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Posts Tagged ‘Statism’

To “commemorate” the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution in Russian, I’ve been sharing a series of columns on the evil of communism.

Today, I’m going to target my profession.

But I’m going to bend over backwards to be fair. I’m not going to condemn the economists back in the 1920s and 1930s who were sympathetic to central planning. They were horribly wrong, but that was before economists from the Austrian School prevailed in the “Socialist Calculation Debate.” So we’ll give them an undeserved pass.

And we’ll even excuse the wrongheaded thinking of economists who sympathized with communism in the first couple of decades after World War II. After all, maybe they were just naive when they blindly accepted and regurgitated statistics from the Soviet Union (just as I think some people today are being somewhat gullible when they accept stats today from Beijing).

But there’s no excuse for any sentient being – especially an economist – to have praised the decrepit communist economic model by the time we got to the 1980s.

Yet some very prominent economists were guilty of whitewashing the sins of communism. I condemned Paul Samuelson two years ago (albeit only in a postscript) for his Pollyannish assessment of the Soviet economy. There was absolutely no excuse for him to write that, “…the Soviet economy is proof that…a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.”

Especially since he made that claim shortly before the Berlin Wall collapsed. That takes a special type of ignorance.

But Samuelson wasn’t the only academic economist to disseminate nonsense. Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution shares some additional examples of mal-education.

…an even more off-course analysis can also be found in another mega-selling textbook, McConnell’s Economics (still a huge seller today).  Like Samuelson, McConnell estimated Soviet GNP as half that of the United States in 1963 but he showed that the Soviets were investing a much larger share of GNP and thus growing at rates “two to three times” higher than the U.S.  Indeed, through at least ten (!) editions, the Soviets continued to grow faster than the U.S. and yet in McConnell’s 1990 edition Soviet GNP was still half that of the United States!

Professor Tabarrok speculates on why some economists were so wrong.

To make their predictions, Samuelson and McConnell relied heavily on the production possibilities frontier (PPF), the idea that the fundamental tradeoff for any society was between “guns and butter.”

To be sure, the production possibilities frontier is a useful analytical tool for economists.

But these economists erred in assuming that central planners could allocate resources efficiently. More specifically, they looked at high levels of supposed investment in communist nations and assumed that would mean faster rates of growth.

That theory is correct, but only if capital is being allocated by the private sector in a system governed by market prices. Government investment, by contrast, is a recipe for pork, inefficiency, corruption, and waste.

If we were constructing an Economist Hall of Shame, we’d also want to include Lester Thurow, who was basically the Paul Krugman of the 1980s. As recounted in this Hoover Institution interview, he also pimped for the Soviet Union right up until the point it collapsed.

ZINSMEISTER But why have persons proven to have been calamitously mistaken been allowed to wriggle away? For instance, here’s a quote from Lester Thurow—dean of MIT’s business school, for heaven’s sake—writing in 1989: “Can economic command significantly accelerate the growth process? The remarkable performance of the Soviet Union suggests it can. Today it is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States.” Why isn’t this fellow laughed out of court?

CONQUEST These people were had for suckers. They believed figures and images and statements about the Soviet Union that did not accord with reality. This was also enforced in the Soviet Union. You had to believe the place was happy, well fed, and so forth. …there were two different Soviet Unions, the real one and the one put forward in the West. Often the unreal one was backed by huge amounts of impressive, phony statistics. It takes two to sell the Brooklyn Bridge; you need both a crook and a sucker. The apologists in this country swallowed the rubbish about communism because they didn’t like the people putting forth the opposite view.

Let’s close with an amazing – and depressing – observation.

An article by Professor Bryan Caplan for the Foundation for Economic Education looks at Princeton Review‘s AP Economics and notes that there are still some economists suffering from moral blindness.

When I was first learning economics, I was surprised by how pro-communist many economics textbooks were. …textbooks were very positive relative to communism’s historical record. …Many textbook authors were, in a phrase, communist dupes.

Sadly, some communist dupes still exist and they work at Princeton Review. Caplan highlights this excerpt from the book.

Communism is a system designed to minimize imbalance in wealth via the collective ownership of property. Legislators from a single political party – the communist party – divide the available wealth for equal advantage among citizens. The problems with communism include a lack of incentives for extra effort, risk taking, and innovation. The critical role of the central government in allocating resources and setting production levels makes this system particularly vulnerable to corruption.

Bryan then explains why AP Economics is nonsense.

The official communist line was that collective ownership would lead to high economic growth – and ultimately cornucopia. And in practice, communist regimes made collective ownership an end in itself. Just look at their repeated farm collectivizations that caused horrifying famines in the short-run, and low agricultural productivity in the long-run. …Communist regimes began with the mass murder of their political enemies, businessmen, and their families. Next, they seized the peasants’ land, leading to hellish famines. …And no communist regime has ever tried to “divide wealth for equal advantage.” Bloodbaths aside, communist regimes always put Party members’ comfort above the very lives of ordinary citizens.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Good people rejected communism from its inception because it was based on the immoral notion that individuals should be subjugated to the state (the same ideology in fascism and other collectivist movements).

As I noted above, I’m willing to forgive others (at least in the early decades) for thinking that communism might be economically successful.

But I have nothing but scorn for those who were pimping for totalitarianism in the 1980s (or still today). Economists already are the subject of derision and it’s easy to understand why after seeing how some of them excused an evil system.

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To observe the tragic 100th birthday of communism, I wrote  last week about Karl Marx’s legacy of death, suffering, destruction, and misery.

Along with its sister ideology of national socialism, communism was the most potent killer of the 20th century.

But what’s really disgusting is that there were people in free nations who made excuses for this evil, totalitarian ideology. I wrote last year, for instance, about the western politicians who favorably eulogized the former dictator of Cuba.

Now let’s take a look at another collection of despicable people in the western world who carried water for tyranny and overlooked the horrific death toll of communism.

The New York Times, as part of its nostalgic series about the joy of the “red century,” featured a column that romanticized an evil ideology.

The people who came to our Bronx apartment or were present at the fund-raising parties we attended, the rallies we went to, and the May Day parades we marched in were all simply progressives. At the kitchen table they drank tea, ate black bread and herring, and talked “issues.” …When these people sat down to talk, Politics sat down with them, Ideas sat down with them; above all, History sat down with them. They spoke and thought within a context that lifted them out of the nameless, faceless obscurity into which they had been born, and gave them the conviction that they had rights as well as obligations. They were not simply the disinherited of the earth, they were proletarians…the party was possessed of a moral authority that lent shape and substance, through its passion for structure and the eloquence of its rhetoric, to an urgent sense of social injustice. …the Marxist vision of world solidarity as translated by the Communist Party induced in the most ordinary of men and women a sense of one’s own humanity that ran deep, made life feel large; large and clarified. It was to this clarity of inner being that so many became not only attached, but addicted. No reward of life, no love nor fame nor wealth, could compete with the experience.

Gee, how nice that members of the Communist Part felt they were part of a mission. I imagine many Nazis experienced the same “clarity of inner being.”

To be fair, though, the column at least noted how revelations of Stalin’s brutality caused many to lose faith and abandon the Communist Party.

And I guess some of those people had an excuse. Up until the 1950s, very little was known about the horrors unleashed by communism. So I grant that some well-meaning leftists, with legitimate grievances about America’s shortcomings in areas such as race, might channel their passions in the wrong way.

But is there any excuse for modern-day communist sympathizers?

Consider the contemptible views of Tom Hayden. I would disagree with him if he was a liberal socialist, but he waded deep into the swamp of Marxist socialism.

In the 1960s, Hayden helped define and popularize Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)… Newspapers now have produced glowing and inaccurate accounts of Hayden’s life and politics. Most egregious was The New York Times, which started incorrectly by writing that he “burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements.” …The worst claim in the Times’ obituary is that Hayden was a “peace activist”… He could be called a peace activist only if one views someone who supported a Communist victory in Vietnam as a proponent of “peace.” …On foreign policy, Hayden always supported America’s enemies, be it North Vietnam  or Castro’s Cuba. …he referred to the work of the AFL-CIO to fund labor unions in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, which opposed free labor unions, as part of CIA “covert operations”…he bragged to one and all that he opposed “the secret pro cold-war element within liberalism, directly and indirectly tied to the CIA.”  In making these claims, Hayden was using the exact terminology created by the Communists and pro-Soviet fellow-travelers of the Old Left.

Here’s a truly bizarre argument from a column in Prospect.

The Bolsheviks’ attempt to create a soviet democracy was a bold leap into the future… They acted quickly to end the war, institute workers’ control, and reform land ownership… Within a year, amid counter-revolution and international intervention, the new state was engulfed in civil war, and the bases of terror and authoritarianism were being laid. That failure should be mourned, but the attempt should not. …As liberal democracy proves weak and crisis-ridden in the face of far right challengers, we could do worse than take Walter Benjamin’s “tiger’s leap into the past,” and recover this valuable tradition.

I’m a loss for words. The amorality and immorality of someone who pines for a replay of the Russian revolution is beyond comprehension.

Speaking of moral blind spots. imagine the twisted thinking that leads someone to write a book extolling communism to children?!?

Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book…presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening. …Before they know it, readers are learning about the economic history of feudalism, class struggles in capitalism, different ideas of communism, and more. …With an epilogue that goes deeper into the theoretical issues behind the story, this book is perfect for all ages and all who desire a better world.

Wow.

For what it’s worth, I prefer the Obama version of socialism for kids.

Writing for National Review, John O’Sullivan mentions some of the morally blind people in the west, especially the awful crowd running the U.K. Labour Party.

…the West never confronted the radical evil of Communism as it confronted that of Nazism. …A recent series in the New York Times has treated Communism as — yes, you guessed it — a noble experiment conducted in less than ideal conditions. With the recent upsurge of quasi-revolutionary socialist politics in Britain, the Labour party now boasts leaders who have a relatively rosy view of the 1917 Revolution. Jeremy Corbyn’s senior aide, Seamus Milne, is on record as giving a low estimate that the USSR executed 799,455 people and going on to conclude: “For all its brutalities and failures, Communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialization, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality.”

Douglas Murray expands on this theme in another article for National Review.

…the celebrated historian Eric Hobsbawm, who remained in the Communist Party even after the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and earned his place in infamy in 1994 by saying in an interview that, yes, if another 20 million deaths had been necessary to achieve the socialist utopia of his dreams, then 20 million deaths would have been fine by him. …It is over the genocide in Cambodia that America’s most cited public intellectual, Noam Chomsky, retains some notoriety. As reports of Pol Pot’s genocide emerged, Chomsky was one of those who wished to ignore the reporters accurately describing what was happening. …in Britain, Diane Abbott, a prominent Labour backbencher in Parliament…said in passing that “on balance Mao did more good than harm.” …shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, stood at the dispatch box in the House of Commons and waved a copy of Mao’s “Red Book” to give the Conservatives some lessons in economics.

Last but not least, consider the reprehensible decision of a senior minister from the Greek government.

A decision by Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis to turn down an invitation to participate in an international conference on crimes committed by communist regimes.

Understandably, an Estonia minister had a very strong response to the vapid preening of his Greek counterpart.

Let’s also not forget the morally bankrupt apologists for the quasi-Marxist Venezuelan dictatorship.

And I suppose Crazy Bernie deserves a mention as well.

I’ll close by observing that it should be the role of all decent people to condemn all forms of totalitarianism. Frankly, I’m not interested in the debate over whether communism was worse than Nazism, or vice-versa.

Why can’t we simply agree that both were awful and that those who make excuses for either should be shunned by all decent people?

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Just in case you didn’t realize, we’re “celebrating” an anniversary.

In 1917, at this time of year, the Bolshevik revolution was occurring in Russia. It resulted in the creation of the Soviet Union, followed in subsequent decades by enslavement of Eastern Europe and communist takeovers in a few other unfortunate nations.

This is a very evil and tragic anniversary, a milestone that merits sad reflection because communism is an evil ideology, and communist governments have butchered about 100 million people.

I’ve written about the horrors that communism has imposed on the people of Cambodia, Cuba, and North Korea, but let’s zoom out and look at this evil ideology from a macro perspective.

My view is that communism is “a disgusting system…that leads to starvation and suffering” and “produces Nazi-level horrors of brutality.”

But others have better summaries of this coercive and totalitarian ideology.

We’ll start with A. Barton Hinkle’s column in Reason.

…the Bolsheviks…seized power from the provisional government that had been installed in the final days of Russia’s Romanov dynasty. The revolution ushered in what would become a century of ghastly sadism. …it is hard even now to grasp the sheer scale of agony imposed by the brutal ideology of collectivism. …In 1997, a French publisher published “The Black Book of communism,” which tried to place a definitive figure on the number of people who died by communism’s hand: 65 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, and so on—more than 90 million lives, all told. …depravity was woven into the sinews of communism by its very nature. The history of the movement is a history of sadistic “struggle sessions” during the Cultural Revolution, of gulags and psychiatric wards in Russia, of the torture and murder of teachers, doctors, and other intellectuals in Cambodia, and on and on.

Here’s some of what Professor Ilya Somin wrote for the Washington Post.

May Day. Since 2007, I have defended the idea of using this date as an international Victims of Communism Day. …Our comparative neglect of communist crimes has serious costs. Victims of Communism Day can serve the dual purpose of appropriately commemorating the millions of victims, and diminishing the likelihood that such atrocities will recur. Just as Holocaust Memorial Day and other similar events help sensitize us to the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, and radical nationalism, so Victims of Communism Day can increase awareness of the dangers of left-wing forms of totalitarianism, and government control of the economy and civil society.

In an article for National Review, John O’Sullivan explains the tyrannical failure of communism.

Those evil deeds…include the forced famine in Ukraine that murdered millions in a particularly horrible fashion; starting the Second World War jointly with Hitler by agreeing in the Nazi–Soviet Pact to invade Poland and the Baltic states; the Gulag in which millions more perished; and much more. …The Communist experiment failed above all because it was Communist. …Economically, the Soviet Union was a massive failure 70 years later to the point where Gorbachev complained to the Politburo that it exported less annually than Singapore. …it is a fantasy that the USSR compensated for these failures by making greater social gains than liberal capitalism: Doctors had to be bribed; patients had to take bandages and medicines into hospital with them; homelessness in Moscow was reduced by an internal passport system that kept people out of the city; and so on.

We’re just scratching the surface.

As an economist, I focus on the material failure of communism and I’ve tried to make that very clear with comparisons of living standards over time in Cuba and Hong Kong as well as in North Korea and South Korea.

But the evil of communism goes well beyond poverty and deprivation. It also is an ideology of mass murder.

Which is why this tweet from the Russian government is morally offensive.

Yes, the Soviet Union helped defeat the National Socialists of Germany, but keep in mind that Stalin helped trigger the war by inking a secret agreement with Hitler to divide up Poland.

Moreover, the Soviet Union had its own version of the holocaust.

I don’t know who put together this video, but it captures the staggering human cost of communism.

Meanwhile, Dennis Prager lists 6 reasons why communism isn’t hated the same way Nazism is hated.

The only thing I can add to these videos is that there has never been a benign communist regime.

Indeed, political repression and brutality seems to be the key difference between liberal socialism and Marxist socialism.

Let’s close with this chart from Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute.

All forms of totalitarianism are bad, oftentimes resulting in mass murder. As Dennis Prager noted in his video, both communism and Nazism are horrid ideologies. Yet for some bizarre reason, some so-called intellectuals still defend the former.

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When I gave speeches during Obama’s time in office, especially to audiences with a lot of Republicans, I sometimes asked a rhetorical question about whether they approved of presidents who increased spending, bailed out big companies, expanded the power of the Washington bureaucracy, imposed more red tape, and supported Keynesian stimulus schemes.

They understandably assumed I was talking about Obama, so they would always expressed disapproval.

I then would startle the audience (and sometimes make myself unpopular) by stating that I was describing economic policy during the Bush years.

To be sure, there were some differences. I would give Bush a better grade on tax policy. But Obama got a better score (or, to be more accurate, a less-worse score) on government spending. But the overall impact of both Bush and Obama, as confirmed by the declining score for the United States from Economic Freedom of the World, was a loss of economic liberty.

This bit of background is important because any analysis of economic policy during the Obama years reveals that “hope and change” somehow became “more of the same.”

At least for economic policy. When I examined the economic record of George W. Bush, there were a lot of items to include in the “anti-growth policy” portion of the bar chart, but not much for the “pro-growth policy” section.

And now that we’re doing the same exercise for the Obama years, we get a chart that looks very similar. The specific policies have changed, of course, but the net result is the same. Bigger role for the state, less breathing room for the private sector and civil society.

That’s a rather disreputable collection of policies, including the faux stimulus, the cash-for-clunkers boondoggle, the Dodd-Frank regulatory orgy, and the costly Obamacare disaster. And it’s worth noting that the one good policy that occurred during Obama’s policy, the Budget Control Act and the resulting automatic budget cuts (a.k.a., sequester), happened over his strenuous (and silly) objections.

By the way, I don’t think that Obama and Bush share the same ideology. My guess is that Obama has a very strident left-wing mindset and that he was telling the truth when he said he wanted to be a statist version of Ronald Reagan. I’m quite relieved that he was largely ineffective in achieving his goals.

Bush, by contrast, presumably didn’t want to significantly expand the size and scope of the federal government. But lacking a Reagan-style commitment to principles of limited government, his administration largely surrendered to public choice-driven incentives that resulted in incremental statism.

The lesson for the rest of us is that people should be less partisan and more principled. A bad policy doesn’t become good simply because a politician belong to the “R” team rather than “D” team.

Anyhow, the bottom line is that Obama era moved America in the wrong direction. For what it’s worth, he wasn’t nearly as bad as Nixon. And if I do this same exercise for LBJ, Hoover, and FDR, I expect Obama won’t be as bad as them, either.

But wouldn’t it have been nice if he had been as good as Bill Clinton?

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Most politicians are feckless creatures driven by their insecurities to say anything and everything in hopes of getting elected. And, once in power, they will do or say anything and everything in hopes of getting reelected. Public choice” theory explains how these conventional politicians behave.

But not all politicians fit in that box. There are also evil politicians in the world. Maduro in Venezuela would be a prime example, and you can add the dictators of North Korea, Cuba, and other hellholes to that list.

There are even a few admirable politicians, though that’s a very limited list.

But there’s also another category, at least in my mind. These are the ones who behave conventionally but say things that are really blur the line between foolish and despicable. For lack of a better phrase, these are the morally blind officials.

The politicians who eulogized Cuban dictator Fidel Castro belong in this group.

Another example would be Michael Higgins, the President of Ireland, who urged a return to “collective values” and condemned the “Celtic Tiger” era for being too individualistic and selfish – even though that was the period when the people of Ireland enjoyed both rapid income growth and huge improvement in quality-of-life measures ranging from central heating to infant mortality.

Now I have another politician who belongs in this special category.

The new Prime Minster of New Zealand just demonstrated her profound ignorance of world history and New Zealand history by declaring that capitalism is “a blatant failure.”

New Zealand’s new prime minister called capitalism a “blatant failure”, before citing levels of homelessness and low wages as evidence that “the market has failed” her country’s poor. Jacinda Ardern, who is to become the nation’s youngest leader since 1856, said measures used to gauge economic success “have to change” to take into account “people’s ability to actually have a meaningful life”. …Ms Ardern has pledged her government will increase the minimum wage, write child poverty reduction targets into law, and build thousands of affordable homes. …The Labour leader said her government would judge economic success on more than measures such as GDP.

She sounds like a clueless college student, regurgitating some nonsense she heard in a sociology class. Is she not aware that capitalism is the only successful strategy for reducing poverty? Does she not understand that the entire world was mired in poverty before free markets took hold?

Is she unaware that horrible material deprivation in countries such as China and India only fell after those nations opened themselves to some economic liberalization?

I wish some journalist would ask her a version of my two-question challenge. Or, better yet, have Bono talk with her about how to genuinely help poor people. Heck, let’s sign her up for an economic history class with Deirdre McCloskey.

She reminds me of Pope Francis, who has a knee-jerk view that capitalism is bad. I’ve explained why those views are wrong, though I’d first recommend reading what Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell wrote on the matter.

By the way, I don’t know enough to comment on homelessness and child poverty in New Zealand, but if their welfare state is anything like the mess in the United States, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the government is actually subsidizing destitution and dependency.

But even if that’s not the case, Ms. Ardern is condemning capitalism because it doesn’t solve every problem in society. That might be a fair assertion, except the alternatives to capitalism have never solved any problem. Indeed, the various forms of statism are the cause of much misery around the world.

For what it’s worth, I would not be agitated if she simply had made a conventional left-of-center argument about being willing to accept less growth to get additional redistribution because the benefits of capitalism aren’t “equally shared,” or something like that. That’s the standard equity-vs-efficiency debate. But she apparently doesn’t have the depth or knowledge for that discussion.

The bottom line is that New Zealand is now governed by a politician who doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. That doesn’t mean she’ll be any worse than the standard elected official, but I’m not overflowing with optimism that New Zealand will continue to be ranked near the top by Economic Freedom of the World.

By the way, I appeared on New Zealand TV earlier this month while in the country for a speech. But we talked about America’s top politician (and his worrisome protectionist mindset) rather than what’s happening in Kiwi-land.

Though I did mention that New Zealand made great progress because of sweeping economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. Hopefully Ms Ardern won’t have much success in moving her country back in the wrong direction.

P.S. Obama came close to joining the morally blind club when he suggested we could learn from communism. And Bernie Sanders deserves to be in that club, but may belong in an even worse category.

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A few days ago, using several methodologies, I calculated how fast government spending increased during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

One of my big takeaways was that Republican presidents – with the exception of Reagan – allowed the burden of government spending to increase far too rapidly. Oftentimes faster than budgets grew under Democratic presidents.

That column generated a lot of feedback. And whether the responses were positive or negative, a common theme was that presidents shouldn’t be judged solely based on the growth of federal spending – both because Congress plays a big role and because there are many other policies that also matter when assessing economic policy.

I fully agree, and I explicitly noted that the relatively good spending numbers during the Obama years were because of policies – sequestration, shutdowns, etc – he opposed.

And I also concur that other policies matter. That’s one of the reasons I’m always highlighting Economic Freedom of the World. Yes, fiscal policy is one of the variables, but monetary policy, trade policy, regulatory policy, and the rule of law are equally important.

Indeed, I did an overall assessment of Bill Clinton a few years ago, comparing the pro-growth polices that were adopted during his tenure with the anti-growth policies that were implemented.

The bottom line is that economic liberty increased during his presidency. Significantly. Others can debate about whether he deserves full credit, partial credit, or no credit, but what matters to me is that the overall burden of government shrank. And that was good for America.

It’s time to do an overall assessment of economic policy for other presidents. And we’ll start with one of America’s worst presidents, Richard Nixon.

He’s mostly infamous for Watergate, which led to his resignation, but he also should be scorned because every single major economic policy of his presidency expanded the size, scope, and power of the federal government. Here’s the list, with a couple of the items getting larger bars because the policies were so misguided.

Is it true that there were no good economic policies under Richard Nixon? I asked Art Laffer, who worked at the Office of Management and Budget at the time, whether there were any pro-market reforms during the Nixon years.

He mentioned that the top tax rate on labor and small business income was reduced from 70 percent to 50 percent as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1969. I would have included that law in the pro-growth column, except that was the legislation that also created the alternative minimum tax (for both households and corporations). And there was an increases in the tax burden on capital gains, as well as a more onerous tax regime for new investment. My assessment is that these bad provisions basically offset the lower tax rate.

For what it’s worth, Nixon also proposed a value-added tax, which is yet another piece of evidence that he was a terrible statist. But I only include policies that were enacted rather than merely proposed (if I did include proposed policies, Bill Clinton would take a hit for Hillarycare).

P.S. I’m open to revising this list. I probably missed some policies, perhaps even a good one. And maybe I’m overstating the negative impact of spending increases and price controls, or understating the bad consequences of other policies. Feel free to add your two cents in the comments section.

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Back in 2015, I mocked Venezuelan socialism because it led to shortages of just about every product. Including toilet paper.

But maybe that doesn’t matter. After all, if people don’t have anything to eat, they probably don’t have much need to visit the bathroom.

The Washington Post reports that farmers are producing less and less food because of government intervention, even though the nation is filled with hungry people.

Venezuela, whose economy operates on its own special plane of dysfunction. At a time of empty supermarkets and spreading hunger, the country’s farms are producing less and less, not more, making the caloric deficit even worse. Drive around the countryside outside the capital, Caracas, and there’s everything a farmer needs: fertile land, water, sunshine and gasoline at 4 cents a gallon, cheapest in the world. Yet somehow families here are just as scrawny-looking as the city-dwelling Venezuelans waiting in bread lines or picking through garbage for scraps. …“Last year I had 200,000 hens,” said Saulo Escobar, who runs a poultry and hog farm here in the state of Aragua, an hour outside Caracas. “Now I have 70,000.” Several of his cavernous henhouses sit empty because, Escobar said, he can’t afford to buy more chicks or feed. Government price controls have made his business unprofitable…the country is facing a dietary calamity. With medicines scarce and malnutrition cases soaring, more than 11,000 babies died last year, sending the infant mortality rate up 30 percent, according to Venezuela’s Health Ministry. …Child hunger in parts of Venezuela is a “humanitarian crisis,” according to a new report by the Catholic relief organization Caritas, which found 11.4 percent of children under age 5 suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition… In a recent survey of 6,500 Venezuelan families by the country’s leading universities, three-quarters of adults said they lost weight in 2016 — an average of 19 pounds. This collective emaciation is referred to dryly here as “the Maduro diet,” but it’s a level of hunger almost unheard-of… Venezuela’s disaster is man-made, economists point out — the result of farm nationalizations, currency distortions and a government takeover of food distribution. …The price controls have become a powerful disincentive in rural Venezuela. “There are no profits, so we produce at a loss,” said one dairy farmer.

Here’s where we get to the economics lesson. When producers aren’t allowed to profit, they don’t produce.

And when we’re looking at the production of food, that means hungry people.

Even the left-wing Guardian in the U.K. has noticed.

Hunger is gnawing at Venezuela, where a government that claims to rule for the poorest has left most of its 31 million people short of food, many desperately so. …Adriana Velásquez gets ready for work, heading out into an uncertain darkness as she has done since hunger forced her into the only job she could find at 14. She was introduced to her brothel madam by a friend more than two years ago after her mother, a single parent, was fired and the two ran out of food. “It was really hard, but we were going to bed without eating,” said the teenager, whose name has been changed to protect her. …Venezuela’s crisis has deepened, the number of women working at the brothel has doubled, and their ages have dropped. “I was the youngest when I started. Now there are girls who are 12 or 13. Almost all of us are there because of the crisis, because of hunger.” She earns 400,000 bolivares a month, around four times the minimum wage, but at a time of hyperinflation that is now worth about $30, barely enough to feed herself, her mother and a new baby brother.

This is truly sad.

Our leftist friends like to concoct far-fetched theories of how prostitution is enabled by everything from low taxes to global warming.

In the real world, however, socialism drives teenage girls (or even younger) to work in brothels.

That’s such a depressing thought that let’s shift the topic back to hunger and toilet paper.

Especially since Venezuela’s dictator is bragging that the nation’s toilet paper shortage has been solved!

This is definitely a dark version of satire.

But Venezuela is such a mess that it’s hard to know where to draw the line between mockery and reality.

For instance, here’s another “benefit” of limited food. If you don’t eat, it’s not as necessary to brush your teeth.

And is the socialist paradise of Venezuela, that makes a virtue out of necessity since – surprise – there’s a shortage of toothpaste.

The Washington Post has the grim details.

Ana Margarita Rangel…spends everything she earns to fend off hunger. Her shoes are tattered and torn, but she cannot afford new ones. A tube of toothpaste costs half a week’s wages. “I’ve always loved brushing my teeth before going to sleep. I mean, that’s the rule, right?” said Rangel, …“Now I have to choose,” she said. “So I do it only in the mornings.” …The government sets price caps on some basic food items, such as pasta, rice and flour. …those items can usually be obtained only by standing in lines for hours or by signing up to receive a subsidized monthly grocery box from the government… Since 2014, the proportion of Venezuelan families in poverty has soared from 48 percent to 82 percent… Fifty-two percent of families live in extreme poverty, according to the survey, and about 31 percent survive on two meals per day at most.

Isn’t socialism wonderful! You have the luxury of choosing between two meals a day, or one meal a day plus toothpaste!

By the way, the central planners have a plan.

Though it won’t make Bugs Bunny happy.

Rabbit is now on the menu! Here are some excerpts from a CNN report.

Let them eat rabbits. That was basically the message from President Nicolas Maduro to Venezuelans starving and struggling through severe food shortages… The Venezuelan leaders…recommend that people raise rabbits at home as a source of food. …The agriculture minister argued that rabbits easily reproduce and are a source of protein. He also recommended citizens consider raising and growing other animals and vegetables at home. It’s just the latest attempt to try and solve the food shortage problem. The government forces citizens to pick up groceries on certain days of the week depending on social security numbers.

Gee, isn’t this wonderful. The government cripples markets so they can’t function and then advocates people live like medieval peasants.

Maybe there should be price controls on clothing, along with having the government in charge of distribution. That will wreck that market as well, so people can make their own clothes out of rabbit pelts.

I wonder whether a certain American lawmaker is rethinking his praise of Venezuelan economic policy?

Based on what he said as recently as last year, the answer is no.

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