Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Give him credit. Most elected officials are content to tinker at the edges, but Governor Jindal of Louisiana actually wants to solve problems.

Look what he’s done, for instance, on fiscal policy.

He sought to abolish his state’s personal income tax, a step that would have dramatically boosted the states competitiveness.

That effort stalled, but he actually has been successful in curtailing state spending. He’s amassed one of the best records for frugality of all governors seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

And he’s now joined the list of presidential candidates seeking to rewrite the internal revenue code.

Since we’ve already reviewed the tax reform plans put forth by Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump, let’s do the same for the Louisiana governor.

Regular readers hopefully will recall that there are three big problems with the current tax code.

  1. High tax rates that undermine incentives for work and entrepreneurship.
  2. Double taxation of income that is saved and invested, reducing capital formation and wages.
  3. Loopholes that hinder economic efficiency by distorting the allocation of resources.

Let’s see whether Governor Jindal’s plan mitigates these problems.

On the issue of tax rates, the Louisiana Governor replaces the seven rates in the current system with three rates, starting at 2 percent. And instead of a top rate of 39.6 percent, the maximum penalty on work and entrepreneurship would be 25 percent.

He also abolishes the marriage penalty and gets rid of the alternative minimum tax (a perverse part of the code that forces people to calculate their taxes a second time, based on a different set of rules, with the IRS being the only beneficiary).

Regarding double taxation, one of the big problems in the current system is that corporate income is taxed at both the business level and the shareholder level. Most proposals seek to fix this problem by reducing or eliminating the tax burden on dividends on households. Governor Jindal, by contrast, would keep that tax and instead abolish America’s corporate income tax, which is probably the worst in the world.

In one fell swoop, that bold piece of reform also solves many other problems. You don’t have to worry about the tax bias of depreciation. You don’t have to worry about the anti-competitive policy of worldwide taxation. And you wipe out a bunch of corrupt tax preferences.

The plan also would create universal savings accounts that would be free of double taxation (a policy that has been very successful in Canada). Jindal’s plan also eliminates the death tax, though there would still be a capital gains tax.

Shifting to loopholes, the disappointing news is that the charitable deduction is untouched and the home mortgage interest deduction is merely trimmed. But the positive news is that the state and local tax deduction apparently goes away. And because the abolition of the corporate income tax automatically gets rid of the loophole for fringe benefits such as health insurance policies, the Governor also proposes to create an individual deduction for those costs.

The net effect of all these changes is that the tax code will be far less punitive.

The Tax Foundation is the go-to place for analysis on the economic and revenue impact of tax reform plans. Here’s what they predicted would happen to the economy if Jindal’s plan was adopted.

Now let’s end with two observations that may be more political than economic.

First, Jindal’s plan is a huge tax cut. About $10 trillion over 10 years according to the experts at the Tax Foundation. In this regard, Jindal is in the same league with Trump, who also proposed a very large tax cut. Paul, Rubio, and Bush, by contrast, have much more modest tax cuts.

This is a good thing, of course, assuming candidates have serious plans to restrain – and perhaps even cut – federal spending. I don’t lose sleep about whether there’s a balanced budget in year 5 or year 10, but a tax reform plan with a big tax cut isn’t serious unless there’s a concomitant proposal to shrink the burden of government spending.

Second, Jindal proposes to have all Americans pay some income tax. That’s the purpose of the 2-percent rate in his plan. His argument is quite explicit: “Every citizen needs to help row the boat, even if only a little.”

This is an appealing argument. While Mitt Romney was wrong in his assertion that 47 percent of the population was part of the dependent class, we don’t want too many people riding in the wagon and thinking government is “free.”

P.S. If you’re curious about Jindal’s position on other policy issues, he has a good track record on education. He implemented some good school choice reform, notwithstanding wretched and predictable opposition from the state’s teachers’ union.

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I’m pleasantly surprised by the tax plans proposed by Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump.

In varying ways, all these candidate have put forth relatively detailed proposals that address high tax rates, punitive double taxation, and distorting tax preferences.

But saying the right thing and doing the right thing are not the same. I just did an interview focused on Donald Trump’s tax proposal, and one of my first points was that candidates may come up with good plans, but those proposals are only worthwhile if the candidates are sincere and if they intend to do the heavy lifting necessary to push reform through Congress.

Today, though, I want to focus on another point, which I raised starting about the 0:55 mark of the interview.

For the plans to be credible, candidates also need to have concomitant proposals to restrain the growth of federal spending.

I don’t necessarily care whether they balance the budget, but I do think proposals to reform and lower taxes won’t have any chance of success unless there are also reasonable plans to gradually shrink government spending as a share of economic output.

As part of recent speeches in New Hampshire and Nevada, I shared my simple plan to impose enough spending restraint to balance the budget in less than 10 years.

But those speeches were based on politicians collecting all the revenue projected under current law.

By contrast, the GOP candidates are proposing to reduce tax burdens. On a static basis, the cuts are significant. According to the Tax Foundation, the 10-year savings for taxpayers would be $2.97 trillion with Rand Paul’s plan, $3.67 trillion under Jeb Bush’s plan, $4.14 trillion with Marco Rubio’s plan, all the way up to $11.98 trillion for Donald Trump’s plan.

Those sound like very large tax cuts (and Trump’s plan actually is a very large tax cut), but keep in mind that those are 10-year savings. And since the Congressional Budget Office is projecting that the federal government will collect $41.58 trillion over the next decade, the bottom line, as seen in this chart, is that all of the plans (other than Trump’s) would still allow the IRS to collect more than 90 percent of projected revenues.

Now let’s make the analysis more realistic by considering that tax cuts and tax reforms will generate faster growth, which will lead to more taxable income.

And the experts at the Tax Foundation made precisely those calculations based on their sophisticated model.

Here’s an updated chart showing 10-year revenue estimates based on “dynamic scoring.”

The Trump plan is an obvious outlier, but the proposals from Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio all would generate at least 96 percent of the revenues that are projected under current law.

Returning to the original point of this exercise, all we have to do is figure out what level of spending restraint is necessary to put the budget on a glide path to balance (remembering, of course, that the real goal should be to shrink the burden of spending relative to GDP).

But before answering this question, it’s important to understand that the aforementioned 10-year numbers are a bit misleading since we can’t see yearly changes. In the real world, pro-growth tax cuts presumably lose a lot of revenue when first enacted. But as the economy begins to respond (because of improved incentives for work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship), taxable income starts climbing.

Here’s an example from the Tax Foundation’s analysis of the Rubio plan. As you can see, the proposal leads to a lot more red ink when it’s first implemented. But as the economy starts growing faster and generating more income, there’s a growing amount of “revenue feedback.” And by the end of the 10-year period, the plan is actually projected to increase revenue compared to current law.

So does this mean some tax cuts are a “free lunch” and pay for themselves? Sound like a controversial proposition, but that’s exactly what happened with some of the tax rate reductions of the Reagan years.

To be sure, that doesn’t guarantee what will happen if any of the aforementioned tax plans are enacted. Moreover, one can quibble with the structure and specifications of the Tax Foundation’s model. Economists, after all, aren’t exactly famous for their forecasting prowess.

But none of this matters because the Tax Foundation isn’t in charge of making official revenue estimates. That’s the job of the Joint Committee on Taxation, and that bureaucracy largely relies on static scoring.

Which brings me back to today’s topic. The good tax reform plans of certain candidates need to be matched by credible plans to restrain the growth of federal spending.

Fortunately, that shouldn’t be that difficult. I explained last month that big tax cuts were possible with modest spending restraint. If spending grows by 2 percent instead of 3 percent, for instance, the 10-year savings would be about $1.4 trillion.

And since it’s good to reduce tax burdens and also good to restrain spending, it’s a win-win situation to combine those two policies. Sort of the fiscal equivalent of mixing peanut butter and chocolate in the famous commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

P.S. Returning to my interview embedded above, I suppose it’s worthwhile to emphasize a couple of other points.

P.P.S. Writing about the prospect of tax reform back in April, I warned that “…regardless of what happens with elections, I’m not overly optimistic about making progress.”

Today, I still think it’s an uphill battle. But if candidates begin to put forth good plans to restrain spending, the odds will improve.

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It’s been a challenge to assess Donald Trump’s fiscal policies since they’ve been an eclectic and evolving mix of good and bad soundbites.

Though I did like what he said about wanting to pay as little tax as possible because the government wastes so much of our money.

On the other hand, some of his comments about raising tax burdens on investors obviously rubbed me the wrong way.

But now “The Donald” has unveiled a real plan and we have plenty of details to assess. Here are some of the key provisions, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. We’ll start with the features that represent better tax policy and/or lead to lower tax burdens, such as somewhat lower statutory tax rates on households and a big reduction in the very high tax rate imposed on companies, as well as a slight reduction in the double tax on capital gains.

…no federal income tax would be levied against individuals earning less than $25,000 and married couples earning less than $50,000. The Trump campaign estimates that would reduce taxes to zero for 31 million households that currently pay at least some income tax. The highest individual income-tax rate would be 25%, compared with the current 39.6% rate. …Mr. Trump also would cut the top capital gains rate to 20%, from the current 23.8%. And he would eliminate the alternative minimum tax. …For businesses, Mr. Trump’s 15% rate is among the lowest that have been proposed so far.

But there are also features that would move tax policy in the wrong direction and/or raise revenue.

Most notably, Trump would scale back certain deductions as taxpayers earn more money. He also would increase the capital gains tax burden for partnerships that receive “carried interest.” And he would impose worldwide taxation on businesses.

To pay for the proposed tax benefits, the Trump plan would eliminate or reduce deductions and loopholes to high-income taxpayers, and would curb some deductions and other breaks for middle-class taxpayers by capping the level of individual deductions, a politically dicey proposition. Mr. Trump also would end the “carried interest” tax break, which allows many investment-fund managers to pay lower taxes on much of their compensation. …The Trump plan would raise revenues in at least a couple of significant ways. It would limit the value of individual deductions, with middle-class households keeping all or most of their deductions, higher-income taxpayers keeping around half of theirs, and the very wealthy losing a significant chunk of theirs. It also would wipe out many corporate deductions. …The plan also proposes capping the amount of interest payments that businesses can deduct now, a change phased in over a long period, and would impose a corporate tax on future foreign earnings of American multinationals.

Last but not least, there are parts of Trump’s plan that leave current policy unchanged.

Which could be characterized as “sins of omission” since many of these provisions in the tax code – such as double taxation, the tax bias against business investment, and tax preferences – should be altered.

…the candidate doesn’t propose to end taxation of individuals’ investment income… Mr. Trump would not…allow businesses to expense all their new equipment purchases, as some other Republicans do. …All taxpayers would keep their current deductions for mortgage-interest on their homes and charitable giving.

So what’s the net effect?

The answer depends on whether one hopes for perfect policy. The flat tax is the gold standard for genuine tax reform and Mr. Trump’s plan obviously falls short by that test.

But the perfect isn’t the enemy of the good. If we compare what he’s proposing to what we have now, the answer is easy. Trump’s plan is far better than the status quo.

Now that I’ve looked at the good and bad policies in Trump’s plan, I can’t resist closing with a political observation.  Notwithstanding his rivalry with Jeb Bush, it’s remarkable that Trump’s proposal is very similar to the plan already put forth by the former Florida Governor.

I’m not sure either candidate will like my interpretation, but I think it’s flattery. Both deserve plaudits for proposing to make the internal revenue code less onerous for the American economy.

P.S. Here’s what I wrote about the plans put forth by Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.

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Almost everyone in Washington is talking about last night’s GOP debate. I sent out a few tweets as I watched, and my main after-the-fact observation is that there was very little discussion about the ever-growing burden of government spending, which is America’s most pressing economic problem.

But I’m a contrarian, so while everyone else is talking about Republicans, I’m going to focus instead on the Democratic side and address the fiscal agenda of Bernie Sanders.

The Vermont Senator has a voting record is almost identical to the scores received by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton when they were in the Senate, so one might wonder whether there’s a rationale for his candidacy.

But Sanders is tapping into a desire on the part of many Democratic voters who want a candidate who openly and proudly advocates for big government.

And even if neither they nor Sanders actually know the technical distinction between socialism and traditional American-style leftism, there’s an appreciation for the fact that he actually says what he believes.

And he definitely believes that Washington knows best on the issue of spending money.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Laura Meckler reports on the price tag for Bernie Sanders’ agenda. It’s a big number, even by Washington standards.

Sen. Bernie Sanders…is proposing an array of new programs that would amount to the largest peacetime expansion of government in modern American history. …he backs at least $18 trillion in new spending over a decade… His agenda includes an estimated $15 trillion for a government-run health-care program that covers every American, plus large sums to rebuild roads and bridges, expand Social Security and make tuition free at public colleges. To pay for it, Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent running for the Democratic nomination, has so far detailed tax increases that could bring in as much as $6.5 trillion over 10 years, according to his staff. A campaign aide said additional tax proposals would be offered to offset the cost of some, and possibly all, of his health program.

Here’s the breakdown of all the new spending.

The WSJ story also measures the degree to which the Sanders agenda would expand the burden of government spending.

…his agenda articulates the goals of many liberals and is exerting a leftward pressure on the party’s 2016 field. The Sanders program amounts to increasing total federal spending by about one-third—to a projected $68 trillion or so over 10 years. For many years, government spending has equaled about 20% of gross domestic product annually; his proposals would increase that to about 30% in their first year. As a share of the economy, that would represent a bigger increase in government spending than the New Deal or Great Society.

That’s good information, but keep in mind that the burden of government spending already is projected to climb substantially even without all of the new boondoggles being proposed by Sen. Sanders.

So what the Vermont Senator is really advocating is racing even faster in the direction of Greece.

And that means pressure for additional tax hikes. So the bad ideas being proposed by Sanders will just be the beginning.

If the big spenders succeed, we can also expect proposals for an energy tax, a value-added tax, a wealth tax, and a financial transactions tax.

Just in case you think I’m being unfair to Sanders, let’s now cite someone who argues that the $18 trillion figure is needlessly scary because all that’s really happening is that certain activities will be shifted from the private sector to government.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the Washington Post by Paul Waldman.

…while Sanders does want to spend significant amounts of money, almost all of it is on things we’re already paying for; he just wants to change how we pay for them. In some ways it’s by spreading out a cost currently borne by a limited number of people to all taxpayers. …we shouldn’t treat his proposals as though they’re going to cost us $18 trillion on top of what we’re already paying.

He cites a hypothetical example.

If I told you I could cut your health insurance premiums by $1,000 and increase your taxes by $1,000, you wouldn’t have lost $1,000. You’d be in the same place you are now.

In other words, notwithstanding my title, Waldman is saying that Sanders won’t be expensive to your wallet because he’s simply putting the government in charge of paying for certain things that are now privately financed.

That’s actually a (somewhat) fair point, but it overlooks two big issues.

First, there will a lot more redistribution and class-warfare taxation if Sen. Sanders is able to impose his agenda. So the people who are being fleeced today by the IRS will be subject to additional demands to cough up money.

In other words, Sen. Sanders’ plan is a threat to the wallets of the people who actually pay for government.

Second, bigger government will have negative effects even if we limit the analysis to folks who theoretically are held harmless (like Waldman’s example of a person paying $1,000 more in taxes but paying $1,000 less in health premiums).

That’s because people’s willingness to work is driven in part by a desire to purchase certain things, such as health care and/or health insurance. As illustrated by this cartoon parody, that incentive would be eroded if Sanders’ agenda is adopted and folks can get freebies from Uncle Sam.

And people’s willingness to work also is impacted by marginal tax rates. So they’ll have less incentive to engage in productive behavior because of all the tax hikes needed to finance the new spending proposed by Sanders.

Moreover, keep in mind that governments don’t use resources as efficiently as the private sector. That means more waste and less growth.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Even research from establishment organizations like the European Central Bank find that smaller governments are more efficient. And the normally left-leaning World Bank even acknowledged that the evidence is strong about bigger governments harming growth.

Let’s close with a political cartoon that showed up in my inbox. I have no idea if the cartoonist is trying to make fun of Republicans or make fun of Bernie Sanders, but he cleverly shows that Sanders embraces a term that others consider a slur.

If you want some political humor that is clearly anti-Sanders, you can click here for two funny images.

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Is “supply-side economics” a bad thing or good thing?

It depends on what one means by the phrase. If it means that all tax cuts are self financing or that low tax burdens are the sole key to prosperity, then critics are right about it being a form of “voodoo economics.” See this Kevin Williamson column for more details.

But if the term is simply a shorthand way of saying that low marginal tax rates on productive behavior are a good thing because of better incentives for work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship (not to mention tax compliance and good government), then supply-side economics should be non-controversial. See this piece by Alan Reynolds for more details.

As you might expect, folks on the left prefer the first definition of supply-side economics and they are instinctively hostile to big tax cuts. Especially during an election cycle.

Here’s the basic argument, from an article by John Cassidy in The New Yorker. He focuses his ire on Governor Bush, but his comments could just as easily been directed against other GOP candidates.

Here’s his basic premise.

…the Republican Party is heading on economic policy: back to the old-time religion of tax cuts. …Jeb Bush, the G.O.P. establishment’s standard-bearer, announced, as the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, a plan to cut federal income-tax rates across the board. …wouldn’t this plan inflate the deficit, which President Obama and Congress have just spent five years trying to reduce, and also amount to another enormous handout to the one per cent? Not in the make-believe world of “voodoo economics”.

Mr. Cassidy is particularly incensed by the notion that some people believe tax cuts “pay for themselves” by generating sufficiently large amounts of additional taxable income.

The “voodoo” accusation arose from the claim that, because the policies would encourage people to work harder and businesses to invest more, a lot more taxable income would be produced, and the reductions in tax rates wouldn’t lead to a commensurate reduction in the amount of tax revenues that the government collected. Indeed, some early voodoo economists, such as Arthur Laffer, claimed that there wouldn’t be any drop in revenues. By 1988…more than half a decade of gaping budget deficits had discredited the most extreme and foolhardy version of voodoo economics.

For what it’s worth, there are several problems with the above passages.

First, while some GOPers did make exaggerated claims about the power of tax cuts, the Reagan White House never claimed the tax cuts would by self financing and instead made the very reasonable argument that lower tax rates would improve economic performance.

Second, the lower tax rates on upper-income taxpayers did lead to huge increases in taxable income and big increases in tax revenue, so there are a few examples where lower tax rates “pay for themselves.”

Third, the 1980-1982 double-dip recession was the main reason for higher deficits. Once the Reagan tax cuts were implemented, red ink began to shrink and even the Congressional Budget Office projected deficits would continue falling if Reagan’s policies were left on auto-pilot.

But let’s argue about the present rather than the past. Citing the work of some pro-Bush economists, Cassidy argues that tax cuts won’t generate as much growth as Governor Bush says he will deliver.

…the four conservative luminaries whom the Bush campaign rounded up to advise him…said that Bush’s tax plan would raise the growth rate of the economy by 0.5 per cent a year, and that the regulatory changes he is proposing would add another 0.3 per cent to the annual growth rate. But because the annual growth rate over the past five years has been 2.2 per cent, that gets us to three per cent growth, not the four per cent that Bush is promising to deliver.

Since economists are lousy forecasters, I won’t pretend to know how much additional growth the Bush economic plan would produce. But I’ll be the first to admit that Cassidy has found a gap between Bush’s rhetoric and the numbers produced by his advisers.

But does that mean big tax cuts are implausible and unrealistic?

Cassidy certainly would like readers to conclude that Bush’s plan doesn’t add up.

…the economists’ paper…makes the familiar argument that tax cuts, by stimulating growth, will lead to “revenue feedbacks.” On this basis, which is known on Capitol Hill as “dynamic scoring,” the economists reduce the estimated fiscal cost of the Bush tax cuts by two-thirds. But even a third of $3.6 trillion is a lot of red ink.

Though he (sort of) acknowledges that the Bush folks have a counter-argument.

So are the economists actually contradicting Bush and saying that his plan would expand the deficit? Not quite. …they write, “The remaining revenue loss would be offset by reasonable, incremental feedback effects from the tax and regulatory reforms, meaningful spending restraint across the federal budget…” Of course, Bush hasn’t said yet where he would cut spending

I don’t know if Governor Bush intends to produce a detailed list of ways to restrain government spending. Nor do I know whether he would follow through if he got elected (his record in Florida can be interpreted in different ways).

But I know that it’s actually very simple to have large tax cuts along with concomitant spending restraint.

And Bush’s economic advisers also understand. Take a look at these passages from their report. Citing a version of my Golden Rule, they point out that huge savings are possible simply by reducing how fast the government’s budget expands every year.

Budget discipline and economic prosperity go hand in hand. …federal spending restraint is essential to maximizing economic growth. …the Governor’s economic reforms require strong fiscal discipline on the federal budget ledger’s spending side. …the required budget goal can be achieved by reducing the growth in federal outlays from its current upward trajectory by one percentage point per year. From 2017 to 2025, federal expenditures are projected to increase at an annual rate of 4.2 percent. Limiting the increase to 3.2 percent will produce over $400 billion in budget savings in 2025 and $1.4 trillion in savings between 2017 and 2025.

Needless to say, we should have big – and immediate – reductions in government spending.

And if government is allowed to expand, it would be better if the budget grew at the rate of inflation (2 percent) rather than 3.2 percent.

That being said, it’s remarkable that even a little bit of spending restraint is capable of generating huge savings over a 10-year period. And those savings make big tax cuts very plausible. Even for the folks who myopically fixate on red ink when they should be worried about the overall burden of government spending.

So the real issue is not whether sizable tax cuts are plausible. It’s whether advocates of good tax policy are willing to impose accompanying discipline on the spending side of the fiscal ledger.

That means a President like Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton rather than George Bush or Barack Obama.

Interestingly, Jeb Bush admits spending grew too fast while his brother was in office. Check out what he said toward the end of this interview.

For what it’s worth, I think the Bush White House was just as guilty as the GOP Congress, if not more, but that’s another fight over what happened in the past.

What really matters is that if Jeb Bush (or any other candidate for President) is serious about charting a different path and putting government on a diet, then big tax cuts are very realistic.

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There are eight current or former governors running for the Republican nomination in 2016. In alphabetical order, we have Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker.

So who’s the best of that bunch? That’s a subjective judgement, of course, but one valuable piece of information is to see what grades they earned from the Cato Institute’s Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors. This superb publication provides a comprehensive analysis of the overall fiscal policy record of each state executive. The latest version is here, and that will give you the scores of current governors, as well as the score of Rick Perry (who just left office).

For former governors, you can dig through the Cato website to find earlier versions of the Report Card. Or if you want to be lazy and don’t care about the nuances, this post by my colleague Nicole Kaeding is a nice summary.

For today, though, let’s focus solely on their spending records.

Here’s some of what Nicole wrote in a separate article on the fiscal record of the governors.

A governor who promises to cut federal spending is more believable if he held spending in check when he was governor. …Using data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, I wanted to see just how much each governor increased spending on an annual basis. …The graph below shows the average annual increase in spending during each candidate’s time as governor. Jeb Bush has the highest spending with a 6.08 percent average annual increase. John Kasich is second. He increased spending by 4.95 percent. Rick Perry finishes third with an average annual increase of 4.01 percent. Bobby Jindal shows the most fiscal restraint. He cut spending by 1.76 percent a year on average.

And here’s her chart.

But Nicole then explains that you don’t get a full picture when you simply look at spending increases.

…this comparison is somewhat biased because population grows at different rates in the states. …The graph below presents annual average spending growth on a per capita basis. The spending increases of Jeb Bush and Rick Perry now look much smaller. Jeb Bush’s increases are still above the average, but Rick Perry falls below it. …This further confirms Kasich’s lack of fiscal restraint. Bobby Jindal actually cut spending on a per capita basis by an average of 2.41 percent a year.

And here’s her second graph.

The bottom line is that Bush and Kasich don’t look very good, whereas Bobby Jindal is easily the most frugal.

But don’t make a decision just on this basis. We have some more data to investigate.

John Stossel and Maxim Lott analyze the same group of governors (other than Pataki) in a column for Fox News.

Every Republican presidential candidate has promised to keep government spending in check — but which ones actually have a track record of doing that? …The “Stossel” show crunched the numbers on that — adjusting them for inflation and population growth. …Bush cut spending the most. Though he’s criticized by conservatives as “too moderate,” the former Florida governor cut spending by an average of 1.39 percent each year he was in office.

On this basis, Bush goes from last place to first place!

Stossel and Lott then re-slice the numbers based on how frugal governors were compared to their counterparts in other states.

But the above chart isn’t perfect for comparing candidates, because governors serve terms in very different time periods. Some served during recessions, when most states must cut spending. We adjusted for that by doing another comparison — how much each governor spent compared with other governors in office at that same time… Bush was indeed the biggest budget cutter. During his tenure, Florida’s spending shrunk by 3.6 percentage points more than the average. He cut spending by 1.39 percent per year in his state, while other states increased theirs by 2.3 percent during that same period. Kasich was also conservative by this measure, cutting spending 1.76 percentage points more than other states did. But both charts show spending grew by the most under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee.

This next chart show Bush and Kasich doing better than their political rivals.

So how can Bush and Kasich do better in one set of calculations but do the worst in another set of calculations?!?

Does adjusting for inflation really make that much difference? Or perhaps they used different measures of spending, with one including outlays financed by federal transfers?

Nicole walks through some of these methodological challenges in a post reviewing Kasich’s record (i.e., how much should he be blamed for expanding Medicaid/Obamacare in Ohio when all the initial cost is shifted to federal taxpayers?).

For what it’s worth, Jindal probably comes in first place if you average all the above numbers. And he also has tried to abolish Louisiana’s income tax, so that’s another point in his favor.

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If you took a poll of Washington’s richest and most powerful people, you would probably find more than 90 percent of them support tax increases.

At first glance, this doesn’t make sense. Why would a group of upper-income people want tax hikes? Are they self-loathing and guilt-ridden?

Perhaps, but there’s a better explanation. These are people whose lavish lifestyles are because of big government. And when government gets even bigger, they have more chances to obtain unearned wealth.

So it makes perfect sense for them to support tax increases. They may send an additional 5 percent of their income to the IRS, but their income will be 20 percent higher because of all the money sloshing around Washington.

Once you understand their motivations, it’s easy to understand why Washington insiders are so supportive of “bipartisan budget deals” and why they salivate so much for a value-added tax.

And you can also see why they’re so anxious to get a President who hasn’t signed the no-tax-hike pledge.

Which may explain why Jeremy Scott, the editor of Tax Notes, is upset that Governor Jeb Bush is now expressing opposition to tax hikes. Here’s some of what he wrote for Forbes, starting with a description of Bush’s original open-to-tax-hikes position.

Before announcing his candidacy, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he wouldn’t agree to Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes, and he hinted that he would, in fact, trade $10 of spending cuts for $1 of tax increases. …he went out of his way earlier this year to talk about his flexibility on fiscal policy.

That part of Mr. Scott’s column is accurate.

I also noticed Gov. Bush’s stance at the time, albeit it caused me to worry because politicians will never impose meaningful spending restraint and reform entitlements if they think tax increases are feasible.

Anyhow, Scott then points out that Gov. Bush seems to have moved to an anti-tax hike position.

At an August 2 conference…, Bush flatly said no when asked if he would accept tax hikes as part of a budget deal. “We’ve raised taxes. What we need to be doing is entitlement reform, curbing the growth of spending, creating a high-growth scenario,” the former governor elaborated.

I’m not sure if what Bush said puts him firmly in the no-tax-hike camp, but it’s certainly true that his rhetoric has moved in the right direction.

Which doesn’t make Scott happy. And here’s where he veers from accurate reporting to sloppy and bizarre assertions.

If Jeb Bush needs to shore up his right flank on taxes, it reveals that the GOP has veered far from its positional flexibility that made the 1980s so successful for tax reform efforts. President Reagan was willing to accept tax increases as part of grand bargains on taxes and fiscal policy. …the GOP…won’t control 60 seats in the upper chamber. That means they will need at least some Democratic support. And no party will want to undertake tax reform without at least some bipartisanship. A Jeb Bush victory in 2016 seemed like the best-case scenario for people who want some kind of broad tax reform. His retreat on a willingness to compromise is a major blow to those hopes.

Wow, that’s a lot of misleading statements in a short excerpt.

Let’s correct some of Mr. Scott’s mistakes.

  1. The 1986 Tax Reform Act was revenue neutral. In other words, it was designed so that the government didn’t get any additional money. Scott is completely wrong to assert that a willingness to raise taxes is a prerequisite for tax reform.
  2. Scott is correct that Reagan acquiesced to some tax increases, but he conveniently fails to share the data showing that “grand bargains” with tax hikes invariably failed to produce good results. The only deal that led to a balanced budget was the 1997 agreement that lowered taxes.
  3. It is incorrect to assert that 60 votes are needed in the Senate to enact major fiscal legislation. Yes, the filibuster still exists, but budget rules explicitly allow “reconciliation” bills that don’t require supermajority support.
  4. A pro-tax hike candidate is only the “best-case scenario” if one thinks that voters should be tricked by using tax reform as a Trojan Horse for tax increases.

The final point is the one that really matters. To reiterate what I stated earlier, the Washington establishment is unified in its support of higher taxes for the obvious reason that more money flowing to Washington is good news for politicians, bureaucrats, consultants, lobbyists, cronyists, special interests, contractors, and other insiders.

Simply stated, a bigger government means they get richer (and they’ve been quite successful, as you can see from this depressing map).

Here’s the bottom line.

Using the term “grand bargain” also doesn’t change the fact that higher taxes will lead to weaker growth, more spending, and larger deficits.

And (mis)using the term “tax reform” doesn’t change the fact that higher taxes will lead to weaker growth, more spending, and larger deficits.

Nor does a reference to “flexibility” change the fact that higher taxes will lead to weaker growth, more spending, and larger deficits.

I could continue, but you get the point.

P.S. Let’s close by shifting to another topic. Many people express disbelief when I argue that politicians such as Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders are not socialists.

In my defense, I’m making a technical point about the economic definition of socialism, which means government ownership of the means of production. And the vast majority of American leftists don’t seem overly interested in having government steel companies, government banks, or government farms. They prefer instead to allow private ownership combined with high levels of taxation and regulation.

If you want to see a real socialist, look on the other side of the Atlantic, where the Labour Party appears poised to elect a complete loon as its leader. The U.K.-based Independent reports that Jeremy Corbyn favors “common ownership” of industry.

…the man who has set alight the leadership race says the party needs to reinstate a clear commitment to public ownership of industry in a move which would reverse one of the defining moments in Labour’s history. …Corbyn reveals that he wants to reinstate Clause Four, the hugely symbolic commitment to socialism scrapped under Tony Blair 20 years ago, in its original wording or a similar phrase that weds the Labour Party to public ownership of industry. …The old Clause Four stated that the party was committed to “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”

I can’t think of any Democrats who admit to favoring similar language for their party platform.

Though I should acknowledge that we have a government-run rail company in America, a government-run postal service, a government-run retirement system, and a government-run air traffic control system, all of which would be better in the private sector. And I’m sure Obama, Sanders, and many other politicians would be opposed to privatization.

So maybe the most accurate way of describing leftist politicians in America is to say that they’re redistributionists with a side order of socialism.

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