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When writing about Bernie Sanders back in 2016, I put together a flowchart to identify different strains of statism.

In part, I wanted to show that genuine socialists, with their advocacy of government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls, aren’t really the same as other leftists (and I’ve made the unconventional claim that “Crazy Bernie” isn’t a true socialist – at least based on his policy positions).

I’m not the only one to notice that not all leftists have the same approach.

Writing for the Washington Post about the battle between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination, Elizabeth Bruenig opines on the difference between two strains of statism.

What is the difference between Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)? …much of it comes down to the matter of regulation vs. revolution. For Warren, the solution to our economic ills already exists in well-regulated capitalism. “I believe in markets,”… Warren believes today’s socioeconomic ills are the result of high concentrations of power and wealth that can be resolved with certain regulatory tools and interventions. …for Sanders, those solutions come up short. ,,,Instead, he aims to transfer power over several key segments of life to the people — by creating a set of universal economic rights that not only entitle citizens to particular benefits (such as medical care, education and child care) but also give those citizens a say in how those sectors are governed: in short, democratic socialism.

They both sound like “stationary bandits” to me, but there are some nuances.

Elizabeth Warren basically favors private ownership but she explicitly wants politicians and bureaucrats to have the power to dictate business decisions.

Thomas Sowell points out this economic philosophy is fascism. But I’ll be more polite and refer to it as corporatism.

By contrast, as a self-declared socialist, Bernie Sanders should be in favor of nationalizing companies.

But, as reported by the New York Times, he actually sees himself as another Franklin Roosevelt.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont offered a vigorous defense of the democratic socialism that has defined his five decades in political life on Wednesday… Mr. Sanders cast himself at times in direct competition with President Trump, contrasting his own collectivist views against what he called the “corporate socialism” practiced by the president and the Republican Party. And Mr. Sanders, 77, declared that his version of socialism was a political winner, having lifted Mr. Roosevelt to victory four times… Mr. Sanders…presented his vision of democratic socialism not as a set of extreme principles but as a pathway to “economic rights,”… He argued that his ideology is embodied by longstanding popular programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, that Republicans have labeled socialist. …Mr. Sanders called for a “21st-century economic Bill of Rights,” which he said would address health care, wages, education, affordable housing, the environment and retirement.

I’ll make two points.

First, FDR may have won four times, but he was an awful President. His policies deepened and lengthened the Great Depression.

And his proposed “economic bill of rights” would have made a bad situation even worse. He basically said everyone has a right to lots of freebies without ever stopping to think about the impact such policies would have on incentives to lead productive lives.

For all intents and purposes, we wanted to turn this cartoon into reality.

Second, I don’t actually think there’s a significant difference between Sanders and Warren. Yes, their rhetoric is different, but they both want higher taxes, more regulation, additional spending, and more intervention.

Heck, if you examine their vote ratings from the Club for Growth or the National Taxpayers Union, it’s hard to find any real difference.

At the risk of making a radical understatement, neither of them is a friend to taxpayers.

But thinking about this issue has motivated me to modify my statism flowchart. Here’s the new version.

As you can see, I created a much-needed distinction between totalitarian statism and democratic statism.

And while Warren is on the corporatist side and Sanders is on the socialist side, I also put both of them relatively close to the Venezuela-style track of “incoherent statism.” In other words, I think they’re guided by vote buying rather than a cohesive set of principles.

P.S. I wrote last week about the emerging “anti-socialist” wing of the Democratic Party. Presumably they would be the “rational leftists” on the flowchart.

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Since I’m a policy economist, I rarely comment on political matters.

But I am worried that the Democratic Party is veering too far to the left. Bernie Sanders, an out-of-the-closet socialist is leading the way, followed closely by other leading Democrats with hard-left policy agendas, such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

But not every 2020 candidate is hopping on the socialism bandwagon. Some of the major candidates, such as Joe Biden, have avoided saying anything favorable about socialism.

And two of the candidates have explicitly rejected the poisonous ideology.

Interestingly, they’re both from Colorado.

CNN reports that the former governor, John Hickenlooper. received a very hostile reception when he rejected socialism.

The welcoming cheers 2020 presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper received when he first graced the stage at California’s Democratic Convention quickly crumbled into boos and jeers after he rejected socialism as the answer to Democrats’ problems. “If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer,” Hickenlooper said to a crowd of more than 4,500 delegates and observers on Saturday.Before he could get finish his next sentence, a chorus of boos…overtook his speech, lasting for more than 30 seconds. …The former Colorado governor is one of 15 Democratic candidates to address the San Francisco crowd, which is known to be home to some of the party’s furthest left progressives.

And, as reported by the Hill, one of the state’s U.S. Senators, Michael Bennet, also condemned socialism for being contrary to American ideals.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a 2020 presidential hopeful, said on Sunday that his dismissal of socialism as a solution for America is not out of the mainstream for the Democratic Party. “I don’t think I’m out of step,” Bennet told ABC’s “This Week.” “I think we have 230 years of being the longest-lived democracy on the planet. That’s something we need to preserve.” …Bennett made the comments in response to a viral moment in which his fellow Democratic presidential candidate, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, was booed at the California Democratic Convention over the weekend …Bennet…is on the moderate end of the Democratic primary field.

I hope Joe Biden and other Democrats join Hickenlooper and Bennet.

In my fantasy world, the next Democratic president will turn out to be another Bill Clinton who presides (either intentionally or unintentionally) over an expansion of economic freedom in the United States.

But at the very least, I don’t want the country to take a big step toward statism, which was the mistake the United Kingdom made under Clement Attlee after World War II.

P.S. I realize many Democrats today don’t really have a firm understanding of socialism. Many of them don’t realize it implies government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls. Heck, some of them probably think the market-oriented Nordic welfare states (which have similar levels of economic freedom as the United States) are socialist. Regardless, they definitely want government to get bigger at a faster rate, so I’m hoping they’re not the majority of the Democratic Party.

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Just last month, I wrote about Argentina’s grim economic outlook and criticized the supposed right-of-center President, Mauricio Macri, for failing to deliver any meaningful economic liberalization.

And reform is desperately needed.

According to Economic Freedom of the World, Argentina is one of the most statist nations on the planet (the only nations that do worse are Libya and Venezuela).

For all intents and purposes, Argentina is suffering from decades of bad policy.

Argentina is a sobering example of how statist policies can turn a rich nation into a poor nation. …After World War II, Argentina was one of the world’s 10-richest nations. But then Juan Peron took power and initiated Argentina’s slide toward big government, which eroded the nation’s competitiveness and hampered growth.

To put it mildly, the country is an economic tragedy and it should be a lesson for all countries about the importance of good policy.

Yet why am I writing again about Argentina after last month’s analysis?

Because a story in the New York Times discusses the nation’s upcoming presidential election and manages to paint a grotesquely inaccurate picture of what’s been happening in the country. We’re supposed to believe that Macri has been a hard-charging free-market fundamentalist.

Since taking office more than three years ago, President Mauricio Macri has broken with the budget-busting populism that has dominated Argentina for much of the past century, embracing the grim arithmetic of economic orthodoxy. Mr. Macri has slashed subsidies… “It’s a neoliberal government…It’s a government that does not favor the people.” …tribulations playing out under the disintegrating roofs of the poor are a predictable dimension of Mr. Macri’s turn away from left-wing populism. He vowed to shrink Argentina’s monumental deficits by diminishing the largess of the state. …Mr. Macri’s…presidency was supposed to offer an escape from the wreckage of profligate spending.

And we’re also supposed to believe that his failed free-market policies are paving the way for a return to left-wing populism.

As the October election approaches, Mr. Macri is contending with the growing prospect of a challenge from the president he succeeded, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner… Her return would resonate as a rebuke of his market-oriented reforms while potentially yanking Argentina back to its accustomed preserve: left-wing populism.

For what it’s worth, I suspect that Kirchner will win the next election. So that part of the article is correct.

But the part about free-market reforms is laughably inaccurate.

You don’t have to believe me. Let’s look at the Argentinian data from Economic Freedom of the World. Maybe I’m being dogmatic, but I hardly think a tiny improvement in 2015 followed by backsliding in 2016 qualifies as “diminishing the largess of the state.”

The bottom line is that Macri should have been bold and made sweeping changes once he was in charge. Like Chile after Allende’s Marxist regime was deposed.

Those reforms doubtlessly would have triggered protests. But if they became law, they would have produced tangible results.

Instead, Macri chose a timid approach and the economy has remained stagnant. Yet because many voters think he adopted reforms, they blame him and they blame free markets.

The net result is that they will probably vote for Kirchner, which presumably will mean even more statism for the long-suffering people of Argentina.

P.S. What’s happening in Argentina is not an isolated example. It’s very common for supposed right-wing politicians to choose bad policies, which then paves the way for left-wing election victories. Look at how Bush’s statist policies created the conditions for an Obama victory. Or how Sarkozy set the stage for Hollande in France. Or how Theresa May’s fecklessness in the United Kingdom may lead to a win for Jeremy Corbyn.

P.P.S. I’m tempted to also warn that Trump’s risky protectionism may lead to a victory for Crazy Bernie or some other Democrat in 2020. But Trump does have some good policies as well, so it’s hard to know whether the economy will be a net plus or net minus in the election.

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During his final days in office, I gave a thumbs-down assessment of Barack Obama’s presidency. Simply stated, he increased the burden of government during his tenure, and that led to anemic economic numbers.

Now the economy seems to be doing a bit better, which is leading my friends on the left to make two impossible-to-reconcile claims.

  1. It is doing better, but Obama deserves credit.
  2. The economy isn’t doing better.

I’ve previously explained that the first argument doesn’t hold water. Today, let’s address the second argument.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, former CEO Andy Puzder claims that Trump easily wins over Obama when you look at the numbers.

For eight years under President Obama, the growing burden of government suppressed the economic recovery that should have followed the recession of 2008-09. Mr. Obama nonetheless has claimed responsibility for today’s boom, asking Americans in September to “remember when this recovery started.” Yet it wasn’t until President Trump took office that the economy surged. …The result is a rising tide that is lifting boats across every class and region of the country. …Today unemployment rests at 3.7%, near a 50-year low. Since the government began reporting the data, unemployment has never been as low as it is today for African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and people with only a high-school education.

It’s certainly good news that unemployment rates have dropped. But labor-force participation numbers still haven’t fully recovered, or even come close to fully recovering, so the data on jobs is not quite as impressive as it sounds.

That being said, Puzder has a compelling indictment of Obama’s performance.

During a typical recovery, the economy grows at a rate between 3% and 4%, and the Obama administration predicted such a surge in its 2010 midsession review. It never came. The “recovery” of those years often felt much like a recession.

Amen. This echoes my criticism of Obamanomics. He made the U.S. a bit more like Europe, so it’s no surprise that growth was weak.

Let’s now look at Puzder’s evidence that Trump has done a better job. He compares the end of the Obama economy with the beginning of the Trump economy.

GDP growth staggered along at 1.5% in Mr. Obama’s final six full quarters in office. …growth doubled to 3% during Mr. Trump’s first six full quarters. …the increase in job openings over Mr. Trump’s first 21 months has averaged an impressive 75,000 a month. Over Mr. Obama’s last 21 months in office, the number of job openings increased an average of 900 a month. …During Mr. Obama’s last 21 months, the number of employed Americans increased an average of 157,000 a month. Under Mr. Trump, the increase has accelerated to 214,000 a month, a 36% improvement. …In Mr. Obama’s final 21 months, weekly earnings rose an average of $1.31 a month. Under Mr. Trump, weekly earnings have increased an average of $1.84 cents a month: a 40% improvement that’s come mostly since tax reform took effect in January. Over that period, weekly earnings have grown an average of $2.31 a month, a 76% increase over Mr. Obama’s last 21 months. …The unemployment rate declined 13% during Mr. Obama’s last 21 months, but from there it has dropped another 23% during Mr. Trump’s tenure.

All of this data is compelling, but I caution my GOP/Trump friends about relying on short-run economic data to make their case.

For instance, what if the economy is in a false boom caused by easy money? If that leads to a recession, will they want Trump to take the blame?

Or let’s consider a more tangible example. Trump and his supporters used to make a big deal out of rising stock prices, but that argument no longer appears to be very persuasive.

Let’s close with two charts that take different sides. The first one is from MSNBC, which makes a persuasive case that reductions in unemployment under Trump are simply a continuation of the trend.

On the other hand, this second chart, which comes from the White House, shows that economic outcomes are better than what the Obama Administration predicted.

This also is compelling data, and I’ve explained that even small improvements in economic performance are very desirable.

Though it remains to be seen whether this additional growth is either real or sustainable.

The bottom line is that there’s no reason to expect big economic improvements under Trump, at least in the long run. His good policies on taxes and regulation are offset by bad policies on spending and trade.

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We had an election yesterday in the United States (or, as Mencken sagely observed, an advance auction of stolen goods). Here are five things to keep in mind about the results.

First, the GOP did better than most people (including me) expected.

This tweet captures the zeitgeist of last night.

The Senate results were especially disappointing for the Democrats. It does appear the Kavanaugh fight worked out very well for Republicans.

Second, better-than-expected election news for the GOP does not imply better-than-expected news for public policy. Given Trump’s semi-big-government populism, I fear this tweet is right about the increased risk of a counterproductive infrastructure package and a job-destroying increase in the minimum wage.

For what it’s worth, I think we’ll also get even more pork-filled appropriations spending. In other words, busting the spending caps after already busting the spending caps.

The only thing that might save taxpayers is that Democrats in the House may be so fixated on investigating and persecuting Trump that it poisons the well in terms of cooperating on legislation.

Fingers crossed for gridlock!

Third, there was mixed news when looking at the nation’s most important ballot initiatives.

On the plus side, Colorado voters rejected an effort to replace the flat tax with a discriminatory system (in order to waste even more money on government schools), California voters sensibly stopped the spread of rent control, Washington voters rejected a carbon tax, Florida voters expanded supermajority requirements for tax increases, and voters in several states legalized marijuana.

On the minus side, voters in four states opted to expand the bankrupt Medicaid program, Arizona voters sided with teacher unions over children and said no to expanded school choice, and voters in two states increased the minimum wage.

Fourth, Illinois is about to accelerate in the wrong direction. Based on what happened last night, it’s quite likely that the state’s flat tax will be replaced by a class-warfare-based system. In other words, the one bright spot in a dark fiscal climate will be extinguished.

This will accelerate the out-migration of investors, entrepreneurs, and businesses, which is not good news for a state that is perceived to be most likely to suffer a fiscal collapse. It’s just a matter of time before the Land of Lincoln becomes the land of bankruptcy.

Interesting, deep-blue Connecticut voters elected a Republican governor. Given the state’s horrific status, I suspect this won’t make a difference.

Fifth, Obama was a non-factor. Democrats lost almost every race where he campaigned.

Though I should point out that he deserves credit for trying to have an impact in close races. Many top-level politicians, looking to have a good “batting average,” only offer help to campaigns that are likely to prevail.

That being said, this adds to my hypothesis that Obama was basically an inconsequential president.

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If you look at my election predictions from 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, you’ll see that my occasional insights are matched by some big misses. So I don’t think I offer any special insight.

But since readers seem to enjoy these biennial predictions, I’ll once again go out on a limb. The bottom line is that my Democratic friends will be happy.

Since so many Democratic seats are up, it will be a big defeat if Republicans stay at 51 seats in the Senate. And the loss of more than 45 seats in the House is approaching bloodbath territory.

This outcome is why I advised my GOP friends that it might have been better to lose the 2016 presidential election.

Now let’s consider the potential economic implications, which is what I care about.

The first-order effect is that we’ll have gridlock and that’s not a bad outcome as far as I’m concerned. Simply stated, that means less legislation, which presumably means less mischief from Washington.

But not all gridlock is created equal. Here’s a chart published a couple of days ago by the Washington Post. I’ve highlighted in green relative stock market performance when there’s good gridlock with a Republican Congress and not-so-good gridlock with a Democratic Congress.

I don’t think S&P performance is the best indicator of prosperity, and the “sample size” produced by American elections it rather small, so I caution against over-interpreting this data.

That being said, I’ve crunched budget numbers and revealed that Republican presidents generally allow more spending than Democrats. The only exception to this rule is Ronald Reagan.

Unfortunately, as I warned the day after the 2016 election, Trump is no Reagan. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if the net result (assuming my predictions are remotely accurate) is that the already-excessive growth of spending becomes an even bigger problem.

P.S. There are some very important ballot initiatives that will be decided today.

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The mid-term elections take place on Tuesday and the crowd in DC is focused on who will control the House and Senate. I’ll make my (sometimes dubious, sometimes accurate) congressional predictions next Monday.

The goal today is to call attention to the key initiatives and referendums that also will occur next week.

As a matter of logic, I can’t really argue with the notion that voting is a waste of time. Nonetheless, I hope the right people in certain states will be illogical.

As far as I’m concerned, the most important contest is in Colorado, where voters are being asked to replace the state’s flat tax with a discriminatory system of graduated rates. Here’s how CNBC describes the awful proposal.

Amendment 73 would break up its current flat tax of 4.63 percent, adding four new individual income tax brackets. Taxpayers earning less than $150,000 would see no change; at $150,001, a new rate of 5 percent would kick in, with a new top rate of 8.25 percent on taxable income over $500,000. The measure also includes a boost in the corporate income rate (from 4.63 percent to 6 percent).

Since I’m a fan of the flat tax (combined with TABOR, it helps to explain the state’s prosperity), I obviously hope voters reject this self-destructive scheme to turn Colorado into California.

The second-most important referendum is probably the battle over school choice in Arizona. Here’s how Reason characterizes that battle.

…since we’ve grown accustomed to the idea that governments should mug us in order to fund an army of loyal employees and their fumbling attempts to hammer knowledge into our kids’ heads, attempts to provide widely accessible alternatives to government schooling inevitably involve diverting some of those stolen funds. And diverting those funds requires political battles against entrenched allies of the state monopoly—such as that playing out in Arizona over an effort to expand a school voucher program. …Last year, lawmakers voted to expand eligibility for the empowerment scholarship accounts program to all students, with participation capped at around 30,000 kids. But opponents of school choice won a battle to put the program’s expansion on the ballot as Proposition 305. …As of last week, polling on Proposition 305 conducted by Suffolk University and the Arizona Republic shows a plurality of Arizona voters (41 percent) supporting expansion of the program, with 32 percent opposed and 27 percent undecided.

The third-most important referendum is actually four different measures. There are proposals to expand Medicaid in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and Utah.

The Wall Street Journal editorializes about these dangerous initiatives.

One of the worst deals in state spending is coming to a red state near you, and that’s expanding Medicaid to adult men above the poverty line. …Expansion extends the benefit to prime-age adults without children up to 138% of the poverty line. The feds pay more than 90% of the cost for the new beneficiaries… Every state that has expanded Medicaid has blown the budget by spending more money on more people. The cost overruns are more than double on average. …Medicaid is already the fastest growing line item in nearly every state in the country. …The idea that the feds will continue to pick up 90% of the tab forever is fantasy. The GOP has vowed to equalize the funding formula and make states pay closer to 30% to 50% like they do for traditional Medicaid. States shouldn’t assume that Democrats will be more merciful when they want to pay for something else and stick more of the Medicaid bill on states.

The fourth-most important measure to watch is a referendum for a big carbon tax in the state of Washington. The Wall Street Journal opined about this revenue grab.

Two years ago nearly 60% of Washington voters rejected a ballot initiative to impose a “revenue neutral” carbon tax. Green groups opposed the referendum because it wouldn’t generate money for environmental largess. …Liberals have now fixed what they thought was the fatal flaw of the first referendum—namely, revenue neutrality. This year’s initiative would impose a $15 per ton carbon “fee” that would increase by $2 per year. …the $2.3 billion in revenue it is projected to generate over the next five years would mostly be earmarked for “clean air and energy” programs… But revenues are fungible, and the carbon tax proceeds would invariably finance government spending in other areas. …The tax would raise gas prices by 13 cents a gallon in 2020 and 59 cents a gallon by 2035. Washington currently has the third highest gas prices in the country after Hawaii and California… National Economic Research Associates estimates that the tax would cost Washington households on average $440 in 2020 and would reduce state economic growth by 0.4% over the next two years. …liberals care more about increasing tax revenue to spend than they do about reducing emissions.

This is exactly why I warn against a national carbon tax. No matter what proponents say, it will wind up being an excuse to finance even more wasteful spending.

Last but not least, our fifth-most important ballot initiative is from California, which has a very misguided referendum that would allow more rent control in the state. Michael Tanner has an appropriate description of this scheme in National Review.

But the prize for perhaps the worst ballot idea goes — naturally — to California, which will vote on whether to allow local communities to impose rent control. Approval can be guaranteed to benefit the wealthy and middle class while reducing the availability of rental housing for the poor. It’s almost as if the measure’s supporters had never glimpsed an economics textbook.

For what it’s worth, one of the state’s Senators, Kamala Harris, has a national plan to wreck housing markets.

Here are some additional initiatives on taxes which merit a brief mention, particularly since they may have an impact on competitiveness.

  • Arizona has an initiative to prevent politicians from imposing any new sales taxes on services.
  • There’s a measure to increase tobacco taxes in South Dakota.
  • In California, there’s a referendum to repeal a recent hike in the gas tax and to require future increases to be approved by voters.
  • There’s also an initiative in the Golden State to boost the sales tax to finance more transportation spending.
  • In Florida, where there’s an initiative to require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to increase revenue.
  • Oregon voters will choose whether to impose a requirement that three-fifths of the legislature vote for indirect revenue increases.
  • North Carolina voters will decide whether to lower the maximum-allowable tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent.

From a libertarian perspective, I’ll also be paying attention to a measure to restrict gun rights in the state of Washington, as well as an initiative to legalize marijuana in Michigan.

There are initiatives to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas (to $11.00 per hour) and Missouri (to $12.00 per hour). If they are approved, the consequences will be both negative and predictable.

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