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Posts Tagged ‘Government intervention’

When I wrote back in 2012 that France was committing fiscal suicide, I should have guessed that President Hollande would get impatient and push for even more statism.

Sure enough, the BBC reports that France’s President has a new plan. The ostensible goal is to reduce unemployment, but the practical effect is to expand the size and scope of government.

President Francois Hollande has set out a €2bn (£1.5bn) job creation plan in an attempt to lift France out of what he called a state of “economic emergency”. Under a two-year scheme, firms with fewer than 250 staff will get subsidies if they take on a young or unemployed person for six months or more. In addition, about 500,000 vocational training schemes will be created.

Needless to say, if subsidies and handouts were the key to job creation, France already would have full employment.

In reality, real jobs are created when employers think that new employees will produce profits. But that’s a difficult hurdle in a country like France.

Though, in the interest of fairness, I should acknowledge that Hollande claims this plan will not involve a net increase in the burden of government spending.

Mr Hollande said money for the plan would come from savings in other areas of public spending. “These €2bn will be financed without any new taxes of any kind,” said President Hollande, who announced the details during an annual speech to business leaders.

Though I suspect that this claim is about as believable as Obama’s laughable assertion that government-run healthcare would lower premiums and allow people to keep their health plans.

But the strangest part of the BBC story involves Hollande’s contortions on labor market policy. See if you can decipher this passage.

The president also addressed the issue of labour market flexibility. “Regarding the rules for hiring and laying off, we need to guarantee stability and predictability to both employers and employees. There is room for simplification,” he said. “The goal is also more security for the company to hire, to adapt its workforce when economic circumstances require, but also more security for the employee in the face of change and mobility”.

I gather Hollande wants people to believe he has some sort of magic wand that will magically give companies flexibility while also guaranteeing workers stability.

Put me in the skeptical column. I would be stunned if France actually liberalized its calcified labor markets. The unions are too powerful and too shortsighted to realize that employers will always be reluctant to hire unless they know they have the ability to fire.

Besides, why would unemployed people, particularly those with low skill levels, want jobs when redistribution programs make idleness comparatively attractive?

Meanwhile, those with high skills will continue to escape the country.

So the bottom line is that France’s slow-motion economic suicide will continue. Hollande’s foolish policies simply mean the day of reckoning will come a bit sooner.

Let’s close with something that’s both revealing and amusing. One of America’s movie stars, Will Smith, had a very interesting wake-up moment on French TV.

I wonder what Mr. Smith would say if he knew that some French taxpayers actually have faced tax burdens of more than 100 percent (though Hollande, with his infinite mercy, then decided that the upper limit should be 80 percent).

P.S. My friend Veronique de Rugy (an escapee from France) warns Americans about the dangers of adopting the policies of her former country in this video.

P.P.S. Sadly, American statists have been urging European-type statism in the United States for decades. To see where that leads, check out these cartoons from Michael Ramirez, Glenn Foden, Eric Allie and Chip Bok.

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When I compared the tax reform proposals of various 2016 presidential candidates last month, Ben Carson got the best grade by a slight margin.

But I’ve now decided to boost his overall grade from a B+ to A-, or perhaps even A, because he’s finally released details and that means his grade for “specificity” jumps from a C to A-.

Here’s some of what’s been reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Monday called for imposing a 14.9% flat tax rate on income, ending taxes on capital gains and dividends and abolishing the charitable deduction and all tax credits.

By the way, the reporter goofed. Carson is proposing to end double taxation of dividends and capital gains, but all income would be taxed. What the reporter should have explained is that capital and business income would be taxed only one time.

But I’m digressing. Let’s review some additional details.

Mr. Carson’s flat tax would apply only to income above 150% of the poverty level… In some respects, Mr. Carson’s plan is similar to those of the other candidates, all of whom want to lower tax rates… But he goes farther, particularly with his willingness to rip up parts of the tax system that have been in place for a century. …In addition to eliminating the charitable deduction and investment taxation, Mr. Carson would also repeal the estate tax, the mortgage-interest deduction, the state and local tax deduction,  depreciation rules and the alternative minimum tax.

Wow, no distorting preferences for charity or housing. And no double taxation of any form, along with expensing instead of depreciation. Very impressive.

Carson has basically put forth a pure version of the plan first proposed by economists at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Perhaps most important of all, Carson’s plan is a flat tax and just a flat tax. He doesn’t create any new taxes that could backfire in the future.

Here’s what the Carson campaign wrote about his flat tax compared to the plans put forth by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

Unlike proposals advanced by other candidates, my tax plan does not compromise with special interests on deductions or waffle on tax shelters and loopholes. Nor does it falsely claim to be a flat tax while still deriving the bulk of its revenues through higher business flat taxes that amount to a European-style value-added tax (VAT). Adding a VAT on top of the income tax would not only impose an immense tax increase on the American people, but also become a burdensome drag on the U.S. economy.

I would have used different language, warning about the danger of a much-higher future fiscal burden because Washington would have both an income tax and a VAT, but the bottom line is that I like Carson’s plan because the worst outcome is that future politicians might eventually recreate the current income tax.

What I don’t like about the Paul and Cruz plans, by contrast, is that future politicians could much more easily turn America into France or Greece.

Here’s my video that explains why the flat tax is the best system (at least until we shrink the federal government to such a degree that we no longer need any form of broad-based taxation).

P.S. If you want to get hyper-technical, Carson’s plan may not be a pure flat tax because he would require a very small payment from everybody (akin to what Governor Bobby Jindal proposed). Though if the “de minimis” payment is a fixed amount (say $50 per adult) rather than a second rate (say 1% on the poor), then I certainly would argue it qualifies as being pure.

P.P.S. Carson still has a chance to move his overall grade to A or A+ if he makes the plan viable by proposing an equally detailed plan (presumably consisting of genuine entitlement reform and meaningful spending caps) to deal with the problem of excessive government spending.

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For those of us worried (with good reason!) about excessive regulation and red tape, 2015 was not a good year.

As you can see from the headline of this story in the Washington Examiner, federal bureaucrats were very busy imposing new mandates and restrictions on the economy. Indeed, President Obama now has the cumulative record for red tape.

That’s obviously good news for compliance bureaucrats, lawyers, and others who get fat and happy because of the regulatory state. But it can’t be good for growth and competitiveness to have all that sand thrown into the gears of the economy.

And to put the numbers in context, here’s a chart from the folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. On the left side, it shows the biggest red-tape year for every President before Obama. And then on the right side, it shows how Obama is consistently meeting or exceeding prior records.

All this bad news might be somewhat bearable if there was some reason to think we were turning a corner and that the worst was behind us.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Let’s now share another headline, this time from a report in The Hill.

The bottom line is that the Obama Administration is openly excited about the prospect of building upon the President’s dubious red-tape record.

Though I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. If you read the story, you’ll see that next year will be a perfect storm of pro-regulation bureaucrats being egged on by Obama’s regulatory appointees who see 2016 as their last chance to impose additional red tape on the economy’s productive sector.

But the private sector will become less dynamic as we become more like Greece. Here are some very depressing bits of information I’ve shared in the past.

P.S. While the regulatory burden in the United States is stifling, I think Greece and Japan win the record if you want to identify the most absurd specific examples of red tape.

P.P.S. Though I suspect America wins the prize for worst regulatory agency and most despicable regulatory practice.

P.P.P.S. Here’s what would happen if Noah tried to comply with today’s level of red tape when building an ark.

P.P.P.P.S. Just in case you think regulation is “merely” a cost imposed on businesses, don’t forget that bureaucratic red tape is the reason we’re now forced to use inferior light bulbs, substandard toilets, second-rate dishwashers, and inadequate washing machines.

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Normally I’m very happy to work for the Cato Institute, both because it is a principled and effective organization.

But I wondered about my career choices last night because I was stuck with the very unpleasant task of live-tweeting the Democrat presidential debate. Cleaning out septic tanks would have been a more enjoyable way to spend my time.

Of all the crazy things that were discussed (you can see my contemporaneous reactions on my Twitter feed), the Clinton-Sanders-O’Malley support for so-called Paycheck Fairness legislation would be at the top of my list.

Yes, I was irked by the myopic fixation on income inequality, the support for class-warfare taxation, and the reflexive advocacy for more government spending, but messing around with the price system – because of an assertion that women are paid 77 cents for every $1 received by men – is an entirely different level of foolishness.

Here’s some of what I wrote in 2012, for instance, when discussing proposals to give politicians power over wage levels.

…what’s really at stake is whether we want resources to be allocated by market forces instead of political edicts. This should be a no-brainer. If we look at the failure of central planning in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, a fundamental problem was that government officials – even assuming intelligence and good intentions – did not have the knowledge needed to make decisions on prices. And in the absence of a functioning price system, resources get misallocated and growth suffers. So you can imagine the potential damage of giving politicians, bureaucrats, and courts the ability to act as central planners for the wage system.

In other words, higher taxes and more spending will dampen growth, and that’s no good, but pervasive intervention in the price system can screw up an entire economy. Indeed, I suspect only bad monetary policy is capable of inflicting a greater level of damage.

Moreover, the left’s theory is based on the assumption that greedy businesses and investors are deliberately sacrificing profits by choosing to pay men more when they could hire equally qualified women for less money.

To use a highly technical economic phrase, that’s friggin’ nuts.

Yet our leftist friends want to replace market-based compensation with coercion-based wages.

Consider, for instance, a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts about initiatives on the state level.

…the California Legislature…sent Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown a “pay equity” bill… California isn’t alone in acting. …the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, North Dakota and Oregon have signed equal pay laws this year. New York legislators unanimously passed a bill that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated he will sign. And Massachusetts has two bills pending. Equal pay bills also were introduced in 21 other states.

The article cited my unflattering remarks on the issue.

…some critics, such as Daniel Mitchell of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, said that the new legislation would put a “catastrophic burden” on businesses. “The notion that there’s some widespread discrimination in the marketplace, there’s just no real-world evidence for it,” Mitchell said. “They’re trying to give the government widespread authority to make very abstract judgments about the value of a job in the private sector.”

And I’m not the only critic.

Here are some excerpts from a recent column in the Wall Street Journal by Sarah Ketterer.

When it comes to economically foolish laws, California is second to none. A good example is the California Fair Pay Act… Like its national counterpart, it is an aggressive attempt to eradicate a wage gap between men and women that is allegedly due to discrimination in the workplace. But this wage gap is illusory, and the legislation will have unintended consequences, including for women.

She’s right. Policy that is bad when implemented by a state can cause widespread damage if imposed nationally.

Ms. Ketterer elaborates on why the proposal is misguided.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that its analysis of wages by gender does “not control for many factors that can be significant in explaining earnings differences.” What factors? Start with hours worked. …Men are significantly more likely than women to work longer hours, according to the BLS. And if we compare only people who work 40 hours a week, BLS data show that women then earn on average 90 cents for every dollar earned by men. Career choice is another factor. …Of the 10 lowest-paying majors—such as “drama and theater arts” and “counseling psychology”—only one, “theology and religious vocations,” is majority male. Conversely, of the 10 highest-paying majors—including “mathematics and computer science” and “petroleum engineering”—only one, “pharmacy sciences and administration,” is majority female. Eight of the remaining nine are more than 70% male. Other factors that account for earnings differences include marriage and children, both of which cause many women to leave the workforce for years.

And here’s the amazing part.

One of Obama’s top economic advisers, to maintain her academic credibility, admitted that the 77 cents number is fraudulent.

It’s unclear whether Clinton-Sanders-O’Malley know (or even care) that the number is garbage.  But what is clear is that legislation based on this dishonest data could cause massive economic distortions.

Though, to be fair, Ms. Ketterer points out that trial lawyers will enjoy more business.

What California’s Fair Pay Act will do, however, is make the state, already notorious for regulation and red tape, a more difficult place to do business. Companies must now ensure that every penny of wage differential between the men and women they employ is attributable to bona-fide differences in education, training, experience, quantity or quality of work, and so on. …even attempting to do so will only add to companies’ already substantial regulatory-compliance budgets. Some of these factors—quality of work, for instance—are inevitably subjective, yet trial lawyers will swoop in to turn every conceivable pay difference into a lawsuit.

A bunch of lawsuits would actually be the least-worst outcome.

What scares me far more is pervasive controls on wages, which is what our leftist friends ultimately prefer.

P.S. You probably won’t be surprised, given their history of mendacity, to learn that the left-wing bureaucrats at the Paris-based OECD also are peddling dishonest numbers to advance this ideological agenda.

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As you can see from this interview, I get rather frustrated by the minimum wage debate. I’m baffled that some people don’t realize that jobs won’t be created unless it’s profitable to create them.

You would think the negative effects of a higher minimum wage in Seattle would be all the evidence that’s needed, but I’ve noted before that many people decide this issue based on emotion rather than logic.

So even though we have lots of evidence already that wage mandates cause joblessness (especially for minorities), let’s add to our collection.

Here are some excerpts from a Wall Street Journal column by Professor David Neumark from the University of California Irvine.

Economists have written scores of papers on the topic dating back 100 years, and the vast majority of these studies point to job losses for the least-skilled. They are based on fundamental economic reasoning—that when you raise the price of something, in this case labor, less of it will be demanded, or in this case hired. Among the many studies supporting this conclusion is one completed earlier this year by Texas A&M’s Jonathan Meer and MIT’s Jeremy West, which reaffirmed that “the minimum wage reduces job growth over a period of several years”… An extensive survey of decades of minimum-wage research, published by William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Board and me in a 2008 book titled “Minimum Wages,” generally found a 1% or 2% reduction for teenage or very low-skill employment for each 10% minimum-wage increase. …let’s not pretend that a higher minimum wage doesn’t come with costs, and let’s not ignore that some of the low-skill workers the policy is intended to help will bear some of these costs.

The column also exposes some of the methodological flaws in studies that claim high minimum wages don’t lead to job losses, so the entire piece is worth reading.

Since we’re on this topic, here’s a great table prepared by Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute. Is anyone shocked to learn that countries with minimum wage mandates have higher unemployment levels, particularly for young people?

I have two big observations and two minor comments in response to this data.

The first big observation is the caveat that minimum wage mandates are just one piece of the economic puzzle. The numbers if Greece, for instance, are miserable for many reasons. The minimum wage mandate is just another straw on the camel’s back. Moreover, it’s possible for a nation to have a decent-performing economy with a minimum wage (see Luxembourg) and a decrepit economy without one (see Italy). It’s the overall burden of government that matters, which is why the rankings from Economic Freedom of the World are the first place to look when determining if a nation is market-oriented or statist.

That being said, Mark’s data certainly shows a correlation between joblessness and minimum wage mandates. Part of the reason for this link is that higher minimum wages are bad for employment, and part of the reason for the correlation is that governments foolish enough to impose minimum wages are probably foolish enough to impose other bad policies as well.

The second big observation is that I periodically encounter leftists who say a minimum wage is needed because employers have all the leverage and would pay workers starvation wages in the absence of a mandate. To which I always respond by asking them, “Then why don’t employers use that leverage to reduce the wages of the 98 percent of workers who make more than the minimum wage?” That shuts down the conversation very quickly.

But now I’ll also ask these folks, “And why aren’t workers in Austria and Sweden paid starvation wages?” Their responses will be amusing.

For my minor comments, I’ll start by noting that Switzerland is a uniquely sensible nation. Voters recently rejected a minimum wage mandate by an overwhelming 3-1 margin. I fear American voters would not be nearly as sensible if we had a national referendum.

My second minor comment is to share this amusing report about Belgian politicians whining that the lack of a minimum wage in Germany (at least as of 2013) was causing “unfair” competition. Oh, the horror!

Last but not least, let’s recycle this great video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

If you have friends and colleagues who lean left but nonetheless are open-minded, please share this video with them.

And let them know that even Janet Yellen of the Federal Reserve has acknowledged that minimum wage mandates are recipe of joblessness.

P.S. I wrote a few days ago to identify several statist policies that cause inequality. Well, I’ve added to that list because it turns out that red tape also can unjustly line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor. Make sure to check out the updated version of that post.

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Government intervention has messed up the healthcare sector, leading to needlessly high prices and massive inefficiency.

Fixing the mess won’t be easy since it would involve addressing several contributing problems, including Medicare, Medicaid, the healthcare exclusion in the tax code, Obamacare, and the mess at the Veterans Administration.

But at least we know the right solutions. We need entitlement reform and tax reform in order to restore a genuine free market and solve the government-created third-party payer crisis.

And to bolster the case for reform, we’re going to look at three new examples of how government intervention makes the healthcare system worse rather than better.

For our first example, let’s look at a new report from the National Center for Policy Analysis, which compares what happens when the federal government decides to build a hospital with a similar project constructed by a local government with private-sector involvement.

We’ll start with a look at Veterans Administration project.

…the VA hospital in Denver, Colorado, was run-down, crowded and outdated. …the VA considered renovating the medical facilities of the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center at a cost of $30 million. Then, the University of Colorado Hospital offered to open jointly-operated facilities for $200 million. VA officials passed on both ideas due to cost concerns. Instead, officials sought and received approval for a stand-alone facility.

That decision was very costly for taxpayers.

The VA failed to produce a design that could be built for its budget of $604 million, ultimately causing a budget-busting $1 billion overrun. …Soon, the plan to build an affordable replacement morphed into the most extravagant and expensive hospital construction project in VA history.

And, as is typical of government projects, the cost to taxpayers was far higher than initial estimates used to justify the project.

Now let’s look at another project, this one in Dallas, Texas.

…the original Parkland Hospital was built in Dallas to serve the young city’s indigent population. …its aging facilities could no longer meet the demand of 1 million patients admitted each year. …The project to rebuild Parkland, split roughly 60/40 in revenue sources, was accountable to both the public and its private donors. …Project managers hired an independent auditor to monitor all project transactions. Budget progress reports were made available to both Parkland’s Board and the public.

The final outcome was far from perfect (after all, local governments are also quite capable of wasting money). But the involvement of the private sector, combined with the fact that the local government was spending its own money, created incentives for a much better outcome.

On the first day of construction, Parkland’s project team was $100 million over budget. But a flexible design, and a willingness to balance needs and wants, allowed the team to deliver a larger, more cost-effective hospital than originally conceived for a mere 6 percent increase in budget.

And here’s a chart from the NCPA report that perfectly captures the difference between the federal government and a project involving a local government and the private sector.

Can you think of a better argument for local private-public partnerships over the federal government?

Yet policy keeps moving in the wrong direction in Washington.

The Obamacare boondoggle was all about increasing the federal government’s control and intervention in the healthcare sector.

And this brings us to our second not-so-great example of government-run healthcare.

The New York Times has a story with a real-world example showing how the President’s failed legislation is hurting small businesses.

LaRonda Hunter…envisioned…a small regional collection of salons. As her sales grew, so did her business, which now encompasses four locations — but her plans for a fifth salon are frozen, perhaps permanently.

And why can’t she expand her business and create jobs?

Because Obamacare makes it impossible.

Starting in January, the Affordable Care Act requires businesses with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to offer workers health insurance or face penalties that can exceed $2,000 per employee. Ms. Hunter, who has 45 employees, is determined not to cross that threshold. Paying for health insurance would wipe out her company’s profit and the five-figure salary she pays herself from it, she said.

And Ms. Hunter is just the tip of the iceberg.

For some business owners on the edge of the cutoff, the mandate is forcing them to weigh very carefully the price of growing bigger. “There’s kind of a deer-in-headlights moment for those who say, ‘I have this new potential client, but if I bring them on, I have to hire five additional people,’” said Philip P. Noftsinger, the payroll unit president at CBIZ, a financial services provider for businesses. “They’re really trying to assess how much the 50th employee is going to cost. …Added to that cost are the administrative requirements. Starting this year, all companies with 50 or more full-time workers — even those not yet required to offer health benefits — must file new tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service that provide details on employee head count and any health insurance offered. Gathering the data requires meticulous record-keeping. “These are some of the most complex informational returns we’ve ever seen,” said Roger Prince, a tax lawyer.

Here’s another real-world example.

The expense and distraction of all that paperwork is one of the biggest frustrations for one business owner, Joseph P. Sergio. …He is reluctant to go over the 50-employee line and incur all of the new rules that come with it. That makes bidding for new jobs an arduous and risky exercise. …”If you ramp up, and it pushes you over 50, there’s all these unknown costs and complicated rules. Are we really going to be able to benefit from going after that opportunity? It freezes you at a time when you need to be moving fast.”

And don’t forget that while Obamacare discourages entrepreneurs from creating jobs, it also discourages people from seeking jobs.

That’s the kind of two-for-one special that’s only possible with big government!

Now that we’ve cited examples of bad policy from the Veterans Administration and Obamacare, let’s turn to Medicare for our third example.

Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center writes about rampant Medicare fraud in her syndicated column.

Medicare is rife with fraud, and every year, billions of dollars are improperly paid out by the federal government’s giant health care bureaucracy. According to the government’s latest estimates, Medicare fee-for-service (parts A and B) made $46 billion in improper payments last year. And Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D) combined for another $15 billion in improper payments. Even more disturbing is the possibility that these numbers underestimate the annual losses to taxpayers from fraud and bureaucratic bungling. According to the work of Harvard University’s Malcolm Sparrow, fraud could account for as much as 20 percent of total federal health care spending, which would be considerably higher than what the government’s figures indicate.

None of this should be a surprise. Medicare has a notorious history of waste, fraud, and abuse.

But there is a glimmer of good news. There’s actually a program to identify and recover wasted funds.

The RAC program is geared toward correcting improper payments… The auditors thus pay for themselves with the money they recoup instead of simply being handed a lump-sum check. That the RAC program has an incentive to reduce wasteful spending and save taxpayers money makes it fairly unusual among government initiatives.

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished in Washington.

…bureaucrats are set to greatly diminish the program’s effectiveness in 2016. Rather than empower these fraud hunters, they are drastically reducing the number of paid claims that auditors can review every 45 days (from 2 percent down to just 0.5 percent). The new limits will make it that much harder for auditors — whose cost already amounts to just a drop in the bucket — to recoup taxpayer losses.

I’ve also written about this absurd effort to curtail the RAC program, but Veronique makes a critically important observation that has widespread applicability to so much of what happens with government.

Agency failure is routinely rewarded in Washington with bigger budgets and greater authority, but here success will not be.

This, in a nutshell, is the difference between the private sector and the government.

In my speeches, I sometimes point out that people in the private economy make mistakes all the time, but I also explain that the incentive to earn profits and avoid losses creates a powerful incentive structure to quickly learn from mistakes.

That means resources quickly get reallocated in ways that are more likely to boost economic efficiency and increase growth and living standards.

In government, by contrast, this process is reversed. Bureaucrats and politicians reflexively argue that failure simply means that budgets should be expanded.

All of which explains why these cartoons are such perfect depictions of government.

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I may have to change my mind. When asked a few years ago to pick which department in Washington most deserved to be eliminated, I chose the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And HUD unquestionably is a cesspool of waste, so it certainly should be shuttered.

But the more I read about the bizarre handouts and subsidies showered on big agribusiness producers by the Department of Agriculture, the more I think there’s a very compelling argument that it should be at top of my list.

Indeed, these giveaways are so disgusting and corrupt that not only should the department be abolished, but the headquarters should be razed and then the ground should be covered by a foot of salt to make sure nothing ever springs back to life.

That’s a bit of hyperbole, I realize, but you’ll hopefully feel the same way after today. That’s because we’re going to look at a few examples of the bad results caused by government intervention.

To get an idea of the Soviet-style nonsense of American agricultural programs, a Reuters report on the peanut programs reveals how subsidies and intervention are bad news for taxpayers and consumers. Here’s the big picture.

A mountain of peanuts is piling up in the U.S. south, threatening to hand American taxpayers a near $2-billion bailout bill over the next three years, and leaving the government with a big chunk of the crop on its books. …experts say it is the unintended consequence of recent changes in farm policies that create incentives for farmers to keep adding to excess supply.

And here’s a description of the perverse and contradictory interventions that have been created in Washington.

First, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is paying farmers most of the difference between the “reference price” of $535 per ton (26.75 cents per lb) and market prices, now below $400 per ton. A Nov. 18 report to Congress estimates such payments this year for peanuts exceed those for corn and soybeans by more than $100 per acre. Secondly, government loan guarantees mean once prices fall below levels used to value their crops as collateral, farmers have an incentive to default on the loans and hand over the peanuts to the USDA rather than sell them to make the payments.

Gee, what a nice scam. Uncle Sam tells these farmers welfare recipients that they can take out loans and then not pay back the money if peanut prices aren’t at some arbitrary level decided by the commissars politicians and bureaucrats in Washington.

In other words, assuming the peanut lobbyists have cleverly worked the system (and unfortunately they have), it’s a license to steal money from the general population by over-producing peanuts. And we’re talking a lot of peanuts.

Through forfeitures, the USDA amassed 145,000 tons of peanuts from last year’s crop, its largest stockpile in at least nine years, according to data compiled by Reuters. …That stockpile is enough to satisfy the average annual consumption of over 20 million Americans – more than the population of Florida – and puts the administration in a bind. …As peanut carryover inventories are forecast to hit a record of 1.4 million tons by end-July 2016 and as loans begin to come due next summer, farmers are expected to fork over more peanuts to the USDA.

Moreover, because the perverse interaction of the various handouts, there’s no solution (other than…gasp!…allowing a free market to operate).

Storing the peanuts in shellers’ and growers’ warehouses comes at a cost. Selling them could depress the market further and in turn would add to the price subsidy bill.

Now let’s shift gears and look at another sleazy and corrupt example of agricultural welfare.

The Des Moines Register is reporting that corn growers and other beneficiaries of the ethanol program are working to cement their place at the public trough.

Iowa’s billion-dollar ethanol industry is turning up the heat… America’s Renewable Future, a bipartisan political group backed by top Iowa elected officials and people in agriculture and the ethanol industry, is in the midst of a million-dollar ad campaign to exert pressure on candidates ahead of the Iowa caucuses, supporting candidates who back the Renewable Fuel Standard and criticizing those who denounce it.

Ethanol is a particularly evil handout, encompassing regulatory mandates, special tax preferences, trade barriers, and other forms of subsidies.

All this is necessary because it makes no economic sense to turn corn into fuel. But with the right amount of goodies from Washington, dumb things suddenly become “profitable.”

And to maintain the flow of undeserved loot, the moochers are applying pressure.

Patty Judge, co-chair of America’s Renewable Future and a former Iowa agriculture secretary, said the group has signed up 45,000 people who have pledged to look closely at how the candidates stand on the Renewable Fuel Standard when they vote in the Iowa caucuses. …Iowa is the nation’s largest ethanol producer, churning out 3.9 billion gallons in 2014.

While the stories about peanuts and ethanol make for grim reading, now it’s time to get really depressed.

That’s because we’re going to take a look at a New York Times story on how Washington is dealing with ag subsidies.

In April, Republicans newly in control of Congress celebrated their agreement on a plan to save $5 trillion — that’s trillion, with a “T” — and balance the budget in a decade. …Yet as the year closes, Congress instead is planning to repeal one of the few spending cuts it has passed into law since approving that budget resolution: $3 billion over a decade from subsidies for crop insurers. …Republican leaders agreed to hold a vote next month to delete the savings after lawmakers from agricultural states complained…the agriculture committees, like most others, had no intention of turning budget-balancing numbers into policy reality by voting for cuts that would anger constituents, contributors and influential interest groups — not the $20 billion that the budget resolution recommended, nor even the $3 billion reduction from crop insurers, a cut that administration officials and Republican leaders tucked into the bipartisan budget deal Congress passed in October.

By the way, to get further depressed, this means that the terrible agreement to bust the spending caps just became even worse.

So now you’ll understand why the Department of Agriculture deserves to be eliminated.

P.S. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the disgraced and convicted former House Speaker, Denny Hastert, had his filthy hands in the ethanol business.

P.P.S. And don’t forget that the wasteful food stamp program is part of the Department of Agriculture, largely to create an unholy alliance of rural moochers and urban moochers.

P.P.P.S. Last but not least, the clowns in Washington not only muck up how food is produced, they also can’t resist interfering in how food is consumed.

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