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Posts Tagged ‘Government Spending’

San Francisco used to be famous for cable cars.

Now it’s getting well known for its “poop patrol” and maps that warn people about the ubiquitous presence of human excrement.

Why are people defecating on city sidewalks? Because there’s a major problem with government-created homelessness thanks to rent control and zoning restrictions.

And homelessness gives us our topic for today because we have an astounding example of government waste.

More specifically, a story from the San Francisco Chronicle nicely summarizes the efficiency and competence of the public sector.

An experiment to put a homeless shelter in a San Francisco public school gym has so far been a costly failure, …costing taxpayers about $700 for each person who spends the night. …only five families have used the facility at 23rd and Valencia streets in the Mission, with an average occupancy of less than two people per night… The facility is completely empty several nights each month, Kositsky said, although shelter workers are on-site seven nights a week and through holidays, whether anyone shows up or not.

I’ve been to San Francisco many times. Hotels are not cheap.

But I’ve never had to pay anywhere close to $700 per night.

Though maybe this San Francisco program is a bargain since it costs the state $1.3 million per year to house a homeless person.

So why did the city create this boondoggle? For the same reason that many programs are created. Politicians and bureaucrats exaggerated about a problem.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen and the school’s administrators…advocated for the shelter, saying there were dozens of families facing homelessness at Buena Vista Horace Mann who needed someplace to sleep. The principal at the time, Richard Zapien, said he had identified 60 families in unstable housing.

But here’s a passage that captures the real story.

This program was created to funnel money to a non-profit group and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that officers of this group are supporters (campaign cash, get-out-the-vote, etc) of the politicians who created the program.

The city has been paying the nonprofit Dolores Street Community Services $40,000 per month to manage the shelter, and if it were to be successful, would spend up to $900,000 per year to serve up to 20 families at a time with all-night staffing, food and support services to help them find permanent housing.

In other words, we have another example of how government is a racket.

No matter how flawed and foolish a program may be, never forget that it’s putting unearned money in the pockets of some group of people. And that group of people know how to play the game, since they then recycle some of the loot back to the politicians.

Politicians don’t care if the money is wasted. They don’t care if there’s rampant fraud.

They’re simply buying votes. With our money.

P.S. There is a sure-fire way of reducing this kind of corrupt behavior, but don’t hold your breath expecting it to happen.

P.P.S. Though you may want to hold your breath if you visit the city.

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The Congressional Budget Office just released its new long-run fiscal forecast.

Most observers immediately looked at the estimates for deficits and debt. Those numbers are important, especially since America has an aging population, but they should be viewed as secondary.

What really matters are the trends for both taxes and spending.

Here are the three things that you need to know.

First, America’s tax burden is increasing. Immediately below are two charts. The first one shows that revenues will consume an addition three percentage points of GDP over the next three decades. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, our long-run problem is not caused by inadequate revenue.

The second of the two charts shows that most of the increase is due to “real bracket creep,” which is what happens when people earn more income and wind up having to pay higher tax rates.

So even if Congress extends the “Cadillac tax” on health premiums and extends all the temporary provisions of the 2017 Tax Act, the aggregate tax burden will increase.

Second, the spending burden is growing even faster than the tax burden.

And if you look closely at the top section of Figure 1-7, you’ll see that the big problems are the entitlements for health care (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare).

By the way, the lower section of Figure 1-7 shows that corporate tax revenues are projected to average about 1.3 percent of GDP, which is not that much lower than what CBO projected (about 1.7 percent of GDP) before the rate was reduced by 40 percent.

Interesting.

Third, we have our most important chart.

It shows that the United States is on a very bad trajectory because the burden of government spending is growing faster than the private economy.

In other words, Washington is violating my Golden Rule.

And this leads to all sorts of negative consequences.

  • Government consumes a greater share of the economy over time.
  • Politicians will want to respond by raising taxes.
  • Politicians will allow red ink to increase.

The key thing to understand is that more taxes and more debt are the natural and inevitable symptoms of the underlying disease of too much spending.

We know the solution, and we have real world evidence that it works (especially when part of a nation’s constitution), but don’t hold your breath waiting for Washington to do the right thing.

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I wrote yesterday about the leadership race for the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.

The most important goal is to find a leader who will deliver a “clean Brexit,” but I also pointed out that it would be very desirable to select a Prime Minister who will support much-needed supply-side reforms to make the U.K. more attractive for jobs and investment.

Today, let’s turn our attention to the spending side of the fiscal ledger.

The accompanying table of data (from page 65 of HM Treasury’s Statistical Analyses of Public Expenditure) shows annual spending in nominal and inflation-adjusted terms, as well as the burden of spending as a share of economic output.

If you look at trends, you’ll notice a bit of progress in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher and then some backsliding last decade when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in charge.

But the most surprising results can be found this decade.

Starting in 2011, there’s been some impressive spending restraint. Nominal outlays have increased by an average of 1.7 percent annually.

And since the private sector has grown at a faster pace, that means the overall burden of government spending – measured as a share of gross domestic product – has declined.

I’ve never thought of David Cameron (Prime Minister from 2010-2016) or Theresa May (Prime Minister since 2016) as fiscal conservatives, but they deserve credit for keeping spending under control.

(Too bad we can’t say the same thing about Donald Trump!)

In any event, the new leader of the Conservative Party should maintain this approach. Or, better yet, go one step further by institutionalizing some sort of Swiss-style spending cap.

There’s also a lesson for the rest of us.

What’s happened in the United Kingdom is additional confirmation that my Golden Rule is the right approach to fiscal policy.

Nations with multi-year periods of spending restraint always get good fiscal results.

We even had such an experience in the United States (back when Republicans pretended to care about spending).

Let’s close with this chart, based on IMF data, showing what’s happened this decade in the United Kingdom.

P.S. Unsurprisingly, Paul Krugman got everything backwards when he examined U.K. fiscal policy earlier this decade.

P.P.S. While they did a surprisingly good job on spending restraint, that doesn’t change the fact that Cameron was bad on tax policy and May was a failure on Brexit.

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The Conservative Party in the United Kingdom is in the process of selecting a new leader to replace the disastrous Theresa May as Prime Minister.

The most important goal for the Tories is to find someone who will deliver a clean Brexit and thereby extricate the country from a decrepit and declining European Union.

But once Brexit does happen, adopting pro-growth policies will be very important – especially if the European Union petulantly tries to make the transition painful by rejecting a free trade agreement.

The good news is that the United Kingdom is ranked #9 for overall economic liberty according to the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World, so it has a strong foundation for competitiveness.

The bad news is that the U.K. is only ranked #120 for fiscal policy.

Since that’s the weak spot, let’s see what can be done to move in the right direction.

Let’s look at the tax side of the fiscal equation. According to the Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index, the U.K. is in the bottom half (almost in the bottom third). And I’ve circled the country’s dismal ranking for individual taxes.

By the way, I don’t think this Index is a perfect measure. As I pointed out back in 2016, it needs to include a size-of-government variable.

Nonetheless, it’s a great place to start.

Now let’s consider the fiscal plans of various candidates for Tory leader.

The U.K.-based Mirror has a helpful summary.

Frontrunner Boris Johnson has promised a massive income tax cut for Britain’s richest people – by raising the 40p threshold from £50,000 to £80,000. …Meanwhile Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said he would partially reverse swingeing Tory cuts to the police and recruit 20,000 police officers. He also planned a tax cut for the richest 1% of taxpayers in the UK by removing the 45p rate of income tax, if it pays off overall. …Michael Gove has pledged to scrap VAT replacing it with a simpler sales tax. …Meanwhile Esther McVey has vowed to cut taxes – without saying which – and slash £7billion from the foreign aid budget and spend it on school and police. …Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab…promised to shrink the state and slash public spending by reducing the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 15p over time – including a 1p drop “straight away”. …Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to cut corporation tax further to 12.5%. That would make the UK’s tax rate by far the lowest in the G20 and turn the country into a tax haven. …Rory Stewart has himself already said he would double spending on climate change and the environment as he warned the UK must do more in the face of an “environmental cataclysm”. Former Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom…is committed to “low taxes, incentives for enterprise and strong employment opportunities”.

A mixed bag.

Rory Stewart seems to have the most statist mindset (he’s also very weak on Brexit), but it’s not clear who has the best fiscal plan.

Let’s look at more data. The Wall Street Journal opined this morning on this topic.

The editorial starts with an indictment of the current system.

Britain’s Byzantine tax system still drags on investment, productivity and growth despite important recent improvements. The top corporate rate has fallen to 19% from 30% since 2007 and is due to hit 17% next year. But the top personal rate, paid on incomes above £150,000, has fallen only to 45% from 50%. Coupled with abrupt income cutoffs in eligibility for allowances and credits, British taxpayers in practice can experience a marginal rate as high as 60% for each additional pound of income between £100,000 and £124,000, and 65% for families with three children earning between £50,000 and £60,000, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Add taxes on pension contributions at higher incomes and some workers pay marginal rates above 100% on parts of their income—paying more than a pound in tax for each additional pound they earn. …Social-insurance and property taxes add more burdens.

And this doesn’t even include the fact that the U.K. has above-average death taxes and higher-than average levels of double taxation.

How do Tory candidates propose to deal with these problems?

The best Conservative leadership proposals so far come from Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.Mr. Hunt pledges to reduce the corporate rate to 12.5% to match Ireland’s low rate… Mr. Javid would cut the top individual rate to 40%. …Frontrunner Boris Johnson promises to increase the threshold at which the 40% rate kicks in, to £80,000 from £50,000. The 4.2 million people estimated to see their taxes reduced won’t complain. But tweaking brackets does nothing to fix the current tax code’s bad rate incentives for top earners—the entrepreneurs and investors post-Brexit Britain needs to attract. …Brexit hardliner Dominic Raab would cut the lower personal rate for earners between £12,500 and £50,000 to 15% from 20%. Any rate cut is welcome, but this would help many households that already receive more in benefits than they pay in tax. Environment Secretary Michael Gove would replace the 20% value-added tax with a lower-rate U.S.-style sales tax, which would be a boon to low-income households. But neither would fix broken incentives to work and invest as incomes rise.

As you can see, it’s a mix of mediocre-to-good ideas.

Much like when Republicans generated a bunch of plans when competing for the nomination in 2016.

Of course, let’s also keep in mind that Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party also has a tax plan, which is a poisonous collection of class-warfare provisions that would make the U.K. less attractive for jobs and investment.

Which means it is especially important, as the WSJ concludes, to have a compelling case for growth instead of redistribution.

…the only way Britain can prosper post-Brexit is by becoming a magnet for investment and human talent. If voters want the party of income redistribution, they’ll choose Labour. Tories have to be the credible party of growth, with a leader willing and able to make the reform case.

In other words, is there another Margaret Thatcher somewhere in the mix?

P.S. If you want to enjoy some Brexit-themed humor, click here and here.

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As part of today’s sessions at the Friedman conference in Australia, I got to listen to Professor Tony Makin talk about the burden of government spending in Australia.

I want to share several of his slides since he made some very cogent points.

First, he pointed out that debt-financed government spending is bad.

But he also pointed out that tax-financed government spending is equally bad.

In other words, the fiscal burden of government is the total level of spending. How that spending is financed is a secondary concern.

I’ve made similar arguments, so perhaps this won’t be new information for regular readers.

However, Professor Makin augmented the theory with some statistical analysis.

This is how he structured his model.

And here are his results.

His numbers shouldn’t be a surprise. I narrated an entire video that listed study after study showing the same thing.

And even the OECD has, on multiple occasions, produced research showing that bigger public sectors are associated with weaker economic performance. Same thing with economists at the IMF (the political leadership at the international bureaucracies is terrible, but the economists sometimes produce solid research).

By the way, Professor Makin shared some fascinating Australia-specific data looking at spending increases (or decreases) by year. And also broke down the data by who controlled the government.

As you can see (echoing what I wrote two days ago), the supposedly left-wing Hawke and Keating governments were reasonably frugal.

John Howard, by contrast, was supposed to be a right-of-center leader. Yet he fell off the wagon after a strong start (and also set the stage for a very bad Labor government).

In recent years, the right-of-center Liberal-National coalition has done a decent job. It will interesting to see what happens when newly reelected Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveils the next budget.

My two cents (in addition to lowering the top tax rate) is that he should propose some sort of spending cap, like the ones in Switzerland and Hong Kong.

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Every so often, I’ll see a story (or sometimes even just a photo, a court decision, or a phrase) that sums up the essence of government – a unseemly combination of venality and incompetence.

Today, we’re going to review three examples that make my point.

We’ll lead with a story that is a perfect case study of Washington.

It starts with Trump imposing tax increases on imports. That’s bad.

Then Trump says we have to subsidize sectors of the economy hurt by retaliatory tariffs. That’s one bad policy leading to another bad policy (hmmm…., there’s a name for that).

And that second bad policy leads to something else bad, at least according to the New York Daily News.

The Department of Agriculture cut a contract in January to purchase $22.3 million worth of pork from plants operated by JBS USA, a Colorado-based subsidiary of Brazil’s JBS SA, which ranks as the largest meatpacker in the world. …The bailout raised eyebrows from industry insiders at the time, as it was sourced from a $12 billion program meant for American farmers harmed by President Trump’s escalating trade war with China and other countries. …previously undisclosed purchase reports…reveal the administration has since issued at least two more bailouts to JBS, even as Trump’s own Justice Department began investigating the meatpacker, whose owners are Joesley and Wesley Batista — two wealthy brothers who have confessed to bribing hundreds of top officials in Brazil. Both brothers have spent time in jail over the sweeping corruption scandal. …Nonetheless, Trump’s Agriculture Department issued $14.5 million in bailout cash for pork products from JBS in February and another $25.6 million earlier this month, totaling more than $62.4 million, according to the purchase reports. …Including the JBS bailouts, the administration doled out $11 billion in relief payments to farmers hurt in the trade war last year.

Wow. I don’t know if this is better or worse than the Administration spending $13.6 million to hire two agents for the border patrol.

And I don’t know whether it’s better or worse than this next example of government foolishness.

A report published by Quartz estimates the amount of many Washington has wasted on abstinence programs.

Between 1982 and 2017, Congress spent over $2 billion on programs which teach teens that the best way to address their desire to have sex is to wait until they get married, according to a new study… Called abstinence only until marriage (AOUM), these programs accurately explain that the best way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is to not have sex. …From 1995 to 2011–2013, the share of US adolescents who received instruction on abstinence but no instruction about birth control methods, increased from 8% to 28% of females and from 9% to 35% of males, according to the report. …Scientific evidence shows the approach doesn’t actually delay teens having sex, or engaging in risky sexual behaviors.

Just like the money spent to encourage marriage is a waste.

By the way, I’m also sure that the money spent on regular sex education and birth control education hasn’t worked, either.

Indeed, I wonder if such spending actually makes things worse (such as the Indiana driver education program that turned kids into worse drivers).

For our third example, here’s some of what the New York Times wrote about refrigerators on Air Force One.

…two of the refrigerators on the president’s plane need to be upgraded, and these specially designed “chillers” aren’t cheap. The Boeing Company was awarded a nearly $24 million contract in December to engineer the refrigerators for Air Force One, the Defense Department said. …Perhaps in anticipation of taxpayer sticker shock, the Air Force also said “the engineering required to design, manufacture, conduct environmental testing and obtain Federal Aviation Administration certification” were all included in the cost. …Air Force One must be able to feed passengers and crew for weeks without resupplying, according to the news website Defense One. …Two galleys can provide up to 100 meals at one sitting, according to the Air Force.

This story presumably involves two common features of government contracting.

First, pay too much for what is ordered (and this doesn’t even count the seemingly inevitable cost overruns).

Second, ask for something excessive in the first place. What’s the point, for instance, of storing several weeks of food when the longest-possible trips are maybe 20 hours? Yes, I watched Independence Day and I realize that Air Force One may become the mobile White House in an emergency, but wouldn’t MREs be acceptable for our pampered politicians and senior staff if there was a real crisis?

I’ll conclude by observing that these three stories reminded me of this satirical version of The Candyman.

P.S. There’s also an Obamaman version of Candyman.

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Earlier this year, I reviewed new fiscal projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and showed that balancing the budget would be relatively easy if politicians simply limited spending so that it didn’t grow faster than inflation.

Though I made sure to point out that the primary goal should be to limit the burden of spending. That’s because government spending, regardless of whether it’s financed by taxes or financed by borrowing, undermines prosperity by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy.

We now have some new numbers from CBO. The number-crunching bureaucrats have put together their estimates of the latest Trump budget and that’s generated some predictable squabbling between Republicans and Democrats.

Most of the finger-pointing has focused on the (relatively trivial) fiscal impact of the Trump tax cuts.

The Wall Street Journal wisely put the focus instead on the growth of government.

You wouldn’t know it from the press coverage, but there’s some modest good news about the federal budget. The deficit is rising, but not as much as feared because tax revenues are increasing due to faster economic growth. …So why has the federal deficit increased by $145 billion this fiscal year to $531 billion? Because federal spending continued to rise rapidly—7% in the first seven months to $2.571 trillion. That’s $178 billion more than in the same period a year ago. …The media blame deficits on tax reform, but the facts show the main culprit is spending. No one in the political class wants to talk about entitlements but that’s where the money is.

The WSJ’s editorial focused on short-run data.

I want to augment that analysis by looking at medium-run and long-run numbers.

We’ll start with this chart looking at what will happen over the next 10 years. As you can see, Washington is violating my Golden Rule by allowing spending to grow faster than the private economy.

As a result, the burden of federal spending, measured as a share of gross domestic product, is projected to climb over the next decade.

That’s not good news.

(For what it’s worth, since tax revenues will be growing at the same pace as spending, there won’t be any meaningful change in the deficit as a share of GDP.)

Now let’s look at the most-recent long-run data from CBO. These numbers are even more depressing because the spending burden continues to grow faster than the private sector. A lot faster.

Which is why the burden of federal spending is projected to increase from less than 21 percent of GDP today to nearly 29 percent of GDP by 2049.

That’s terrible news.

And if you include spending by state and local governments (which currently consumes more than 11 percent of economic output and also is projected to increase), the terrible news gets even worse.

Moreover, the tax burden is projected to climb as well, and that doesn’t even include any estimate of what will happen if politicians manage to impose a value-added tax, an energy tax, a wealth tax, a financial transactions tax, or any of the other revenue-raising schemes under consideration in Washington.

In other words, the U.S. is on track to become just like GreeceFrance, and Italy.

P.S. There is an alternative to this dismal future. But can we convince politicians to adopt a spending cap and then make it work with genuine entitlement reform? I’m not holding my breath for any of that to happen.

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