Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘India’

I spend much of my time analyzing the foolish and counterproductive policies imposed by Washington. Often accompanied by some mockery of politicians and their silly laws.

And I also employ the same approach when reviewing the bone-headed policies often pursued by state governments and local governments.

And since this is “International Liberty,” I obviously like to pay attention to what happens in other nations as well. I guess you could call it the global version of misery-loves-company.

So today we’re going to add to our collection of “Great Moments in Foreign Government.”

We’ll start in Egypt, where we got a version of alchemy. Except instead of turning a base metal into gold, a donkey was turned into a zebra.

A zoo in Egypt has denied painting black stripes on a donkey to make it look like a zebra after a photo of the animal appeared online. Student Mahmoud Sarhan put the images on Facebook after visiting Cairo’s International Garden municipal park. Aside from its small size and pointy ears, there were also black smudges on its face. …the enclosure contained two animals and that both had been painted. When contacted by local radio station Nogoum FM, zoo director Mohamed Sultan insisted the animal was not a fake.

The most amusing part of the report, though, was learning that zoos routinely try to mislead customers.

This is not the first time that a zoo has been accused of trying to fool its audience. Unable to find a way around the Israeli blockade, a zoo in Gaza painted two donkeys to look like zebras in 2009. Another Gaza zoo put stuffed animals on display in 2012 because of the shortages of animals. In 2013, a Chinese zoo in Henan province tried to pass off a Tibetan mastiff dog as an African lion, and in 2017 a zoo in Guangxi province disappointed visitors by exhibiting blow-up plastic penguins. Weeks later, another Guangxi zoo drew condemnation for displaying plastic butterflies. …Papua New Guinea is one of the poorest countries in Apec, with 40% of the population living on less than $1 a day according to the UN.

I have to confess, though, that I don’t know if any of these zoos were private. So maybe we have a problem that isn’t just limited to government.

Our next story is from India.

It seems that the military doesn’t understand that submarines are supposed to be watertight.

…it’s a good idea to, like, close the hatches before you dive. Call it a lesson learned for the Indian navy, which managed to put the country’s first nuclear-missile submarine, the $2.9 billion INS Arihant, out of commission in the most boneheaded way possible. The Hindu reported yesterday that the Arihant has been out of commission since suffering “major damage” some 10 months ago, due to what a navy source characterized as a “human error” — to wit: allowing water to flood to sub’s propulsion compartment after failing to secure one of the vessel’s external hatches. …It’s hard to articulate how major a foul-up this is… Indian authorities ordered the pipe replacement because they “likely felt that pipes exposed to corrosive seawater couldn’t be trusted again, particularly pipes that carry pressurized water coolant to and from the ship’s 83 megawatt nuclear reactor.”

Sounds like India’s navy would have been better off if the person in charge of the hatch had been one of the country’s famous no-show bureaucrats.

Now let’s turn our attention to Papau New Guinea, where the roads are so poor that it makes no sense to have fancy, high-speed cars.

Yet that didn’t stop the government from using a summit as an excuse to buy 40 Maseratis

Papua New Guinea’s government is under scrutiny for importing 40 luxury Maserati cars from Italy for the…Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit. The Quattroporte sedans, which cost more than $100,000 each (£75,000), will be used by foreign leaders. Media and activists have questioned if the poor Pacific country has wasted millions. …Apec Minister Justin Tkatchenko said the cars, which can reach speeds of 240 km/h (149 mph), would “provide the level of carriage for leaders that is the standard for vehicles used at Apec summits”. …Some of the Pacific country’s main roads are poorly maintained, with vehicle speeds limited to 80 km/h (50 mph). Other roads wind through mountainous terrain and often require a four-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate.

Incidentally, the government claimed that the Maseratis would be resold to private buyers, meaning no net cost to taxpayers. Highly unlikely, to be sure.

Moreover, if there was a follow-up story, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they magically wound up in the hands of politicians and their family members.

The bottom line is that governments manage to combine malicious venality with staggering incompetence. Quite a feat.

P.S. For what it’s worth, America’s political elite prefers to rely on taxpayer-financed limousines.

P.S.S. I’ve noticed on my trips to Cayman that there are lots of fancy, high-performance cars. In some sense this isn’t surprising. After all, zero-tax Cayman is a wealthy place. Yet I’ve always wondered why people buy such cars on a small island where high-speed travel is both difficult and unnecessary. But at least those are people spending their own money (though the government there certainly is capable of over-spending in other ways).

Read Full Post »

Last November, I shared a one-minute video from Freedom Partners on the economics of trade.

Here’s a full-length (but still only four minutes) treatment of the issue from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

The first part of the video is a quick glimpse at some of the academic evidence for open trade, and I hope it helps make the case against protectionism.

I then cite some country-specific examples, including how Herbert Hoover’s protectionism contributed to the economic misery of the Great Depression.

Argentina is another bad example mentioned in the video. It used to be one of the world’s richest countries, but it plummeted in the rankings in part because of its protectionist policy of “import substitution.”

The video also mentions the examples of China and India. Since I think this point is especially compelling, I want to take this opportunity to briefly elaborate on my comments in the video.

First, let’s establish that both nations did liberalize trade. Here’s a chart from Economic Freedom of the World, and you can see that there was dramatic liberalization starting about 1990.

Both nations are still a long way from total free trade (Singapore and Hong Kong, for instance, respectively get scores of 9.29 and 9.32), but it goes without saying that there was considerable liberalization in China and India.

And how did that work out?

Trade liberalization was a slam-dunk success. Based on data from the World Bank, here’s a look at how China and India started converging with the United States after opening to the world economy.

To be sure, both nations still have a long way to go. And it’s highly unlikely that either nation will ever fully converge to American living standards unless there is a lot more pro-market reform. Not just in trade, but all facets of economic policy.

But as I mentioned in the video, the reforms that already have occurred – particularly trade liberalization – have contributed to huge reductions in poverty in China and India.

Given all this evidence, I’ll close with a version of my two-question challenge. Can anybody identify a nation that has prospered by moving to protectionism (h/t: the USA in the 1800s is not a good answer) or a nation that has suffered because of trade liberalization?

Read Full Post »

Given the routine corruption and reckless spending in Washington, I frequently get asked how I keep my sanity.

It’s possible, as some of my friends argue, that I’m not actually sane. That would explain why I try to put my finger in the dyke of big government as more and more new leaks keep developing. Only a crazy person would fight against big government when politicians and bureaucrats have a “public choice” incentive to do the wrong thing.

Moreover, if “victory” is restoring the kind of limited government envisioned by the Founding Fathers, then there’s a 99.99 percent chance all my efforts will be wasted.

But allow me to offer a reason for optimism. What if we decide that “victory” is simply hindering the growth of government so that the private sector has enough “breathing room” to continue making our lives richer and better?

That’s the basic message of Human Progress, Marian Tupy’s website showing how the world is constantly improving. And we see good long-run developments from Economic Freedom of the World.

In other words, we don’t need to achieve Libertarian Nirvana. We just need to throw sand in the gears of government.

And that’s why I don’t think my life is pointless. To be sure, I haven’t given up on my dream of replacing the odious internal revenue code with a flat tax, but if the only thing I achieve is to protect America from a value-added tax, I’ll nonetheless go to my grave feeling like I did something very valuable for my country.

But there’s something else that keeps me sane. I also enjoy laughing at government. I regularly write about “great moments” in government and point out that incompetence and stupidity is a regular feature of the federal government, of state governments, and of local governments.

And I also enjoy mocking the spectacular screw-ups and bizarre blunders that are a feature of foreign governments as well.

And that’s our topic for today. So let’s start with this story from India about a very unusual example of vote buying.

A south Indian state has become possibly the first in the world to offer publicly-funded breast implants, its health minister arguing, “Why should beauty treatment not be available to the poor?” The Tamil Nadu state health department on Wednesday launched the free service at a clinic in the capital Chennai. …The clinic had already been providing breast reconstruction surgery for cancer patients, but was now extending the service for people who wished to alter the size of their breasts for other health or cosmetic reasons. The head of plastic surgery at the clinic, Dr V Ramadevi, said some of her patients…sought to augment or shrink their breasts for a boost in confidence. “There is a psychological benefit. Many girls who have larger breasts don’t like to go out. There is no reason this surgery should be restricted from the poor.” The procedure would also be available to men, she said. …Tamil Nadu’s government is known for its largesse, particularly under former chief minister Jayalalithaa, who pioneered free food canteens and doled out wedding jewellery and venues to the poor.

I’ve previously reported on crazy examples of government policy in India, so I suppose this story shouldn’t surprise me.

And since taxpayer-financed cosmetic surgery exists in the United Kingdom and the United States, Indian taxpayers can take solace that they’re not alone.

Now let’s go to Belgium, where there’s apparently a problem with rogue royalty.

Prince Laurent of Belgium has had his monthly allowance docked for a year, after a vote by the country’s federal parliament. The sanction was imposed after the prince attended a Chinese embassy reception last year without government permission, in full naval uniform. Lawmakers voted for a 15% cut to his €307,000 (£270,000; $378,000) annual allowance. …Prince Laurent, who is the younger brother of King Philippe, wrote a lengthy emotional letter to parliament before the vote on his endowment, arguing that, as a royal, he is unable to work for a living. He described the vote as “the trial of my life” and said it would “likely cause me serious prejudice” if MPs went against him. …The prince, 54, said the royal family had obstructed his attempts to be financially independent. …Lawmakers ultimately rejected his claim that no citizen of their country had been so exploited, voting to cut his stipend by 93 to 23 votes. …He had previously been criticised for attending meetings in Libya when the late Muammar Gaddafi was still in power, and making an unsanctioned 2011 trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a former Belgian colony.

I suppose this is a feel-good story in that politicians actually voted to cut spending.

Though we should never forget that this is the country where the public sector consumes half of economic output but officials actually complained that it’s hard to fight terrorism because of “the small size of the Belgian government.”

Now it’s time for ar stop in Malaysia, where corrupt politicians spent the country into debt and now they want taxpayers to voluntarily cough up extra money.

When Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad unexpectedly won his bid for office in May, he pledged to…get the country’s $250 billion worth of debt under control. And this week, he announced the government had found a way to at least get started: crowdfunding. Within 24 hours, the “Malaysia Hope Fund” raised almost $2 million, the BBC reported. “The rakyat (people) voluntarily want to share their earnings with the government to help ease the burden,” the finance ministry said in a statement, announcing that it would be accepting donations to a special fund set up to help relieve the country’s debt. …The crowdfunding idea started with a 27-year-old named Nik Shazarina Bakti, who recently launched a private crowdfunding initiative to help relieve Malaysia’s debt.  She raised around $3,500 before the government stepped in. In a sense, the effort is a version of what she said Malaysians did during their struggle for independence from Britain, when they donated jewelry, money and valuables. It’s also similar to what South Korea did as it attempted to pull itself out of economic crisis in the late 1990s, and regular citizens lined up to donate their most prized possessions to the government, including wedding rings and trophies.

Hmmm…, $2 million raised to pay off $250 billion of debt. Methinks they won’t meet their goal.

Though this story reminds me that politicians like Elizabeth Warren want the rest of us to pay more tax, yet she conveniently doesn’t participate in her state’s version of voluntary crowdfunding.

Here’s an amazing story from Romania.

He’s a dead man walking and the court ruling is final. A Romanian court has rejected a man’s claim that he is still very much alive, after he was officially registered as deceased, the Associated Press reports. Constantin Reliu, 63, lost his case in Vasului because he appealed too late on the ruling, a court spokeswoman said Friday. The story goes that Reliu had traveled to Turkey in 1992 for work and lost contact with his family. Since his wife had not heard from her husband in years, she acquired a death certificate for him in 2016, the AP reports. However, since Reliu was discovered by Turkish authorities this year with expired papers, he was deported back to Romania. That’s when he discovered he had been declared dead.

Wow. I thought American courts generated some outlandish decisions, but this belies belief.

Last but not least, here’s a report from Spain that should leave you skeptical about the efficacy of additional NATO spending.

An attempt to deploy a new submarine for Spain’s navy has run aground again, after it emerged it cannot fit in its dock, Spanish media report. The S-80 boat was redesigned at great expense after an earlier mistake meant it had problems floating, and it was lengthened to correct the issue. Spanish newspaper El País now reports that after the changes, the docks at Cartagena can no longer fit the vessel. The cost for each has almost doubled, the newspaper said. …The original problem with the submarine dates back to 2013, when it was discovered that it was about 100 tons heavier than it needed to be. That caused a problem for its buoyancy – so it could submerge, but might not come back up again. A former Spanish official told the Associated Press at the time that someone had put a decimal point in the wrong place, and “nobody paid attention to review the calculations”. …the base at Cartagena will have to be dredged and reshaped to accommodate the now-floating longer vessel, the El País report said. Spain’s Defence Minister Margarita Robles, speaking on Spanish radio, admitted that “there have been deficiencies in the project”.

Call me crazy, but “deficiencies” doesn’t really describe what happened. Almost makes the Pentagon look frugal. Almost makes the German intelligence service look competent.

For previous examples of great moments in foreign government, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.S. In other words, my “government in cartoons” collection applies equally no matter where you travel.

Read Full Post »

I’ve just finished up a week of lectures and meetings in India. It was an interesting trip, but not an encouraging trip.

My first observation is that Indians are enormously successful when they emigrate to the United States. And they also do very well when they migrate to Singapore, South Africa, and other place around the world.

Yet Indians in India remain comparatively poor. Per-capita income is only $5,350 based on purchasing power parity (and far lower on a exchange-rate basis).

Why the difference? Let’s start with Economic Freedom of the World, which measures the degree to which misguided government policy suppresses the private sector.

The bad news is that India is ranked only #95, which puts it in the bottom half of the world.

Its worst score is on trade, where India is a miserable #142. And since there are only 159 nations that are included in the Fraser Institute’s ranking, that’s close to the bottom.

The regulation score also is quite bad. Not quite in the bottom third of nations, but close. Monetary policy and legal system/property rights (i.e., rule of law) are a bit better, but still in the bottom half of the EFW rankings.

The country’s only good score is for fiscal policy. But I would argue that the #22 ranking is an overstatement. India does well mostly because the government is too disorganized and incompetent to collect a lot of revenue. That’s the only reason why the burden of government spending is modest.

Below is a chart from EFW that maps India’s score starting in 1970. The good news is that India’s score – though still depressingly low – did improve considerably in the 1990s.

But here’s a very important caveat. India’s score increased, but its relative ranking has declined. Simply stated, other nations have improved their scores at a much faster rate.

Here’s some data on fiscal policy from a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

We’ll start with data on tax revenue as a share of economic output. By that measure, India is a low-tax country.

But now check out corporate tax rates. As you can see, the system is relatively onerous.

So a possible conclusion, as I noted above, is that revenues are low because of an unfriendly tax system. Hello Laffer Curve.

I’ll close by shifting from macro data to personal observations based on my trip.

Here are four reasons why I’m leaving India with a pessimistic feeling.

  1. I had lots of meetings with people in the business community and there is not only skepticism of free trade, but also considerable support for protectionism.
  2. Similarly, the business community has a semi-favorable view of big government because the state is a source of subsidies and handouts.
  3. India has a federalist system, but state governments are basically administrators of programs designed by the central government (unlike Switzerland).
  4. The big “pro-market reform” in India has been the “single window” for regulatory clearances, when the right policy would be to abolish red tape altogether.

But I’ll close with a bit of optimism (above and beyond what I wrote the other day about the burgeoning role of the private sector in education). There’s a saying in the country that “India grows at night, while government sleeps.” And there’s even a book with that title. In other words, policy is generally not friendly, but the private sector manages to find “breathing room” to operate in spite of government.

So poverty is falling, slowly but surely. And hopefully globalization will gradually lead the government to be more open to trade liberalization and open markets.

P.S. Another reason to be pessimistic about India is that the government recently imposed “demonetization.” Any nation that joins the war against cash generally has the wrong mindset.

P.P.S. I can’t resist linking again to a truly bizarre case in India of government handouts encouraging very bizarre behavior.

Read Full Post »

I wrote yesterday about the global evidence showing that more money does not improve the lackluster performance of government schools.

Those results are not surprising because we see the same thing in the United States. More money is good for the education bureaucracy, but it doesn’t lead to better student outcomes.

Now let’s focus on the solution to this problem. Simply stated, we need to break up the government education monopoly and unleash market forces.

Previous columns have looked at the success of school choice in SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

Now let’s look at India, another country where private education has experienced amazing growth. I’m actually in that country for some speeches on regulatory reform (specifically, how India can improve its Doing Business score) and I’ve taken advantage of this situation to learn about the amazing developments in education.

We’ll start with some excerpts from a remarkable story in the Hindustan Times.

Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, student enrollment in government schools across 20 Indian states fell by 13 million, while private schools acquired 17.5 million new students, according to a new study that offers insights into India’s public-school education crisis. Average enrollment in government schools–where teachers are paid, on average, salaries that are four times those in China–declined from 122 to 108 students per school over five years, while it rose from 202 to 208 in private schools… Why are students opting out of India’s government schools, which educate the poorest and most vulnerable students until the age of 14 for free, and migrating to fee-charging private institutions in such large numbers? …private schools offer better value for money and better teaching than government schools.

Yet you won’t be surprised to learn that teachers in the government schools are lavishly compensated.

India’s government teachers earn more than…their counterparts in private schools… Teacher salaries in of teachers in Uttar Pradesh are four to five times India’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 15 times the state’s, according to a 2013 analysis by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze. This is much higher than the salaries paid to teachers in OECD countries and India’s neighbours.

Much of the data in that story was taken from a 2017 study published by a German think tank.

Here are some of the other findings from that report.

Official data show a steep growth of private schooling and a corresponding rapid shrinkage in the size of the government school sector in India, suggesting parental abandonment of government schools. …affordability is an important factor behind the migration towards and growth of private schools. The main reason for the very low fee levels in private schools is their lower teacher salaries, which the data show to be a small fraction of the salaries paid in government schools; this is possible because private schools pay the market-clearing wage…whereas government schools pay bureaucratically determined minimum-wages. Private schools’ substantially lower per-student-cost combined with their students’ modestly higher learning achievement levels, means that they are significantly more cost-effective than government schools.

The study is filled with extensive data.

But rather than quote long passages, here are two charts that caught my eye. First, we see better performance in private schools.

Given these impressive results, the logical response would be for India to scrap government schools and adopt a nationwide system of school choice.

But there’s a very powerful interest group standing in the way. As you can see from this second chart, government teachers are grossly overpaid and they will fight to the death to maintain the status quo.

Now let’s look at some of the findings from a report prepared by Ernst & Young on elementary and secondary education in India.

Once again, we see that parents are voting with their money to send their kids to private schools. Why? Because even though government schools are “free,” parents actually want their kids to get a good education.

…one of the most striking trends in Indian school education is the increase of private sector participation with an estimated 3 lakh private schools with 40% of the total student enrollment. Private enrollment in elementary schools is approximately 35% and over 50% at the secondary level. …private schools deliver higher quality education as gauged by educational outcomes such as performance on board exams and evidence from standardized assessments.

And here are some charts from the report, starting with a look at the share of kids in private schools.

And here’s some additional evidence that private schools generate better student outcomes.

What makes these results especially amazing is that the government has created all sorts of barriers to private schools.

I wrote about this in 2013, but the E&Y report quantifies how politicians and bureaucrats are trying to stifle competition.

Let’s take a look at some more research.

The Centre for Civil Society also has a must-read report on private education in India.

We’ll start with an excerpt that reinforces the fact that parents are voting with their scarce funds because they want a better future for their children.

Private fee charging schools are loved and loathed in equal measure in India: loved in the sense of being sought after by parents for their children’s education and often reviled by the press/ public/ authorities… The emptying of government schools…is largely the result of an exodus of students from government schools and migration toward private schools… The evidence suggests that most private schools in India can be considered ‘low fee’ in the precise sense that their fee is below the government’s… This evidence discredits the oft-repeated belief that much of private schooling in India is elite and exclusive.

Here’s data showing that the private schools cost less.

And here’s data showing that private schools deliver better results.

Finally, let’s look at a study by the World Bank that measures inputs and outputs to determine “value for money” (VFM).

PPE in MP government school system is Rs 9384 per annum and in private schools Rs 3700 per annum. Thus, government schools’ PPE is 2.5 times private schools’ PPE. However, the learning units are higher in private schools: 58% of private school students and 28% of government students of class 5 could read a class 2 level text in 2014-15. Thus government schools’ learning output is just about half that in private schools. Putting the output and expenditure items together, we find that the cost per unit of achievement is Rs 338 in government schools and Rs 63 in private schools, implying that private schools are 5.3 times as cost effective as public schools, or that government schools are one fifth as efficient in producing output as private schools. …When home background is strictly controlled for, the raw public-private learning gap greatly falls but is usually not eliminated. … if only 25% of the raw public-private achievement gap of MP is attributed to superior private school quality (e.g., lower teacher absence rates), then private schools are 3.25 more efficient than government schools, rather than 5.3 times. …In summary, there is very low VFM from government expenditure on education, in terms of producing the valued outcome of ‘learning’ among students. The private schooling sector gets significantly higher VFM.

And here are a couple of visuals from the report.

We’ll start with a look at enrollment patterns (a “lakh” = 100,000), further confirming that an ever-growing number of parents would rather pay for a private school than send their kids to a “free” government school.

And here’s some data starkly showing how government teachers are vastly overpaid.

All of which reinforces the “value for money” argument that the private schools get far more bang for the buck.

Let’s conclude with a video. One of the world’s experts on private education in the developing world is James Tooley and his interest was triggered by what he saw in India.

Here he discusses developments in India and other developing nations.

P.S. For those interested in more information about India, I wrote last year about how excessive government is stifling the nation’s economy. Indeed, the country is ranked a lowly #95 in the latest iteration of Economic Freedom of the World. This is very unfortunate because India should be a rich country. Indian-Americans, for instance, are the most successful immigrant group in America.

P.P.S. But it will be hard for Indians in India to achieve similar success since the government keeps imposing bad policies such as “demonetization.”

P.P.P.S. India is also home to the most perverse example of how handouts encourage bad behavior.

Read Full Post »

One of my great frustrations (and there are many) is that the conventional wisdom about economic history oftentimes is wrong. It is very common for students to learn things that simply are not true.

Let’s add to that list by looking at the issue of child labor. The conventional wisdom is that child labor was a regular feature of an oppressive capitalist system and that children were eventually saved from abuse thanks to government intervention.

Hardly. Child labor was – and still is, in some places – a way for desperately poor people to stay alive and perhaps create a stepping stone for a better future. And capitalism-enabled prosperity is the best way to end the unfortunate practice.

I previously cited some World Bank research, in a postscript to a column on bureaucracy, showing that restrictions on child labor had negative long-run effects on income for poor people.

Let’s augment that research. Here are some passages from a very sobering study about the unintended consequences of restricting child labor (h/t: Dev Patel via Tyler Cowen).

While bans against child labor are a common policy tool, there is very little empirical evidence validating their effectiveness. In this paper, we examine the consequences of India’s landmark legislation against child labor, the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986. Using data from employment surveys conducted before and after the ban, and using age restrictions that determined who the ban applied to, we show that child wages decrease and child labor increases after the ban.

Some basic economic analysis shows why this happens.

…families use child labor to reach subsistence constraints and where child wages decrease in response to bans, leading poor families to utilize more child labor.

And it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of harmful secondary effects.

The increase in child labor comes at the expense of reduced school enrollment. We also examine the effects of the ban at the household level. Using linked consumption and expenditure data, we find that along various margins of household expenditure, consumption, calorie intake and asset holdings, households are worse off after the ban.

The bottom line on this issue is that some children are born to very poor families in very poor nations. In those tragic situations, child labor is a matter of survival rather than a lifestyle choice.

I don’t think that the businesses employing children are noble. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them mistreat kids. And even the nice ones probably would seem horrifying to those of us lucky enough to live in rich western nations.

But I also don’t believe in putting good intentions above real-world results. Businesses that employ child labor are offering a better (or, to be more accurate, offering a less-worse) opportunity for people stuck in horrid poverty. Capitalism is the only effective escape from economic misery.

Let’s close with some libertarian satire. It’s focused more on sweatshops, but it also applies to child labor (and “neoliberal” refers to “classical liberal” rather than modern leftism).

For what it’s worth, child labor was ubiquitous in the western world prior to the explosive growth that was unleashed by free markets and limited government.

If we want poor children in poor families from poor nations to have a better life, we should urge the same policies in the developing world. Assuming we prefer good results over good intentions, of course.

Read Full Post »

I wrote a four-part series about how governments are waging a war against cash, with the first two columns looking at why politicians are so interested in taking this radical step.

  • In Part I, I looked at the argument that cash should be banned or restricted so governments could more easily collect additional tax revenue.
  • In Part II, I reviewed the argument that cash should be curtailed so that governments could more easily impose Keynesian-style monetary policy.

Part III and Part IV are also worth reading, though I confess you’ll just get additional evidence to bolster what I wrote in the first two columns.

Today, let’s look at a real-world example of what happens when a government seeks to curtail cash. It happened in India last November, and I wrote about the disruption that was caused when the government banned certain notes.

But maybe the short-run costs were acceptable because there are long-run benefits. That’s certainly possible, but the evidence suggests that the Indian government is doing long-run damage.

Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute has a new column on what’s happening with India’s economy. He is not impressed.

There is certainly a long-standing and extensive corruption problem. The discussion of “black money” has become so absurd, however, that it has little relation to corruption. …Taking currency notes out of circulation in a surprise move late last year was said to target black money inside the country. Seizure of cash was justified by a huge amount of hidden funds. …For political reasons, black money is being wildly exaggerated as an economic issue. …Directly related to hoping there is trillions in black money is wanting to tax those mythical trillions. All governments chase revenue but India’s pursuit seems especially misguided. …Good policy enhances competition and individual economic rights for the sake of greater productivity and personal income. Being obsessed with black money, tax revenue, and GDP growth does nothing to enhance competition or individual rights and leaves ordinary Indians worse off.

India’s central bank is even more critical, bluntly stating that the plan failed, as reported by the BBC.

Indians returned almost all of the high-currency notes banned in last year’s shock government crackdown on illegal cash, the central bank says. It said 15.28tn rupees ($242bn) – or 99% – of the money had made its way back into the banking system. Ministers had hoped the move would make it difficult for hoarders of undeclared wealth to exchange it for legal tender. The news that it did not will raise questions about the policy, which brought chaotic scenes across India. …Many low-income Indians, traders and ordinary savers who rely on the cash economy were badly hit. …As per the RBI data, it’s safe to say that demonetisation has been a failure of epic proportions. …Agriculture, the rural economy and property – which rely largely on cash transactions – were sectors hit by the ban. It also contributed to a slowdown in economic growth.

Indeed, the former head of the central bank warned the government ahead of time that the plan wouldn’t work. Here are some details from a Bloomberg story.

Raghuram Rajan was governor of the Reserve Bank of India in February 2016, when he was asked by the government for his views on demonetization… “Although there may be long-term benefits, I felt the likely short-term economic costs would outweigh them, and felt there were potentially better alternatives to achieve the main goals,” he wrote in the book. “I made these views known in no uncertain terms.” …speculation has raged over who thought up the policy, with the debate getting more divisive last week as a slew of data showed demonetization contributed to a growth slump without meeting its targets. …the cash ban devastated small businesses. More than 1.5 million jobs were said to be lost and newspapers reported deaths linked to the decision.

Rajan correctly observed that the best way to boost tax compliance is with low tax rates.

“It’s not that easy to flush out the black money,” Rajan had said, using the local term for cash stashed away illegally to avoid tax. He added that he’d rather focus on the incentives for black money, such as tax rates.

Amen. This is a point I’ve made over and over and over and over again.

Meanwhile, the Indian Express also has a column, written by a former Chief Economist at the World Bank, on how demonetization has been a failure.

…a wealth of analysis and data have become available. Demonetisation’s half-anniversary is a good time to take stock of this historic decision. The verdict is clear. It was a monetary policy blunder. It achieved next to nothing, and inflicted a large cost on the poor and the informal sector. …demonetisation took the wind out of India’s sails. My calculation is that around 1.5 percentage points of growth were lost to it.

A column in the Harvard Business Review pours cold water on the notion that demonetization is an effective way of reducing corruption.

The original reason given for the drastic demonetization action was to expose the so-called “black” market, fueled by money that is illegally gained and undeclared for tax purposes. …banks were estimated to have received 14.97 trillion rupees (around $220 billion) by the December 30 deadline, or 97% of the 15.4 trillion rupees’ worth of currency demonetized. …These rates of deposits defied expectations that vast troves of undeclared wealth would not find their way back to the banks and that black marketeers would lose this money since they would not be able to deposit their undeclared cash without being found out. This didn’t happen.

It probably “didn’t happen” because the government was wildly wrong when it claimed that cash was the problem.

…when corrupt people need places to park their ill-gotten gains, cash normally is not at the top of their list. Only a tiny proportion of undeclared wealth is held in cash. In an analysis of income-tax probes, the highest level of illegal money detection in India was found to be in 2015–2016, and the cash component was only about 6%. The remaining was invested in business, stocks, real estate, jewelry, or “benami” assets, which are bought in someone else’s name.

Indeed, the Washington Post reports that the new notes already are being used for illegal purposes.

For the first few weeks of demonetization, it was common to meet Indians who felt that their collective suffering and inconvenience was justified because it would ultimately usher in a less corrupt, more equal India. But as the initiative enters its second month, more and more reports are emerging of seizures of vast quantities of hoarded cash in the new notes. Like water reaching the sea, the corrupt, it seems, have found ways to navigate around the government’s new obstacles. …A sense is building that while millions of Indians languish in ATM lines, the old black money system is simply restarting itself with the new notes.

The real story is that the corruption is caused by government, not cash.

The biggest question is how people are getting their hands on such huge stashes of the new currency. …one way: visiting your local politician.

What’s especially disappointing is that the United States government took money from American taxpayers and used those funds to encourage India’s failed policy.

And here are some excerpts from a report by the Hindu.

The United States on Wednesday described India’s demonetisation drive as an “important and necessary” step to curb illicit cash and actions. “…this was, we believe, an important and necessary step to crack down on illegal actions,” Mark Toner, State Department spokesperson, said in response to a question. …Acknowledging that the move inconvenienced people, Mr. Toner said it was “a necessary one to address the corruption.”

It’s worth pointing out that the U.S. government was encouraging India’s bad policy during the waning days of the Obama Administration, so it’s possible that taxpayers no longer will be funding bad policy now that Trump is in the White House.

I hope there’s a change, but I won’t hold my breath. The permanent bureaucracy has a statist orientation and it takes a lot of work for political appointees to shift policy in a different direction. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think that will happen

P.S. The Indian government also is hurting the nation – and poor people – with a value-added tax. Bloomberg has a report on some of the misery.

Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the country’s new goods and services tax on July 1, Ansari said he was earning 6,000 rupees ($93) a day selling leather jackets, wallets, bags and belts. But India’s new tax classified leather products as luxury items and raised the rate to 28 percent — more than double the 13.5 percent tax levied until June 30. Since then, his business has collapsed. “My business is down nearly 75 percent,” Ansari said… India’s vast informal economy — which accounts for more than 90 percent of the workforce — is struggling under India’s new tax rates…broader pain being felt by many small-and-medium-sized businesses in India’s informal sector, said K.E. Raghunathan, president of the All India Manufacturers Organisation.

The bottom line is that India needs more economic liberty, building on some good reforms in the 1990s. Unfortunately, politicians today are delivering bigger government.

P.P.S. If you want to read about some symptoms of India’s bloated government, the country has a member in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame, it also produced the most horrifying example of how handouts create bad incentives, and it mistreats private schools to compensate for the wretched failure of government schools.

P.P.P.S. Here’s a very powerful factoid. America has many immigrant populations that earn above-average incomes. But, by far, Indian-Americans are the most successful.

Just imagine, then, how fast India would grow and how rich the people would be with Hong Kong-style economic liberty?

Read Full Post »

The welfare state is bad news for both taxpayers and recipients.

Pervasive handouts also are a mistake because they create incentives for very bad behavior.

And I’m not just talking about the incentive not to work. Welfare enables and encourages utterly horrifying examples of misbehavior.

But there’s a new example that probably would win the prize if there was a contest for the most sickening behavior enabled by governments giveaways.

People in India apparently are feeding their older relatives to tigers is order to get cash payments from the government.

I’m not joking. India Today has a story on the matter.

What if suddenly a lot of elderly folks start dying because of fatal tiger attacks? Either the tigers have targeted the old people especially or something is just not right. …Authorities surmise that people are sending older members of the family into the tiger reserve for them to become a prey. Once killed, their bodies are relocated to fields, and staged as victims of a tiger attack, so that the respective family can claim lakhs in compensation from the government.

Here are some added details from the Times of India.

Authorities suspect local families are sending older members into the forest as tiger prey, and their bodies then relocated to fields, to feign attacks and claim lakhs in compensation from the government. Villagers aren’t entitled to compensation if their kin die in the reserve. There has been a string of recent fatal tiger attacks on the elderly, with seven deaths reported in the proximity of the Mala forest range alone since February 16. …Locals, however, say family elders were willing participants in the whole affair. “They think that since they can’t get resources from the forest, this is the only way their families can escape poverty,” farmer Jarnail Singh, 60, told TOI.

And the U.K.-based Daily Mail also has a report on this bizarre situation.

Elderly relatives are being sent into tiger reserves to be killed so that families can claim compensation in a horrifying new trend in India. Younger family members appear to be targeting Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh by sending their elders into the forest to be mauled to death before dumping their bodies in nearby fields. Villagers are not entitled to claim compensation if they die in the reserve, but if they are killed in a tiger attack outside the reserve, they can cash in on government money. …The revelation that this is a deliberate ploy to cash in on compensation money was triggered by Kalim Athar of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB).

Wow. I’m almost at a loss for words.

Imagine the conversation around the dinner table. “Good news, Granny, we’ve arranged an overnight trip for you to the nature preserve.”

It’s even more chilling if the old people are actually willing participants. “Son, make sure to make the scene look realistic after you move my body out of the preserve.”

In some sense, this is actually a broader story about bigger issues such as the degree to which the burden of government is reduced to enable more economic growth in India, including in rural areas. Or the proper balance between environmental stewardship and the needs of the surrounding community.

But it’s hard to focus on those big-picture issues when old people are being sacrificed to tigers to get loot from the government. Somebody – either the families or the willing old people – deserves induction in the Moocher Hall of Fame.

Read Full Post »

As part of yesterday’s column about global growth, poverty, and inequality, I realized that I’ve written several columns about economic policy in China, but never once focused on overall policy in India.

Indeed, a quick look through the archives reveals only three columns that even addressed specific policies in India. And all of them were negative.

So it’s time to assess overall economic policy in India, which means this is an opportunity to point out that there are some positive developments in the world’s second-most populous nation.

One of my Cato colleagues, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, wrote an exhaustive study on India’s economy last year. The bottom line is that there’s been some progress, most of which took place in the 1990s.

India’s economic reforms over 25 years have transformed it from a low-income country to a middle-income one. But to become a high-income country, India must liberalize the economy much further.

At the risk of oversimplification, India has gone through three phases since its independence after World War II.

It began with a long period of statism and socialism.

Here are some additional excerpts from the study describing that grim period. And I’ve augmented those passages with India’s awful score from Economic Freedom of the World in 1975, when it only scored 4.33 on a 0-10 scale.

…until 1990, India was…hamstrung by a million controls, imposed in the holy name of socialism and then used by politicians to create patronage networks and line their pockets. …The public sector was supposed to gain the commanding heights of the economy. Nothing could be manufactured without an industrial license or imported without an import license, and those licenses were scarce and difficult to get. Any producers who exceeded their licensed capacity faced possible imprisonment for the sin of violating the government’s sacred plan targets. …Indian socialism reached its zenith in the 1970s, when the banks and several major industries were nationalized. The top income tax rate rose to 97.75 percent, and the wealth tax to 3.5 percent. …India’s poverty ratio did not improve at all between independence in 1947 and 1983; it remained a bit under 60 percent. Meanwhile, the population virtually doubled, meaning the absolute number of poor people doubled.

Now let’s look at some good news.

There was a small amount of reform in the 1980s, which became much more significant amount of reform in the 1990s.

In 1991 India embarked on major reforms to liberalize its economy after three decades of socialism… P. V. Narasimha Rao became prime minister in 1991. The Soviet Union was collapsing at the time, proving that more socialism could not be the solution for India’s ills. Meanwhile, Deng Xiaoping had revolutionized China with market-friendly reforms. And so Indian politicians turned in the direction of the market too. …After 1991 direct tax rates gradually came down substantially… The wealth tax on shares was abolished, making it possible to raise shareholder value without being penalized for it. …The corporate tax was cut from a maximum of 58 percent to 30 percent, yet corporate tax collections increased from 1 percent of GDP to almost 6 percent at one point. …Personal income tax rates also fell from 50 percent to 30 percent, but once again collections rose, from 1 percent of GDP to almost 2 percent.

Notice, by the way, that lower tax rates led to more tax receipts. Yet another piece of evidence for the Laffer Curve.

Though I’m much more interested in whether people benefited, not whether politicians collected more money.

And the paper reveals that the reform era generated significant dividends.

Twenty-five years later, the outcome has been an outstanding economic success. India has gone from being a poor, slow growing country to the fastest-growing major economy in the world in 2016. …Per capita income is up from $375 per year in 1991 to $1,700 today. India has long ceased to be a low-income country as defined by the World Bank, which uses a threshold of $1,045, and has become a middle-income country. …areas that were comprehensively liberalized saw the disappearance of corruption. Before 1991, bribes were needed for industrial licenses, import licenses, foreign exchange allotments, credit allotments, and much else. But economic reform ended industrial and import licensing, and foreign exchange became freely available. Lower import and excise duties ended most smuggling and excise tax evasion

There’s even been good news on poverty.

Now let’s shift to bad news. Simply stated, India needs a lot more reform, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

As illustrated by this chart showing the country’s annual scores from Economic Freedom of the World, India is mired in a modern era of policy stagnation.

In other words, so much more is needed to help India become a rich nation. Yet the reform agenda has been spotty in the past two decades, or even nonexistent.

Here are some final excerpts, accompanied by India’s most-recent EFW scores.

Many old price and quantitative controls should be abolished, and yet more are being enacted. Extensive controls permeate the entire chain of agricultural inputs, outputs, and processed agricultural goods (notably sugar). New price controls have been clamped on seeds and even on royalties paid by seed companies to suppliers of technology. The tax regime is uncertain, and many cases of retrospective taxation have tarnished the investment climate. …Even as old controls have been liberalized, dozens of new regulations are issued every year relating to new areas like the environment, health and safety standards, forests, and tribal areas. As with the old controls, the new controls are issued in the name of the public good and are then used by politicians and inspectors to line their pockets. …The bureaucracy is notoriously corrupt and slow moving… Public-sector corporations remain large, wasteful, and unreformed. Government banks still control 70 percent of bank lending, have the worst record of bad loans and financial losses, and yet are such convenient cash cows for politicians that no party wants to privatize them. …To reach high-income status, India must become a much better governed country that opens markets much further.

The good news, if you compare the 1975 and 2014 EFW scores, is that India now enjoys much more freedom than it did at the peak of the socialist era.

That being said, there are 111 nations with more economic freedom, so there is a lot of room for improvement.

Let’s close with a very powerful factoid. America has many immigrant populations that earn above-average incomes. But, by far, Indian-Americans are the most successful.

Just imagine, then, how fast India would grow and how rich the people would be with Hong Kong-style economic liberty?

Read Full Post »

The War against Cash is a battle that shouldn’t even exist. But politicians don’t like cash because it’s hard to control something that people can freely trade back and forth. So folks on the left are arguing that governments should ban or restrict paper money.

  • In Part I, we looked at the argument that cash should be banned or restricted so governments could more easily collect additional tax revenue.
  • In Part II, we reviewed the argument that cash should be curtailed so that governments could more easily impose Keynesian-style monetary policy.
  • In Part III, written back in March, we examined additional arguments by people on both sides of the issue and considered the risks of expanded government power.
  • In Part IV, a few months ago, there was additional discussion of the dangers that would be unleashed if politicians banned cash.

Now let’s add a fifth installment in this series, and we’ll focus on the destructive turmoil resulting from India’s decision earlier this month to ban “large” notes.

The Financial Times explains what happened.

India unexpectedly scrapped all larger-denomination banknotes overnight… Prime Minister Narendra Modi said 500 and 1,000 rupee notes — worth around $7.50 and $15, respectively — would cease to be legal tender from midnight on Tuesday. The announcement stunned Indians, who were given four hours’ notice that much of their cash would be “mere paper”. RBI data suggests that the Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes account for 86 per cent of the value of all cash in circulation in India at present. …The shock move is the latest step by Mr Modi’s administration to crack down on the vast shadow economy, which remains beyond the reach of India’s tax authorities.

Before delving into why this is an unfortunate development, I can’t resist pointing out that banknotes worth $7.50 and $15 are neither large nor inappropriate for an economy at India’s level of development.

When the United States had a similar level of per-capita GDP (back in the late 1800s), there were $500 and $1000 notes. Yet America didn’t have serious problems with corruption and tax evasion. So why should the existence of far smaller bills be a problem in India today?

I’ll return to that question in the conclusion, but let’s first look at the impact of Prime Minister Modi’s unilateral attack on currency. A column in the New York Times explains why the policy does more harm than good.

On Nov. 8, the Indian government announced an immediate ban on two major bills that account for the vast majority of all currency in circulation. …In the two weeks after the measure was announced, millions of Indians stricken with small panic rushed out to banks; A.T.M.s and tellers soon ran dry. Some 98 percent of all transactions in India, measured by volume, are conducted in cash. …So far its effects have been disastrous for the middle- and lower-middle classes, as well as the poor. And the worst may be yet to come.

The ripple effect of the policy is large and unpleasant.

…demonetization is a ham-fisted move that will put only a temporary dent in corruption, if even that, and is likely to rock the entire economy. …Anyone seeking to convert more than 250,000 rupees (about $3,650) must explain why they hold so much cash, or failing that, must pay a penalty. The requirement has already spawned a new black market to service people wishing to offload: Large amounts of illicit cash are broken into smaller blocks and deposited by teams of illegal couriers. Demonetization is mostly hurting people who aren’t its intended targets. Because sellers of certain durables, such as jewelry and property, often insist on cash payments, many individuals who have no illegal money build up cash reserves over time. Relatively poor women stash away cash beyond their husbands’ reach.

As is so often the case, the bogeyman of terrorism is being used as a rationale for bad policy, even though everyone realizes that terrorists won’t be affected.

When the government announced demonetization, it also justified the measure as a way to curb terrorism financing that relies on counterfeit rupee notes… Catching fake notes already in circulation neither helps trap the terrorists who minted them nor prevents more such money from being injected into the economy. It simply inconveniences the people who use it as legal tender, the vast majority of whom had no hand in its creation.

I’m sympathetic, by the way, to the notion that the government should fight counterfeiting. Crooks printing up fake notes is even worse than central banks printing up too many real notes.

In any event, this indirect attack on the shadow economy imposes considerable costs on regular Indians.

In a country like India, where the illegal economy is so intimately intertwined with the mainstream economy, one inept government intervention against shadow activities can do a lot of harm to the vast majority, who are just trying to make a legitimate living.

Writing for Bloomberg, Elaine Ou has a negative assessment of this proposal.

India is conducting a big test of the idea that getting rid of cash can help address crime and corruption. Unfortunately, it might achieve nothing more than a lot of inconvenience. Criminals and corrupt officials often conduct business in cash, because it’s hard to trace. So in a sense it’s logical to assume that abolishing cash will help reduce criminal activity. …This rationale has led Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare a surprise cancellation of the nation’s two highest-denomination notes, effectively invalidating 86 percent of total currency in circulation. Anyone with outstanding notes must either deposit them in a bank — potentially incurring a tax — or exchange them for replacements in strictly limited sums.

Ms. Ou explains that the policy will be traumatic for the hundreds of millions of Indians who don’t have bank accounts.

In a country where most transactions are conducted in cash, many people have been unable to pay for necessities like food or medical services. Banks have had to work overtime to handle the exchange, bringing other financial services to a halt. It’s certainly likely that the sheer trauma will leave people less keen to hoard rupees, creating a big incentive to move economic activity out of cash and into banks. Except that a huge number of Indians don’t have a bank account.

In any event, she points out, banning cash won’t have much impact on corruption since politicians and public officials have plenty of ways to extort wealth from the productive sector.

…the prevalence of cash is far from a foolproof indicator of criminality and corruption. Consider Nigeria, which is perceived as one the world’s most corrupt countries and has a currency-to-GDP ratio even lower than Sweden’s… Nigerians have abandoned cash because they have so little trust in government-issued currency. Instead of using banks, they tend to transact in mobile airtime minutes. …Those with more substantial wealth put it in foreign currency. By undermining faith in its cash notes, India may go the way of Nigeria. Villagers are already resorting to barter. …corrupt public officials were believed to have their wealth in real estate and gold.

A news report highlights the real-world impact of the Indian government’s bad policy. Starting with the impact on a poor single mother.

With demonetisation, Sayyed’s family has been forced to cut costs across the board to make sure their limited cash resources don’t get exhausted faster than the banks can exchange money. “Last week it took me four hours of waiting in line to get my old notes exchanged,” said Sayyed. “And because no one had change for a Rs 2,000 note, I had to buy ration on credit for six whole days.” Vegetables and foodgrains, says Sayyed, have grown more expensive in the past 10 days, because of the impact of demonetisation on wholesalers and retailers.

And the impact on a small-business owner.

His salon, which charges Rs 40 for a haircut, used to make anywhere between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 on the weekend. But now, he said, that has fallen to Rs 500. …How is he coping with this liquidity crunch? Not by going cashless. In part because he doesn’t have a bank account. “I tried to open one but they wanted too many proofs of identity,” Sharma said.

By the way, Sharma is a victim of pointless anti-money laundering laws, something even the World Bank recognizes as being particularly harmful for the poor.

A farmer also has been hit hard.

It has been three weeks since Vedagiri’s single acre of land had been tilled and paddy seedlings had been sown. …“The cooperative bank cannot lend us money now, so for the whole of last week, our crop has been standing without pesticides,” said Vedagiri. Several times last week, Vedagiri and the other farmers of Royalpattu were turned away by bank employees. New currency notes have been slow to reach most rural cooperative banks across India. While sowing the crop, Vedagiri had employed 20 labourers. But he has been unable to pay any of them since he had not still received the rest of the money…Vedagiri does not know how he will get through this cropping season without incurring a loss.

Bloomberg reports on some of the bizarre unintended consequences of this bad policy.

Indian ingenuity is being stretched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cash ban to crackdown on unaccounted money. India’s cash economy has been thrown into turmoil since Modi announced last week that 500 and 1,000 rupee notes would cease to be legal tender and would have to be deposited at banks by year-end, leaving about one-seventh of currency in circulation. …Here are some unintended consequences. Indian defense jets are on standby to airlift cash from mints across India to remote corners of the country. …wealthy Indians rushed to make costly purchases with unaccounted cash. One luxury watch outlet in north-west Mumbai saw 45 units of Rolex watches sold on a single day, according to a representative of a watchmaker, who was present when the sales took place. Demand matched what the shop would usually sell in a month and the store had to turn away customers… A new gold rush also emerged soon after Modi’s announcement. “Jewelers who had shut shop for the day on Nov. 8 had to reopen their stores within a couple of hours and were selling gold up to 4 a.m.,” Chirag Thakkar, a director at gold wholesaler Amrapali Group, said by phone… Customers paid as much as 52,000 rupees per 10 grams, almost double the current prices, he said. …About half of an estimated 9.3 million trucks under the All India Motor Transport Congress were off the road eight days after the announcement as drivers abandoned vehicles mid-way into their trips after running out of cash, according to Naveen Gupta, secretary general of the group. India’s roads carry about 65 percent of the country’s freight. Drivers don’t have enough money for food, truck maintenance and to make payments at border check posts. …Compounding the problem of pumping new money into the system is the need to reconfigure the country’s 220,000 cash machines so that they can dispense the new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes, which do not fit into existing ATM cash trays.

To be fair, some of these costs are transitory in nature, so it’s important to distinguish between those consequences and others that might linger.

Though the part of this story that doesn’t make sense is that the government plans on issuing new high-value banknotes. So the Prime Minister is not actually banning large banknotes (or even all non-digital currency), which is the usual goal of the war-on-cash crowd.

So why did the Modi cause so much turmoil with an overnight ban rather than allow for an orderly transition? I’m assuming that the answer has something to do with inconveniencing those with large cash holdings, some of whom will be crooks or counterfeiters or corrupt public officials.

As already noted, the battle against counterfeit currency surely is worthwhile.

But I have considerable doubts about whether this currency swap will have much impact on the shadow economy or public corruption.

And that brings me back to the rhetorical question I posed early in this column about why the United States didn’t have massive problems with crime and public corruption back in the late 1800s (when our per-capita GDP was akin to India’s today according to the Maddison data), even though we had banknotes that were far more valuable ($500 and $1000 compared to $7.50 and $15).

The answer, at least in part, is that the United States had a very tiny government. Government spending consumed at most 10 percent of economic output, with most of that spending at the state and local level. And there was no income tax.

And since people weren’t penalized for earning money and creating wealth, there was no incentive to be part of the shadow economy. And since government was small, there weren’t that many favors to distribute, so there wasn’t much need to bribe politicians or bureaucrats.

If Prime Minister Modi wants a vibrant, above-ground economy with minimal corruption, maybe that’s the path he should follow.

Let’s close with a very sage warning from Richard Fernandez’s column in PJ Media.

Money in its various forms has become the new battleground between a State that needs to reward its constituencies with and the actual economy which produces most of the real goods and services required to do it. The sad experience of command economies suggests in end the Real always wins over the Official.  As Ramesh Thakur said of India’s demonitization policy: “a better solution would have been to shift the balance of economic decision-making away from the state to firms and consumers; simplify, rationalize and reduce taxes; cut regulations and curtail officials’ discretionary powers; eliminate loopholes; and widen the tax net.”

And my favorite Russian-Irish-Californian economist also has a very apt summary of this issue.

Remember, if the answer is more government, you’ve asked a very silly question.

P.S. If he wants more future prosperity, Modi also should make sure the government no longer attacks private schools.

P.P.S. And it also would be a good idea to reform civil service rules so that it doesn’t take two decades to get rid of no-show bureaucrats.

Read Full Post »

It’s that time of year. Those of us who wait until the last minute are rushing to get tax returns filed (or extensions submitted).

So it’s also a good time to remind ourselves that there is a better way.

Economists look at the tax system and focus on the warts that undermine growth.

Other people focus on the immorality of the tax code.

Most of these problems have existed for decades and are familiar to people who have the misfortune of working for tax reform.

But every so often, policy wonks like me get surprised because we find out that things are even worse than we thought.

For instance, here are some excerpts from a very disturbing article in The Hill about the IRS’s we-don’t-care attitude about fraudulent use of Social Security numbers.

…illegal immigrants…use other people’s social security numbers (SSNs) to get jobs and then file their taxes with their IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). Although the tax returns contain false W-2 information, the IRS continues to process them, and the agency does not notify the people whose SSNs were used. …Koskinen said that in such cases “it’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.” …Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.)…told The Hill on Friday that he was “shocked” and “horrified” by Koskinen’s response. …House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)…said Friday that Koskinen’s comments about illegal immigrants’ tax returns are “just one more example of why Koskinen is doing such a poor job and should be impeached.”

As a quick aside, I’d be very curious to get some confirmation about Commissioner Koskinen’s assertion that illegals are net taxpayers. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn instead that they are a net drain because of “earned income tax credit,” which is a form of redistribution that gets laundered through the tax code.

But setting that aside, it’s completely outrageous that the IRS doesn’t let taxpayers know that their Social Security numbers have been stolen.

Congressman Jordan (and George Will) are right. There should be consequences for a government official who treats taxpayers with contempt.

Though Koskinen does deserve some credit for honesty about tax reform, as reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told lawmakers on Wednesday that implementing a flat tax would be simpler than the current tax system and would save the agency a lot of money. …Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R., Mo.) asked Koskinen whether a flat tax policy would save the agency money. …”clearly if you had a two-page form or a one-page form where you got rid of all the deductions and everything else and people just paid…a flat tax…it would be simpler for taxpayers and it would be much simpler for us,” Koskinen said. …Luetkemeyer asked Koskinen for more specifics about how much of the IRS’ current budget of $11.2 billion could be saved if a flat tax were implemented. “…it would be a lot,” Koskinen said. “It’d clearly be a sea change, a difference in the way the place operates.”

To call the flat tax “a sea change” is an understatement. As explained in this video, research from the Tax Foundation shows that the compliance burden of the tax code would fall by more than 90 percent.

And the economy would grow much faster since a key principle of the flat tax is that revenue should be collected in the least-damaging manner.

Though if you’re worried that a flat tax is too timid and you would prefer no broad-based tax for Washington, Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute shared this wonderful image.

Which is why October 3, 1913 may be the worst day in American history.

Some people claim that it would be impossible to have a modern society without an income tax.

Well, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and Monaco are very modern, and all those jurisdictions enjoy great prosperity in large part because there is no income tax.

And we could enjoy the same freedom and prosperity in the United States. But only if we reduced the size of the public sector.

In other words, we could free ourselves of the income tax if we could somehow get rid of all the programs that were created once the income tax gave politicians a big new source of tax revenue.

The challenge is convincing politicians to give up their ability to buy votes with other people’s money.

Incidentally, this is why we should be stalwart in our opposition to the value-added tax. The experience with the income tax shows that politicians will expand the burden of government spending if they obtain any significant new source of revenue.

Let’s close with a somewhat amusing look at how tax compliance works in India. Here are some blurbs from a story in the Wall Street Journal.

For five years, real-estate developer Prahul Sawant ignored government orders to pay his taxes. Then the drummers showed up, beating their instruments and demanding he cough up the cash. Neighbors leaned out windows and gawked. Within hours, a red-faced Mr. Sawant had written a $945 check to settle his long-standing arrears. Shame is the name of the game as India’s local governments try new tools to collect taxes from reluctant citizens. …Thane’s municipal commissioner, Sanjeev Jaiswal, is resorting to public embarrassment of tax scofflaws. …Since the drummers started work early this year in this suburb of Indian commercial capital Mumbai, property-tax revenue has jumped 20%, said Mr. Jaiswal.

It’s also safer for the tax bureaucrats to rely on drummers.

Tax collectors in Vitawa-Kalwa are glad the drummers, and some security officers, are touring the neighborhood with them. “When the staff show up to collect tax alone, people get angry and beat them up,” said S.R. Patole, the assistant commissioner, who is responsible for revenue in the area.

And if drummers don’t work, the municipal commissioner has a back-up plan.

Mr. Jaiswal…plans to deploy groups of transgender women, known in India as hijras, to perform mocking dances to shame tax delinquents. Hijras are widely believed to be able to impose hexes.

I’ll have to add this story to my collection of “great moments in tax enforcement.”

For what it’s worth, I’m on the side of the taxpayers because of the Indian government’s legendary ability to waste money.

P.S. If you’re a late filer and need some humor to get through the day, here’s my collection of IRS-related jokes: A new Obama 1040 form, a death tax cartoon, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon of how GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, two Obamacare/IRS cartoons (here and here), a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), a song about the tax agency, the IRS’s version of the quadratic formula, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

Read Full Post »

What’s the difference between libertarians and conservatives? I’ve touched on that issue before, citing some interesting research which suggests that the underlying difference involves cultural factors such as attitudes about authority.

But let’s narrow the question and look at the specific issue of how conservatives and libertarians differ on people’s right to make decisions about their own bodies.

By the way, this is not a discussion of abortion, which involves another person (or fetus, or baby, or clump of cells, or whatever you want to call it). Since there’s no consensus libertarian view on this issue (other than not having it subsidized by the government), I’ll let others fight it out over whether mothers should be able to abort.

Today, I want to look at whether people should be free to control their own bodies in cases when there’s a much more clear-cut case that there is no harm to others.

The obvious example is drug use. Libertarians believe that people should be able to use drugs, even if we happen to think they’re being stupid.

And I can’t help noting that more and more conservatives are realizing that the Drug War does more harm than good.

But let’s use a different example. The Washington Post recently reported that the government of India wants to prevent low-income women from improving their lives.

The issue is whether these women should be able to act as surrogate mothers.

India is one of the top countries in the world for couples searching for surrogacy that can be done far more cheaply than in the United States and elsewhere. It is a booming — and largely unregulated — business in India, with thousands of clinics forming the backbone of an estimated $400 million-a-year industry.

Before I continue, I can’t resist pointing out that – if we use words properly – the industry is regulated. But the regulation is very efficient because it’s the result of private contracts, not government edicts.

That being said, let’s not get distracted. The main issue is whether these voluntary contracts somehow are exploitative.

Critics have long said that fertility clinics and their clients exploit surrogate mothers — often poor and illiterate women from rural areas who are paid little.

But how on earth is this type of arrangement bad for Indian women?!?

A surrogate mother profiled in The Washington Post was paid $8,000: an amount 12 times what she made as a garment worker.

The article doesn’t specify whether the surrogate mother was paid 12 times what she earned in a year, or whether the pay was for the nine-month period of pregnancy.

Regardless, the woman clearly was a big winner.

Yet this practice somehow arouses antagonism among India’s political elite.

India’s Supreme Court recently labeled it “surrogacy tourism” and called for a ban. The government submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court on Wednesday saying that it “does not support commercial surrogacy” and that “no foreigners can avail surrogacy services in India,” although the service would still be available to Indian couples.

I’m not sure why Supreme Court Justices are lobbying for legislation. Maybe India’s system somehow enables that kind of grandstanding.

But it’s not good for poor Indians, or the Indian economy.

More than 6,000 surrogate babies are born in India per year, about half of them to foreign couples, according to one industry estimate. “We are taken aback by the government’s stand against foreign nationals,” said Jagatjeet Singh, a surrogacy consultant in New Delhi. “On one hand, the government is promoting foreign investment and the medical tourism industry. And on the other, they are talking of banning foreign nationals from coming to India for surrogate babies. There are dual standards.”

My guess is that richer people in India (such as members of the political elite) don’t like being reminded that their nation is poor.

They’re probably somewhat chagrined and embarrassed that they live in a country where thousands of women will jump at the chance to rent their wombs to foreigners.

But even if that’s an understandable emotion (I’m a bit ashamed when foreigners ask me about FATCA, for instance), that doesn’t justify laws banning voluntary exchange between consenting adults.

Moreover, renting a womb isn’t like working in a strip club or being a prostitute. As a libertarian, I don’t want to criminalize those professions, which just makes life harder for women in difficult circumstances. But we can all understand why there’s some degree of shame associated with stripping and hooking.

Heck, I can even understand why some folks don’t like voluntary kidney sales. It’s human nature, after all, to prefer a world where nobody is ever tempted to make big decisions for reasons of financial duress.

Earning money by being a surrogate mother, by contrast, seems perfectly benign. Perhaps somewhat akin to guys who make money by going to sperm banks.

P.S. A related issue is “sweatshops,” which some folks want to ban even though that denies poor people an opportunity to climb the economic ladder and improve their lives.

Read Full Post »

I don’t like government bureaucrats.

Actually, let me re-phrase that statement. I know lots of people who work for different agencies in Washington and most of them seem like decent people.

So maybe what I really want to say is that I’m not a big fan of government bureaucracies and the results they generate. Why?

Because a bloated government means overpaid bureaucrats, both at the federal level and state level (and in other nations as well).

Because inefficient bureaucracies enable loafing and bad work habits.

Because being part of the government workforce even encourages laziness!

And it may even be the case that government bureaucracies attract dishonest people. A story in the L.A. Times reveals that there’s a correlation between cheating and a desire to work for the government.

Here are some excerpts.

College students who cheated on a simple task were more likely to want government jobs, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania found in a study of hundreds of students in Bangalore, India. Their results, recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggest that one of the contributing forces behind government corruption could be who gets into government work in the first place. …Researchers ran a series of experiments with more than 600 students finishing up college in India. In one task, students had to privately roll a die and report what number they got. The higher the number, the more they would get paid. Each student rolled the die 42 times. …Cheating seemed to be rampant: More than a third of students had scores that fell in the top 1% of the predicted distribution, researchers found. Students who apparently cheated were 6.3% more likely to say they wanted to work in government, the researchers found.

I’m not surprised. Just as the wrong type of people often are attracted to politics, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that less-than-admirable folks sometimes are attracted to jobs in the bureaucracy.

But I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from this research.

The study looked at people in India and that nation’s government is infamous for rampant corruption.

However, if you look at how America scores in that regard (corruption measures are included in both Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom), the problem is much less severe.

So even though I’m willing to believe that bureaucrats in America are more prone to bad habits than their private-sector counterparts, I don’t think many of them decide to get government jobs in the expectation that they can extract bribes.

Indeed, I would guess that the average American bureaucrat is far more honest than the average American politician.

That’s damning with faint praise, I realize, but it underscores an important point that the real problem is big government. That’s what enables massive corruption in Washington.

P.S. Switching gears, I’ve written a couple of times about the intrusive and destructive Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Well, we have some good news on that front. The Republican National Committee has endorsed the law’s repeal. I don’t want to pretend that’s a momentous development and I even told Reuters that the GOP may only be taking this step for narrow political reasons.

Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said: “It’s hard to imagine an issue this obscure playing a visible role in elections … It is making overseas Americans far more sympathetic to (Republicans) and could have an impact on fundraising.”

That being said, I’m more than happy when politicians happen to do the right thing simply because it’s in their self interest. And if we can eventually undo FATCA and enable more tax competition, that’s good news for America and the rest of the world.

P.P.S. And here’s another positive update on a topic we’ve examined before. Governor Rick Perry of Texas has joined a growing list of people who are having second thoughts about the War on Drugs. Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Washington Post.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday voiced support for softening penalties for marijuana use, and touted his work moving in the direction of decriminalization. “After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade,” Perry said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

He joins a growing list of people – such as John Stossel, Gary Johnson, John McCainMona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Bransonwho are recognizing that it’s foolish to give government massive amounts of power and money simply to stop people from doing dumb things to themselves.

But maybe you disagree with all those people and would rather be on the same side as Hillary Clinton.

And make life easier for the folks in this cartoon.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written before about how leftists always criticize so-called tax havens, even though rich statists are among the biggest beneficiaries of these low-tax jurisdictions.

President Obama, for instance, has been so critical of tax havens that he’s been caught making utterly dishonest statements on the topic.

But I guess the President’s opposition to tax competition is less important than his desire to prop up Obamacare. Look at some of what’s been reported by Bloomberg.

…the job of taking over construction of HealthCare.gov, which failed miserably when it debuted in October, is going to Accenture Plc, which switched its place of incorporation in 2009 to Ireland from Bermuda. …Accenture has endured so much criticism over the years for its use of tax havens that it even has a disclosure in its annual report warning investors to expect as much. …Accenture’s roots date back to a once-iconic American business, which helps explain why it’s gotten a lot of heat for incorporating in tax havens since spinning off.

By the way, it makes sense for Accenture to be domiciled in Bermuda rather than the United States.

P.P.P.P.S. On a personal note, I’m down in Florida for my first softball tournament of the year and I’m happy to report that I managed to put one over the fence.

Tampa HRHitting home runs has become a distressingly infrequent event as I’ve gotten older (I’m playing in a tourney for the 55-and-up crowd), and I like to memorialize it when it happens just in case it’s the last time.

So forgive me if I engage in Walter Mitty-style fantasizing. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees will call with a contract offer.

Wait, who am I kidding?!?

That’s even less likely than Obamacare succeeding. Or politicians surrendering some of their power by enacting a flat tax.

I’m doomed to be a policy wonk for the rest of my life.

Read Full Post »

I’m a libertarian because I believe in individual freedom and greater prosperity, but what really motivates me is the desire to protect people from predatory government.

So even though the economist in me wants to reduce the burden of government spending and implement a flat tax because such policies will boost growth and lead to higher living standards, I also want those policies because I don’t like it when interest groups use the coercive power of government to obtain unearned wealth.

And what gets me most upset is when those special interests use their corrupt connections with the political elite to screw the poor. That’s why I despise policies such as corporate subsidiesbailouts and minimum wage laws.

So you’ll understand why I’m particularly upset that the government of India is now trying to undermine opportunity for the poor by shutting down private schools

Here are some of the odious details.

Heera Ballabh walks his youngest son, Pankaj, to school through two kilometres of narrow lanes. He hopes a good eduction will propel the boy out of the cramped lower-class neighbourhood they call home and into middle-class life. But this aspiration hangs in the balance because legislation will force the privately run school Pankaj attends to close as it does not meet the requirements stipulated by the government.

The Ballabh family is not unusual. Because the government schools do a terrible job, there are millions of poor families who are sacrificing to send their kids to private schools.

…Pankaj attends the Pioneer Public School. It is among 2,000 low-fee private schools in Delhi facing closure, threatening to displace more than 500,000 pupils, most of them in primary school. Across India, about 300,000 schools, with an estimated 15 million pupils, may have to close, said Shantanu Gupta, the associate director of the School Choice Campaign with the Centre for Civil Society, a non-profit research and educational organisation.

Apparently embarrassed by the fact that so many millions of poor families would rather pay for good private schools than go to free state institutions, the government is  trying to regulate the private schools out of existence.

…The criteria for private schools to remain open include meeting a minimum requirement for the size of its premises, higher teacher salaries, and government certification. Mr Ballabh would rather pay several hundred rupees a month out of his meagre salary as a private tutor to send his son to Pioneer than to a government school. Although there are no tuition fees at state schools and textbooks and lunches are free, teachers are often absent and there can be up to 80 students per class, he said. Studies published by the Centre for Civil Society showed that schools such as Pioneer perform better than government schools.

Not surprisingly, the government doesn’t want to judge private schools on the basis of performance.

…Mr Gupta said…”The requirements should be performance-based instead of looking at how much land is available to build a school,” …One of the states that has managed to bridge the gap between the requirements of the act and the realities on the ground is Gujarat, said Mr Gupta, where the land requirement was done away with and schools are judged on pupils’ performance.

I’ve previously identified some truly despicable people on this blog (Robert Murphy, Michael Wolfensohn, Olga Stefou and the British moocher mom). Well, I think Ashok Agarwal may beat them in the contest to be the worst person in the world. He’s the one who launched the attack against so-called unauthorised schools.

…there are those who say such schools must be forced to close if the education system is to be improved in India. “We have an act that clearly defines what a school is and that must be respected,” said Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer and an education activist who filed a public interest litigation in 2006 seeking the closure of unauthorised schools.

Mr. Agarwal admits that the government schools don’t work, but he thinks he should have the right to decide what is best for other people’s children. What a disgusting human being.

“We admit our education system has been derailed but we are trying to fix it, and if you are unhappy with how government schools are run then pressure the government to make changes but don’t put your children in substandard schools,” he said.

The same issues exist in the United States. Children from poor families often are in neighborhoods where the government schools are a dismal failure.

Leftists want to use this horrible performance as an excuse to throw more tax dollars into a failing system, but this amazing chart shows that huge increases in staff and money have not helped the system.

School choice is one of the best ways of giving poor kids an opportunity for a brighter future. But the teacher unions are opposed, largely because they want to protect their privileged status.

That’s reprehensible, but understandable. What’s unforgivable, though, is when politicians like Barack Obama and groups such as the NAACP side with the unions, putting political power ahead of progress and opportunity for kids.

Shame of people in the United States who put government before kids. And shame on people in India who also put the interests of the state before the interests of children.

P.S. Here’s a video explaining why school choice is better than a government-run monopoly.

P.P.S. Read here how Chile has achieved great results with school choice.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: