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Posts Tagged ‘Media Bias’

A couple of weeks ago, I debunked a remarkably anti-empirical column by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post.

He claimed that America’s response to the coronavirus was hampered because government is too small, yet the nations he cited as successful role models actually have much smaller public sectors than the United States.

I congratulated him for accidentally making a strong case for libertarianism and providing evidence for my Seventh Theorem of Government.

Unfortunately, other journalists share Mr. Milbank’s ignorance with regards to easily accessible data on fiscal policy.

Writing for the Atlantic, George Packer asserts that the U.S. response to the coronavirus has been a miserable failure because government is too small.

Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. …a federal government crippled by years of right-wing ideological assault, politicization by both parties, and steady defunding. …tests for the virus were almost impossible to find… years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation.

Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review takes apart Packer’s column.

He points out that CDC funding has increased, while also noting that the bureaucracy has squandered the additional money it has received.

…the CDC’s funding has increased — not that it has made good use of the extra money. This is not a lean and mean virus-fighting machine, getting by on starvation-level resources. It maintains a Hollywood liaison to consult on films. In recent years, it has expanded beyond its core mission to promote motorcycle safety and sponsor programs dedicated to fostering “safe, stable, nurturing relationships” in schools. If you’re wondering why there was lots of political and social messaging larding up CDC documents on COVID-19, just realize that when Congress increases an agency’s funding, the result is likely to be more ideological make-work jobs rather than a more effective workforce. …as for public-sector health-care spending, ours is not notably low — it’s roughly equivalent to those of the developed nations of Western Europe.

And he also observes that nations with smaller governments have done a better job than countries with bigger governments.

…The East Asian states that have done best in fighting COVID-19 are not social-democratic but hyper-capitalist. Compared with them — and to America —Western Europe has done much worse at containing the spread of the coronavirus and the holding down the death toll.

Excellent points.

For my contribution to this debate, I’m going to investigate whether Mr. Packer is right about “steady defunding” of the federal government.

To see whether he is correct about “programs defunded,” I went to Table 1.3 of the Historical Tables of the Budget and created the following chart to see what happened to inflation-adjusted spending over the past 40 years.

Lo and behold, it turns out that Mr. Packer is completely wrong. There hasn’t been any defunding. Not even close.

Instead, the inflation-adjusted burden of government is almost three times greater today than it was the year Reagan was elected (and it will be more than three times greater once all the emergency spending is included).

The bottom line is that I can’t figure out whether to be more dismayed that journalists are innumerate or that major publications apparently don’t have fact checkers.

P.S. There were periods when spending grew faster than at other times. There were also times when the private sector grew faster than the government (fulfilling the Golden Rule). And we also can see the how government exploded because of TARP and Obama’s faux stimulus and then was briefly constrained during the Tea Party era (and is now climbing rapidly under Trump).

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I would prefer not to write about President Trump’s new budget, largely because I know it’s not a serious proposal.

Even before he was elected, I pointed out that Trump was a big-government Republican who had no intention of dealing with serious fiscal issues such as the rising burden of entitlement spending.

So I wasn’t surprised that he capitulated to swamp-friendly budget deals in 2017, 2018, and 2019. And I’m depressingly confident that the same thing will happen this year.

That being said, I want to comment on how the media is covering his latest budget.

Take a look at some of the headlines that are dominating the news this morning.

From Reuters.

From New York magazine.

From the Washington Times.

From NBC.

From the Associated Press.

From Bloomberg.

From International Business Times.

From Fox.

From the Wall Street Journal.

All of these headlines make is seem like Trump is proposing a Reagan-style budget with lots of cuts, especially with regards to domestic programs.

All of that would be great news…if it was true.

In reality, here’s what Trump is projecting for total spending over the next 10 years.

Can you find the spending cuts?

And here’s what’s happening with domestic spending (mandatory outlays plus domestic discretionary) according to Trump’s budget.

Can you find the spending cuts?

Last but not least, here’s Trump’s plan for domestic discretionary spending.

Can you find the spending cuts?

So why is there such a big disconnect in the media? Why are there headlines about cutting and slashing when government is growing by every possible measure?

For the simple reason that the budget process in Washington is pervasively dishonest, as I’ve explained in interviews with John Stossel and Judge Napolitano. Here are the three things you need to know.

  1. The politicians created a system that automatically assumes big increases in annual spending, called a baseline.
  2. When there’s a proposal to have spending grow slower than the baseline, the gap between the proposal and the baseline is called a cut.
  3. It’s like being on a diet and claiming progress because you’re gaining two pounds each month rather than five pounds.

Defenders of this system argue that programs should get built-in increases because of things such as inflation, or because of more old people, which leads to more spending for programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

It’s certainly reasonable for them to argue that budgets should increase for these reasons.

But they should be honest. Be forthright and assert that “Spending should climb X percent because…”

Needless to say, that won’t happen. The pro-spending politicians and interest groups like the current approach because it allows them to scare voters by warning about “savage” and “draconian” spending cuts.

Remember how Obama said the sequester would wreak havoc because of massive cuts? Except there weren’t any cuts, massive or otherwise. As Thomas Sowell pointed out, Obama was trying to deceive voters.

P.S. The British also use dishonest budgeting.

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To help me follow policy developments, I get 30-plus daily emails from various news outlets and institutions, and I scroll through these messages to see what I should be reading.

Given my interest in fiscal policy, I’m always on the lookout for articles on tax reform and the burden of government spending.

But since I just wrote about the dismal performance of government schools as part of my series for National Education Week, I obviously noticed this story (highlighted in red) in an email from the New York Times.

My immediate reaction, given the wealth of evidence, was to scoff at the discredited notion that more spending is a key to better educational outcomes.

We have plenty of data showing that pouring more money into government schools doesn’t produce good results.

Anyhow, I clicked on the story and read that supposed experts are puzzled about stagnant academic performance.

The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe. …The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, …follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers. …Low-performing students have been the focus of decades of bipartisan education overhaul efforts, costing many billions of dollars, that have resulted in a string of national programs — No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core State Standards, the Every Student Succeeds Act — but uneven results.

By the way, we haven’t had a “decades-long effort to raise standards.”

What we really had is a decades-long effort to appease teacher unions by pouring more money into the existing school monopoly.

That was the real purpose of failed schemes like Bush’s No Child Left Behind (I call it No Bureaucrat Left Behind) and Obama’s Common Core.

I briefly thought how much fun I would have if I was an editor at the New York Times. Then the email summary would have looked like this.

To be fair, I don’t think spending (either a lot or a little) is the issue.

The real problem is the structure of our education system. We have a very inefficient monopoly that has been captured by the teacher unions, which means mediocre results.

It doesn’t matter that most teachers are well meaning and it doesn’t matter that most parents are well meaning. Until we replace the monopoly with school choice, things won’t get any better.

Let’s close with some speculation about whether the above story is an example of media bias?

Perhaps, but I think it’s most likely that it’s an an example of the “Butterfield Effect.” As I explained back in 2010, this is a term used to mock journalists for being blind to the real story.

A former reporter for the New York Times, Fox Butterfield, became a bit of a laughingstock in the 1990s for publishing a series of articles addressing the supposed quandary of how crime rates could be falling during periods when prison populations were expanding. A number of critics sarcastically explained that crimes rates were falling because bad guys were behind bars and invented the term “Butterfield Effect” to describe the failure of leftists to put 2 + 2 together.

In other words, the journalist who wrote the aforementioned story may not be biased. Or even a leftist.

But such people inhabit a world where government is universally perceived as a means of solving problems.

P.S. Here are some of my favorite examples of the “Butterfield Effect,” all of which presumably were caused by some combination of media bias and economic ignorance.

  • A newspaper article that was so blind to the Laffer Curve that it actually included a passage saying, “receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased.”
  • Another article was entitled, “Few Places to Hide as Taxes Trend Higher Worldwide,” because the reporter apparently was clueless that tax havens were attacked precisely so governments could raise tax burdens.
  • In another example of laughable Laffer Curve ignorance, the Washington Post had a story about tax revenues dropping in Detroit “despite some of the highest tax rates in the state.”
  • Likewise, another news report had a surprised tone when reporting on the fully predictable news that rich people reported more taxable income when their tax rates were lower.
  • A New York Times article was headlined, “Trillions Spent, but Crises like Greece’s Persist,” indicating nobody realized spending was the problem rather than solution.
  • The news staff of the Wall Street Journal also demonstrated their ignorance of the Laffer Curve with a story headlined: “Despite Top-Property Tax Rate in Connecticut, the State’s Capital Teeters on Bankruptcy.”

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The New York Times is going overboard with disingenuous columns.

A few days ago, I pointed out the many errors in David Leonhardt’s column extolling the wealth tax.

I also explained back in August how Steven Greenhouse butchered the data when he condemned the American economy.

And Paul Krugman is infamous for his creative writing.

But Mr. Leonhardt is on a roll. He has a new column promoting class warfare tax policy.

Almost a decade ago, Warren Buffett made a claim that would become famous. He said that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, thanks to the many loopholes and deductions that benefit the wealthy.oct-8-19-nyt …“Is it the norm?” the fact-checking outfit Politifact asked. “No.” Time for an update: It’s the norm now. …the 400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group, according to newly released data. …That’s a sharp change from the 1950s and 1960s, when the wealthy paid vastly higher tax rates than the middle class or poor.

Here’s the supposed proof for Leonhardt’s claim, which is based on a new book from two professors at the University of California at Berkeley, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

Here are the tax rates from 1950.

oct-8-19-1950

And here are the tax rates from last year, showing the combined effect of the Kennedy tax cut, the Reagan tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts, and the Trump tax cut (as well as the Nixon tax increase, the Clinton tax increase, and the Obama tax increase).

oct-8-19-2018

So is Leonhardt (channeling Saez and Zucman) correct?

Are these charts evidence of a horrid and unfair system?

Nope, not in the slightest.

But this data is evidence of dodgy analysis by Leonhardt and the people he cites.

First and foremost, the charts conveniently omit the fact that dividends and capital gains earned by high-income taxpayers also are subject to the corporate income tax.

Even the left-leaning Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development acknowledges that both layers of tax should be included when measuring the effective tax rate on households.

Indeed, this is why Warren Buffett was grossly wrong when claiming he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary.

But there’s also another big problem. There’s a huge difference between high tax rates and high tax revenues.

feb-4-19-perrySimply stated, the rich didn’t pay a lot of tax when rates were extortionary because they can choose not to earn and declare much income.

Indeed, there were only eight taxpayers in 1960 who paid the top tax rates of 91 percent.

Today, by contrast, upper-income taxpayers are paying an overwhelming share of the tax burden.

It’s especially worth noting that tax collections from the rich skyrocketed when Reagan slashed the top tax rate in the 1980s.

Let’s close by pointing out that Saez and Zucman are promoting a very radical tax agenda.

Saez and Zucman sketch out a modern progressive tax code. The overall tax rate on the richest 1 percent would roughly double, to about 60 percent. The tax increases would bring in about $750 billion a year, or 4 percent of G.D.P…. One crucial part of the agenda is a minimum global corporate tax of at least 25 percent. …Saez and Zucman also favor a wealth tax

Punitive income tax rates, higher corporate tax rates, and a confiscatory wealth tax.

Does anybody think copying France is a recipe for success?

P.S. I pointed out that Zucman and Saez make some untenable assumptions when trying to justify how a wealth tax won’t hurt the economy.

P.P.S. It’s also worth remembering that the income of rich taxpayers will be subject to the death tax as well, which means Leonhardt’s charts are doubly misleading.

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I periodically mock the New York Times when editors, reporters, and columnists engage in sloppy and biased analysis.

Now we have another example.

Check out these excerpts from a New York Times column by Steven Greenhouse.

The United States is the only advanced industrial nation that doesn’t have national laws guaranteeing paid maternity leave. It is also the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee workers any vacation, paid or unpaid, and the only highly developed country (other than South Korea) that doesn’t guarantee paid sick days. …Among the three dozen industrial countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the lowest minimum wage as a percentage of the median wage — just 34 percent of the typical wage, compared with 62 percent in France and 54 percent in Britain. It also has the second-highest percentage of low-wage workers among that group… All this means the United States suffers from what I call “anti-worker exceptionalism.” …America’s workers have for decades been losing out: year after year of wage stagnation.

Sounds like the United States is some sort of Dystopian nightmare for workers, right?

Well, if there’s oppression of labor in America, workers in other nations should hope and pray for something similar.

Here’s a chart showing per-capita “actual individual consumption” for various nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. As you can see, people in the United States have much higher living standards.

By the way, I can’t resist pointing out another big flow in Greenhouse’s NYT column.

He wrote that the U.S. has “the second-highest percentage of low-wage workers.” That sounds like there’s lots of poverty in America. Especially since the U.S. is being compared to a group of nations that includes decrepit economies such as Mexico, Turkey, Italy, and Greece.

But this statement is nonsense because it is based on OECD numbers that merely measure the percent of workers in each nation that earn less than two-thirds of the national median level. Yet since median income generally is much higher in the United States, it’s absurd to use this data for international comparisons.

In other words, Greenhouse is relying on data that deliberately confuse absolute living standards and relative living standards. Why? Presumably to try to make the United States look bad and/or to advance a pro-redistribution agenda.

P.S. You can find similarly dishonest ways of measuring poverty from the United Nations, the Equal Welfare Association, Germany’s Institute of Labor Economics, the Obama Administration, and the European Commission.

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Given the repeated failures of Keynesian economic policy, both in America and around the world, you would think the theory would be discredited.

Or at least be treated with considerable skepticism by anyone with rudimentary knowledge of economic affairs.

Apparently financial journalists aren’t very familiar with real-world evidence.

Here are some excerpts from a news report in the Wall Street Journal.

The economy was supposed to get a lift this year from higher government spending enacted in 2018, but so far much of that stimulus hasn’t shown up, puzzling economists. Federal dollars contributed significantly less to gross domestic product in early 2019 than what economic forecasters had predicted after Congress reached a two-year budget deal to boost government spending. …Spending by consumers and businesses are the most important drivers of economic growth, but in recent years, government outlays have played a bigger role in supporting the economy.

The lack of “stimulus” wasn’t puzzling to all economists, just the ones who still believe in the perpetual motion machine of Keynesian economics.

Maybe the reporter, Kate Davidson, should have made a few more phone calls.

Especially, for instance, to the people who correctly analyzed the failure of Obama’s so-called stimulus.

With any luck, she would have learned not to put the cart before the horse. Spending by consumers and businesses is a consequence of a strong economy, not a “driver.”

Another problem with the article is that she also falls for the fallacy of GDP statistics.

Economists are now wondering whether government spending will catch up to boost the economy later in the year… If government spending were to catch up in the second quarter, it would add 1.6 percentage points to GDP growth that quarter. …The 2018 bipartisan budget deal provided nearly $300 billion more for federal spending in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 above spending limits set in 2011.

The government’s numbers for gross domestic product are a measure of how national income is allocated.

If more of our income is diverted to Washington, that doesn’t mean there’s more of it. It simply means that less of our income is available for private uses.

That’s why gross domestic income is a preferable number. It shows the ways – wages and salaries, small business income, corporate profits, etc – that we earn our national income.

Last but not least, I can’t resist commenting on these two additional sentences, both of which cry out for correction.

Most economists expect separate stimulus provided by the 2017 tax cuts to continue fading this year. …And they must raise the federal borrowing limit this fall to avoid defaulting on the government’s debt.

Sigh.

Ms. Davidson applied misguided Keynesian analysis to the 2017 tax cut.

The accurate way to analyze changes in tax policy is to measure changes in marginal tax rates on productive behavior. Using that correct approach, the pro-growth impact grows over time rather than dissipating.

And she also applied misguided analysis to the upcoming vote over the debt limit.

If the limit isn’t increased, the government is forced to immediately operate on a money-in/money-out basis (i.e. a balanced budget requirement). But since revenues are far greater than interest payments on the debt, there would be plenty of revenue available to fulfill obligations to bondholders. A default would only occur if the Treasury Department deliberately made that choice.

Needless to say, that ain’t gonna happen.

The bottom line is that – at best – Keynesian spending can temporarily boost a nation’s level of consumption, but economic policy should instead focus on increasing production and income.

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

P.P.S. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can watch my 11-year old video on Keynesian economics.

P.P.P.S. Sadly, the article was completely correct about the huge spending increases that Trump and Congress approved when the spending caps were busted (again) in 2018.

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There’s a long and sordid history of people in Western nations acting as dupes and apologists for communism.

This is especially the case with the wretchedly impoverished totalitarian outpost 90 miles south of Florida.

Based on what he wrote for the opinion pages of the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof belongs on that list of “useful idiots.”

Cuba…in health care…does an impressive job that the United States could learn from. …an American infant is, by official statistics, almost 50 percent more likely to die than a Cuban infant. By my calculations, that means that 7,500 American kids die each year because we don’t have as good an infant mortality rate as Cuba reports. …a major strength of the Cuban system is that it assures universal access. Cuba has the Medicare for All that many Americans dream about. …It’s also notable that Cuba achieves excellent health outcomes even though the American trade and financial embargo… Cuba overflows with doctors — it has three times as many per capita as the United States… Outsiders mostly say they admire the Cuban health system. The World Health Organization has praised it, and Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations secretary general, described it as “a model for many countries.”

Kristof admits in his piece that there are critics who don’t believe the regime’s data, but it’s clear he doesn’t take their concerns seriously.

And he definitely doesn’t share their data. So lets take a close look at the facts that didn’t appear in Kristof’s column.

My first recommendation is to watch Johan Norberg’s video on the real truth about Cuba’s infant mortality.

But there’s so much more.

Jay Nordlinger authored the most comprehensive takedown of Cuba’s decrepit system back in 2007. Here are some of the highlights.

The Left has always had a deep psychological need to believe in the myth of Cuban health care. On that island, as everywhere else, Communism has turned out to be a disaster: economic, physical, and moral. Not only have persecution, torture, and murder been routine, there is nothing material to show for it. The Leninist rationalization was, “You have to break some eggs to make an omelet.” Orwell memorably replied, “Where’s the omelet?” There is never an omelet. …there is excellent health care on Cuba — just not for ordinary Cubans. …there is not just one system, or even two: There are three. The first is for foreigners who come to Cuba specifically for medical care. This is known as “medical tourism.” The tourists pay in hard currency… The second health-care system is for Cuban elites — the Party, the military, official artists and writers, and so on. In the Soviet Union, these people were called the “nomenklatura.” And their system, like the one for medical tourists, is top-notch. Then there is the real Cuban system, the one that ordinary people must use — and it is wretched. Testimony and documentation on the subject are vast. Hospitals and clinics are crumbling. Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own bedsheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs — even toilet paper. And basic medications are scarce. …The equipment that doctors have to work with is either antiquated or nonexistent. Doctors have been known to reuse latex gloves — there is no choice. …So deplorable is the state of health care in Cuba that old-fashioned diseases are back with a vengeance. These include tuberculosis, leprosy, and typhoid fever. And dengue, another fever, is a particular menace.

Wow, I guess shortages extend well beyond toilet paper.

Next we have some very sobering data from a 2004 article in Canada’s National Post.

…a small bottle of tetracycline costs US$5 and a tube of cortisone cream will set you back as much as US$25. But neither are available at the local pharmacy, which is neat and spotless, but stocks almost nothing. Even the most common pharmaceutical items, such as Aspirin and rubbing alcohol, are conspicuously absent. …Antibiotics, one of the most valuable commodities on the cash-strapped Communist island, are in extremely short supply and available only on the black market. Aspirin can be purchased only at government-run dollar stores, which carry common medications at a huge markup in U.S. dollars. This puts them out of reach of most Cubans, who are paid little and in pesos. Their average wage is 300 pesos per month, about $12. …tourist hospitals in Cuba are well-stocked with the latest equipment and imported medicines, said a Cuban pediatrician, who did not want to be identified. …”Tourists have everything they need,… But for Cubans, it’s different. Unless you work with tourists or have a relative in Miami sending you money, you will not be able to get what you need if you are sick in Cuba. As a doctor, I find it disgusting.”

And here’s some scholarly research from Katherine Hirschfeld at the University of Oklahoma (h/t: Scott Johnson).

…the Cuban government continues to respond to international criticism of its human rights record by citing…praise for its achievements in health and medicine…the unequivocally positive descriptions of the Cuban health care system in the social science literature are somewhat misleading. In the late 1990s, I conducted over nine months of qualitative ethnographic and archival research in Cuba. During that time I shadowed physicians in family health clinics, conducted formal and informal interviews with a number of health professionals, lived in local communities, and sought to participate in everyday life as much as possible. Throughout the course of this research, I found a number of discrepancies between the way the Cuban health care system has been described in the scholarly literature, and the way it appears to be described and experienced by Cubans themselves. …After just a few months of research, …it became increasingly obvious that many Cubans did not appear to have a very positive view of the health care system themselves. A number of people complained to me informally that their doctors were unhelpful, that the best clinics and hospitals only served political elites and that scarce medical supplies were often stolen from hospitals and sold on the black market. Further criticisms were leveled at the politicization of medical care… Public criticism of the government is a crime in Cuba, and penalties are severe. Formally eliciting critical narratives about health care would be viewed as a criminal act both for me as a researcher, and for people who spoke openly with me. …One of the most readily apparent problems with the health care system in Cuba is the severe shortage of medicines, equipment, and other supplies. …Many Cubans (including a number of health professionals) also had serious complaints about the intrusion of politics into medical treatment and health care decision-making.

Three academics at Texas Tech University also found very troubling data when they investigated the nation’s health system (h/t: David Henderson).

With 11.1% of GDP dedicated to health care and 0.8% of the population working as physicians, a substantial amount of resources is directed towards reducing infant mortality and increasing longevity. An economy with centralized economic planning by government like that of Cuba can force more resources into an industry than its population might desire in order to achieve improved outcomes in that industry at the expense of other goods and services the population might more highly desire. …Physicians are given health outcome targets to meet or face penalties. This provides incentives to manipulate data. Take Cuba’s much praised infant mortality rate for example. In most countries, the ratio of the numbers of neonatal deaths and late fetal deaths stay within a certain range of each other as they have many common causes and determinants. …Cuba, with a ratio of 6, was a clear outlier. This skewed ratio is evidence that physicians likely reclassified early neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths, thus deflating the infant mortality statistics and propping up life expectancy. Cuban doctors were re-categorizing neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths in order for doctors to meet government targets for infant mortality. …Physicians often perform abortions without clear consent of the mother, raising serious issues of medical ethics, when ultrasound reveals fetal abnormalities because ‘otherwise it might raise the infant mortality rate’. …The role of Cuban economic and political oppression in coercing ‘good’ health outcomes merits further study.

The bottom line is that Cuba is a hellhole and statistics from a repressive regime can’t be trusted.

Though the real message of today’s column is that we should be revolted by people who are willing to be dupes for totalitarianism.

And I can understand why people willing to debase themselves in that way are so sensitive to criticism.

P.S. The New York Times has a pathetic history of covering up for the crimes of communism, most notably Walter Duranty, who was given a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 even though he despicably lied in his reports to promote Stalin’s horrid regime. He even covered up Stalin’s holocaust of the Ukrainian people. Even though Duranty’s evil actions are now public knowledge, the Pulitzer Prize Board has not revoked the award. The New York Times, to its credit, at least has acknowledged that Duranty lied to promote Stalin’s brutal dictatorship. One wonders if the newspaper eventually will apologize for Kristof.

P.P.S. I’m also not impressed that a former Secretary General of the U.N. endorsed Cuba’s health care system. After all, it was an official from the U.N. who praised the lack of obesity among the starving people of North Korea.

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I periodically mock the New York Times when editors, reporters, and columnists engage in sloppy and biased analysis.

But all these instances of intentional and unintentional bias are trivial compared to our next example.

The New York Times has gone above and beyond conventional media bias with a video entitled, “How Capitalism Ruined China’s Health Care System.”

Here’s the part that caused my jaw to drop.

After the sad opening story about the guy with the sick mother, there’s a section from 1:33-2:27 that makes two observations that basically show the premise of the video is totally wrong.

  • First, it points out (from 1:33-1:42) that there is a universal, government-run health system that ostensibly covers the guy’s mother, so her unfortunate status is yet another example that coverage in a government-run healthcare system is not the same as treatment.
  • Second, it points out (from 2:05-2:27) that life expectancy soared once the communist party relaxed its grip on the economy and allowed some liberalization, which would seem to be powerful evidence that capitalism leads to better health outcomes.

These are astounding mistakes.

But it gets worse. Sarah Lilly, who lives in China, debunked the rest of the video in a column for FEE.

The New York Times…attempts to blame capitalism for the many problems in China’s health care system. …As a resident of China and a recipient of outstanding private health care here, I was confused as to why the Times would show us the horrors of a capitalist system without actually visiting a private health care facility. …All of the horrors depicted in the high-quality video—the long lines, the scalping, and the hospital fights—occurred at government-run health care facilities. …At the very least, failing to feature a single private medical facility while blaming capitalism for the dysfunction of China’s public health system is intellectually dishonest.

She points out that the big-picture analysis in the video is wrong.

In the video, the Times praises Chairman Mao’s introduction of “free” health care and claims that when capitalism was introduced into the country, the state retreated and care was no longer free. Neither statement is true. First, health care was never free; it was paid for by tax revenues. Second, the state never retreated; rather, its regulatory apparatus became vaster and even more invasive. Out of sheer necessity, China allowed for the creation of private hospitals to ease the burden of the country’s heavily bureaucratic and deteriorating health care system.

And she also explains that the details of the video are wrong.

The Times video depicts the ungodly long line most Chinese face to see a physician. …It’s an appalling scene. …There’s just one problem. The Shanghai Cancer Center is a public hospital, not a private one. The long lines, scalpers, bribes, and physical fights with hospital staff—all of these exclusively happen in the public, communist, government-run hospitals. …In an egregious bit of sleight-of-hand, the Grey Lady asserts that capitalism is ruining Chinese health care while presenting us with a hospital where capitalism is not practiced.

To be fair, we get the same type of mistake when journalists look at the flaws in the American health system. They blame capitalism when the problems of ever-higher prices and uneven coverage are the consequences of government intervention.

P.S. My columns about sloppy bias at the New York Times don’t include Paul Krugman’s writings. Debunking those mistakes requires several different collections.

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I don’t focus much on media bias because journalists generally aren’t dishonest. Instead, they choose which stories to highlight or downplay based on what advances their political agenda. Though every so often I’ll highlight an example of where bias leads to an egregious (maybe even deliberately dishonest) mistake.

Now we have an addition to that collection from a WonkBlog column in the Washington Post. The piece starts with an accurate observation that the tax plan on Capitol Hill isn’t a long-run tax cut.

Senate rules require the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act not to add to the federal deficit after 10 years. …The bill aims to cut corporate taxes in perpetuity…but they actually need to raise money to offset the permanent corporate tax reduction.

Yes, as I wrote two weeks ago, the long-run tax cuts have to be offset by long-run revenue increases. So that part of the column is fine.

We then get this rather dubious assertion.

Republicans are paying for a permanent cut for corporations with an under-the-radar tax increase on individuals.

In part, it’s a dodgy claim because there are provisions in the bill that collect more revenue from companies, such as the partial loss of interest deductibility and various base erosion rules. So if he wanted to be accurate, the author should have begun that sentence with “Republicans are partially paying for…”

But that’s only part of the problem. As you can see from this next excerpt, he cites a former Democrat staffer and doubles down on the allegation that individual taxpayers will be coughing up more money to Uncle Sam because of the legislation.

This chart, playing off what the Senate’s former top tax aide and New York University professor Lily Batchelder pointed out on Twitter on Friday evening, makes vividly clear where Republicans ultimately raise that money. …we know it’s individual taxpayers who ultimately bear the cost of the tax bill.

And here’s the chart that ostensibly shows that you and me are going to pay more money so evil corporations can enjoy a tax cut.

Notice, however, the part I circled in green. It shows that Republicans are repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate as part of their tax reform plan, and it also shows that repeal has budgetary effects.

So how is this a tax increase (the pink portion of the bar chart), as the Washington Post wants us to believe?

Needless to say, the honest answer is that it isn’t a tax hike. Getting rid of the mandate means people won’t get “fined” by the IRS if they choose not to buy health insurance. If anything, that should count as a tax cut.

But that’s not what’s represented by the pink part of the bar chart. Instead, it shows that when you get rid of the mandate and consumers choose not to get Obamacare policies, that automatically means that insurance companies will get fewer subsidies from Uncle Sam (getting access to that cash was one of the reasons the big insurance companies lobbied for Obamacare).

In other words, the chart actually is showing that corporate rate reduction is partially financed by a reduction in spending, which is a win-win from my perspective.

By the way, you don’t have to believe me. On page 9 of the Joint Committee on Taxation’s revenue estimate (which presumably will be posted on the JCT website at some point), you find this footnote about the “outlay effect” of repealing the mandate.

At the risk of stating the obvious, an “outlay effect” is when a change in law causes a shift in government spending. That’s what’s happening, not a tax increase on individuals.

By the way, the author sort of admits this is true in a passage buried near the bottom of the column.

…a number of analysts argue that it’s wrong to consider the loss of insurance related to the end of the ACA mandate a tax increase, because it reflects individuals’ choice not to get insurance.

That’s a pathetic attempt at justifying a dishonest article.

Here’s the bottom line.

  1. Individuals will be paying less money to the IRS because of this provision, not more.
  2. The fiscal impact of the provision is less spending, not more tax revenue.

Sadly, most readers will have no idea that they were deliberately misled.

P.S. The “alternative inflation measure” in the bill (the red portion of the bar chart) arguably is a tax increase. Or, for those who persuasively argue that it’s a more accurate measure, it’s a provision that will result in individual taxpayers sending more money to Uncle Sam compared to current law since the new measure (chained CPI) will result in smaller inflation adjustments to tax brackets and the standard deduction.

P.P.S. If repealing just one small piece of Obamacare will save about $300 billion over the next decade, imagine how much money we could save if the entire law was repealed.

P.P.P.S. Since I’ve previously explained how politicians use alchemy to turn spending increases into tax cuts, I guess it’s not surprising that some folks are using the same magic to turn spending cuts into tax increases.

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While it’s quite clear that the establishment media leans to the left, I don’t get too agitated about bias. Though every so often I can’t resist the temptation to comment when I come across egregious examples on issues such as poverty, guns, Greece, jobs, taxes, and education.

The bias extends to politics, of course, though the only time I felt compelled to comment was when ABC News rushed to imply that the Tea Party somehow was connected to a mass shooting in Colorado.

Well, I now feel compelled to comment again. But this example goes beyond bias and should be characterized as blatant and disgusting dishonesty. The hacks at Time took a quote from Charles Koch and then used selective editing to completely misrepresent what he actually said.

In a just world, the person who engaged in this bit of mendacity would lose his or her job and never again work in journalism. But I would hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

But let’s set aside the issue of media bias and dishonesty.

I want to highlight what Mr. Koch said about GDP. He expressed skepticism of that measure because it doesn’t distinguish between good expenditures and bad expenditures.

That’s one of the reasons why I prefer gross domestic income instead of gross domestic product. In simple terms, GDI measures how our national income is generated and GDP measures how it is allocated.

As the Bureau of Economic Analysis explains, the two numbers are basically different sides of the same coin.

In national economic accounting, GDP and GDI are conceptually equal. GDP measures overall economic activity by final expenditures, and GDI measures it by the incomes generated from producing GDP. In practice, GDP and GDI differ because they are constructed using different sources of information. …when one looks at annual data – where the timing differences are less important, the correlation between GDP and GDI is 0.97.

That correlation shouldn’t be a surprise. Indeed, over a longer period of time, the two numbers should be identical.

Both go up when the economy is doing well, and both go down when there is a recession.

But I want to make a more subtle point.

The reason I like GDI over GDP is because one the former is more likely to lead people to support good policy while the latter is more likely to lead people in the direction of bad policy.

Here’s some of what I wrote on the topic back in 2013.

GDP numbers only measure how we spend or allocate our national income. It’s a very indirect way of measuring economic health. Sort of like assessing the status of your household finances by adding together how much you spend on everything from mortgage and groceries to your cable bill and your tab at the local pub. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to directly measure income? Isn’t the amount of money going into our bank accounts the key variable? The same principle is true – or should be true – for a country. That’s why the better variable is gross domestic income (GDI). It measures things such as employee compensation, corporate profits, and small business income. …We should be focusing on how to increase national income, not what share of it is being redistributed by politicians.

And, on a related note, you can back to 2009 for a column I wrote explaining that consumer spending is a reflection of a strong economy, not the cause of a  strong economy.

And this video ties everything together by debunking the Keynesian argument that politicians should focus on goosing consumer spending.

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As I peruse the news, I periodically see headlines that are misleading in some fashion.

And if the headline is sufficiently off-key or bizarre, I feel compelled to grouse.

Now I have a new example, though I’m not sure whether to call it dishonest or clueless.

The EU Observer has a brief report that poverty has reached record levels in Germany.

Despite a booming economy, 12.9 million people in Germany were living below the poverty line in 2015, the Equal Welfare Association reported on Thursday. Based on figures from the Federal Statistical Office the alliance found a record high poverty rate of 15.7 percent in 2015.

By the way, I can’t resist pointing out that there is no “booming economy” in Germany. Growth in 2016 was only 1.9 percent.

Yes, that’s decent by European standards of stagnation and decline, but it’s far from impressive in any other context.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the main point of today’s column.

As you can see from the story’s headline, the implication is that lots of people are left behind and mired in deprivation even though the economy is moving forward.

But there’s a problem with both the story and the headline.

If you read carefully, it turns out that both the story (and the study that triggered the story) have nothing to do with poverty.

No link at all. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

I’m not joking. There’s no estimate of the number of people below some measure of a German poverty line. There’s no calculation of any sort about living standards. Instead, this story (and the underlying report) are about the distribution of income.

…people [are] defined as poor when living on an income less than 60 percent of that of the median German household.

One might be tempted at this point to dismiss this as a bit of journalistic sloppiness. Indeed, one might even conclude that this is a story about nothing.

After all, noting that some people are below 60 percent of the median income level is about as newsworthy as a report saying that half of people are above average and half are below average.

But there actually is a story here. Though it’s not about poverty. Instead, it’s about an ongoing statist campaign to redefine poverty to mean unequal distribution of income.

I’m not joking. For instance, the bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development actually put out a study claiming that there was more poverty in the United States than in nations such as Greece, Portugal, and Turkey.

How could they make such a preposterous claim? Easy, the OECD bureaucrats didn’t measure poverty. Instead, they concocted a measure of the degree to which various countries are close to the left-wing dream of equal incomes.

And the Obama Administration also tried to manipulate poverty statistics in the United States in hopes of pushing this statist agenda of coerced equality.

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation wrote about what Obama tried to do.

…the Obama administration…measure, which has little or nothing to do with actual poverty, will serve as the propaganda tool in Obama’s endless quest to “spread the wealth.” …The current poverty measure counts absolute purchasing power — how much steak and potatoes you can buy. The new measure will count comparative purchasing power — how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people. …In other words, Obama will employ a statistical trick to ensure that “the poor will always be with you,” no matter how much better off they get in absolute terms. …The weird new poverty measure will produce very odd results. For example, if the real income of every single American were to magically triple over night, the new poverty measure would show there had been no drop in “poverty,” because the poverty income threshold would also triple. …Another paradox of the new poverty measure is that countries such as Bangladesh and Albania will have lower poverty rates than the United States, even though the actual living conditions in those countries are extremely bad.

Even moderates such as Robert Samuelson recognized that Obama’s agenda was absurd. Here is some of what he wrote.

…the new definition has strange consequences. Suppose that all Americans doubled their incomes tomorrow, and suppose that their spending on food, clothing, housing and utilities also doubled. That would seem to signify less poverty — but not by the new poverty measure. It wouldn’t decline, because the poverty threshold would go up as spending went up. Many Americans would find this weird: People get richer but “poverty” stays stuck.

To put this all in context, the left isn’t merely motivated by a desire to exaggerate and misstate poverty. That simply the means to an end.

What they want is more redistribution and higher tax rates. The OECD openly admitted that was the goal in another report. Much as all the fixation about inequality in America is simply a tool to advocate bigger government.

P.S. Germany is an example of a rational welfare state. While the public sector is far too large, the country has enjoyed occasional periods of genuine spending restraint and German politicians wisely avoided a Keynesian spending binge during the last recession.

P.P.S. Though Germany also has its share of crazy government activity, including a big green-energy boondoggle. And lots of goofy actions, such as ticketing a one-armed man for have a bicycle with only one handlebar brake, taxing homeowners today for a street that was built beginning in the 1930s, making streetwalkers pay a tax by using parking meters, and spending 30 times as much to enforce a tax as is collected.

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Because of his support for big government, I don’t like Donald Trump. Indeed, I have such disdain for him (as well as Hillary Clinton) that I’ve arranged to be out of the country when the election takes place.

The establishment media, by contrast, is excited about the election and many journalists are doing everything possible to aid the election of Hillary Clinton. In some cases, their bias leads to them to make silly pronouncements on public policy in hopes of undermining Trump. Which irks me since I’m then in the unwanted position of accidentally being on the same side as “The Donald.”

For instance, some of Trump’s private tax data was leaked to the New York Times, which breathlessly reported that he had a huge loss in 1995, and that he presumably used that “net operating loss” (NOL) to offset income in future years.

As I pointed out in this interview, Trump did nothing wrong based on the information we now have. Nothing morally wrong. Nothing legally wrong. Nothing economically wrong.

All that people really need to know is that NOLs exist in the tax code because businesses sometimes lose money (the worst thing that happens to individuals, by contrast, is that we get laid off and have zero income). With NOLs, companies basically get a version of “income averaging” so that they’re taxed on their long-run net income (i.e., total profits minus total losses).

In other words, this is not a controversy. Or it shouldn’t be.

But if you don’t believe me, let’s peruse the pages of The Flat Tax, which was written by Alvin Rabushka and Robert Hall at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and is considered the Bible for tax reformers.

Here’s what it says about business losses in Chapter 5.

Remember that self-employed persons fill out the business tax form just as a large corporation does. Business losses can be carried forward without limit to offset future profits (assuming your bank or rich relatives will keep lending you money). There is no such thing as a tax loss under the individual wage tax. You can’t reduce your compensation tax by generating business losses. Well-paid individuals who farm as a hobby or engage in other dubious sidelines to shelter their wages from the IRS had better enjoy their costly hobbies; the IRS will not give them any break under the flat tax.

And here’s the business postcard for the flat tax. As you can see, it’s a very simple system based on the common-sense notion that profits equal total receipts minus total expenses.

And it allows “carry-forward” of losses, which is just another term for a company being able to use NOLs in one year to offset profits in a subsequent year.

But it’s not just advocates of the flat tax how hold this view.

A news report for the Wall Street Journal notes that NOLs are very normal in the business world for the simple reason that companies sometimes lose money.

The tax treatment of losses, bound to become a subject of national debate, is a typically uncontroversial feature of the income-tax system. The government doesn’t pay net refunds when business owners lose money, but it lets taxpayers use those losses to smooth their tax payments as they make money. That reflects the fact that “the natural business cycle of a taxpayer may exceed 12 months,” according to a congressional report.

Megan McArdle of Bloomberg also comments on this make-believe controversy.

At issue is the “net operating loss,” an accounting term that means basically what it sounds like: When you net out your expenses against the money you took in, it turns out that you lost a bunch of money. However, in tax law, this has a special meaning, because these NOLs can be offset against money earned in other years. …this struck many people as a nefarious bit of chicanery. And to be fair, they were probably helped along in this belief by the New York Times description of it, which made it sound like some arcane loophole wedged into our tax code at the behest of the United Association of Rich People and Their Lobbyists. …Every tax or financial professional I have heard from about the New York Times piece found this characterization rather bizarre. The Times could have just as truthfully written that the provision was “particularly prized by America’s small businesses, farmers and authors,” many of whom depend on the NOL to ensure that they do not end up paying extraordinary marginal tax rates — possibly exceeding 100 percent — on income that may not fit itself neatly into the regular rotation of the earth around the sun.

I like how she zings the NYT for its biased treatment of the issue.

She also explains why the law allows NOLs and why businesses (including, presumably, Trump’s companies) would prefer to never be in a position to utilize them.

“If someone has a $20 million gain in one year and a $10 million loss in the second year, that person should be treated the same as someone who had $5 million in each of the two years,” says Alan Viard, a tax specialist at the American Enterprise Institute, who like all the other experts, seemed somewhat surprised that this was not obvious. “There are definitely tax provisions narrowly targeted to various industries that you could take issue with,” says Ron Kovacev, a tax partner at Steptoe and Johnson. “The NOL is not one of them.” …Losing $900 million dollars may save you $315 million or so on future or past taxes. But astute readers will have noticed that it is not actually smart financial strategy to lose $900 million in order to get out of paying $315 million to the IRS. Most of us would rather have the other $585 million than a tax bill of $0. …If Trump managed to pay no taxes for years, the most likely way he did this was by losing sums much vaster than the unpaid taxes. This is fair, it is right, it is good tax policy.

In other words, Trump used NOLs, but he would have greatly preferred to avoid the big $916 million loss in the first place.

Ryan Ellis, writing for Forbes, doesn’t suffer fools gladly on this issue.

…political reporters don’t know a damned thing about taxes. …That ignorance was on display in vivid colors over the weekend. We were told that this tricky NOL was some sort of “loophole” that only super-rich bad guys like Donald Trump got to use. We were told that this relieved him of having to pay taxes for 18 years, a laughably arbitrary, made up number that is the tautological output of simple arithmetic and wild assumptions. …It’s not difficult to see how political reporters got played like a fiddle here. Most of them have never actually run a business, much less learned about the tax rules surrounding them.

I especially like that Ryan also nails the NYT for bias, in this case because the reporters used made-up number to imply that he didn’t pay tax for almost two decades.

And Ryan also notes that NOLs are very common (and were even used in 2015 by Trump’s opponent).

…a net operating loss is very common in businesses. As Alan Cole of the Tax Foundation pointed out this morning, about 1 million taxpayers had an NOL in 1995. It results from business deductions exceeding business income in a particular year. …Trump’s not the only presidential candidate this year who once had a big loss on his taxes. In 2015, the Clintons realized a capital loss of nearly $700,000. That will be available in perpetuity to offset capital gains they might incur. Unlike an NOL, a capital loss can slowly be used to offset other income, albeit at a slow $3000 per year net of any other gains offset.

Now that we’ve established that there’s nothing remotely scandalous about NOLs, let’s see whether there are any lessons we can from this kerfuffle.

Let’s return to the Wall Street Journal story cited earlier in this column.

Real-estate developers can generate losses more easily than other taxpayers. …Unlike investors in other businesses, they can use those losses to offset other income. …Bryan Skarlatos, a tax lawyer at Kostelanetz & Fink LLP, said…“Trump appears to have a perfect storm of allowable real-estate losses that can be offset against streams of income from salaries from his companies and royalty fees from the use of his name,” Mr. Skarlatos said. “Most taxpayers who have large real-estate losses don’t have such large steady streams of other ordinary income; they just have losses that may turn into profits in the future when they sell the real estate.”

This doesn’t tell us whether Trump actually did use his NOLs to offset other income, though I’m guessing the answer is yes. And as I speculated in the above interview, I wonder whether the losses were real losses or paper losses.

And others have suggested that Trump actually lost other people’s money and he was able to use their losses to offset some of his income.

I have no idea if that’s even possible, just as I have no idea whether his losses were real.

But I do know that a flat tax would put an end to any possible gamesmanship since it is a cash-flow system (which means it is based on actual transactions that take place, not whether companies use currency).

In a world with a flat tax, Trump would be allowed to “carry forward” losses, but only if they are real. And as explained above, he wouldn’t be able to use those losses to offset income that gets reported on the individual postcard.

So as I argued in the interview, let’s rip up the corrupt and destructive internal revenue code and copy the simple and fair flat tax that is used by Hong Kong.

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Since I’m not a fan of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, I think that puts me in a good position to fairly assess whether the candidates are being dishonest.

And since several media outlets just produced their “fact-checks” on Donald Trump’s acceptance speech to the Republican convention, this is a perfect opportunity to see not only whether Trump was being dishonest but also whether media fact-checking is honest.

Here’s some of the “fact-checking” from NBC., with each indented example being followed by my two cents.

TRUMP CLAIM: Nearly four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58 percent of African-American youth are now not employed. Two million more Latinos are in poverty today than when the President took his oath of office less than eight years ago.

THE FACTS: Yes, 38 percent of African American children are living in poverty, according to Census data. But Trump isn’t correct that 58 percent of African American youth are unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the African American unemployment rate for those ages 16-19 is 28.4 percent (versus 16.9 percent for all youth that age). And Trump is misleading on his claim about Latinos living in poverty. In 2009, 12.3 million Latinos were living in poverty (with a rate of 25.3 percent). In 2014, the number jumped to 13 million — but the rate actually DECLINED to 23.6 percent.

Shame on NBC for pulling a bait-and-switch. Trump didn’t say that there is a 58-percent unemployment rate among black youth. He said that 58 percent of them aren’t employed.

What NBC doesn’t understand (or deliberately chooses to hide) is that the unemployment rate only counts those “actively” looking for work.

Trump was focusing on labor-force participation.

I’m sure he made that choice because it gave him a number that sounded bad, but there are very good reasons to focus on the share of people employed rather than the unemployment rate (though it’s worth noting that a 28.4 percent unemployment rate for young blacks is plenty scandalous, which raises the question of why Trump didn’t point out that African-Americans have been hurt by Obamanomics).

On the other hand, Trump may be factually wrong about the number of Latinos living in poverty, though you’ll notice below that National Public Radio basically said Trump is right on this issue.

TRUMP CLAIM: President Obama has almost doubled our national debt to more than 19 trillion dollars, and growing.

THE FACTS: He’s right. When Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, the public debt stood at $10.6 trillion. It is now $19.4 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Since I’ve already explained that George W. Bush deserves the overwhelming share of the blame for the budget numbers in Fiscal Year 2009 (which started on October 1, 2008), I think NBC actually missed a chance to criticize Trump for either being dishonest or for overstating the case against Obama.

Now let’s see what the New York Times wrote about Trump’s accuracy.

• “Nearly four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58 percent of African-American youth are not employed.”

Fact Check: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate of African Americans ages 16-19 in June was 31.2 percent (among whites of the same age, it was 14.1 percent).

The NYT does the same bait-and-switch as NBC, accusing Trump of saying A when he actually said B.

Is this because of dishonesty or sloppiness? Beats me, though I suspect the former.

• “Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000.”

Fact Check: This is mostly true. Median household income in 2000 was $57,724; in 2014, which has the most recent available data, it was $53,657.

My only comment is that I’m surprised the NYT didn’t go after Trump for using 2000 as his starting year, which obviously includes the stagnant big-government Bush years as well as the stagnant big-government Obama years.

• “Our manufacturing trade deficit has reached an all-time high – nearly $800 billion in a single year.”

Fact Check: The goods deficit — more imported goods, less exported goods — was $763 billion last year. But that includes agricultural products and raw materials like coal. Moreover, the total trade deficit last year was only $500 billion because the U.S. runs a trade surplus in services.

I think Trump is wrong about trade. Wildly wrong.

But the NYT is once again doing a bait-and-switch. Trump was talking about the trade is goods, not the overall trade balance.

They could have accurately accused him of selective use of statistics, or even misleading use of statistics. But his claim was accurate (depending whether you think $763 billion is “nearly” $800 billion).

• “President Obama has doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion, and growing.”

Fact Check: The national debt was $10.6 trillion on the day Obama took office. It was $19.2 trillion in April, so not quite double, but close.

As I explained above, this is an example of the media missing a chance to hit Trump, presumably because journalists don’t understand the budget process.

• “Forty-three million Americans are on food stamps.”

Fact Check: As of October, this figure was largely accurate, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

At least the New York Times didn’t try to spin this number by claiming food stamps are “stimulus.”

Speaking of spin, here’s the fact-checking from National Public Radio.

Nearly 4 in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58% of African-American youth are now not employed.

[Thirty-six percent of African-Americans under 18 were below the poverty line as of 2014, according to the Census Bureau. It’s not entirely clear what Trump means by “not employed,” which is not technically the same as “unemployed,” which counts people who aren’t working and are looking for work. However, the unemployment rate for black Americans ages 16 to 19 was 38.1 percent as of June. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

It’s actually very clear what Trump meant by “not employed.” As should be obvious, it means the share of the population that is not working.

But NPR presumably is pretending to  be stupid so they can do a bait-and-switch and focus on the unemployment rate.

2 million more Latinos are in poverty today than when President Obama took his oath of office less than eight years ago.

[That’s roughly true, by the latest data available. Around 11 million Hispanic-Americans were in poverty in 2008, compared with 13.1 million in 2014. The poverty rate makes more sense to compare, though — that has grown 0.4 points since 2008, but it has also declined lately, down by nearly 3 points since 2010. As for whether President Obama is responsible for this, we get to that below. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

The fact that NBC and NPR disagree appears to be based on whether one uses the total number of poor Latinos in 2008 or 2009.

Obama took his oath of office in early 2009, so it seems that NPR missed a chance to attack Trump.

Though without knowing how the Census Bureau measures the number of people in poverty in any given year (average for the entire year? the number as of January 1? July 1? December 31?), there’s no way to know whether Trump exaggerated or misspoke.

Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely.

[There’s a lot going on in this statistic. So here goes: Trump may be talking about the number of adults not in the labor force — that is, neither working nor looking for work (so it includes retirees and students, for example). That figure has climbed by 14 million since January 2009 (importantly, this isn’t people leaving the labor force; it’s just people not in it, period). But while labor force participation is relatively low, the labor force has still been growing — Trump’s 14 million figure might imply that it’s not. And that low labor force participation isn’t entirely about a tough economy — a lot of it is simple demographics. In 2014, the Congressional Budget Office found that half of a recent 3-point drop in the rate had been due to baby boomers retiring. The other half was economic factors. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

That’s a long-winded way of saying that Trump’s number was accurate, but they want to imply his number is inaccurate.

Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000. That’s sixteen years ago.

[That’s true, using median household income data, though he is not measuring from the start of the Obama administration as he is for the other stats here. If he measured from 2008, the drop was $1,656. Measuring from 2000 means measuring from the figure’s near-peak.

[A broader point about all of these economic statistics: A lot of them have been true, but the question is whether Obama is to blame. Higher poverty, for example, doesn’t appear to be Obama’s doing, as we wrote in a fact check last year. Moreover, many experts believe a president generally has only very limited ability to affect the economy. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

As suggested from my earlier analysis, I think it’s fair to point out that Trump was being somewhat arbitrary to use 2000 as his base year.

But it’s amusing to see NPR admit that the number is right but then engage in gymnastics in an effort to excuse the weak economic numbers during Obama’s tenure.

Excessive regulation is costing our country as much as $2 trillion a year, and we will end it very, very quickly.

[A few analyses have found that regulation costs around $2 trillion — one of the best-known, from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, estimated it at around $1.9 trillion this year. But as the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker has pointed out, in the past this figure has been characterized as a “back of the envelope” count, and that moreover, it doesn’t make sense to talk about costs without trying to count the benefits of regulation. — Danielle Kurtzleben]

This is another example of Trump making an accurate point, but NPR then blowing smoke in an attempt to imply he was being dodgy.

Last but not least, here are some assertions from Factcheck.org.

Trump claimed Clinton “plans a massive … tax increase,” but tax experts say 95 percent of taxpayers would see “little or no change” in their taxes under Clinton’s plan.

The fact that Clinton targets the top-5 percent doesn’t change the fact that she’s proposing a very large tax hike.

Trump claimed Clinton “illegally” stored emails on her private server while secretary of state, and deleted 33,000 to cover-up “her crime.” But the FBI cleared Clinton of criminal wrongdoing, and found no evidence of a cover-up.

This isn’t an economic issue, but I can’t resist making a correction.

The FBI Director explicitly pointed out that she repeatedly broke the law.

He simply chose not to recommend prosecution.

He said the “trade deficit in goods … is $800 billion last year alone.” It was nearly that, but it discounts the services the U.S. exports. The total trade deficit for goods and services is just over $500 billion.

As I noted above, Trump is wrong on trade, but the media shouldn’t do a bait-and-switch and criticize him for something he didn’t say.

By the way, the fact that media fact-checkers are largely wrong and dishonest is not a reason to be pro-Trump.

People can decide, if they want, to choose between the lesser of two evils.

My only message is that Trump is wrong on lots of issues, but that’s no excuse for hackery from self-styled fact-checkers.

P.S. Here’s my best Trump humor and here’s my best Hillary humor.

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When I wrote about the media, it’s generally to criticize sloppy and/or biased reporting

But maybe I need to have a new category that features misleading headlines.

For instance, here’s a report by Fox Business News that grabbed my attention because of the headline. The story is about the arrest of an IRS bureaucrat.

The main reason I was startled by the story is that it didn’t seem at all newsworthy.

To be blunt, isn’t it the job of IRS employees to use our Social Security numbers to steal our money? That’s certainly what goes through my mind as I fill out my tax return.

So why was this bureaucrat arrested?

Was it for being a slacker, I wondered? The federal government confiscates about $3.5 trillion of our money each year, after all, which means the 95,000 IRS bureaucrats generate an average haul of more than $35 million. By contrast, $326 thousand is a mere pittance.

But then I read the story and realized that the story was about a completely different kind of theft. It appears that the bureaucrat was getting in on the nationwide scam of filing false claims to get EIC handouts.

An IRS employee who worked in the agency’s St. Louis, MO., office pled guilty this week to charges of tax fraud. Demetria Brown netted $326,000 in a fraud in which she stole taxpayer identities and created fake tax returns to steal refunds. …The scheme lasted seven years from 2008 to 2001.

So my first instinct was correct. There isn’t really anything newsworthy in that story. After all, nobody should be surprised that income-redistribution programs such as the EIC attract a lot of fraud. Nobody should be surprised that an IRS bureaucrat decided to take other people’s money (above and beyond the excessive salary the rest of us paid for). And nobody should be surprised that the other bureaucrats at the IRS were so incompetent that the scam was successful for seven years.

By the way, this isn’t the first time a thieving IRS bureaucrat generated a story with a misleading headline.

Speaking of which, here’s our second example of a headline that creates a completely false impression. It’s from a story in the Toronto Star.

Needless to say, I was completely shocked at first. After all, France is the nation where the national sport is taxation. It’s the country where taxes are so onerous that even the European Commission warns about over-taxation. It’s the nation where thousands of people have to pay more than 100 percent of their income to the tax authorities. It’s the country where high taxes are equated to patriotism. And it’s the nation that pushes tax policies that are so radical than even the Obama Administration sometimes says no.

So is it true? Is France going to become a Libertopia? The Galt’s Gulch of Europe?

But then my bubble burst. It turns out the story is about a technical shift in how taxes are collected.

The government wants to shift to a system of automatic withholding, similar to that in Canada and much of the rest of the world. Employees in France currently pay taxes a year after their income is earned. Christian Eckert, France’s budget secretary, said Wednesday that the government will not double-tax workers in 2018, the year automatic withholding is to begin. So 2017 incomes could effectively be tax-free for regular salaries. Taxpayers won’t actually feel much of a difference though — they would still spend 2017 paying for the previous year.

Though this might create an interesting social science experiment.

Depending on how rigorously France decides to be with its definition of “regular salaries,” this might be an opportunity for long-suffering French taxpayers to figure out ways of delaying 2016 income until 2017 and accelerating 2018 income so it’s received in 2017.

This could be a particularly useful strategy for investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners, all of whom (if they’re like their American counterparts) presumably have some control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

But I suspect the French government already is contemplating ways of making sure that every possible penny is being taxed at the highest possible rate, so I won’t hold my breath.

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Back in 2010, I described the “Butterfield Effect,” which is a term used to mock clueless journalists for being blind to the real story.

A former reporter for the New York Times, Fox Butterfield, became a bit of a laughingstock in the 1990s for publishing a series of articles addressing the supposed quandary of how crime rates could be falling during periods when prison populations were expanding. A number of critics sarcastically explained that crimes rates were falling because bad guys were behind bars and invented the term “Butterfield Effect” to describe the failure of leftists to put 2 + 2 together.

Here are some of my favorite examples, all of which presumably are caused by some combination of media bias and economic ignorance.

  • A newspaper article that was so blind to the Laffer Curve that it actually included a passage saying, “receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased.”
  • Another article was entitled, “Few Places to Hide as Taxes Trend Higher Worldwide,” because the reporter apparently was clueless that tax havens were attacked precisely so governments could raise tax burdens.
  • In another example of laughable Laffer Curve ignorance, the Washington Post had a story about tax revenues dropping in Detroit “despite some of the highest tax rates in the state.”
  • Likewise, another news report had a surprised tone when reporting on the fully predictable news that rich people reported more taxable income when their tax rates were lower.

Now we have a new example for our collection.

Here are some passages from a very strange economics report in the New York Times.

There are some problems that not even $10 trillion can solve. That gargantuan sum of money is what central banks around the world have spent in recent years as they have tried to stimulate their economies and fight financial crises. …But it has not been able to do away with days like Monday, when fear again coursed through global financial markets.

I’m tempted to immediately ask why the reporter assumed any problem might be solved by having governments spend $10 trillion, but let’s instead ask a more specific question. Why is there unease in financial markets?

The story actually provides the answer, but the reporter apparently isn’t aware that debt is part of the problem instead of the solution.

Stifling debt loads, for instance, continue to weigh on governments around the world. …high borrowing…by…governments…is also bogging down the globally significant economies of Brazil, Turkey, Italy and China.

So if borrowing and spending doesn’t solve anything, is an easy-money policy the right approach?

…central banks like the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have printed trillions of dollars and euros… Central banks can make debt less expensive by pushing down interest rates.

The story once again sort of provides the answer about the efficacy of monetary easing and artificially low interest rates.

…they cannot slash debt levels… In fact, lower interest rates can persuade some borrowers to take on more debt. “Rather than just reflecting the current weakness, low rates may in part have contributed to it by fueling costly financial booms and busts,” the Bank for International Settlements, an organization whose members are the world’s central banks, wrote in a recent analysis of the global economy.

This is remarkable. The reporter seems puzzled that deficit spending and easy money don’t help produce growth, even though the story includes information on how such policies retard growth. It must take willful blindness not to make this connection.

Indeed, the story in the New York Times originally was entitled, “Trillions Spent, but Crises like Greece’s Persist.”

Wow, what an example of upside-down analysis. A better title would have been “Crises like Greece’s Persist Because Trillions Spent.”

The reporter/editor/headline writer definitely deserve the Fox Butterfield prize.

Here’s another example from the story that reveals this intellectual inconsistency.

Debt in China has soared since the financial crisis of 2008, in part the result of government stimulus efforts. Yet the Chinese economy is growing much more slowly than it was, say, 10 years ago.

Hmmm…, maybe the Chinese economy is growing slower because of the so-called stimulus schemes.

At some point one might think people would make the connection between economic stagnation and bad policy. But journalists seem remarkably impervious to insight.

The Economist has a story that also starts with the assumption that Keynesian policies are good. It doesn’t explicitly acknowledge the downsides of debt and easy money, but it implicitly shows the shortcomings of that approach because the story focuses on how governments have less “fiscal space” to engage in another 2008-style orgy of Keynesian monetary and fiscal policy

The analysis is misguided, but the accompanying chart is useful since it shows which nations are probably most vulnerable to a fiscal crisis.

If you’re at the top of the chart, because you have oil like Norway, or because you’re semi-sensible like South Korea, Australia, and Switzerland, that’s a good sign. But if you’re a nation like Japan, Italy, Greece, and Portugal, it’s probably just a matter of time before the chickens of excessive spending come home to roost.

P.S. Related to the Fox Butterfield effect, I’ve also suggested that there should be “some sort of “Wrong Way Corrigan” Award for people like Drum who inadvertently help the cause of economic liberty.”

P.P.S. And in the same spirit, I’ve proposed an “own-goal effect” for “accidentally helping the other side.”

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I generally focus on the profligate habits and abusive tactics of the federal government in Washington, but that doesn’t mean other levels of government are well behaved.

In a column for the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell outlines some of the reprehensible ways that state and local governments extract money from the citizenry.

Think of recent, infuriating stories on civil asset forfeiture, in which law enforcement seizes cash and other property from people who are never charged with crimes. Often the departments that do the seizing get to keep the proceeds, which leads to terrible incentives. …Onerous traffic fees and court fines — which have been blamed for long-simmering tensions in places like Ferguson, Mo. — often have a similarly mercenary motive.

She’s right to be infuriated.

Policies like asset forfeiture are disgusting ways of stealing money, particularly from the less fortunate. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the two first leaders of the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture office now say the practice should be ended because of rampant abuses.

But other revenue-raising policies also are objectionable.

…states and cities are also increasingly trying to monetize other behaviors seen as sinful or wayward, like marijuana use, strip club patronage, and gambling. Hence the explosion of state-sponsored lotteries, which prey on (mostly poor) people’s mathematical illiteracy… States have also been jockeying to expand casinos and other venues for legalized gambling, which voters seem to see as generating free money. …Then there are the expensive occupational licensure requirements for jobs that don’t seem to require state-level gatekeeping, like hair-braiding.

At this point, after reading various examples of greedy governments pillaging citizens, you may be thinking Ms. Rampell is a good libertarian.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Her anger is misdirected. Instead of holding politicians accountable, she blames voters for their unwillingness to acquiesce to tax hikes as a way of dealing with “widespread budget crunches.”

If the political toxicity of spending and tax hikes encourages obfuscation at the federal level, it has led to far more destructive and distortionary policies at the state and local levels. Voters hate taxes and will punish any politician who threatens to raise them (or, in many cases, does not accede to cutting them). But schools, roads, police forces, garbage collection, firefighters, jails and pensions still cost money, even when you cut them back as much as voters will tolerate. So instead of raising taxes, state and municipal governments have resorted to nickel-and-diming constituents through other kinds of piecemeal, non-tax revenue raisers, an outcome that is less transparent, and likely to worsen the economy, inequality and social injustice. …It’s time to take off the fiscal blinkers and start rewarding politicians who have the courage to advocate raising revenues the old-fashioned way: through taxes.

Reward a politician for raising taxes? Isn’t that like rewarding a mosquito for taking your blood?

But I shouldn’t be snarky. After all, maybe Ms. Rampell is right and that budgets for state and local governments have been cut as much as possible.

That being said, I noticed she didn’t include any figures on the trends in spending by state and local governments.

So I went to the Office of Management and Budget’s historical tables, specifically Table 15-2 which includes state and local government expenditures. And after adjusting the data for inflation, based on the composite deflator in Table 1-3, I put together a graph to determine whether there was a “budget crunch” for state and local government.

Um…not so much.

As you can see, state and local government spending has jumped dramatically, even when looking at inflation-adjusted dollars.

Indeed, the 164 percent increase in outlays since 1980 is four times greater than the 40 percent increase in the nation’s population over the same period.

In other words, the only “budget crunch” is the one being imposed on long-suffering taxpayers by state and local politicians.

Those officials are the folks who deserve Ms. Rampell’s ire.

P.S. Since this column corrects a big oversight in a Washington Post column, I suppose this would be a good time to point out other mistakes or misstatements I’ve noticed in that newspaper.

Such as the time it asserted in a news report that Germany is “fiscally conservative.”

Or the time the newspaper claimed a 0.158 percent cut would “slash” the federal budget.

And how about the time the Post said the tiny sequester would impose a “sledgehammer of budget cuts.”

P.P.S. On the other hand, the Washington Post has produced genuinely good editorials on school choice and postal service privatization, so it isn’t all bad.

P.P.P.S. And it presumably is better than the New York Times, which has a bigger list of preposterous stories (and I’m not even counting Paul Krugman’s mistakes, some of which can be seen here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

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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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Perhaps there is an occasional exception, but when someone in a public policy debate mentions a “race to the bottom,” they always seem to favor bigger government and punitive taxation.

Here are a few examples:

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a bureaucracy based in Paris, wants to rewrite international tax norms for business income because “failure to collaborate … could be damaging in terms of … a race to the bottom with respect to corporate income taxes.”

The International Monetary Fund also prefers cartels over competition. As the UK-based Guardian reported, “Instead of a race to the bottom where countries compete with each other to offer the lowest rate of corporate tax, it urges co-operation.”

Whether the issue is welfare reform of Medicaid block grants, opponents of federalism complain about decentralization “creating a ‘race to the bottom’ as states slashed funding on services for the poor.”

One of the cranks from the Occupy movement was given a platform by the OECD to complain that, “Tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions bring governments into a harmful race to the bottom.”

And Jeffrey Sachs, writing for the Financial Times, hyperventilated about “a runaway social crisis in many high-income countries. …governments are now in a race to the bottom with regard to corporate taxation”

As you can see, “race to the bottom” is a term that statists use when advocating policies to increase the size, scope, and power of government.

They certainly have the right choose their rhetoric, even though I wish (in the case of the OECD and IMF) that they weren’t being subsidized with my money to push their destructive agenda.

And it makes sense for statists to use this strategy. After all, a “race to the bottom” sounds like a bad thing.

So you can understand that I get irked when the establishment press, which is supposed to be neutral, adopts the left’s rhetoric. Consider this headline from a report in the Financial Times.

FT Race to Bottom Headline(1)

The article itself is not nearly as bad as the headline, so this may be the bias of an editor rather than the bias of a reporter.

Regardless, it sets the tone and obviously would lead an unwitting reader to think it is a good thing that nations aren’t lowering tax rates as much as they did in previous years.

My main point of today’s column is to complain about media bias, but since our example is about the supposed “race to the bottom,” this is also an opportunity to cite the work of the great Nobel Prize-winning economist, Gary Becker, who just passed away.

…competition among nations tends to produce a race to the top rather than to the bottom by limiting the ability of powerful and voracious groups and politicians in each nation to impose their will at the expense of the interests of the vast majority of their populations.

Amen. Tax competition encourages better policy by reducing the power of government.

With regards to bad policy, I want a race to the bottom. That’s what creates a race to the top for prosperity.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of tax and whether people should pay more or pay less, remember the “Buffett Rule” from the 2012 campaign?

President Obama said every rich person should cough up at least 30 percent of their income to the IRS.

And Warren Buffett volunteered to be Obama’s prop, even distorting his own tax data to facilitate the President’s class-warfare agenda.

Well, it seems that Mr. Buffett is a bit of a hypocrite. Read some of what the Wall Street Journal opined this morning.

…the Berkshire Hathaway CEO seems to have adapted his famous Buffett Rule of taxation when it applies to his own company. …it was fascinating to hear Mr. Buffett explain that his real tax rule is to pay as little as possible, both personally and at the corporate level. “I will not pay a dime more of individual taxes than I owe, and I won’t pay a dime more of corporate taxes than we owe. And that’s very simple,” Mr. Buffett told Fortune magazine in an interview last week. …The billionaire was even more explicit about his goal of reducing his company’s tax payments. “I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate,” he said. …Too bad Mr. Buffett didn’t share this rule with voters in 2012.

Tax minimization is both the legal right and the moral responsibility of every citizen.

Unless, of course, you think – ignoring both theory and evidence – that the crowd in Washington spends money more wisely than the private sector.

P.S. Mr. Buffett should be happy he’s an American rather than a Brit. If he lived in London, the supposedly conservative-led government would probably condemn him for legally keeping his taxes as low as possible.

P.P.S. As shown in this clever video, lots of other rich leftists share Mr. Buffett’s hypocrisy.

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What happens when you mix something good with something bad?

To be more specific, what happens when you have a big success story, like the spending cap in Switzerland that has dramatically slowed the growth of government, and then expect intelligent and coherent coverage by a government-run media outfit that presumably wants a bigger public sector?

Well, the answer is that you get a very muddled story.

Here’s some of what Swiss Info, which is part of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, wrote about that nation’s “debt brake.”

The mind-boggling…debt racked up by governments…has turned some heads towards Switzerland’s successful track record… Swiss voters approved a so-called ‘debt brake’ on federal public finances in 2001, which was put into operation in 2003. A decade later, the mountain of government debt – that soared to dangerous levels during the 1990s and early 2000s – has been reduced by CHF20 billion ($23 billion) from its 2005 peak. The ratio of debt to annual economic output (gross domestic product or GDP)…fell from 53% to 37% between 2005 and the end of 2012.

There’s nothing wrong with that passage. Indeed, you could almost say that Swiss Info was engaging in boosterism.

Moreover, the story points out that other nations have been going in the wrong direction while Switzerland was enjoying success.

…as Switzerland was chipping away at its mountain of debt, other countries were building theirs up. …Since the middle of 2007 public sector debt alone has soared 80% to $43 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

And the story even notes that other nations are beginning to copy Switzerland.

The Swiss debt brake is the perfect model for other countries to embrace… Germany applied its own version of the Swiss debt brake in 2009, followed by Spain and other European countries.  …“Switzerland came up with the blueprint for what I am sure will be the standard fiscal model of the future,” said Müller-Jentsch.

So why, then, do I think the story has a muddled message?

The answer is that there is no explanation of how the debt brake works and therefore no explanation of why it is a success.

A reader will have no idea, for instance, that the debt brake is actually a spending cap. Readers also will have no way of knowing that red ink has been controlled because the law properly focuses on limiting the growth of spending.

By the way, it wouldn’t have required much research for Swiss Info to include that relevant data. If you do a Google search for “Swiss debt brake,” the first item that appears is the column I wrote in 2012 for the Wall Street Journal.

In that piece, I explained that “Switzerland’s debt brake limits spending growth to average revenue increases over a multiyear period” and I added that “Before the law went into effect in 2003, government spending was expanding by an average of 4.3% per year. Since then it’s increased by only 2.6% annually.”

So why didn’t Swiss Info mention any of this very relevant information? Is it because it tilts to the left like other government-owned media outfits, and the journalists didn’t want to acknowledge that spending restraint is a successful fiscal policy?

I have no idea whether that’s the case, but there is a definite pattern. When I appear on PBS, the deck is usually stacked in favor of statism. Moreover, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve had similar experiences with government-run TV in France. And it goes without saying that the BBC in the United Kingdom also leans left (though at least they seem to believe in fair fights).

This video from Swiss Info is similarly vague. It’s a favorable portrayal, but people who watch the video won’t know how the debt brake works or why it has been successful.

P.S.  I don’t know the details about the German version of the debt brake, but it’s probably having some positive impact. The burden of government spending has not increased in that nation since 2009, at least when measured as a share of GDP. Though the Germans also weren’t as profligate as other nations (including the United States) in the years before they adopted a debt brake, so I’ll have to do more research to ascertain whether the German approach is as good as the Swiss approach.

P.P.S. In any event, the moral of the story is that good fiscal policy should be based on the Golden Rule of having government grow slower than the productive sector of the economy.

P.P.S. The Princess of the Levant and I continued our tour of the French Riviera. This photo is from Les Jardins Exotiques at Chateau d’Eze.

photo1(5)

As part of my travels, I’ve learned that the unluckiest people in the world are from Menton and Roquebrune in France. That’s because they were part of Monaco until 1860.

So now, instead of enjoying an income tax of zero under Monegasque rule, they are part of France’s wretched fiscal system.

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The establishment media is very biased, largely in that they decide to cover stories that will help the left.

But that’s such a dog-bites-man observation and it hardly merits any discussion.

I’d much rather make fun of the lapdog press, which is why I’ve shared some funny cartoons here and here.

But whoever put this poster together deserves an award for cleverness. It not only nails the press for bias, but also mocks them for being treated like dirt by the establishment.

Media Chumps

Though I still think this cartoon is funniest thing I’ve ever seen about media bias.

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Even though I appreciate clever humor, I’ve never shared any April Fool’s Day jokes.

Indeed, the only time I even referenced April Fool’s Day came on the following day, when I stated that America’s high corporate tax rate meant that every day was April Fool’s Day for American companies.

So it’s time for me to remedy my oversights by sharing four good examples of April Fool’s Day humor.

Our first contribution is from Senator Ted Cruz. He takes a jab at President Obama for the budget-busting Obamacare legislation.

Cruz April Fool's

Our next contribution comes from Americans for Tax Reform. They’ve issued a press release announcing that America’s leading crony capitalist will voluntarily subject himself to the higher taxes he advocates for other Americans.

As you can see from this video, don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

ATR Press Release

Then we have some mockery of Chris Matthews from the Media Research Center. There are a bunch of absurd, yet mostly believable, quotes.

Since I’m a fan of entitlement reform, here’s the one I’m highlighting.

MRC Chris Matthews

But the most implausible April Fool’s Day joke comes from CNS.

America’s Spender-in-Chief wants to be a role model of fiscal rectitude.

CNS April Fool's

Hey, maybe the President can give every teenager an unlimited credit card and tell them that more spending is good for the economy according to Keynesian economics. Though I’m not sure whether who that joke will hurt the most, the kids, the parents, the economy, or the nation?

Feel free to add any good April Fool’s Day humor in the comments section.

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Most of the questions I received were in the past couple of days and almost all of them dealt with gun control. But I think what I wrote earlier today is a good response to those queries.

So let’s deal with a question (actually two questions) from Minnesota, both of which are very simple and direct: “You deal with reporters a lot. Is the media biased? Or are people on the right just whining?”

First, I’m glad that someone else posed the question, because I wouldn’t be sure whether to ask “Are the media biased” or “Is the media biased.” I’m sure there’s a Grammar Nazi out there who knows the answer.

But back to the point of this post, I think the answer to both questions is yes. Conservatives and libertarians are whining, but that’s very understandable because the press does try to help the other side. And I have several examples.

But I want to emphasize a key point. Media bias very rarely involves dishonesty. Deception yes, but not inaccuracies. It’s almost always about story selection and what gets emphasized.

Even when there’s a clear-cut mistake, such as the jaw-dropping New York Times assertion about lower education spending, I suspect it’s the result of group-think rather than a deliberate decision to lie.

But there often are deliberate decisions to steer the debate in a certain direction, and I there’s a very good example in a new expose by the Daily Caller. They caught the folks at Bloomberg highlighting poll data that helped Obama and burying the results that might give aid and comfort to the GOP.

A poll conducted last week by an Iowa-based firm showed Americans are conflicted about whether or not to support raising tax rates on wealthy Americans to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff.” But that’s not how Bloomberg News, which commissioned the poll, reported the results Thursday. In a story headlined “Americans Back Obama Tax-Rate Boost Tied to Entitlements,” Bloomberg emphasized only that the poll showed most Americans support President Barack Obama’s insistence on increasing taxes for high-income earners. “A majority of Americans say President Barack Obama is right to demand that tax-rate increases for the highest earners be a precondition for a budget deal that cuts U.S. entitlement programs,” the story, written by reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis, began. …But in the same poll, American adults were asked “whether it is better to raise the top tax rate the wealthy pay, or to limit the amount people can claim in tax breaks, such as mortgage interest and charitable contributions, so they end up paying tax on a bigger share of their income.” Fifty-two percent responded that they preferred limited tax breaks to a tax-rate hike. Only 39 percent said they would rather see tax rates on the wealthy increase. Nine percent indicated they weren’t sure. …Bloomberg mentioned the second question in the story’s 20th paragraph, and gave no indication that the results suggested support for Boehner or House Republicans.

Kudos to the Daily Caller for catching the folks at Bloomberg with the hands in the cookie jar.

Notice, though, that there are (presumably) no falsehoods or fabrications in the Bloomberg report. The bias shows up in terms of what gets prominent coverage and what gets buried.

You’ll be happy to know, by the way, that “Bloomberg News editor and political reporter Jeanne Cummings conceded to The Daily Caller that the poll’s results are apparently contradictory.”

Gee, what a big concession to fairness.

P.S. You can see a couple of good cartoons about media bias in this post, and another good one at the bottom of this post.

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I don’t like to spend much time commenting on media bias. But every so often I find an example that cries out for attention.

In previous posts, I’ve discussed this slanted AP story on poverty, the Brian Ross Tea Party slur, this example of implicit bias by USA Today, and a Reuters report on job creation and so-called stimulus.

And I’ve also commented on a Washington Post story that turned a spending cut molehill into a “spending slash” mountain, a silly assertion in the New York Times that education spending has been reduced, and a Washington post claim that Germany is fiscally conservative.

The latest example comes from the Associated Press, which is mystified that crime is falling “despite” record firearm sales.

Gun-related violence has fallen steadily since 2006 in Virginia despite record firearm sales, according to a university professor’s analysis. Virginia Commonwealth University professor Thomas R. Baker compared state crime data from 2006 through 2011 with gun-dealer sales estimates obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Baker’s analysis shows the number of gun purchases soared 73 percent in the six-year period, while gun-related violent crimes fell 24 percent. Baker, who specializes in research methods and criminology theory, said the comparison seems to contradict the premise that more guns lead to more crime in Virginia.

Gee, there are more innocent people with guns and people are surprised that criminals are now more reluctant to commit crimes? I guess you have to be a reporter or an academic to be surprised by this common-sense observation.

John Lott, of course, wrote an entire book called More Guns, Less Crime. It’s very much worth reading. These posts will give you a flavor of his analysis:

Shifting back to the topic of media bias, let’s close this post by sharing some amusing cartoons, which can be enjoyed here, here, and here.

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On rare occasions, when I get really irked, I complain about media bias. Examples include this AP story on poverty, the Brian Ross Tea Party slur, this example of implicit bias by USA Today, and a Reuters report on job creation and so-called stimulus.

On other occasions, though, you stumble upon a news report or column that is ignorant beyond belief and you have to assume that the person has transcended ordinary bias and belongs in a special category.

The Washington Post seems to specialize in this kind of über-mistake. It was a Post reporter, after all, who wrote last year about a GOP plan to “slash” spending when timid GOPers were merely trying to trim 0.15 percent from the growth of federal spending. Not 15 percent. Not 1.5 percent. A mere $6 billion out of a bloated federal budget of $3,800,000,000,000.

And it was the Washington Post that decided to refer to a certain country as fiscally conservative. Was the reporter writing about Hong Kong or Singapore, the two jurisdictions with the smallest government and freest markets? Nope. Was the reporter referring to Switzerland, with its strong human rights policy on financial privacy, or Australia, with its personal retirement accounts? Nope, the reporter wrote about “fiscally conservative Germany.”

I guess the folks at the New York Times were feeling left out, because our latest example comes from that newspaper. Someone named Chrystia Freeland wrote an article about income inequality, making some decent points about cronyism, but also reflexively regurgitating talking points on class-warfare tax policy. What caught my eye, though, was this incredible assertion about government funding of education.

Educational attainment, which created the American middle class, is no longer rising. The super-elite lavishes unlimited resources on its children, while public schools are starved of funding. …elite education is increasingly available only to those already at the top. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama enrolled their daughters in an exclusive private school; I’ve done the same with mine.

So “public schools are starved of funding”? That’s a strong statement. It implies very deep reductions in the amount of money being diverted from taxpayers to the government schools. So where are the numbers?

You won’t be surprised to learn that Ms. Freeland doesn’t offer any evidence. And there’s a good reason for that. As show in this chart, government spending on education has skyrocketed in recent years.

This data isn’t adjusted for inflation or population, but you can peruse this amazing chart put together by one of Cato’s education experts to see that per-pupil spending has skyrocketed even after adjusting for inflation.

In other words, Ms. Freeland has no clue what she’s talking about. Or, to be fair, she made a giant-sized mistake, perhaps because she’s lives in a statist bubble and blindly assumes that left-wing politicians tell the truth.

Though I do want to giver her credit. She acknowledges that Obama and Clinton both decided to save their kids from a failed government-run school system, thus exposing some hypocrisy on the left. So it’s quite possible that she wanted to write a fair piece, but simply had a few major blind spots.

And it goes without saying that none of the editors or (non-existent?) fact checkers at the New York Times knew enough or cared enough to catch a huge blunder.

P.S. You can enjoy some cartoons about media bias here, here, and here, with the last one being my favorite.

P.P.S. Yes, I know Paul Krugman writes at the New York Times and sometimes seems to specialize in big mistakes. But he’s explicitly an opinion writer, so readers are forewarned to expect a certain point of view.

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Like beauty, media bias is in the eye of the beholder. But my honest left-leaning friends almost always acknowledge that the establishment press is one their side.

And if they don’t, I ask them to explain one-sided reports such as the AP story on poverty, the Brian Ross Tea Party slur, this implicit USA Today bias, or the Reuters report on job creation and so-called stimulus.

One of the most remarkable examples of bias in recent weeks has been the way some folks in the media have decided that just about any criticism of Obama is racist.

I addressed this argument back in 2009, looking at the kerfuffle over the “Joker” poster. I was glad I did, because the post got considerable attention at a point when the blog was new and I didn’t have many readers. But my main goal was to point out a very silly double standard.

Well, that double standard still exists, as you can see from this cartoon.

To be sure, MSNBC is an opinion network. As far as I know, they don’t pretend to do straight news. And so long as their honest about their ideological perspective, they can assert that GOPers are racist for being left-handed or being right-handed.

But this mentality also seems to exist in the supposedly neutral outlets of the establishment media. This cartoon does a good job of exposing that biased attitude, and it does so by mocking the lapdogs in the press.

Speaking of lapdogs, the second cartoon in this post gets across the same point.

For what it’s worth, I still think this post has the best cartoon on media bias.

P.S. Back in the early days of this blog, the other post that got a good bit of attention was this amusing (or tragic?) look at how Chinese students reacted with Tim “Turbotax” Geithner claimed that the White House supported a strong dollar.

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The first cartoon mocks the egregious tactic of pandering for votes by fomenting group divisions (using other people’s money, of course).

This one is also reminiscent of the Sandra Fluke issue. For more on that you can check out this great Reason video here, another funny cartoon here, and four more jokes here.

The second cartoon highlights the media’s coverage of the White House.

If you want real-world examples of media bias, click here, here, here, here and here.

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Although this line is attributed to many people, Wikiquote says that Gideon Tucker was the first to warn us that “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

This cartoon about Keynesian economics sort of makes the same point, but not with the same eloquence.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to focus on this grossly misleading headline in USA Today: “This Congress could be least productive since 1947.”

I don’t think it’s a case of media bias or inaccuracy, as we saw with the AP story on poverty, the Brian Ross Tea Party slur, or the Reuters report on job creation and so-called stimulus.

But it does blindly assume that it is productive to impose more laws. Was it productive to enact Obamacare? What about the faux stimulus? Or the Dodd-Frank bailout bill?

Wouldn’t the headline be more accurate if it read, “This Congress could be least destructive since 1947”?

Here are the relevant parts of the USA Today report.

Congress is on pace to make history with the least productive legislative year in the post World War II era. Just 61 bills have become law to date in 2012 out of 3,914 bills that have been introduced by lawmakers, or less than 2% of all proposed laws, according to a USA TODAY analysis of records since 1947 kept by the U.S. House Clerk’s office. In 2011, after Republicans took control of the U.S. House, Congress passed just 90 bills into law. The only other year in which Congress failed to pass at least 125 laws was 1995. …When Democrats controlled both chambers during the 111th Congress, 258 laws were enacted in 2010 and 125 in 2009, including President Obama’s health care law.

To be sure, not all legislation is bad. Now that the Supreme Court has failed in its job, Congress would have to enact a law to repeal Obamacare. Laws also would need to be changed to reform entitlements, or adopt a flat tax.

And some laws are benign, such as the enactment of Dairy Goat Awareness Week or naming a federal courthouse.

But I’m guessing that the vast majority of substantive laws are bad for freedom and result in less prosperity.

So let’s cross our fingers that future Congresses are even less productive (and therefore less destructive) than the current one.

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In a recent post about Brian Ross and the despicable behavior of ABC News, I included examples of what I categorized as deliberate and accidental media bias.

Here’s a good (or perhaps I should say bad) example of accidental bias, demonstrating how statist premises get incorporated into news reports.

Here’s how the Associated Press began a recent story about expected increases in the poverty rate.

The ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.

At first glance, the story seems fine. After all, I’ve already reported on the record number of people living in poverty under Obama’s watch.

But my complaint is about the latter part of the sentence, which blithely assumes that the so-called War on Poverty improved the lives of poor people.

Check out this chart, which I first posted back last September.

As you can see, the poverty rate in America was falling at a rapid clip, but progress stopped once the so-called War on Poverty began. And ever since, the poverty rate has stayed relatively constant, oscillating between 11 percent-15 percent.

To be sure, this chart doesn’t prove that Lyndon Johnson’s redistribution programs – such as Medicaid – halted the progress that was being made.

But surely these numbers show that the folks at the Associated Press were smoking crack when they wrote that the War on Poverty led to “gains.”

The left, incidentally, does have their spin on the story. They basically cherry pick two data points and make it seem as if the diminished rate of progress during that time period was because of the War on Poverty.

…poverty never fell below a 1973 low of 11.1 percent. That low point came after President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, launched in 1964, created Medicaid, Medicare and other social welfare programs. “I’m reluctant to say that we’ve gone back to where we were in the 1960s. The programs we enacted make a big difference…,” Edelman said.

That’s creative, but not convincing. What the data really show is that we were making good progress before LBJ imposed all his redistribution. But that rapid progress turned into slow progress and then basically came to a grinding halt within a couple of years. If that’s evidence of success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.

If anything, the data show the benefits of moving policy in the other direction. During the Reagan years, for instance, redistribution programs were constrained and the poverty rate began to fall. And during the Clinton years, welfare reform and other market-friendly policies led to another drop in the poverty rate.

But that’s a separate issue. The main point of this post is to expose a remarkably flawed and inaccurate bit of bias embedded in an Associated Press report. I suspect it was accidental bias, presumably from some reporter who lives in a bubble and automatically assumed that government programs are like fairy dust and have magical effects.

In reality, of course, government programs tend to make problems worse, and that’s definitely been the case with the supposed War on Poverty. We have record levels of food stamp dependency, with more and more people being trapped in lives of dependency.

But watch this video and decide for yourself.

P.S. With support from left-wing international bureaucracies such as the OECD,  the Obama White House wants to rig the poverty numbers to justify even more redistribution.

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I try not to spend too much time complaining about media bias, mostly because it doesn’t do any good.

But I have had a couple of posts about the topic, usually when there’s a hopelessly outrageous example on an issue I care about.

I’ve also had a few posts where I hit the media for mistakes that probably don’t represent overt bias, but instead reflect no knowledge of economics and/or a cloistered worldview.

Now we can add another example to the list. But it definitely belongs in the first group, because this is clear, blatant, and deliberate bias. I’m talking, of course, about ABC News and its reprehensible decision to smear a member of the Tea Party simply because he had the same name as the Colorado killer.

The obvious question to ask is why the reporter who did the smear, Brian Ross, hasn’t been fired. But not just Brian Ross. The axe should fall on anyone involved in the ideologically biased and legally reckless decision to speculate that a 52-year old Hispanic Tea Party member was responsible for the Colorado shooting

Here’s a good cartoon from the Hope-n-Change website, which has an amusing collection of anti-Obama cartoons. This does capture the mentality of the establishment media.

P.S. Here’s another cartoon about media bias that is definitely worth sharing.

P.P.S. I get irked whenever anybody refers to the big networks and newspapers as the “mainstream press.” That’s a horribly misguided term, considering how far left they are. The Tea Party is much closer to the mainstream than those clowns. That’s why they should be called the “establishment press.”

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The Social Security Board just released its Trustee’s Report, and it’s generated the usual hand wringing about the program’s long-term demise – much of which is perfectly appropriate for reasons I’ve already discussed.

But I’m usually unhappy about the press treatment of this issue.

Here’s some of what Stephen Ohlemacher and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar wrote for the Associated Press.

Social Security is rushing even faster toward insolvency, driven by retiring baby boomers, a weak economy and politicians’ reluctance to take painful action to fix the huge retirement and disability program. The trust funds that support Social Security will run dry in 2033 – three years earlier than previously projected – the government said Monday. …Unless Congress acts – and forcefully – payments to millions of Americans could be cut. …Potential options to reduce Social Security costs include raising the full retirement age, which already is being gradually increased to 67, reducing annual benefit increases and limiting benefits for wealthier Americans. Policymakers could also increase the amount of wages that are subject to Social Security taxes. Social Security is financed by a 6.2 percent tax on the first $110,100 in workers’ wages. It is paid by both employers and workers.

There are two flaws with what’s written in this story. One is a sin of commission, failing to expose the government’s dishonest accounting. The other is a sin of omission, analyzing the issue solely through the lens of government finances.

1. The sin of commission is that the story assumes the Social Security Trust Fund is real, when it is nothing but a collection of IOUs. When extra Social Security taxes are collected, the Treasury keeps those monies and spends them on other programs. In exchange, it engages in a bookkeeping exercise and credits the Social Security Trust Fund with some government bonds.

When one part of the government owes another part of the government some money, it is a wash. There’s no pile of assets to finance benefits. Those bonds simply represent a claim on future taxpayers.

This is why politicians can play dishonest games, such as approving a payroll tax holiday and declaring – by waving a magic wand – that this won’t affect the amount of IOUs in the Trust Fund. Just in case you think I’m joking, the AP story notes that “Congress temporarily reduced the tax on workers to 4.2 percent for 2011 and 2012, though the program’s finances are being made whole through increased government borrowing.”

Needless to say, that’s phoniness on top of phoniness. I guess the next step is for politicians to enact legislation adding several zeroes to all the existing IOUs. They can then declare that Social Security is solvent. Problem solved…other than the itsy-bitsy problem that there’s still no money.

2. The sin of omission in the story is that it focuses on the government’s finances and overlooks the implications for households. It is possible, at least on paper, to “save” Social Security by cutting benefits and raising taxes. But such “reforms” force people to pay more and get less – even though Social Security already is a very bad deal, particularly for younger workers.

My video on Social Security reform explains that personal retirement accounts are the only way to simultaneously deal with government finances and household finances in a constructive fashion.

Sadly, neither Obama nor Romney seem interested in this type of pro-growth reform.

By the way, I don’t mean to pick on the Associated Press. The report excerpted above simply happened to be the first one I read. You ‘ll find the same myopic analysis in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, to cite just two of many examples.

In closing, Social Security reform is actually the least important of the entitlement reforms. The long-term fiscal problems caused by Medicare and Medicaid are much larger. This three-part video series looks at the reforms that could address all three programs.

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