitlement cliff.

Now let’s shift to the good news. It’s actually relatively simple to solve the problem.

Here’s a chart that shows projected revenues (blue line) and various measures of how quickly the budget can be balanced with a modest bit of spending restraint.

Regular readers know I don’t fixate on fiscal balance. I’m far more concerned with reducing the burden of government spending relative to the private sector.

That being said, when you impose some restraint on the spending side of the fiscal ledger, you automatically solve the symptom of deficits.

With a spending freeze, the budget is balanced in 2020. If spending is allowed to climb 1 percent annually, the deficit disappears in 2022. And if outlays climb 2 percent annually (about the rate of inflation), the budget is balanced in 2024. And if you want to give the politicians a 10-year window, you get to balance by 2026 if spending is “only” allowed to grow 2.5 percent per year.

In other words, the solution is a spending cap.

Here’s my video on spending restraint and fiscal balance from 2010. The numbers obviously have changed, but the message is still the same because good policy never goes out of style.

Needless to say, a simple solution isn’t the same as an easy solution. The various interest groups in Washington will team up with bureaucrats, politicians, and lobbyists to resist spending restraint.

P.S. A final snow update. Since my neighbors were kind enough to help me finish my driveway yesterday, I was inspired to “pay it forward” by helping to clear an older couple’s driveway this morning (not that I was much help since another neighbor brought a tractor with a plow).

It’s amazing that these good things happen without some government authority directing things!

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