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Posts Tagged ‘Politicians’

I periodically will make use of “most depressing” in the title of a column when sharing bad news.

And new data from the Census Bureau definitely qualifies as bad news. It confirms what I’ve written about how the Washington region has become the richest part of America.

But the D.C. area didn’t become wealthy by producing value. Instead, it’s rolling in money because of overpaid bureaucrats, fat-cat lobbyists, sleazy politicians, beltway-bandit contractors, and other grifters who have figured out how to hitch a ride on the federal gravy train.

Anyhow, here’s a tweet with the bad news (at least if you’re a serf elsewhere in America who is paying taxes to keep Washington fat and happy).

Most of my friends who work for the federal government privately will admit that they are very fortunate.

But when I run into someone who denies that bureaucrats get above-market compensation, I simply share this data from the Labor Department. That usually shuts them up.

By the way, there’s strong evidence from the European Central Bank that overpaid bureaucrats have a negative impact on macroeconomic performance.

And the World Bank has produced a study showing how bureaucrats manipulate the political process.

…public sector workers are not just simply implementers of policies designed by the politicians in charge of supervising them — so called agents and principals, respectively. Public sector workers can have the power to influence whether politicians are elected, thereby influencing whether policies to improve service delivery are adopted and how they are implemented, if at all. This has implications for the quality of public services: if the main purpose of the relationship between politicians and public servants is not to deliver quality public services, but rather to share rents accruing from public office, then service delivery outcomes are likely to be poor.

Here’s my video explaining how bureaucrats are overpaid. It was filmed in 2010, so many of the numbers are now out-dated, but the arguments are just as strong today as they were back then.

But keep in mind that the bureaucracy is only one piece of the puzzle.

The D.C. metropolitan region is unjustly rich because of everyone else who has figured out how to divert taxpayer money into their pockets. That includes disgusting examples of Democrat sleaze and Republican sleaze.

Simply stated, Washington is riddled with rampant corruption as insiders get rich at our expense. No wonder many of them object to my license plate!

P.S. Here’s some data comparing the size and cost of bureaucracy in various nations.

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I’m a big fan of tax competition because politicians (i.e., stationary bandits) are far more likely to control their greed (i.e., keep tax burdens reasonable) if they know taxpayers have the ability to shift economic activity to lower-tax jurisdictions.

For all intents and purposes, tax competition helps offset the natural tendency (caused by “public choice“) of politicians to create “goldfish government” by over-taxing and over-spending.

In other words, tax competition forces politicians to adopt better policy even though would prefer to adopt worse policy.

I’ve shared many real-world examples of tax competition. Today, let’s augment that collection with a story from Indonesia.

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto will slash corporate and personal income taxes if he comes to power, part of a plan to compete with low-tax neighbors like Singapore in luring more investment to Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. …While he didn’t disclose possible tax rates, he said the aim is to lower them “on par with Singapore.” Indonesia currently has a top personal income tax rate of 30 percent and a corporate tax rate of 25 percent. Singapore has a corporate tax rate of 17 percent and a top individual rate of 22 percent for residents. “Our nominal tax rate is too high,” Wibowo said in an interview in Jakarta on Wednesday. Tax reform is needed to attract more foreign business as well as to encourage compliance, he said.

I have no idea if this candidate is sincere. I have no idea if he has a chance to win.

But I like how he embraces lower tax rates to compete with low-tax competitors in the region, such as Singapore.

The story, from Bloomberg, does include a chart that cries out for some corrective analysis.

There are two things to understand.

First, there are vast differences between Singapore and Indonesia. Singapore is ranked #2 by Economic Freedom of the World while Indonesia is only #65. And the reasons for the vast gap is that Indonesia gets very low scores for rule of law, regulation, and trade.

Moreover, while their scores for fiscal policy are similar, Singapore’s good score is a conscious choice whereas Indonesia has a small public sector because the government is too corrupt and incompetent to collect much money.

But this brings us to the second point. Tax collections are low in part because people don’t comply.

Indonesia has one of the region’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratios of about 11 percent and a poor record of tax compliance.

But that’s a reason to lower tax rates.

The bottom line is that I hope Indonesia adopts pro-growth tax reform but there are much bigger problems to solve.

P.S. Since I’ve been comparing Indonesia to Singapore, look at how the OECD and Oxfam made fools of themselves when comparing Singapore to other nations.

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Time for some political humor.

Though some may consider this tragedy rather than comedy since the theme will be the potential contest between Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren in 2020.

But some people are happy about the possible match-up. For instance, both likely candidates are a gold mine for satirists.

We’ll start with Elizabeth “Soul Woman” Warren, She claimed Indian ancestry to give herself an advantage when seeking university jobs, but this produced enough mockery that she felt compelled to get a DNA test.

Which led to some brutal mockery (h/t: Powerline blog). Here’s the one that got the most laughs from me.

Maybe Nike can replace Colin Kaepernick?

Here’s another amusing image.

Let’s look at three additional choices.

If a tiny share of DNA is enough to claim Indian status, then the AFLAC duck gets to be a bald eagle.

And if Warren picks Crazy Bernie as her running mate, they already have a campaign poster.

But before we get to 2020, we have this year’s midterm elections. Trump is dragging down GOP candidates, but Democrats also have some liabilities.

Now let’s turn our attention to Trump.

A friend sent me a great site for Putin/Trump memes. Here’s the one that earned the biggest chuckle from me.

And this one also is amusingly brutal.

And I can’t resist sharing this option as well.

For those of you who like Trump because of his “recreational choices,” you may want to jump ship to someone with better qualifications.

Last but not least, here’s a look back at our dismal choice from 2016.

 

Reminds me of the meme about libertarians.

Given the choice between Trump and Hillary, it is kind of amazing that Gary Johnson did so poorly. Though the Onion has a theory about why that happened.

Makes you wonder how they will bungle (what presumably will be) an equally good opportunity in 2020.

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Back in 2016, I had an informal “politician of the year” contest. The three candidates were:

  • The Prime Minister of Malaysia, who took normal cronyist corruption and added several zeroes to the total.
  • The president of the Philippines, because he announced to voters that none of his mistresses would be on the public payroll.
  • The follicly-challenged President of France, Francois Hollande, who squandered more than $100,000 per year on a hair stylist.

As a proud American, I was chagrined that no Americans made the list.

So I’m delighted to report that our first contestant in the 2018 race is from the United States.

Courtesy of the Washingtonian, let’s look at a very strong candidate for this year’s award.

Parking laws in the District can seem like a mess, but as any DC driver can note, confusion is not an excuse for breaking the law—unless you’re DC Councilmember Jack Evans. Evans, whose free-form approach to parking regulations has been well-documented, was spotted in his car Saturday morning, idling in a no-parking zone in Georgetown… Evans is hardly the first member of the DC Council to be criticized or spotlighted for flouting the District’s traffic and parking rules. …But of all of these, Evans is the council’s best-known parking-law skeptic. As it turns out, he has a point: In 2002, the DC Council granted itself the same legal immunity that members of Congress enjoy in the District, allowing them to park in bus zones, crosswalks, and residential permit zones when on official city business.

But the mere fact that there are special rules for insiders isn’t what qualifies Mr. Evans for an award.

If that was the case, the folks on Capitol Hill would deserve an award for wanting exemptions from the Obamacare law that they imposed on the country. Or we could give a giant prize to the bureaucrats at the OECD, who get tax-exempt salaries while pushing higher taxes on the rest of us.

What makes Mr. Evans worthy is the remarkable logic that he used when confronted by a lowly voter.

Kmetz says he first noticed Evans’ car parked at the corner of 32nd and Q streets, Northwest, while on his way to the post office. …Kmetz approaching Evans and asking the councilmember if he knows he is parking illegally. “Can I ask you something? Why do you care?” Evans responds. “Because if I parked illegally, I would get a ticket,” Kmetz says. “If I park illegally, that opens up a spot for you,” Evans says.

That’s some impressive sophistry.

But I’m wondering if Mr. Evans missed a golden opportunity. Instead of being snarky, he should have expressed fake empathy and told Mr. Kmetz that he would “solve” the problem the by submitting a bill to provide chauffeur-driven limousines to all members of the DC Council.

And he could even demonstrate his “frugality” by buying second-hand limos from the federal government’s massive fleet.

P.S. Since I’m mocking politicians, here’s an amusing joke that a reader shared with me.

Though I would amend the joke by removing “bipartisan.” As we saw with TARP, or the budget deal earlier this year, it’s almost always bad news for taxpayers when the Evil Party and Stupid Party agree on something.

P.P.S. Here’s a good link if you enjoy anti-politician jokes.

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In my collection of libertarian humor, my favorite item is probably the video mocking us for reflexive anti-statism. It presumably was put together by a statist, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s very clever satire.

Though if you prefer favorable humor, I very much enjoy Libertarian Jesus (featured here and here) because he makes a very serious point about the absurdity of equating government coercion with compassion (a lesson Pope Francis needs to understand).

Today, I have an updated version of the collage I shared back in 2012. Here’s how the world see libertarians.

Since I’ve taken my kids shooting (and raised them to have sound views), the top-left item has a good bit of truth. And there are some libertine libertarians, so conservative and parents aren’t being totally unfair in their stereotypes.

I very much approve the lower-left frame because it mocks (I think) the totalitarians who want more government – even if they think of themselves as anarchists. Libertarian wonks understand what true anarchism is.

Let’s close with a generic political joke.

You start with a cage containing four monkeys, and inside the cage you hang a banana on a string, and then you place a set of stairs under the banana.

Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.

You then spray ALL the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt. As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray ALL the monkeys with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, ALL of the other monkeys beat the crap out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment – with enthusiasm – because he is now part of the “team.”

Then, replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, followed by the fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Now, the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs.

Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water.

Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the Banana.

Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been!

This is how today’s House and Senate operates, and this Is why
from time to time, ALL of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME!

DISCLAIMER: This is meant as no disrespect to monkeys.

P.S. If you enjoy generic political humor, I have several additional examples here.

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When I write about politicians in their role as politicians (rather than their policy prescriptions), it’s usually to mock them for venality, corruption, immorality, sleaze, incompetence, or hypocrisy.

Today, I want to plead with them to exercise self-restraint. Some folks may have seen the stories about President Trump using up the Secret Service budget because of all his vacation trips to his various resorts.

There’s nothing illegal about his actions, but I wish Trump (as well as his predecessors and successors) would sometimes pause and think about whether they’re squandering other people’s money.

But since it’s highly unrealistic to expect politicians to have empathy for taxpayers, maybe we need some reforms. Here’s some of what I wrote in a column for Fortune.

…the Secret Service is way over budget because of President Donald Trump’s frequent vacations… It’s easy to zing Trump for being a hypocrite, as he previously complained about the cost and duration of President Barack Obama’s vacations. …But let’s look at this issue from the perspective of taxpayers. Every time the president hops on Air Force One for a weekend getaway at one of his resorts, that involves a major shift of manpower by the Secret Service, along with major outlays for travel, lodging, and other costs. …it’s time to consider some sensible reforms that could limit the agency’s burden on taxpayers.

I came up with a couple of ideas, which could be implemented by attaching conditions to the spending bills that fund the White House and the Secret Service.

…Congress should put an annual limit on expenditures for unofficial White House travel. …the average American gets 10 paid vacation days a year. …Presidents are not average, of course, so they should get taxpayer-financed protection for around four weeks of vacation. Any more than that would still have a Secret Service detail, but the president would have to pick up the incremental expenses… There should also be similar restrictions for the presidential family, especially with regard to overseas business trips. If Trump’s children feel it is necessary to go overseas to sign a deal, then the company at the very least should pay half the cost for Secret Service protection.

In other words, if the President wants to go to one of his golf clubs every weekend, he would always have full protection from the Secret Service, but he would pay for the added expense. It could come from his own pocket, or from his campaign coffers.

I don’t care, so long as there’s a limit on how much taxpayer are hit.

But what if Trump takes more official trips? Wouldn’t that require more money for the Secret Service?

That’s possible, but I also suggested in the article another way to save money that wouldn’t sacrifice security.

Another reasonable reform would be to…protect taxpayers by limiting the number of other administration staffers that go on junkets. …cut in half the number of political advisors, speechwriters, and flunkies that have turned White House trips into costly boondoggles.

The bottom line is that presidential junkets shouldn’t turn into an excuse to have hundreds of non-Secret Service staffers tagging along at high cost.

And I stressed in the article that I’m not picking on Trump.

They would be permanent reforms to address the systemic problem of wasteful spending and administrative bloat in Washington. This problem existed before the current president. And in the absence of reform, it will be an issue with future administrations.

To emphasize this point, here are some excerpts from a 2014 article from the U.K.-based Guardian (h/t: Mark Steyn) about the excesses of one of Obama’s European trips.

President Barack Obama’s visit on Tuesday will strain the city like never before with €10m ($10.4m, £8.4m) of Belgian money being spent to cover his 24 hours in the country. The president will arrive on Tuesday night with a 900-strong entourage, including 45 vehicles and three cargo planes.

The article didn’t say how many of the 900 staffers were Secret Service agents, but I’m guessing maybe 200 or 300. Heck, even if it was 400 or 500, why did taxpayers have to pick up the tab for another 400 or 500 (or more) staffers who weren’t there for security-related reasons?

Yes, presidents need to have staff to conduct business, but we live in a world with advanced communications technology.

I’m a former congressional staffer, and I’ve had lots of friends work for various administrations, so I understand that a nice overseas trip can be fun for people who otherwise toil in obscurity.

But as the risk of being a curmudgeon, I don’t want taxpayers to foot the bill. I want there to be a mentality of frugality. And if politicians won’t adopt that mentality (and they almost certainly won’t, as shown by this example), then it would be nice to attach some strings to limit their excesses.

P.S. I grouse about goodies for American politicians, but I’d probably be even more upset if I was a taxpayer in Europe.

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In 2016, there were three very worthy candidates for the highly coveted Politician of the Year Award.

  • In May, I gave the prize to Rodrigo Duterte, the newly elected president of the Philippines, because he assured voters that none of his mistresses were on the public payroll. Gee, what a swell guy!
  • In July, I had to reopen the balloting since it was revealed that the follicly-challenged President of France, Francois Hollande, was squandering more than $100,000 per year on a hair stylist.
  • And that same month, the Prime Minister of Malaysia became a strong contestant when it was revealed that hundreds of millions of dollars were mysteriously diverted from the government’s cronyist investment fund.

Well, we now have an early contestant for the 2017 prize.  And it’s going to be a group award. Romania’s Social Democrats have just voted to legalize abuse of power. I’m not joking, Here are some excerpts from a report by the EU Observer.

Romania’s left-wing government scrapped some anti-corruption rules, in a move likely to allow leading politicians to avoid criminal persecution. The cabinet of social democrat Sorin Grindeanu…passed an emergency measure to decriminalise some offences. Abuse of power will no longer be prosecuted if it is deemed to have caused financial damage of less than €44,000. …Changes will enter into force within 10 days, without need for approval by the parliament.

Wow. This is so absurd that I wonder whether there’s more to the story.

For instance, I wrote two years ago about the nation of Georgia getting rid of an entire division of the national police force, which sounds like a move to enable crime. But there was a story behind the story. It turns out that lawmakers in Tbilisi got rid of highway cops because the force was pervasively corrupt, basically doing nothing other than extorting money from motorists. So eliminating the force was actually an anti-corruption step.

In the case of Romania, though, I haven’t found any sign of mitigating circumstances. It appears that politicians simply want get-out-of-jail-free cards.

For what it’s worth, many Romanians are not happy that their politicians have made stealing legal.

Some 10,000 people gathered outside the government’s headquarters, calling the government “thieves” and “traitors” and imploring the cabinet to resign. …critics say the measure will clear several leading politicians who are under investigation or on trial in abuse-of-power cases. …Romania’s centre-right president Klaus Iohannis said he would refuse to swear in anyone with a criminal record. On Tuesday, Iohannis announced “a day of mourning for the rule of law”. “The government ignored the dream of millions of Romanians who want live in a country free of corruption,” he posted on Facebook. Laura Codruta Kovesi, the chief prosecutor at Romania’s National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA), said she had only seen a draft of the bill, but its contents would render the fight against corruption in Romania “irrelevant”.

By the way, political corruption appears to be a non-trivial problem.

According to Transparency International, Romania is ranked #57 in the Corruption Perceptions Index, which is the weakest score of any EU nation other than Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria.

But let’s close with some good news. I’ve written (over and over and over again) that big government facilitates corruption. Simply stated, politicians in places like Romania (or the United States!) wouldn’t have favors to sell if the government didn’t have favors to dispense.

So if you want less corruption, shrink the size of the public sector.

And Romania is moving in the right direction. After decades of horrific communist tyranny, it became a transition economy when the Soviet Union collapsed. Ever since, like many other countries in the region, Romania has been trying to shed the shackles of statism so that a market economy can function.

There’s been some success. Romania is one of the many flat tax nations in Eastern Europe. And it ranks #22 in Economic Freedom of the World, which is rather impressive (though it only ranks #61 for the size-of-government category, so there’s obviously room for improvement).

The continuing challenge, not only in Romania, but all over the world, is convincing politicians to reduce the size and scope of government when that means they’ll have less opportunity to line their own pockets. Sort of like asking foxes to guard henhouses.

And it’s not just the fault of politicians. What can really sabotage a nation is when a sufficiently large share of the overall population decides that it’s morally acceptable to loot and mooch. In that case, politicians are simply a reflection of societal rot.

It’s much easier to restore physical capital than it is to restore cultural capital.

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