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I normally enjoy working for the Cato Institute since it’s a principled and effective organization.

But every so often, my job requires an unpleasant task, and watching the State-of-the-Union Address as part of Cato’s live-tweeting program counts as one my least enjoyable experiences since joining the team.

But let’s make lemonade out of lemons by looking at lessons that can be learned from Obama’s speech. The most jarring part of the evening was when Obama bragged about the American economy.

Since we’re suffering through the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, that was rather bizarre.

Moreover, being proud that we’re doing better than Europe is akin to getting a participation ribbon in a soccer league for kids.

And the chest thumping about the unemployment rate was very misplaced since that piece of data only looks good because so many Americans have given up on finding a job.

I’ve pontificated on that issue before and cited the Labor Department’s overall data, but let’s dig a little deeper to fully understand why Obama should have apologized rather than patted himself on the back.

Here’s the employment/population ratio for the prime, working-age population of those between 25 and 54 years of age.

As you can see, this ratio has improved a bit over the past five years, but it appears that there’s very little hope that the overall employment situation will ever recover to where it was before the recession.

At least not with current policies.

Here’s another way of looking at the same data. It’s labor force participation by age. The lines don’t seem that far apart, but a 3-4 percentage point decline across age groups adds up to millions of people no longer productively employed.

Last but not least, here’s another way of approaching this data.

We have a chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank showing the number of working-age people not in the labor force.

There are two takeaways from this chart.

First, it’s clear that the problem started well before Obama.

But it’s also clear that the problem has gotten much worse during his tenure.

The bottom line is that the expansion of redistribution programs has lured more and more people out of the labor force, particularly when matched by government policies that have hindered the private sector’s ability to create jobs.

So you’ll understand why I cited labor-force participation (along with stagnant household income) as Obama’s real legacy in this interview.

By the way, one of the perils of live TV is that you sometimes get curve balls. And since the Ted Cruz birther controversy is now big news, I was asked my opinion even though I don’t have the slightest competency to discuss the issue.

Sort of like the time I went on a program for the ostensible purpose of discussing trade and wound up trapped in a discussion on America’s relationship with North Korea.

My only regret from yesterday’s interview is that I wasn’t clever enough to say that I was more worried about Cruz supporting a Canadian-style tax system than I was about Cruz being born in Canada.

P.S. While I’m not happy about Cruz including a value-added tax in his reform proposal, don’t read too much into that grousing since there are warts in the other candidates’ plans as well.

With one exception.

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When I get my daily email from the editorial page of the New York Times, I scroll through to see whether there’s anything on economic issues I should read.

As a general rule, I skip over Paul Krugman’s writings because he’s both predictable and partisan. But every so often, his column will grab my attention, usually because the headline will include an assertion that doesn’t make sense.

The bad news is that this is usually a waste of time since most of his columns are ideological rants. But the good news is that I periodically catch Krugman making grotesque errors when he engages in actual analysis. Here are a few examples:

  • Earlier this year, Krugman asserted that America was outperforming Europe because our fiscal policy was more Keynesian, yet the data showed that the United States had bigger spending reductions and less red ink.
  • Last year, he asserted that a supposed “California comeback” in jobs somehow proved my analysis of a tax hike was wrong, yet only four states at the time had a higher unemployment rate than California.
  • And here’s my favorite: In 2012, Krugman engaged in the policy version of time travel by blaming Estonia’s 2008 recession on spending cuts that took place in 2009.

And if you enjoyed those examples, you can find more of the same by clicking here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

But perhaps he’s (sort of) learning from his mistakes. Today, we’re going to look at Paul Krugman’s latest numbers and I’ll be the first to say that they appear to be accurate.

But accurate numbers don’t necessarily lead to honest analysis. Krugman has a post featuring this chart, which is supposed to show us that GOP presidential candidates are wrong to pursue “Bushonomics.”

In looking at this chart and seeing how Krugman wants it to be interpreted, I can’t help but think of the famous zinger Reagan used in his debate with Jimmy Carter: “there you go again.”

Let’s consider why he’s wrong.

First, he asserts the chart is evidence that GOP candidates shouldn’t follow Bushonomics.

I actually agree. That’s because the burden of government spending jumped significantly during the Bush years and the regulatory state became more oppressive. All things considered, Bush was a statist.

Krugman, however, would like readers to believe that Bush was some sort of Reaganite. That’s where we disagree. And if you want to know which one of us is right, just check what happened to America’s rating in Economic Freedom of the World during the Bush years.

Second, Krugman would like readers to think that Presidents have total control over economic policy. Yet in America’s separation-of-powers system, that’s obviously wrong. You also need to consider what’s happening with the legislative branch.

So I added a couple of data points to Krugman’s chart. And, lo and behold, you can just as easily make an argument that partisan control of Congress is the relevant variable. As you can see, Republican control of Congress boosted job growth for Obama, whereas the Democratic takeover of Congress led to bad results during the Bush years.

By the way, I don’t actually think congressional control is all that matters. I’m simply making the point that it is misleading to assert that control of the White House is all that matters.

What is important, by contrast, are the policies that are being implemented (or, just as important, not being implemented).

And since the economic policies of Bush and Obama have been largely similar, the bottom line is that it’s disingenuous to compare job creation during their tenures and reach any intelligent conclusions.

Third, since Krugman wants us to pay attention to job creation during various administrations, we can play this game – and actually learn something – by adding another president to the mix.

Krugman doesn’t identify his data source, but I assume he used this BLS calculation of private employment (or something very similar).

So I asked that website to give me total private employment going back to the month Reagan was nominated.

And here’s what I found. As you can see, good private-sector job growth under Reagan and Clinton, but relatively tepid job growth this century.

Now let’s take a closer look at the total change in private employment for the first 81 months of the Reagan, Bush, and Obama Administrations. And you’ll see that Krugman was sort of right, at least in that Obama has done better than Bush.

And if there’s no recession before he leaves office, he’ll look even better than Bush than he does now. But Obama doesn’t fare well when compared against Reagan.

So does this mean Krugman will now argue GOP candidates should follow Reaganomics rather than Obamanomics or Bushonomics?

I’m not holding my breath waiting for him to make a correction. By the way, keep in mind what I said before. Presidents (along with members of Congress) don’t have magical job-creation powers. The best you can hope for is that the overall burden of government diminishes a bit during their tenure so that the private sector can flourish.

That’s what really enables job creation, and that’s the lesson that really matters.

But it’s not easy to find the truth if you put partisanship above analysis. Krugman erred by making a very simplistic Bush-Republican-bad/Obama-Democrat-good argument.

In reality, the past several decades show that it’s more important to look at policy rather than partisan labels. For instance, the fiscal policies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are relatively similar and are in distinct contrast to the more profligate fiscal policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

P.S. Paul Krugman’s biggest whopper was about healthcare rather than fiscal policy. In 2009, he said “scare stories” about government-run healthcare in Great Britain “are false.” But you can find lots of scary stories here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time for a mea culpa.

In the past, I’ve criticized Obamacare for a variety of reasons.

But I’m not here to apologize for those views.

Instead, I feel obliged to issue somewhat of a retraction for my assertion that Obama care is a job killer.

Some of you may be scratching your heads, particularly if you read these passages from an article earlier this week in The Hill.

ObamaCare will force a reduction in American work hours — the equivalent of 2 million jobs over the next decade, Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper said Monday. The total workforce will shrink by just under 1 percent as a result of changes in worker participation because of the new coverage expansions, mandates and changes in tax rates, according to a 22-page report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). …the law changes incentives over the years for the workers themselves both in part-time and full-time positions.

And if you go to the actual CBO report, you’ll see that the story is accurate. And the CBO report is very consistent with some of the academic research on the issue.

So why, then, am I issuing a mea culpa on Obamacare and jobs?

Well, some readers may have concluded from my writings that Obamacare is an absolute job killer.

Yet, as we see from this story in the Kansas City Star, there may be some jobs being created because of the so-called Affordable Care Act. Here are some relevant excerpts.

H&R Block expects more customers to feel the impact of the Affordable Care Act when they do their taxes early next year, providing a source of growth for the Kansas City-based business. A year ago, Block invested in marketing and training its tax preparers… “We think we’re going to start to reap the benefits of that investment,” Block chief executive Bill Cobb said Tuesday during a strategy session with analysts. …the company said an early effort will be aimed at getting back customers the company lost last year.

To be sure, H&R Block isn’t explicitly saying that it will have additional employees, but I think we can infer that some new positions will be created as the company takes advantage of the fact that many taxpayers will be overwhelmed by the complexities and penalties that are part of Obamacare.

With this in mind, I’m going to be very careful in the future to state that the President’s law is a net job killer or a relative job killer.

After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to accuse me of being unfairly or inaccurately critical of government-run healthcare. Even in cases when the jobs being created are evidence of bad legislation rather than a good economic climate.

P.S. I’m not a big fan of H&R Block. Assuming they didn’t support Obamacare, I don’t blame them for enjoying the extra profits they’ll earn because of the law. But the company has supported government rules to block competition in the tax-compliance industry. And I remember many years ago being part of a debate in Louisiana where a representative from H&R Block argued against the flat tax. Gee, I wonder why?

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I was in Montreal last week for a conference on tax competition, where I participated in a debate about whether the corporate income tax should be abolished with my crazy left-wing friend Richard Murphy.

But I don’t want to write about that debate, both because I was asked to take a position I don’t really support (I actually think corporate income should be taxed, but in a far less destructive fashion than the current system) and because the audience voted in favor of Richard’s position (the attendees were so statist that I felt like a civil rights protester before an all-white Alabama jury in 1965).

Instead, I want to highlight some of material presented by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who also ventured into hostile territory to give a presentation on the reforms that have been implemented in his state.

Here are some slides from his presentation, starting with this summary of the main changes that have taken place. As you can see, personal income tax rates are being reduced and income taxes on small businesses have been abolished.

By the way, I don’t fully agree with these changes since I think all income should be taxed the same way. In other words, if there’s going to be a state income tax, then the guy who runs the local pet store should pay the same rate as the guy who works at the assembly plant.

But since the Governor said he ultimately wants Kansas to be part of the no-income-tax club, I think he agrees with that principle. When you’re enacting laws, though, you have to judge the results by whether policy is moving in the right direction, not by whether you’ve reached policy nirvana.

And there’ no doubt that the tax code in Kansas is becoming less onerous. Indeed, the only state in recent years that may have taken bigger positive steps is North Carolina.

In any event, what can we say about Brownback’s tax cuts? Have they worked? We’re still early in the process, but there are some very encouraging signs. Here’s a chart the Governor shared comparing job numbers in Kansas and neighboring states.

These are positive results, but not overwhelmingly persuasive since we don’t know why there are also improving numbers in Missouri and Colorado (though I suspect TABOR is one of the reasons Colorado is doing especially well).

But this next chart from Governor Brownback is quite compelling. It looks at migration patters between Kansas and Missouri. Traditionally, there wasn’t any discernible pattern, at least with regard to the income of migrants.

But once the Governor reduced tax rates and eliminated income taxes on small business, there’s been a spike in favor of Kansas. Which is particularly impressive considering that Kansas suffered a loss of taxable income to other states last decade.

But here’s the chart that is most illuminating. In addition to being home to the team that won the World Series, Kansas City is interesting because the metropolitan area encompasses both parts of Missouri and parts of Kansas.

So you can learn a lot by comparing not only migration patters between the two states, but also wage trends in the shared metropolitan area.

And if this chart is any indication, workers on the Kansas side are enjoying a growing wage differential.

So what’s the bottom line?

Like with all issues, it would be wrong to make sweeping claims. There are many issues beyond tax that impact competitiveness. Moreover, we’ll know more when there is 20 years of data rather than a few years of data.

That being said, Kansas clearly is moving in the right direction. All you have to do is compare economic performance in Texas and California to see that low-tax states out-perform high-tax states.

Indeed, if Kansas can augment good tax policies with a Colorado-style spending cap, the state will be in a very strong position.

P.S. This joke also helps explain the difference between California and Texas.

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Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s pseudo-socialist senator, thinks that America can learn from Europe.

He’s right.

But he’s also wrong. That’s because he thinks that Europe is a role model to emulate rather than a warning signal of mistakes to avoid. Needless to say, that’s borderline crazy.

Heck, even President Obama has pointed out that the United States out-performs our European counterparts.

In his Washington Post column, Robert Samuelson warns that it would be a mistake to follow the European model of more taxes and additional regulation. He starts with (what should be) an obvious point about businesses responding to incentives.

We can learn from Europe about job creation, but many Americans may reject the underlying lesson. It is: If you price labor too high — pay workers more than they produce — businesses will slow or stop hiring.

He then points out that bad incentives in Europe are leading to bad results.

Europe’s economy is in the doldrums. Growth in the eurozone (the 19 countries using the euro) is weak… Eurozone unemployment is 11.1 percent, barely down from the peak of about 12 percent. This contrasts with the United States, where the jobless rate has dropped from 10 percent in October 2009 to 5.3 percent now.

And what exactly are the bad incentives in Europe?

Simply stated, governments are imposing too many burdens on the economy’s productive sector.

In a fascinating article in the latest “Journal of Economic Perspectives,” economist Christian Thimann — a former top adviser at the European Central Bank and now at the French investment bank AXA — argues that Europe’s debt crisis and the weak recovery both stem from high wage and compensation costs. “Jobs fail to be created in a number of [eurozone] countries not because of a ‘lack of demand’ as often claimed,” Thimann writes,” but mainly because wage costs are high relative to productivity, social insurance and tax burdens are heavy, and the business environment is excessively burdensome.”

Which brings us back to the point Samuelson made earlier.

If the costs of new workers exceed the likely benefits in higher sales and profits, companies will hire less or not at all.

And just in case the implications aren’t obvious, he spells it out.

…we should not ignore the implications for the United States. …it’s tempting to load the costs of social policies onto business. …The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) requires firms to provide health insurance for workers; a $15 minimum wage would raise labor costs sharply for many firms; and there are proposals mandating paid maternity and sick leave. All these seem worthy causes, but we need to be alert to unintended consequences. If we make hiring too expensive, there will be less hiring.

Amen. As I’ve already noted, businesses aren’t charities. They won’t hire new workers if that means lower profits!

But Europe has a lot of these policies, so unemployment is higher. And we have politicians in America who want to copy Europe’s mistakes.

The problem is not just that politicians are making it more expensive to hire workers. Bad government policy also is making it more expensive to do almost anything.

The U.K.-based Telegraph has a story looking at how some European governments are making other business activities needlessly costly and difficult.

…doing business in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain is more difficult, expensive and slower than in stronger, neighbouring countries. …Looking at the average time it takes to get construction permits, electricity connected, contracts enforced and goods exported shows the disparity.

This chart shows that the problem is especially acute in Southern Europe.

Let’s close by making a very important point about differences within Europe. While it’s sometimes useful and interesting to look at big-picture comparisons (such as average unemployment in the EU vs US or average income in the EU vs US), it’s also important to realize that European nations (notwithstanding pressures for harmonization, centralization, and bureaucratization from the European Commission) still have considerable leeway to determine their own economic policies.

And if you peruse Economic Freedom of the World, you’ll see that Northern European nations such as Finland (#10), Denmark (#19), Germany (#28), and the Netherlands (#34) are all considered market-friendly, while Southern European countries such as Spain (#51), France (#58), Italy (#79), and Greece (#84) are much lower in the rankings.

The Nordic nations are especially interesting. They have large welfare states, but they have very pro-market policies in other areas. So to elaborate on what Senator Sanders asserted, we actually could learn some good lessons from Scandinavian nations in areas other than fiscal policy.

P.S. Since we picked on Bernie Sanders already, let’s create some balance by also mocking Hillary Clinton.

Here’s a clever satirical video about her email scandal.

And if that doesn’t satisfy your craving, click here for more Hillary humor.

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A few days ago, we used supply-and-demand curves to illustrate how taxes reduce economic output.

Supply-and-demand curves also can be used to examine the impact of minimum wage laws on the labor market.

Workers understandably will be willing to supply more labor at higher wages.

Employers are just the opposite. They demand more labor when wages are low.

In an unfettered market, the interplay of supply and demand will result in an “equilibrium wage.”

But as you can see from the chart, if politicians impose a minimum-wage mandate above the equilibrium level, there will be unemployment.

Some folks, though, may not be overly impressed by theory. So how about empirical research.

Other folks, though, may prefer real-world examples rather than academic studies.

We’ve already looked at the bad results when the minimum wage was increased in Michigan.

Now we have some more unfortunate evidence from the state of Washington. Seattle Magazine has a story about a bunch of restaurants closing because of an increase in the minimum wage.

The article starts by noting a bunch of eateries are being shut down.

Last month—and particularly last week— Seattle foodies were downcast as the blows kept coming: Queen Anne’s Grub closed February 15. Pioneer Square’s Little Uncle shut down February 25. Shanik’s Meeru Dhalwala announced that it will close March 21. Renée Erickson’s Boat Street Café will shutter May 30… What the #*%&$* is going on?

Hmmm…so what’s changed. It’s not higher food prices. It’s not a change in dining preferences of consumers.

Instead, government intervention is having a predictable effect.

…for Seattle restaurateurs recently, …the impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour. Starting April 1, all businesses must begin to phase in the wage increase: Small employers have seven years to pay all employees at least $15 hourly; large employers (with 500 or more employees) have three. Since the legislation was announced last summer, The Seattle Times and Eater have reported extensively on restaurant owners’ many concerns about how to compensate for the extra funds that will now be required for labor: They may need to raise menu prices, source poorer ingredients, reduce operating hours, reduce their labor and/or more.

An industry expert tries to explain the new reality of coping with higher costs.

Washington Restaurant Association’s Anton puts it this way: “It’s not a political problem; it’s a math problem.” …he says that if restaurant owners made no changes, the labor cost in quick service restaurants would rise to 42 percent and in full service restaurants to 47 percent. “Everyone is looking at the model right now, asking how do we do math?” he says. “Every operator I’m talking to is in panic mode, trying to figure out what the new world will look like.”

Well, we know what “the new world will look like” for many workers. They’ll be unemployed.

So you can understand why this issue is so frustrating. Politicians posture about helping workers, but they wind up displaying their economic ignorance and real-world innumeracy.

And innocent people pay the price, as shown in the Branco cartoon.

P.S. Walter Williams explains the racist impact of minimum-wage laws.

P.P.S. On a lighter note, here are a couple of additional clever cartoons illustrating the negative impact of minimum-wage mandates.

P.P.P.S. And this video is a must-watch on the issue.

P.P.P.P.S. Shifting to a different topic, I’m not quite sure this guy deserves to be in the Moocher Hall of Fame, but I’m glad he’s going to jail.

Champion golfer Alan Bannister, who played off a handicap of seven, was convicted of benefits fraud after being caught on camera walking around the course on his daily game. He even had a taxpayer-funded mobility car by claiming he was in too much pain to walk. …Inspectors discovered he used his mobility car – intended for people “virtually unable to walk” – to drive to the golf club to play with the “Sunday Swingers” and “The Crazy Gang” players, despite claiming he could barely walk 50 metres at a time. …The court was told Bannister dishonestly claimed £26,090.55 from 2007 until 2012 in Disability Living Allowance.

And while he’s only a borderline case for the Moocher Hall of Fame, he’s a perfect example of eroding social capital.

He’s a dirtbag who decided that it is perfectly okay to scam off taxpayers. When enough of his fellow citizens make the same choice, a society is in deep trouble.

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It’s very frustrating to write about the minimum wage. How often can you make the elementary observation, after all, that you’ll get more unemployment if you try to make businesses pay some workers more than they’re worth?

But it’s my mission to promote economic liberty, so I’ve written on why government-mandated wages can create unemployment by making it unprofitable to hire people with low work skills and/or poor work histories. And I’ve attacked Republicans for going along with these job-killing policies, and also pointed out the racist impact of such intervention.

Heck, just about everything sensible that needs to be said about the topic is contained in this short video narrated by Orphe Divougny

But I guess I’m the Sisyphus of the free-market movement because once again I’m going to try to talk some sense into those who think emotion can trump real-world economics.

Let’s start by citing some new reasearch.

States are allowed to increase minimum wages above the federal level. This creates interesting opportunities to measure what happens to employment when the national minimum wage is increased, since the change presumably doesn’t impact states that already are at or above that level.

Two economists from the University of California at San Diego took advantage of this natural experiment and examined employment changes in states that were “bound” and “unbound” by the law.

…we find that minimum wage increases significantly reduced the employment of low-skilled workers.  By the second year following the $7.25 minimum’s implementation, we estimate that targeted workers’ employment rates had fallen by 6 percentage points (8%) more in ‘bound’ states than in ‘unbound’ states.  …Over the late 2000s the average effective minimum wage rate rose by nearly 30% across the United States.  Our best estimate is that these minimum wage increases reduced the employment of working-age adults by 0.7 percentage points.  This accounts for 14% of the employment rate’s total decline over this time period and amounts to 1.4 million workers.  A disproportionate 45% of the affected workers were young adults (aged 15 to 24).

Gee, what a surprise. Fewer jobs.

But the mandated hike in wages didn’t just reduce employment.

There were also negative effects on income.

We find that binding minimum wage increases reduced low-skilled individuals’ average monthly incomes.  Targeted workers’ average incomes fell by an average of $100 over the first year and by an additional $50 over the following two years. …We provide direct evidence that such losses translate into meaningful reductions in upward economic mobility.  Two years following the minimum wage increases we study, low-skilled workers had become significantly less likely to transition into higher-wage employment in bound states than in unbound states. 

This evidence on income is particularly important because some statists make a rather utilitarian argument that it’s okay for some people to lose jobs because others will benefit.

Jared Bernstein is Exhibit A, as you can see in this debate we had for CNBC.

But let’s not just focus on numbers. There are painful human costs when low-skilled workers are priced out of the labor market.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the Wall Street Journal about a real-world example of people losing their jobs.

It’s well-established in the economic literature, if not in the minds of proponents of these laws, that the result will be job losses. Yet this empirical reality fails to capture the emotional reality of the employees who are let go, or of the business owners who had no choice but to let them go. …Michigan’s minimum wage rose in September to $8.15 an hour from $7.40 (the minimum wage for tipped employees rose 17%, to $3.10 an hour). The wage will rise to $9.25 by January 2018.

Now let’s look at the impact on a non-profit restaurant that helped disadvantaged people.

The staff at Tastes of Life was made up of recovering addicts, recently incarcerated individuals and others who would have a hard time landing a job elsewhere. Mr. Mosley explained that on-the-job offenses for which an employee would have been “gone that day” in a traditional work setting were instead used as training opportunities at Tastes of Life. …Mr. Mosley’s financial goal was to break even and use any excess funds to subsidize Life Challenge participants. After more than two years of operation on Beck Road, 2½ miles from the center of town, Tastes of Life had a steady flow of loyal customers, but rising food costs presented a challenge.Mr. Mosley and Ms. Tucker had planned to print new menus with higher prices to cover the food costs, but the September wage hike complicated those plans, in particular because the increase covered both tipped and non-tipped employees. …“If we had a $10 menu item, it would have to be $14,” Mr. Mosley said. The restaurant’s customer base of seniors on a fixed income and Hillsdale locals made this option a nonstarter. The restaurant also had to find roughly 250 new customers a month, unrealistic in a small town of about 8,300.

So the inevitable happened.

The increased minimum wage, he told me, was “the straw that broke that camel’s back,” forcing him to close his doors and lay off his 12-person staff. …with the higher wage costs, the arrangement was no longer feasible, and Tastes of Life closed on Sept. 28. …Four former employees have been able to leverage their restaurant experience to find new employment, but Mr. Mosley told me that eight are still out of work. …the loss of Tastes of Life cuts deep, because the benefit for Life Challenge participants was both valuable and is not easily attained elsewhere. These unintended consequences of a minimum wage hike aren’t unique to small towns in south-central Michigan. Tragically, they repeat themselves in locales small and large each time legislators heed the populist call to “raise the wage.”

Understanding “unintended consequences” is a key characteristic of a good economist.

Indeed, Bastiat’s wise words about the “seen” and “unseen” help to explain why Krugman makes so many mistakes.

But that’s a topic for another column (actually, a whole series of columns).

Today, the goal is simply to understand that it is pointlessly destructive to make low-skilled labor less affordable.

P.S. Given all the evidence that minimum-wage laws destroy jobs, why do some people persist in supporting such a destructive policy? In this post, I provide six possible reasons.

P.P.S. No wonder I get so frustrated on this topic.

P.P.P.S On the lighter side, here are some good cartoon on the minimum wage from Steve Breen, Lisa Benson and Henry Payne.

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For the past several years, on the issue of jobs, I’ve focused more on the employment-population ratio rather than the official unemployment rate.

Both figures are important, of course, but I think the employment-population ratio has more economic meaning since our prosperity ultimately is based on how many people are productively employed.

To put this in wonkish terms, our national economic output is a function of the efficient allocation of labor and capital.

The reason I bring this up is that many people think the job market is now in great shape because the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.6 percent.

To be sure, that’s good news when compared to the much higher rates of joblessness that plagued the nation a few years ago. But one of the reasons the unemployment rate has dropped is that many people have left the labor force.

Here’s a chart based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing how many people have jobs compared to the working-age population. As you can see, there’s been scant improvement in this important indicator.

The problem isn’t that the ratio plummeted during the downturn. That always happens.

What’s worrisome is the fact that there wasn’t a bounce back in the right direction after the economy started to improve.

Indeed, it’s become such a problem that the establishment media has started to notice.

Here’s some of what Reuters reported on Fridays good news/bad news jobs report.

…wages posted their biggest decline in at least eight years in a sign the tightening labor market has yet to give much of a boost to workers. …The jobless rate fell 0.2 percentage point to a 6-1/2-year low of 5.6 percent, but that was mainly because people left the labor force. The drop in labor participation and a surprise five-cent, or 0.2 percent, decrease in average hourly earnings…the labor force participation rate, the percentage of the working age population who either have a job or are looking for one, dropped back to the 36-year low of 62.7 percent reached in September.

The labor force participation rate, which is mentioned in the Reuters article, is another set of data that is rather similar to the employment-population rate.

Here’s a chart that’s been circulating on Twitter, based on data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve. You can see that the labor force participation rate jumped significantly between 1970 and 1990, in large part because more women were entering the job market. But in recent years, the trend has been in the wrong direction.

And if you parse the data, you can see that the big problem is among those without a college degree.

Now that we’ve cited lots of data, let’s speculate on why we have fewer and fewer people productively employed.

There are several possible answers, including the big increase in people scamming the disability system.

There’s also the jump in tax and regulatory burdens, though that presumably impacts all economic statistics.

Obamacare deserves its own special mention since it imposes a significant penalty on work.

And, until recently, the government had a policy of endless unemployment benefits that made work relatively less attractive.

So the bottom line, as you might expect, is that the problem is too much intervention and bloated government. Which means the answer is free markets and less government.

P.S. Some readers will have noticed that this piece cites both the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate. These two data series are sometimes used interchangeably, though I prefer the former for reasons explained in this article for the BLS’s Monthly Labor Review.

P.P.S. If you want a humorous take on labor economics, I recommend this Wizard-of-Id parody, as well as this Chuck Asay cartoon and this Robert Gorrell cartoon.

P.P.P.S. To end on a glum note, Obama wants to increase the minimum wage. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know whether that’s going to help or hurt the job market.

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Exactly one year ago, we looked at the best and worst policy developments of 2013.

Now it’s time for a look back at 2014 to see what’s worth celebrating and what are reasons for despair.

Here’s the good news for 2014.

1. Gridlock – I’ve been arguing for nearly three years that divided government is producing better economic performance. To be sure, it would have been difficult for the economy to move in the wrong direction after the stagnation of Obama’s first two years, but heading in the wrong direction at a slower pace is better than speeding toward European-style statism.

Indeed, the fact that policy stopped getting worse even boosted America’s relative competitiveness, so there’s a lot to be thankful for when politicians disagree with each other and can’t enact new laws.

David Harsanyi explains the glory of gridlock for The Federalist.

Gross domestic product grew by a healthy 5 percent in the third quarter, the strongest growth we’ve seen since 2003. Consumer spending looks like it’s going to be strong in 2015, unemployment numbers have looked good, buying power is up and the stock market closed at 18,000 for the first time ever. All good things. So what happened? …the predominant agenda of Washington was doing nothing. It was only when the tinkering and superfluous stimulus spending wound down that fortunes began to turn around. …spending as a percent of GDP has gone down. In 2009, 125 bills were enacted into law. In 2010, 258. After that, Congress, year by year, became one of the least productive in history. And the more unproductive Washington became, the more the economy began to improve. …Gridlock has caused an odd, but pervasive, stability in Washington. Spending has been static. No jarring reforms have passed — no cap-and-trade, which would have artificially spiked energy prices and undercut the growth we’re now experiencing. The inadvertent, but reigning, policy over the past four years has been, do no harm.

Amen. Though I should hasten to add that while gridlock has been helpful in the short run (stopping Obama from achieving his dream of becoming a second FDR), at some point we will need unified government in order to adopt much-needed tax reform and entitlement reform.

The key question is whether we will ever get good politicians controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

2. Restrained Spending – This is the most under-reported and under-celebrated news of the past few years, not just 2014.

Allow me to cite one of my favorite people.

In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent about $3.52 trillion. In fiscal year 2014 (which ended on September 30), the federal government spent about $3.50 trillion. In other words, there’s been no growth in nominal government spending over the past five years. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves, but there’s been a spending freeze in Washington. …the fiscal restraint over the past five years has resulted in a bigger drop in the relative size of government in America than what Switzerland achieved over the past ten years thanks to the “debt brake.” …The bottom line is that the past five years have been a victory for advocates of limited government.

And this spending restraint is producing economic dividends, though Paul Krugman somehow wants people to believe that Keynesian economics deserves the credit.

3. Limits on Unemployment Benefits – Although the labor force participation rate is still disturbingly low, the unemployment rate has declined and job creation numbers have improved.

The aforementioned policies surely deserve some of the credit, but it’s also worth noting that Congress wisely put a stop to the initiative-sapping policy of endlessly extending unemployment benefits. Such policies sound compassionate, but they basically pay people not to work and cause more joblessness.

Phil Kerpen of American Commitment elaborates, citing recent research from the New York Fed.

According to empirical research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York: “most of the persistent increase in unemployment during the Great Recession can be accounted for by the unprecedented extensions of unemployment benefit eligibility.” Those benefits finally ended at the end of 2013, triggering a sharp rise in hiring… Specifically, they found that the average extended unemployment benefits duration of 82.5 weeks for four years had the impact of raising the unemployment rate from 5 percent to 8.6 percent. …Good intentions are not enough in public policy.  It might seem kind and compassionate to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on “emergency” unemployment benefits forever, but the effect is to keep millions of people unemployed.  Results matter.

Phil’s right. If you pay people not to work, you’re going to get foolish results.

But the three above stories are not the only rays of sunshine in 2014. Honorable mention goes to North Carolina and Kansas for implementing pro-growth tax reforms.

I’m also pleased that GOPers passed the first half of my test and told the Democrat appointee at the Congressional Budget Office that he would be replaced. Now the question is whether they appoint someone who will make the long-overdue changes that are needed to get better and more accurate assessments of fiscal policy. That didn’t happen when the GOP had control between 1995 and 2007, so victory is far from assured.

And another honorable mention is that Congress has not expanded the IMF’s bailout authority.

Now let’s look at the three worst policy developments of 2014.

1. Obamacare Subsidies – Yes, Obamacare has been a giant albatross for the President and his party. Yes, the law has helped more and more people realize that big government isn’t a good idea. Those are positive developments.

Nonetheless, 2014 was the year when the subsidies began to flow. And once handouts begin, politicians get very squeamish about taking them away.

This is why I wrote back in 2012 that Obamacare may have been a victory (in the long run) for the left, even though it caused dozens of Democrats to lose their seats in the House and Senate.

I think the left made a clever calculation that losses in the last cycle would be an acceptable price to get more people dependent on the federal government. And once people have to rely on government for something like healthcare, they are more likely to vote for the party that promises to make government bigger. …This is why Obamacare – and the rest of the entitlement state – is so worrisome. If more and more Americans decide to ride in the wagon of government dependency, it will be less and less likely that those people will vote for candidates who want to restrain government.

Simply stated, when more and more people get hooked on the heroin of government dependency, I fear you get the result portrayed in this set of cartoons.

2. Continuing Erosion of Tax Competition – Regular readers know that I view jurisdictional competition as a very valuable constraint on the greed of the political class.

Simply stated, politicians will be less likely to impose punitive tax policies if the geese with the golden eggs can fly away. That’s why I cheer when taxpayers escape high-tax jurisdictions, whether we’re looking at New Jersey and California, or France and the United States.

But this also helps to explain why governments, either unilaterally or multilaterally, are trying to prevent taxpayers from shifting economic activity to low-tax jurisdictions.

And 2014 was not a good year for taxpayers. We saw further implementation of FATCA, ongoing efforts by the OECD to raise the tax burden on the business community, and even efforts by the United Nations to further erode tax competition.

Here’s an example, from the Wall Street Journal, of politicians treating taxpayers like captive serfs.

Japan could become the latest country to consider taxing wealthy individuals who move abroad to take advantage of lower rates. The government and ruling party lawmakers are considering an “exit tax”… Such a rule would prevent wealthy individuals moving to a location where taxes are low–such as Singapore or Hong Kong… some expats in Tokyo are concerned the rule could make companies think twice about sending senior professionals to Japan or make Japanese entrepreneurs more reluctant to go abroad.

My reaction, for what it’s worth, is that Japan should reduce tax rates if it wants to keep people (and their money) from emigrating.

3. Repeating the Mistakes that Caused the Housing Crisis – A corrupt system of subsidies for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, combined with other misguided policies from Washington, backfired with a housing bubble and financial crisis in 2008.

Inexplicably, the crowd in Washington has learned nothing from that disaster. New regulations are being proposed to once again provide big subsidies that will destabilize the housing market.

Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute warns that politicians are planting the seeds for another mess.

New standards were supposed to raise the quality of the “prime” mortgages that get packaged and sold to investors; instead, they will have the opposite effect. …the standards have been watered down. …The regulators believe that lower underwriting standards promote homeownership and make mortgages and homes more affordable. The facts, however, show that the opposite is true. …low underwriting standards — especially low down payments — drive housing prices up, making them less affordable for low- and moderate-income buyers, while also inducing would-be homeowners to take more risk. That’s why homes were more affordable before the 1990s than they are today. … The losers, as we saw in the financial crisis, are borrowers of modest means who are lured into financing arrangements they can’t afford. When the result is foreclosure and eviction, one of the central goals of homeownership — building equity — is undone.

Gee, it’s almost as if Chuck Asay had perfect foresight when drawing this cartoon.

Let’s end today’s post with a few dishonorable mentions.

In addition to the three developments we just discussed, I’m also very worried about the ever-growing red tape burden. This is a hidden tax that undermines economic efficiency and enables cronyism.

I continue to be irked that my tax dollars are being used to subsidize a very left-wing international bureaucracy in Paris.

And it’s very sad that one of the big success stories of economic liberalization is now being undermined.

P.S. This is the feel-good story of the year.

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Much of my writing is focused on the real-world impact of government policy, and this is why I repeatedly look at the relative economic performance of big government jurisdictions and small government jurisdictions.

But I don’t just highlight differences between nations. Yes, it’s educational to look at North Korea vs. South Korea or Chile vs. Venezuela vs. Argentina, but I also think you can learn a lot by looking at what’s happening with different states in America.

So we’ve looked at high-tax states that are languishing, such as California and Illinois, and compared them to zero-income-tax states such as Texas.

With this in mind, you can understand that I was intrigued to see that even the establishment media is noticing that Texas is out-pacing the rest of the nation.

Here are some excerpts from a report by CNN Money on rapid population growth in Texas.

More Americans moved to Texas in recent years than any other state: A net gain of more than 387,000 in the latest Census for 2013. …Five Texas cities — Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth — were among the top 20 fastest growing large metro areas. Some smaller Texas metro areas grew even faster. In oil-rich Odessa, the population grew 3.3% and nearby Midland recorded a 3% gain.

But why is the population growing?

Well, CNN Money points out that low housing prices and jobs are big reasons.

And on the issue of housing, the article does acknowledge the role of “easy regulations” that enable new home construction.

But on the topic of jobs, the piece contains some good data on employment growth, but no mention of policy.

Jobs is the No. 1 reason for population moves, with affordable housing a close second. …Jobs are plentiful in Austin, where the unemployment rate is just 4.6%. Moody’s Analytics projects job growth to average 4% a year through 2015. Just as important, many jobs there are well paid: The median income of more than $75,000 is nearly 20% higher than the national median.

That’s it. Read the entire article if you don’t believe me, but the reporter was able to write a complete article about the booming economy in Texas without mentioning – not even once – that there’s no state income tax.

But that wasn’t the only omission.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is the 4th-best state in the Tax Foundation’s ranking of state and local tax burdens.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was the least oppressive state in the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Soft Tyranny Index.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was ranked #20 in a study of the overall fiscal condition of the 50 states.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is in 4th place in a combined ranking of economic freedom in U.S. state and Canadian provinces.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was ranked #11 in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is in 14th place in the Mercatus ranking of overall freedom for the 50 states (and in 10th place for fiscal freedom).

By the way, I’m not trying to argue that Texas is the best state.

Indeed, it only got the top ranking in one of the measures cited above.

My point, instead, is simply to note that it takes willful blindness to write about the strong population growth and job performance of Texas without making at least a passing reference to the fact that it is a low-tax, pro-market state.

At least compared to other states. And especially compared to the high-tax states that are stagnating.

Such as California, as illustrated by this data and this data, as well as this Lisa Benson cartoon.

Such as Illinois, as illustrated by this data and this Eric Allie cartoon.

And I can’t resist adding this Steve Breen cartoon, if for no other reason that it reminds me of another one of his cartoons that I shared last year.

Speaking of humor, this Chuck Asay cartoon speculates on how future archaeologists will view California. And this joke about Texas, California, and a coyote is among my most-viewed blog posts.

All jokes aside, I want to reiterate what I wrote above. Texas is far from perfect. There’s too much government in the Lone Star state. It’s only a success story when compared to California.

P.S. Paul Krugman has tried to defend California, which has made him an easy target. I debunked him earlier this year, and I also linked to a superb Kevin Williamson takedown of Krugman at the bottom of this post.

P.P.S. Once again, I repeat the two-part challenge I’ve issued to the left. I’ll be happy if any statists can successfully respond to just one of the two questions I posed.

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I’ve written many times about America’s looming fiscal collapse, and I’ve also pontificated about America’s costly and failed welfare state.

I even have speculated about when America reaches a tipping point, with too many people riding in the wagon of government dependency (as illustrated by these famous cartoons, which even have a Danish equivalent).

If you read all my posts on these issues, I like to think you’d be very well informed on these topics. But if you want to save time, my colleague Tom Palmer put all these issues together in a recent speech in Australia.

Best of all, he includes lots of great material on the moral and historical aspects of this discussion.

The good news is that there are signs of progress, at least outside the United States. Denmark, for instance, has cut back on its welfare state.

And now, even the United Kingdom has engaged in some serious welfare reform.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the UK-based Telegraph.

 Why should there have been this improvement in the labour market? …The most convincing explanation is surely the Government’s welfare reforms. They have made it more difficult and less attractive to live off benefits, thereby increasing the supply of workers. In economists’ jargon, the natural rate of unemployment has fallen.

Another Telegraph column digs into the details.

…more jobs are being created in Britain than in the rest of Europe put together. …There has clearly been a game-changer… What confounded the eggheads was that the number of workers is growing four times faster than the number of working-age people: in other words, Britons have become far more likely than pretty much anyone else to look for –and find – work. Why?

The answer is simple economics and incentives.

Fewer people now claim the three main out-of-work benefits than at any time during the Labour years. This, of course, is perfectly explained by IDS’s reforms, which make it a lot harder to live on welfare. Those who have been on incapacity benefit for years have been summoned to assessment centres to see what work they’re fit to do. Far more of the unemployed are being penalised for missing job interviews. A benefits cap has been imposed; housing benefit is being reformed; and the so-called “spare room subsidy” has been abolished, making life more expensive for those on benefits with unused rooms. …this is not about punishing “shirkers”, but helping good people trapped in a bad system. Fixing that system means making life harder for people who have it pretty tough already, at least for a short while. But under the Labour regime, such people were being led down the path to dependency and poverty. A new road had to be built, leading to work. And only now is it becoming clear quite how many people are taking it.

Here’s a chart showing how actual job creation is beating the forecasts.

These are remarkable numbers, particularly when you compare them to the job forecast put forth by the Obama White House, which grossly over-stated the number of jobs that would exist under the so-called stimulus.

The key takeaway is that incentives matter. When you give people unemployment insurance, you reduce incentives to find work. When you give people Obamacare, you reduce incentives to earn income. When you give people welfare and food stamps, you reduce incentives for self-reliance.

And when you add together the panoply of redistribution programs operated by government, it’s easy to see why far too many people are being trapped in government dependency.

If you like charts, here’s a very sobering image of how the welfare state destroys incentives for upward mobility. And if you like anecdotes, here’s a dismal story about government making leisure more attractive than productivity.

P.S. At least one honest leftist acknowledges that there’s a problem.

P.P.S. On a lighter note, here’s a satirical Declaration of Dependency from the left.

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Over the past several years, I’ve repeatedly argued that you get more unemployment when the government pays people to be unemployed. But I’m not just relying on theory. I’ve cited both anecdotes and empirical research to bolster my case.

You won’t be surprised to learn that many politicians have a different perspective. They say it is compassionate to provide unemployment insurance benefits. And they say it is cruel and heartless to put a time limit on those payments.

And if you believe Nancy Pelosi, unemployment handouts actually are good for the economy!

You might think this is one of these never-to-be-resolved Washington debates, but we actually have two natural experiments over the past year that show one side was right and the other side was wrong.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, John Hood of the North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation describes what happened when his state decided to limit unemployment benefits.

Here are the changes that were made.

A year ago, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to exit the federal government’s extended-benefits program for the unemployed. …Gov. Pat McCrory and the state legislature…reduced the amount and duration of unemployment-insurance benefits, which had been higher in North Carolina than in most states. As a result the state lost its eligibility to participate in the extended-benefits program on July 1, 2013. …liberal activists pounced. …media outlets excoriated North Carolina for ending extended benefits. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called it a “war on the unemployed.”

And here are the results.

North Carolina didn’t descend into the Dickensian nightmare critics predicted. For the last six months of 2013, it was the only state where jobless recipients weren’t eligible for extended benefits. Yet during that period North Carolina had one of the nation’s largest improvements in labor-market performance and overall economic growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of payroll jobs in North Carolina rose by 1.5% in the second half of 2013, compared with a 0.8% rise for the nation as a whole. Total unemployment in the state dropped by 17%, compared with the national average drop of 12%. The state’s official unemployment rate fell to 6.9% in December 2013 from 8.3% in June, while the nationwide rate fell by eight-tenths of a point to 6.7%.

But we didn’t just have a state-based experiment. Hood explains that the same thing happened on the national level six months later. Congress rejected Obama’s call for another extension of benefits.

So what happened?

Still not convinced that leaving the extended-benefits program encouraged both job creation and job acceptance? As of Jan. 1, 2014, the extended-benefits program expired nationwide. Yet there has been no sudden exodus of discouraged workers to the fringes of the national economy. Both job creation and household employment are up. The nation’s employment-population ratio was 58.9% in May, up from 58.6% in December.

This is a powerful point.

We may not have a strong job market, but the numbers definitely have improved since the start of the year.

There’s actually an important lesson here. You don’t need perfect policy to get better performance. The private economy will generate growth so long as it has some breathing room.

Heck, sometimes the absence of bad policy is enough to boost economic performance. The post-2010 gridlock didn’t lead to a lot of good policies, but it did end the threat of major new statist initiatives from the Obama White House. And that was enough, in my humble opinion, to give us better numbers.

But better numbers are not the same as impressive numbers. This is still the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression. So while it’s good to have a bit of improvement, we should be dissatisfied until we at least get back on the long-run trendline for 3 percent average real growth.

And what needs to happen to give us that kind of growth? The answer is simple: Free markets and small government.

P.S.  Since the main point of today’s column is unemployment insurance, let’s close with some great cartoons on that topic from Michael Ramirez, Robert Gorrell, and Chuck Asay, as well as a superb Wizard-of-Id parody.

P.P.S. On a separate topic, here’s a superb video of a 1948 cartoon comparing free markets to the poisonous ideology of “isms” such as communism, fascism, and socialism.

Very well done, particularly considering that it’s almost 70 years old. And if you want to see how economic growth can make a huge difference over that amount of time, check out this comparison of Argentina and Hong Kong.

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On many occasions, I’ve explained that economic output is a function of how much labor and capital are productively utilized.

This is why I relentlessly criticize policies that undermine GDP growth by hindering the use of these “factors of production.”

That’s a bit of economic jargon, but it helps to explain why we shouldn’t be discriminating against capital by double taxing income that is saved and invested.

And it helps to explain why we shouldn’t be discouraging labor by subsidizing unemployment and idleness.

But it’s time to issue a very important caveat. The goal of policy should be economic freedom, not maximizing GDP.

There’s nothing wrong with people choosing to be out of the labor force – so long as they’re not expecting taxpayers to pay their expenses.

Many women, for instance, may want to be at home with children, particularly during their younger years.

Moreover, some older workers may want to retire early.

So while I think it’s bad news that labor force participation has dropped under Obama, there’s more than one possible way to look at that data when you factor in the voluntary choices of some segments of the potential workforce.

But it’s very difficult to give any sort of optimistic or positive spin to these numbers from the Senate Budget Committee. They show a very worrisome trend among prime-working-age men.

These are people who should be in the labor force.

Here’s what John Hinderaker at Powerline wrote about these sobering figures.

An unprecedented number of men–one in six–between the ages of 25 and 54, what should be their prime earning years, are either unemployed or out of the work force entirely.

Here’s the breakdown.

One in eight, the highest proportion since record-keeping began in 1955, are out of the labor forceAnother 2.9 million men in the 25-54 age group haven’t given up–they are still in the labor force–but are currently unemployed.

And here are the consequences.

…the damage done to a generation of American men (and women too, of course) will not easily be undone. Those who missed a chunk of what should have been their most productive years, or departed the labor force entirely, will suffer from Obamanomics for the rest of their lives. The damage being done by our current, inept economic policies is literally incalculable.

Here’s another chart, this one comparing idleness among men in 2007 and 2014.

So how do we fix this problem, keeping in mind that this is not a partisan issue since the bad trend started under Bush?

The big-picture answer is free markets and small government.

In other words, you create jobs by having Washington get out of the way.

P.S. Over the years, the President has made some remarkable statements.

  • In my video on class warfare, I noted that Obama said in 2008 that – for reasons of “fairness” – he wanted to raise the capital gains tax even if the government lost revenue.
  • A couple of years ago, he arrogantly remarked that “at some point you have made enough money.”
  • In 2011, the President was complaining about bank fees and asserted that, “you don’t have some inherent right just to, you know, get a certain amount of profit…”
  • And in 2012, Obama made his infamous “you didn’t build that” statement, which generated some very amusing political cartoons.

With these statements in mind, here’s some Obama humor.

No substantive policy message, I’ll admit, but still funny. Sort of like this t-shirt, this Pennsylvania joke, this Reagan-Obama comparison, this Wyoming joke, this Bush-Obama comparison, this video satire, and this bumper sticker.

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Back in 2011, I shared a video making the moral argument that adults should be allowed to buy and sell kidneys.

After all, if one person is made better off by selling a kidney and another person is made better off by buying a kidney, why should the rest of us be allowed to ban that voluntary exchange?

In a new video looking at anti-market bias, Professor Bryan Caplan of George Mason University uses kidney sales as an example of how capitalism yields great results.

So why is it against the law to buy and sell kidneys, particularly when the actual buyers and sellers – by definition – both benefit?

In 2010, I speculated that a knee-jerk fixation on the wrong kind of equality might be part of the answer. The current system, with long waiting lines and thousands of needless deaths, may be bad, but at least rich people suffer just as much as poor people.

…it is perplexing that statists are so viscerally opposed. The only interpretation I can come up with – which I admit is very uncharitable – is that they are willing to let people die because they are myopically fixated on equity. No system is acceptable, in their minds, unless it results in equal death rates by income class and equal kidney donations by income class.

In reality, a free market would benefit both rich and poor. Not only would some poor people get a lot of money by selling their spare kidneys, but poor people on dialysis would be far more likely to get transplants since private charities would be able to raise money to save their lives.

P.S. Professor Caplan is the creator of the “libertarian purity quiz.” I only got 94 out of 160 possible points, which doesn’t sound that impressive, but it was enough to get me classified as “hard core.”

P.P.S. In my posts about unemployment benefits, I’ve argued that there’s a big downside to giving people money on the condition that they don’t have a job. Simply stated, you trap people in unemployment.

And I’ve cited lots of academic evidence to support that hypothesis. And for those who prefer anecdotes, check out this story from Michigan and this example from Ohio.

I’ve even cited left-wing economists who admit that unemployment benefits translate into more joblessness. And this Michael Ramirez cartoon on the issue is both amusing and persuasive.

But one thing I haven’t done is share data from actual people without jobs. So here’s some data from a national scientific poll of unemployed Americans.

…80 percent agree that it “is giving me time to find the right position.” …82 percent of those receiving benefits said if their unemployment compensation were to run out prior to their finding a job, they would “search harder and wider for a job.” …48 percent agree that they “haven’t had to look for work as hard” thanks to unemployment compensation.

Gee, what a shocker. Endless unemployment benefits enable people to be less diligent about finding work. That may not be a big problem if people are out of the labor force for two months. But when politicians keep extending jobless benefits, you create permanent unemployment.

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I’m beginning to think that people from some nations are smarter and more rational than others.

That may explain, for instance, why voters in Estonia support fiscal restraint while voters in France foolishly think the gravy train can continue forever.

But I’m not making an argument about genetic ability. Instead, what I’m actually starting to wonder is whether some political cultures yield smarter and more rational decisions.

Switzerland is a good example. In a referendum this past weekend, an overwhelming majority of voters rejected a proposal to impose a minimum wage. Here are some excerpts from a BBC report.

Swiss voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to introduce what would have been the highest minimum wage in the world in a referendum. Under the plan, employers would have had to pay workers a minimum 22 Swiss francs (about $25; £15; 18 euros) an hour. …critics argued that it would raise production costs and increase unemployment. The minimum wage proposal was rejected by 76% of voters. Supporters had argued it would “protect equitable pay” but the Swiss Business Federation said it would harm low-paid workers in particular. …unions are angry that Switzerland – one of the richest countries in the world – does not have a minimum pay level while neighbouring France and Germany do.

Every single Swiss Canton voted against the minimum wage.

That means the French-speaking cantons voted no, even though the French-speaking people in France routinely support politicians who favor bad policy.

That means the German-speaking cantons voted no, even though the German-speaking people in Germany routinely support politicians who favor bad policy.

And it means that the Italian-speaking canton voted no, even though the Italian-speaking people in Italy routinely support politicians who favor bad policy.

So why is it that the same people, genetically speaking, make smart decisions in Switzerland and dumb decisions elsewhere?

I don’t have an answer, but here’s some more evidence. As you can see from these passages in a New York Times story, the Swiss have a lot more common sense than their neighbors.

“A fixed salary has never been a good way to fight the problem,” said Johann Schneider-Ammann, the economic minister. “If the initiative had been accepted, it would have led to workplace losses, especially in rural areas where less-qualified people have a harder time finding jobs. The best remedy against poverty is work.” …“Switzerland, especially in popular votes, has never had a tradition of approving state intervention in the labor markets,” said Daniel Kubler, a professor of political science at the University of Zurich. “A majority of Swiss has always thought, and still seems to think, that liberal economic principles are the basis of their model of success.”

Even the non-Swiss in Switzerland are rational. Check out this blurb from a story which appeared before the vote in USA Today.

…some who would be eligible for the higher wage worry that it may do more harm than good. Luisa Almeida is an immigrant from Portugal who works in Switzerland as a housekeeper and nanny. Almeida’s earnings of $3,250 a month are below the proposed minimum wage but still much more than she’d make in Portugal. Since she is not a Swiss citizen, she cannot vote but if she could, “I would vote ‘no’,” she says. “If my employer had to pay me more money, he wouldn’t be able to keep me on and I’d lose the job.”

Heck, I’m wondering if Ms. Almeida would be willing to come to Washington and educate Barack Obama. Minimum Wage BensonShe obviously has enough smarts to figure out the indirect negative impact of government intervention, so her counsel would be very valuable in DC.

But if Ms. Almeida isn’t available, we have another foreigner who already has provided advice on the issue of minimum wages. Here’s Orphe Divougny, originally from Gabon, with a common-sense explanation of why it doesn’t make sense to hurt low-skilled workers.

By the way, this isn’t the first time the Swiss have demonstrated common sense when asked to vote of key economic policy issues.

In 2001, 85 percent of voters approved a plan to cap the growth of government spending.

In 2010, 59 percent of voters rejected an Obama-style class-warfare tax plan.

No wonder there are many reasons why Switzerland ranks above the United States.

P.S. I wrote earlier this month about Pfizer’s potential merger that would allow the company to reduce its onerous tax burden to the IRS by redomiciling in the United Kingdom.

Well, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has weighed in on the issue and I can’t resist sharing this excerpt.

…the outrage isn’t the wish of an American corporation to lower its tax bill. It is a US tax code so punitive and counterproductive that it can drive a company like Pfizer, which was launched in Brooklyn in 1849, to turn itself into a foreign corporation. The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. That puts American companies at a serious competitive disadvantage, since their rivals elsewhere are able to channel more of their profits into new investment, hiring, and productivity. What’s worse, ours is the only country that enforces a system of “worldwide” taxation, which means that American firms have to pay tax to the IRS not only on income earned in the United States but on their foreign earnings as well. Other nations content themselves with “territorial” taxation — they only tax income earned within their national borders. US corporations like Pfizer that have significant earnings overseas are thus taxed on those earnings twice: first by the government of the country where the money was earned, and then by the IRS.

Amen, amen, and amen.

Our tax system imposes a very punitive corporate tax rate.

It then augments the damage with worldwide taxation.

And the system is riddled with onerous rules that cause America to rank a lowly 94th out of 100 nations for business “tax attractiveness.”

In other words, when greedy politicians complain about Pfizer’s possible inversion, it’s a classic case of blaming the victim.

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What’s the worst economic development during Obama’s reign?

Some would say it’s the higher tax burden.

Some would say it’s the wasteful faux stimulus.

Others would say it’s the fiscal nightmare of Obamacare.

And others would say it’s the loss of millions of workers from the labor force.

I suppose there’s no objective way to pick the most ill-conceived policy, but if you think the biggest problem is either Obamacare or falling labor force participation, then I have some very grim news that will confirm your fears.

According to new research, it appears Obamacare will drive many more people from the labor force. More specifically, the Medicaid expansion will alter – in a very destructive way – the tradeoff between labor and leisure.

Researchers Laura Dague, Thomas DeLeire, and Lindsay Leininger argue in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper that Medicaid enrollment will lead to significant and lasting reductions in employment among childless adults. …Dague and her colleagues conclude that if the Medicaid expansion enrolls about 21 million additional adults, anywhere from 511,000 to 2.2 million fewer people will be employed. Furthermore, they argue that the Medicaid expansion will knock almost a full point off of today’s labor force participation rate — or share of the civilian population that is working — a measure of economic health that is already at its lowest point since 1977. …This research provides strong evidence for the contention that enrolling in Medicaid traps people in poverty and makes it harder for them to make their way into the middle class. Furthermore, it links the Medicaid expansion to the weakening of our nation’s economy.

By way of background, Medicaid is the federal government’s healthcare entitlement for (supposedly) poor people, while Medicare is the entitlement for old people. And, as part of Obamacare, the eligibility rules for Medicaid were dramatically weakened.

But the new research cited above shows that if you give people “free” health care, that makes them less likely to work.

Particularly when you combine that freebie with food stamps, housing subsidies, welfare, and other handouts.

That’s obviously bad news for taxpayers, who bear the direct cost of a bloated welfare state.

Welfare CliffBut it’s also bad for the less fortunate. They get trapped in a web of dependency, both because handouts reduce the incentive to work (humorously depicted here and here), band also because they face very high implicit marginal tax rates if they actually try to escape government dependency.

But Obama and other leftists probably see this as a feature, not a bug.

After all, those who are lured into being dependent on government presumably have an incentive to vote for those who give them the most goodies.

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In the battle of ideas, supporters of capitalism and economic liberty sometimes face an uphill climb because of a perception of heartlessness.

When companies get in trouble, we’re the mean people who don’t want to give bailouts.

When workers are laid off, we’re the Scrooges who don’t want perpetual unemployment checks.

And when some workers aren’t earning much money, we’re the scoundrels who don’t want to boost the minimum wage.

Our “problem” is that we care about good results rather than good intentions. Motivated by the wisdom of Frederic Bastiat, we look at indirect effects and long-run consequences. And this is why we routinely reject statist proposals.

The challenge, of course, is educating others so that they understand that small government and free markets are the best way of providing more opportunity and better lives – particularly for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

This is why I was very happy to see this new video from Learn Liberty. It basically explains the process of “creative destruction” to show how progress and prosperity are undermined when politicians try to “protect jobs.”

I also like the video because it makes the point that our living standards are the result of how much we produce, not the number of jobs.

In other words, we don’t want people employed for the sake of being employed. We want them doing things that add value to the economy.

government-job-cartoonThat’s one of the reasons why many government jobs are wasteful. People who could be creating wealth are instead imposing costs.

But let’s shift back to the topic of “creative destruction.” In my speeches, I’ll sometimes make the point that progress can be painful. Consider these examples:

The invention of the light bulb was very bad news for the candle making sector.

The invention of the automobile was a grim development for the horse and buggy industry.

The invention of the personal computer devastated typewriter companies.

In every case, these inventions made society much richer, but they also caused the destruction of thousands of jobs and bankrupted many firms. These were very real tragedies for certain people.

With the benefit of hindsight, however, we know that it was good that this “creative destruction” took place. We even know that the descendents of the candle makers, buggy builders, and typewriter producers are better off because our economy is so much more productive.

Just as the video explains that we’re much better off because 90 percent of the population no longer has to work on farms.

Yet we’re still faced with the paradox that supporters of capitalism are called heartless even though we’re the ones that support policies that create wealth and lift people from poverty.

P.S. On a separate topic, I criticized the World Bank in 2012 for putting together a “tax effort” scorecard that gave nations higher scores for heavier tax burdens.

Well, international bureaucracies must be in love with higher taxes (probably because they’re exempt from having to pay tax) and you won’t be surprised to learn that the International Monetary Fund has now published a similar report.

The nation that gets the highest score (i.e., the nation with the worst tax system) is Italy, with an average of almost 99 percent, though France (97 percent) is probably very envious and I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked for a recount.

The nation with the lowest “tax effort” is Guinea-Bissau, with a “failing” grade of about 32. I doubt this means they have a good tax system. I suspect it simply means nobody complies and the government doesn’t expend much “effort” on trying to collect.

Among developed nations, Singapore got the lowest score, with an average of 38. Which means, of course, that they have a very good tax system.

Though there were no grades for places such as Hong Kong, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and the Cayman Islands, so the report is not complete.

The United States, for what it’s worth, got a 70. So we’re not nearly as bad as countries such as France and Italy. But we’re much more onerous that Singapore.

We also have a higher “tax effort” than officially communist nations such as China and Vietnam. Gee, I guess that means we can be proud of the IRS, huh?

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The headlines from today’s employment report certainly seem positive.

The unemployment rate has dropped to 6.3 percent and there are about 280,000 new jobs.*

But if you dig into the details of the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you find some less-than-exciting data.

First, here is the chart showing total employment over the past 10 years.

Total Employment

This shows a positive trend, and it is good that the number of jobs is climbing rather than falling.

But it’s disappointing that we still haven’t passed where we were in 2008.

Indeed, the current recovery is miserable and lags way behind the average of previous recoveries.

But the really disappointing news can be found by examining the data on how many working-age people are productively employed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has two different data sets that measure the number of people working as a share of the population.

Here are the numbers on the labor force participation rate.

Labor Force Participation

As you can see, we fell down a hill back in 2008 and there’s been no recovery.

The same is true for the employment-population ratio, which is the data I prefer for boring, technical reasons.

Emplyment Population Ratio

Though I should acknowledge that the employment-population ratio does show a modest uptick, so perhaps there is a glimmer of good news over the past few years.

But it’s still very disappointing that this number hasn’t bounced back since our economic output is a function of how much labor and capital are productively utilized.

In other words, the official unemployment rate could drop to 4 percent and the economy would be dismal if that number improved for the wrong reason.

* Perhaps the semi-decent numbers from last month are tied to the fact that Congress finally stopped extending subsidies paid to people for staying unemployed?

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Early last month, I wrote an article for The Federalist on job creation.

I used that opportunity to document that there is a serious problem with jobs under Obama, and I explained that the problem existed in part because the President was intervening with so-called stimulus schemes.

The far better approach is for government to “get out of the way.”

Though that’s not really correct. I want changes in government policy. Indeed, major changes. But those policy changes would involve less government, whereas Obama pushed major changes in the other direction.

I took this discussion to the next level in this debate on C-Span.

My opponent, Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, was my mirror image.

He wanted more spending and I urged less spending.

He called for more intervention and I advocated less intervention.

We would probably even disagree about the answer to 2 + 2 = ?.

Viewers can make their own decisions on who did a better job in the debate. I’ll simply state that my strongest point (at least in my humble opinion) is that businesses only create jobs when they expect new workers will increase net revenue.

But don’t believe me. You can read what actual real-world employers have to say about the topic.

In other words, I agree with the message of this poster. If you think more government is the answer, you’ve asked a very silly question.

P.S. I’m in Monaco for the Convention of Independent Financial Advisors and the Princess of the Levant is with me at the Hotel Hermitage. It’s nice to get a glimpse at the lifestyle of the infamous Top 1 Percent.

photo5edited

Fortunately, Monaco seems to have plenty of guys with women out of their league, so I don’t feel too out of place.

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I wish there was a magic wand that somebody could wave and all of us would have more money. Or maybe Santa Claus could play that role, or some version of the Tooth Fairy.

And if that magic person only had limited powers, I would want more money specifically for those with modest incomes.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in this fantasy world. As a society, we can’t enjoy output unless we first go through the toil and trouble of working, saving, and investing.

Heck, even some leftists have admitted that you can’t redistribute unless somebody first produces.

But that doesn’t stop some politicians from practicing free-lunch economics. They tell us, for instance, that government can impose a higher minimum wage with no job losses.

And now the Obama Administration is claiming that it can expand overtime eligibility rules without any adverse impact of base pay, hours, or employment.

In my role as the designated bad guy who has to inform people there’s no magic wand or Santa Claus, here’s what I told the New York Times.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” said Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, who warned that employers might cut pay or use fewer workers. “If they push through something to make a certain class of workers more expensive, something will happen to adjust.”

I also shared my putative wisdom with the International Business Times, underscoring the principle that government shouldn’t intervene in labor markets.

“Our view is pretty straightforward,” Daniel Mitchell, a fellow at the libertarian CATO Institute in Washington D.C., told International Business Times by phone on Wednesday. “From a philosophical perspective the government shouldn’t get involved with labor contacts between two consenting adults. You can’t impose more labor costs and have them magically disappear.”

I also pontificated on this issue for CBS News radio, but the “highlight” of the day was having to dispel economic myths in a series of TV interviews.

In this debate for Nightly Business Report, I had to explain that faster growth was the only effective way to improve living standards, but my opponent somehow thought we should go back to the glorious 1970s.

And in this interview with Ali Velshi on AJ, I’m stunned that he blames today’s weak job market on free markets.

Last but not least, I made what will probably be my last appearance on Larry Kudlow’s great show on CNBC and used the opportunity to say we shouldn’t copy Europe’s failed welfare states.

Larry is retiring at the end of the month and he will be sorely missed.

P.S. Lots of people are suffering because of Obamacare, especially taxpayers and patients.

But since our main topic today is jobs, let’s not forget that millions of workers are being screwed over by this bad law. They’re losing jobs, losing hours, and/or losing take-home pay thanks to Obama’s ham-fisted intervention.

If you like gallows humor, Reason TV addresses this issue in a new video. Enjoy.

And if you like Obamacare parody videos, here are the other ones that will produce some smiles and laughs.

*The head of the National Socialist Workers Party finds out he can’t keep his health plan.

Varvel Obamacare Ambulance*A creepy version of Uncle Sam wants to know about your sex life.

*Young people discover that they’re screwed by Obamacare.

*One of the biggest statists of the 20th century is angry that the Obamacare exchanges don’t work.

*A consumer tries to buy Obama-coffee.

By the way, if you’re concerned about America’s fiscal future, here’s a video on Obamacare that definitely is not funny.

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The United States is supposed to be enjoying a recovery. Indeed, we’re now supposedly in the fifth year of an expanding economy.

Many Americans must wonder why it doesn’t feel that way.

In part, that’s because growth has been very anemic. Indeed, this is the weakest recovery since the Great Depression.

But it’s also because the labor market has been very weak.

Most observers correctly note that there are far fewer jobs than Obama promised if the so-called stimulus was enacted.

I think that’s a very fair complaint, but I’m even more concerned about the very troubling drop in the employment-population ratio and the grim data on long-run joblessness.

Simply stated, our economy’s ability to generate prosperity is a function of the quantity and quality of labor and capital that are being utilized.

So it’s very bad news when millions of workers drop out of the labor force.

So how can we rejuvenate job creation?

I addressed this issue in a column for The Federalist. Here’s some of what I wrote, starting with a generic complaint that the crowd in Washington seems to think that “more government” is the answer to every question.

The discussion in Washington over how best to “create” jobs is a bit surreal. In part, this is a semantic gripe. …jobs are created in the private sector, not by politicians. …Politicians would probably admit that they simply want to “create” the conditions that lead to job creation. But even by that more realistic standard, the Washington debate often is surreal for the simple reason that too many politicians think that a larger burden of government will boost job creation.

President Obama clearly is guilty of this form of hubris.

I touch on several points in the article, but this excerpt highlights his ongoing fixation on Keynesian economics, which I’ve previously referred to as the perpetual motion machine of the left.

President Obama, for instance, routinely urges more government spending to “stimulate” job creation. …The new outlays, we are told, inject money into the economy and jump-start growth, leading to more jobs as businesses increase production in response to higher demand.The problem with this argument, as explained in an earlier Federalist article, is that government can’t inject money into the economy without first taking money out of the economy, either by borrowing or taxation. This is why Keynesian spending didn’t work for Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, Japan in the 1990s, Bush in 2008, or Obama in 2009.

But the me-too crowd on the right commits the same sins.

While the left has bad ideas and has delivered poor results, some proposals from the “right” aren’t much better. Consider a recent article in National Affairs by Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute. Entitled “A Jobs Agenda for the Right,” the piece is filled with proposals that are distressingly reminiscent of the big-government-lite platform of pre-Reagan Republicans.

Do you think I’m exaggerating?

You can click on his article and see for yourself. You’ll find some good information on how the job market is very weak.

But when Strain proposes solutions, he goes awry. As I say in the article, many of his policy ideas “could have been uttered by Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi.”

He writes that “conservatives should see that there is a role for macroeconomic stimulus.” …He claims, for instance, that “government spending can support economic growth during a recession” That Keynesian statement sounds more like Brookings than AEI. He also has Obama’s faith in “shovel-ready jobs,” extolling “the desirability of a multi-year program of high-social-value infrastructure spending.” …He wants to finance additional spending, at least in part, with higher taxes, suggesting “a reining in of tax expenditures.” There’s nothing wrong with cutting back on tax preferences (properly defined), but the money should be used to lower tax rates rather than expand the burden of government spending. …he endorsed extended unemployment benefits – notwithstanding the wealth of evidence that such policies encourage joblessness.

To be fair, he does list some ideas that are good, as well as some that are mixed, but the unambiguous message of his article is that government needs to play an activist role to boost the job market.

Needless to say, I offer my prescription for job creation and suggest that we go in the opposite direction.

I make (what should be) an elementary observation about the conditions that are necessary for businesses to hire new workers.

[Jobs] are created when businesses think that the amount of revenue generated by new employees will exceed the total costs (including those imposed by government) of putting those people on the payroll.

And I elaborate on this point, quoting myself in the article (and now I’m quoting myself quoting myself, which is definitely a sign I’ve been in DC too long).

It may not be an agenda tailored to appeal to politicians, who generally want to be seen as “doing something,” but the best way to create jobs is to get government to stop trying to help. Free markets and small government are far more likely to produce the conditions that lead to more employment. In other words, let the private sector flourish. The pursuit of profit is a powerful force for growth. To quote one of my favorite people, “businesses are not charities. They only create jobs when they think that the total revenue generated by new workers will exceed the total cost of employing those workers. In other words, if it’s not profitable to hire workers, it’s not going to happen.” …If we really care about workers, particularly those without jobs, the most compassionate approach is prosperity rather than dependency.

And that means free markets and small government.

Which is the direction we headed during the Reagan years and Clinton years, when we enjoyed very good performance in labor markets (as illustrated by this Michael Ramirez cartoon).

But the 21st century has been very bad news for economic freedom.

P.S. In a postscript last week, I shared a very amusing image of Obama and Putin on a horse.

In that same spirit, here’s a phone call between a statist who doesn’t respect the rule of law…and another statist who doesn’t respect the rule of law.

Obama Putin Phone Call

I’m not sure whether this is better than Obama’s NSA phone-tapping conversation, but still amusing.

By the way, it goes without saying that this doesn’t imply the United States should be intervening. You can read my thoughts here.

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I asked back in September whether all the bad news about Obamacare meant it was time to feel sorry for President Obama and other statists.

Some people apparently didn’t realize I was being sarcastic, so I got some negative feedback.

I’ve since learned to be more careful with my language, and subsequent columns about Obamacare developments have used more direct rhetoric such as Obamacare disaster, Obamacare Schadenfreude, and the continuing Obamacare disaster.

Well, I don’t even know if there are words that can describe the latest bit of bad news about Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office, which usually carries water for those who favor bigger government, has been forced to acknowledge that Obamacare is going to wreak havoc with America’s job market.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a column on the topic, giving considerable and deserved credit to Casey Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago who has produced first-rate research on implicit marginal tax rates and labor supply incentives.

Rarely are political tempers so raw over an 11-page appendix to a dense budget projection for the next decade. But then the CBO—Congress’s official fiscal scorekeeper, widely revered by Democrats and Republicans alike as the gold standard of economic analysis—reported that by 2024 the equivalent of 2.5 million Americans who were otherwise willing and able to work before ObamaCare will work less or not at all as a result of ObamaCare. As the CBO admits, that’s a “substantially larger” and “considerably higher” subtraction to the labor force than the mere 800,000 the budget office estimated in 2010. The overall level of labor will fall by 1.5% to 2% over the decade, the CBO figures. Mr. Mulligan’s empirical research puts the best estimate of the contraction at 3%. The CBO still has some of the economics wrong, he said in a phone interview Thursday, “but, boy, it’s a lot better to be off by a factor of two than a factor of six.”

That’s a lot of lost jobs, which is going to translate into lower levels of economic output and reduced living standards.

By the way, I can’t resist quibbling with the assertion that CBO is “widely revered” and that it’s the “gold standard of economic analysis.”

Utter nonsense. CBO helped grease the skids for Obamacare by producing biased numbers when the law was being debated.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. CBO also produces “analysis” which implies that you maximize growth with 100 percent tax rates. And the bureaucrats at CBO also are reflexive advocates of Keynesian economics, which is why they claimed that Obama’s so-called stimulus was creating jobs even though unemployment was rising.

So you can understand why I don’t like citing CBO numbers, even when they happen to support my position.

As far as I’m concerned, the bureaucracy should be shut down. And if Republicans win the Senate in the 2014 elections, it will be interesting to see whether they have the brains to at least reform CBO to limit future damage.

But I’ve digressed long enough. Let’s get back to the WSJ column about the latest Obamacare disaster.

Our friends on the left are in a very tough position.

…liberals have turned to claiming that ObamaCare’s missing workers will be a gift to society. Since employers aren’t cutting jobs per se through layoffs or hourly take-backs, people are merely choosing rationally to supply less labor. Thanks to ObamaCare, we’re told, Americans can finally quit the salt mines and blacking factories and retire early, or spend more time with the children, or become artists. Mr. Mulligan reserves particular scorn for the economists making this “eliminated from the drudgery of labor market” argument, which he views as a form of trahison des clercs. …A job, Mr. Mulligan explains, “is a transaction between buyers and sellers. When a transaction doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. We know that it doesn’t matter on which side of the market you put the disincentives, the results are the same. . . . In this case you’re putting an implicit tax on work for households, and employers aren’t willing to compensate the households enough so they’ll still work.” Jobs can be destroyed by sellers (workers) as much as buyers (businesses).

By the way, just in case you’re an unsophisticated rube like me, Wiktionary says that trahison des clercs means “a compromise of intellectual integrity by members of an intelligentsia.”

Which is a pretty good description of leftists who are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to rationalize that joblessness and government dependency are good things.

And Prof. Mulligan makes the right analogy.

He adds: “I can understand something like cigarettes and people believe that there’s too much smoking, so we put a tax on cigarettes, so people smoke less, and we say that’s a good thing. OK. But are we saying we were working too much before? Is that the new argument? I mean make up your mind. We’ve been complaining for six years now that there’s not enough work being done. . . . Even before the recession there was too little work in the economy. Now all of a sudden we wake up and say we’re glad that people are working less? We’re pursuing our dreams?” The larger betrayal, Mr. Mulligan argues, is that the same economists now praising the great shrinking workforce used to claim that ObamaCare would expand the labor market. He points to a 2011 letter organized by Harvard’s David Cutler and the University of Chicago’s Harold Pollack, signed by dozens of left-leaning economists including Nobel laureates, stating “our strong conclusion” that ObamaCare will strengthen the economy and create 250,000 to 400,000 jobs annually.

Gee, that “strong conclusion” about an increase in jobs somehow turned into a cold reality that the economy might lose the equivalent of 2.5 million jobs.

This is very grim news. We can be happy that there’s now even more evidence that big government doesn’t work, but we should never forget that there are real victims when statist policies lead to less growth and more joblessness.

So let’s try to bring some cheer to a dismal situation with some new Obamacare cartoons.

Our first entry is from Chip Bok, who is mocking the New York Times for writing that fewer jobs was “a liberating result of the law.”

Gary Varvel’s analysis of the job impact has a seasonal theme.

And the great Michael Ramirez points out that the death panel has been very busy.

Lisa Benson picks up on the same theme, pointing out that at least Granny is still safe.

And Henry Payne makes a subtle, but superb point about labor supply incentives.

Just like this Chuck Asay cartoon, this Wizard-of-Id parody., and this Robert Gorrell cartoon.

Let’s now look at another Lisa Benson cartoon. It’s not about the job losses, but the underlying foolishness of how Obamacare is designed.

And if you like cartoons with sharks, here’s a classic one about Keynesian economics.

Let’s close with a couple of cartoons that look at the big picture.

Glenn McCoy shares a warning label.

And Steve Breen also has a warning label about Obamacare, but it’s much quicker to read.

Last but not least, Scott Stantis looks at one of the side effects of Obamacare.

Stantis Obamacare Cartoon

Stantis, by the way, produced the best-ever cartoon about Keynesian economics.

P.S. If you want to learn more about how redistribution programs such as Obamacare trap people in dependency and discourage them from the job market, click here.

There are even some honest leftists who recognize this is a serious problem.

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Looking at labor markets, my biggest concern is the drop in labor force participation.

The data from the Labor Department on the employment-population ratio, for instance, suggest a permanent reduction in the share of the population that is working.

And since economic output and living standards ultimately depend on the quality and quantity of labor and capital that is being productively utilized, it obviously is not good news that millions of people are no longer employed.

But if I had to identify a second-biggest concern, it would be the “Europeanization” of long-run unemployment in the United States. Specifically, we have a growing problem of too many people being unemployed for long periods.

I pontificate about this issue in a column for CNN.

…there are almost 4 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months. That’s a big number. What’s disconcerting is that the current long-term unemployment is more serious than in previous economic downturns. Data from previous business cycles show people suffering from long-run joblessness at worst accounted for about 20% to 25% of the unemployed. In recent months, that percentage has jumped to nearly 40% — an all-time record! Indeed, America is beginning to look like Europe. It used to be that long-term unemployment in the U.S. was only a fraction of Europe’s, but the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that the United States has caught up to many of Europe’s welfare states. That’s not a race we want to be part of, much less win.

Here are some charts that illustrate the severity of the problem.

Let’s start with a look at what’s happened over time in the United States.

Long-Run Unemployment as Share of Unemployed

As you can see, the problem of long-run unemployment rises and falls with the business cycle. But during previous recessions, the share of the unemployed who were out of work for more than six months rarely climbed above 20 percent. And then the problem quickly got better once the economy began to recover.

That’s no longer the case. Long-term unemployment peaked at more than 40 percent of overall joblessness between 2010 and 2012. And even though we’ve supposedly been in a recovery since the summer of 2009, that number has fallen to only about 37 percent.

Now let’s compare the data from the United States to the numbers from other developed nations. As you can see, the United States used to have a huge advantage over other industrialized countries, but that gap has almost completely disappeared.

Long-Run Unemployment - US v OECD

We don’t know, to be sure, whether this represents a permanent change. But my concern is that we’re more and more likely to see bad European-type numbers now that we’re enduring European-type economic policies of bigger government and more intervention.

There is an alternative, which I explained in my CNN column, that could improve American labor markets.

…what’s the solution? There’s no silver bullet, but economic growth is the single most important key. …Unfortunately, …we’re still suffering through a sluggish economic cycle. Recent improvements in the overall employment rate are in large part the result of people dropping out of the labor force, and the problem of long-run unemployment has barely budged. To boost employment, we need the kind of strong growth America enjoyed during the Reagan and Clinton years, when millions of new jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell dramatically. To get there, we need a return to the types of free-market policies we got under Reagan and Clinton: a lower burden of government spending and less intervention from Washington.

Seems simple, right? We got good growth and job numbers during the Reagan and Clinton years, so we should replicate those policies.

But that hasn’t been the case. And the problem didn’t start with Obama, though he’s certainly made it worse.

…we’ve been moving in the exact opposite direction. Under both Presidents Bush and Obama, the size and scope of government has expanded, and the United States — which had the world’s third-most free-market economy when Bill Clinton left office — has now dropped to 17th in the Economic Freedom of the World rankings. We also need to make sure the unemployed don’t get lured into long-term dependency. One glaring example of misguided big-government policy is the argument to endlessly extend unemployment benefits. …Moreover, Obama’s proposed hike in the minimum wage…is the equivalent of sawing off the bottom rungs on the economic ladder. Simply stated, businesses create jobs when they think a new employee will help the bottom line. Artificially raising the cost of workers — particularly those with marginal skills — is a recipe for creating more unemployment.

I hate repeating myself, but it bears saying over and over again that the key to prosperity is small government and free markets.

But to the extent we become more like France and less like Hong Kong, we are doomed to get anemic economic performance and fall in the competitiveness rankings.

P.S. On another topic, it pains me to report that one of the worst examples of DC sleaze is about the become law.

The so-called farm bill has cleared Congress after corrupt Democrats seeking more food stamp spending Farm Bill Spendingjoined forces with corrupt Republicans seeking more agri-business welfare.

The invaluable Tim Carney describes the lobbyist feeding frenzy that produced this monstrosity.

A trillion-dollar, pork-filled farm bill stuffed with corporate welfare passed the House last week and cleared the Senate on Tuesday… The bill perpetuates the federal sugar program. Arguably Washington’s least defensible corporate welfare boondoggle, the sugar program keeps out foreign sugar, hiking prices for consumers, killing jobs for candy makers and enriching a few politically connected sugar producers. The farm bill replaces a flawed program of direct payments to farmers with a potentially more wasteful program of subsidized crop insurance, which takes money from taxpayers and gives it to banks and farming businesses. …The bill had its supporters, of course: the agribusiness lobby, the farm-finance lobby, the White House and the Congressional leadership of both parties. …The Ag lobby got what they wanted. The GOP leadership passed its bill. Democrats got their trillion-dollar price tag.

But here’s the part that really gets me pissed.

Lawmakers also stripped out of the final farm bill a provision that would have required congressmen to disclose the farm subsidies they receive from taxpayers.

This Chip Bok cartoon is a good summary of what happened.

Farm Bill Cartoon Bok

Just in case you need a reminder about why the Department of Agriculture should be abolished.

P.P.S. Since we’re sharing bad news, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that the new head of the IRS has decided to reward employees by giving them more of our money. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Washington Times.

Citing the need to boost employee morale, the Internal Revenue Service’s new commissioner said Monday that he will pay out millions of dollars in bonuses to agency employees, reversing a decision his predecessor made to save money… The move didn’t sit well with congressional critics who have been stupefied by the agency’s targeting of tea party groups… “It’s hard to think of a group of people less deserving of bonuses than IRS employees. Frankly, this is outrageous,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

Hey, but nothing to worry about.

After all, the President has appointed one of his big donors to investigate whether anybody at the IRS did anything wrong.

And we already know the results of that investigation. As this Jerry Holbert cartoon notes, the President has told us there isn’t a smidgen of corruption.

IRS Musical Cartoon

Gee, I know I’m satisfied with that assurance. After all, the President would never lie to us, would he?

I guess this is what they mean by trickle-down government.

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According to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.7 percent. Is this good news?

Well, it’s depends on your benchmark. Compared to France’s anemic economy and double-digit levels of unemployment, America is in decent shape.

But if you use data from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve to compare the current business cycle to previous downturns and upturns in the U.S. economy, then the outlook is very grim. Simply stated, the American economy is enduring the worst performance for labor markets since the Great Depression.

Moreover, the Washington Post put together a chart in 2012 showing that Obama was far behind other presidents on job creation (a point humorously reinforced by Michael Ramirez).

Let’s look at some additional data to assess the President’s track record on jobs.

We’ll start with a chart, versions of which I’ve been sharing for nearly four years. It shows the unemployment rate that the White House claimed we would have back in 2009 if the so-called stimulus was enacted, compared to what actually happened.

Obama Unemployment

As you can see, this is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Keynesian notion that more government spending is good for job creation (or for Nancy Pelosi’s laughable claim that you create jobs by paying people not to work).

But even though I’ve used variations of that chart several times, I don’t think it’s the best measure of either employment markets or the President’s performance. The White House can argue, with some validity, that the chart merely shows that the recession was more severe than they first forecast.

And critics of the Obama Administration can argue, also with validity, that the unemployment rate is an inadequate measure because it doesn’t capture the extent to which people drop out of the job market.

That’s why I’ve always liked the Labor Department’s figures showing the employment-population ratio. It’s a very straightforward number, showing the share of the working-age population that is employed.

And this data series is perhaps even more unfavorable if we’re giving Obama a grade for jobs.

The big drop took place before the President took office, so that’s definitely not his fault. But he can be blamed for the fact that the labor market didn’t bounce back, which usually happens after a recession.

Having millions of people leave the labor force translates into less economic output.

…economic output is a function of labor and capital. And if you want an economy to produce more, your only choices are to somehow achieve one or more of the following:

  • More capital.
  • More labor.
  • More efficient use of capital.
  • More productive use of labor.

In other words, labor and capital are the two ingredients that determine economic performance.

Needless to say, if you have less of one of the ingredients, you’re not going to produce as much.

Let’s look at another chart that reveals the Administration’s poor performance on jobs. James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute combines concepts by replicating the White House’s chart (including their prediction of joblessness in the absence of a so-called stimulus), but also including red dots showing what the unemployment rate would be today based on the various labor force participation rates that we might expect in a healthier economy.

The startling takeaway from this chart is that the unemployment rate today would be more than 10 percent if people hadn’t dropped out of the labor market!

Very sobering data, indeed.

And the main response from the White House is to argue for more unemployment benefits. That’s not very compassionate, as Senator Rand Paul and I explained in a piece for USA Today.

BLS LFP ForecastBy the way, there is no reason to think that labor force was supposed to shrink. Here’s what the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in 2007 compared to what’s actually happened.

So we have to ask ourselves why did so many workers leave the labor market? Was it the overall increase in the burden of government? The increase in the minimum wage? The disability scam? Subsidized unemployment? The welfare trap?

The honest answer is either “I don’t know” or “all of the above.” Or maybe something in between.

But I do know that it’s a very bad sign.

And it’s especially discouraging that we’re seeing a significant drop if labor force participation among males of prime working age.

That may reflect an erosion of social capital, and once a society loses the spirit of self reliance and the work ethic, it’s very difficult to restore those valuable norms. And once a nation has too many people riding in the wagon and not enough people pulling the wagon, that doesn’t bode well.

Since this post has been filled withe depressing data, let’s close by sharing some amusing cartoons.

Nate Beeler has produced some gems, so let’s start with this cartoon showing that some people have been stuck in a deep freeze.

Cartoon Obama Unemployment 3

And here’s Beeler’s take on the “drop” in labor force participation.

Cartoon Obama Unemployment 2

Lisa Benson, meanwhile, mocks the President’s empty talking points.

Cartoon Obama Unemployment 4

And Glenn McCoy shows the President’s version of compassion.

Cartoon Obama Unemployment 1

These cartoons remind me of the ones I shared last August.

P.S. Careful readers will have noticed that this piece cites both the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate. These two data series are sometimes used interchangeably, though I prefer the former for reasons explained in this article for the BLS’s Monthly Labor Review.

P.P.S. On a totally separate topic, I want to share some good news about the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is a statist international bureaucracy that pushed for bad policy, both in America and other nations. Last year, I reported that the Obama Administration proposed to give the IMF more money and authority, but that lawmakers on Capitol Hill wisely rejected the request. Well, the same positive outcome  happened again as part of the spending bill just approved by Congress.

Here’s some of what the New York Times reported.

Administration officials concede that Congress’s decision not to make the changes will be an embarrassment to President Obama internationally…congressional Republicans would not budge… The structural changes to the fund have languished since Mr. Obama agreed to the “rebalancing” with great fanfare at the G-20 meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in 2010.  …Since the 2010 accord, every nation involved but the United States has ratified it. But the United States remains the monetary fund’s largest contributor, and without Congress’s approval, the restructuring cannot happen.

P.P.P.S. And since I’m sharing random news, here’s something else that may interest readers. Time has a non-political personality quiz that supposedly reveals whether you are liberal or conservative. For what it’s worth, I’m 83 percent conservative and 17 percent liberal. I’m not sure what to think of the test, but it’s definitely better than the “social attitude test” I took last year, which concluded that I’m a “moderate” and “a centrist with few strong opinions.” I much prefer Professor Bryan Caplan’s libertarian purity quiz, where I scored a 94 out of 160, which may not sound impressive, but it was enough to put me in “the heady realm of hard-core libertarianism.”

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Washington is in the middle of another debate about redistributing money.

But that’s hardly newsworthy. Politics, after all, is basically a never-ending racket in which insiders buy votes and accumulate power with other people’s money.

The current debate about extending unemployment benefits is remarkable, though (at least from an economic perspective), because certain politicians want to give people money on the condition that they don’t get a job. Needless to say, that leads to a very perverse incentive structure.

There is a problem with joblessness, to be sure, but it’s misguided to think that extending unemployment benefits is the compassionate response.

Senator Paul and I wrote a column for USA Today about a better way of helping the unemployed. Looking at the empirical evidence, we argue that it’s time to unleash the private sector by reducing the burden of government.

We started with an assessment of the labor market, which has been dismal under Obama’s reign.

The nation is enduring the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, 11 million people remain unemployed, and millions more have dropped out of the labor force. For minorities, it’s even worse. The black unemployment rate is more than twice that of whites. And the weak job market means that even those who are employed are having a hard time climbing the economic ladder.

We explain that more unemployment benefits is a misguided approach.

There’s a lot of talk about helping those down on their luck, but there’s a big divide on the best approach. Our view is that America needs a growth agenda based on reducing the burden of government. The unemployed need a strong job market, not endless handouts that create dependency. …There’s an understandable desire in Washington to “do something,” and extending benefits once again certainly is the easy route for policy makers. But if we are serious about keeping workers out of the long-term unemployment trap, we must have a debate about which policies cause unemployment and which policies create jobs.

The column cites many of the academic studies showing that unemployment benefits lead to more joblessness.

I’ve made this point during television interviews, and this Michael Ramirez cartoon echoes our thinking in a more entertaining fashion.

And we definitely can’t overlook this superb Wizard-of-Id parody. It doesn’t focus specifically on unemployment benefits, but it makes a great point about labor supply incentives.

But let’s get back to the column. Our main goal is to identify the types of policies that would generate jobs and growth.

Simply stated, genuine compassion should be defined by helping people get back to work so they don’t need to be wards of the state.

And easing the burden of government is the best way to make that happen. Our column looks at some evidence – from both overseas and here at home – about the policies that are associated with better economic performance.

Big government is responsible for today’s unemployment situation. …Since President Obama was elected, we have spent $560 billion on unemployment benefits. It’s likely many more jobs would have been created had the government not diverted that money from the economy’s productive sector. …Instead of copying stagnant European nations with bigger public sectors, we should learn from countries that have achieved better performance by lowering the burden of government. Singapore and Hong Kong are examples of jurisdictions with small governments and free markets that enjoy strong and sustained growth with very low levels of joblessness. …look at Canada, which has significantly boosted its jobs market with pro-growth reforms, or Switzerland, which has cemented its traditionally strong labor markets with reforms to control the growth of government. This is not a partisan argument. Or at least it shouldn’t be. The United States enjoyed strong levels of job creation during both the Reagan and Clinton years. But in both cases, public policy was largely the same, featuring an increase in economic freedom.

Some people may wonder whether Reagan and Clinton belong in the same category.

Well, as illustrated by this chart, they both presided over periods with impressive job creation.

And they both presided over periods with generally good economic policy.

Reagan moved the country in the right direction on purpose. Clinton, by contrast, may have wanted to move the nation in the other direction, but he was unsuccessful. Indeed, the evidence is very strong that the overall burden of government fell during his tenure.

Whether by accident or design, America needs another period of free markets and shrinking government.

For further details on the recipe for good policy, here’s the video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, which explains the conditions that lead to strong and sustained growth.

P.S. I’m obviously a fan of Senator Rand Paul. Not only does he choose good people as op-ed partners, he also gave me public credit for a good Obamacare joke.

P.P.S. On a separate topic, I wrote in December 2012 that the strongest evidence for media bias is which stories get covered. A perfect example is that journalists already have given 17 times as much coverage of the Chris Christie “bridgegate” scandal as they gave to the IRS scandal over the past six months.

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It’s no secret that I think we have too many government bureaucrats and I’ve shared very strong evidence that most of them are grossly overpaid.

I also have shown some data suggesting that they don’t work very hard, though I confess to mixed feelings about that factoid since I’d rather have some bureaucrats goofing off all day. After all, the economy would be even more burdened if they were being zealous and harassing additional people in the economy’s productive sector.

As an economist, one of my broad concerns is that taxpayers are picking up the tab for bloated bureaucracy. But I’m also worried for another big reason. We get less prosperity when too many people are being lured into government jobs. Simply stated, those people could be contributing to economic output if they instead were employed in the private sector.

In other words, our living standards depend on how productively we utilize labor and capital.

But we need to be careful about how we define “private sector.”

Why? Because not all private jobs are created equal. There are millions of government contractors, for instance, and many of those people should be considered part of a “shadow bureaucracy.” Too often, they’re doing things that are just as wasteful and inefficient as their bureaucrat counterparts, but they don’t show up in the Labor Department data as part of the government workforce.

Another example of the wrong kind of private employment is the so-called compliance sector.

Here are some excerpts from a report in The Hill about “compliance officers” hired by private companies.

A growing thicket of federal regulations under the Obama administration has contributed to an employment spike in at least one corner of the job market: the increasingly vital compliance industry.  ObamaCare, the Dodd-Frank Act and other large federal undertakings have led to an outpouring of new agency rules derided by business groups and defended by advocates.  But the regulations have also been a boon for professional compliance officers paid to help companies understand and adapt to the new requirements.  …Data kept by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows an 18-percent increase in the number of compliance officers in the United States between 2009 and 2012.

The article continues, including data showing that the compliance sector is getting bigger, costing lots of money, and that the problem began before Obama took office.

At last count, there were an estimated 227,500 compliance officers employed in the United States, according to the BLS. The bureau defines a compliance officer as an employee responsible for evaluating conformity with laws and regulations. …Compliance officers make an average of just under $65,000 annually, a gross national labor cost of roughly $14.7 billion, according to the BLS data. …for small firms without the resources to hire their own full-time compliance staff, adapting to new regulations can be an expensive proposition, said Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy for AAF. …The expansion of the compliance industry did not begin under President Obama and is not solely linked to the healthcare and Wall Street reform bills. The AAF analysis found a 122-percent increase of compliance officers over the past 10 years.

Gee, maybe we can get to the point where our entire economy is nothing but government bureaucrats and compliance officers. With enough of both categories, we could have full employment!

Of course, there would be one tiny little problem since nothing would get produced. And with nobody generating any income, there wouldn’t be any money to pay for the paper pushers from both government and the private sector.

But as we’ve seen from nations such as Greece, politicians generally don’t grasp this simple point until it’s too late.

Though let’s give a shout out to the former left-wing President of Brazil, who irritated his socialist supporters by making a seemingly elementary observation that you have to have production before you can have redistribution. Heck, even rock stars are beginning to realize that capitalism is the right approach if you want better lives for the less fortunate.

So maybe there’s hope.

Let’s close by issuing a couple of important caveats. Notwithstanding my occasionally overheated rhetoric, not all government jobs are bad jobs. Similarly, I don’t want to imply that all compliance jobs in the private sector are wasteful and inefficient.

To be more specific, I mean those statements in the narrow sense that companies doubtlessly are trying to adapt to all the new regulatory burdens in the least costly manner possible. So the jobs they are creating make sense, given the reality that firms are being buried under a blizzard of red tape.

But I also mean it in the broad sense that there are some regulations that pass a cost-benefit test, and compliance officers resulting from those regulations presumably are part of such calculations. Even a cranky libertarian like me, for instance, won’t lose sleep about compliance officers in a nuclear power plant or at a medical lab doing research on the Ebola virus.*

*But allow me to point out that a genuinely free market would have something akin to compliance officers because of “private regulation.” As I explained last year, “the profit motive creates mutually reinforcing oversight,” and we can be quite confident that market forces would do a better job of protecting us at lower cost.

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President Obama has presided over a terrible jobs market.

Unemployment is more than two-percentage points higher today than the White House claimed it would be if the so-called stimulus was enacted.

Even more worrisome, the employment-population ratio seems to have permanently fallen, which is bad news for economic performance since our output is a function of how much capital and labor is being productively utilized.

So what’s the response from the Obama Administration? Well, they want to further subsidize people for not working.

I’m not joking. Here’s some of what has been reported by the Huffington Post.

The Obama administration on Friday came out strongly in support of extending long-term unemployment insurance past its current expiration date. …”We have always done so when unemployment is this high and would make little sense to fail to do so now when we are still facing the burdens of the worst downturn since the Great Recession,” [Obama economic adviser Gene] Sperling said. “It is high bang for the buck for the economy, reduces poverty and helps workers who lost jobs due to no fault of their own get back on their feet.”

But is it true that providing more unemployment benefits is an approach that “helps workers”?  In their academic writings, both Paul Krugman and Larry Summers have pointed out that you get more unemployment when you subsidize joblessness.

And research by Professor Casey Mulligan also has found a very clear link between government benefits and unemployment. If you’re still not convinced, here’s some more empirical evidence showing that you get more joblessness when you subsidize leisure.

And now we have even more evidence showing that it doesn’t make sense to make leisure more attractive than employment. Four economists conducted some new empirical research to look at how unemployment benefits impact economic performance in the labor market. First they explain the theoretical concerns.

Unemployment in the U.S. rose dramatically during the Great Recession… The policy response involved an unprecedented extension of unemployment benefits with benefit duration rising from the usual 26 weeks to as long as 99 weeks. …The effectiveness of this policy response was questioned by Barro (2010) and Mulligan (2012), among others. Because unemployment benefit extensions represent an implicit tax on market work, they subsidize unemployment and discourage labor supply. …Everything else equal, extending unemployment benefits exerts an upward pressure on the equilibrium wage. This lowers the profits employers receive from filled jobs, leading to a decline in vacancy creation. Lower vacancies imply a lower job finding rate for workers, which leads to an increase in unemployment.

Then they report their findings, including the remarkable result that the bulk of poor employment numbers in recent years are the result of extended unemployment benefits.

Our empirical strategy exploits a policy discontinuity at state borders to identify the effects of unemployment insurance policies on unemployment. …We explicitly control for the effects of other policy changes at the state level (that could be correlated with the expansion of unemployment benefit durations) to ensure that our estimates isolate the effects of unemployment benefit extensions. …We find that unemployment rises dramatically in the border counties belonging to the states that expanded unemployment benefit duration as compared to the counties just across the state border. The quantitative magnitude of this effect is so large that our estimates imply that benefit extensions can quantitatively account for much of the unemployment dynamics following the Great Recession.

Some Keynesians argue that unemployment benefits are nonetheless good for the economy because of the impact on aggregate demand. But even if you believe Keynesian theory, the authors find that unemployment benefits don’t help because of the offsetting foregone income resulting from fewer jobs.

…an increase in unemployment due to benefit extensions is similar in magnitude to the decline of employment. Thus, the total effect on spending is ambiguous as extending benefits increase spending by the unemployed but at the same time decrease spending as fewer people are employed.

So what’s the bottom line? Simply stated, we need some tough love. There needs to be a limit on unemployment benefits so that companies will have more incentive to create jobs and so that unemployed people will have more incentive to get off the couch and find a job.

I’ve made this point during television interviews, but I suspect that many people will find this Michael Ramirez cartoon more compelling and convincing. In any event, it’s more entertaining.

And we definitely can’t overlook this superb Wizard-of-Id parody. It doesn’t focus on unemployment benefits, but it makes a great point about labor supply incentives in a very amusing fashion.

But let’s close on a serious note. Comparing data from the United States and Europe also shows that government policy has a big impact on the labor market. And if you prefer anecdotes, check out this story from Michigan and this example from Ohio.

P.S. At least the President is consistent. He also is pushing another policy that would increase unemployment.

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The Department of Labor has issued its monthly employment report and the item that will attract the most attention is that the unemployment rate marginally increased to 7.3 percent.

That number is worthy of some attention, but I think it distracts attention from a far more important set of data. What we should be more worried about is the overall supply of employed workers.

I don’t want to sound like a boring economist (is there any other kind?), but our economic well being is a function of what we produce, and and what we produce is a function of the amount of labor and capital that is being productively utilized. We economists use jargon about “factors of production,” but what we’re really trying to say is that our living standards depend on good jobs and wise investment.

Which is why the most depressing bit of data from the Labor Department isn’t the unemployment rate. We should be far more worried about the employment-population ratio.

Here’s a chart based on DOL data showing the percent of the working-age population that is employed (click here to see the Labor Department’s explanation of this variable). As you can see, that key number used to be close to 63 percent. Now it’s down close to 58 percent.

Employment Population Ratio

To be fair, this isn’t all Obama’s fault. Not even close.

The big drop occurred at the end of the Bush years. Some of that drop was cyclical, caused by the recession. And some of it was presumably the cumulative impact of Bush’s big-government policies.

But what’s noteworthy is that the recession has been over since mid-2009 and the employment-population ratio hasn’t improved. And that’s something that we can blame in part on Obama.

It’s not just cranky libertarians who worry about this trend in the employment data.

William Galston of the Brookings Institution shares some very disturbing numbers in a Wall Street Journal column about the decline in labor force participation in the United States.

The great American jobs machine is faltering, and it is time for Washington to pay attention. Participation in the workforce is falling, the pace of job creation is anemic, and long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high. …the United States was once viewed as the home of the “employment miracle.” As recently as 1989, it was a leader in labor-force participation and employment rates among the world’s most developed economies. That is no longer the case. …When we consider prime-age workers age 35 to 54—past the period of extended education that success in the 21st century economy so often requires—the comparison looks even worse: Average participation rates in the 16 comparison countries are four to six points higher than they are in the U.S. Last year, the U.S. ranked in the bottom third for women, and dead last for men. …prospects for robust growth and shared prosperity are dim unless we can devise more effective labor-market policies.

I suspect Galston and I would only partly agree on “effective labor-market policies,” but I think a big part of the answer is smaller government and less intervention.

If we want more jobs, we need to make it more profitable for employers to create jobs. And, as this very clever cartoon parody indicates (and also as shown in this great Chuck Asay cartoon), we need to make it more attractive for people to get back in the job market.

Let’s conclude by returning to the data on the unemployment rate. I don’t think it’s particularly newsworthy that the joblessness rate crept up by a small amount. Any single month of data, after all, might be a statistical blip.

However, I can’t resist pointing out that today’s unemployment rate is still more than two percentage points higher than the White House claimed it would be if we enacted the failed stimulus.

Here’s an updated version of the chart showing the gap between what the Obama Administration promised and what’s been delivered.

Obama Unemployment

Yup, good old Keynesian economics. Over-promising and under-delivering ever since the failed policies of Hoover and Roosevelt.

P.S. At least one liberal recognizes the dangers of government-subsidized dependency.

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Perhaps because he wants to divert attention from the slow-motion train wreck of Obamacare, the President is signalling that he will renew his efforts to throw more people into the unemployment line.

Needless to say, that’s not how the White House would describe the President’s proposal to increase the minimum wage, but that’s one of the main results when the government criminalizes certain employment contracts between consenting adults.

To be blunt, if a worker happens to have poor work skills, a less-than-impressive employment record, or some other indicator of low productivity that makes them worth, say, $7.50 per hour, then a $9-per-hour minimum wage is a ticket to the unemployment line.

Which is the point I made in a rather unfriendly interview with Yahoo Finance.

But a higher minimum wage is popular with voters who don’t understand economics, and unions strongly support a higher minimum wage since it means potential competitors are then priced out of the market.

So it’s not exactly a surprise that the White House is siding with unions over lower-skill workers. Here’s some of what is being reported by The Hill.

President Obama might soon renew his push for a $9 minimum wage, a top economic adviser said on Monday. “You’ll certainly be hearing more about it,” Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters Monday at a Wall Street Journal event. …Obama urged lawmakers during January’s State of the Union address to boost the wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and index it so that it rises with inflation.

The “indexing” provision would be especially pernicious. In the past, rising overall wage levels have diminished the harmful impact of the minimum wage. But if the minimum wage automatically increases,Minimum Wage Cartoon 2 then the ladder of opportunity may be permanently out of reach for some low-skilled workers.

Walter Williams also has weighed in on this issue, noting specifically the negative impact of higher minimum wages on minorities. Indeed, he cited research showing that, “each 10 percent increase reduces hours worked by 3 percent among white males, 1.7 percent for Hispanic males, and 6.6 percent for black males.”

The bottom line is that businesses aren’t charities. They hire workers when they think more employees will improve the bottom line. So if you artificially increase the price of labor, it’s easy to understand why marginal workers won’t get hired.

For more information on this issue, here’s a video produced by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

P.S. I wrote yesterday that the tax-hike referendum in Colorado was the most important battle in the 2013 elections.

Well, I’m delighted to report that Colorado voters are even wiser than Swiss voters. A take-hike referendum in 2010 was defeated in Switzerland by a 58.5-41.5 margin. Colorado voters easily exceeded that margin, rejecting the tax hike in a staggering 66-34 landslide.

Here’s what the Denver newspaper – which liked the tax increase – wrote about the referendum.

The pro-66 side raised more than $10 million that it lavished on advertising, messaging and get-out-the-vote efforts, thanks in part to huge donations from teachers unions, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill and Melinda Gates. Opponents meanwhile had barely the equivalent of a street-corner megaphone at their disposal. And yet Colorado voters, in another display of independence, ignored the prodding in one direction and chose to go their own way. They didn’t merely defeat Amendment 66. They demolished the idea.

In other words, taxpayers were heavily outspent by union bosses and out-of-state billionaires, yet they easily prevailed and Colorado’s flat tax is safe.  At least for now.

P.P.S. I conducted a test this morning on media bias. I’m still in Iceland, so I went to sleep last night long before American election results were announced. When I woke up this morning, I looked first at both the CNN and Washington Post websites. When I didn’t see any results for the Colorado tax referendum, I was 99 percent confident that the statists had lost. Needless to say, it would have been front page news if the referendum was approved.

P.P.P.S. Since I’m adding some comments on Colorado elections, we also should be happy that the pro-school choice members of the Douglas County School Board were all reelected, notwithstanding a big effort by the unions.

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